Some wise guy once said that power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believe Spider Man also said something to that effect, didn’t he?
In my case, this corruption came in the form of a lean, mean, and green Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. How corrupt someone can be, you ask. Plenty, if you’re gifting him almost 200 horses of power, and then setting him loose on the best stretch of biking road this side of the subcontinent, the ghats of Lavasa.
Images: Vaibhav Aher
Litre-class sportsbikes, or superbikes as they’re commonly called, are the crown jewels of most motorcycle manufacturers. Every manufacturer worth its salt has one, or aspires to have one. Sure, there are bigger, more powerful, or just plain faster bikes out there, but this is where the real war for automotive glory takes place. This is the no-holds barred battlefield.
Superbikes are also where the majority of the learnings and discoveries from the racing world start tricking down to the end customer, before eventually making their way down the pecking order. Take Kawasaki’s own example. The just-launched H2 and H2R are incredibly fast and advanced marvels of automotive engineering, and they outclass the ZX-10R on many fronts. But they are niche products that will mostly never be ridden in as much anger as the ZX-10R. Same goes for the hyper mile muncher that is the ZX-14R, another motorcycle we are finally getting to review after ages.
The ZX-10R, by contrast, cut its teeth on the track. It is the motorcycle that gave Tom Sykes his first Superbike World Championship in 2013. Like its direct competitors, it is a track machine built for the road. And the public loves such machines. Superbikes are one of the biggest selling categories at the higher end of the food chain in developed countries. Even in a relatively nascent country like India, superbikes are what we collectively term almost all big bikes. And most of the moneyed motorcycle fans here usually gravitate towards them more than they do any other category. You will spot these litre-class bikes more easily than other CBUs at any biker hangout in the metros.
So, yeah, the Ninja ZX-10R has a lot to live up to. I mean, forget its competition, its own history is pretty illustrious in itself, even if a tad short. When it was first introduced in 2004, it swept up almost all Superbike of the Year awards from major automotive publications, culminating in the prestigious Masterbike trophy that is collectively awarded by some of the best automotive journalists from various publications in the west.
The game has changed since then, and new entrants have kept coming, each bringing with it something new either in track-worthiness, or weight-reduction, or electronics, or just plain outright power. Every year, manufacturers update their litre-class bikes by varying degrees, just to keep pace with the rapidly-evolving developments. It could be something as trivial as new colour and sticker options for a couple of years, followed by a radical reinvention every few years, but update it they will for sure every year.
The ZX-10R we have here was given its own radical overhaul back in 2011. It has seen some incremental updates since then, but they have mostly been limited to the aforementioned colour options and small enhancements here and there.
Does this bike, once the hands-down best superbike in the world, still have what it takes in the face of worthier competition? That’s what we are here to find out today, and, outside of commandeering a racetrack or a private airstrip, we also have the best place to get busy with.
Design and Features
For 2015, Kawasaki is offering the Ninja ZX-10R in just the trademark Kawasaki lime green and black colours, along with a special 30th anniversary edition livery. Like with other Kawasaki CBU offerings, some may complain about the lack of colour options, but hey, if it is good enough for James Cameron’s deep-sea submersible, this colour is also fine by us. Besides, why would you buy any Kawasaki sportsbike, leave alone the big daddy, in any other colour but green, right?
In this green and black, the Ninja looks purposeful and ready for anything even Sykes himself can throw at it. There’s nothing superfluous here; every design element has been carefully considered and adopted to slice through air as efficiently as possible. More than making its rider look cool, it is more preoccupied with plastering a grin on his face at the end of his lap or a fast ride. Everything else is an afterthought, an accessory to the core mission. It is this purity of purpose that gives the ZX-10R its beauty.
Case in point: that RAM air intake. Sandwiched between the twin front headlights and directly beneath a blink-and-you-will-miss-it LED pilot lamp, it rams fresh air into the engine, raising the already incredible 197 horsepower to a stupefying 207hp. Then there are the rear-view mirrors-integrated turn indicators with twin bulbs and clear-lens coverings. They subtract yet another go-slower bit necessitated by the road, a practice that is becoming increasingly popular with most sports bikes.
