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Old 01-27-2016, 11:30 PM   #1
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2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R Ride Review

146 0116 2016 zx10r first ride review 005 optional header?itokB0ncIB9g Photo courtesy of Kawasaki

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R

Kawasaki's latest S-KTRC traction control system allows for a limited amount of front wheel lift for better drives off a corner (and slightly less exciting wheelie photos).

I had lapped Sepang International Circuit a hundred times over again before today, 94 of those times while playing a video game and another six times while watching an onboard video I found on YouTube. Zero times, technically, in person, which probably explains the butterflies I start to feel as I tuck in behind 2015 World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea and head out for a sighting lap on Kawasaki’s all-new ZX-10R. Within a matter of laps, those butterflies—and my general sense of uneasiness—are gone, every last one replaced by a feeling of, “Yeah, I got this.”

There’s a reason for me getting up to speed so easily, suggests 2016 ZX-10R project leader and former Kawasaki MotoGP project leader, Yoshimoto Matsuda, who just a few minutes earlier got done explaining how the latest ZX-10R was designed to be both easier to ride and more confidence inspiring, so that guys like me could feel immediately more comfortable while guys like Jonathan Rea could continue to dominate in World Superbike. “A fast bike on track is an easy bike to ride,” he says. Within a few laps, I’m already starting to see this engineering approach pay dividends. Or at least I’m having fun and haven’t yet made a fool of myself in front of Jonathan Rea, and well, that’s a good enough start for me.

There’s more to the story though, because while a lot of the changes were made to benefit you, the average rider, others were made to directly benefit the Kawasaki Racing Team, and more specifically, Tom Sykes (Read: not you). Thanks to a change in World Superbike regulations for 2015, Sykes was having problems getting the bike to steer. The rule change itself was small, with the only difference being that, in 2014, teams could reduce the weight of the crankshaft by 15 percent through improved balancing, while in 2015, they could only reduce the weight of the crankshaft by 5 percent. “Right away in winter testing we knew there was going to be a problem,” says Marcel Duinker, Syke’s crew chief. “Tom could not finish the corner at all. Remember they are racing for tenths, and even small things like this affect them,” Duinker adds.

146 0116 2016 zx10r first ride review 006 0?itokM3vULkfl Photo courtesy of Kawasaki

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R

Feedback and feel is improved for 2016, with updates to the chassis and new Showa suspension providing a better idea of what's going on at the contact patch. Ultimately, this allows you to push the 2016 bike harder than you would the 2015 model.

This, then, are the changes Kawasaki made

As a result of the World Superbike rule change, and its affects on the ZX-10R’s competitiveness at the hands of Sykes, the crankshaft on the 2016 ZX-10R is nearly one pound lighter, with lighter-weight balancer and 20-percent less inertia for easier turn-in. For Tom, yes, but for you too, Kawasaki says, as it also enables the engine to rev quicker, and even boosts low- and mid-range power output.

There are other changes to the engine, including a more compact valve train for reduced overall head height, straighter and wider intake/exhaust ports that are now polished (previously only the intake ports were polished), lighter pistons (thanks to shorter skirts), 1mm-larger exhaust valves, a revised combustion chamber for better high-rpm power, and increased valve overlap for like benefits. Additional updates include a new coating for the connecting rod journals and a larger air filter sitting in a 25-percent larger airbox, changes that reduce friction at high rpm and improve airflow, respectively.

The Kawasaki Racing Team’s concerns regarding side-to-side agility have been further addressed via changes to the chassis. On the 2016 model, for example, the steering head has been moved 7.5mm closer to the rider, plus the engine has been mounted higher and more forward in the frame for more weight over the front of the bike. While this improves flickability, it’s also claimed to improve stability at corner entry and under braking. Of course, it also has the negative affect of reduced rear grip.

146 0116 2016 zx10r first ride review 009?itok7zlRUCQk Photo courtesy of Kawasaki

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R

While the 2016 model's S-KTRC traction control system is more sophisticated than any system Kawasaki has produced to date, it still allows for a surprising amount of rear-wheel slip at the exit of corners. More slip than, for instance, the slightly more-trustworthy system on the latest-generation Yamaha R1.

