– Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

2008 Kawasaki ZX-10R: MD Street Ride

Having a 2008 Kawasaki ZX-10R in your garage is like owning a personal Formula 1 car. You know, zero-to-60 mph in two-something seconds, the quarter-mile in nine-and-a-bit seconds at about 150 mph, and highway acceleration that will suck the wipers off a Mack truck. (For our first experience of this bike, and all the technical details new for 2008, see Dirck’s article on the track introduction at Losail, in Qatar here).

More than adequate power is what literbikes are all about, and the continuing search over time for performance that can be deployed in the various international race formats isn’t slowing the machines down-even with tightening noise and emissions regulations doing their worst. So you’d expect a hardening of the categories here, with bikes that give up more and more creature comfort and practicality as the quest for class-leading performance continues.

It’s no surprise then, that this 2008 model is compact in size and mass, with any component larger than a gnat pared down to its smallest practical extent. The fairing is skeletal, no, vestigial, in size and design. In fact, the term full fairing doesn’t really describe these things anymore. They have become the thong bikinis of the biker world, with mere slivers of plastic sketching out the shape of a real full fairing. Nose cones now tightly embrace the headlights, and current windscreens extend naked without frame surrounds.

Yet to our surprise, there’s a reasonable amount of protection from the wind when out riding. That little nosecone slices a hole in the air for the bike and most of the rider to fit through. The balance between protection and supportive wind rush is good enough to take some of the weight off one’s wrists, and as the bars are set pretty low, that’s very helpful on long rides.

With such an abbreviated fairing, the mirror stalks seem unusually long. And, with a strange outboard adjustment pivot and decidedly tacked-on turn signals, they also look downright weird. But rearward visibility isn’t too bad, despite the fact that the mirrored panes adjust inside their plastic housings for the best view, and they are limited in how far they can be focused.

A new round instrument gauge hunkers down behind the windscreen. It has a rectangular digital speed display panel superimposed on the large round tachometer surface, so you observe speed and engine revs in one glance. There’s enough flexibility down low that shifting at six- or seven grand is typical street use. Even when spinning the engine higher than that, there seems less inclination to wheelie than we remember from the previous big Kawi. Don’t worry, though, it will still wheelie with the best of them. Remember, there’s about 197-horsepower at the crank at 12,500 rpm with full ram effect, with 83 pound-feet of torque at 8,700 rpm.

It’s a freakin’ strong engine in anybody’s book. Even Jamie Hacking, who bravely campaigns one of these in AMA Superbike racing, says there’s plenty of power. And watching him wrestle the thing off the corners at full steam is really something to see. It’s clear that the big Kawi’s engine can still overwhelm its chassis at race speeds.

But the beautiful thing is that the 2008 chassis is amazingly good on the road, imparting a sense of confidence I haven’t experienced since perhaps the Ducati 1098S. The Bridgestone BT16s feed back a reassuring stream of data, and the new chassis-with pressed swingarm and chassis components said to communicate better than cast items-delivers the info to your hands, feet and seat of the pants in no uncertain terms.

I found myself riding on LA’s freeways at 10 to 15 mph over what I use on other machines. It just seems pointless not to, because the bike feels utterly composed under you, and it is scarcely breathing hard at that speed. If you can ride this thing around on the freeway at under 90 mph, you’re a better man than I.

Not only does it canter along effortlessly at speeds that can get you locked up, the damn thing steers with such precision you find yourself arrowing past cars at close quarters without even questioning it. Too bad about all you people in the other 49 States, but here in California you can split lanes like a laser on this bike.

Up in the canyons, it’s much the same story. High corner-entry speeds are no cause for alarm on the 10, again because of the reassuring feedback. Some bikes have that indeterminate numbness on corner entry, and you need to be leaning in before they feel okay with the maneuver. Not the Kawi. It talks to you when it’s straight up, and it keeps talking as you crank it in.

Again, I was going faster than my usual pace on the familiar course of my favorite canyon road, and the bike never faked me out on any of the turns. It felt so stable that I figured I was wussing out and riding slower than necessary. But at the rest stop the tires revealed that lightly shredded texture all the way out to the edge of the tread. And the bike wasn’t even breaking a sweat.

When Dirck came back from the 2008 Kawasaki ZX-10R intro in Qatar, he said he believed it was the best sportbike he’d ever ridden. Bearing in mind that Dirck hadn’t been on the new Honda CBR1000RR at that point, it’s still a major vote of confidence for the Kawi. Speaking for myself, I’m usually quite happy to return literbikes at the end of their loans. They’re great at what they do, mostly, but I find them excessive to my needs. A good 600 lets you use more of its potential more of the time.

In this case I was not that happy to see the ZX-10R go, and I even toyed with the idea of getting one. Then the image of my license being burned in the town square came to mind, and I hopped back onto my little 600 and set off home. Nonetheless, I won’t quibble with the literbike devotees. You get a lot of performance for the money, and the 1000cc bikes are often easier to ride because of the abundance of midrange torque.

This Kawasaki offers inexhaustible one-finger braking from the twin-rotor front brakes. There’s easy shifting, with not much effort at the non-hydraulically assisted slipper clutch. And there’s relatively smooth operation throughout the range apart from a little vibration at revs so low you’re hardly ever there. Naturally, there’s always mind-boggling acceleration and razor-sharp steering backing you up.

If that’s what you’re after, I can recommend the big Kawi. Along with its towering speed it has unshakable composure, sensuous controls and switches, and a distinctly pleasant personality. Maybe it won’t win AMA Superbike or World Superbike this year, but it certainly won us over in a big way. Plus, at $11,549, it’s a lot cheaper than a Formula 1 car.

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