Moving on, the instrument console is fully digital, complemented by an LED tachometer that lights up like a Christmas tree when the going gets fast. Or fun. It is comprehensive and even comes with a fuel economy light (on a litre-class superbike, seriously!), apart from the lap timer and the usual bits. The console also displays the selected power and traction control mode – more on both later – and they’re controlled by a big push button on the left handlebar. Another interesting bit: the pass light also functions as the start-stop button for the lap timer. Like we said, all in the interest of making you go as fast you can without being distracted by unnecessary functions.
There really isn’t anything new to say about the styling of the ZX-10R at this point. As you’d expect, the riding position is focused, but it is nowhere as extreme as we have experienced on some of the Italian and Bavarian superbikes. On the contrary, it is pretty comfortable and you can actually cover some decent miles on it if your body is up for that type of hijinks. And if you’re going to do that often, we recommend lowering the adjustable footpegs by a good 15mm, something that your legs will thank you for at the end of the ride.
My only personal gripe was with the tail section. Styling is subjective, and I seem to be the only one of my colleagues to point it out, but I would have wanted a more extreme tail piece to go with the rest of the superbike bodywork. As it stands, though, it is broad and pretty comfortable, ending in a stubby rear end with integrated tail lamps and indicators. You know, less bits and bobs dangling around that could break off anytime. But practicality be damned, this is a firebreathing superbike, and if I bought a ZX-10R, it won’t be for ferrying people, guys or girls. Again, I’m complaining about a perfectly good tail section but a more radical – even at the cost of practicality – tail piece would’ve really sealed the deal for me. And oh, can we please have something a bit more stylish than the plain Jane three-spoked alloys in the next update, Kawasaki?
Styling aside, there’s the more important issue of electronics and it is where the ZX-10R shines. Superbikes have seen a spurt in power and torque figures like no other category, to the point that they would be virtually unrideable now by the average guy if it were not for the electronics keeping everything in check. The Ninja comes with three power modes, three traction control settings, and a whole host of acronyms to help you catch slow moving helicopters without actually bumping into them, a la Die Hard 4.
Up until the 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 and some other European machines came along, this Kawasaki was the best equipped superbike in the business. It still packs a punch, with goodies like a slipper clutch, a quickshifter, an Öhlins steering damper, and Showa big-piston forks upfront. We will explore each of these features when we get to them.
Performance and Efficiency
I’ll be perfectly honest with you. If anyone lesser than a pro-level rider tells you that he has thrashed a post-2000s superbike to its limits, and that too on a public road, take it with a pinch of salt. Even seasoned automotive journalists, exposed to a wide array of exotic machinery and a variety of racetracks, will be hard-pressed to find the limits of a ZX-10R.
That said, a superbike is no less fun for lesser mortals too, provided you know what you’re doing and give the bike what it deserves.
That’s actually pretty easy in this case if you keep the specs in mind. The 2014 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is powered by a liquid-cooled 998cc inline four engine. It produces 197hp (200PS) of peak power at 13,000 rpm, a figure that climbs to 207hp (210PS) with ram air. The peak torque figure of 112 Nm comes in at 11,500rpm.
Now, handling all that power obviously necessitates some really sophisticated electronic whizzbangery to keep it all in check. That’s where Kawasaki’s S-KTRC (Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control) and wheelie control comes in. In C, the most docile of three modes, the Ninja gives you 60 percent of its full power, which should be more than sufficient for most activities. B mode ramps the power all the way up to 80 percent. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous or have a whole track to play around in, just press A for the full-blown 200 horsepower experience.
This is where the blokes at Kawasaki have managed to pull of their greatest trick with the ZX-10R. Even in A mode, the power delivery is so linear and progressive that you never feel like things are getting out of hand or the bike wants to throw you off it. It is a supremely refined engine that, thanks in part to the traction control too, manages to flatter both new riders, goading them gently to go faster and trust it to sort out everything. The ZX-10R is almost as easy to ride as a 600cc sports bike.
Until you hit the 8000rpm mark, that is. At this point, the whole bike changes character and you finally begin to understand the common saying, “You may meet the nicest people on a Honda but you will have more fun on a Kawasaki.” The note from those huge 4-into-2-into-1 titanium exhaust cans, already a sweet baritone note, changes into a shrill bark now, echoing off the hills and telling everyone to clear the road ahead well in advance. Everything around the road, both natural and man-made, turns into a barely comprehensible blur and so does the numbers on the digital speedo. The LEDs on the tacho are having a rave party of their own too, a party that won’t stop till you cross the theoretical rev limit and hit a stratospheric 14,500rpm.