For that reason, Kawasaki has lengthened the ZX-10R’s wheelbase 12mm, via a 15.8mm-longer swingarm that is also more rigid, for better support in transitions, Matsuda says. Knowing good and well this isn’t enough to completely offset what is lost by the change in weight bias, he then turns his attention to the electronics: “We know from the beginning, we have very strong, very automatic, traction control, so that is why I can decide to use more performance from the front tire.”

And indeed the five-level traction control system (versus three-level on the previous bike) is more advanced than anything that’s come on any Kawasaki-branded bike before, this one utilizing a Bosch five-axis IMU with proprietary software that actually calculates six degrees of freedom. It’s a predictive system and at the same time a feedback system, Kawasaki says, ultimately suggesting that the system will allow for some slip based on feedback from wheel speed sensors, throttle position, etc., but also predict when conditions are about to become unfavorable, based on the information provided by the IMU and its software. The system also mitigates wheelies, and is accompanied by a long list of other electronic rider aids, including a Kawasaki Engine Brake Control system, Kawasaki Quick Shifter, Kawasaki Launch Control Mode, and Cornering Management Function, which adjusts brake pressure depending on the bike’s attitude, thus keeping the bike from standing when (and only when) the rider stabs the brakes between entry and middle of the corner, with the bike leaned over.

Suspension on the ZX-10R consists of Showa’s World Superbike-inspired Balance Free fork and Balance Free Rear Cushion lite shock. The fork is said to only be different from the racebike’s fork in that it uses a longer damping force chamber (the tube parallel to the main fork tube) with twin-tube design, the race fork using a shorter chamber with single-tube design since it will only be used for races, then serviced. In other words, for the race fork, it’s performance over long-term reliability. According to Showa, these bits can all trace their roots back to the balance free rear shock originally developed for Honda’s CBR1000RR, which had the intended benefit of improved low-speed ride comfort, plus better high-speed stability.

146 0116 2016 zx10r first ride review 020?itokNMYtzwmD Photo courtesy of Kawasaki

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R

The ZX-10R's engine now sits higher and further forward for more weight over the front of the bike. The swingarm (and thus wheelbase) is longer, which is claimed to help regain whatever rear grip is lost from the change in weight bias.

Brakes are upgraded as well, with the 2016 ZX-10R sporting Brembo M50 monoblock brake calipers and a Brembo radial-pump master cylinder, the former clamping onto larger, 330mm discs (versus 310mm discs on the outgoing ZX-10R). Overall looks are similar but different, with the WSBK-inspired front cowl intended to offer up better wind protection, and license plate hanger unit housing integrated turn signals so that the entire assembly is easier to remove for trackdays, Kawasaki says.

There’s no doubt that the track is exactly where Kawasaki expects you to take this bike either, what with the race-inspired updates and all. There’s also the fact that, well, it’s just a better overall bike at the track than the one that came before it, something I learned after just a few laps of following Jonathan Rea around at a pace that was blazing to me, even if only to him just a breeze.

And with that, here's what the bike was like to ride

Admittedly, I was at first unsure if the 2016 model would steer as light as the guys cashing checks with a Kawasaki logo on them led me to believe, but the bike really does transition like Team Green said it would, ultimately flicking from one direction to the other with half the effort the old bike would require. I couldn’t really feel as big of a difference at tip-in (as you go from straight up and down to corner entry), but there’s still no doubt the bike’s overall agility has been improved, which was very clearly Kawasaki’s biggest concern. Interesting too, since the bike technically weighs 11 pounds more than the previous-generation ZX-10R, thanks partly to the added electronics, but also to changes necessitated by Euro 4 emissions standards.

146 0116 2016 zx10r first ride review 021?itokqSEYE1ha Photo courtesy of Kawasaki

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R Engine

An all-new engine is equipped with a one-pound lighter crankshaft that has less inertia, for easier turn in. The engine also has a new cylinder head, exhaust valves, pistons, and clutch primary.

Kawasaki claims improved feedback from the chassis and suspension, and that too is true, with the ’16 model giving you a better idea of what’s going on at the contact patch in almost every part of the corner. Suspension action is better as well, with the Showa bits providing great bump compliance but also a good feel all the way through the entry and middle of a corner. I think these really are the some of the best production suspension pieces I’ve ever ridden, barring maybe only the Öhlins suspension that comes standard on high-dollar LE bikes or the suspension on the base-model R1, which has slightly better settings from the factory. It’ll be interesting to see how the Balance Free fork’s added bump compliance aids in street riding too, as that’s one place where the R1’s track-biased settings start to turn that smile around a bit.

