MCN Fleet: Can you really tour on a Kawasaki ZX-10R?

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Screaming around the British countryside on a sunny Sunday afternoon as though it’s the mid-noughties is one thing, but what about those times you want to go a little further afield?

The ZX-10R’s nosebleed-inducing acceleration makes it a joy on track but with one of the most extreme riding positions around I was pessimistic about how it would be on a long ride.

More long-term tests

To find out if I was right, I loaded it up with a tankbag and tailpack and headed for Anglesey. I set off from my home in Norfolk and went north on the A17 and A616 towards Sheffield where I would pick up the famous Snake Pass A57 through the Peak District before a dash around Manchester on the M56 and then along Wales’ north coast on the A55.

I left the green hooligan in Road mode for a softer throttle and switched on the engine braking control which helps to knock the edges off the chopping and surging throttle you sometimes get when trying to hold a constant road speed without using the cruise control.

Long distance riding with luggage on the Kawasaki ZX-10R

The first part of the journey felt frustrating as I learned to ride around the tankbag - the Kawasaki’s low and splayed-out clip-ons were making it tricky to handle from a more upright riding position.

But I got used to it within 20 minutes or so and started to relax a bit more. I soon worked out that if I was going to enjoy this ride I would need to ride as smoothly and methodically as possible – rolling through corners rather than braking in and firing out and timing my overtakes rather than relying on bhp to blip past.

Once I settled into this rhythm I felt my whole body start to relax. I could have ridden the twisty sections of the route all day without stopping - not once did I even consider whether my knees or neck were hurting.

Kawasaki ZX-10R with sheep on the Snake Pass

The motorway section was a different matter, however, and as the discomfort level rose, so too did the number on the speedo as I tried to get it over with as rapidly as possible.

So, can you tour on a ZX-10R? Yes, but only if the journey is part of the experience. If you prefer to take the road less travelled the Kawasaki works great but if you prefer to get somewhere quickly on the motorway and then explore when you get there, look elsewhere.

Update three - Is the focused Kawasaki ZX-10R really as extreme as I thought?

Published 04.08.21

The Kawasaki ZX-10R is cramped for a 6ft rider

Sometimes you learn a lot about your own bike by riding someone else’s. The riding position on the ZX-10R is clearly extreme – I can feel it in my neck, shoulders, back and most of all knees.

But was it really as bad as I thought, I hadn’t ridden a superbike for a couple of years and maybe I’d been spoiled by the Ténéré 700 I rode last year, and the CBR650R the year before.

More long-term tests

An opportunity came up to ride the new BMW M1000RR homologation special and Ducati Panigale V4 SP – pretty much the fiercest and most focused machinery money can buy – and I thought it’d be a chance to put the green hooligan into context.

First up the Ducati. I left it warming up its 1100cc V4 engine on the sidestand while I finished suiting up, letting the lumpy cacophony of Italian brute force build the sense of drama and occasion before I took a deep breath and swung a leg over.

Ducati Panigale V4SP on track

This is the sharpest, sportiest, shoutiest bike I’d ever ridden, honed to perfection for trackday addicts without even a backwards glance for road riders... and somehow it was immediately more comfortable than the Kwak.

Yes, riding the SP on the road is impractical. It’s got a throttle like a claymore and wants to peel your face off every time you pull away, whether that’s down the back straight of Snetterton or across a gravel carpark, but the riding position is still comfier than the ZX.

Things got even surprising when I jumped on the BMW. I expected the M1000RR to have more impressive riding modes and adjustability for the track, that’s what your £31,000 is paying for, but it also has creature comforts such as heated grips and a built-in satnav!

BMW M1000RR on track

Swapping back to the ZX-10R felt like going back in time. I never thought I’d say that a 200bhp superbike felt pedestrian, but because of the violence with which those others administer their power from almost no revs, it does. It also feels low and the seat feels chunky and the tank is really wide – all things I hadn’t really noticed before.

The way the Kawasaki delivers its power higher in the revs makes it far friendlier to ride in the real world and it’s just as quick as the others once you rev it out. But I just can’t understand why the riding position needs to be so tortuous when the likes of the race-bred M1000RR are comparatively comfy.

Update two - The Kawasaki ZX-10R shows its true colours on track

Published 04.08.21

Kawasaki ZX-10R on track at Donington

Riding a 200bhp superbike on the road gives me an idea of what it must feel like for Usain Bolt to run for a connecting flight through a busy airport.

