So what was it like to ride? In a word, rewarding.
I’ve done over 2000 laps of this track (Wakefield Park Raceway, New South Wales), so it was straight to the task at hand – pushing the 10R to the limits. As I familiarise myself on the bike the ergonomics feel fantastic but I would like the pegs around 5mm lower. However, after touching them down, I realise this would be an issue.
Aside from that I feel comfy and at home. The new clip-on position puts me over the front a little more and I feel confident in the front end, which is essential or there is no way I can push hard.
Down the chute, tucked in, the larger frontal area completely isolates me from the airflow. It’s fantastic and I am a bigger build at 90kg and 185cm. Aside from these things, the bike feels like the previous one to sit on. But what about the performance?
As I approach the fast right kink at the end of the short straight, I brake hard for the first time, trying to feel for the limit of the SC1 front tyre fitted. I find the limit easily and with finesse.
The feel and feedback from the new Showa Balance Free Fork and Brembo package is the most refined I have felt on any production bike and only matched by the factory superbikes I have tested. This braking area is a kink that is off camber and of tightening radius and the 10R eats it up. Stunning.
Braking hard while turning in and shifting down gears here was always hard on the previous model, which had to be wrestled onto its side using the outer arm forearm and knee, then lots of pressure to keep it over before firing off the turn feeding the power in gently.
Right now my arms are relaxed, I’m stopping the bike 20% harder, it is heading to the apex where I am looking, basically on its own, completely stable thanks to the brake assist and closer gear ratios making rpm changes less dramatic on downshifts.
The 10R is tracking through the turn with no stand-up and then I’m exiting the corner on full throttle, driving hard up a long right-hand uphill turn, while the 10R wheelspins ever so slightly and the front wheel hovers an inch off the ground as the electronics keep me out of hospital. It is stunning to experience and easy to trust.
Major changes lurk beneath the new ZX-10R’s fairing, but do those changes really make a difference? We go head-to-head with the old bike to find out
he all new ZX-10R has arrived on UK shores; so it’s time to find out if the marketing hype is fact or fiction. We’re going to scientifically investigate and measure the difference between the new and old ZX-10R. Is there a noticeable difference? Plus, what’s it like on UK roads away from the scorching Malaysian race track where it was launched just a few weeks ago?
2016 ZX-10R, £13,799
The all-new ZX-10R comes with an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) which joins all the new ZX’s rider aids together, including the braking which has been beefed up with new radial Brembo calipers. The 2016 model also benefits from the latest Showa Balance Free Fork (BFF), which replaces the old Big Piston Fork used on the previous model.
2015 ZX-10R, £12,999
Launched back in 2011, the mighty ZX-10R came with a rudimentary form of traction control for the first time to tame the claimed 200bhp. It went on to be Kawasaki’s most successful ZX-10R, with two world superbike titles, plus countless domestic race wins in both British Superbike and Superstock.
On the road, both bikes look and feel very similar, the clocks are almost identical with the same horizontal rev counter. If you’re jumping from the old bike to the new bike there’s no big initial surprises – it still feels like a ZX-10R.
But then you notice the differences, the broader, taller screen and the huge radial Brembo master cylinder attached to the front brake lever. Then there’s the bright red tops of the Showa BFF, and the lightly tweaked switchgear.
Once on the move the changes become even more obvious with the standard quickshifter making itself known immediately. The gearing is, and feels, very similar low down and there’s a little hesitation around 6000-7000rpm as reported on the initial launch, but after that the ZX-10R downs a shot and wants to party hard.
There’s an obvious difference in performance above 7000rpm in second and third gear; the new model is much livelier, the anti-wheelie and traction control working overtime to keep everything under control. It’s actually heavier than the old bike, but feels lighter and turns easier, especially when rolling into corners at high speed. After riding both bikes for the first time, co-tester Bruce thought the new bike was the lightest by some margin, and was amazed to find that this isn’t the case at all.
The new Showa suspension initially feels very firm, the first 20% of travel is rather harsh, like it’s running lots of preload; you really notice this at low speeds around town. But town isn’t the ZX-10R’s natural habitat, and once the Ninja gets the opportunity to stretch its legs, that firmness becomes sublime.
Riding at between 60-120mph the suspension is in its element, and works better the harder you push it. Conditions were dry but still very cold, which is obviously not perfect but after our first UK road ride all the signs are positive. Even in the cold, tricky conditions, it was possible to have some fun and make the new ZX-10R dance.
