2008 Kawasaki ZX-10R - First Ride - Enter The Warrior

Packing Almost 180 Horsepower, This Is The Fiercest Ninja Yet

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kawasaki

Designed with the racetrack in mind" is the most overplayed clich in the sportbike universe, right up there with the equally tired "racebike with lights." The reality is most modern sportbikes are designed first with a marketing message in mind (see above), followed by minimizing production costs, meeting emissions standards and so many other unsexy realities. It's usually not until all the lawyers, bean-counters and tailpipe-sniffers have been satisfied that the racing entities are consulted.

Desperate for success after years of lackluster results with its Superbike racing programs worldwide, Kawasaki has turned the typical development protocol on its head. When the Japanese manufacturer says its newest ZX-10R was developed on the racetrack, it's not empty rhetoric-nearly all of the engine and chassis upgrades were first tested on a factory Superbike ridden by former SBK star Akira Yanagawa. Kawasaki's design priority was to build the ultimate Superbike racer- streetability was a decidedly secondary concern. And to ensure that the new bike would perform under actual racing conditions, it was developed under actual racing conditions in the All-Japan Superbike Championship. Only after the performance satisfied the factory team were the new parts adapted for mass production.

It's no surprise, then, that this latest ZX-10R seemed so confident and composed circulating the Losail Circuit in Doha, Qatar, site of the official press launch. Lapping this MotoGP venue is serious business. The perfect surface provides superior traction, the layout is unrelentingly fast and multiple long, interconnected corners demand a chassis that performs predictably at full lean. It's one of the most challenging circuits we've ridden, and the '08 ZX-10R dominated the course.

In the press briefing before our test ride, Kawasaki staff spoke at length about efforts to improve the bike/rider dialogue. More power (high-rpm power, specifically) and more precise handling were obvious aims of this redesign, but a greater priority was providing ultra-high levels of rider feedback. The best racebikes, after all, are the ones that communicate the most information to the rider. After a surprisingly thorough, total-platform overhaul, the '08 ZX-10R speaks to the rider more clearly than ever, and listens better when he talks back.

Kawasaki devoted unprecedented attention to how the rider's body interfaces with the new Ninja. Thus the bodywork is all-new and carefully crafted to maximize bike/body contact. The new frame is narrower, splaying your legs less to increase contact between your thighs and the frame. The top of the tank flares out more than before, for more contact with your inner arm when leaning into a turn, and features a deeper chin recess so you wrap more of your torso around it in a full tuck. The new saddle is shorter front-toback, making it easier to press against the scooped tailsection. Your body touches more of the '08 10R, and you receive more nput from the chassis as a result.

The new look is a departure from the rounder, softer previous version. Designer Keishi Fukumoto says his inspiration was Japanese swords: sharp, svelte and deadly. The fairing is shorter and stubbier (as is the tail), to give the bike a more compact, purposeful look, and the fairing side panels are cut away to neutralize the effects of crosswinds. Fukumoto says the last-generation ZX-10R was more aerodynamic, but the new bodywork actually deflects more wind away from the rider.

Though the front cowl is now smaller, with a lower, flatter windscreen, it provides morethan- adequate protection even at an indicated 185 mph (in fifth gear) at the end of Losail's kilometer-long (.6-mile) front straight. As you would expect on such a track-centric bike, the ergos are aggressive. The bars are low and close-set, but the reach isn't extreme. It's easy to move around and hang on-a good thing, because the new motor abso-freakin'-lutely rips when you open the throttle.

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