But, even as the tendons and ligaments in your arms are coping with the full brunt of 200hp, the bike is barreling down the straight with nary a whimper. This is also due to the new Öhlins steering damper, fitted onto the ZX-14R in last year’s update. With its own ECU, the damper firms up the steering as you go faster, rendering it less susceptible to small undulations on the road and small inadvertent body inputs from the rider, like headshakes. Before you know it, you’re clocking 160kmph in first gear. That’s more than what most Indian “performance” machines will clock in top gear, even if they’re set loose on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
See what we are dealing with now? No? Okay, here’s more.
0-100 km/h is accomplished in 2.9 seconds, 0-160km/h comes up in a mere 5.2 seconds, and the ZX-10R is electronically restricted to a top speed of 299km/h. You know, because of the gentlemen’s agreement and all that. Breaking that agreement is as easy as a trip to your local superbike anorak, and then it is all set to do 330km/h or thereabouts. Where you stretch its longer legs is another story altogether. Maybe the autobahns of Germany or the Isle of Man, I don’t know.
No matter what revs you are doing, the ZX-10R never loses its smooth and calm demeanor. For such a powerful machine, vibes are practically absent throughout the rev range. The quickshifter and easy clutch action makes it easy to barrel through the six-speed gearbox with minimal fuss and a slipper clutch is on hand if things get a bit hairy and you need to slow down fast.
With the new Kawasaki Intelligent Braking System (KIBS), braking is also a stellar display of Kawasaki’s engineering prowess – and supplier Bosch’s. The front is taken care of by twin semi-floating 310mm petal discs with four-piston radially-mounted calipers while a 220mm petal disc with aluminum single-piston caliper take care of the proceedings at the rear. These Nissin units aren’t as grabby as Brembo’s ferocious Monobloc calipers, which is something less skilled riders will appreciate. There’s little initial bite, but then it all comes flowing progressively and the bike stops without any fuss or muss. And oh, there’s ABS too.
If you’re in the market for a litre-class bike, fuel efficiency would be the last thing on your mind. Still, if you manage to ride it with a restrained right wrist, the Kwacker will return anywhere between 15 to 16 km/l, which I think is a fair price to pay for all the fun to be had.
No extraneous bits here, this Kwacker is pure business
… but there’s still something alluring about twin headlamps, no?
We still can’t find a term better than “corners on rails.”
Nothing wrong with the tail section. We just wish it would have been a tad more adventurous
But there’s no mistaking that track-focused stance
That’s the view most road users will be seeing of your machine
There’s also a small ABS sticker on that fairing, but our photographer didn’t seem too taken with it
Once on the move, it is a disco party on that instrument console. Still amazing how legible everything is
Say it with us, A… B… C…, 1… 2… 3… There, you have mastered that big button
You won’t be needing these parts anyways…
More sophisticated acronyms
Titanium exhaust can, 190-section Michelins, ABS… All we want now are snazzier alloys
Rider’s footpegs can be lowered by 15mm for long jaunts
Öhlins steering damper on Showa big piston forks. Talk about the best of both worlds
Like they say, “The name is enough”
Ride and Handling
The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is the first superbike to sport Showa’s much-touted big piston forks upfront, something that debuted on the smaller ZX-6R. It essentially means that these forks have a piston almost twice the size of conventional cartridge forks. This translates into better stability, less stiction, lighter weight and enhanced damping performance on both compression and rebound circuits. It also imparts the rider more control and better feedback, with minimal front end dive under braking.
At the rear, suspension duties are handled by a Showa monoshock with a horizontal back-link that helps make the damping action smooth and linear. With a piggyback reservoir, it offers the full gamut of adjustment with rebound, preload and low-and-high speed compression. Tyres are Michelin Pilot Sports, 120/70 -17 at the front, and 190/55-17 at the rear.
All these, and that reasonably well-padded seat, makes the ZX-10R a surprisingly comfortable machine to ride. Even at factory settings, the bike soaks up small potholes and uneven surfaces with aplomb. It would of course, had gotten even better if we had tinkered with the suspension a bit more for our roads, but with the default settings this good, I didn’t even bother. Instead, I did what anyone would have done when handed a superbike’s keys for a few days. I rode it as much as I could.
