KAWASAKI ZX-10R (2021 - on) Review

Highlights

  • New aerodynamic fairing
  • Revised gearing and chassis
  • TFT dash and cruise control

At a glance

Power: 200 bhp
Seat height: Medium (32.9 in / 835 mm)
Weight: Medium (456 lbs / 207 kg)

Prices

New £15,799
Used £15,800

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

In a bid to mimic Kawasaki’s WSB success on the road the 2021 ZX-10R gets its first major update since 2016.

Styling, aerodynamics and built-in winglets are new, the engine, chassis, geometry and electronics are tweaked and it now finally has an all-singing colour TFT dash.

But despite already being one of the most cramped superbikes around, the biggest change comes from the riding position which is more race focused than before.

Don’t let that put you off, though, because although it’s now even better on the track, it’s still fantastic in the real world and even has cruise control. It now has all the makings of being able to live with the best of its rivals.


2021 Kawasaki ZX-10R ridden at the UK launch

First published 29 April, 2021 by Jon Urry

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R UK launch

The Ninja ZX-10R is unashamedly a very track-focused bike and has been since it was first launched in 2004 and the 2021 model hasn’t changed this outlook on life.

If you love its aggressive attitude the lower gearing makes it faster to accelerate, the chassis geometry gives it better front end feel and the aero package brings a much-needed fresh new look and talking point.

On track it remains brilliant and the electronic assists designed to help you go fast are hard to fault. On the road it is still compromised through a cramped riding position, the TFT dash isn’t that flash and the motor is still less gutsy and more top-endy than some rivals – but what do you expect from a Ninja? And at least you now get a taller screen and cruise control as well as the option of heated grips!

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Revised chassis geometry sees the wheelbase lengthened from 1440mm to 1450mm thanks an 8mm longer swingarm (and 1mm lower pivot) and 2mm greater fork offset.

Trail is down from 107mm to 106.7mm and weight bias is shifted 0.2% to the front. Forks springs are softer (21.0N/mm from 21.5N/mm) and the shock spring stiffer (91 N/mm to 95 N/mm).

The outgoing ZX-10R liked to be loaded-up on the brakes to turn quickly, but the ’21 bike is nimbler with more feel from the front and support from the rear. Stability, braking power and Bridgestone RS11 Racing Street rubber are all superb.

Handlebars are flatter and 10mm further forward, the seat is more steeply angled, pegs are 5mm higher and screen 40mm taller.

All this adds up to a more race bike-like riding position, although the extra wind protection is useful on the road. I’m 6ft 1in and would drop the pegs back down 5mm if I owned one and preferred the old riding position.

My arms are now too straight, I can’t look up properly riding around town and have to crouch down to see out of the mirrors. On track the new ergonomics are an improvement, apart from the high pegs.


2021 Kawasaki ZX-10R ridden at the UK launch

First published 29 April, 2021 by Jon Urry

Kawasaki ZX-10R turning right on UK track

Despite Kawasaki claiming the new fairing adds 17% more downforce, unless you ride the new and old models back-to-back (or are a WSB rider) you probably won’t notice the difference.

What you will spot, however, is a result of alterations to the suspension and chassis. Kawasaki have increased the shock’s spring rate from 91N/mm to 95N/mm and reduced it on the forks from 21.5N/mm to 21N/mm, putting more weight over the front of the bike.

This gives it a better feeling from its front end when entering bends and on track you can really push its limits while the new wider bars assist with leverage. Once upright, the 8mm longer wheelbase and 2mm greater fork offset (or aero...) seems to make it slightly more stable under hard acceleration and while the Ninja still shakes its head a bit but now calms down more quickly, helped by the Öhlins electronically-controlled steering damper.

Kawasaki ZX-10R new fairing with in-built aero

Kawasaki haven’t updated the Ninja’s brakes and when it comes to track riding, this is a bit of a shame. The RR model gets braided lines as standard and if you are a track fiend, these are needed. If, however, you generally ride more on the road, the rubber lines are perfectly acceptable.

When it comes to comfort levels, the Ninja’s riding position remains very track-focused but the bars are now wider splayed as Jonathan Rea likes a ‘motocross’ style of clip-on, which makes them a little easier on the wrists. It’s still a wrist-heavy track bike riding position and not comfortable or roomy but at least the screen is now 40mm taller, which is a genuine blessing...

Engine

Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Now the ZX-10R’s inline four-cylinder engine meets Euro5 with power and torque remaining at 200bhp and 85ftlb.

Cylinder head porting, throttle valves and an air-cooled oil cooler are new, as is the exhaust, which sounds good for a standard system. The gearbox has lower first to third ratios, the rear sprocket is up two teeth (now 17/41) and there are now seven riding modes: Rain, Road, Sport and four custom settings.

The engine is peaky with soft power down low, but it’s but tuned for lap times and rear tyre life, so those who like power wheelies will be disappointed.

As far as rider aids go the ZX-10R has it all: KCMF (cornering ABS and traction control system), S-KTRC (traction control), KLCM (launch control), KIBS (ABS), KEBC (engine brake control), KQS (quickshifter), ESD (electronic steering damper) and KCC (cruise control) - a top shelf electronics package to rival the European competition, but with a Japanese price tag.

