I f the Panigale was ostensibly high on a party mix of cocaine and MDMA, then Kawasaki’s ZX-10RR homologation special would be chilling on Valium. Don’t be fooled by the RR suffix. If there was anything approaching a nice superbike, the Kawasaki takes this imaginary award, combining surefooted stability with a straightforward riding protocol which makes it easy to go fast – just not as fast as Jonathan and Tom. There are no quirks or idiosyncrasies, no complex modes to perplex. Turn key, press button, twist throttle and rejoice. Then again, there’s nothing super special about the RR, either.
The ZX-10R, since its major update in 2011, has always been good at Portimao but suffered when the timing equipment made an appearance. It was no different in 2017, despite the Gucci wheels and autoblipper bonuses of the RR and was two seconds adrift of the fast kids. Its long wheelbase is palpable in the ergonomics, sat back in the saddle and seemingly miles away from the front wheel. Its inherent stability no doubt sacrifices some dexterity and the RR lacks the digital accuracy of the frontrunners when it comes to chasing tenths.
As a package, the Kawasaki’s brakes and corner entry in general is epic. Except cornering ABS, that can suck my willy, which wrecks any trail braking heroics and cannot be disabled: bizarre as the ABS isn’t troubled in a straight line. There’s plenty of power and, more importantly, progression and feel with a proper Brembo master cylinder, working deliciously with those Showa BFF forks. You can be as ruthless as you want under heavy braking and the 10RR will remain unflustered, never backing-in or stepping out of line, just getting on with it.
Initial turn-in and steering pace can’t be frowned upon, gliding to an apex with consummate ease. It’s the slight inability to complete the corner and lack of fluidity against fresher machinery that hinders the Kawasaki, and it struggles to join the dots with a staccato execution until the throttle is tapped – a major blemish in Portugal given Portimao’s intricacies. It’s just a bit cumbersome, really.
It’s taken V4s, crossplane cranks and MotoGP technology to ensure an inline four packs character and excitement these days. Ultimately, the Kawasaki lacks the enthralling eccentrics of its rivals, and the bottom
end and midrange to compete with the 200bhp players. A languid opening to proceedings equates to absolutely no punch on corner exit, replicating a middleweight in some respects before the top-end is unleashed at 10,000rpm and the (rather pony-looking) dash begins to illuminate like a cheap disco. Long gearing doesn’t help and first gear was just as essential for the ZX-10RR as it was aboard the R6 in the slower bends.
With a tangibly low arse and plenty of feel seeping through the saddle, the shortage of power is remedied with an abundance of mechanical grip and the capacity to use the entire arsenal. Despite the archaic and crude nature, the electronics are sublime on the track.
It’s super-easy to feel for grip and consequent limits, and doesn’t inhibit like other systems; definitely a performance enhancer rather than safety function. While the quickshifter and blipper combo isn’t exactly dreamy on the road, it’s perfect for track sorties when the revs are drastically higher.
Despite its shortfalls and missing X-factor alongside more capable machinery, you can’t ignore the RR’s price and rideability. It was a personal favourite among some of the unfit testers thanks to its lenient nature in 30º heat.
The brakes are superb!