Kawasaki creates its ultimate superbike

Published: 02 September 2003

KAWASAKI has finally delivered the bike so many have waited so long for – a genuine top-drawer, no-compromise, balls-out machine to top anyone’s superbike wish-list.

With 160bhp and weighing just 165kg, our first pictures reveal the stunning all-new ZX-10R is totally focused on extreme high performance – while its price is likely to be a competitive £8500.

It’s a great day for a huge army of Kawasaki fans. The ZX-9R had the power but lacked the sharp handling and good looks of rivals such as Honda’s Blade, Yamaha’s R1 and Suzuki’s GSX-R1000. The ZX-7R had become hopelessly out-performed in the litre-class superbike era.

But that’s all in the past now the ZX-10R is here.

An all-new, 998cc four-cylinder engine is housed in a GP-derived chassis hung with state of the art suspension and brakes. The dimensions are tiny, while a claimed power-to-weight ratio of close to the magical 1bhp per kilo figure could outpunch everything in its class in 2004. We say " could " as next year sees an all-new Blade replacement and a reworked R1 arrive, too.

KAWASAKI has overcome years of technological conservatism to create a flagship sports bike that’s a show case for the company’s latest innovations.

Absolutely nothing has been borrowed from other models. The ZX-10R has a new frame designed to keep the bike’s width to a minimum, wavy disc brakes normally only seen on pukka motocrossers and race bikes, and an engine with a spec that suggests it will offer class-leading performance. Aerodynamic design and tiny dimensions will help the Kawasaki to a top speed that should be close to 185mph.

Last year Kawasaki said its ZX-6R and Z1000 were the first results of a new wave of thinking within the firm, and claimed more radical machines were on the way. The ZX-10R is the fulfilment of that promise.

The company hasn’t released any detailed information about the bike because it doesn’t want to give the opposition a chance to tweak their 2004 offerings. Competitors like Honda and Yamaha could be in for a surprise when they see these exclusive pictures.

Kawasaki has clearly learnt lessons from its MotoGP project. Chassis design, styling, radially-mounted calipers and the centrally-mounted air intake can all be attributed to the influence of the ZX-RR race bike.

Chassis: The frame rails run over the engine rather than around it. This helps to keep the bike’s overall width down to a minimum, improving rider comfort and aerodynamics.

While other manufacturers are turning to cast-alloy frames using new production techniques, Kawasaki has stuck with a relatively conventional chassis structure.

Cast frames do offer some rigidity benefits, but the main reason for their popularity with manufacturers is cost-effectiveness. Once production levels are high enough to off-set the expense of re-tooling for them, they’re less labour-intensive and faster to make.

For a smaller firm like Kawasaki, the traditional superbike technique of welding pressed alloy spars to a cast headstock and swingarm pivot is just about as effective and means they don’t have to invest huge sums in new tooling.

On the ZX-10R, the cast parts are lighter than in the past and there are fewer welds in the frame to increase rigidity. As a result, it doesn’t lag far behind the more technically advanced frames used by Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki.

Engine: Kawasaki has always produced enormous power outputs from its engines and the ZX-10R follows this tradition.

While no official figures have yet been released by the company you only have to examine the firm’s record to see its success in this area. The

ZX-12R eclipsed the Suzuki Hayabusa on the dyno. And the ZZ-R1100 and original ZX-10 of the 1980s both held the " fastest production bike in the world " title.

The motor is a 998cc dohc four cylinder with fuel-injection. Nothing unusual there, but Kawasaki has gone all-out to reduce weight and maximise power by making it as

high revving as possible.

The engine uses an innovative one-piece cylinder and crankcase which is stronger and lighter than bolting together the traditional two-piece arrangement.

The engine’s high-revving abilities are hinted at by lightweight alloy valve spring retainers to reduce the mass of moving parts in the engine, race-style forged pistons and a high 12.5:1 compression ratio.

However, the firm hasn’t been too proud to borrow ideas from others. The ZX-10R features dual throttle butterflies, first seen on the Suzuki GSX-R750, to give the fuel injection a smooth, carb-like response. There’s also a butterfly valve inside the exhaust – just like Yamaha’s EXUP system and also now used on the FireBlade. And a " stacked " gearbox – first seen on the R1 – keeps the engine compact and allows for a longer swingarm.

The high compression ratio means a slipper clutch is needed to prevent the rear wheel from locking on down changes. The amount of slip is adjustable.

Exhaust gases escape through a full titanium system complete with a catalytic converter as a nod to the green brigade.

The bike comes with a built-in immobiliser as standard.

Given the engine’s specifications and the performance of its rivals, the

ZX-10R is unlikely to produce any less than 160-165bhp at the crankshaft – around 150bhp at the rear wheel. Want some?

Styling: THE ZX-10R clearly takes its visual inspiration from the ZX-RR GP machine.

Incredibly, it has a smaller frontal area than the ZX-6R. That will help it cut through the air. The ram-air duct is right on the bike’s nose. This is where air pressure is highest so it will maximise power but it also adds to the GP look.

The bike’s angular styling gives a clear link to both the GP machine and the ZX-6R and the big cut-outs in the fairing emphasise how physically small the new machine is. There appear to be perferations in the screen. We assume Kawasaki has found an aerodynamic advantage in this, but until September’s official launch we can’t confirm that.

Kawasaki has returned to a tradition started by the original 1980s ZX-10 and continued in the ZZ-R1100 by fairing-in the front indicators to the bodywork. While this might not go down so well with track day addicts – who like to remove them in case of damage – it means the bike is more aerodynamic than it would be with indicators on stalks. The rear indicators are on stalks but get a new conical design. The rear light is an LED unit.

From the rider’s seat the bike looks much like the ZX-6R, with a one-piece display incorporating speedo, rev-counter, adjustable gear shift light, clock, temperature gauge and trip counter. An optional single seat cowl is also available to replace the pillion seat.

Brakes: THIS is the first time wavy discs have made it on to a production superbike.

The wobbly edges increase the area of the edge of the disc, allowing heat to dissipate faster. The wavy pattern means there’s always an edge in contact with the pads, which helps to clear brake dust off the pads and improves braking performance.

At the front, you get radially-mounted four-pot calipers. These are more rigid than normal stoppers so less braking power is transferred to the mounting points or calipers themselves. But it’s unlikely you’ll noticed the difference on the road.

Suspension and wheels: The wheels are made of lightweight alloy with six spindly-looking spokes arranged in a pattern to increase torsional rigidity so the rims can be made very thin. They are fitted with Bridgestone BT014 tyres – new sticky rubber due for an Autumn launch.

The 43mm upside-down front forks are fairly conventional, as is the rear monoshock. Both feature " top-out " springs. These come into effect when the suspension is at the end of its travel to reduce the chance of the front or rear lifting off the ground under hard acceleration and braking.

Some lateral flex has been designed into the swingarm to give improved feel.