Kawasaki has given fire to a caveman with the massive overhaul.
Just a day after stepping off the 2016 Kawasaki H2 (reviewed here), I find myself tossing my leg over its much-tamer brother, the 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. While it hardly seems fair to compare the two on anything other than the number of their wheels, or badging, I can’t help notice how small it seems in the space where the H2 rested less than 24 hours ago. This is Kawasaki’s true supersports bike, far from the first of its kind, and it has been vastly overhauled from years previous.
Much of the changes rest in the performance department for the ZX-10R, with new suspension, brakes, and some pretty major changes in the engine components. Kawasaki has improved low to mid range power, and increased peak power output by re-working the internals of the engine. The 2016 engine sees a new cylinder head, cylinder, exhaust valves, cam profiles, combustion chamber, pistons, crankshaft, gear ratios, and cooling system. Further to that, the air-box capacity has been increased to 10L, a 25% improvement from previous years.
Keeping everything in check and balanced is a host of new electronics, adding traction control, ABS, brake control, launch control, and corner management, as well as three power modes. The best part of this bundle, to me, is the corner management system. The simplest way to explain it is this: It lets you slow down in corners without causing you to run too wide. I found myself entering turns with the same self-confidence as Justin Bieber walking into an all-girls high school.
Turning confidence to cockiness is the production-first Showa Balanced Free Fork (BFF) suspension up front, which allows independent adjustments to each leg, thanks to those funky lil’ nitrogen canisters you’ll notice sticking out the back of the forks. While (as far as production bikes go) these are currently only used on the ZX-10R, it won’t be long before other supersport platforms adopt something similar. Having this sort of adjustability is a major advantage for riders looking to track their bikes, and in daily use it adds a level of comfort and refinement not found in any other Japanese supersport on the market (sorry, R1 owners). The rear shock is also an improvement on previous years, although it has been used on Honda’s bikes for quite some time now.
The investment in suspension and electronics is something that becomes immediately apparent when you lean into a bumpy corner at about 20km/h faster than you should. Firm braking reveals very little front-end dive, and an almost unnoticeable change in lean angle. It’s takes some getting used to, as my body tells me to lean harder whenever I grab brake mid-turn, these improvements will shave seconds and save lives.
Kawasaki has taken note of the fact that in many cases, the bike that’s easier to ride is the faster bike. With that in mind, they have made the ZX-10R a ridiculously easy bike to ride. Perhaps it was the confidence that came from spending a week on an H2 (reviewed here) and not dying, but every time I was on the ZX-10R it felt like I could do no wrong. While the 10R lacked the immediateness of the H2, a smoother, less violent acceleration made exiting corners a joy, even at full throttle. Everything on the 10R feels smoother than the Fonz, draped in silk. Throttle response rolls on predictably from a standstill, and power delivery is mostly linear.
The only drawback to this smoothness manifests itself in the quick-shifting system, which is oddly spongy on upshift. Shifting feels drawn out, with a noticeable lag in throttle response as you upshift, unless you’re heavy on the throttle and revving past 6500rpm. While this adds comfort when riding relaxed (or with a passenger), it caused me to look down on several occasions, thinking I had missed a gear.
Looking down at the display, the speed and your gear are the second-most prominent items in your field of view. The LED tachometer (which drapes across the top of the cluster) is the first thing you’ll see, but it isn’t distracting, even at night. The low-RPM ranges glow green, as RPM increases the lights turn yellow, and eventually red if you push it high enough – it’s a fantastic system, which allows for some precise shifting without necessarily flashing a shift light at you.
All-in-all, Kawasaki have created a properly modernized version of the previously archaic ZX-10R. Sure it hardly looks different than the previous model, but Kawasaki has given fire to a caveman with the massive overhaul. It’s smooth, it’s smart, and at $17,999 it’s a thousand dollars cheaper than an R1 (reviewed here). If you’re looking for a street bike with a racing pedigree for track days, the 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is a very good place to start.