2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R First Look

October 5, 2010
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Line-beam headlights enable the fairing to be made shorter  while LED turn signals are integrated into the mirror assemblies. Convenient turn-signal couplers allow easy mirror removal for track-day use  while the rear fender assembly holding the rear signal stalks and license plate frame is also easily removable for track days - 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
The 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R features an all-new engine and chassis, as well as stock traction control and optional ABS.

Kawasaki promises faster, lighter, better with its new 2011 Ninja ZX-10R. A complete ground-up redesign, the latest Ninja Superbike features an all-new engine and chassis, including the use of the Showa Big Piston Fork and an all-new rear linkage assembly. Retailing for $13,799, this latest Ninja also features stock traction control, as well as an optional ABS version ($14,799). Oh, did we mention it’s 22 pounds lighter?

Production traction control in a Superbike may have been paved by its European competition, but now Kawasaki steps up with its own system, dubbed Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC). Sourcing speed sensors on each wheel the S-KTRC system monitors acceleration, engine rpm, throttle position, wheel speed and slip. Software in the Ninja’s ECU processes the data “200 times per second” to deliver maximum traction. Astute readers will recall Kawasaki debuted production traction control on its 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 sport-touring bike. The Concours system is designed to cut out ignition when detecting wheel slip, acting as a safety feature on slick or unstable surfaces (like wet roads or gravel). The new S-KTRC works differently, tuned to predict unfavorable traction conditions and reduce power before slippage occurs, ensuring maximum grip and forward drive.

gravity-cast three-spoke wheels are significantly lighter than the hoops fitted to the 2010 bike  and combine with the very latest in brake technology - Tokico radial-mount calipers grasping 310mm petal discs up front and a 220mm disc and lightweight single-piston caliper in back. The result is powerful stops with plenty of rider feedback and the added confidence of the KIBS ABS system - 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
Wheel speed sensors run both the standard S-KTRC traction control and the optional KIBS ABS on the new Ninja (top). A new instrument console features an LCD display that shows the amount of electric assistance from the S-KTRC. (bottom)
Instrumentation is totally new as well; the unit highlighted by an LED-backlit bar-graph tachometer set above a multi-featured LCD info screen with numerous sections and data panels. A wide range of information is presented  including odometer  dual trip meters  vehicle speed  fuel consumption  Power Mode and S-KTRC level indicators  low fuel  water temperature and much more. For track use  the LCD display can be set to race mode which moves the gear display to the center of the screen - 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

Claimed to be derived from Kawasaki’s now defunct MotoGP effort, the S-KTRC system provides three settings: “Level 1 for max-grip track use, Level 2 for intermediate use and Level 3 for slippery conditions.” Riders switch between the modes via thumb switch on the left handlebar, with an LCD graph on the instrument console showing the amount of electronic assistance in real time. The LCD display is just one feature on an all-new instrument cluster.
The S-KTRC is further tunable with a Power Mode system, with Full, Medium and Low settings. The Medium setting delivers the performance of the Low setting when throttle is less than 50%, with additional performance on tap once the throttle is twisted past the halfway mark. The three power modes are available in each S-KTRC level setting, making nine options total.

The second headlining feature on the 2011 ZX-10R is optional ABS, which Kawasaki labels the Kawasaki Intelligent Anti-lock Brake System (KIBS). Weighing seven pounds total, the Bosch-designed ABS is reputedly 50% smaller and 800 grams (1.8 pounds) lighter “than current motorcycle ABS units.” The KIBS utilizes the same wheel speed sensors from the stock ZX-10R’s traction control system, with the ECU computing the input of wheel speed, caliper pressure, rpm, throttle position, clutch engagement and gear position. When the computer senses a potential lock-up, brake calipers release to regain tire traction. The ABS-equipped ZX-10R will retail for an extra $1000 at $14,799.

