Road Test

Splitting heirs - Kawasaki ZX-10R V ZX-10R

It was the maddest 1,000cc superbike in the world, then they tamed it. TWO rides both incarnations of the Kawasaki ZX-10R back to back...


Kawasaki ZX-10R 2004-2005

IN THE LATE 1990s and early 2000s Kawasaki had problems. Bike sales weren't brilliant and there was a feeling that the company had lost its direction. New models were short on the ground and, dare we say it, Big Green had become stagnant. A breath of fresh air was needed, and it arrived in the shape of Shunji Tanaka.

Poached from Mazda, where he had designed the MX-5, Tanaka San was regarded as one of the freshest and most adventurous designers in Japan. He was charged with giving Kawasaki a new brand image, a fresh look and to give its bikes back some much-needed bite.

Tanaka based this new outlook around giving each bike a strong leading edge and a more angular design to add more aggression and
emotion to the range. In 2003 the first of the angular ZX-6R's was launched, followed quickly by the Z750, then in 2004 Tanaka unleashed the ZX-10R on the world.

This was a bike to take on the likes of Honda's RCV-inspired and considerably sharpened Blade, Yamaha's R1 (first underseat pipe model) and Suzuki's GSX-R1000. The old ZX-9R didn't stand a chance against this new breed of 1000s, each boasting in excess of 150bhp, but the ZX-10R was a whole new kettle of sushi. Kawasaki was back, and back with a vivid green coloured beast of a bike.

ENGINE

With the ZX-10R Kawasaki reverted to what it knew best - making a shrieker of a power plant! The only similarities between the ZX-9R's engine and the ZX-10R's were being both inline fours. Kawasaki went back to the drawing board and came up with a whole new 998cc motor with a slipper clutch, titanium valves and specially designed pistons for maximum power. Internally every component was designed to be as light as
possible to allow the ZX-10R to rev faster and make its claimed 172.6bhp, or 182.6bhp if you include the effect of RAM air.

Interestingly at the bike's launch Kawasaki delayed announcing the final claimed power figure until after Honda and Yamaha revealed theirs, which it then promptly beat by a few bhp. That's marketing for you, and shows how important it was to Kawasaki that the ZX-10R was the most powerful 1,000.

On paper there doesn't seem to be many differences between the '04 and '06 bike's engines. In the update Kawasaki made the ZX-10R's flywheel heavier to, they claimed, help 'prevent the rear wheel locking when the throttle is shut off' (isn't that what slipper clutch does) and a 'greater
resistance to wheelying in first, second and third gears.' Which is a great pointer as to what the riding
experience is like.

Despite Kawasaki's claims the '04 bike churns out a genuine 160.6bhp and 80.2lb.ft of torque while the '06 bike makes 164bhp and 81.7lb.ft. So the '06 bike is faster, right? No. When it was launched the '04's motor was a breath of fresh air - fast, revvy and a bit of an animal, in keeping with the rest of the bike and Kawasaki's new image. In '06 this beast was tamed. Although they are both hellish fast the new generation doesn't quite have the same raw feeling of power about it. It doesn't buzz and vibrate, it doesn't sound as raw and it
certainly doesn't accelerate as fast.

On the old bike you are always a bit nervous about cracking the throttle wide open in first because it will kick the front up in the air as soon as the power starts to churn in at around 7,000rpm. It's not a gentle progression upwards, more a slam as the unreadable clocks attempt to imprint themselves into your visor. The later bike is far smoother and while it still rears up, it does so in a more controlled and less aggressive fashion, if there is such a thing. Part of this is due to the new bike's heavier crank, which means the motor doesn't rev up as fast, but also the new fuel map. To meet the stricter EU emissions laws Kawasaki was forced to alter the fuel injection map to make it more efficient, something that tamed, or at least took the edge off the fierce power delivery.
Once up to speed the new bike's engine is as impressive as ever and it's hard to split the two bikes. While the '06 model feels slightly stronger in the midrange, and vibrates less while at speed, in all truth there is virtually no way you can unleash anything like their full potential on the UK's roads. But it's fun trying...

CHASSIS

It didn't take long for the 2004 ZX-10R to develop a bit of a reputation for 'lively' handling. Kawasaki was unwilling to fit a steering damper to the original model and insisted that it was a sports bike for experienced riders, which is a fair point. If you want 160bhp in a bike with the dimensions of a sports 600 what do you expect? This changed in 2006.

In an age of ever more diminutive sports bikes the ZX-10R actually piled on 5kg in its 2006 update. What's going on there then? Claiming 175kg (it actually weighs 209kg with a full tank) the latest generation of ZX-10R needed to add some fairly chunky catalysers in its exhaust to meet EU emissions laws, which not only necessitated a whole new design of pipe but also chassis modifications to alter the weight distribution. Well that's what Kawasaki said, the cynical would suggest that tank-slapping ZX-10R's caused a rethink.


Kawasaki ZX-10R 2006-2007

As well as a slightly longer wheelbase the centre of gravity was moved up and the steering head angle increased to make the bike more stable. And an …hlins steering damper now came as standard.
These modifications have had the effect of slowing the handling down on the 2006 bike. Compared to the 2004 fire-breather the 2006 model feels long, low and lot bigger. On twisty roads the old model comprehensively out-performs the new bike when it comes to handling and just generally behaving like a complete hooligan, but the 2006 bike is much more stable. The steering damper goes a long way to controlling the front end from shaking and although it still likes to have the occasional waggle it's nothing like the rampant '04 model.

As well as the new chassis Kawasaki has also sorted the shock on the '06 bike. Part of the reason the '04 had a tendency to become unsettled is down to the standard shock's damping not being up to the job. When it compressed the rebound damping held the back down longer than it should have, which made the bike light at the front and upset the handling. A popular mod was to have the rear shock revalved, and it transformed the bike. On the '06 model Kawasaki seem to have overcome this issue, although the chassis alterations are the main cause of the bike's improved control.

