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2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R review, test ride

27th May 2016 4:06 pm

Kawasaki has pulled out all the stops with the updates on the 2016 ZX-10R. It's time to get under its skin and find out.

  • Make : Kawasaki
  • Model : Ninja

Never judge a book by its cover. This is one of those times that adage rings absolutely true. With the 2016 ZX10R, Kawasaki has focused only on to how well the motorcycle rides, instead of how it looks. Cosmetics have taken a back seat as almost every other component on the 2016 ZX-10R has been updated. These updates have been heavily influenced by Kawasaki’s WSBK racing technology. Lucky for us, the engineers at Kawasaki believe that the easier the motorcycle is to ride, the faster the rider will go; no arguments there. This has been a long pending update, since the 10R was one of the few litre-class bikes that remained unchanged since 2011. So let’s get under the skin of this thoroughbred and find out what makes it so special.

From a distance, the 10R looks very similar to its predecessor. But as you approach the motorcycle, the subtle changes become a little more apparent. The front fairing has been slightly re-designed and sports smoother curves than the older 10R. The wind-screen is a little wider than before, with cleverly placed intakes provided on the sides to reduce negative air pressure; which in turn, reduces helmet buffeting at higher speeds, to a certain extent. It allows the air to flow from under the riders arms, reducing shoulder fatigue from wind pressure.

The front mud-guard is also new and borrows inspiration from Kawasaki’s H2R. It is designed to optimise air-flow to the radiator, to assist with better cooling. The mid-section fairing and tank remain the same as the older 10R, but the tail section is all new. The new tail-light sort of resembles the shape of the Aprilia RSV4’s, don’t you think? One feature that really grabs your attention is the Showa Balance-Free Forks (BFF) up front that makes its debut appearance on the 10R. One look at the compressed nitrogen canister that sits at the base of the forks and you just know this motorcycle means business.

The new chassis sports a head-stock that now sits 7.5mm closer to the rider. This is to add a little more weight over the front tyre and increase responsiveness and feedback from the front end. The wheelbase has been increased by 15.8mm by adding a longer swing-arm to aid in this same purpose, as well as to add more traction to the rear tyre. Even the engine is mounted higher up than in the previous model to improve agility. All these changes allow for a very predictable and planted feel from the front end; which in turn, contributes to the motorcycle’s nimble handling and behaviour through the corner. This results in better corner entry, transition and exit speeds. Overall, the new 10R is slightly higher, wider and longer than the older model. At 206kg, it even weighs a little more.

Kawasaki has decided to go the extra mile with the electronics package on the new 10R. Yamaha’s all new R1M rolled out last year with a whole different level of electronics involved. Kawasaki has now levelled the playing field by designing and throwing in a whole new electronics package for the 10R that’s even designed in house.  It’s based on Bosch’s Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and it actually measures five different axis of movement and uses these to calculate the sixth. Sure, these measurements may sound like complete jargon, but they actually use the angle of lean, or pitch, or yaw, to adapt the amount of traction control or brakes, in real time! Which means holding lines through a corner on the 10R becomes substantially easier; which in motorcyclist terms translates to going faster through the corners. Kawasaki claims the electronics package on the 10R is so accurate; it can even sense changes in tyre pressure and road camber.

Once you get aboard the new 10R, you’re greeted with nostalgia. The instrument cluster seems exactly the same as the one found on the older model. However, there are updates to the LCD screen which may not seem obvious at first. There is an IMU indicator, traction control(S-KTRC), power modes, launch control (KLCM), ABS control (KIBS), quick shift (KQS) and engine braking control (KEBC), a gear indicator, intake air temperature, average and instant fuel consumption. There’s also an odometer, dual trip meters and a low fuel indicator, in case you were wondering. But fear not, you’d be forgiven all this information gives you a head-ache initially; it does take some time to get your head wrapped around all this. Luckily, all of this is controlled and toggled via a single rocker switch equipped with a ‘select’ button, located on the left handlebar.

