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KAWASAKI ZX-10R (2016-on) Review

Published: 03 September 2018

The closest thing to a road-going World Superbike

KAWASAKI ZX-10R  (2016-on)

The closest thing to a road-going World Superbike

Overall Rating 5 out of 5

With linear, smooth, controlled power delivery and amazing mechanical grip, the most advanced traction control in class, the Kawasaki ZX-10R will give you security on the streets and huge thrills on the track.

On the road, the bike looks and feels very similar to the 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R. The clocks are almost identical with the same horizontal rev counter. If you jumped from the 2011 bike to the 2016 bike there were no big initial surprises – it still felt like a ZX-10R.

There were differences, however, the broader, taller screen and the huge radial Brembo master cylinder attached to the front brake lever, the bright red tops of the Showa BFF, and the lightly tweaked switchgear.

The ZX-10R downs a shot and wants to party hard

Once on the move the changes became even more obvious with the standard quickshifter making itself known immediately. The gearing felt 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.

The Kawasaki ZX-10R

There’s an obvious difference in performance above 7000rpm in second and third gear; the 2016 model is much livelier, the anti-wheelie and traction control working overtime to keep everything under control.

It’s actually heavier than the 2011 bike, but feels lighter and turns easier, especially when rolling into corners at high speed. After riding both bikes for the first time, we thought the new bike was the lightest by some margin, and were amazed to find that this wasn’t the case at all.

Town isn’t the ZX-10R’s natural habitat

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 2011 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 Kawasaki ZX-10R is a track missile

The original ZX-10R was an animal, and some worried that the new bike would be even worse with an additional 40bhp. But the 200bhp electronic-laden 2016 ZX-10R with its excellent chassis and suspension feels much safer than its slap-happy forefather.

This was the best ZX-10R yet, and the closest thing to the real WSB deal.

What the changes meant

On paper, the 2016 model is 0.16 seconds faster over a standing quarter mile than its predecessor, gets from 0-180mph around one second sooner and from 30-100mph about a second and a half quicker. That may sound trivial, but little things mean a lot.

The 2011 ZX-10R wasn’t a bad bike, far from it. In many ways the 2016 bike wasn’t a massive step forward, but this was mainly because its predecessor was so good. It finished a credible fourth in our 1000s test in 2015 (when it was already four years old) and was third quickest around Jerez.

But the 2016 bike had more power and torque, was measurably and visually quicker in the mid-range thanks to the new gearing, improved power and quickshifter. The handling felt lovely, a little firm at very slow speeds but it works in harmony with the chassis.

Despite being heavier it actually felt lighter on fast direction changes and when rolling into fast corners; plus the electronics are bang up to date.

Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5

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.

The Kawasaki ZX-10R has Showa Balance Free Forks

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. 

Engine 4 out of 5

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. 

Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5

Kawasaki issued a recall for some early models due to a regulator-rectifier issue. They can also suffer from cracked frames or swingarms, but the motor is strong and they are generally a worry-free bile to own.

Insurance, running costs & value 4 out of 5

The 2016 ZX-10R cost £13,799 when it was new. The price included an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) which joins all the ZX’s rider aids together, including the braking which was beefed up with new radial Brembo calipers.

The 2016 model also benefited from the latest Showa Balance Free Fork (BFF), which replaced the old Big Piston Fork used on the previous model. This was great value when you consider that the 2011 version with none of these features cost £12,999.

The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R isn't short of rivals, The Suzuki GSX-R1000, BMW S1000RR, Honda CBR1000R and Yamaha R1 souldn't be counted out, not to mention Aprilia RSV4 and Ducati 1299 Panigale.

Insurance group: 17 of 17 – compare motorcycle insurance quotes now.

Equipment 5 out of 5

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.

Clever brakes

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.

Power modes

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.

WSB technology

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.

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 2016
Year discontinued -
New price £13,649
Used price £8,300 to £19,000
Warranty term 2 years unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group 17 of 17
Annual road tax £88
Annual service cost -
Performance
Max power 207 bhp
Max torque 83 ft-lb
Top speed 186 mph
1/4-mile acceleration -
Average fuel consumption -
Tank range -
Specification
Engine size 998cc
Engine type Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke In-Line Four
Frame type Twin spar, cast aluminium
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Seat height 835mm
Bike weight 205kg
Front suspension ø43 mm inverted Balance Free Front Fork with external compression chamber, compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, and top-out springs
Rear suspension Horizontal Back-link with BFRC lite gascharged shock, piggyback reservoir, compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, and top-out spring
Front brake Dual semi-floating ø330 mm discs. Caliper: Dual radial-mount, opposed 4-piston
Rear brake Single ø220 mm disc. Caliper: Single-bore pin-slide, aluminium piston
Front tyre size 120/70 R17
Rear tyre size 190/55 R17

History & Versions

Model history

The Kawasaki ZX-10R was launched in 2004 and was a big step up from the firm's outgoing ZX-9R model. In order to compete with the latest breed of sharp, focused and bind-bogglingly powerful sportsbikes (Honda Fireblade, Suzuki GSX-R1000, Yamaha R1) Kawasaki had to really up their game.

The design was tweaked in 2006, and then again in 2008 before a larger-scale reworking in 2011 gave the bike a fighting chance against the almighty BMW S1000RR.

Other versions

There are three versions of the ZX-10R for 2016: The standard bike costs £13,649 in Matt carbon grey, while the KRT Edition costs £13,799, and the limited numbers Winter Edition costs £14,399.

Owners' Reviews

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  • KAWASAKI ZX-10R  (2016-on)
  • The Kawasaki ZX-10R has Showa Balance Free Forks
  • The Kawasaki ZX-10R
  • KAWASAKI ZX-10R  (2016-on)
  • KAWASAKI ZX-10R  (2016-on)
  • KAWASAKI ZX-10R  (2016-on)
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  • KAWASAKI ZX-10R  (2016-on)
  • KAWASAKI ZX-10R  (2016-on)
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  • The Kawasaki ZX-10R is a track missile
  • KAWASAKI ZX-10R  (2016-on)
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