It takes a big set to ride the ZX-10R to the limits. It offers the same raunchy good mill as last year, but was slapped with upgraded suspension in ’05.
If your priority in a literbike is one that handles most like a 600, this is your weapon. The ZX is the bike in this group most willing to change direction on a twisty road, and it’s lighter than all but the Gixxer by nearly 20 lbs or more.
Its riding position was the favorite of several of our staffers, offering a compact package with enough wiggle room for taller riders. “The ZX offers up my favorite riding position of the bunch,” says Chamberlain. “Definitely on the racier side, the ZX is very small and compact with a very short reach to the bars, very similar to GSX-R. Its bars are set slightly wider than the Suzuki, though, which I found more to my liking. This is the bike that most closely resembles a 600 in terms of size and layout.
“Not only does the ZX feel like a 600 when sitting on it,” BC rambles on, “it also feels like a middleweight when riding it. It has very quick steering and turns in just by thinking about it. Stability in the corner is also very good, as long as you are not on the gas too hard coming out of the corner.”
The ZX’s shortest-in-class wheelbase and lack of a steering damper aids its agility, although the latter comes at the cost of the most nervous front end here. (Kawasaki now offers an Ohlins steering stabilizer as part of its accessories division, but we didn’t dare fit it after the hubbub we caused in last year’s track portion of our Superbike Smackdown when we mounted a GPR stabilizer to the ZX for less than half our time at Laguna Seca.
But Kawasaki has juggled the ZX suspension for 2005, and the subtle tweaks have brought about a noticeable improvement in stability. In the fork, engineers reduced the oil level and shortened it top-out spring, while the shock is fitted with a narrower shock spring and a piston with less drag for better compliance, all of which helps the tires follow road undulations for exemplary suspension action.
Yes, it’s another picture of Duke with the front wheel in the air. We’re pretty sure he can get a knee down too, but most of the time he’s doing his best to obstruct his view of the road ahead.
“Overall the bike is very confidence inspiring to push hard,” Becklin summarizes. “It does like to wheelie a lot and can be a little bit of a handful thanks to the motor, but the chassis does a great job of taking care of what the engine can dole out.”
Of course, there’s nothing 600-like about the big Ninja’s stunning powerplant. It came up less than one pony shy of the class-leading Gixxer at their peaks yet is actually stronger at several portions of their dyno runs. Combine the most power with the least weight, and what results is arguably the most exciting ride you can have on two wheels. “The motor is perfect and there is nothing I would change about it,” raves BC.
Though the Kawi’s motor is nearly impossible to fault, it does emit more vibration than the counterbalancer-equipped Honda and Suzuki or the Duc’s 90-degree V-Twin. There is also a hint of throttle snatch, though not as noticeable as the R1 and CBR. A bit of abruptness during compression braking is countered by the ZX’s slipper clutch, a feature only shared in this group by the new GSX-R.
“The slipper clutch is a highlight of the ZX,” notes Chamberlain. “Rear wheel hop is all but eliminated no matter how big the change in rpm.”
In addition, the gearbox on the big Ninja performed better than last year, as it was upgraded for 2005 with small changes to several internal components that have allayed any concerns we had with it. “The Kawi’s tranny is impressive,” supports BC. “Shifts are extremely smooth, requiring very little input and always finding the next gear.”
Despite its 300mm petal-shaped rotors and radial-mount calipers, the ZX’s front brakes have a softish initial bite on the street, yet there is huge power available when you need it – and on this bike you need them a lot!
- Nasty mill
- Lighting quick turn-in capabilities
- Short wheel base makes for a hooligan machine.
- Still not as stable as we’d like.
- KILL THE TACH!
Opinions varied about the appearance of the ZX, especially in the green color of our tester that one termed as garish. Some liked its bulldoggy, ready-for-action stance, but others thought it inelegant. However it was judged, there’s no denying its high level of fit and finish, and it was only the bike’s long-cursed LCD tachometer that stood out as a real flaw.
The 10R came away from this test with enthusiastic comments from several testers who believe it is the most pure fun to ride in this group. It boasts a motor that has yet to be clearly beaten, exceptional agility, and an improvement in its gearbox and suspension from our 2004 Superbike titlist – a tough combination to beat.