If you had expected Kawasaki's new ZX-10R not to live up to its marketing hype, you would be forgiven. After all, how many more times can a manufacturer upstage the fastest, lightest and most powerful bike?


by Patrick van Sleight

If you had expected Kawasaki's new ZX-10R not to live up to its marketing hype, you would be forgiven. After all, how many more times can a manufacturer upstage the fastest, lightest and most powerful bike?

Yet, this is exactly what Kawasaki has achieved, if you can believe initial ride impressions of the ZX-10R. The ZX-10R upstages the Suzuki GSX-R1000, which upstaged the R1, which in turn outperformed the Fireblade.

As a self-enslaved Kawasaki man, the important bit for me was to find out if the traditional Kawasaki virtues were preserved, so the initial roadtests were read with some trepidation.

Would the ZX-10R still be a Kawasaki, producing that spine-chilling ram-air induced noise, that raw-nature - even at idle - to hasten your heart rate? Add to that the secure handling, protective nature and the small matter of traditionally achieving the highest top speed.

Apart from these virtues, Kawasaki couldn't afford a duffer with this one. The ZX-9R has been the butt of one joke too many, and at this level, the stakes are high.

Motorcycling journalists from the around the world flocked to Florida for the US launch of the ZX-10R and this machine had even the most seasoned ones shocked.

"If you are used to, or are expecting another legendary Kwacker motor you won't be disappointed by the ZX-10R engine, it delivers a brilliant howl of credible, relentless power and it's very, very fast." - Jonathan Pearson, Superbike SA.

"...between 10 000 and 13 000rpm it's just incredible - you're down the straights like a fighter and holding on for grim death." - Ben Wilkens, Bike UK.

"The ZX-10R makes the 3.54km circuit seem like a go-kart track. The bike is just so unbelievably fast it simply annihilates the straights" - Neale Bayly, McNews.com

"Walking up to the 10R, you can't help but notice how small it is. You blink, re-focus your eyes to make sure you got the right look the first time, and wonder if indeed, this is a litre-class motorcycle..." - Neale Bayly, McNews.com

These are just some responses from journalists attending the launch, so Kawasaki fans can rest assured, since it seems it is still a bike worthy of the marquè.

As far as the negative comments go, all the riders reported a notchy gearbox, spelling repeatedly missed gears. Clutchless changes saw the gear staying in the same place and apparently the problem lies in the shift detent spring being too stiff. A softer spring is available for installation, and might be fitted to production bikes reaching the showrooms.

As can be expected, the 10R does not come with any radical additions, just some small improvements throughout. Worth noting is the tall frame rails routed over, rather than round the sides of, the engine. This gives it the same width as the ZX-6R at 698mm, making the bike highly flickable and allowing the rider to tuck in tightly to the side of the bike, along with a very steep steering angle for quick turning.

The chassis is borne from Kawasaki's MotoGP experience, setting the wheelbase at 1385mm, 15mm shorter than it was for the 6R giving the 10R exceptional stability.

All of this amounts to a bike with a very high track-focus; a bit unusual of bikes in this class.

The ZX-10R's engine is new from the ground up and very compact. The crank, mainshaft and layshaft are stacked in a tri-axial form, with the mainshaft located lower than the crank, making the centre of gravity extremely low. This is essentially a variation of the piggyback-style gearbox first seen on the R1 and R6.

The styling is similar to the ZX-6R, and mimics the MotoGP ZX-RR racer.

So, should we await an obligatory TT win this year, Superbike podium finishes at least? It is a tough call. As manic as the 2003 ZX-6R was on the road, it was a disappointing track-tool in World Supersport Racing.

While the ZX-10R lends heavily from Kawasaki's MotoGP experience, they performed very poorly in their debút season. And racing against Ducati, we should have an idea of its on-track capabilities by mid-year.