So the plan was - Turn up, thrash the panties off the thing, make sure they\'d fixed the somewhat temperamental gearbox, complain about the rear exhaust design, come home, write 500 words and be happy... basically not too much hard work at all.
Boy was I wrong. Kawasaki, in their infinite wisdom, decided that they\'d totally redesign the bike from the axles up, reworking the frame, motor and most things around it. My plan of a lazy track day, disappeared faster than a Nigerian scam artist (and my Netherlands lottery win, come to think of it). This was now turning into a real job, I was actually going to have to pay attention at the press briefing, take notes and do a thorough analysis of the mark II version - Oh well, let\'s go play moto journalist...
Kawasaki\'s sportbike product manager, Karl Edmondson was really proud to point out that this bike represented the "new" Kawasaki way of thinking. Their new philosophy was certainly not based around the easy option that might have included some BNG\'s (bold new graphics), slapping on an underseat exhaust for fashion status and calling it quits. To their credit they put their engineering and design expertise where there mouth and commitment was and looked to provide one of the best bikes in the world. It\'s funny, the previous ZX was so good that we could have forgiven them for a mild make over, the fact that they did what they did, shows that this might indeed be, a new Kawasaki Motors Corp.
The venue chosen for this test, was the highly entertaining California Speedway in Fontucky or was that Fontana? We ran the full AMA course that features an 11-degree curvy straightaway, ala Daytona, with a trip into the infield that brings you quite nicely into the banking again. The track is pretty smooth with a slightly bumpy motocross jump in one turn, so these 21 turns and 2.36 miles are a perfect workout for open class leg stretching.
On the 2004, my main concern was an uncooperative gear box. Kawasaki immediately addressed that issue with barrel ground shaft spines, which although sounding like a Sushi technique, actually improves shift action. A modified shift linkage helps improve things too (the gear shifting, not the sushi preparation.) To be honest, the gearbox only became problematic to me whilst banging hard against the rev limiter, the new Kawi seems to rev out so much quicker than before. The new crank has increased mass which has smoothed out the power delivery somewhat. Combined with smaller valves that increase intake velocity, there\'s a seamless power surge from idle to red line. Gone is that step in powerband that had me wheelying around Homestead at the original ZX10R intro. That previous wheelie hit was fine if you\'re a goof like me but some people want to go faster. This thing is both fast and deceptively faster yet. You might want to think about that last apparently illogical sentence a little bit.
The motor is all new - top to bottom. The emphasis was placed on better power delivery, same retina stretching horsepower but with a more linear delivery. They key to a throttle friendly bike is seamless fuel injection - this 10R motor is fed by throttle bodies with dual valves. This fuel atomisation boosts power delivery and at the same time contributes to a step-free torque curve. More power means bigger breaths, the ram air system has been modified too, with a bigger airbox feeding those above mentioned 43mm throttle bodies. I could bore you witless and tell you about the hi-tech flow analysis for the cylinder filling, its Ti exhaust valves with single oval section springs, the forged pistons, lightweight billet SCM420K steel cams with soft-nitriding surface treatment for long wear and high RPM reliability and the reduced friction with less mechanical noise, but I won\'t. Before I forget though, the engine layout has been further adjusted with a higher mounting position and a relocated generator and starter mechanism.
Did you know that the ZX10R puts out the same torque in the first three gears as Mr. Nakano\'s MotoGP bike? Me neither...
All that motor is fine by me and the new chassis dynamics match all that oomph. The chassis was reconfigured to solely reduce lap times, not to be a lazy grocery getter. On the Kawasaki shopping list was a longer swinger for improved traction, amazingly this is a shorter unit from pivot to rear axle. The front pivot is lower and the rear axle slightly higher. The higher CG of the bike contributes to better rear wheel traction with the additional advantage of holding a higher profile tire. The rear swingarm is a looker too, with a very tactile design that uses casting around the pivot areas and pressings for the actual arm itself. The rear tire sizing is now a 190/55-17 verses last years 50 series.
Stability was promised and delivered by the Kwak staff with a totally new frame that offered a revised steering geometry. The steering head has been moved forward some 15mmm. The effect, combined with that shorter swingarm, is less weight on the front and a better feel on the rear tire\'s state of mind. So let\'s recap - higher CG + revised steering geometry + less weight on front tire + lower swingarm pivot + higher rear tire = more time at full throttle. Fook me, I\'m feeling faster already.
