The superbike segment was put on notice this morning. Kawasaki may be a little late in the game, but they’re here now and have a bike with world-class technology and 207 horsepower. Because fuckin’ race bike.
The previous iteration of the Kawasaki was a great bike. Despite having a rudimentary electronics package in comparison to the European options, it was the only Japanese literbike included in comparisons until Yamaha released the 2015 R1 last year, simply because it made great power, had amazing power delivery, and had a well balanced chassis and great brakes.
The all new 2016 ZX-10R looks a lot like the previous version, but Kawi claim they’ve left barely a bolt untouched. Changes were made to the engine, chassis, suspension, fairings, electronics, brakes, and exhaust - and all were done at the requests of Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea, who’ve been the two to beat in World SuperBike. For you laymen, WSBK is the other motorcycle racing series (not MotoGP) and is the one where they race production-based bikes, not prototypes. If anyone knows these bikes backwards and forwards, it’s those two.
There’s a TL;DR version at the bottom for those who don’t wanna dive in. You’re welcome.
The ZX-10R has always made great power but its 998 cc inline four has never made its power as low as the Aprilia’s V4 or Ducati’s v-twin - so Kawasaki have tried to improve low end power while also increasing peak power (again, because fuckin’ race bike).
The cylinder head and crank are all new and 20 percent lighter. This reduces engine inertia and allows the motor to spin up or slow down faster which obviously improves acceleration and deceleration, but has the added benefit of also helping the bike change directions more quickly as crank inertia can blunt steering speed.
The crankshaft also gets a new, lighter balancer, and the connecting rods have a new coating which reduces friction at high rpm.
The new cylinder head’s intake and exhaust ports are now straighter and wider, allowing them to flow more air/fuel mixture into the combustion chamber. Both the intake and exhaust ports are now polished, which helps improve flow, and the valves are now titanium for weight reduction.
Kawasaki has revised the cam profiles in the engine to better optimize valve overlap, and the pistons are now shorter, lighter and have revised crowns to help increase power at high RPM. To help with engine rigidity and reliability, they’ve wrapped those pistons in cylinders whose walls have been thickened.
The airbox is now 25 percent larger and has a filter that has 60 percent more surface area. Anyone who’s done an airbox mod on a bike knows what a massive difference this can make with engine responsiveness and Kawasaki claim this improves corner exit acceleration greatly.
All of this equates to a claimed power output of 207 HP at 13,000 RPM and 84 foot-pounds of torque at 11,500 rpm.
Ducati 1299 Panigale
201 hp @ 13,000 rpm
199 hp @ 13,500 rpm
205 hp @ 10,500 rpm
197 hp @ 13,500 rpm
84.8 ft-lbs @ 10,500 rpm
83 ft-lb. @ 10,500 rpm
106.7 ft-lbs @ 8,750 rpm
82.9 ft-lbs @ 11,500
For the 2016 ZX-10R, Kawasaki are using a closer ratio transmission, which they feel make it ideal for track riding. Second through sixth have all been shortened to improve corner exit acceleration. With the slipper clutch, Kawasaki claim the closer ratios also give more stable downshifts.
The clutch is also now 130 grams lighter, thanks to a thinner primary gear. A new dry-film lubricant has also been applied to the gears to reduce friction, which should improve shifting speed and reliability.
The 2016 ZX-10R also gets a new standard Kawasaki Quick Shifter (KQS). It uses the same contactless sensor as the H2, but only works on upshifts.
Oh boy, Kawasaki have a whole host of electronics they’ve thrown at this bike—which means we’re about to dive into acronym hell. All are built around Bosch’s incredible Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), which measures five axis of movement and calculates a 6th. This is the same little magic box that made it impossible for me to low side a Ducati Multistrada in the rain.
The system is able to measure acceleration and braking, lateral forces while cornering, vertical acceleration (like cresting a hill at speed), lean angle, and pitch (like during a wheelie or stoppie) and then uses those to calculate yaw (like during a powerslide).
