2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Review
1. The design brief of the 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R was for it to be “easy to ride, comfortable and fast.” With a lot of input from both Tom Sykes and new 2015 World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea, the bike has improved front-end feedback and quicker handling transitions due to a dramatic 20-percent reduction in engine inertia. At Sepang’s huge variety of corners I found the side-to-side handling amazingly quick, and turn-in to be direct and precise. At the end of Sepang’s long straights the ZX-10R was very stable under hard braking from high speed, and the reduction in braking forces transmitted through to me was very noticeable. Overall, the 2016 ZX-10R is much less fatiguing to ride than other machines in its class.
2. Although the new model looks the same, it is actually completely redesigned with a new motor that includes a cassette style gearbox with improved ratios and a quickshifter; a new chassis with improved flex; a longer, beefier swing arm for improved traction; Showa World SBK spec suspension that includes a 43mm Balance-free nitrogen charged fork and Showa BFRC lite shock; an Öhlins electronic steering damper that uses a rear wheel sensor to determine if the bike is accelerating or decelerating; and top-of-the-line Brembo M50 caliper brakes with stainless lines and 330mm rotors. Sepang is very smooth so the suspension didn’t have to work as hard as perhaps it might on other circuits or on the street, but the lack of dive under hard braking was noticeable, and the ZX-10R was so stable and planted I felt totally confident late braking at the end of each straight when coming down from high speed.
3. At the recent Portimao World Superbike test the 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R was a whopping 2 seconds a lap faster than the last year’s model, and at the recent Jerez mixed test the ZX-10R was (unofficially) lapping at the same times as Marc Marquez testing Honda’s new MotoGP bike. So to say the new ZX-10R is a dramatic improvement is somewhat of an understatement. Those are significant results and speak volumes to the new Ninja’s capability.
4. Peak power is increased, principally because of a 25-percent bigger air box with 40-percent reduced air resistance, and a new (patented) ram-air resonator noise reduction system that utilizes chambers in the frame spars to dampen intake noise. Because intake roar has been reduced, it allows for a louder (better breathing) exhaust without increasing the overall noise level, keeping the bike emissions compliant while allowing the Kawasaki engineers to make it more powerful.
5. In keeping with the “faster lap times” philosophy, the motor revs quickly and prefers to howl. Power delivery overall is progressive and very controllable. Although Kawasaki claim to have slightly improved the bottom end punch and mid-range power, I felt it to be a little anemic until around 7,000 RPM, but after that the power really comes in strongly. In Sepang’s slower corners I started off using second gear but quickly realized I needed to use first and carry higher revs to use the meatier part of the power output. Fueling on the streetbike from the new 32-bit ECU feels a little notchy transitioning from off-to-on throttle, and that’s especially noticeable in first and second gear. With the race kit (race ECU, Akrapovic pipe and lighter clutch) the motor is not only dramatically more alive low down in the rev range, but overall fueling is much improved with smoother throttle transitions.
6. The 2016 ZX-10R’s electronics system has the usual 3 power modes (100%; 80%; and 60% power output) uses the same Bosch IMU as other manufacturers and it measures the five so-called ‘freedoms’ (movement): longitudinal acceleration; transverse acceleration; vertical acceleration; roll rate; and pitch rate. The sixth freedom is unique to Kawasaki and measures rate of yaw—and this is the special sauce in the ZX-10R’s Kawasaki ‘hybrid predictive’ traction control. It is a software algorithm in the ECU where the IMU data is interpreted every five milliseconds, controlling the amount of slide-out at the rear wheel via ignition timing and the throttle butterflies. So this is effectively a TC system that controls not just wheelspin but also actively controls the amount that the back wheel is allowed to step out. Exiting Sepang’s slower corners the rear of the ZX10R was stable and predictable; I felt confident enough to get to full throttle quicker than I think I would have otherwise.
7. The interesting thing about Kawasaki’s TC is that it automatically allows and accounts for multiple variables as the recalibration is all part of the algorithm. These variables include things such as different tire specs and compounds, amount of tire wear and pressures; and surface conditions such as corner camber, surface composition, and overall grip.