The cruise control makes long motorway rides less painful for wrists and the up/down quickshifter works well, even at low speed.

Traction control is good on the road but still lets the rear spin-up on track in the wet, even in Rain mode, before the electronics eventually chime in to keep everything in check. But ultimately the ZX-10R never steps out of line.


2021 Kawasaki ZX-10R ridden at the UK launch

First published 29 April, 2021 by Jon Urry

Kawasaki ZX-10R has weight canted forward thanks to new springs

Although the majority of the motor remains unchanged for 2021, and power and torque figures are also unaltered, it is now Euro5-compliant and features a few small yet significant revisions.

Kawasaki have lowered the ratios of the first three gears as well as adding two teeth to the rear sprocket, taking it from 39 to 41 teeth. This has made the Ninja far more eager to accelerate and has certainly reduced, if not eliminated, its breathless feel at low revs.

Although it is still quite tall geared, once you get going (above 6000rpm) there is less waiting for the meat of power to arrive and the gearbox and up/down shifter are seamlessly slick.

There is a bit of a jerk when going from a closed throttle to an open one but this is a result of Euro5-fuelling and isn’t too intrusive. The power modes (Sport, Road, Rain and Rider) are now integrated with the ABS and TC systems and launch control, engine braking control, wheelie control and cruise control are standard fitment.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

This generation of motor and chassis can be traced back to 2011 and a quick glance of our owners’ reviews section for that and the 2016 model show nothing but glowing reviews for reliability and durability.

The introduction new valve train and Euro5 tweaks is unlikely to change that and anyway, how many road riders will ever stress a 200bhp engine?

2021 Kawasaki ZX-10R engine

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The ZX-10R remains good value when you consider what you are getting in terms of technology, speed and genuine track pedigree. It’s the only one of the litre inline four Japanese sportsbikes that can genuinely boast race success on a world level.

The road bikes to beat mostly come from Europe, though, in the form of the BMW S1000RR (£15,590) and Ducati Panigale V4 (£19,995). And despite not having the racing success of the Kawasaki, the Honda CBR1000RR-R (£19,999) can't be ruled out as a road-going superbike either.

Equipment

4 out of 5 (4/5)

Restyled with improved aerodynamics at the top of the list and good looks second the ZX-10R’s new upper fairing creates 7% less drag and built-in MotoGP-inspired winglets increase downforce by 17%, to help keep the front wheel down under hard acceleration at track speeds.

The central ram air intake path has been revised and the old bike’s halogen headlights are replaced with neat new, tiny-eyed LEDs.

It now matches its superbike rivals for bells and whistles, including a full armoury of electronic rider aids, quality suspension, brakes, new cruise control and a fresh new Bluetooth-enabled multi-function colour dash and switchgear, which immediately gives the ZX-10R the more modern feel of its superbike rivals.

2021 Kawasaki ZX-10R badge

Specs

Engine size 998cc
Engine type Liquid-cooled, 16v, inline four
Frame type Aluminium twin spar
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Seat height 835mm
Bike weight 207kg
Front suspension 43mm Show BFF forks, fully adjustable
Rear suspension Single Showa shock, fully adjustable
Front brake 2 x 330mm discs with Brembo M50 four-piston radial calipers. ABS
Rear brake 220mm disc with single piston caliper. Cornering ABS
Front tyre size 120/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 190/55 x 17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 46 mpg
Annual road tax £96
Annual service cost -
New price £15,799
Used price £15,800
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two years

Top speed & performance

Max power 200 bhp
Max torque 85 ft-lb
Top speed 186 mph
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range 172 miles

Model history & versions

Model history

2004: The first of a new generation of ZX-10Rs is launched and it is typically ferocious and wild! Possibly a little too much…

2006: The Ninja is updated with a new, calmer, model that introduces twin underseat pipes, earning it the nickname ‘the wheelbarrow…’

2008: After riders reject the calmer model of Ninja, Kawasaki go back to the bike’s aggressive roots with a sharper generation that even features a (very basic) form of traction control. And no underseat pipes!

2011: A ground-up new Ninja is launched with a full electronics package and totally new chassis and 200bhp motor. It is the first of the Japanese sportsbikes to properly take the fight to the BMW S1000RR…

2013: An Öhlins electronic steering damper is added.

2016: The Ninja is heavily revised with more liner power, improved traction control, Showa BFF forks, cornering ABS and a quickshifter alongside chassis and styling tweaks.

2017: The homologation special ZX-10RR is launched and features a revised head with space for new high-lift cams and Marchesini wheels.

2018: The ZX-10R SE arrives with semi-active Showa suspension and Marchesini wheels.

2019: Updated ZX-10R has more power and a new valve train for more revs, aimed squarely at national and world superbike teams.

2021: First major update since 2016, power stays the same, but the engine is modified for Euro5. Chassis, geometry and electronics are also tweaked, the riding position more extreme and for the first time the ZX-10R gets a colour TFT screen and cruise control.

Other versions

ZX-10RR: Homologation special (500 worldwide) costs an eye-watering £24,799 and has racier cams, valve springs, pistons, shorter inlet trumpets and rev limit raised 500rpm to 14,700rpm.

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