But in taming the ZX-10R Kawasaki has also sucked out some of its soul. The joy of the original bike is that it sticks two fingers up at the establishment and delivers an exciting, brutal and often quite scary ride. The new bike, while still quite lively in comparison to other 1,000s, feels tame in comparison. Like a dog that has just been
neutered. The thought is still there, but the will is missing.

LOOKS

Put the two models side by side and the 2006 bike looks fat, bulbous and out of shape. A lot like Premiership footballers bulk up once they hit retirement, the 2006 bike is lacking the mean, lean and angular aggression of the 2004 bike. Kawasaki claim the new bodywork actually makes the bike more aerodynamic, but buyers disagreed, especially when it came to the exhausts.

To pass EU emission laws Kawasaki needed to fit large
catalytic converters to the ZX-10R. The problem was where to put them. In the end they opted for under the seat, which was, and still is, a major bone of contention. Buyers were turned off by the gigantic back end and in 2007 Kawasaki had to offer free Akrapovic end cans to help sales. A move that worked surprisingly well.
But big and bulbous isn't always bad. The 2006 model is comfier to ride than the 2004 bike and offers more in the way of wind protection. The '04 models unreadable clocks are replaced with ones that almost make sense.

CONCLUSION

It isn't often that in comparing new and old models the old one wins out, but it does in this case. Second hand sales back up the fact the 2004 ZX-10R was, and still is, a proper sportsbike for proper riders. It looks better, revs faster and is sharper handling than the bike that succeeded it. It has irritations, but for the fastest, nastiest and most bonkers thousand out there the 2004/05 ZX-10R is the one. A good clean example will cost less than £6,000, spend £300 getting the shock re-valved and £250 on a steering damper and you have a 160bhp bike to match the latest tackle.

WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION
ORIGINAL ZX-10R
(2004-'05)

I really enjoyed getting re-acquainted with this hooligan. This nutter of a machine was designed to be an uncompromising, track ready sports bike that demands your concentration as soon as you get on it. Which I like.

The engine is smooth with plenty of guts. It'll rev quite happily but has the torque to pull strong in the midrange if you short-shift through the gears. The slipper clutch works well but how much use you could make of it on the road is questionable.

It's the handling, steering and general edgy-ness of this bike that gave it its famous bad-boy reputation. It goes where you point it very quickly and fairly precisely, changes direction easily and holds a line in corners well.

There are however two areas of the bike's character that you really need to stay awake for. If you're trying to feed a lot of power on coming out of a bend, the engine torque and firm suspension means if the tyre gives up it'll go sideways fairly fast, and if you're accelerating hard on an uneven road surface, especially if the bike is slightly off the vertical it has a tendency to shake its head.
Overall the old ZX-10R is a great looking, unashamed road missile and trackday weapon. The harder you ride it the better it feels. Yes, you have to give it your full attention, and yes, it'll occasionally remind you that it isn't a touring bike, but for me that's half the fun.

WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION

ZX-10R (2006-'07)
The later bike has less of an edge to it. It has a slightly longer wheelbase and is a little bit heavier but because the front of the fairing is wider, it's quite a bit slower to change direction and because it's more stable in a straight line, it feels a much bigger bike to ride.

The engine feels just the same as it did in the old bike and apart from a bit of backlash when you're off and then on the gas, it's hard to fault.

I know that some people would say that in sanitising the old brute Kawasaki have done a good job, and the new bike is much easier to live with on a daily basis, but for me it's just not as much fun to ride.

Don't get me wrong, most
riders wouldn't be disappointed with the new bike. But the old one is a lot nicer to look at and it's the very fact that it's seen as a bit of a beast and will keep you on your toes that make it the one that I prefer. In green, obviously.

SPECS

ZX-10R 2004-2005

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2004-05

PRICE NEW - £6000 (USED)

ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc

POWER - 160.6bhp@11,600rpm

TORQUE - 80.2lb.ft@9300rpm

WEIGHT - 170kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 17L

TOP SPEED - 178.9mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

ZX-10R 2006-2007

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2006-07

PRICE NEW - £8800 (NEW)

ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc

POWER - 164bhp@11,400rpm

TORQUE - 81.7lb.ft@7900rpm

WEIGHT - 175kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 825mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 17L

TOP SPEED - 186.1mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

In the late 1990s and early 2000s Kawasaki had problems. Bike sales weren't brilliant and there was a feeling that the company had lost its direction. New models were short on the ground and, dare we say it, Big Green had become stagnant. A breath of fresh air was needed, and it arrived in the shape of Shunji Tanaka.

Poached from Mazda, where he had designed the MX-5, Tanaka San was regarded as one of the freshest and most adventurous designers in Japan. He was charged with giving Kawasaki a new brand image, a fresh look and to give its bikes back some much-needed bite.

Tanaka based this new outlook around giving each bike a strong leading edge and a more angular design to add more aggression and emotion to the range. In 2003 the first of the angular ZX-6R's was launched, followed quickly by the Z750, then in 2004 Tanaka unleashed the ZX-10R on the world.

This was a bike to take on the likes of Honda's RCV-inspired and considerably sharpened Blade, Yamaha's R1 (first underseat pipe model) and Suzuki's GSX-R1000. The old ZX-9R didn't stand a chance against this new breed of 1000s, each boasting in excess of 150bhp, but the ZX-10R was a whole new kettle of sushi. Kawasaki was back, and back with a vivid green coloured beast of a bike.

Continue the Kawasaki ZX-10 Versus Review - 2/3

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