8. Curb weight (includes 90-percent full gas tank) at a claimed 454lbs (ABS model) is actually around 10 lbs heavier than last year and this principally comes from the exhaust, frame and a longer, beefier swing arm that gives a 12mm longer wheelbase. Amazingly and completely counter-intuitively though, the bike actually feels lighter to ride because of a lighter crankshaft and balancers that reduce inertia by a gigantic 20 percent. Jonny Rea, who was lapping with us at Sepang, was emphatic on how much better the bike turns and stops because there’s so much less inertia and overall mass, and that’s precisely what he and Sykes requested. CHECK OUT THE VIDEO HERE. I immediately felt the difference, and coming out of Sepang’s very slow Turn 1 with a quick transition into the downhill Turn 2, the 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R flipped from side-to-side amazingly quickly. This was partly due to the light feeling of the machine, but also due to my confidence in the front end.
9. Handling is awesome, and as promised, the 2016 ZX-10R is supremely easy to ride. The engine now sits higher and more forward in the frame, but the rider actually sits lower. The steering head is 7.5 mm closer to the rider for more weight on the front, so my confidence in the front end was total. The raised center of gravity in combination with the reduced inertia, gives the bike highly intuitive, light feeling, and very precise handling. Despite the high-speed nature of Sepang I was able to place the bike exactly where I wanted; any missed apexes were down to my lack of track knowledge, not the ZX-10R’s steering. On the occasions I did get it slightly wrong, the ZX-10R changed course with zero fuss and minimal input at the bars.
10. The new ZX10R comes in two colors, each with KIBS (Kawasaki’s ABS) as an option. Green ($16,299 or $15,299 without KIBS), and Metallic Matte Carbon Gray ($15,999 or $14,999 without KIBS) respectively. The plain Black with White graphics and snowflake emblem seen here is the so-called “Winter” graphics edition and although that scheme will not be available in the US, Kawasaki provided it with the race kit fitted for me to ride at Sepang. If you buy an ABS version and decide to race it, a dongle can be plugged in that allows the cancelation of the ABS either completely or just the rear, for racing. The ABS only adds 5lbs in weight and is a great safety-net that doesn’t impact brake feel at all, so if you’re anything other than a top level racer frankly I’d recommend you keep it working.
11. If you’re looking to race the ZX-10R, then Kawasaki have a very generous contingency program in the US with a total payout of approx. $3.2 Million in rewards. Serious racers will need the Kawasaki Race Kit (available at dealers from February) which includes exclusive items not available through the aftermarket: Race ECU and wiring harness; independent 5 mode TC; a blip-downshift addition to the quickshifter; individual adjustment of engine brake settings for each gear; 3 different size steering pivot collars to adjust rake angle; a swing arm pivot height adjuster collar; the ABS canceler dongle; and race clutch parts.
2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Review – Conclusion
Kawasaki’s new ZX-10R is an absolutely spectacular motorcycle that is both evolved and technologically very sophisticated, making it an intuitive, predictable and confidence inspiring machine that is easy to ride. The only minor chink in the armor in street trim is in the lack of mid-range power, however that is clearly emissions related as the race kit ECU gives the bike instant throttle response and improved off idle punch that goes all the way to the redline.
The increased peak power output will certainly help Jonathan Rea in his World Superbike title defense this year, but in talking to him, it’s not really the improved motor that excites him., it’s the ZX10R’s ability to make super-quick side to side transitions, and being able to brake much deeper into corners that make him really confident.
The new ZX10R has been brilliantly and innovatively designed, and the dramatic reduction of engine inertia coupled with the raised center of gravity and changed chassis geometry are immediately noticeable. They have combined to create an incredibly sharp, precise, and intuitive handling machine that is a dream to ride fast.
BONUS FACT: If you’re fortunate enough to ride Sepang–watch out for snakes!! I was coming down the fast downhill right hand Turn 3 and what I thought was a long tarmac seam across the track suddenly started wriggling. Fortunately the ZX10R changes line easily and needless to say I took advantage of that, missing the critter by inches. Aaaargh!