FIRST LOOK: 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS

IMU Technology, a Quickshifter, and More Power for the Ninja Superbike

Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-10R was last updated in 2011, and ever since has been a potent liter-class supersport competitor. However, the last couple of years have seen a massive surge in capability and sophistication in the class, from the immense horsepower of BMW's S1000RR and Aprilia's RSV4, to the featherweight frameless Ducati 1299 Panigale and NASA-level Yamaha R1 technology. Good as it was, the ZX-10R fell behind by standing still.

Team Green is radically upping its game in 2016 with a new version of the ZX-10R superbike, which borrows heavily from the company's successful World Superbike efforts and aims to take on its street-going competition in every category, with updated bodywork, engine, chassis, and electronics. Don't be fooled by the familiar bodywork: The motorcycle you see here is dramatically updated and modernized.

The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R engine has the same displacement, bore/stroke measurements, and compression ratio (even some of the case covers appear identical), but inside lurks a lighter crank and pistons, revised cylinder head, and dry-film coatings to reduce friction.©Motorcyclist

ENGINE
The powerplant keeps its 998cc displacement, 76 x 55mm bore and stroke measurements, and 13:1 compression ratio, but there are heavy updates across the board. The new ZX-10R borrows the "computer controlled electronic throttle valves" (ride-by-wire) from Kawasaki's H2 hyperbike, where RBW debuted earlier this year. A lighter crankshaft means the engine should be quicker to rev, and have less reciprocating mass at speed. Pistons are also lighter, by 5 grams each, thanks to trimming the piston skirt by 1.5mm.

The cylinder heads have been updated too, with revised ports (the exhaust port is polished to match the intake from last year) that offer a straighter path for intake and exhaust charges to create better flow. Helping the gases stream are 1mm larger exhaust valves (now 25.5mm) and a slightly different combustion chamber shape, as well as cams that provide more valve overlap, all designed to create more top-end power. Of course, with more power comes more heat and forces; to help cool the modified mill there are now larger coolant passageways and to keep the engine block stiff there are thicker cylinder walls.

Breathing for the new engine is a 25-percent larger airbox, and a new air filter design that Kawasaki claim flows more air with 60% more filtration area. A new, titanium exhaust is thinner, lighter, and offers more volume to reduce noise. Gear ratios are shorter in gears second through sixth, and a redesigned slipper clutch is 130 grams lighter.

A radial pull lever from Brembo on the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R feeds massive Brembo M50 monoblock calipers squeezing 330mm discs. Note the braided-steel lines, another notable upgrade.©Motorcyclist

ELECTRONICS
Where the previous ZX-10R's traction control was slightly behind the competition in terms of hardware, it typically worked quite well and left reviewers impressed. However, the 2016 model steps firmly into the state of the art realm with a Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit that calculates every movement of the machine, from lean angle to pitch and forward/rearward acceleration. The IMU informs a new, 32-bit ECU with wheel speed, brake pressure, throttle position, engine rpm, and throttle opening sensor data in order to activate the ZX-10R's traction control, ABS, engine braking, launch control, and "cornering management function." Kawasaki say the IMU is so advanced that it is able to analyze the chassis' orientation relative to the surface of the pavement, not just the horizontal plane, allowing it to account for camber and gradient, as well as tire wear, profile, and compound influence. The Sport Kawasaki TRaction Control (S-KTRC) system now has five settings, up from three on the 2015 bike. Wow.

Launch control is a new feature for the ZX-10R, offering three modes of intervention for aggressive acceleration. The so-called Cornering Management Function is new as well, with Kawasaki claiming this system distributes pressure to the brake calipers based on IMU lean/pitch data and keeps the bike from standing up and running wide while braking. How, exactly, does it work? We’re waiting for Kawasaki to tell us, and will report back with the details as soon as we have them. What we do know is that the ZX-10R’s system is not linked, as the R1’s is. On a different note, Kawasaki says engine braking control is for track use only, and manages the amount of engine braking for smoother deceleration.

In the list of expanding features there are now three power modes, rather than two. Full power means getting all of the yet undisclosed thrust on tap, while Middle offers 80% and Low dishes out 60% of maximum power. Lastly, we have been waiting years now for Kawasaki to apply a quickshifter to the ZX-10R, and the 2016 model delivers with the piece borrowed from the new H2 model line. In case you’re wondering, this is an upshift-only system. You’re on your own for downshifts, though the slipper clutch is there to help.

A cross section of the gas-charged Showa Balance Free Fork (BFF) on the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R. Note the separate chamber housing the damping valves.©Motorcyclist

CHASSIS
The aluminum twin-spar frame remains the same in basic layout, but has also undergone serious updates. The steering head has effectively been moved 7.5mm closer to the rider for more front weight bias, and the swingarm has been lengthened 15.8mm (0.62 inches). That, paired with a 32.9-inch seat height (0.9 inches taller than before), aims to give the ZX-10R quicker handling. For stability, there is now a longer wheelbase, too, up nearly 0.5 inches from the previous model to 56.7 inches. At the front of the frame, the internal profile has been changed to reduce intake noise, giving the exhaust license to make more noise while still meeting sound regulations.

Showa’s “Balance Free” Fork and Rear Cushion (shock) suspend the new ZX-10R, and represent a big step forward in technology. Independent damping circuits for compression and rebound, along with nitrogen-charged chambers and valves placed outside the fork legs, allow for more precise damping and better suspension feel, so says Kawasaki and Showa. The linkage ratios for the shock have also been changed, aimed to provide a wider range of adjustment, and geared specifically at track riding.

