MCN overall review verdict: 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.
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 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.