HEIR TO THE THRONE
Kawasaki's new ZX-10R is rapid but has it done enough to steal its rivals' crown on road and track?
Kawasaki have enjoyed incredible track success over the past few years. The out-going ZX-10R, introduced in 2011, took top racing honours at national and world level. In road trim it's a lovely machine, but its tall gearing and old-generation electronics held it back against the new crop of silicone-enhanced rivals like Yamaha's all-new R1, Ducati's 1299 Panigale, BMW'S S1000RR and the Aprilia RSV4. Now with more power and top-spec electronics, can the new-for-2016 green machine redress the superbike balance?
Now here we are with Kawa saki’s late st ZX-10R. The chassis has been tweaked, Brembo monobloc calipers now replace Tokicos and disc diameter is up 20mm to 330mm. It makes 191bhp at the rear wheel (up by 10bhp), comes with a much-needed quickshifter and the same sophisticated Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) electronics that transformed the Panigale and R1 last year.
It’s the only bike in this test that meets the Euro4 regulations, so it’s cleaner, quieter and ready for next year's emissions requirements. But it’s also 5kg heavier as a result, so it’s the lardiest superbike here.
These improvements add up to a ZX-10R that’s smoother and more refined on the road. The ride from the new Showa suspension is sumptuous and cosseting, the seat is comfortable and while the bar position shouts ‘race’, it doesn’t torture your wrists like the new R1.
It gets better. The green bike has light, accurate steering, and is stable at any speed – absolutely rooted to the floor when you push it hard over any surface. And you never notice those extra kilos on the move.
The meat of the ZX-10R’S power lives at the top of the revs and there’s little power down low or in the midrange compared to its gruntier rivals. It’s still the tallest-geared here, too, so you have to work the smooth gearbox and slick new quickshifter to get on shouting terms with the competition, but it’s worth it. With a true 191bhp on tap, I don’t have to tell you how fast the world goes into reverse when the Kawasaki is singing.
There’s a plus side to the motor’s peaky nature on the road. Most of the time you’re away from the meat of its thrust, so you’re left with an inline four-cylinder motor with a smooth, docile, calm and unthreatening delivery. It’s the perfect superbike for the less experienced, as well as the racers.
It’s also the cheapest of all our super- bikes here. So if you want an affordable, predictable, friendly thou with genuine race-winning track potential (and already twice a WSB winner this year), look no further.
Sounds like a group test-winning package, doesn’t it? Not quite. Against such high-calibre company the new ZX-10R isn’t perfect. For starters, its pegs are mounted high and far forward, so legroom isn’t as generous as the Ducati’s or Yamaha’s for taller riders. The low, racy screen is only useful in a full-on race crouch, so neck muscles get a workout at prolonged speed. And wind noise is the only sound you hear because the Kawasaki’s exhaust is ago- nisingly quiet (even with this test bike’s Akrapovic end can fitted), but that’s all down to Euro4 and it’s something that the rest of the superbikes will all have to suffer next year.
Smaller riders won’t have such an issue with the pegs, and taller bods will be able to find an easy fix with a taller screen and adjustable rearsets. What won’t be so easy to fix are the brakes.
With its Brembos and bigger discs the ZX-10R should help you stop like Jonathan Rea and do so in complete safety thanks to its sophisticated ‘brake-by-wire’, lean-sensitive ABS. But in reality the brakes lack feel and power. During our tests the ZX-10R took three more metres to stop from 70-0mph compared to the Ducati.
MCN tester Ben Neeves says: “You get a bit more confidence if you span the lever right out and grab it with four fingers, but it’s not a two-fingered braking bike.” Same with the R1, which has the same feel. Its stoppers do the job but aren’t enjoyable to use on road or track compared to those on the BMW, Ducati and Aprilia. Their Brembos threaten to throw you over the screen at the slightest brush of the lever, just as they should.
Meanwhile, the Kawasaki’s fussy dash is virtually unchanged from the old bike’s and its yellow and red LED rpm lights often fool you into thinking you need fuel – or have blown the thing up – when you catch them out of the corner of your eye. But all these bikes have so many functions it’s hard to read their displays on the move, until you’re used to them.
So, the new ZX-10R is much improved and competent on the road, but it does little to wow you, thanks mostly to its lazy gearing and wooden brakes. In this company you need something special to stand out from the superbike crowd.
The new breed
The Yamaha R1 is the machine that set pulses racing last year. It has a riding position based on Rossi’s 2011 YZR-M1 and is powered by a wild-but-flexible crossplane 189bhp crank engine that wails like an M1 too.
It was the first of the new breed of superbikes to sport those IMU electronics. The R1’s slide control system lets you drift on track, the traction control keeps you safe on the road and the anti-wheelie lets you drive forward with the front wheel hovering.
Here in the Spanish mountains we’re rolling through seemingly endless sweepers and dream-sequence switchbacks; this is where the R1 is happiest. It’s stable, grippy and devilishly easy to ride fast. Just like the ZX-10R, the Yamaha’s suspension is plush, supportive and forgiving.
For riders new to the R1 experience, like fellow tester Paul Berryman, the motor’s eerie smoothness and lack of engine braking takes some getting used to at first, but he falls in love with it as soon as he hits the track.
After a year living with the R1 at
‘With its Brembos and bigger discs the ZX-10R should help you stop like