There’s an oft-overused idiom in motoring parlance. It goes something like, “corners as if on rails.” I’m afraid, I’m going to have to resort to that in this case, just to convey how the Kwacker handles. But really, what else can you expect? This is one of the sharpest handling superbikes from a Japanese manufacturer noted for its sharp superbikes. It’s a total no-brainer, this.
Technology has now progressed to the point that it all comes down to the rider to truly explore the outer limits of tyre adhesion and chassis stability for newer superbikes. The ZX-10R is no exception. With its 812mm of seat height, it is easy even for shorter riders like me to get on and get moving. It is the same thing in corners. That wide fuel tank with contoured recesses makes it easy to grab onto with your thighs and the low ‘bars make it a breeze to tip into corners. With a chassis this good, you don’t even need to set up corners well in advance. Just pick the correct line and gear, and the bike will sort out the rest.
Creating a 200 horsepower litre-class machine is no longer rocket science in this decade. What is impressive about the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is just how easy it is to ride despite all that power. And even though it is by no means a small motorcycle, all that girth just seems to disappear the moment you swing a leg over it. Kawasaki has earned a reputation for exciting, high-revving, twitchy machines, but with the 10R, they have created a superbike that almost feels like a 600, in the best way possible.
A few years ago, we would have had no second thoughts in calling the ZX-10R the best superbike money can buy. But the arrival of the sterling new (by all third-person accounts – we haven’t tested it yet) Yamaha YZF-R1 and the reigning king that is the BMW S1000RR are mighty contender to overlook. Make no mistake, it still packs a wallop and it would be long before one could take this machine to its limits or give it a proper thrashing. Don’t let its sophisticated electronics and friendly nature lull you into a false sense of indifference though. It will still chew and spit out uninvolved riders without missing so much as a heartbeat.
But we are already looking forward to the next iteration of the Ninja ZX-10R, even if that may take a couple of years to materialize. And judging by the gobsmaking H2 and H2R, we are optimistic about what Kawasaki is cooking up in its skunkworks to take on the new kings of the superbike throne.
For now, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is available at only one place in India, Bajaj’s flagship showroom in Pune. Both the standard green/black and 30th Anniversary colour options are on sale, and the former will set you back by INR 17.25 lakh, on-road, Pune. That is quite a steal for a legally sold superbike in India at the moment.
For that money, what you get is a supremely confident and easy to ride 1000cc motorcycle that can also turn into a ballistic missile should you so desire. It is fast, comfortable, packed with rider aids, and can even do decent long distance runs if you’re up for it. The styling and that colour scheme is still eye-catching, even though we have grown pretty used to it by now.
If you’re a biker making your first move into the rarified world of superbikes, you can’t go wrong with the Ninja ZX-10R.
By the way, I also remembered what Spider Man creator Stan Lee actually said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I guess that goes well with the green Kwacker too, does it not?
Price: INR 17.25 lakh, on-road, Pune
|ENGINE||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, inline-4|
|POWER||197hp@13,000rpm (207hp with ram air induction)|
|BORE & STROKE||76.0 x 55.0mm|
|FUEL SYSTEM||EFI (4) 47mm Keihin throttle bodies, two injectors per cylinder|
|IGNITION||TCBI with digital advance and Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC)|
|RAKE / TRAIL||25.0º / 4.2 in.|
|FRONT SUSPENSION / WHEEL TRAVEL||43mm inverted Big Piston Fork, adjustable stepless rebound and compression damping, spring preload adjustability / 4.7 in.|
|REAR SUSPENSION / WHEEL TRAVEL||Horizontal back-link with gas-charged shock, stepless, dual-range (low/high-speed) compression damping, stepless rebound damping, fully adjustable spring preload / 5.5 in.|
|FRONT BRAKES||Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Braking (KIBS), dual semi-floating 310mm petal discs with dual four-piston radial-mount calipers|
|REAR BRAKES||KIBS-controlled, single 220mm petal disc with aluminum single-piston caliper|
|Kerb Weight (Kg)||198|
|Overall Length (mm)||2075|
|Overall Width (mm)||715|
|Overall Height (mm)||1115|
|Ground Clearance (mm)||135|
|Seat Height (mm)||813|