Oh, um, did we mention something about tremendous power potential? The previous-generation ZX-10R was definitely no slouch when it came to power, and with the new engine being upgraded with the usual hot-rodding tricks it's only reasonable to expect an increase in steam from the new Kawasaki's engine room. The more aggressive cams have brought the powerband up a bit, resulting in some steps to try and regain the lost midrange acceleration. Those include shorter ratios for first, fourth and fifth gear and a one-tooth-larger rear sprocket to drop the overall final-drive ratio even further. For the most part those steps have succeeded in keeping the Kawasaki's midrange acceleration from suffering too much. Only the lower portions of the powerband show some effects; at less than 5000 rpm, the ZX-10R feels weaker than before.
But we'd venture to guess that most riders of the new ZX-10R won't be spending much time below that rpm. The Kawasaki definitely comes alive at 7000 rpm and pulls hard to 10,000. At that point warp speed begins, and acceleration becomes fierce enough that definite care must be exercised in how the trigger is pulled on a weapon this serious; even with sticky race rubber, it's easy to get the rear tire to spin (proving that the KIMS does not intervene in those situations). Power continues building well past 12,000 rpm before tailing off just a bit before the rev limiter cuts the party right at the 13,000-rpm redline. Is the Kawasaki faster than the Suzuki GSX-R? That will have to wait until a direct comparison can be done, as it's too close to call.
Thankfully the ZX-10R's brakes are up to the task of bleeding off the considerable speed it can generate. Although the radial-mount calipers are basically unchanged, they now use two pads instead of four individual pads. Four pads usually provide a more responsive initial bite, and the newer brakes' response is indeed a bit softer, but nothing objectionable. If anything it provides a little less opportunity to upset the chassis with abrupt use of the brakes, and the same power, feel and progressiveness from the previous brakes remain. With the difference only in initial response, we had no complaints with the brake pad switch.
Note the raised lip just before...
Note the raised lip just before the leading edge of the upper fairing and windscreen; this generates a turbulent boundary layer of airflow that "sticks" to the rider longer for better aerodynamics. The turn signals in the mirror stalks direct airflow over the rider's shoulders.
Interestingly the angular and minimalistic bodywork would lead many to believe that the Kawasaki's fairing doesn't work that well, but that wasn't the case at all. The fuel tank has a deep cutout so that the rider can tuck his helmet in as much as possible, and the unorthodox turn signals located in the middle of the mirror stalks are actually designed to deflect airflow from the rider's shoulders. We found the ZX-10R to be one of the few bikes we've ridden that provide a complete pocket of still air behind the fairing at high speed; no buffeting could be felt on our shoulders, arms or helmet.
Will It Make A Good Streetbike?
With no real time spent at street-legal speeds and conditions during the launch, there was no way to find out if the ZX-10R's racetrack pedigree compromises its streetability. But even that is a judgment call; most people in the market for the new Kawasaki won't really be concerned about ergos, vibration or wind protection. They'll only be interested in its performance. And in that area the $11,549 ZX-10R definitely has the goods.
Is it enough to take the literbike crown this year? We'll soon have the contestants rounded up to find out.