2008 Kawasaki ZX-10R - Up To Speed

Reinventing The Ninja

After blowing a crater in its 2008 R&D; budget with the Concours 14, Kawasaki had enough left to reinvent the ZX-10R. There's also a revamped ZX-14 to battle Suzuki's new 'Busa. At the other end of the food chain, the 250 Ninja gets its first real redo in decades. And the early-release '09 KLX250S will make dual-sport types happier.

Making its predecessor look like something from a John Deere brochure, the '08 ZX-10R is a classic case of trickle-up theory. Taking the same logic used to create the '07 ZX-6R, Kawasaki crammed a more ferocious 998cc four into an all-new chassis tuned to deliver maximum feedback from both ends. Factory types are still mum on hard numbers: Weight, wheelbase and other significant numbers remain TBD. But there are still enough bright ideas to keep things interesting.

Bore and stroke are status quo-76.0 x 55.0mm-below lighter forged cams, complete with adjustable lobe centers, that deliver more lift to elevate the new bike's power peak. Allegedly 2 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the new mill channels the '04 ZX-10R that made 163.4 horses at 12,000 rpm and would blow your head clean off. Sneaking up on internal combustion from behind, smaller exhaust valves-24.5mm vs. 25.5-and new tapered exhaust ports and headers draw spent gases out faster to accommodate fresh combustibles. Palladium catalyzers in the headers and a sub-chamber tucked behind the swingarm pivot keep things clean and quiet, allowing a single titanium silencer to replace the '07 bike's pair of highboy mufflers.

Meanwhile, the intake changes aim at more accurate throttle response, less noise and more power in the upper rev register. Reshaped ram-air plumbing is quieter and more efficient. A matching airbox affords easier access. New dual-injector throttle bodies capped with oval-section velocity stacks aim down heavy-breathing oval intake ports toward the reshaped combustion chambers, wherein fuel and air are squeezed at the same 12.7:1 ratio as before. What else? Crafty technology distributes oil from a more efficient pump through passages cast into the new upper crankcase/cylinder; no external lines. Gearing is new, with lower ratios for first, fourth and fifth, plus one more tooth on the rear sprocket.

The real news is in the ignition system. Kawasaki says, "Advanced ignition management system helps curtail sudden spikes in engine speed, enhancing the rider's control of torque delivery." Translation? Traction control. The engine's command/control computer compares throttle-position data with gear position, miles per hour and the rate of rpm change. Gain too many revs too quickly for a given speed and it backs out of the ignition timing gradually enough to let the rear tire get a grip. That's the theory anyway. We'll know how it works soon enough.

Although still comprised of welded aluminum stampings rather than more conventional extrusions, the frame is entirely new. The steering tube migrates 10mm forward. Convex sections replace concave ones to spread chassis loads more evenly. Extra wall thickness adds rigidity around a repositioned swingarm pivot, and the swingarm itself is longer. Kawasaki says the retuned chassis communicates much better with the rider, especially on the racetrack, which is the only place you can wring this thing out anyway-hence the readily removable mirrors and license-plate bracketry, along with a genuine f-hlins steering damper.

Suspension is new at both ends. The 43mm fork sliders wear a stylish low-friction DLC coating on the outside and bottom-mount springs inside. Isolating the cartridge units from frothy oil means more consistent damping. The 10R shock gets adjustable high- and low-speed compression damping, along with a new Uni-Trak link. New bodywork offers more comfort and less aerodynamic drag. Brakes? New single-pad Tokico calipers squeeze 310mm discs up front that are 10mm larger and .5mm thinner than in '07. Stronger, lighter "squeeze-cast" wheels are new as well. The best news is you get all that for just $300 more: $11,549.

You didn't think Kawasaki would surrender the ber Sport title without a fight, did you? The $11,699 ZX-14's '08 enhancements are relatively subtle, but intake and exhaust changes boost power output everywhere, especially down low. Whether it's enough to stay ahead of the new 'Busa remains to be seen. At $3499, an all-new 250 Ninja looks like a clear winner. Rolling on new 17-inch wheels, the bodywork, chassis and 70 percent of the 249cc parallel-twin beneath have been redone for '08. Kawasaki claims 30 percent more midrange power. That's good news for neophytes and experts alike.