Kawasaki ZX-10R Bike Review – MotorPoint
Trackside Wheaties by Mike Emery ~ Photos by Jones and Riles
So here we are, Homestead-Miami Speedway in sunny Florida, and Kawasaki’s opening salvo for the 2004 open class arms race. The venue is very Daytona-ish, but with a balanced mixture of infield twisties and some NASCAR banking. Having ridden here before, I’ve got to claim some local knowledge, but this is a big liter bike compared to the cream-puff supermoto that I rode before.
Now this bike is a very important one for the big K, and whilst here, they did throw a little curve ball at us in the shape of a certain Dunlop rear tire not seen this side of the All-Japan Superbike Series. A ringer? Definitely, the tire was exceptional in its performance, especially on a bike that offered some insane high-side abilities and some very decent claimed performance figures.
Dunlop has seen fit to develop a tire specific to the 10R, called the D218ZR. However, we never got to ride a street version to see how good it was, hence the need for the secret sauce alternative – how naughty.
First sight of the bike gives way to a warm fuzzy familiar feeling, and it certainly looks a lot like the smaller sibling, the 6R/RR. The biggest difference, apart from motor size is that new slim-line frame, it’s a little unusual. It has a very slim profile that’s not obtrusive in anyway. That bigger motor is bolted into an aloo-min-ee-yum twin-tube backbone that arches over the engine, rather than around it. Construction is a thin-walled casting with pressed aluminum sheets welded together for optimum strength. This frame spec boast lightness, excellent high-speed stability and responsive handling, yet is no wider than those cheeky little 600cc-class sportbikes.
Interestingly, if you overlay the frontal profiles of the 6R and the 10R, bar mirror placement, they are almost identical.
Motor-wise this bike also featured a couple of Kawasaki firsts. The engine utilizes a stacked shaft design that sees the crank axis, input and output shaft in a triangular layout to reduce engine length. With a bore and stroke of 76 x 55mm, the ZX-10R engine’s features a one piece cylinder and crankcase assembly as an aid to weight reduction and increased rigidity. This might be a problem, as Yamaha has realized (and modified) on its own R1.
The trouble here is twofold, first it’s hard to bore and secondly, if you ever bust one, you’ll need to remortgage your house to pay for the new cases and the consequent labor bill. However, resident 2Dub expert, DaveW assures me that the strength offered outweighs any negative attributes, but then again, he smells of hamsters and his momma wears combat boots.
The motor also has some inherent bomb proofing thoughout, with double overhead cams machined from chromoly steel billet and forged lightweight pistons to aid reliability and further enhance the bike’s power-to-weight ratio.
A nice looking 6R/RR style ram air duct is centrally located at the front of the fairing, pressurizing the airbox at speed. An up-to-the-moment digital fuel injection assembly features electronically controlled sub throttles to smooth power delivery. All this rammed, flowed, mixed and ignited fuel exits through an ultra-lightweight (not just lightweight) titanium four-into-one exhaust system that incorporates an exhaust valve at the collector to improve the power curve. That oval muffler is a titanium core, but wrapped with a sheet of ultra-thin walled aluminum with a non-restrictive honeycomb cat’ to keep Mr. EPA happy.
The bike is liquid cooled, of course, however in addition to that “LC,” the 10R also features a liquid-cooled oil cooler adjacent to the oil filter to reduce oil temperatures. The motor also has a very deep sump to reduce windage losses from the crank “swimming” in that oil, which further helps maintain low oil temperatures. Again, like the smaller sixes, the big ten has a wet clutch with a back torque limiter transferring power to the close-ratio gearbox optimized for track-day sorties.
That slipper clutch automatically disengages the clutch under hard braking and deceleration to prevent rear-wheel-hop during initial corner entry. Being a supermoto slacker this helps with premature downshifts, without that nasty chatter, oft experienced when you’re a ham-fisted hooligan, like wot I am. Oh, and it’s adjustable too.
