New Bike Guide

The latest guide to all new UK Motorcycles and Scooters is now available here

Kawasaki ZX-10R

Road test and photographs by Adrian Percival

Back in the middle of last year I had the chance to ride the new Z at Mallory Park circuit during the MCI test day. My ride on it then was cut short due to an accident on track so I only managed 3 laps on it, most of that time was spent trying to get used to the bike. My first impressions were not so good and I came away feeling that this bike needed a lot of work to get it at all competitive with it's major rivals the R1, GSX-R 10000 and Fireblade. My short time spent riding it made me feel that it was underdeveloped, overpowered for the chassis and had suspect handling, not much of a recommendation really, especially as I also had made my mind up at that time that it was also just to fragile!! So here we are a few months down the line and I got the chance to try another one, this time for a few weeks on the road...

I have owned Kawasaki's in the past and have had some fantastic times with them. Now I'm showing my age here, but way back in the 80's I started my Kawasaki experience with a superbike called the GPZ1100 Uni-trac, a fantastic bike, then but compared to nowadays its a spagetti framed overpowered ill-handling piece of machinery, as are most of the bikes from that era. Don't get me wrong here but then they were the top of the tree, nothing came close to the outright performance and sheer looks of those bikes. I followed that up with a GPZ750 Turbo and this is where I can start to draw some comparison to the first feelings I had about the new ZX10R!

You have always come to expect that Kawasaki make great motors, they always have done and the new ZX10 is no exception to the rule. As I said previously I was unsure of the ZX10 when I first rode it, it seemed rough and ready and would chuck you off at any moment, but having picked up the new bike from Kawasaki headquarters and headed off up the road for a few miles my thoughts started to change somewhat. The word Ninja on a motorcycle has always stood for something special, power, sports focussed, agile, and without a doubt a bit of a show off! So with the new ZX10 under me I started to appreciate just what Kawasaki have actually done here.

Lets get it down on paper here.. The ZX10 is lighter than most 600's, it will do over 100mph in first gear even before you get to the red line of 13,000rpm, it will aim skyward at the earliest opportunity in any gear up to 4th just on power alone, and it does not take prisoners! The ZX10 needs to be treated with the utmost respect, unlike most other 1lt bikes around, it will punish you in an instant if you do something silly or stupid, accelerate a little to hard and you will be down on the ground in a flash. No the ZX10 does not take kindly to inexperienced riders, it will take all your concentration to ride this bike properly and all your past riding skills will need to be used if you want to stay on this bike and have a good time!

Two decades or more after the first Kawasaki superbike was introduced to the public we now have the all new ZX-10R, and it's just fantastic in every respect. Park it up next to another Japanese 1lt superbike and it looks tiny, park it next to a ZX6R and it looks tiny, that's a sign of just how far the redesign of this bike has gone, now compare it to it's rivals and the ZX10 wins handsdown. Weighing in at a mere 192kg wet it is some 15kg less than Honda's Blade and 5kg less than a GSXR1000, plus it actually puts down more power to the road than any other 1lt superbike, and not forgetting the big boys its more than the Hayabusa and the ZX12R!

Now we have already put the ZX10 in context when it come to the others, but what's it like to actually ride on the normal roads. The ZX10 feels small when you get on it, with the frame dimensions as they are you really feel like you are on something like a 400 race rep sometimes! The seating and handlebar position are just right though, strangely feeling less compact than the rest of the bike, which was odd... The one thing here that will put off shorter riders is the overall seat height as it is quite high for anyone under about a 30/31" inside leg! For everyday riding the Z is not at all bad, it does not give you a numb behind and surprisingly enough the wrists feel quite ok after a longish town ride as well. There are a few niggles in town and in traffic though, but most you can overcome with practice. The first slight problem is as mentioned before the on/off nature of the power delivery with the ZX10. In traffic this become a little irritating until you get used to it, but after a while you can appreciate why Kawasaki have such a tough linear clutch in this bike. The second is that in town or traffic all you ever need is first gear, there's not many places you can get up to over 100mph in town! Lastly add to the list a hot right foot caused by the colector box being just under it, summer may well be a little harsh on your foot with the ZX10!

Get out onto the country roads is my advice, the ZX10 does not belong in town or traffic, this change of scenery will bring out the beast in this bike, and boy will you begin to enjoy it! On tight twisty roads the Z feel like a race 600, quick steering, flickable, acres of ground clearance to exploit, and with the shortest wheel base of any 1lt bike surprisingly it doesn't feel as nervous as you would expect. The biggest problem when you are out with the guys and gals for a Sunday ride is don't leave them behind as not much is going to keep up with this bike on any kind of road. A word of caution here though, don't play around or get overconfident with the throttle until you have had some experience with the ZX10, or you will definately loose your passsenger if you have one, or be heading skyward at an alarming pace!

On more sweeping roads the ZX10 feels precise and confident even without a steering damper. The suspension will take most road surfaces with ease even though it is a bit on the stiff side, but not much seems to upset this bike even at maximum lean angles. The ZX10 is fitted with the new Dunlop D218 radials and these seem to be perfectly suited to the Z's manners, the bite from these tyres is good and under heavy breaking (which you seem to be doing a lot of the time!) the feel and stability is perfect. Talking of brakes the ZX10 has some pretty good stoppers up front with radial calipers and fashionable wavy discs, they work well and will haul you up in super quick time from the most ludicrous speeds. the onl slight niggle I have here is that with thin gloves on the slim lever bites into your hand a little which could be a bit tedious on a track day for instance, with normal gloves on its just fine though. So there you have it, the big Z is an awesome bike to ride and nothing like my first impressions 6mths ago!

Mean and moody and ready to ride is what the ZX10 is all about, get out on the road and in 100-120 miles you will most certainly need fuel, this is where the reserve light seems to come on, when this happens you have 20-30 miles left in the tank. It's a great way to spend the morning or afternoon, or both if you feel like it. The instruments will show you exactly when you need fuel but don't rely on reading the rest of the LCD display, you usually don't have that sort of time to do it, a quick glance at the speedo is all you get under normal circumstances. Ride the ZX10 over 7,000 or 8,000rpm and there's no way you will have time to look at those readouts, bends rush up on you in a flash and those previously long stretches of road seem oh-so-short nowadays. You can ride the Z at lower revs easily, say 4 or 5,000rpm and still be faster than most other bikes on the road, even at these revs and speed you will still enter corners at 10-20mph faster than you have before and come out the other side thinking 'that was easy', that's how the Z makes you feel all the time. It's got massive power, it's nimble and agile in corners and in my mind it is the most fun Japanese 1lt bike out there.

There are not many things I would want to change on the new ZX10, maybe a new fatter brake lever and a slightly higher screen, but I can live with thise because of the sheer fun you get from this bike. The Kawasaki ZX-10R is just a stunning bike in every aspect, from the sheer power and asthetics of it to the experience and knowlege needed to ride this bike properly. Many riders will try out this bike and feel intimidated, all I will say is persevere and stay under 8,000rpm for a whil until you get used to it, if you get brave and feel you can handle it then go for the double figures and things take on a whole new meaning! Just make sure you do everyone, and yourself, a huge favour, get into the right frame of mind before you ride this bike because suddenly everything become a blurr and gets rather exciting for want of a better word!

I have ridden all the other rivals over the past year and I can honestly say that there isn't anything like the new ZX-10R! Some come close and are also more user friendly, but at the end of the day if you want a pure adrenaline rush go out and get one of these.


Copyright © 2004. All rights reserved. Users may download and print extracts of content from this website for their own personal and non-commercial use only. Republication or redistribution of content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Motorbikestoday.