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2006 Kawasaki ZX-10R

Action photos by: Brian Nelson
Still photos by: Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA

A day on the track aboard Kawasaki’s new ZX-10R

What wasn't to like about Kawasaki's first generation ZX-10R? With incredible power, decent ergonomics, good handling and wonderful sounds emanating from the intake and exhaust - it's one of the best rides in sportbike land. Sure the bike is focused more to the track, so the brakes aren't perfect for the street and the handling and power delivery leaves a bit to be desired on your favorite tight back road. The incredible but quick hitting power is addictive - but reason for restraint.

Enter the second generation 2006 ZX-10R. When we first read Kawasaki’s list of changes for the 2006 model we were impressed, as the changes seemed right in line with what we would have asked for. We were on hand for Kawasaki's US press introduction at California Speedway in Fontana, California where we experienced the new machine on the track. We started out on stock rubber and later switched to a Dunlop 120/70 ZR17 D209 front and a 190/55 ZR17 D209J rear tire for increased grip. After the switch, and getting accustomed to the bikes slightly altered geometry from the taller rear tire, we began riding through some corners a gear higher.

Before we tell you about all of the exciting changes, it’s important to explain that Kawasaki is on a new path, development wise. The company basically admits to having been, let’s say … non-aggressive, in their new product development – but that mentality has apparently been thrown out. The company’s current focus is to pull out the stops in producing the best products possible.

The new ZX-10R was developed from this new thinking. It was simply designed to be the best track bike possible - not to be the best streetable version the company could produce. Accomplishing this goal meant creating a bike with more useable power and better cornering.

New components include the engine, frame, sub-frame, and swingarm. Kawasaki also added a radial front brake master cylinder and an 18-position adjustable Olin’s steering damper. Styling is new, aerodynamics are improved as is the instrument panel - now void of the circular LED tachometer. (Thanks for listening Kawasaki)

The 998cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve engine carries revised pistons and rods, a new crankshaft with greater mass, reshaped inlet ports, a new cylinder head and a revised slipper clutch for less chatter. The focus was to increase mid-range power while providing a more linear and thus more manageable power delivery. Shifting, which had been an issue with many, has also been improved.

The entire intake system has been altered with a more efficient ram air duct, a new air box has been added and new 43mm throttle bodies have been fit. The intake valves have been reduced in size from 31mm to 30mm. These smaller valves provide for better atomization and a cleaner burn, and are said to have a lot to do with the engines increased mid-range power - without sacrificing top-end performance. Exhaust gasses exit through a 4-2-1-2 all titanium exhaust system. The dual can, catalyst fit, high exit exhaust uses a butterfly valve to control exhaust pressure. The new ZX is clean running and meets stringent Euro III emissions standards.

The throttle bodies carry new ultra-fine injectors set at a new angle and dispense fuel in a new droplet size. To improve shifting Kawasaki now barrel grinds the shaft splines and modified the shift linkage. They also added a new shift lever; we had zero problems shifting the 6-speed transmission on the track. The new ZX-10R’s power output is claimed to be the same whopping 184hp as before, when the full ram air effect kicks in.

Chassis changes may seem counter intuitive to some, as the steering head has been moved forward by 15mm, which is said to place less weight on the front tire. The new swingarm allows for the fitment of the larger 190/55ZR17 rear tire; the swingarm pivot has also been moved down 4mm. The engine has been repositioned in the frame for a higher center of gravity, yes higher, and the crankshaft has been raised 20mm. The cylinder bank has also been angled forward slightly more than before.

The suspension, which at times was harsh on the previous model, receives new softer settings. This means the new ZX has been designed to turn easier, transition from side to side quicker and to ride over the pavement in more controllable fashion.

How do all of these changes feel on the track, well ..... awesome. As we like to put it, the original ZX-10R was a beast. It still is, but a tamed beast that is far easier and enjoyable to ride. And ride we did, lap after lap, after lap.

When our rider got his head together and gained a reasonable understanding of where the track went, and remembered how to ride on a track, it was game on. The ZX-10R put up with us not knowing the track or riding in smooth fashion. The point here being, the big Kawasaki is much easier to ride - though it still demands your respect.

The new ZX certainly transitions through the power curve more smoothly and pulls harder into the mid-range. It’s a blast to short shift the bike through the gears as you’d be more apt to do on the street. As you head into the upper end of the power curve the once sudden hit, which often left rubber stripes on the blacktop, is gone or at least highly tamed. This softer transitioning power, combined with the new chassis, means the front end doesn’t suddenly reach for the sky like before. This allows you to get on the throttle earlier, and with more confidence, without the same fear of wheel spin or wheelies. The ZX-10 still makes awesome power, it’s just less violent and more controllable.

The new bike feels lighter and quicker turning for sure. It certainly flows into corners much better than before. The precision and feedback from the front end is much improved – though we wouldn’t complain if the bikes front end provided even better feel and feedback to the rider.

We don’t know how the brakes will rate on the street but we loved them on the track. It never took more than one finger on the front brake lever, no matter what the speed – and we pushed the front brakes hard attempting to catch other riders when braking for corners. We were often hard on the brakes with the rear lofted and drifting a bit, but never had any worries as modulation of the front brake was excellent on the track.

Riding the ZX on the track just made us more interested in learning how the bike works on the street – but that will have to wait. We can tell you the bike was serious fun. Ergonomics were perfect on the track, though our Oxtar boot did get hung up on the footpeg guard twice, hooking on the inner side plastic piece on the boot at the heel swivel. If you like power, the ZX still delivers big time - and it does so with much better control than before. Kawasaki claims the bike wasn't developed with street riding in mind, but we'd bet the bike is a huge improvement on the street. Available in Lime Green, Ebony, Metallic Raw Titanium and Pearl Solar Yellow, the new ZX-10R lists for $11,199. We couldn’t find a thing to complain about with the ZX-10R on the track – as the new suspension was superior to that of the last generation. It simply doesn’t get much better than this!

Source: Motorsports Network
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