There are very few moments in life that remain firmly etched in one’s memory. Like, for instance, being perched on a 200hp+, litre-class superbike and watching the world whizz by in a blur. The sound of the intake howl reverberating in the ear as your brain struggles to keep up with the rapidly changing numbers on the speedo, is a rush unlike anything else. Especially on something as potent, yet accessible as the new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R.
Armed with a comprehensive set of updates for 2021, Kawasaki claims to have enhanced what is already an incredibly fast machine. Now, if wishes were horses, I’d be flying down the back straight of the BIC, rather than feeling caged on the public road system. Still, you’d have to be utterly mad to pass the opportunity of riding a superbike, even if it’s on the road. And as I discovered, this format of motorcycling has an irresistible draw.
It all begins with the way this motorcycle looks, most notably the new face. Kawasaki sparked online debates about the Kawasaki Ninja H2-inspired front end, on whether it was nothing but an ugly cut-paste job on the 2021 ZX-10R. I had my reservations as well, however, in the real world, this Ninja looks bold and aggressive. I’d go to the extent of saying that it looks characterful.
The large air intake duct in the centre is flanked by recessed LED headlights that give it a menacing face. The effect is also a result of the prominent chin spoilers below the headlights as well as the cleverly integrated ducts next to them. These ducts channel air into them and out through vents on the top of the side fairing. This helps improve high-speed downforce by 17 percent, although, the road is no place to test that. Nevertheless, I like how aesthetically clean and simple this aerodynamics business is on the Ninja, instead of the rather ugly winglets seen on some superbikes of its ilk.
The side fairing has been redesigned as well, with a wide slit giving you a sneak peek at the Titanium alloy exhaust headers, which have already turned bright blue on this bike. The fairing also does a pretty decent job of guiding hot air from the radiator fan out and far away from the rider’s legs.
Move to the rear and you’ll see a slightly reprofiled cowl, although the triangular LED tail-light is similar to the outgoing model.
To me, the new ZX-10R looks striking in every sense of the word, not to mention the lovely ‘Kawasaki Racing Team’ colours that add a huge dollop of appeal.
IN THE SADDLE
Hop on the motorcycle and you immediately realise that the riding position is way too committed for spending more than an hour in the saddle. This is because the handlebar has been pushed forward by 10mm, although the clip-ons are slightly more spread out to offer better leverage. Secondly, the foot pegs have been raised by 5mm to improve cornering clearance. While that bodes well for the racetrack, after a while on the road, the scrunched up foetal position will leave your lower back, wrists and neck muscles screaming for mercy. At least that was the case with me after a 180km trip from Pune to Mumbai.
However, even if the riding posture is extreme, I didn’t think it was an absolute deal breaker, because the way the Ninja ZX-10R performs and manages to tackle Indian roads is pleasantly surprising.
In the process of upgrading the ZX-10R’s venerable 998cc, inline-four engine to BS6 standards, Kawasaki has thrown in a chunk of updates that have had a big impact overall.
Peak power stands at 203hp (up by 3hp) at 13,200rpm. Add the ram air effect and Kawasaki says that figure rises to 213hp at high speeds. The other changes include a new air-cooled oil-cooler, for consistent engine performance, as well as the revised exhaust and the new ride-by-wire system that offers precise throttle inputs. But that’s not all. Kawasaki has also shortened the first, second and third gears and put in a bigger rear sprocket (by two teeth). The effect of all of this is seen in the new ZX-10R’s more tractable nature at city speeds. It manages to hold third gear at 30kph without a murmur of protest. The surprising bit is that the heat management in congested traffic is excellent, given the sheer performance that this engine packs. Speaking of which, a 200hp+ motorcycle is nothing short of a missile on wheels, especially on the road.
BS6 engine makes more power while revised gearing improves the tractability.
The sheer ferocity with which the Ninja builds up speed, with the seamless quickshifter working like magic, is gobsmacking. You’ll need all of your bravery, muscles and mental space to hold on to the bike as the revs climb past 10,000rpm; post which the horizon only seems seconds away. This entire sequence of events is accompanied by an addictive exhaust note that can only be brewed by an inline-four engine, which is still worshipped by many.
I’d say that it is nothing but lunacy to even dare to keep the throttle wide open on such an incredibly powerful machine, especially on our roads. That said, the electronics package with the updates for 2021 is like a superhero, keeping you from being the next statistic on the accident board.
The three ride modes – Road, Rain, Sport – the IMU based, five-level traction control (two levels more than available previously), as well as the ABS work seamlessly in the background, as you go about riding the Ninja over dips, crests, undulations, slippery surfaces and whatever the typical Indian road throws at you.
New Bluetooth TFT but still no standard fuel gauge.
Scroll through the menu on the new Bluetooth-enabled 4.3-inch TFT display and you can preset four individual rider modes – a new feature in 2021. However, this only allows you to set the traction control intervention level and whether you want Full or Low power, which chops output to about 80 percent.
Honestly, while I was barely skimming the surface of the performance barrel, it was more than enough to keep me grinning from ear to ear.
LASER GUIDED MISSILE
It’s on a tight twisty road that the Ninja’s chassis setup really comes to the fore and you realise why this superbike is looked upon with such reverence. Kawasaki has made a few tweaks this time by fitting an 8mm longer swingarm and lowering its pivot point by 1mm. The lowered triple clamp has also led to greater front fork offset, further contributing to the longer wheelbase. The result is a motorcycle that’s super stable at corner entry, mid corner and while exiting. Turn in felt quick for a 207kg motorcycle and even direction changes don’t require a lot of effort.
The fully-adjustable Showa suspension features revised internals, and even at stock settings, these were comfortable enough to deal with our pockmarked roads. They soak up mid-corner undulations quite well and there was never an instance where the front end skipped off an intended line. It is fast, yet friendly and forgiving, which explains why it is so easy to get on and get used to.
All said, a racetrack like the BIC or MMRT is where the true potential of the chassis can be exploited and it is something that we’ve added to our bucket list for the future.
Let’s be honest. Considering the gamut of motorcycles that we desire in a lifetime, a litre-class superbike holds a special place in almost everyone’s heart. After all, these are the epitome of hard, fast and focused production machines that mere mortals like you and I strap ourselves to for a ride of a lifetime.
KRT colours add to the appearance of the Ninja.
The 2021 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is a shining example of a motorcycle that’ll blow you away with its abilities. While we got a little taste of it on the street, the racetrack is where you must take this motorcycle to, in order to ride it like it is meant to be. Agreed, the electronics and overall feel-good factor aren’t as good as some of the more exotic competition, but then again, at Rs 14.99 lakh, the Ninja ZX-10R blows them out of the water, with its sheer price to performance value. And that makes it impossible to look past.