After BMW’s S 1000 RR stunned the sportbike world in 2009 with its outrageous horsepower numbers, we were all set for Kawasaki to even the score with its all-new ZX-10R that debuted in 2010. After all, Kawasaki has always prided itself on being the most audacious manufacturer when it came to horsepower, with a well-known tradition of pavement-shredding powerhouses sprinkled liberally throughout its history.
But instead we were left somewhat disappointed when the stock ZX-10R could only manage peak dyno numbers in the 159-horsepower range, while the BMW towered over it with peak numbers in the 175 to 177 horsepower range. Yes, the Kawasaki has a more refined traction control system that gets the power to the ground better, but it’s easy to see that it would struggle against the S 1000 RR if the racetrack had plenty of long straights. We were a little baffled as to how the Kawasaki could be so comparatively weak.
The ECUnleashed reflashed...
The ECUnleashed reflashed ECU instantly boosted power to a peak of 175.1 horsepower at 12,700 rpm, an increase of more than 15 horsepower with no other modifications. The Akrapovic slip-on (without insert) provided a substantial low-end and midrange power increase as well.
Until we spoke with Taige Webster at ECUnleashed. When he told us he could unlock 15 horsepower just by reflashing the ZX-10R’s ECU, we have to admit we were a bit skeptical. After listening to his explanation on how the Kawasaki is actually restricted in stock form however, we decided to take him up on his offer of reflashing the ECU. In addition to the horsepower boost, the reflash also raises the ZX-10R’s top speed limiter to 215 mph from the stock 186 mph, as well as raising the rev limiter 600 rpm (from 13,500 rpm to 14,100 rpm). According to Webster, raising the rev limiter “significantly helps power but is not overwhelming” to the engine enough to considerably affect longevity. Webster also claims there was substantial R&D with regards to optimizing fueling and ignition maps, plus the ignition retard in the first few gears is removed (eliminating the need for a timing retard eliminator) and deceleration mapping was also modified.
Our first test would be just the ECU reflash by itself; no piggyback fuel modules, no aftermarket exhaust, etc. After a quick two-day turnaround (the average turnaround time not including shipping according to Webster), we simply reinstalled the reflashed ECU and strapped the Kawasaki to our SuperFlow dyno to see the result. Lo and behold, with no other changes, the ZX-10R’s power peak rocketed from a stock 159.5 horsepower at 11,600 rpm…to an astounding 175.1 horsepower at 12,700 rpm — an increase of more than 15 horsepower with no other modifications!
We took the Kawasaki out to Buttonwillow Raceway to see how its newfound power would affect the bike’s performance, and found that not only was the reborn ZX-10R an absolute rocketship (as its designers surely originally intended), but its throttle response characteristics were much improved as well. A slight abruptness when getting back on the throttle in faster corners was completely cured, allowing you to get on the throttle earlier and harder. For a price of $449.00 plus shipping, we don’t think you’ll find a better performance value for your ZX-10R anywhere.
Akrapovic’s titanium slip-on...
Akrapovic’s titanium slip-on with mid-pipe dropped nearly 12 pounds from the Kawasaki, and provided a significant low-end and midrange power boost (with the noise insert removed) as well.
With that kind of a performance increase with the stock exhaust, we naturally were anxious to see what kind of power could be had with an aftermarket unit (Webster said that our particular reflash was intended for use with a slip-on exhaust). We turned to Akrapovic for one of its slip-on titanium exhausts (the ZX-10R’s stock headers are already titanium, and feature a tapered construction just like many full-race exhausts, so we tried this route instead of the more expensive full system), with the accessory mid-pipe replacing the heavy steel under-engine chamber.
The $767.95 titanium slip-on and $190.95 mid-pipe improve performance without even starting the bike, as the 3.3-pound exhaust system sheds nearly 12 pounds from the Kawasaki. Our slip-on’s exhaust canister was equipped with a “noise damper” insert that keeps decibels to an acceptable level, and our initial dyno test showed some minor improvements in the midrange, but basically identical power to the stock exhaust up top. Removing the insert however (held in by a single bolt), resulted in significant gains throughout the low-end and midrange, with a much smoother powerband and a nice little bump up top to boot. The only downside to this was an increased noise level, especially anywhere near full song; be forewarned that the exhaust note literally becomes a law enforcement beacon on the street.