It takes those measurements, as well as ones on wheel speed, brake pressure, throttle position, engine rpm, and throttle opening. Kawasaki even go so far as to claim the system’s level of chassis awareness is so high, it can adapt to changes in tire performance and road camber.
The difference, for better or worse, in this system is that it uses software developed in house by Kawasaki using the experience of their WSBK team rather than an off-the-shelf Bosch system like their competito - so its application will be unique to any that have come before it. Guess we’ll just have to ride it to see if it’s any good.
All of those fancy measurements give Kawasaki the data they need to implement what they’re claiming are some of the most accurate and appropriately intervening electronic aides. The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R has traction control (S-KTRC), abs (KIBS), launch control (KLCM), brake control, corner management, and power modes.
Corner management works similar to the system on the Ducatis, and distributes brake pressure based on the motorcycle’s lean/pitch angle. While this doesn’t sound sexy, it was maybe the most important thing I experienced on the Multistrada, because it keeps the bike from standing up and running wide in a turn when the brakes are applied. Holding your line while you slow is a game changer.
Brake management was something Kawasaki implemented on the H2 and is allows the engine braking characteristics to be customized, which can be massively helpful in setting up a bike for different tracks.
Power modes are a little different than have been on super sports in the past. Instead of full, full with snappier throttle response, and muted - the 2016 ZX-10R comes with full, middle (80 percent), and low (60 percent). Sounds simple and effective.
Kawasaki worked closely with their WSBk team to develop the new Showa Balanced Free Fork (BFF). Each leg is independently adjustable, with each getting its own compressed nitrogen canister at the bottom of the fork. This allows the entire surface of the main piston to push oil towards the valves, which keeps pressure more constant. Kawasaki claim the new BFF offers improved feel, braking stability, and ride comfort.
The rear gets the Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion (BFRC) shock, which also gets a separate damping force chamber that contains the compression and rebound damping adjusters - with the same goal letting the damper piston focus more on pushing oil. I could be mistaken, but I believe this is the same shock that’s been on the CBR1000RR since 2012 or so. You can read more about it here.
The headstock is now mounted 7.5 mm closer to the rider and the swingarm has been lengthened by 15.8 mm, both of which places a little more weight over the front tire to help with stability and improve turn in, while also giving this beast of an engine a little more traction to work with.
The front calipers are now Brembo’s top of the line M50 aluminum monoblocs. The Brembo rotors have been increased from 310 mm to 330 mm and have been cross drilled and given a groove around the circumference to help increase surface area to dissipate heat.
The rear keeps a 220 mm disc and two-piston Nissin caliper, but ditches the wavy type rotor to match the round front. Both front and back get steel-braided brake lines.
The top of the fairing has been made larger at the request of the WSBK team to help improve high speed stability and aerodynamics. They’ve also better supported the windscreen so it won’t vibrate at high speeds. Kawasaki added intakes at the sides of the windscreen to reduce negative air pressure which should help reduce helmet buffeting.
The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R sans ABS will retail for $14,999, or $15,299 if you go with the KRT version which adds a graphics package, a logo on the tank, and red Showa fork caps instead of green. The ZX-10R ABS will be $15,999 and $16,299 for the KRT. Nothing has been confirmed yet on availability, but we’re hearing they’ll be in dealers in time for Christmas.
The TL;DR Version
The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R doesn’t look new, but it is. It’s more powerful, more stable, and Kawasaki has put a ton of effort at giving it better low end power.
It’s also getting an electronics package rivaling that of the R1 (which we love). The ZX-10R platform has always been competitive, but was slightly behind in power and very behind in tech - and this new iteration fixes all of that (or at least claims to). Also, it’s cheaper than the R1, which was already a steal.
The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R
43mm inverted Showa Balance Free Fork, adjustable stepless rebound and compression damping, spring preload adjustability / 4.7”
Horizontal back-link with gas-charged shock, stepless, dual-range (low/high-speed) compression damping, stepless rebound damping, fully adjustable spring preload / 4.5”