Tyre-wise, the ZX\'s will come with the greatest street tire in existence, the new Dunlop Qualifier. This tire differs a little from the Las Vegas one\'s we tested last month, it\'s a little harder compound, as requested by Kawasaki\'s technical department, to help with street longevity. The only downside is that it pushes terribly until it\'s thoroughly warmed up - we were doing 3-4 laps before we were pushing hard and I must admit I was chomping at the bit to get going during those 3-4 laps, but safety first. The Q\'s that you\'ll buy as a replacement will be the super stickies that we tried at the intro and I\'ll gladly trade some of that longevity for grip, so should you, really.
With a very tall first gear it was very apparent how good the fuel injection was on the ZX. The CA speedway had a couple of pretty slow corners - slow corners and tall first gears? Welcome to highside village Mr. Emery, you\'re the idiot. To be honest, I never had a spin up that threatened to eject my royal British bum from the comfy confines of my little solar yellow 10R flier. Sure angry throttle inputs will see a spin up on street tires but what do you expect from a 160BHP + two wheeler? No such problems on the full Dunlop race tires, the smooth transition from off throttle to full on press GP mode, I never had a slip or slide at all, but then I have been told before that I ride like I don\'t like the wind blowing up my skirt.
Either way, the stability of the ZX was quite outstanding, the CA straightaway saw 180mph on the clock on Qualifiers and only 4mph more with race tires (I know, more wind blowing up my skirt). Best not look at that new speedometer too long though because banging down (gobless the slipper clutch) two gears before snapping it over for turn one (that\'s the left-right-left combo) in quick succession soon grabbed your attention. The beefy 43mmm forks up front and the rear shock both have top-out springs to regulate suspension elongation after heavy braking and to keep all things stable when getting on the gas again. The upcoming sweeping double left on the track illustrated the bike\'s stability nicely - with aggressive acceleration after your initial entry into the infield portion, you could bang down two gears with minimal clutch input, letting the slipper do its little dance before tipping it into a big double apex arc, followed by as much throttle as you dared for the next tight left/right combo. All good stuff.
I have to give some credit to the ZX\'s braking abilities too, with the brakes being somewhat new as well. The front master cylinder is now a radial unit and it\'s fully adjustable lever provided ample power from the front lever down to the twin 4-pot radial caliper, manhandling the dual 300mm petal/wave rotors. I never had any complaints from the originals, so it\'s all good in my book. For ergonomic sake I did have the Kawasaki engineers on hand rotate both levers down, obviously they were vastly over qualified for that particular job but it helped extend my riding day for sure.
The CA speedway has a slightly reconfigured portion to help keep riders away from the 51,000 cubic yards of concrete infield wall, the asphalt was a little bumpy and was the only time I was ever grateful for the race quality Öhlins damper. I had headshake there during a series of steering inputs for the right/left negotiation (just before you come under the pedestrian bridge) to be honest, it\'s a very bumpy corner where the bike actually leaves the ground for a split second. It would give fits to most open class bikes and apart from an occasional bumpy transition onto the straightaway banking due to a blown racing line, and I had no such problems elsewhere. Your mileage might vary here ‘cause I\'m a bigger lad (just over 200lbs in my Shift leathers) it bothered some people more than others.
Lastly, Kawasaki has been putting to good use the wind tunnel that they bought on a buy her/pay here scheme. The aerodynamics on these quick Kwacks are downright slippery. This reference to aerodynamics brings me quite nicely round to the rear exhausts. I must admit here, I hated them. However in person (real life?) I didn\'t mind them one bit. They are tucked in high and tight and they contribute to the lack of turbulent air that is leaving the bike\'s rear end. No nascar [sic] drafting is available from the back of this slippery character, oh, and wait till you see a race can version, nuff said. The front end of the bike is not cookie-cutter in any way, and it\'s distinctly Kawasaki with two small twin convex lenses and that familiar (but bigger) looking ram air duct.
So, this new philosophy started with and tried to stay true to a remarkably grand concept, to provide the highest echelon of performance on a race track, to improve the cornering prowess of the original ZX10R and ultimately offer quicker lap times. This is a race bike that happens to be street legal, this is no soft compromise, there\'s another manufacturer that panders to that market, this is a cutting edge open class vehicle offering the fastest point from A to B.
How does this Kawasaki compare to the press released 2006 Honda CBR1000RR? Well the problem is, Honda decided that this year I wasn\'t worthy of a ride at the intro. However, being an expert interrogator, I managed to get the professional opinions of nearly every rider, present at that intro. Their uniform and strictly off the record thoughts were pretty eye opening. The smoke and mirror job that Honda did to the 2006 CBR amounts to a bike that is not as friendly as it used to be and at the same time still not as competitive in power as their competition. The Kawasaki, quite simply, eats it for lunch. All of the previous reasons to buy the Honda are apparently gone now, so why deny yourself a full powered alternative?