First Ride: 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R

Kawasaki's all-new ZX-10R is bursting with technology. But is it better than BMW's S1000RR?

Posted: 22 November 2010
by Ben Cope

Kawasaki have launched the all-new ZX-10R. The much awaited new model steps up to the plate with a claimed 200bhp at the crank, traction control as standard and the option of ABS. No prizes for guessing the bike Kawasaki want to knock off the top spot.

One thing is clear; Kawasaki aren't messing about with this one. Since the original ZX-10R in 2004, they've struggled to keep up with the competition but with the new bike boasting S-KTRC, Kawasaki's clever traction control system, three power modes and the option of KIBS, Kawasaki's ABS system, the ZX-10R is packed with the latest technology and spoiling for a fight with the litre superbike class leaders.

The first thing you notice about the ZX-10R is how small it is. A ZXR400 was the first bike I thought of when I slung my leg over the 10R in the oppressively hot Qatar heat. It's a full 10kg less than the outgoing 10R too. I don't know about you but I'm still impressed at the rate at which these bikes get developed. The all-cast frame is the lightest in its class and has enabled Kawasaki to make these huge weight savings.

I had five sessions out on track and used the first two to learn the Losail circuit. I can confidently say that Losail is the toughest circuit I've ever ridden, it's as flat as a tea tray, with no obvious trackside features and to make it even more awkward: every corner looks the same.

Despite not getting to grips with the circuit in the first couple of sessions, I had plenty of time to get comfortable with the basics that make the new ZX-10R so good. It handles like a 600, infact better than most. The front end feels so plush, so precise and very light. In order to build confidence, I have to trust the front-end and when I was running into corners too hot in the early sessions while still getting to grips with the circuit, the front never protested and my confidence didn’t take a knock.

Although the new ZX-10R’s wheelbase is 10mm longer than the outgoing model, there’s no way you could accuse the new 10R of being a barge.  You can remove the bike’s standard cat and move the rear wheel in by 16mm. I’m not sure you’d need to as the 10R already drops into corners with little effort and handles the transition flick from left to right with ease. Shortening the wheelbase might make the 10R more nimble but potentially at the cost of its stability through the longer 120mph+ right-handers at the back of the Losail circuit.

The brakes are astonishingly powerful but I suppose they'd be nothing without the 43mm Big Piston Forks. If you've not ridden a bike with a set of these forks on, you need to. They give you feedback in High Definition.

I stuck to 2nd and 3rd gear for the early sessions so I could concentrate on braking and turn-in points. The engine's power delivery is incredibly smooth, so much so that it doesn't feel like a big and torquey litre superbike that kicks in with a big wallop, it fizzes like a 600 and because the Losail circuit is so wide, it was hard to feel just how much grunt the 10R really has. I'm sure if I was riding around Cadwell Park I'd be able to tell you a different story...

Kawasaki have used more precise engineering techniques when building the new engine, so much so that lighter pistons and lower tension piston rings are used. The result is a bike that revs with a ferocity that I've only ever seen matched by a two-stroke 250 race bike. It is so easy to dial up too many revs, deliver too much power to the rear wheel and fire yourself into a corner 20mph faster than you should be going. Ideal when you're learning the circuit!

The throttle response is razor sharp, especially in the lower gears at higher revs. It took some getting used to at first as I found the pick-up jerky coming out of both of Losail’s left-hand hairpins. The pick-up was so quick I found myself rolling off before rolling on again, unsettling the bike and feeling a touch disconnected from the engine. There’s nothing wrong with the bike, it was just me that needed to adapt and once I tempered my harsh and eager throttle hand, I had a lot more confidence in setting the revs to where I wanted them to be and focusing on getting on with getting the 10R into the turn.

It was only in the last session of the day – the first time I put in some proper laps – did I get to feel the benefit of what is arguably the best bit of technology on the new ZX-10R; S- KTRC. Traction control to you and me.

Click here for the Kawasaki ZX-10R first ride review page 2/2.

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Discuss this story

The looks of this bike are spot on & the specs & tech speak for themselfs & the kawasaki's i have owned have allways been good and have that character that others dont.But could i use a bike this race focused for every day use especially with the state of U.K roads,I don't think so & more to  the point could i afford £12.000 definatley not.but in my opinion it is better than BMW s1000RR & aprilias RSVR.But like i have said i could not justify paying this kind of money for the odd sunday blast or trackday definatley not...Unless i won the lottery of corse then maybe i woluld bye all three bikes.

