Thanks to a leaky embargo-management system (or just untrustworthy journalists), the world already knows many of the details of the all-new Kawasaki ZX-10R. But Kawasaki Heavy Industries also released details of two more new models for the USA market—a faired version of the Z1000 called the Ninja 1000 and Kawi’s take on the bagger called the Vaquero. There’s also an ABS version of the ZX-10R that’s worth mentioning.
The big news is the ZX-10R. Since BMW launched its 200-plus horsepower, dripping-with-electronics, shootout-winning and media-wowing S1000RR superbike for 2010, there has been deafening silence from the Japanese Big Four. Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 has remained the same since 2009, Honda’s (outstanding) CBR1000RR has only gotten minor updates (including ABS) since 2008, and Yamaha’s YZF-R1 has also been static since its introduction in 2008. So it’s no surprise that Kawasaki—proud of its reputation for always having the most powerful superbikes—stepped up first with its intended Beemer-slayer.
Kawasaki claims this is an all-new machine from the ground up. The motor—though it has the same 76mm by 55mm bore-and-stroke numbers—is all new, with larger intake valves, polished ports, higher-lift camshafts, higher 13.0:1 compression, lighter conrods, a secondary balancer and pistons with even shorter skirts than the last-gen ZX-10R. The injectors grow to 47mm from 43mm, and the airbox gets an extra liter of capacity. The new cassette-style transmission was also redesigned to make it more compact and to centralize mass. The back-torque-limiting clutch is actually adjustable. There is no word from Kawi about power, but the rumor mill is churning out claims of 200-plus horses (at the crank), which wouldn’t surprise us here at MD.
The chassis is also completely new. The frame is now a simpler seven-piece design. It’s lighter, with fewer welds for a neater look. The very good Showa Big Piston Fork (that we liked so much on the ZX-6R), in a 43mm size rides up front, and Kawasaki’s loyal old Uni-Trak suspension—which holds the shock vertically—is thrown under the bus for a “back-link” system that locates the shock and linkage horizontally above the swingarm to make room for a big catalyst-equipped exhaust pre-chamber. The shock itself gets high and low-speed compression damping along with the other requisite adjustments. Front brakes are four-piston radial-mount calipers and 310mm petal-style rotors. Claimed wet weight is 436.6 pounds, 22 pounds less than the 2010 (which was seven pounds heavier than the BMW).
Racers should appreciate features aimed at improving track-only performance. The titanium headers have similar specs as race-only components, and the exhaust pre-chamber can be removed so the wheelbase can be shortened up to 16mm (over half an inch). The mirrors, turnsignals and license-plate bracket are all designed to be quickly removable. There’s even a racetrack mode for the instruments that displays the gear position where the speed usually is, and re-introduces us to Kawasaki’s much-complained-about LCD bar-graph tachometer. Hooray!
It’s not all about performance. Kawasaki has lowered the seat a little, the tank is more compact, the clip-ons are angled down less and the footpegs are adjustable, meaning a more-comfortable riding experience. And a lot of attention has been paid to styling—the bike looks small, compact and aggressive, a no-nonsense WSBK machine for the street.
But Kawasaki is clearly very proud of the electronics package. Called “Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control” or S-KTRC (“skit-rick?”) the new system differs from the system on the Concours14. Instead of simply cutting power when the rear wheel starts spinning, it reduces power when wheel slip gets out of control, using “complex analysis to predict when traction conditions are about to become unfavorable,” doing 200 calculations per second in the process. The S-KTRC has three levels of traction control—track, intermediate and slippery conditions—and is designed to work with a separate “power mode” selection function. The rider can select full power. Medium mode mimics the low-power mode under 50 percent power, and the low power mode is…low power, I guess. Not as complex as the BMW and Ducati systems, but some of us appreciate simplicity. We’ll see if it works as well as those systems on the track…hopefully soon. U.S. MSRP for the non-ABS model is $13,799.
This new ZX-10R has probably been in development since before the S1000RR debuted, and is also heavily influenced by the needs of the WSBK program, but it does tell us a thing or two about Kawasaki’s place in the global motorcycle market. It’s upping the horsepower and weight ante while giving its customers the sophisticated race electronics they’re clamoring for. Global recession? What global recession?
Another first for Kawasaki: an ABS version of its top-of-the-line superbike. Equipped with KIBS—Kawasaki Intelligent Anti-lock Brake System—the new ABS is built by Bosch (who also, not surprisingly, built the electronics for the BMW) and communicates not just with wheel-spin sensors, but also with the bike’s ECU and S-KTRC boxes. Kawasaki pitches KIBS as not just affording extra safety on the street, but also to make racetrack riders faster and more confident by reducing rear-end hop caused by overly hard braking and making the rear brake easier to control during hard downshifting.
ABS adds $1,000 to the price, with a U.S. MSRP of $14,799.
Golly gee, you may have said while reading our first ride report of the Kawasaki Z1000, that sure would be a great sport-tourer if it had some wind protection and luggage capacity. Well, dust off that checkbook, because the new Ninja 1000 may be the kind of bike that letters-to-the-editor writers and Internet malcontents have been requesting for years. A UJM with great performance, comfort and handling with a reasonable pricetag.
I’ll save you most of the tech details—you can go to Jeff’s Z1000 review for that, as the two bikes are basically identical. The Ninja 1000 gets a full-coverage fairing with three-position-adjustable windscreen, passenger grabrails and blackout treatment for the exhaust. The front fender and instrument cluster are also different, sourced from the ZX-6R. Wet weight is 502.7 pounds, about 20 pounds more than the Z1000, depending on whose review you believe.
Kawasaki promises a full range of touring options, like hard luggage (sidebags and topcase) as well as heated grips and other items. Sounds like this would make a great alternative to a big-bucks sport-tourer as well as a seriously fun commuting missile. We’re curious as to why there’s no ABS option, given the obvious useage as a commuter or sport-tourer. U.S. MSRP is $10,999. We still look forward to testing it out.
Vaquero means cowboy in Spanish, but Kawasaki is hoping it’ll also mean increased cruiser sales. The Bagger class is the hot category these days, and Kawasaki was on the outside looking in, with no high-style cruiser in the mold of Star’s Stratoliner Deluxe or Victory’s Cross Roads.
Kawasaki did have a very competent starting point in the Vulcan 1700, and you can get the tech specs from Dirck’s first ride of those models. To create the Vaquero, Kawasaki started with what looks like a cut-down and restyled frame-mounted fairing from the 1700 Voyager. The rest of the bodywork is unique to the Vaquero, from the side-opening saddlebags to the fenders. A one-piece seat adds to the mean, lean and low symphony of style, along with chrome strut covers and new mufflers. The motor and chassis get satin and matte-black finishes, and the windscreen is as stripped-down and low as the rest of the bike. Kawasaki claims it still provides “substantial” wind protection.
Having a stripped-down bike doesn’t mean the rider is a minimalist Luddite. The Vaquero bristles with luxury features. The audio system is operated with handlebar switches and is compatible with your iPod, CB or XM satellite tuner. And the bike is really built for traveling, with air-adjustable shocks, cruise control, a 5.3 gallon fuel tank and not one but two overdriven gears, fifth as well as sixth. Whatever the bike lacks, you can add; Kawasaki has a fat accessory catalog for its Vulcan cruisers.
The Vaquero looks like a well-planned, integrated product, not a slapped-together attempt to cash in on a passing craze. Think of it as a boulevard strutter you can ride to a boulevard on the other side of the country. U.S. MSRP for the Vaquero is $16,499. We see a pretty good bagger comparo coming for 2011, so keep checking back.