Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
The 2016 edition of Kawasaki’s mean, green, litre-class track machine is here
IT’S DIFFICULT not to respect a motorcycle like the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. Just last year, a similar machine had stormed to the top two levels of the World Superbike Championship at the hands of the brilliant Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes, taking Kawasaki to the top of the Constructors’ Standings with 421 points. That is nearly a full 100 points ahead of second-placed Ducati. And here I was staring at this beautiful (not just visually) machine, about to swing a leg over it. No, I simply could not stop the thumping inside my ribcage. The fact that the bike’s ability to perform was way beyond my own only added to the thumping.
Visually, the resemblance to the old ZX-10R, which this new model replaces globally, is obvious while the changes are subtle. For instance, the windscreen on this bike is slightly wider while subtle intakes on the sides of the signature lime-green-and-black fairing create smart channels for the air so that rider fatigue from being buffeted by the wind is reduced. The odd-looking chin at the base of the gaping air intake sandwiched between the headlamps is also new and improves aero efficiency, according to Kawasaki. The all-digital instrumentation with its characteristic colour changing LED tachometer has been retained from the old bike but as I head towards the rear, the tail section seems different. I can’t quite put my finger on it until a bit of research informs me that the new Ninja ZX10R’s tail section is indeed new and slimmer than before.
Gingerly, almost too cautiously, I swing my leg over the seat and the riding posture immediately communicates the bike’s intent. Without ever having raced bikes before I find myself in a proper race crouch with legs tucked in and out of the way and the head almost too ready to duck down under that screen. The ZX-10R’s track-focused intent is all too clear. This is not the kind of bike you want to take on a long ride to nowhere. On this bike you’d know exactly where you are headed (probably a racetrack) and you’ll be equally sure where you want to finish your day: on the top step of the podium. In fact, the seat height on this bike is 22 millimetres taller than on the previous bike while the headstock is closer by 7.5 mm.
Before you get going it is important to familiarise yourself with all the tech that you’re surrounded by, because the 2016 model of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R boasts of five levels of traction control (the outgoing version had three) and three levels of launch control settings and one
that manages engine braking. There are different modes that can be selected by pushing the toggle button with your left thumb. The Full mode allows the rider to access 100 per cent of the engine’s power while the Middle mode allows 80 per cent and a Low mode limits power availability to just 60 per cent, which, mind you, is still 120 PS! The aforementioned launch control settings allow the rider to optimise launches by preventing wheel-spin and unwanted time-consuming wheelies. Meanwhile, the engine braking control system actually allows the rider to access just the desired amount of engine braking. Not too much, not too little. There is a Quick Shifter as well so you can pretty much go through the slick six-speed gearbox with the throttle wound wide open. For downshifts you have to resort to the clutch again. The five-level traction control ensures optimum traction from conditions ranging from a dry race circuit to wet city roads and everything in between. Additionally, there are other trick gizmos such as an Inertia Measurement Unit (IMU) developed by Bosch that measures inertia along six different axes, five of which are measured and one is calculated. Thanks to this cutting-edge piece of kit the bike has a better sense of the chassis’ orientation and is, therefore, better able to stay on the intended line. In comparison to all this space-age technology, the humble ABS and the Öhlins electronic steering damper seem almost pedestrian.
I thumb the starter reverentially and the liquid-cooled 998-cc straight four engine fires up instantly and settles into an unintimidating hum. But don’t be fooled by this apparent docility. The bike’s ferocious nature can be heard even at standstill should you twist the throttle with the same gusto as an angry schoolteacher’s wrist on an errant student’s ear. An angry howl leaves you in no doubt as to what this motorcycle might be capable of. The bore and stroke, the compression ratio and the four 47-mm Keihin throttle bodies may be the same as that of the engine in the previous version, but a lot has been changed. For starters, the cylinder-head is new, the valves are now of titanium with the exhaust valves being one mm wider than before, at 25.5 mm. The crankshaft is lighter and, as a result, its moment of inertia is lower than before, which, in turn, helps reduce engine vibrations. The pistons, too, aren’t the same; they are lighter and made of a new material and the cylinder walls are thicker. A lot of work has also been done by Kawasaki in improving airflow
with the air-box being 25 per cent larger and the air-filter itself being 60 per cent larger.
