The Kawasaki’s chassis was without question the shining point of the Japanese machine, but an overactive TC held the engine’s potential back greatly.
Paul Bird Kawasaki ZX-10R
Surprise of the day was without question the Paul Bird Motorsports Kawasaki ZX-10R. Judging by their lackluster results this year and rumors of how hard the current generation ZX is to set-up as a racebike, I was expecting an unruly beast which one could barely hang onto. Quite the opposite was true. In fact, the exact opposite.
Ranking just a nose behind the Honda and Aprilia as the easiest bike to ride, first thing one notices about the Kawi is the quickness in which it changes direction. Think about turning and it’s already at the apex and by the time you’ve spotted your exit it’s taking you out to the rumble strips, perfectly on line the entire time. Through the Turn 6-7-8 combination I could easily put the bike exactly where I wanted with loads of confidence in the front tire throughout the entire section.
The handling truly was truly an eye-opening experience, as I have ridden some big-HP ZX-10s in the states and none are anything like this. Grip and poise once at full-lean were equally as good, feeling more like a ‘6R than a ‘10R – light and easy to change lines, yet still stable and confidence inspiring. Overall bike geometry is very low in the front and relatively high out back, no doubt a big part of this equation, though the typical lack of rear end grip associated with such a setup isn’t there.
Brakes are powerful, but still take some deal of effort to get heat into. Rider Makoto Tamada must prefer a less aggressive compound as it required some serious lever pull before anything would start to happen. Once they did come in, though, the Brembos hauled the ZX back to earth with haste. As for on the throttle, the Kawi hooks up and powers out of the turn with much the same ability it enters the corner. How? Loads of electronics.
(From left) Loads of electronics sit up front; Arata makes the one-off titanium exhaust; Note the massive handmade swingarm out back.
Showa suspension graces the front of the Kawasaki along with a set of seriously impressive Brembo brakes. This is the better end of the ZX without question.
It was extremely easy to get into the electronics under acceleration, as the TC and wheelie control clearly cuts engine power nearly every time one twists the right grip. In fact, it’s enough you can physically feel it as well as hear it cut out while under acceleration. According to the team, getting the Kawasaki to keep the front end down has been one of their biggest hurdles this season, which would explain the massive amounts of wheelie and traction control.
The downside to this was a lack of that real put-you-back-in-the-seat acceleration. It just doesn’t get off the corners like the Yamaha or Aprilia, or even the Honda for that matter. You can feel the power is there, but the electronics are reining it back in an effort to keep the front wheel on the ground to such an extent it doesn’t give that awesome sensation of speed. Though this slowed acceleration somewhat, the Kawasaki is still quicker than anything raced in the U.S. under the new AMA rules – no question. It just lacked some of the wonderfully-terrifying power rush that the others possessed. That said, with the likes of Chris Vermeulen on the bike next year, combined with its surprisingly-capable chassis, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a return to form from Kawasaki.