It was the strongest, lightest over-the-counter literbike in the world a half-dozen years ago. And despite a brutal, unforgiving character along with a few rough edges, Kawasaki's first ZX-10R is still one of the best. It's hard to argue with 162 rear-wheel horsepower in a 433-pound package, so don't. This one goes from green light to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, covering a quarter-mile in 10.06 seconds at 145.3 mph. Add aggressive steering geometry leading a stubby, 54.5-inch wheelbase and you have a ruthless precision instrument that rewards anyone with superior skills-and scares the pee out of everybody else.
Above 8000 rpm, the big Ninja makes Space Mountain feel like a pony ride. When a less frenetic approach seems more appropriate, there's enough punch between 4000 and 8000 to rivet your full, undivided attention. When it's time to scrub off some of that speed, the stock brakes are universally disappointing with spongy lever feel and weak initial bite. But fear not, an aftermarket master cylinder setup and better lines can help here.
Steering is hard to fault, as it's quick and light over any kind of pavement without feeling nervous; but take it easy over that tricky fourth-gear rise on Racer Road until you bolt up a quality steering damper. Kawasaki didn't, so you should, especially if you're headed for the track. The rest of the bike is pretty well sorted. Take the time to dial it in and the stock suspension is taut but compliant enough for commuter duty. Stiff, sloppy shifting is significantly less commendable, but shop around; some examples are more cooperative than others.
Kawasaki recalled a number of '04 models due to casting flaws in the front wheel. Assuming the previous owner had that taken care of, there's not much to worry about. Still, there are some potential trouble spots: Watch for oil leaks around the valve cover gasket. Fork seals often don't. A bad cam-position sensor or one with a loose/broken connector will make the motor difficult or impossible to start. Repeated application of all 162 horses can pop those rivets in the back of the clutch basket. Look extra hard at any examples that have spent a lot of time at the drag strip. Clunky, grabby engagement usually precedes expensive repairs. An annoying rattle from the tail section usually means the rear cowling's fragile mounting tangs are going or gone.
Lighter, quicker, stronger. Any questions?
Disappointing brakes, indistinct tachometer, no steering damper.
Oil leaks, hard starting, noisy/sloppy clutch.
Superbike supremacy on a middleweight budget.
2004 | $5610
Totally recast for '04 with a healthy dose of RC211V MotoG
2004 | $6105
After turning the big-boy class on its head in '03, Suzuk
2004 | $6005
Giving away 16 lbs. and 3 horses to the ZX-10R, the roomier