Despite all that thumping inside the chest, which I daresay outdid the vibrations from the bike’s engine, which is actually rather refined, this Ninja is surprisingly easy to ride. There’s grunt available from the bottom of the revrange and there is a certain linearity of delivery that almost makes you forget that this is a focused super-sport motorcycle. In fact, below 7,500-8,000 RPM the bike feels rather manageable but get into the hot zone beyond this rev range and suddenly you’ll find your brain trying to catch up with the bike. The acceleration at this point is ferocious and you’ll find yourself reaching everywhere much too quickly. It’s almost scary and yet thrilling at the same time. In between shots during our photo shoot I frequently found myself scaring the wits out of myself and finishing the acceleration run with a wide grin pasted on my face. It’s exhilarating beyond words.
On the dynamic abilities aspect, this Kawasaki is at its sublime best and there’s good reason for that. Thanks to inputs from Rea and Sykes the swingarm is now 15.8 mm longer which has also resulted into a 15-mm (approx) increase in the bike’s wheelbase. This, no doubt, improves straight line stability. Meanwhile, that electronic steering damper keeps the front end stable under harsh acceleration. What makes the biggest impact on the bike’s handling ability, however, is that oh-sopredictable front end. Even for a slightlybetter-than-rookie rider like me, the aforementioned predictability gives so much confidence that despite my fears I found myself pushing harder and harder. This bike almost makes it too easy. One of the reasons for this predictability, according to Kawasaki, is the Showa Balance Free Forks (note the nitrogen canister on each of the shocks). Making their début for the first time on a production motorcycle on this Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, these forks allow the functions of the front suspension to be isolated so that a tweak to damping, which is controlled via the compressed nitrogen, will not affect the compression and rebound, both of which are hydraulically managed. The other reason ascribed to this wonderful front-end feel is the proximity of the headstock, which is now 7.5 mm closer to the rider, thus putting more weight on the front. The rear suspension is a fully adjustable gascharged Öhlins monoshock.
Although an aspect like ride quality is of little consequence in such a trackfocused motorcycle, it would be wise to remember that a majority of Indian owners will end up riding this bike on
our far from perfect roads. And for these roads, which can vary from being super smooth to rough to completely broken, the ride quality is definitely stiff. It won’t kill your back but it will shake things up quite a bit.
For stopping duties the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R gets a pair of 330-mm discs with Brembo M50 Monoblocs up front and a single 220-mm disc with an aluminium single piston calliper at the rear. Bite from these stoppers is ferocious (necessary, too, given the rapidity with which you need to shed speed if you’re thrashing it around a racetrack) but progressive and, therefore, predictable. Indeed, barring the one instance when I had to haul on the stoppers with some loose gravel under those grippy Bridgestone Battlax RS10 tyres (120/70 ZR17 up front and 190/55 ZR17 at the rear), not once did the ABS or traction control feel the need to intervene.
To cut a long story (that has the possibility to be longer still) short, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is a fantastic motorcycle. It is fast yet predictable enough for the newcomer to get used to. It has brilliant dynamics and plenty of stopping power and more than enough technology to keep you out of harm’s way. Perhaps, its only negative, so far as India is concerned, is the stiff ride quality. The only other observation I have about this motorcycle is that this is not everyone’s kind of bike. You can’t really go on a tour with this. I mean, you can, but that is not this Ninja’s intended purpose. The purpose of this bike is to carve racetracks with the sharpness of a Ninjato (short sword used by ninjas). So, if you’re looking for a powerful, bigcapacity sporty motorcycle to enjoy on a random Sunday ride with your friends, then don’t even look here but if you have access to a racetrack and enjoy wearing out your knee-sliders, then at less than Rs 17 lakh, ex-Pune, there’s no better bargain than the 2016 model of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R.
Tail section is all-new and slimmer than on the old bike. Seat height is taller too The liquid-cooled 998-cc in-line four pushes out 200 PS, 210 with ram air The windscreen is now wider and the odd chin under the intake is a new aero aid
Wider screen and discreet smart channels reduce wind buffeting
A host of changes to the geometry and suspension means excellent predictablity where dynamics are concerned Rider: Aninda Sardar Helmet: Shiro R-15 Jacket: Spidi Gloves: Frank Thomas Boots: TCX Evo R-S2 Gearcheck
Tail lamp is an all-LED unit and its design resembles an upside down Batman symbol Exhaust is all-new and helps the ZX-10R comply with tightening emission norms The swingarm is now 15.8 mm longer than before. Wheelbase is longer too