Press material for the ZX-10R makes some very small claims regarding improved low- to mid-range power, but the honest truth is that most of the changes made to the engine are for better top-end performance, which becomes immediately clear as you tuck in behind the bubble and roll the bike down a long straight, the 2016 model pulling noticeably harder than the old bike as the (not so easy to read) digital rev indicator sweeps past the 9,000 rpm mark. Below that, there’s not a lot to get all that excited about, with the bike feeling admittedly soft off of tight, hairpin-like corners. That’s not all that much of a surprise though, as this bike was built for racing, and in racing, you are really only worried about performance in the last parts of the rev range.

The only other small hiccup in the ZX-10R’s powerplant is a slightly aggressive on/off throttle transition, which requires a surgeon-like touch at the throttle. Anything less and you run the risk of upsetting the chassis at the apex of the corner.

146 0116 2016 zx10r first ride review 018?itokUdL4ogxF Photo courtesy of Kawasaki

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R Brakes and Suspension

A Showa Balance Free Fork is similar to what was first used on Kawasaki's racebike, with biggest difference being in the length and design of the damping force chamber. Brembo M50 monoblock brake calipers are new as well.

In every other way, the bike’s electronics are better than what was on the previous-generation ZX-10R, with the traction control system feeling like it reacts sooner than the relatively crude system on the old bike. I don’t think it’s as trustworthy as the system on the Yamaha R1, as I still got spit out of the seat on two separate occasions, something that has never happened to me on the R1, at any pace. But the ZX-10's cuts are smoother than the system on, say, the Aprilia RSV4. Wheelies are kept relatively low, though again, you only feel the power being pulled back slightly and there's no overly aggressive cut. In short, the system still allows you to drive forward like a good traction/wheelie control system should, but also lets you slide around more than I expected it to.

Grab the brakes at the far end of a straight and you’ll be a bit more impressed with the new 10R, its Brembo brakes providing all the stopping power you need and then some, with good feedback through the lever and power that’s extremely easy to modulate. There’s zero brake fade throughout an elongated session at the track (something the latest BMW S 1000 RR suffers from), and while I felt like there was some chatter from the slipper clutch under aggressive corner entries, the bike is overall pretty confidence inspiring through the braking zone.

In those braking zones, you’ll also realize just how good the aerodynamics are on the new bike, with it feeling like you threw sail out as you pop out from behind the screen, the front fairing being so well-shaped that on the straights you don’t realize how much wind it’s actually blocking. Of course, on the straights you’ll also notice that the ergos are a bit tighter, the difference being big enough that it’s actually tough for someone my height (6-foot-3-inches) to stay folded up on the bike without cramping.

Then again, the bike really wasn’t designed for someone six-foot-three-inches tall. It was designed, pretty specifically, for a racer. And while I can find some small chinks in its armor, there’s no doubt that it’s a better bike overall. A better bike for Tom Sykes, a better bike for Jonathan Rea, and a better bike for you.

And for me, well, it's a bike that made my first actual ride at Sepang International Circuit a memorable one...

146 0116 2016 zx10r first ride review 014?itokfz0AvqOz Photo courtesy of Kawasaki

2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R

MSRP for the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition is $16,299, while the non-ABS KRT Edition bike will sell for $15,299. Black pain brings the price down a bit, with the ZX-10R ABS retailing for $15,999, and non-ABS model for $14,999.

Specifications 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition MSRP: $16,299 Engine Type Liquid-cooled DOHC Inline-four, 4 valves/cyl. Displacement 998cc Bore x stroke 76 x 55mm Compression ratio 13:1 Induction DFI, 47mm Keihin throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl. Chassis Front Tire 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax RS10 Rear Tire 190/55ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax RS10 Rake/trail 25.0 degrees/ 4.2 in. (107mm) Wheelbase 56.7 in. (1440mm) Seat height 32.9 in. (836mm) Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal. (17L) Claimed curb weight 454.2 lb. (206kg) Electronics Kawasaki Launch Control Mode (KLCM), Kawasaki Intelligent Braking System (KIBS), Sport Kawasaki TRaction Control (S-KTRC), Kawasaki Engine Braking Control, Corner Management function, , and Kawasaki Quick Shifter (KQS)

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