$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

Freshening up the five-year-old, 8000-mile machine for a few, fleeting minutes of fame in the pages of Motorcyclist, the crew at Hudson Valley Cycles in Ossining (www.hudsonvalleymotorcycles.com) also recommended a local paint shop. In an effort to modernize the ZX-10's looks and integrate various parts, Proformance Industries in New Rochelle powdercoated the swingarm, wheels, front brake calipers, footpegs and brackets, then painted the lower fairing. Additionally, after Rickey Gadson and I laid down a few full-power dragstrip launches for a Track Time story (MC, July 2008), Kawasaki was kind enough to send a fresh clutch. And the nice folks at Yuasa kicked in a new battery. One last touring-biased upgrade was a set of long-wearing Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires in 120/70ZR-17 front and 190/55ZR-17 rear sizes.

Following a seemingly interminable gestation period, the supersport-tourer's break-in consisted of 1100 miles riding around the Big Apple's 'burbs. Then came a proof-of-concept, 3000-mile cross-country jaunt, followed by a 1000-mile canyon-strafing mission to the United States Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.

The renewed Ninja may look run-of-the-mill from 5 feet away, but its transformation is immediately apparent once you swing a leg over the saddle. The bars more naturally come to hand, and the pegs feel like they're a mile away! The revised ergonomics are somewhere between sportbike-serious and sport-touring relaxed, with a seat-to-peg distance akin to that of a Honda VFR800 and an ST1300's reach to the bars.

This new ergonomic equation makes 600-to-800-mile days possible. Surprisingly helpful here was a Throttlemeister mechanical cruise control: In addition to fighting fatigue and keeping speeds constant, it more easily allows a rider to stretch tired limbs and get blood flowing-not to mention wave at puzzled fellow riders with a free right hand! The setup doubles as heavy bar-end weights, and with the addition of Spider's vibe-quelling SLR grips made the engine feel smoother.

While our gearing change made dragstrip-style launches impossible, the decision to go with a 36-tooth rear sprocket was a compromise between mellowed acceleration, less drive-chain weight and about 10 percent better fuel mileage. The taller gearing translated to 70 mph at 4500 rpm and 75 mph at 5000 rpm. In modded form, the bike got a high of 43 mpg and a low of 25 mpg, with an average of 36 mpg.

Adding to this fuel efficiency, the Ivan's-mapped Power Commander also gave the motor a clean, smooth flow of non-neutered power from basement to ceiling. Combined with the engine's generous supply of torque, taller gearing and whisper-quiet Yosh muffler, the supersport-tourer became a stealthy freight train that could be ridden in one or two gears just about everywhere.

In spite of its new kinder, gentler persona, the longer, mildly lazier ZX-10R can still be ridden like any sportbike with a 56.5-inch wheelbase (same as a current-generation Z1000). Race Tech's suspension components complement this softer power and relaxed gearing by sucking up small and large hits. Valved and sprung too soft for ultra-aggressive riding, they still kept the chassis firmly under control. It probably helped that the steering damper was still in play.

Potential streetbike surgeons can rest assured that all of these mods are easily reversible. For more sporting street duty or track days, the bags can be tossed aside, the suspension made taut, the wheelbase shortened and stickier tires spooned on. Indeed, before my trip to Laguna Seca, the Ninja had an inch taken out of its wheelbase, bringing it back closer to superbike-spec and unleashing some of its temporarily hidden, snarling demeanor and razor-sharp handling.

Although the cost of this Streetbike Surgery totaled more than $5000, it resurrected a well-worn superbike while turning it into a no-holds-barred supersport-tourer. Similarly transforming a less well-used sportbike can be done for about a grand by simply installing taller bars, a modified seat, cruise control, footpeg extensions and a taller windshield. Whittling it down even further, a simple swap to taller bars and lower pegs can bring that cost down to closer to $500.

This project was a resounding success. In more than 5000 miles of testing, it's proven to be the no-compromise machine of my dreams. Don't just sit there looking at your uncomfortable sportbike with contempt. Turn to the aftermarket and rebuild it into the real-world machine of your dreams!

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