Kawasaki's new ZX-10R is rapid but has it done enough to steal its ri­vals' crown on road and track?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - New Bikes - By Michael Neeves MCN SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER

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

Jonathan Rea'

Scenic Spain wel­comes care­ful su­per­bik­ers King of the cor­ners, but R1 isn't comfy Gor­geous Aprilia RSV4 RF looks like it's rid­den straight out of the WSB pad­dock

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