TESTED: Feb '04
It has an identity and rabid character all of its own. It’s raw, aggressive, has an awesome slipper clutch and faultless handling
First impressions are this bike is very small, which I guess shouldn’t be such a surprise as the concept behind this bike was to design a 1000cc supersports machine with 600cc dimensions. Kawasaki started with a 600-sized chassis and built an engine to fit.
Jumping aboard, the 10R feels like a ZX-6R because it’s so small, except the 10’s riding position is lower and you sit more in the bike. It’s narrow too because although the tank is wide at the top the indents for your knees mean they’re actually very close together. And she’s comfortable too, at the track at least. Overall, the bike is so massively and naturally planted that I couldn’t get it to step out anywhere. Really very impressive.
And despite the power on tap and the short wheelbase, the ZX doesn’t have a steering damper and doesn’t need one either which is all the more impressive. Unlike ZX-6s I’ve ridden which have all been flighty up front, the 10’s stability is faultless at all speeds. At the worst the front could get out of line leaving the ground on the gas, but as soon as it touched terra firma it would snick straight back into line without a hint of tankslap.
Suspension is, as you would expect, fully adjustable but I hardly felt the need to change a thing. The only adjustments I made were to add three clicks of rebound at the front to hold the front down coming off the brakes and mid-corner. I also added three-quarters of a turn of rebound at the back for more stability accelerating off corners and braking into them.
Overall in the handling department I would say the Kawasaki has the edge certainly over the GSX-R1000 both in terms of how easy it is to flick from side to side, scythe through turns at all speeds and how composed it is on the brakes. All told, it feels more like a racebike straight out of the crate than any other big bore sportsbike I’ve ridden yet.
The anchor set up is the most impressive seen yet on a standard bike with upside down 43mm forks, radially-mounted four-piston calipers, and wavy brake discs, but although braking power is more than enough the initial bite seems to be missing. There’s a bit of a delayed reaction as you get on the lever and that first bite doesn’t quite happen. After this though they really power up and no matter what I tried there wasn’t a hint of fade all day.
What was really nice though was the way the forks soaked up brake abuse. Under hard braking on the GSX-R1000 I’ve been running this year, the front hops about on the brakes eventually and there’s no way of dialling it out without changing the fork internals, but the ZX-10 it simply took whatever came its way.
One of the other nice chassis touches is the addition of top-out springs at both ends so there’s no jarring as the suspension tops-out and the issue of weight transfer on and off the power is smoother all round becasue of this.
Possibly the ZX-10’s biggest star turn however is its slipper clutch. It is amazing, and easily the equal of the kit I used in my BSB days. You can bang the ZX down the gears and the bike stays totally in line while the back wheel refuses to hop at all, even slamming into first gear before hairpins. It is brilliant.
The gearbox itself is less so, sadly and has a very stiff feeling to it. It doesn’t miss any gears, but it needs a lot of effort to change up and I’ve got the scabs on top of my right foot to prove it. Any of the other ’03 big supersports bikes are slicker and easier in this department.
Onto the motor now though because this really is what all the pre-launch hype has focused on. The claimed power is 173bhp at 11,000rpm and 181 with the ram air in full effect and I believe ’em because having ridden plenty of racebikes with those kind of figures this bike certainly feels like it’s on the money.
The rev limiter comes in at 13,700, and our test bikes had their adjustable shift lights set at a conservative 11,000rpm. Really you want to shift at 13,000 to get the most out of it because that motor wants to keep on pulling and pulling like a raving banshee.
The motor has a very raw feel, unlike the GSX-R1000 which is smooth and easy-driving everywhere. Trying to get out of corners in the higher gears isn’t as easy on the big ZX, and out of slower turns you need to be a gear lower than you would be on a GSX-R to get the drive which can accentuate the on/off throttle response which can be snatchy. There aren’t any flat spots or lulls in the delivery, but you do need your wits about you to get a move on.
However, as the midrange and top end come on song the ZX pulls like an absolute missile – make no mistakes ladies and gentlemen, this is one mightily fast motorcycle. Just for the record, from 9–13,000rpm is really where this motor works its true magic.
The lack of bottom end and the fact that despite the bike’s huge power it still needs to be kept spinning adds to the real racer feel the ZX has.
As another example of the motor’s focus, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a close ratio gearbox in there for track riding, and to get into those ratios you’ve got a super-tall first gear that’ll take you to 104mph before you need to shift should you so wish.
All this will probably make the ZX less road-friendly than its competition because of the less flexible motor, but if it’s fast and furious you want with beautiful handling included as standard then this could just be the kiddie for you. You’ll need to be focused though because this bike is unlikely to reward fools with easy smooth riding and effortless speed – it does demand your utmost attention at all times if you want to get the most from it.
Criticism seems unfair, but I’ll say the brakes could do with more initial bite although power’s not an issue, and the noise is too sanitised for a bike so mad. Nothing a decent can won’t fix though.
It could be harsh and uncompromising for the road what with it’s comparative lack of bottom end and 104mph first gear but for all you track demons out there this will make you very happy indeed.
Because of Kawasaki’s tie up with Suzuki it would have been so easy for them to build a green GSX-R1000, but that is so not the case with this bike. It’s just what the boys and girls at Kawasaki have been promising us – a 172bhp (at the crank) 1000 with the dimensions of a 600 – brilliant! I’ll take two please, just as long as they’re green.
Source: TWO Online