The big advantage over the old bike is the electronics, including the cornering ABS which gives you a huge safety net. Yes, the ZX-10R still has close to 200bhp but the rider aids, electronics and cornering ABS allow you to explore and play with the bike in relative safety. The original ZX-10R was an animal, and some would argue the new bike must be even worse with an additional 40bhp. But I feel safer on the 200bhp electronic-laden ZX-10R with its excellent chassis and suspension than on its slap-happy forefather.
That’s what they both feel like to ride, but what do the stats say?
Datalogging: the speed of progress
The top speed test isn’t as exacting as it used to be, as most manufacturers have agreed to a 186mph self-imposed limit, therefore before the test we already knew both bikes would be near-as-damn-it identical. However, we still carried out the test as it’s so much fun and it’s an easy way to compare the stability. The new 2016 bike is longer, there’s more weight bias over the front and it’s a little heavier, therefore stability should have been improved. However, in the very strong blustery conditions neither bike felt very solid and there were a few butt-clenching moments. But it was easier to get tucked in behind the larger screen on the new model, and in back-to-back top speed runs it felt a little more planted. Remember this is actual measured GPS speed, not a speedo reading.
New 10.15 seconds @ 149.43mph
Old 10.31 seconds @ 149.04mph
The new model comes with three-stage launch control, which means you no longer need to be a professional road tester to get a clean fast getaway. However, to make a clear comparison we de-activated the launch control, which can be beaten by experienced riders. Both bikes run an impressive time and speed, with the new model just nudging ahead. The new ZX-10R comes with a quickshifter as standard, which we thought might give it the edge, but the activation of the shifter is relatively slow compared to a race bike and you only change gear twice on the quarter-mile run! To get a clearer indication of acceleration we raced both bikes from zero to an actual 180mph as well.
New 17.47s, 928.34m
Old 18.41s, 993.08m
The fact both bikes can accelerate to 180mph from a standing start in less than 1km is hugely impressive. But the 0-180mph clearly shows the improvements of the new model. It not only gets to 180mph a second quicker but it’s also 65 metres in front, or roughly 32 bike lengths; the new bike is visibly pulling away! We checked the data from 0 and 100mph and the new 2016 bike is already 10 metres ahead, or five bike-lengths; there’s a visible difference. Many factors come into play here, the new bike’s anti-wheelie, the longer wheelbase, the improved mid-range and obviously the shorter gearing.
The table shows recorded speeds in each gear, which clearly shows the difference the gear ratios make. First gear is very similar and still tall, at an actual 100mph. The big difference is then in the next four gears. There’s a significant 13mph difference on the rev limiter in 3rd.
Roll-on in top gear from 40-120mph
New 11.04 seconds
Old 11.18 seconds
The idea of this test is to imitate accelerating on to a motorway in top gear, obviously in Germany not the UK. There’s not a huge amount of difference between the two bikes. At 120mph there are only two bike-lengths in it. The 2016 machine has improved mid-range but is slightly heavier. The big difference is when we compare the roll-on in third gear from 30mph to 100mph.
Roll on in 3rd 30-100mph
New 5.93 seconds
Old 7.49 seconds
The improved mid-range and lowered gearing enables the new 2016 ZX-10R to pull cleanly away from the old bike – it’s 1.5 seconds quicker to 100mph. The difference between the two bikes is visual too, it only take 165 metres for the new bike to reach 100mph, whereas it takes the 2015 bike 212 metres. When jumping from the old bike to the new we could really feel this difference between each model. It’s a big step forward for the new bike and it is felt immediately on the road.
New 50.24 metres
Old 50.20 metres
Both bikes are equipped with ABS and both set nearly the same time and near identical distance. All the braking is now done via the very clever Bosch control unit, it’s simply a case of pulling the lever and letting the ABS take over. I’m sure we could have beaten the system by de-activating the ABS, but this isn’t possible on the new 2016 model without the race kit. The Brembo brakes feel shaper on the new model and without the ABS we could have reduced the braking by a few metres.
‘Little things mean a lot’
The old ZX-10R isn’t a bad bike, far from it. I’d still love to race and own one; they will still be competitive on the roads and on short circuits. In many ways the new bike isn’t a massive step forward, but this is mainly because the old bike is so good. It finished a credible fourth in our 1000s test last year and was third quickest around Jerez.
But the new bike has more power and torque, is measurably and visually quicker in the mid-range thanks to the new gearing, improved power and quickshifter. The handling feels lovely, a little firm at very slow speeds but it works in harmony with the chassis. Despite being heavier it actually feels lighter on fast direction changes and when rolling into fast corners; plus the electronics are bang up to date. Add up the small changes and the new ZX-10 is very tempting.