So, like I mentioned earlier, the engineers over at Kawasaki have tried as hard as possible to make this motorcycle as easy to ride as possible. Even the electronic Ohlins steering damper, carried over from the previous model,comes with revised settings to suit the new chassis. It automatically alters the amount of damping according to the speed and degree of acceleration or braking. Which means all you have to worry about is going faster and faster, but let’s keep that need to go faster limited to the race track. There’s even a quick shifter to help you get there. The shifts feel smooth, soft and very precise. Of course, the quick shifter only helps with up-shifts. On a stock 10R you’d still need the clutch to shift back into lower gears.

Now the engine is where the real magic has taken place. Trust the engineers at Kawasaki to take a great engine and make it even better. The 2016 10R retains the same 998cc 16 valve, DOHC, inline-four engine layout that also has the same bore and stroke as the previous model. However, it now sports a lighter crankshaft, which not only reduces the overall weight of the motorcycle; it also improves throttle response and acceleration. The cylinder head now has polished intake as well as exhaust ports, as opposed to the previous model only having the intake ports polished. It even incorporates larger passageways for coolant, to increase engine reliability and longevity. The valves are now made of titanium to reduce weight further and are 1mm wider in diameter to increase high-RPM output. The shape of the combustion chamber has been altered to enhance this as well.

But the changes don’t end there. The piston is now cast from a heat-resistant alloy that not only increases its durability, it also reduces the expansion which happens under immense heat, which alters engine behaviour to a certain extent. The cylinder wall thickness has also been increased to create a more rigid engine block. Another aspect that is absolutely concealed is the changes to the air-box; it now offers a whopping 25 percent increase in volume, along with a 60 percent increase in surface area of the new air-filter element. Couple this up with a new fly-by wire throttle and the engine is way more responsive than the older model. However, it does tend to be a bit more sensitive at lower revs, so more gradual throttle inputs will be required. Spent gases are disposed of through newly designed heat-resistant titanium-alloy headers that now have a 50 percent larger volume than the previous model; keeping the volume levels and overall weight lower than before.

The gearbox on the 10R has always been very precise, but the ratios have been on the taller side. Kawasaki has now reduced the ratios from 2nd to 6th gear to allow for a more usable power-band. This aids in better acceleration while exiting corners. However, the first gear still feels extremely tall and so makes the engine feel a little limp at lower revs. The meat of the power kicks in only post 8,000rpm and then closer to the top-end, the 10R gets absolutely ballistic. Here in the power-band of the 10R is where the real engine braking happens; it’s much more gradual in the lower revs. While decelerating, the slipper clutch allows for more stable and predictable down-shifts. You won’t have the rear-end sliding all over the place and creating nice zig-zag patterns all over the tarmac.

Now, we’ve only had the opportunity to test the 10R on the road so far; far from its potential limits of riding. So we haven’t really been able to explore the complete extent of intervention from the electronics. There are five different modes of traction control; the first two are for the race track. The third is also for the race track, but if the motorcycle is equipped with racing tyres. The fourth is programmed for nice winding roads in dry conditions, while the fifth is primarily for wet conditions and street use; that allows for minimum slippage. While slotted in traction mode 2 and full power mode, I did manage to get the rear to slide out a little while exiting a corner. But this was so well controlled that the motorcycle held exactly the intended line; not a hint of misbehaviour. The three power modes available are full, middle (80%) and low (60%); these should help even further with available riding conditions and rider preference.

The suspension setup on the 10R feels absolutely marvellous; it actually came as a bit of a surprise to me. Frankly, you don’t really expect a motorcycle capable of hitting 300kph on a racetrack to handle our Indian road conditions all too well. But the 10R has just obliterated that theory. It handles bumps well at low and high speeds. Sure, you may feel some bumps at lower speeds, but that can be forgiven. The Showa BFF at the front and the Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion (BFRC) do an absolutely stellar job of helping you hold your line. Even through the corners, this setup won’t get you unsettled while riding through the bumps. It’s really impressive how much feel and feedback there is from the suspension. This can be credited to the external nitrogen chamber on the suspension that controls the compression generated by the pistons. And this is the first time the BFF setup is actually available on a production motorcycle. Everything is separately adjustable; the compression, the damping and the pre-load. This allows for an even more focused machine on the track.

