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.

Kawasaki claims 178.5 horsepower at the crankshaft (and 189.4 bhp factoring in ram air)-an increase of roughly 6 horses over last year's model. Most of this gain comes in the upper third of the rev range (engineers report that low-end and midrange power are essentially unchanged), but the '08 10R feels fiercer across the entire rev range thanks to multiple changes that make the power more accessible.

Flawless fuel injecting and instantaneous throttle response (aided this year by secondary, showerhead-type injectors), coupled with an increased appetite for revs resulting from slightly lower gearing and reduced reciprocating mass, make cracking the throttle on the newest Ninja an imminently thrilling proposition. The twistgrip is now ribbed (for the rider's pleasure?), but I still went home with blisters on my palms-when this bike hooks up, you'd better hold on tight!

On the subject of hooking up, what about the Kawasaki Ignition Management System (KIMS) that debuts on this new Ninja, described in a previous issue as traction control? Clarifying points that were overstated in the original press materials, the engineers were adamant that KIMS is not traction control. Though this advanced ignition-management system can produce tractionenhancing benefits under certain conditions, the primary purpose is to protect the engine from heatrelated damage (see "Hard Parts").

KIMS, in other words, is not some Big Brother-ish attempt to electronically neuter your throttle hand, as some speed freaks feared. The system is essentially transparent to the rider-not a single journalist at the test noticed the system influencing power delivery. After laying waste to a head-high stack of rear tires over two days, we assure you that the '08 10R will happily spin, slide, snap-wheelie and yes, even high-side you right off should your right wrist give the appropriate order.

The only place you would feel a traction benefit, the engineers explained, would be a situation where revs rose suddenly, contrary to rider input-passing over a puddle of spilled diesel, for example, when the throttle position remains constant but the rear wheel starts to spin. If the throttle-position sensor relays that the rider is applying throttle and asking for full power, full power is delivered. When it comes to managing that power at the contact patch, you're on your own, champ.

Fortunately, the new chassis is up to the task. The wheelbase is now an inch longer at 55.7 in., and the swingarm is 2mm longer and pivots 2mm lower in the frame, all to enhance rear-wheel traction. The ZX-10R's ability to rocket off corners, particularly on Day 2 when extra-grippy "Losail Special" Pirelli Super Corsas were spooned on (U.S. ZX-10Rs will come with Bridgestone Battlax BT016s), was its most impressive trait.

Numbers were juggled up front this year as well, with an additional 1.5 degrees of rake (up to 25.5) and .3 inch of trail. Despitemore relaxed front-end geometry, the '08 bike nonetheless steers quickly, the combined result of a more forward-biased riding position, decreased crankshaft inertia from the lighter crank and also the lower roll center resulting from a new exhaust that relocates more mass underneath the bike. Once in a turn, the 10R sticks on-line without wandering or requiring correction, which we appreciated in Losail's multiple combination corners.

Handling is generally outstanding; we didn't even notice the claimed 8-lb. weight increase (now 399 lbs. dry). Our only substantial critique is a slight tendency to stand up under heavy braking. This is unfortunate because the Tokico four-piston, radial front stoppers incorporate a new pad configuration that provides more positive initial bite and improved feel, inviting you to brake deeply into corners. The other itch was prominent headshake under acceleration, especially when leaned over. The hlins adjustable steering damper looks sexy on the sales floor, but this OEM version offers significantly less damping ability than an aftermarket piece (no doubt a concession to liability concerns). Even at the stiffest setting it wasn't enough to completely calm such a fast and powerful bike.

The '08 ZX-10R is more powerful than before and, thanks to painstaking efforts to optimize the bike/rider interface, it's also easier to exploit and control. Whether thisn nresults in more Superbike-class wins for Kawasaki remains to be seen, but focusing development on racetrack performance has already paid dividends for the stock bike at the track. A more relevant question now is how such an explicitly track-focused machine will satisfy us in the less-ideal environs of the street. Wanting the proverbial "Superbike with lights" is one thing. Living with one day-in and day-out is another thing entirely.

2008 Kawasaki Zx-10rHard Parts
Stronger, Faster, SmarterElectronics First off, the Kawasaki Ignition Management System (KIMS) that debuts on the ZX-10R is not traction control. While KIMS will negate unwanted wheelspin in extreme situations, such tendencies are incidental to its real purpose, which is to protect the catalytic converters from the increased exhaust-gas temperatures that accompany sudden spikes in engine rpm. Upcoming Euro 4 emissions standards reportedly will include an endurance test for catalytic converters; consider KIMS a preemptive strike. As for how it works, KIMS is a wildly complex electronic system that monitors engine speed, throttle position, vehicle speed, gear position, intake air temperature, intake air pressure, engine temperature, exhaust-gas oxygen content and more. Sampling occurs every .02 second and, when the ECU senses a change in engine speed that runs contrary to other factors (e.g., rpm rises without a corresponding change in throttle position), ignition timing is retarded according to one of 500 (!) pre-programmed ignition maps. Caveat: KIMS does have legitimate traction-control properties if paired with the factory race-kit ECU.