Photos: Jason Critchell
All-new in 2011, the ZX-10R engine was designed to promote early throttle opening and drive by moving torque higher in the rev range. The new engine retains this character but offers a stronger mid-range and is more responsive, spinning up quicker thanks to a lower moment of inertia, which benefits acceleration and deceleration (along with cornering performance).
The intake ports are machined in two stages, first at the valve seats, then at an inclined angle, to promote a straight path for the air. The ports allow a greater volume on fuel-air mixture, increasing power, and are polished as well.
The polished exhaust ports are straighter and wider, while the combustion chamber is reshaped and has larger titanium valves. The spark plugs have platinum tips, contributing to linear power deliver, particularly on initial throttle opening. They also have a very long service life.
Shorter, lighter, pistons contribute to throttle response
Revised camshaft profiles give greater overlap and more power at high rpm and are now made from chromoly to reduce weight. A revised cam chain tensioner helps with more stable valve timing.
The combustion chamber is dome machined and shorter, lighter, pistons contribute to throttle response, while the crankshaft has a 20 per cent lower moment of inertia, the most significant change brought about through WSB experience. Acceleration, deceleration and cornering all benefit. A single-shaft secondary balancer cuts vibration.
The cassette-style gearbox ratios are revised for track riding, with shorter ratios for second through sixth, aiding acceleration and stable downshifting. The airbox is two litres larger at 10 litres, while the throttle-bodies feature dual injectors, the secondary for top end rpm. Meanwhile the fly-by-wire system allows full ECU control of the throttle valves, controlling fuel, air and engine braking.
The electronics were heavily updated, including a new fully electronic throttle actuation system which enabled the traction control to further evolve, with launch control (KLCM) and engine brake control (KEBC) added.
The new for 2011 Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC) system included five modes for more control than ever before, particularly aimed at improving performance on the circuit, with modes one and two intended for race/circuit use.
The system was a hybrid predictive/feedback-type, which used Kawasaki’s dynamic modelling software, and was further refined with the latest generation Bosch IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) to provide five measured parameters and a sixth calculated by the ECU. Engine rpm, throttle position, slippage and acceleration are all also measured.
Riders were able to take off with full throttle
The Kawasaki Launch Control Mode (KLCM) offered three levels of adjustment. Riders were able to take off with full throttle and the system limited engine speed and regulated wheel spin and lift. It was disengaged at over 93mph (150km/h) or from third gear onwards, as well as when engine temperature exceeded 100°C.
Kawasaki Engine Brake Control allowed engine braking to be reduced from that normally offered by the slipper clutch. The setting you chose was saved until you changed it again, including when the bike was turned off.
The Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System (KIBS) used not only front and rear wheel sensors, but also communicated with the ECU, taking into account throttle position, engine speed, clutch and gear position to allow optimal control and minimise intrusiveness.
Front caliper hydraulic pressure is also monitored for smoother operation and better rear wheel lift control. The system further communicates with the Bosch IMU to allow cornering ABS.
An optional race kit accessory is also available that allows the KIBS to be switched to ‘R OFF’ which limits the system to front brakes only, or completely off.
The Kawasaki Quick Shifter (KQS), allows seamless upshifts and can be combined with the optional race kit ECU for clutchless downshifting.
Three power modes are available as standard, with Full offering what the name suggests, while Middle reduces power to approximately 80 per cent, and Low reduces power to approximately 60%. A CAN coupler is also present for easy data logger fitment.
The twin-spar aluminium frame traces a direct line from the steering head to the swingarm pivot, delivering greater control to the rider.
The head stock is moved 7.5mm closer to the rider to place more weight over the front, giving more front-end feel and increased stability and confidence on corner entry, also helping with direction changes and braking. The reverse offset collars in the race kit allow adjustment 4mm either way from standard, while other collars allow head angle changes. The swingarm pivot point can also be adjusted via the race kit parts.
The swingarm’s optimised torsional rigidity contributes to the handling and is 15.8mm longer, adding to the increased front weight bias and increasing traction on corner exit.
The 43mm Balance Free Forks bring WSB technology to the road. Damping force is generated outside of the main tube in the damping force chamber, which allows the piston in the main tube to act as a pump, pushing oil towards the valves. This helps reduce pressure balance fluctuations, which can cause cavitation, as a result of compression and extension.
The external compression chamber is pressurised with nitrogen gas enabling very stable pressure increases. The compression and rebound circuits are completely independent from each other, giving smooth, optimal oil flows.
Like the fork, the damping force in Showa’s Balance Free Rear Cushion shock is generated in an external chamber and compression and rebound are independent circuits. The position of the shock also minimises heat transfer from the engine or exhaust, giving more stable damping.