Up front sees the usual upside down fully adjustable 43mm fork with some improvements. The internals are manufactured from aluminum, again for a lighter-is-better gain. The rear end features a natty looking gull-arm style swingarm connected to Kawasaki’s very own UNI-TRAK linkage. There’s also a fully adjustable shock with adjustable ride height thrown in to really mess you up.
The wheels and brakes all look to be in the right places, the wheels being six-spoke (instead of three), cast-ally – for more feathery weight savings – yet stronger still. The brakes consist of dual 300mm front rotors that feature a fashionably funky wave style design. Those rotors are gripped by radially mounted four-piston calipers. The brakes are a first class example of race-ware filtering down to us lesser mortals. This setup makes the caliper more rigid for an improved brake feel; I loved those brakes on the sixes, so there shouldn’t be any complaints from moi.
This bike, says Tome Orbe, Kawasaki’s VP of marketing, is a sportbike worthy of Kawasaki’s image. The bike incidentally also helps celebrate Kawi’s 20th Anniversary of their first modern style superbike – Top Gun and Tom Cruise’s very own GPZ900R. The Kawasaki engineers have finally come to the 21st century dinner table with a claimed 184BHP with ram air, how much of that figure is hot air, rammed or not? Let’s go find oot…
Now plenty of manufacturers over the years have come forward to say that they offer an open class motor in a 600 package. That’s never been strictly true because although these bikes have been light, they’ve always been a little bulky, mostly around the middle and that extra power has sometimes been a little unsettling (chassis-wise) no names, named here but that’s just how it’s been.
First thing you notice with this bike is the way it turns in, like a 600, and the way you can pick it up, coming out, like a 600 again, but with horses that work with the chassis rather than against it. The most unusual part of this bike is the fact that it’s 5mm shorter than the 6R/RR.
Basically this is a 600, with a 1000 motor stuffed into it. Period. Shall I end the review now? No, let me heap some more praise on the thing, and then offer a sucker punch or two, read on.
The motor obviously has some really high numbers stuck to it; a race track environment tends to suck that power away usually because there’s no encumbrance to how fast (within reason) you want to go. A seat of the pants feeling tells me I don’t know my arse from my elbow, however after spending some time of the 03′ Gixxer, this K-bike will be right in the mix with quite possibly a nose in front. However, the motor doesn’t seem to make its presence felt until the upper rev range. Sure with a 1000cc under its belt, it going to have all the torque you need, but it’s not a stump puller like the Gix’. I’m not sure if this is a by-product of a very linear power delivery, because the power doesn’t spike or because at the race track you spend a lot of time in the upper rev range. A street ride will soon confirm the delivery habits though.
By the way, as far as that power delivery is concerned, if you chop the throttle at the top of fourth it’ll easily pick the wheel up and go as long as you are able to hold on for – Doug Domokos is smiling up there somewhere.
This bike does not and will not come with a steering damper (these bikes were pre-production). But before you go in search of your local rotary damper dealer, you might want to practice riding using your hips and heels rather than your forearms and palms. I found that roadracing the XR supermoto taught me how to avoid putting unnecessary input into the wide MX bars to avoid that wobbling/slapping sensation. Consequently my hands were only there to assist with some clutch and brake work and to provide the necessary countersteering input to help me through the turns. I’ve seen that same XR a wobbling mess, due to the borrower manhandling the front end. This 10R gave you notice every now and then, but it was a gentle one or two wiggle reminder rather than a confidence sapping slap. Nuff said.
Proof? OK, I wheelied the whole length of the front straight almost every time throughout the day, for two reasons; because I could, secondly, to show my disdain for speedway-style racetracks and because I could… Was that three reasons? My point is, I was accelerating hard all the way through to the 300-foot brake marker, landing, braking and turning in with no fear for life, limb or an errant headshake. It’s not scientific, but proof enough – that is a stable chassis my fellow 2Dubs.
The bike shares a seat height with the 6R/RR at 32.5″ with a not too long a reach to the bars. First off most of us requested the levers be rotated down to ease wrist break and that was the only real adjustment that I saw all day.
