First Ride

Kawasaki ZX-10R Review

Jim Bowen managed to completely spanner a ZX-10R the last time we put him on one. He has never been to the Qatar MotoGP circuit. So, who better to make a complete arse of himself...

It’s fair to say that the new model, despite there being no change to the handlebar/seat/footrest relationship, looks and feels a far more serious a track tool, and that’s before firing up the motor. One final inquisitive lap of the bike and I have to say that the new styling does work for me. I love the side profile, in particular the sky-high tail unit and the excessive use of black, even down to the anodised foot pegs. I could happily do without the front indicators (a tiny £110 LED replacement will be available as an accessory) that look like fat caterpillars en route to a leaf party and the nasty black end cap on the silencer. Never fear, titanium Akrapovic cans with carbon end caps will remedy this at around £450 by the time the bike goes on sale late Feb/early March next year.

I was getting a bit sick of hearing how difficult a circuit Qatar is to learn, and how slippery it is off line in the desert dust, so was glad to trundle off and find my way round. There is no doubting that this bike feels proper small – 600/750 territory and very focused. By the end of the first sighting session it was clear that the engine has little in common with the current model. Gone is the savage low-down thrust and induction roar that made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

Instead, we have a quieter, smoother and far more linear delivery. So much so, that there is no discernable point in the rev range where it seems to suddenly pick up its skirt and clear off. There is good, clean power from the off and it is seriously fast, pulling hard and happily to 13,000rpm without a hint of vibration or fuss. So we appear at this stage to have had character replaced by smooth sophistication.

The problem with the current model wasn’t with the motor itself, but in the ability of the chassis to cope with it. The new frame has been beefed up both in thickness and rigidity, has the headstock further forward and a new swing-arm pivot point, all to help the bike maintain its composure out of turns and provide a level of feedback previously unavailable. It certainly succeeds in these areas, but more noticeable is the bikes ability to easily cope with the direction changes of a high-speed kink, which could have seriously upset the ‘06 bike.

As it turns out, I did struggle to learn the circuit layout in the three short sessions of day one, but it started to come together the following day on the ultra sticky race-bred Pirelli’s. Firing the bike onto the start/finish straight in 2nd with an almighty handful of gas did upset it slightly lap after lap – the front stayed down but the bars waggled for about 100yards before calming down.

This was easily remedied by short shifting into 3rd and nailing it through the gears but I was more perplexed with a vague feeling at the front from mid-corner to exit as the rear squatted slightly with so much traction available. A slight tweak on the rear high and low speed compression all but cured the problem and amusingly, as the quicker I rode through the last two sessions, the less I could notice it. Perhaps it was a case of slow old Jim not keeping it pinned enough, perhaps? But I doubt it.

There’s no doubt that the ZX-10R seemed to thrive being revved hard and behaved impressively at high speed. Firstly, it’s completely stable even with a noticeable desert wind crossing the track. Secondly, it holds a perfectly tight line and was not phased by my ham-fisted mid-corner throttle adjustments, particularly on the first day. But most impressive was the braking. My top speed before braking for the turn 1, 2nd gear hairpin was an indicated 175mph on the first day and up to 184mph on the very last session. I never once touched the back brake and never missed my turn-in point. The power, feel and feedback are absolutely spot-on all of the time.

Considering that there were three riders sharing each bike, and the bikes never had a breather, I was seriously impressed, as there was no fade whatsoever during two days of hard thrashing. The chassis was so composed that a reasonable handful of front brake could be carried very late into a turn without any negative effect. The gear ratios and change are excellent, with no hiccups up or down the ‘box at any point during the test. Once I had a good idea of which way the featureless circuit went, I had so much confidence in the bike that I plain forgot I was hooning around on nearly 200horsepower of sportsbike, and it felt more and more like a 600 with each session.

Kawasaki have made a giant leap forward with this model and have entered the arena with a proper track tool that is going to give the best of the rest a genuine run for their money. I doubt if it’s good enough to topple the current top dog, Suzuki’s GSX-R1000, but my guess is that it’s a match for the current ‘Blade (we will have to see what Niall makes of the new ‘Blade in the next issue) and would murder the over rated R1 in a group test.

There is absolutely no energy wasted fighting the new ZX-10R. You can just get on it and ride it fast from the off and it does everything very well, giving plenty of feedback from the chassis, tyres and brakes. So, Kawasaki, I’m happy to say, have finally cracked it with a genuine contender. The 2008 litre shoot-out could be the closest run contest yet.

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