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.
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.
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 have been heavily updated, including a new fully electronic throttle actuation system which has enabled the traction control to further evolve, with launch control (KLCM) and engine brake control (KEBC) added. The new Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC) system includes 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 is a hybrid predictive/feedback-type, which uses Kawasaki’s dynamic modelling software, and is 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.
The Kawasaki Launch Control Mode (KLCM) offers three levels of adjustment, with riders able to take off with full throttle, with the system limiting engine speed and regulating wheel spin and lift. It is disengaged at over 93mph (150km/h) or from third gear onwards, as well as when engine temperature exceeds 100°C.
Kawasaki Engine Brake Control allows engine braking to be reduced from that normally offered by the slipper clutch, with the setting saved until changed, including when the bike is turned off.
The Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System (KIBS) uses not only front and rear wheel sensors, but also communicates 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.