With a motorcycle this capable, you’d expect equally good stopping power. And the 10R in no way disappoints. It comes equipped with the extremely competent twin Brembo M50 monobloc, four-piston calipers, attached to 330mm discs (300mm on the older model) up front and a two-piston Nissin caliper attached to a 220mm disc at the rear. Input is transferred through race quality steel-braided lines and these brakes provide an immense amount of stopping power. The front-brakes rotors are even cross-drilled and have a circumferential groove on the outer edge to help with heat dissipation. The initial bite on these brakes is highly impressive, followed by great feel and feedback from the brakes all the way. Couple this up with the Bridgestone Battlax RS10 tyres, carried over from the Ninja H2 platform, and you have a very generous amount of traction available at all times.

With all these 'go-faster' upgrades, it’s clear that this new 10R’s focus is firmly on the race track and to help riders shave those precious milliseconds off their lap times, the ergonomics too feel a lot more aggressive. The outgoing model certainly felt a lot friendlier in that regard.Get aboard this new bike and the first thing you notice is the foot-pegs; they now sit higher up, allowing for a more aggressive seating posture. Keep in mind, this posture would be way more demanding of the rider;it is primarily forward biased to add more weight over the front tyre. Like I’ve mentioned a few hundred times already, this machine wants you to go faster. Its setup is not intended for lounging around at lower speeds. On the flipside, longer stints in the saddle can begin to get painful. Especially for taller riders; the new riding-position can feel more cramped than before. So tucking in may become a bit of a problem and even I experience somehelmet buffeting at higher speeds.

All in all, the new 10R provides you with the absolute cream of racing technology available on a production motorcycle. However, being a track-biased motorcycle, you can expect a rather extreme and intense riding experience; far from the more easy-going nature of the older model. That being said, the 2016 10R would be highly competent when stacked up against the other litre motorcycles. On and off the track, this Jap should definitely give its European counterparts a run for their money; power-wise and technology-wise. The great part is the pricing. At Rs 16.4 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the new 10R makes an immensely strong case for itself. Kawasaki has done a stellar job no doubt, but this Ninja’s intense track focus makes it rather far from an everyday machine.

PRICE Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT
Price Range Ex-showroom - Delhi Rs.16.4 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) - - -
ENGINE Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT
Max Power (hp @ rpm) 197hp at 13,000rpm / with ram-air 207hp at 13,000rpm - - -
Max Torque (nm @ rpm) 113.5Nm at 11,500rpm - - -
Type 998cc inline-4 cylinder, 16 valve, DOHC, liquid-cooled- 4-stroke - - -
TRANSMISSION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT
No of Gears 6-speed (1-down, 5-up) - - -
Dimensions & Chassis Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT
Length (mm) 2090mm - - -
Width (mm) 745mm - - -
Height (mm) 1145mm - - -
Wheel base (mm) 1440mm - - -
BRAKES Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT
Front Brake Type 330mm dual semi-floating discs with Brembo M50 4-piston Monobloc calipers - - -
Rear Brake Type 220mm semi-floating disc with Nissin single-bore aluminium-piston based caliper - - -
SUSPENSION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT
Front Suspension 43mm inverted Balance Free Front Fork with external compression chamber - - -
Rear Suspension Horizontal back-link with BFRC lite gas-charged shock, piggyback resevoir - - -
BODY Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT
Construction Twin-spar, cast-aluminium - - -
Weight 204kg - - -
Wheels 3-spoke alloy - - -
Tyres (F-R) 120/70ZR17M/C (58W) – 190/55ZR17M/C (75W) - - -
EFFICIENCY Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT
Tank size 17 litres - - -
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