New Bikes 2006

Kawasaki
A Tail of Two Ninjas
Friendly probably isn't the right word. Still, everything about the '06 ZX-10R looks to have been recast in an effort to make its astonishing abilities more accessible to mortal humans. Though initial information is conspicuously incomplete, Kawasaki took a hard look at how the engine and chassis work together and nipped and tucked the maximum Ninja accordingly.

The 998cc four's more obliging persona starts with new fuel injection. Using dual throttle valves inside 43mm throttle bodies and assorted other tuning tweaks, Kawasaki says improved fuel atomization means more mid-range punch and better acceleration out of corners. Company test pilots say corner exit-speed is the key to quick laps. Hence Kawasaki's target was linear, tractable power through the first three gears--the kind that translates into smooth acceleration instead of wheelies or wheel spin. That explains the heavier flywheel this time, and moving the '10's generator from behind the cylinders to the end of the crankshaft. Testing also revealed adding crankshaft inertia makes the bike more stable when you're whistling into some evil off-camber low-gear-left carrying Big Speed. The new slipper clutch delivers a double bonus there, smoothing out rapid-fire downshifts as well as adding a little extra rotating mass to the crankshaft assembly in the bargain.

Since none of that matters if the engine cases are trailing a plume of granulated aluminum, the starter clutch moves from the left side of the engine to the right--the starter itself lives behind the cylinder block--to keep the engine narrow. To accommodate changes to the '06 frame, cylinders lean forward 23 degrees--three more than the previous ZX-10 engine--and the relocated engine is allegedly lighter as well. Engineers shaved weight wherever possible with bits such as the die-cast one-piece seat rail, and a new Denso radiator Kawasaki says does a better job of keeping things cool.

The engine rides higher in an equally aluminum frame, raising and centralizing the bike's center of mass, which purportedly makes rolling into and out of corners easier. Wheelbase remains at 54.5 inches despite a new cast steering head that's forward of the '05 model's. Pressed-aluminum main spars connect the steering head with a new set of castings that raise the swingarm pivot. Working with a stiff new swingarm and phat 190/55-rear tire, Kawasaki figures the improved grip will turn power into thrust instead of wheel spin. Catterson will find out when he saddles up at Kawasaki's new Autopolis Circuit in Kyushu. We're pretty sure he'll be happy to see the adjustable hlins steering damper.

All the hard parts get a slippery new plastic skin for '06, with turn signals that are designed in rather than tacked on. Downsized projector headlights make room for more efficient ram-air ducting. To the rear, Kawasaki says reshaping the tail section around that pair of mufflers under the seat reduces the aerodynamic turbulence and subsequent drag caused by more conventional muffler arrangements.

Somebody has been reading magazine road tests, because the infuriatingly illegible LCD tachometer has finally been replaced by an analog tachometer and LCD speedometer, complete with adjustable illumination and new optical technology Kawasaki says makes the arrangement easier to read. We shall see ... literally, as soon as Brian gets back from Japan.

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