$5000 Streetbike Surgery - Kawasaki ZX-10R

Kawasaki ZX-10R transforming the meanest superbike ever into a supersport-tourer

By Eric Putter, Photography by Putter Power Media

Does your torture rack of a sportbike keep you from enjoying long days strafing apexes or wandering through the countryside? Yet you can't fathom selling it and succumbing to motorcycling's version of a mid-life crisis: a full-on sport-touring rig?

Until recently, I suffered from this conundrum with my 2005 Kawasaki ZX-10R. A move from the canyon-carving playground that is Southern California to suburban New York-where there's a distinct lack of twisty, deserted landscapes on which to indulge sportbike predilections-prompted the transformation of this superbike into a supersport-tourer.

My mission was to revamp the raging Ninja's ergos, calm its flighty handling, soften its suspension and tame its power output-all while preserving its superbike look, rip-roaring-fun personality and every single one of its 160 horsepower.

Opening up the rider triangle was the first order of business. A set of HeliBars TracStar handlebars with 1 3/4-inch more rise and 1/2-inch more rearward sweep than the stock clip-ons mounted easily, without needing longer clutch and throttle cables or brake lines. A set of MFW rider and passenger footpegs with extensions offered an additional 2 inches of legroom. Sargent modified the stock seats, resulting in taller and firmer-yet cushier-posterior accommodations and increased legroom. Complementing this setup are a 2-inch-taller MRA Tall Touring windscreen, MFA mirror extenders and ASV Inventions' folding, adjustable clutch and brake levers.

Chassis mods produced an even more pronounced effect on the bike's character. To dull its knife-like handling, the Tenner's ultra-short, 54.5-inch wheelbase was stretched 2 inches by sliding the rear axle farther back in the swingarm. That necessitated a longer chain, so we upgraded to an RK Gold Pro XW-Ring. Just to be safe, the Scott's rotary steering damper that has kept this habitual head-shaker in check was left atop the triple clamp.

In search of sport-touring suspension compliance and comfort that couldn't be found by simply unwinding clickers, Race Tech rebuilt the fork and shock to work with the extended wheelbase and better match the bike's new character. I'd previously had the company's high-tech Gold Valves installed in the fork, so simply had it re-valved and lighter (.90 kg/mm) springs installed. The stock shock got the same treatment: Gold Valves, optimized valving and a softer (9.8 kg/mm) spring.

Taming the Ninja's prodigious power output was a multi-step process. Seeking a whisper-quiet presence in a full-power package, we chose a complete exhaust system over a slip-on-the theory being that larger, optimally designed aftermarket headers and mid-pipes flow better than OEM parts. To test this, we bolted on a Yoshimura RS-3 system with stainless-steel head pipes, a carbon-fiber muffler and a sound-deadening insert.

UP CLOSE

To get the most out of the pipe, a K&N filter was stuffed in the airbox, a Dynojet Power Commander PCIII was plugged in and the setup was re-mapped by Ivan's Rockland County Motorcycle, a local performance shop known for its Timing Retard Eliminator (TRE). With the quiet insert and Ivan's map, the motor pumped out 161.5 bhp at 12,000 rpm and 77.7 lb.-ft. of torque at 10 grand. Back-to-back testing with the standard, louder tip saw a 3-bhp gain from 5500-11,200 rpm and a 4-bhp gain at peak, but we wanted to keep things stealthy.

To keep this power in check, reduce steady-state cruising vibration and increase gas mileage, we raised the final-drive gearing, fitting Vortex sprockets in the stock (16-tooth) front and three-tooth-smaller (36-tooth) rear sizes. We went with a steel front and aluminum rear, the former for its durability, the latter for its reduced unsprung weight and thus improved handling.

Building on the renewed Ninja's mile-eating capabilities, it now wears a 30-liter Givi E300 tail bag and backrest-unceremoniously bolted to the passenger seat-and a Bags-Connection Magnetic Sport tank bag.

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