The open road never seems to stay open for very long before the back of yet another vehicle is in your way. And even though you rarely have to wait very long, it’s enough to disrupt your rhythm and bring the downsides of the bike as a roadgoing prospect – its extreme riding position – back to the forefront of your mind.

More long-term tests

Even if you do find an extended stretch of road uncluttered by selfish dawdlers, you can’t let the Ninja off the lead for very long at all before driving licence preservation becomes a concern. If you’re riding a ZX-10R flat-stick on the road, the gear indicator doubles up as a helpful prison sentence calculator.

Kawasaki ZX-10R turning left on track

Luckily, the UK has many racetracks that will let you test your mettle for a fee and it was time for me to do exactly that with my green hooligan. I set off for Donington Park to take part in a California Superbike School training day.

On track, the ZX-10R makes so much more sense. The last 3000rpm with a wide-open throttle deliver a near spiritual experience and the best part is you’re only a click of the quickshifter (or a clunk, more on that later) from experiencing it all over again.

Despite its physical size, the ZX is surprisingly nimble and made easy work of the Foggy Esses, and the long and winding section from Redgate all the way through the Old Hairpin passed in a blur of sublime poise, balance and power.

Kawasaki ZX-10R in the pits at Donington

The autoblipper – which can be hit and miss at road speeds and revs – is suddenly firing with sniper accuracy and precision. The quickshifter isn’t the best I’ve tried, though, and near the redline it cuts power for a split second longer than you need, making gear changes feel a bit clunky.

Don’t get me wrong, life on the road with the ZX-10R is far from bad but now I’ve felt what’s possible I just want to ride around in circles as fast as I can as often as I can. I know I’m not even scratching the surface of what the bike is capable of and that makes the prospect of spending more time doing it even more exciting.

Update one - All aboard the ZX-press!

Published 28.04.21

Kawasaki ZX-10R on UK road

As a professional journalist and a grown-up (sort of) I try to stay level-headed about the exciting opportunities that come with the job. But I don’t mind telling you that after a patient wait through Coronavirus delays and the blockage of the Suez Canal, I was a fizzing mess of anticipation when the van came to deliver the MCN fleet Kawasaki ZX-10R.

And I wasn’t disappointed at my first glimpse – the signature lime green paint work was retina-burning in the early evening sun and even better than in the thousands of pictures I’d pored over on the internet.

More long-term tests

But, as I was left to explore every nook and cranny, my excitement turned to apprehension. I’d barely ridden since my previous long-term test bike, a Yamaha Ténéré 700, went back in March and that only had 72bhp. Now I was staring down the newly designed snout of a bike with as near as makes no difference 1bhp for every kilo.

Ben's loving life with the Kawasaki ZX-10R

The thought of riding it set up camp in my imagination and throughout the rest of the working day, my niece’s ninth birthday party and that evening’s dinner, a section of my brain was held hostage by the green hooligan waiting for me under its cover. I had to ride it.

So, despite it being late and the light beginning to fade I kitted up and set off on my first tentative ride. The first thing I noticed was the extremity of the riding position. Until now, the least accommodating superbike I’d ridden was the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory, which is like a small and recalcitrant ironing board, but the riding position on the ZX-10R is more extreme still.

At slow speed, manoeuvring out of the estate with plenty of first gear clutch slip and a headfirst riding position, I felt incredibly conspicuous. This wasn’t helped by the angry Akrapovic exhaust the bike is wearing - part of the £1000 performance pack. The irony of a noisy Ninja wasn’t lost on my four-year-old nephew. But, to my surprise, once I got out on the open road the Kawasaki wasn’t intimidating.

The engine is still being run in – as am I – so short shifts are the order of the day, but you can still gather speed with otherworldly efficiency when you want to.

That first 50-mile blast in the setting sun along Norfolk’s twisting tarmac and through the tunnels created by trees reaching out to each other across the road will remain one of the best riding memories of my life.

Update one: Can all the power of the Kawasaki ZX-10R work in the real world?

A side view of the Kawasaki ZX-10R

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of running a superbike as a daily ride but got bitten by the off-road bug and so haven’t ever owned one. I want to find out if 200bhp-plus can work in the real world by spending a year with the Kawasaki ZX-10R.

The rider Ben Clarke, Assistant Editor (Motorcycling), 35, 6ft. Riding for 14 years, loves a bike tour.

Bike specs 998cc | 200bhp | 207kg | 835mm seat height

Read the latest stories causing a buzz this week in MCN Fleet…

Ben Clarke

By Ben Clarke

Assistant Editor (Motorcycling), hick for life, two cylinders max