The same basic engine architecture adorns the ZX-10R, with a 16-valve Inline Four featuring a 76 x 55mm bore and stroke displacing 998cc. Internal changes revise the Kawasaki mill, with larger intake valves (31mm instead of 30mm) and wider, polished intake ports. Exhaust porting is also revised. The valving and porting changes aim for “more controllable power delivery and less engine braking, just the thing to smooth those racetrack corner entries and exits.” The camshafts are higher-lift and made from lighter, stronger chromoly steel, which replaces cast iron. Pistons feature shorter skirts and are mated to stronger, lighter connecting rods. The internal tinkering increases compression to an even 13:1, compared to the 12.9:1 of the predecessor.

Chassis geometry was juggled to offer the best possible stability and handling quickness. Rake  at 25 degrees  is a half-degree steeper than on the 2010 machine  while trail has been reduced from 110 to 107mm. This slightly more radical front end geometry  and the quicker  lighter handling it allows  was made possible largely from the new engines more controllable power  engine placement and the CG differences it generated  and the frame and swingarms newfound flex characteristics - 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
The Ninja’s engine dimensions are unchanged, but internal changes include larger intake valves and revamped ports, as well as new pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft.
The final piece of the ZX-10R ABSs power-production formula is a race-spec exhaust system featuring a titanium header assembly  hydroformed collectors  a large-volume pre-chamber containing two catalyzers and a highly compact silencer. Due to the headers race-spec design  riders and racers looking for more closed-course performance need only replace the muffler assembly - 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

A larger nine-liter airbox (up from eight liters) works with 4mm-larger throttle bodies (now 47mm) and sub-valves in the ram air-assisted fueling. Air intake has also changed, repositioned to the front of the bike, and it appears lower, for “more efficient airbox filling and increased power.” Secondary injectors promise improved “top-end power characteristics.”

The crankshaft, also claimed to be made of harder material, has been relocated “approximately 10 degrees higher relative to the output shaft” to improving handling with centralized mass. Other changes include a “secondary engine balancer assembly this year, which allows a number of vibration-damping parts to be simplified.” The new parts reduce weight, along with a lighter battery, fuel pump and ECU.

Spacing in the cassette-style transmission now features a closer fourth, fifth and sixth gears. The ratios have been fine-tuned “for less squat/lift during acceleration and deceleration, which allows more precise suspension tuning in back.” The standard spec slipper clutch is adjustable.

A “race-spec” exhaust caps the ZX-10R power production, with titanium headers, a prechamber housing two catalyzers and the silencer. As for an aftermarket pipe, Team Green touts that its titanium-header design will only require a slip-on assembly.

Kawasaki reps are keen to point out its production bikes follow the letter of law in emissions regs. This is verifiable in our past exposures with the ZX-10R, which is routinely one of the quietest Superbikes in stock trim. As such, an unmodified Kawi will not challenge the class-leading muscle stats of the nearly 200-horsepower BMW S1000RR. Some aftermarket ECU mapping, however, could uncork the green meanie so that it sniffs around that coveted 200 mark.

Kawasaki engineers wrapped all this new technology in bodywork as advanced and stylish as anything on this side of a MotoGP grid. Shapes are more curved than edged this year  and the contrasting colored and black parts create a sharp  aggressive image - 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
The new Ninja’s chassis is all-new as well, with redesigned frame and swingarm, as well as new suspension components.

The 2011 ZX-10R rolls on a redesigned twin-spar aluminum frame. The new frame, which is cast from just seven pieces, features “optimized flex characteristics for ideal rider feedback, cornering performance and lighter weight.” The swingarm is new as well, also an all-cast aluminum design, with its segmented openings much different than the solid design of the ’10 bike. While specific weight reduction for the frame is not listed, the claimed total curb weight is 436.6 pounds. That is an impressive 22 pounds lighter than its predecessor!

If the claimed curb weight holds true, it enjoys a marked advantage in the Superbike class as the lightest by more than 10 pounds compared to its Japanese rivals and the BMW. Even with the seven-pound ABS fitted, the Kawasaki is lighter than all but the Ducati and KTM Twins.

