$5000 Streetbike Surgery - Kawasaki ZX-10R

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

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.


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.

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!

** ASV Inventions**
16421 Gothard St. #A
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Brake lever $125
Clutch lever $125

** Dynojet Research, Inc.**
2191 Mendenhall Dr.
N. Las Vegas, NV 89081

Power Commander III $360

Givi USA
9309 Forsyth Park Dr.
Charlotte, NC 28273

E300 tail bag, backrest & mounting kit $216

** Heli Modified, Inc.**
P.O. Box 638
Cornish, ME 04020

Handlebars $299

Ivan's Rockland County Motorcycle
175 N. RT 9W #1
Congers, NY 10920

Dyno tune & custom map $200

K&N; Engineering, Inc.
P.O. Box 1329
Riverside, CA 92502

Air filter $48

Marker Machine, Inc
5240 N. 124th St.
Milwaukee, WI 53225

Throttlemeister cruise control & bar end $162

Pirelli Tire, LLC
100 Pirelli Dr.
Rome, GA 30161

Diablo Rosso front tire $176
Diablo Rosso rear tire $278

** Race Tech**
1501 Pomona Rd.
Corona, CA 92880

Fork rebuild $400
Shock rebuild $631

RK Excel America, Inc.
2645 Vista Pacific Dr.
Oceanside, CA 92056

Gold Pro XW-Ring chain $212

** Sargent Cycle Products**
44 E. First St.
Jacksonville, FL 32206

Rider & passenger seat mods $310

Spider Grips
P.O. Box 80321
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92692

Slim Line SLR grips $16.95

** Twisted Throttle LLC**
1080 Kingstown Rd. #1
Peacedale, RI 02879

MFW rider & passenger footpegs w/extensions $210
MRA Touring windshield $105
SW-Motech mirror extenders $65
Bags-Connection Magnetic Sport tank bag $170

** Vortex Racing**
1900 Gunn Hwy.
Odessa, FL 33556

Front & rear sprockets $100
A true Gentleman's Express, this transformed Kawasaki ZX-10R is much more comfortable and better-suspended, but still packs the punch that made it the most fearsome superbike ever.
Using the original seats, Sargent Cycle reshaped the foam, added some of their own and recovered them in Black Carbon FX material.
Race Tech massaged the sportbike-harsh fork and shock for sport-touring duty with its Gold Valves, as well as lighter overall damping and springs.
Yoshimura exhaust has stainless-steel headers flowing combustibles into this lovely carbon-fiber can and out through a stealthy quiet tip.
MFW's 50mm peg extenders gave quite a bit more legroom, but powdercoating the not-so-grippy metal created a slippery situation.
ASV folding, adjustable levers, Throttlemeister mechanical cruise control and Spider grips grace the taller Heli handlebars.
To ensure watertight luggage space, the mount for a Givi 30-liter top case was bolted directly to an extra passenger seat base.