Kawasaki is an omnipresent force at racetracks worldwide, but still hasn’t achieved the results some expected from the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. With no true factory racing team Kawasaki’s Superbike racing effort has been left to privateer squads like the Motorcycle-Superstore.com Attack Performance team in AMA Pro Racing. But is it the ideal platform to compete on?
Hop aboard the Ninja and it feels noticeably wider than the rest of the bikes. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but something that makes it stand out compared to the competition. The seating position is functional and fit each one our testers ranging from Earnest, who stands 6’1”, to Siglin’s 5’7” frame. Like the Yamaha, KTM and Suzuki, the position of the foot controls can be moved to suit the rider and the windscreen is plenty big to tuck behind. All fueled up (4.5-gallon fuel capacity) the 431 pound Kawi is the second-lightest bike in this contest. In motion however it felt comparable to the other Japanese machines with exception to the porky Yamaha.
“I like the way you sit on the Ninja,” reveals our tallest tester. “The seating position felt close to the Suzuki and felt very natural on track. Honestly, I never gave it much thought when I was riding and that’s usually a good sign.”
If there was one word to surmise the Kawasaki’s handling it would be ‘fluid’. Even though it didn’t steer as sharply as, say, the Honda or KTM, everything it did, from turn-in to mid-corner, and even on exit, it did in a smooth manner. One reason for the Ninja’s sublime handling was its suspension, which once set-up offers great chassis compliance. This allowed fast laps to come with relative ease.
(Top) Kawasaki came to Thunderhill Raceway with an excellent chassis set-up which allowed fast laps to come with ease. (Center) The Kawasaki has one of the smoothest powerband’s in the Superbike class. (Below) The Kawasaki was universally loved amongst our test riders.
“Everything flows,” says Neuer. “The bike turns great—mid-corner it feels super light—the flickability of the bike is super fast. When you make an input into the bars you get a result like that [snaps finger].”
At the apex of Turn 2, Team Green’s weapon achieved the third-highest corner speed of 68.4 mph. Conversely, six corners later, it posted the lowest mph (93.3). In the final corner (Turn 15) we measured it at 47.3 mph which proved to be the highest speed in that sector. When the speeds were averaged, the Kawi was awarded points for fourth place.
Through The Cyclone (Turn 5) the Ninja’s chassis instilled trust—achieving a lean angle of 50.1 degrees—fourth-best again, behind the Aprilia, KTM, and Yamaha. Although it ranked toward the back of the group in slide-to-side flick rate (37.3 degrees/second), none of our testers complained about its maneuverability aside from it having the propensity to run wide on corner exit.
“It turns-in fairly quickly and the front end has a ton of feel mid-corner,” Chamberlain describes. “The bike really hooks up coming out of the corner and has good mid-range and top-end which really helps it drive off turns.”
Kawasaki has a reputation for rip-snorting, balls-to-the-wall engine performance and the motor in the ZX continues to carry the torch especially with the fitment of the LeoVince slip-on and removal of the stock catalytic convertor. Funny thing is, the engine makes such a smooth, steady spread of power that it doesn’t feel the fastest from behind the windscreen (similar to the Honda).
Looking at the dyno chart shows that the Ninja cranks out similar power to the other Inline Fours before jumping up slightly at around 7000 revs. It continues to steadily build power and offers one of the smoothest torque curves aside from the BMW. Peak torque arrives at a relatively high 11,000 rpm with 79.69 lb-ft available (fourth-best).
Even with all that torque, however, the Kawi’s acceleration force off Turn 6
(From full stiff)
Height: 7mm (from top of clamp to tube)
Ride Height: 12mm shims
Low-Speed Compression: 0 (closed)
High-Speed Compression: 0 (closed)
wasn’t that impressive—matching the Yamaha at 0.75g. Part of the problem is the engine takes some time to spool, as evident by its higher 0.82g reading out of Turn 15. (Due to its tall gearing the Kawasaki was one of the only bikes that necessitated the use of first gear in that turn—hence the higher reading.) Despite the tall final drive gearing, the gearbox was butter smooth and slipper clutch performed without flaw.
Let the motor rev and it proved second strongest in this test, delivering 172.65 horsepower. That’s nearly 10 ponies more than stock. Still even in modified form it was down 2.57 horses on the bone stock BMW. Another important factor is that the Ninja arrives at maximum power 1600 earlier than the German bike (11,600 rpm vs. 13,200 rpm).
“The Kawasaki certainly moves,” says Siglin. “It doesn’t drive off corners as hard as say the Honda or Suzuki but once you stand it up and get some clear track it gets with the program in a hurry. Of all the bikes in this test the Kawi probably has the most deceiving powerband because it doesn’t feel fast but it is.”
Down the front straightaway the ZX was one of only three bikes (BMW and Suzuki) to exceed 160 mph. It proved to be almost as potent on the shorter back straight between Turns 13 and 14 registering 145.8 mph (fourth-fastest). Upon averaging it was right behind the BMW.
(Top) The Kawasaki ZX-10R had the fourth-highest average corner speed. (Center) The Kawasaki cranked out the second-most horsepower—only three down on the mighty BMW. (Bottom) The Ninja won Motorcycle-USA’s coveted Superpole trophy for the fastest outright lap time of the test with Chris Siglin at the controls.
“Power is pretty impressive,” says Dawes. “Especially with the LeoVince pipe. It’s crazy because it doesn’t feel like it pulls as hard as some of the other bikes but then all of a sudden you’re like ‘oh my God’ I’m already at the next corner… Good thing it’s got strong brakes.”
The Kawasaki is only one of three bikes that don’t employ Brembo brake calipers, and while the Tokico binders have unreal stopping power, feel from the lever isn’t as high as some of the others. And it showed in terms of braking force with an average reading of -1.30g which was second from last.
“The brakes were strong and consistent from Lap 1 to Lap 10,” notes Garcia. “But I just preferred the Brembo set-ups on some of the other bikes because they had just a hair more feel so I could go into corners deeper. Though, if I swapped the pads I think I’d be totally satisfied with the Kawis set-up.”
A solid chassis and great overall engine performance is the recipe for fast laps and that’s exactly what the green machine did. With Siglin at the controls the Kawi recorded the fastest outright lap time of the test (1’53.98). For the author it was his second-fastest machine at 1’57.31. While the Kawasaki was awarded the Superpole trophy for the speediest lap time, when the times were averaged it was scored behind the Honda which averaged a 0.425 second better figure.
All said and done the Ninja ranked in third place. The green machine has a well-rounded package, but the problem is some of the other bikes do certain things just a hair better than the Kawasaki and that’s what ultimately held it from a better result.
- Strong top-end engine performance
- Smooth, reliable drivetrain
- Very wide feeling
- Could have stronger mid-range
- Tall final drive gearing
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