In the early 90s, motorcyclists’ top priory was to ride as fast as possible in a straight line. Things have changed somewhat since then and Kawasaki's ZX-10R sets out to prove that point, writes Johan Minnaar.
by Johan Minnaar
In the early nineties, the Honda FireBlade introduced motorcyclists to nimble steering and controllable power, and for the better part of a decade managed to convert ordinary riders into racers while transforming the industry.
Later, in 1998, a small, blue, machine carrying a test rider was rolled out of a garage in Japan. One lap later it was clear that the most beautiful non-Italian motorcycle was destined to topple Honda from its pedestal. For a supermodel, the Yamaha R1 also managed to wow audiences with its over-all performance. Gone were the days of user-friendly sports. The R1 made people realise that to go fast and look good, you had to have a Yamaha.
The R1 finally fell short when Suzuki unleashed its manic GSX-R1000 and for the better part of the new millennium, the Gixer ruled the roost.
Sadly, despite valiant efforts by Kawasaki in the past two years with the launch of the ZX-6RR/R, Z1000 and Z750, they have not managed to come anywhere near Suzuki or Yamaha. All is not lost, though, since they have brought out a model that is far superior to any Kawasaki since the GPZ900. And, to tell the truth, the ZX-10R is far more fun to ride than the CBR1000RR.
Kawasaki has done well to shake its dark reputation of unreliable machinery. At least until all ZX-10R owners were advised to have their front wheels replaced...
On the road, the Kawasaki is a refreshing ride and compared to the 'Blade, the ZX-10R is exciting and always seems ready for action. Despite a wet and slippery road, the ZX-10R inspires confidence right up until the moment the rear winds up and steps out. Not scary, but sobering. By the way, the speedometer showing 299 km/h will bring a broad smile to the face of even the coldest rider.
At slower speeds, it is difficult to get the bike on its side and steering could be described as lethargic. However on closer inspection it can be found that the Kawasaki manages to be above average in most departments, but struggles to excel in any.
What really makes the Kawasaki special is its engineering. With the chassis and geometry almost identical to the ZX-6R, it is apparent that with a 1 000 cm3 unit, the ZX-10R is a devastating machine.
Braking into corners, the ZX-10R battles somewhat to cope with grip and maintaining corner speed is a difficult undertaking. Despite this, lean angles are easily reached and powering out offers a surprising amount of control. The best remedy would be to brake before entering corners and to power out as soon as possible.
This is perhaps where the Honda manages to be more accommodating. By offering a wide array of options, it is possible to go fast no matter what your style. Still, who wants a boring fast bike?
Staying on the brake issue, the ZX-10R does have a fading tendency. Over the few days of testing, the brakes became less reassuring and stopping, even at slow speeds, required a hard tug on the lever.
It may not be as good as the Gixer, as special as the R1, or as user-friendly as the FireBlade, but the ZX-10R scores solidly. When compared to the ZX-9 range, the 10R is lengths ahead - it is just a pity that the competition is so good...