Posted: 22/11/2010 at 21:34

This bike's front looks exactly like the last Aprilia RSV1000, in special the RAM intake...

Posted: 23/11/2010 at 13:28

Looks great, no doubt the dog's cojones to ride but 12,700 sovs for the ABS version. Leave it aht. 

Posted: 23/11/2010 at 21:23

Another pig ugly Kawasaki... All these bikes have more than enough performance for nearly all us normal riders and I'd rather have something a bit kinder on the eyes such as a Ducati

Posted: 24/11/2010 at 02:34

I own a BMW S1000 RR and in my opinion you get what you pay for. BMW has always made great bikes just like Kawasaki but the day BMW put out the S1000 it set the standard for all bikes. I just think is so stupid how Kawasaki comes out and says that the 10R is pushing 200 HP, that's funny because those are the same numbers BMW got from the S1000. It is easy to take and engine and put it on the Dyno and get those numbers not taking in consideration all the HP being lost when it is going to the rear wheel straight into the pavement. I just installed and aftermarket racing exhaust with racing BMC air filter and PCV and custom mapped and it is pushing 194 HP to the wheel.

Posted: 24/11/2010 at 02:37

I'll stick to my Bimmer. The first bike to come out with 4 modes, ABS, and DTC. Comes with Brembo brakes, shift assistant, Drop Sensor, Wheelie Sensor, 3 years of warranty with road side assistance and much more. BMW is the better bike with more power.  

Posted: 24/11/2010 at 02:47

+1 on BMW is the better bike. BTW: Bimmer = BMW car. Beemer = BMW bike.

Posted: 24/11/2010 at 15:56

Funny, the article clearly implies the ZX10r is significantly better than the bmw (atleast if you bother reading the last paragraph).  So I don't see why you would want to pay more for a lesser bike.  And  we all know bmw has had major reliability issues with their bike (as they do with their overrated cars).

Posted: 24/11/2010 at 18:07

3 years of warranty with road side assistance

That the most important part of any modern BMW's spec...

Posted: 25/11/2010 at 15:23

Thanks for a nice review Mr. Cope.

Kawasaki is following aprilia's footsteps with their bike except on the high horsepower bit. Build a racebike, make it a winner and voila'. Sales.

Design a racebike good enough that every racing team wants to jump on one, proof is the big fuzz and excitement going around about this bike around the racing world. Kawasaki shouldn't worry about looks. Yamaha's latest version of the R1 isn't too cute to look at depending on who you ask but it won WSBK, BSB, German SBK, World Endurance Championship and so on in its first year of production with a lot less power than the competitors. I'd compromise all the power in the world for a perfect package. One that gives me linear throttle response at all times, razor sharp handling and good ergonomics.  If this bike becomes a front runner in the race track the supposed ugly looks with quickly turn into beauty.  Big power isn't everything unless you're looking to buy a dragster. 

I have studied all races from motogp this year and even though the Hondas and Ducatis are a blast on the straight consistently (something some people get ultra excited about) the yamaha is the fastest bike on the technical sectors and it does not matter how much power a bike has if it can't be put to good use on all parts of the track all the time. That is what roadracing bikes should be about, a perfectly balanced package. Yamaha knows this and Kawasaki seems to have woken up to it.  You must be asking yourself why all the racing references if most people won't race this bike? Well because this is a racebike with lights in the first place and Kawasaki built it with winning races in mind. We can talk about the looks all day but the factory has spent about 2 years on this project to be a front runner at world level. I don't think the public opinion about the looks and if it is better than the BMW is their priority. They know that if this bike starts winning races and fighting for the championship they'll sell like hot cakes anyways.  I personally prefer function over looks. 

Posted: 26/11/2010 at 15:22

With all due respect to everyone, but I don't understand the negativity about the 2008-2010 ZX10R.  lets forget short circuit racing - Brands etc. and look at the TT or Macau GP - where were Kawasaki on these street circuits for the past 2 years?

Enough said, I just cant wait for the new ZX10.


Posted: 27/11/2010 at 21:54

This bike looks like a moose with the long snout and the funcky mirror

Posted: 02/12/2010 at 17:01

I'd go along with the overated cars quote.

I had the misfortune to own one once. Never again! I've owned all of the big Jap marques and not found many of them wanting. I own ''the ugly''  '07 zx10 and it's a stomping bike.

Posted: 29/12/2010 at 20:57

I own the 2008 model and it's a cracking bike. I'm dying to test ride one of these still, but given I have the self restraint of a 2 year old I know where that will likely lead...

Posted: 03/08/2015 at 08:43

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