That stiff and stable chassis featured some really nice feeling suspenders, the front in particular. The forks on the 10 were very plush and offered the type of feedback usually reserved for those gold Swedish-made forks featured on only the best of the best superbikes. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such great feedback from the front end of a bike before. Big words, so I best back them up. I’m quite sure all the extra time I was making up within the track was due to the front end feel.
I care not about the arse end of a bike, if that comes around on me natural riding instinct dictates that I (and you too) can correct that problem with a little butt and throttle input. If the front end goes, your brain screams at you to close the throttle and go die a painful death in the weeds somewhere nearby, when in fact a little throttle will save your butt (almost) every time. I felt that I could push the front on this bike further than previously done and without fear. You can’t beat that for confidence and the consequent lower lap times.
Another aspect helping with those same lower lap times were the front binders, they were outrageous in both power and feel. Again I’m braking later and deeper than ever before, without fearing the worst (because I’m a closet wuss) and all whilst offering exceptional feel. Look for radials on your next bike purchase.
So what was not to like? The gearbox. Quite bluntly, it sucked. It all starts nicely with a not too unreasonable tall first gear. Close ratio shifting saw you rowing through the gearbox as happy as a pig in poo, until you got to fourth, then it stopped. Ok, so it didn’t stop, but it wouldn’t continue its previously slick path without some coaxing with a heavy boot, a heavier clutch hand or in some cases a complete shut off of the throttle; not good.
To their credit Kawasaki came to the rescue with some over-nighted parts, namely a thicker gear shift lever rod. It did improve somewhat, proving that the original piece was flexing, but I feel a stronger detent spring would cure everything. I’m surprised that slipped through for the press intro, especially as all the bikes suffered the same in varying degrees. Some poor little Japanese engineer is probably being garroted as I type. Rest assured this problem will be fixed by the time you take delivery.
The sum total of this package? As mentioned, I rode faster on this bike than I have ever ridden before, whooping up on a journo or two that I wouldn’t normally see, yet alone deal with.
Me on my game? I don’t think so; I’ve been back in FL for a little more than seven weeks with one track day throw in a month ago – so I was a little ring-rusty. The bike just did what I wanted and more importantly gave me the feedback to ease any concerns I might traditionally be aware of especially under hard braking and on fast exits.
We’ll have to see how it stacks up to the big Suzuki, especially with some stock or DOT rubber. But with that Gixxer as the benchmark, Kawasaki has pulled out all the stops on this bike, and (outside of the gearbox) it showed.
2004 KAWASAKI NINJA ZX-10R SPECIFICATIONS
Engine: 998cc Four-stroke, DOHC, inline four, 16 valves
Bore Stroke: 76.0 x 55mm
Compression Ratio: 12.7:1
Fuel System: Fi with four 43mm throttle bodies
Lubrication: Wet Sump
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: Six-speed, close ratio with multi-plate wet clutch and back torque limiter
Final Drive: #525 chain
Overall Length: 80.5 in
Overall Width: 27.8 in
Overall Height: 43.9 in
Wheel Base: 54.5 in
Ground Clearance: 4.9 in
Rake/Trail 24 / 102mm
Dry Weight: 374.9 lbs
Suspension Front: 43mm forks with 16-way compression and rebound damping, fully adjustable preload
Suspension Rear: Gull-type aluminum swingarm, UNITRAK linkage system, fully adjustable gas-charged shock with stepless compression/rebound damping, adjustablespring preload, adjustable ride height
Brakes Front/Rear: Dual 300mm hydraulic petal disc with radial-mounted, opposed four-piston caliper/ Single 220mm hydraulic petal disc with radial-mounted caliper
Tires Front/Rear: 120/70-ZR-17/190/50-ZR-17
Fuel Tank Capacity: 4.5 gal
Color: Candy Thunder Blue, Lime Green, PearlBlazing Orange, Black
Price: MSRP TBA
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