Kawi tweaks the Ninja steering geometry with a half-degree steeper rake angle at 25 degrees, which shaves trail down by 3mm to 107mm. The Japanese marque hails the more aggressive front end as necessary to match the more controllable engine power and changed center of gravity, as well as the new flex of the frame and swingarm. Wheelbase is stretched almost a half inch to 56.1 inches.

Theres big suspension news in back  too. Replacing the vertical Uni-Trak® system of the 2010 ZX-10R is a Horizontal Back-link suspension design that positions the shock and linkage above the swingarm. Benefits include better mass centralization  improved road holding  compliance and stability  smoother action in the mid-stroke  even with firmer settings   better overall feedback and cooler running - 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
Highlighting the suspension changes is a new rear linkage system, with the Horizontal Back-Link suspension replacing the Uni-Trak design (top). The 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R features adjustable rear set foot pegs.
The adjustable footpegs are placed lower and slightly forward on the 2011 Ninja.

The Big Piston Fork, much heralded when it debuted on Kawasaki’s 2010 ZX-6R Supersport, makes its debut on the Superbike. The 43mm fork is beefier than the standard sticks up front, but promises improved performance. The biggest potential game changer for the Kawasaki, however, may be what’s happening out back.

The rear shock features a new linkage, with the predecessor’s Uni-Trak system replaced by a Horizontal Back-Link suspension, which places the shock and linkage above the swingarm. The new rear suspension set-up promises “better mass centralization, improved road holding, compliance and stability, smoother action in the mid-stroke (even with firmer settings), better overall feedback and cooler running.” The shock itself will be fully adjustable for rebound and both low- and high-speed compression.

No changes in the braking department, as radial-mount Tokico calipers resume braking duties, with four-piston units up front clamping down on 310mm rotors. A single 220mm disc returns with a single-piston caliper in the rear. (The Kawi’s brakes were rated some of the best in its class in our 2010 Superbike Smackdown – Track.) Lighter wheels adorn the new Kwakker as well (though no specific weights are revealed), with the minimalist look of the three-spoke design quite striking.

Kawasaki describes this Ninja’s bodywork styling as “more curved than edged this year, and the contrasting colored and black parts create a sharp, aggressive image.” Fenders are definitely less pronounced this time around, particularly the rear. The new windscreen features a dramatic shape, sweeping up and widening for a much broader reach at the top. The profile of the bike reveals a less aggressive tail section, which is now almost even with the top of the tank, unlike the previous version, which shot up much higher.

The lowered appearance of the ’11 bike conforms with altered rider ergos, as the seat height drops from 32.7 to 32 inches. Also lower are the adjustable footpegs, which move forward as well. The clip-ons are less aggressive, with the angle repositioned slightly upwards.

The 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R World Superbike race bike that the PBR Racing Team will campaign next year  was unvieled this weekend at Nurburgring.
Racing fans got a taste of the new Ninja’s looks when the Paul Bird World Superbike squad revealed its 2011 racebike at the Nurburgring round.

Available in Kawasaki’s Lime Green or Ebony, the new ZX-10R will retail for $13,799. The ABS version will cost $14,799. The new price represents an $800 increase over the 2010 base model. Other manufacturers are yet to reveal 2011 Superbike MSRP, but the new ZX-10R would make it the most expensive of the Japanese offerings and dead even with the 2010 MSRP for the base-model BMW S1000RR.

What does this new ZX-10R mean for Kawasaki? It’s no secret Team Green has been kicked around in the professional road racing ranks of late. A woeful ’10 campaign in World Superbike was just the latest in sub-par results for that series, and the Kawasaki has dropped off the competitive pace in Superbike racing worldwide. The previous Ninja redesign, which debuted in 2008, was supposed to right the ship. With the development cycles now spaced three years apart, the 2011 bike is charged with correcting Kawi’s fortunes on the racetrack. Whether that comes to be remains to be seen, but a little birdie tells us the ’11 bike circles Kawasaki’s Autopolis test track a full two seconds faster than its predecessor.

Is it enough to change the Superbike pecking order? We can’t wait to find out.