2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R | Doin' Time

Staffers’ Rides

WRIST: Barry Burke
MSRP (2011): $13,799
MILES: 1493
MPG: 36
MODS: Öhlins steering damper

I’ve always been impressed with Kawasaki’s ZX-10R engine, and with Kawasaki engines in general, all the way back to the GPz1100, KZ1000R and Z1. Kawasaki handling has been somewhat less impressive, however. Until now: The 2011 ZX-10R’s chassis provides excellent feedback, which translates to plenty of rider confidence. Team Green’s engineers made a real breakthrough with this one.

This year’s ZX-10R is 20 lbs. lighter than last year’s, and feels lighter yet in tight canyons or at the racetrack. The new Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC) electronics package is a giant step forward when it comes to putting down the power. Caught miles from home in a freak thunderstorm? Dial up a little more virtual rear grip and you’ll be fine. Almost: My bike doesn’t have Kawasaki’s Intelligent anti-lock Braking System (KIBS)—a $1000 option.

I could have used more set-up time with the Ninja during our “Class of 2011” testing. It turned well enough, but I wanted it to steer a little quicker without giving up any stability. That meant either shimming the stock shock or bolting on one with adjustable ride-height, and I didn’t have the chance to try either option at the time.

Now that I've got a long-term testbike, I've got carte blanche. The first thing I did was fix that so-called steering damper. The ZX-10R comes with something that looks the part and may well be idiot-proof, but which doesn't work all that well. The options: Send it to Race Tech for a re-valve ($100; www.racetech.com_) of swap it for a real Öhlins damper (part number SD-021; $370 from _www.ohlinsusa.com_). Since we'd already reviewed the Race Tech setup (_MC, August), I went the Öhlins route. It bolted on easily, and with 16 clicks of actual adjustment solves all the stock part's problems. It's the first investment any new ZX-10R owner should make, transforming the bike into the best stock Kawasaki streetbike I've ever ridden.