Major changes lurk beneath the new ZX-10R’s fairing, but do those changes really make a difference? We go head-to-head with the old bike to find out
he all new ZX-10R has arrived on UK shores; so it’s time to find out if the marketing hype is fact or fiction. We’re going to scientifically investigate and measure the difference between the new and old ZX-10R. Is there a noticeable difference? Plus, what’s it like on UK roads away from the scorching Malaysian race track where it was launched just a few weeks ago?
2016 ZX-10R, £13,799
The all-new ZX-10R comes with an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) which joins all the new ZX’s rider aids together, including the braking which has been beefed up with new radial Brembo calipers. The 2016 model also benefits from the latest Showa Balance Free Fork (BFF), which replaces the old Big Piston Fork used on the previous model.
2015 ZX-10R, £12,999
Launched back in 2011, the mighty ZX-10R came with a rudimentary form of traction control for the first time to tame the claimed 200bhp. It went on to be Kawasaki’s most successful ZX-10R, with two world superbike titles, plus countless domestic race wins in both British Superbike and Superstock.
On the road, both bikes look and feel very similar, the clocks are almost identical with the same horizontal rev counter. If you’re jumping from the old bike to the new bike there’s no big initial surprises – it still feels like a ZX-10R.
But then you notice the differences, the broader, taller screen and the huge radial Brembo master cylinder attached to the front brake lever. Then there’s the bright red tops of the Showa BFF, and the lightly tweaked switchgear.
Once on the move the changes become even more obvious with the standard quickshifter making itself known immediately. The gearing is, and feels, 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 new model is much livelier, the anti-wheelie and traction control working overtime to keep everything under control. It’s actually heavier than the old bike, but feels lighter and turns easier, especially when rolling into corners at high speed. After riding both bikes for the first time, co-tester Bruce thought the new bike was the lightest by some margin, and was amazed to find that this isn’t the case at all.
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 old 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 would argue the new bike must be even worse with an additional 40bhp. But I feel safer on the 200bhp electronic-laden ZX-10R with its excellent chassis and suspension than on its slap-happy forefather.
That’s what they both feel like to ride, but what do the stats say?
Datalogging: the speed of progress
The top speed test isn’t as exacting as it used to be, as most manufacturers have agreed to a 186mph self-imposed limit, therefore before the test we already knew both bikes would be near-as-damn-it identical. However, we still carried out the test as it’s so much fun and it’s an easy way to compare the stability. The new 2016 bike is longer, there’s more weight bias over the front and it’s a little heavier, therefore stability should have been improved. However, in the very strong blustery conditions neither bike felt very solid and there were a few butt-clenching moments. But it was easier to get tucked in behind the larger screen on the new model, and in back-to-back top speed runs it felt a little more planted. Remember this is actual measured GPS speed, not a speedo reading.
New 10.15 seconds @ 149.43mph
Old 10.31 seconds @ 149.04mph
The new model comes with three-stage launch control, which means you no longer need to be a professional road tester to get a clean fast getaway. However, to make a clear comparison we de-activated the launch control, which can be beaten by experienced riders. Both bikes run an impressive time and speed, with the new model just nudging ahead. The new ZX-10R comes with a quickshifter as standard, which we thought might give it the edge, but the activation of the shifter is relatively slow compared to a race bike and you only change gear twice on the quarter-mile run! To get a clearer indication of acceleration we raced both bikes from zero to an actual 180mph as well.
New 17.47s, 928.34m
Old 18.41s, 993.08m
The fact both bikes can accelerate to 180mph from a standing start in less than 1km is hugely impressive. But the 0-180mph clearly shows the improvements of the new model. It not only gets to 180mph a second quicker but it’s also 65 metres in front, or roughly 32 bike lengths; the new bike is visibly pulling away! We checked the data from 0 and 100mph and the new 2016 bike is already 10 metres ahead, or five bike-lengths; there’s a visible difference. Many factors come into play here, the new bike’s anti-wheelie, the longer wheelbase, the improved mid-range and obviously the shorter gearing.
The table shows recorded speeds in each gear, which clearly shows the difference the gear ratios make. First gear is very similar and still tall, at an actual 100mph. The big difference is then in the next four gears. There’s a significant 13mph difference on the rev limiter in 3rd.
Roll-on in top gear from 40-120mph
New 11.04 seconds
Old 11.18 seconds
The idea of this test is to imitate accelerating on to a motorway in top gear, obviously in Germany not the UK. There’s not a huge amount of difference between the two bikes. At 120mph there are only two bike-lengths in it. The 2016 machine has improved mid-range but is slightly heavier. The big difference is when we compare the roll-on in third gear from 30mph to 100mph.
Roll on in 3rd 30-100mph
New 5.93 seconds
Old 7.49 seconds
The improved mid-range and lowered gearing enables the new 2016 ZX-10R to pull cleanly away from the old bike – it’s 1.5 seconds quicker to 100mph. The difference between the two bikes is visual too, it only take 165 metres for the new bike to reach 100mph, whereas it takes the 2015 bike 212 metres. When jumping from the old bike to the new we could really feel this difference between each model. It’s a big step forward for the new bike and it is felt immediately on the road.
New 50.24 metres
Old 50.20 metres
Both bikes are equipped with ABS and both set nearly the same time and near identical distance. All the braking is now done via the very clever Bosch control unit, it’s simply a case of pulling the lever and letting the ABS take over. I’m sure we could have beaten the system by de-activating the ABS, but this isn’t possible on the new 2016 model without the race kit. The Brembo brakes feel shaper on the new model and without the ABS we could have reduced the braking by a few metres.
‘Little things mean a lot’
The old ZX-10R isn’t a bad bike, far from it. I’d still love to race and own one; they will still be competitive on the roads and on short circuits. In many ways the new bike isn’t a massive step forward, but this is mainly because the old bike is so good. It finished a credible fourth in our 1000s test last year and was third quickest around Jerez.
But the new bike has more power and torque, is measurably and visually quicker in the mid-range thanks to the new gearing, improved power and quickshifter. The handling feels lovely, a little firm at very slow speeds but it works in harmony with the chassis. Despite being heavier it actually feels lighter on fast direction changes and when rolling into fast corners; plus the electronics are bang up to date. Add up the small changes and the new ZX-10 is very tempting.
Photos: Jason Critchell