Front brakes see a massive upgrade as well, with essentially the same system as is fitted to Ducati’s 1299 Panigale. A radial-pull lever and braided-steel lines feed pressure to Brembo M50 calipers squeezing two 330mm rotors. The new brakes are undeniably drool-worthy, then again it will be interesting to see how much better it is than the old Tokico system with 310mm discs, which offered lots of power and decent feel. A slightly different 220mm rotor out back is now pinched by a two-piston Nissin caliper, as opposed to a single-pot Tokico on the outgoing bike.

The wheels are the same other than revised mounting for the new brake rotors, and if you’re really into checking your tire pressure (like we are here at MC) you’ll be excited that the new ZX-10R comes equipped with angled valve stems! Tires are upgraded, too, with the same Bridgestone Battlax RS10 rubber that come on Yamaha’s R1.

A new rear cowl on the 2016 ZX-10R is wider, and Kawasaki describes the passenger seat as "sportier." We're guessing that doesn't mean more comfortable.©Motorcyclist

APPEARANCE
At first glance the 2016 ZX-10R looks similar to the outgoing bike, but keen eyes will have spotted a slew of updates. A larger windshield is said to offer more wind protection while being more stable, thanks to being joined with the fairing fully (unlike the previous "floating" screen) and having holes along the base of the bubble to equalize pressure in the cockpit. The headlights are new, now slightly smaller, and the same goes for the mirrors.

The rear cowl is slightly wider, which Kawasaki say is to balance out the aesthetic of the ZX-10R front to back. A new LED taillight resides just above a new, more modular license plate holder that can be removed simply for track use. The passenger seat has been described as “sportier,” which we take to mean less of a priority—fair enough, for a machine that is so clearly aimed at use on the track. The muffler appears slimmer too, and while Kawasaki haven’t announced the overall weight of the bike the exhaust system is said to be lighter.

The cockpit of the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R uses the familiar bar-style tachometer running across the top of the dash, but the LCD underneath now has multiple windows and shows much more data.©Motorcyclist

There are a few, small updates to the dash as well. The bar-type tachometer stretching across the top of the cockpit is familiar, but now sits just above a multi-window LCD adjustable for Standard or Race mode. The screen has indicators for the IMU, launch control, quickshifter, and engine braking, as well as data for power modes, traction control level, and the usual gaggle of information (trip meters, fuel consumption, odometer, coolant temp, etc).

OVERALL
This represents a major step forward for Kawasaki's flagship superbike. The hardware alone, in the gas-charged Showa suspension components and Brembo brakes, is a notable upgrade for a Kawasaki. Likewise, the additional capability of IMU componentry and software look to make the ZX-10R a serious threat in the literbike class, where it had admittedly fallen behind but not by very much. We have high hopes for this new ZX-10R, and if it's priced aggressively enough it could make a serious splash in the superbike pond.

The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R, shown here in the KRT Edition (for Kawasaki Race Team) paint scheme. ABS and non-ABS bikes will be available in both color schemes.©Motorcyclist

tech SPEC

EVOLUTION
A heavily updated version of the ZX-10R that debuted as an all-new machine in 2011.
RIVALS
[Aprilia RSV4][], [BMW S1000RR][], [Ducati 1299 Panigale][], [Honda][] CBR1000RR, [MV Agusta][] F4, [Suzuki GSX-R1000][], [Yamaha R1][]
TECH
PRICE $15,999 w/ABS (ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition: $16,299)
ENGINE 998cc, liquid-cooled inline-four
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER (Euro spec) 207 hp @ 13,000 rpm (w/ram air)
CLAIMED TORQUE (Euro spec) 84 lb-ft @ 11,500 rpm
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 330mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Nissin two-piston caliper, 220mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0º/4.2 in.
WHEELBASE 56.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.5 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT TBA
AVAILABLE TBA
CONTACT [kawasaki.com][]
The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R, shown here in the KRT Edition (for Kawasaki Race Team) paint scheme. ABS and non-ABS bikes will be available in both color schemes.©Motorcyclist
The cockpit of the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R uses the familiar bar-style tachometer running across the top of the dash, but the LCD underneath now has multiple windows and shows much more data.©Motorcyclist
A new rear cowl on the 2016 ZX-10R is wider, and Kawasaki describes the passenger seat as "sportier." We're guessing that doesn't mean more comfortable.©Motorcyclist
A cross section of the gas-charged Showa Balance Free Fork (BFF) on the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R. Note the separate chamber housing the damping valves.©Motorcyclist
A radial pull lever from Brembo on the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R feeds massive Brembo M50 monoblock calipers squeezing 330mm discs. Note the braided-steel lines, another notable upgrade.©Motorcyclist
The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R engine has the same displacement, bore/stroke measurements, and compression ratio (even some of the case covers appear identical), but inside lurks a lighter crank and pistons, revised cylinder head, and dry-film coatings to reduce friction.©Motorcyclist
The Showa Balance Free shock on the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R has an updated linkage ratio for a wider range of adjustment, while the separate-circuit shock offers the rider the ability to tailor both high- and low-speed compression damping.©Motorcyclist
The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R, shown here in the KRT Edition (for Kawasaki Race Team) paint scheme. ABS and non-ABS bikes will be available in both color schemes.©Motorcyclist
The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R, shown here in the Metallic Matte Carbon Grey paint scheme. ABS and non-ABS bikes will be available in both color schemes.©Motorcyclist
The 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R, shown here in the Metallic Matte Carbon Grey paint scheme. ABS and non-ABS bikes will be available in both color schemes.©Motorcyclist