Frame
The twin-spar frame's stiffness balance has been revised to increase both the quantity and quality of feedback. Formerly concave pressed portions of the main spars are now convex, and a small tubular structure welded between them further increases rigidity. An enlarged ram-air duct straightens airflow and stiffens the head pipe. A two-piece, die-cast aluminum subframe allows the passenger portion to be removed for racing. This new subframe is narrower, more compact and lighter, and now mounts directly to the frame's upper crossmember-not to the spars-locating it closer to the rear shock mount to better transmit rear-end feedback. An increase in wall thickness and the addition of internal ribbing around the swingarm pivot further resist flex, and provide solid mounting points for the stiffer, pressed-beam swingarm. Minor geometry changes include moving the steering head forward 10mm to increase front-end weight bias and moving the swingarm

Engine
The '08 ZX-10R benefits from a bunch of engine changes intended specifically to improve high-rpm performance. Starting from the top: Secondary fuel injectors, activated according to throttle position and engine rpm, are installed above new, oval-shaped throttle bodies that are said to improve air/fuel mixing compared to last year's round bodies. Intake and exhaust ports are both reshaped, the latter housing 1mm-smaller valves (now 24.5mm). Intake and exhaust valves are now made from titanium to reduce reciprocating weight, and operated by new, higher-lift camshafts that add top-end power and also make the engine easier to tune for racing. The combustion chamber has likewise been reshaped (compression is up from 12.7:1 to 13.0:1), and a new crankshaft is 2.2 pounds lighter so the engine spins up more quickly. Last, a flat fuel pump (like the ZX-6R's) makes room for a higher-volume airbox, and a new exhaust system features an underbike prechamber to minimize the weight of the single orthogonal (read: rounded square) muffler that replaces last year's dual underseat canisters.

Clutch/Transmission
Back-torque-limiting slipper clutch is standard equipment, and adjustable via the installation of different-thickness plates that are part of the factory race kit. Inside the transmission, the first, fourth and fifth gear ratios have been lowered slightly for quicker acceleration. This, coupled with a one-tooth-larger rear sprocket (final drive is now 17/41, compared to 17/40), makes acceleration even more immediate, especially in the lower gears.

Suspension
Up front, the fully adjustable 43mm fork legs feature a DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon) coating to reduce friction. They hold stiffer, track-ready springs mounted at the bottom, and completely submerged in oil to reduce frothing for improved damping characteristics. New in the rear are a four-way adjustable (spring preload, rebound, high- and lowspeed compression damping) shock and a new Uni-Trak linkage that allows even greater fine-tuning for improved traction and control.

Brakes
Each radial-mount, four-piston front Tokico caliper is fitted with two integrated brake pads (as opposed to four individual pads), a change that is said to offer superior initial bite. Larger, 310mm petal discs replace last year's 300mm rotors, allowing disc thickness to be reduced from 6mm to 5.5mm for more efficient heat dissipation and less fade during extended periods of heavy use-at a track day, for instance. Rotor carriers are now aluminum instead of steel, reducing unsprung weight, and feature 10 buttons (compared to seven last year) to better support the rotor and aid heat dissipation.

Tech
Evolution
The Third-Generation Zx-10r Is Sharper-Edged, Both Stylistically And Conceptually.

Rivals
Honda's Cbr1000rr, Suzuki's Gsx-R1000 And Yamaha's Yzf-R1

TECH
Price: $11,549
Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 998cc
Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm
Compression: 12.9:1
Fuel system: Keihin EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 178.5 bhp @ 11,500 rpm
Claimed torque: 83.3 lb.-ft. @ 8700 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: 43mm Kayaba inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Kayaba shock with adjustable spring preload, high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Tokico four-piston radial calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Single Tokico one-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT016
Rear tire: 190/55-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT016
Rake/trail: 25.5/4.3 in.
Seat height: 32.7 in.
Wheelbase: 55.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 395 lbs.
Color: Lime Green, Metallic Diablo Black, Candy Plasma Blue
Available: Now
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mi.

Verdict
Significantly faster and significantly easier to ride fast.

HOTBOX
Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA
9950 Jeronimo Rd.
Irvine
CA  92618
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