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.
Attack Performance rearsets...
Attack Performance rearsets are highly adjustable with superb quality, and are engineered with crash survivability in mind, with breakaway pegs and folding lever tips. Because they are intended for racing, there aren’t any mounts for the brake fluid reservoir or brake light switch, so we fabricated our own.
Next on the list was a different footpeg setup. Although the stock Kawasaki footpegs are two-way adjustable, their placement is still a little too far forward for our tastes. We’ve long admired Attack Performance’s metal handiwork over the years, and proprietor Richard Stanboli has been handling the majority of Kawasaki’s roadracing efforts for the past several years, so we rang him up for a set of his multi-adjustable rearsets. Not only are the Attack Performance rearsets highly adjustable in a myriad number of ways, but their overall design and construction are absolute top-shelf.
For instance, the $435.98 Attack rearsets utilize hi-grade 7075-T6 aluminum alloy in their construction (instead of the cheaper 6061 commonly used), making them 50 percent stronger. The footpegs not only have excellent grip, but are designed with a “breakaway” tip (in addition to spring-loaded folding tips on both foot levers) that often allows the footrest controls to survive a crash with full functionality.
The only downsides to the Attack rearsets are that they are intended for racing, so there is no mount for the rear brake light switch or stock brake fluid reservoir. Also, the rear brake lever’s leverage is less than stock, so it requires a lot of pressure to get any stopping power.
Driven Racing’s 520 steel...
Driven Racing’s 520 steel sprocket and chain kit provides less rolling resistance, although there was no weight difference to the stock 525 chain/sprockets. Our 16/40 sprocket combination dropped gearing substantially from stock for better acceleration.
We then decided to replace the stock 525-size chain and sprockets with a smaller 520-size setup from Driven Racing. We were delivered a 16/40 final drive combination to replace the stock 17/39, which shortened the gearing substantially for quicker acceleration. Although aluminum aftermarket sprockets were popular in the past (and Driven does sell them), their high wear rates have dropped them from favor among many sportbike riders; our $249.00 Driven sprocket kit came with the company’s steel sprockets. Interestingly, despite the thinner sprockets and smaller-pitch chain, the Driven sprocket kit’s weight was basically identical to stock, with the stock chain and sprockets weighing 6.38 pounds and the Driven sprockets/RK chain coming in at 6.30 pounds.
DP Brakes then came through with a set of its new RDP X-Race Titanium racing brake pads and high-performance street clutch kit for the ZX-10R. DP is one of the few brake companies (outside of OEM-specific companies) that concentrate on sintered metal formulations, which are known for their quick response, initial bite, high friction levels, and ability to brake in wet conditions — hence the reason sintered metal pads are the preferred original fitment by the OEMs. The RDP X-Race Titanium pads utilize a new carbon additive bonded by a titanium compound that has a side benefit of increasing the overall friction level. According to DP, the RDP X-Race Titanium pads are intended for racing, but have sufficient low-speed performance to be usable on the street.
DP Brakes’ RDP X-Race Titanium brake pads bed in quickly, and provide superior feel and modulation toward the limit than even the superb stock Kawasaki pads. The clutch kit features new-formulation fiber plates and slightly stiffer springs that offer a smoother but slightly more aggressive engagement with better durability than stock.
The Antigravity lithium iron...
The Antigravity lithium iron phosphate battery wasn’t that much smaller than the stock lead acid battery, but it still cut more than 3.2 pounds while providing much stronger cranking power.
The overall performance of the DP brake pads was, in a word, superb. Bed-in was incredibly quick, with none of the scary first-lap or first-mile antics of some other pads. We loved the performance of the stock Kawasaki brakes, but the DP pads make them that much better, especially under very aggressive use. Initial bite is just a shade less than stock, but power, modulation, and especially feel when approaching the limit are a definite step up from the stock pads. You can tell these are racing pads, as they work better with a little heat in them, but their cold-temperature performance is more than adequate for street use.
The stock clutch on our Kawasaki ZX-10R had seen better days after months of racetrack, dragstrip, and dyno abuse, so the DP clutch kit was a welcome addition. Although DP sells complete kits with fiber and steel plates with springs, our kit only included the fiber plates — which feature a new blend of carbon and aramid fibers for improved feel and wear resistance — with springs. Clutch pull with the new springs was a little higher-effort than stock, but nothing obtrusive. Engagement was smoother but also slightly more aggressive with the DP clutch, with much better feel overall.
The Kawasaki Accessories engine...
The Kawasaki Accessories engine case guards are much more subtle than your usual garish nylon cylinders, and are integrated well into the ZX-10R’s styling. Mounting was a snap.
Last but not least, we replaced the stock 4.52-pound lead acid battery with a lithium iron phosphate unit from Antigravity ($249.00) that weighs only 2.2 pounds, and added a set of Kawasaki Accessories’ case guards ($213.33). Both installations were a snap, and while the benefits of the lightweight lithium batteries are now well known, we were very impressed with the look and fit of the Kawasaki case guards. Instead of some gaudy nylon cylinders hanging off the sides of the bike, the Kawasaki Accessories units are much more subdued and integrated with the ZX-10R’s bodywork and styling. They protrude just enough to protect the engine cases and surrounding bodywork, while adding a negligible amount of weight — a win-win situation in our book.