This Season’s Most Exotic Superbikes | Class of 2013

One-Percent Rides

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

5th Fastest

One of these bikes—Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10R—is not like the others. Not only is it the cheapest bike here at $15,299 (after the optional $1000 ABS upgrade), it’s the only non-European competitor, too. But this bike is the defending Japanese Class of 2012 champion. We wanted to see how it compared to an even more sophisticated slice of the Eurobike pie.

There’s no inferiority complex on Kawi’s part. Technologically it’s on par with the others, offering variable power modes, Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC), and race-grade ABS. With 159 bhp and modern Kawasaki build quality, it matches the others on performance and fit-and-finish, too. The Kawasaki is not outclassed.

The first thing you notice is an odd bar position. The clip-ons feel low and close-set, though without inhibiting maneuverability or comfort. It’s also wider through the middle and longer than the V-powered bikes, which makes it feel bulkier at the racetrack. A higher-effort throttle requires a bit of wrist recalibration, but otherwise the Kawasaki is the smoothest bike here in terms of riding dynamics and power delivery, besting even the BMW—and with acceleration almost to match, held back only by unnecessarily tall gearing.

The three-level S-KTRC traction control scheme is one of the least sophisticated here, but it’s extremely satisfying in practice. You almost believe there’s a slide-angle sensor in Level 1 because it allows the bike to get so deliciously sideways before activating. We’re not convinced this traction-control strategy results in the fastest laps, but it is the most fun—and the ZX-10R does finish corners exceptionally well.

Kawasaki’s horizontal-linkage rear suspension, which positions both the shock and linkage above the swingarm for better compliance, or so Kawasaki says, kept the rear wheel moving predictably, but a soft shock occasionally produced a slight instability under the hardest accelerations. The Showa Big Piston Fork, on the other hand, exhibited perfect behavior, thanks partially to stellar set-up work by ace Kawasaki tuner Joey Lombardo, who had our Ninja dialed.

Considering it’s the least expensive bike here, and its electronic technology is the least sophisticated—without gyroscopes, accelerometers, or other advanced gadgets, it’s status quo, not bleeding edge—the ZX-10R is a remarkable performer. Imagine if Honda and Suzuki brought their liter bikes up-to-date.

Kawasaki Intelligent Anti-Lock Braking
Linguistic mysteries aside—how does Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Braking abbreviate to KIBS?—the Ninja’s ABS is excellent, providing near-transparent intervention, minimal lever feedback, and useful (but not excessive) rear-end lift suppression. Built by Bosch, the super-compact ABS module is positioned behind the cylinder head to centralize mass and it monitors data including: front and rear wheel speed (using sensors from the S-KTRC traction control system), throttle position, gear selection, engine rpm, caliper pressure, clutch actuation, and more, all to prevent wheel lock-up. A Tokico radial-pump front master cylinder further improves brake power and feel, while petal-cut rotors better shed heat.

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