2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R Comparison

Kevin Duke | March 27, 2004
Kawasaki ZX-10R
MCUSA’s award for the best literbike for the street sits menacingly in gravel, waiting for its next victim.

With this raging quartet, the performance differences on the road are nearly insignificant. A street rider would have to be both brave and foolish to find them. And that’s why we are taking this band on tour Laguna Seca, in particular to delve a little deeper into the ultimate performance limits of this incredibly talented group.

But fear not, those who want a winner to be declared.

And the award goes to

Kawasaki ZX-10R is MCUSA’s pick for the best open-class sportbike (street category). And we weren’t just blinded by its big power and tiny size. Just as in our Supersport Shootout last year, we gave each bike marks in 10 different categories, with the most important aspects given double the weight.

When the marks had been tallied, the ZX-10R had gathered the highest point total and garnered a 93% rating. It’s superbike-fast, very sure-footed, looks bad-ass and makes its rider feel as if he rules the roads. What more can you want from a literbike?

Coming in second with an 85% rating is Yamaha’s stunning R1. Part of the streetbike game is about looking good c’mon, admit it and the R1 is one sharp machine. Whether it’s the angular bodywork, the sweetly-sick controlled-fill cast swingarm, or the Jimmy Durante nose that looks like a cross between an eagle and T2, the R1 proudly says that it is something special. The fact that you can pull up the front end at 120 mph and rail through the sweepers like a racebike are just really big bonuses to the R1’s appeal. 

2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R Highs & Lows
  • Dyno numbers and pulse rates!
  • Pint-size literbike
  • Scrappy personality
  • Too-tall gearing
  • Style points
  • Chances of keeping your license

One of the stand-out pieces on the CBR1000RR is its techno-tricky electronically controlled steering damper, and that’s why Honda’s new marvel fell to third in the rankings with an 81% score. If the neatest thing about a brand-new 1000cc sportbike is a steering damper (that works marvelously, btw), then somehow it’s failed. The CBR gets strong scores in every category except for its “grin factor.” It just doesn’t excite and enthrall like its podium-mates. But that’s not because of a lack of capability, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the CBR be right up there with the fastest times at Laguna Seca. Keep in mind, though, that the ZX-10 has a 12% better power-to-weight ratio than the hefty Honda.


With a 77% score, the GSX-R1000 slots into last place. If we were scoring this test on just empirical data, the venerable Gixxer Thou would score highly. Its combination of gearing, torque and an excellent clutch might give it top marks in acceleration contests, and its sure-footed handling will keep things close on the racetrack. But this is a streetbike test, and the old guard looks like it is a step behind until next year, at least. Its swingarm looks like it was cobbled in the Daytona pits compared to the artfully crafted Unit Pro-Link gleaming unpainted on the Honda, and its cockpit looks like a Kia next to the Audi-like R1. And it feels fat.

Boasting power-to-weight ratios that would make a million-dollar Ferrari Enzo envious, we would never consider labeling any of these bikes as a loser. The fact of the matter is they’re all extraordinary vehicles with performance levels that are stratospheric. They’re actually more machine than most riders can handle, but we think that’s part of their appeal.

“I want one,” said one of our loyal message board posters, SV650TN, about the R1. “I don’t care if I do highside into Arizona. I still want one.”

“Even if you’re doing a 3-minute lap on a 2-minute track, the ZX-10 makes you feel cool,” Hutchison said upon returning from Homestead. We now can understand: it makes you feel cool on the street, too.

Makes ya wonder what’s going to happen at the track, donnit?

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Kevin Duke

Contributing Editor|Articles | Bashing A legend in the motorcycle industry, Duke Danger is known for his wheelie riding antics, excellent writing skills, appetite for press intro dinners and a propensity to wake up late. Once a fearless member of the MotoUSA team, the Canadian kid is often missed but never forgotten.

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