Review: Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

Review: Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
 

It was all getting just a little bit silly. The filming was going well for the new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R we had on test, but I was beginning to get more than a little paranoid. Watching the Isle of Man TT is one thing; trying to re-enact it for The Bike Show was getting too hairy for my liking. We were in Clarens, using the picturesque backdrop to the decent roads as a suitable filming venue, and it was all going so well until I started some cornering shots — except they weren’t really corners, more like kinks. And on Kawasaki’s updated superbike, that meant speeds were rapidly climbing to the point at which I might actually need fifth gear.

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Given that fourth will easily get you in the 220km/h range, I decided that if I was going to get any true understanding of the bike’s new-found handling prowess and actually enjoy the process, I’d better head somewhere safer. With the ex-MotoGP circuit of Phakisa just up the road, the decision was an easy one — long sweepers, a fast back straight and the occasional hairpin make for a wonderful mix of challenges for both rider and bike. My co-presenter for The Bike Show, Donovan Fourie, had thoughtfully organised last year’s model of the ZX-10R for comparison.

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If you were to go on looks alone, you’d say the Kawasaki engineers have been taking it rather too easy over the past two years. There’s a neater exhaust and some tightening of the lines at both ends of the bike, but you have to be a real bike nerd to notice the major changes. New forks have exterior gas cartridges and are supposedly a very close replica of what’s on the factory world superbike, or WSBK, machines of reigning and ex-champs Johnny Rea and Tom Sykes. That WSBK influence can be noticed on all the major updates for the 2016 ZX-10R, and that’s exactly what Kawasaki intended. This is a hardcore sports bike that makes only the bare minimum of concessions for the road rider; everything has been designed around giving a better base for a race bike, whether that be superstock or superbike.

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Although the spec sheet’s really juicy numbers, those for power and torque, seem to indicate that this inline four-cylinder engine is going to deliver more of the same, a quick rip through the first half of the gearbox let’s you know that something new and impressive has been unleashed. The crankshaft has had 20% of its weight shaved away, and along with new valves, camshafts and the first use of a standard quick-shifter (for Kawasaki, but for up-changes only), this new model heads for its 14000rpm peak so much more eagerly than it ever did. The engine updates have also generated a more usable mid-range, although you’ll still need to chase the big revs for the full WSBK effect. When you use the slick gearbox to keep the engine screaming, there is a startling level of performance on offer and, thankfully, it comes with a suitably complex suite of electronic rider aids.

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Trying to tame 147kW without these electronics would be the biking equivalent of Russian roulette. At some point you’ll twist the throttle just that bit too quickly and that monster of an engine will deliver too much power for the tyre to handle and chaos will ensue. Adjustable traction, wheelie and launch control have got you covered in such conditions, and a very clever ABS system, which can even reduce pressure at the brake lever while the bike is fully cranked over, should help you get the best from a set of Brembo’s finest radial callipers. Having the previous model available highlighted the improved motor, and showed that the handling has moved on quite considerably too. I immediately felt more at home on the new model simply because there’s a bit more legroom. The ability to fold myself into the improved riding position without dislocating my hips or snapping my knee ligaments meant I could feel just how much sharper the new bike is.

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Changes to the frame and swing-arm have punted a little more weight over the front end, and those new “balance-free” forks do an admirable job of keeping the whole package calm, collected and online. The new ZX-10R might not look like much of an update on the surface, but the proof is in the riding. This really is a significant improvement on an already exciting sports bike, better in every area and destined to give Team Green racers around the world a serious leg up in competition. The only downside to this successful update is cost, which has risen dramatically — R290 000 is the asking price, which makes it the most expensive of the Japanese superbikes. Unfortunately, this is the new norm, and given the volatile rand, you can expect its rivals to be on a par very soon.

Engine: 998cc inline 4
Power: 147kW at 13 000rpm
Torque: 114Nm at 11 000 rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed
Weight: 205kg (full tank)
Fuel Tank: 17 litres
Price: R290 000
Rating: ★★★★★

-Mat Durrans