Kawasaki's ZX10R a sharp performer

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The ZX10R sits near the bridge just before the Hyde end of the Macraes Rd. The fairing has short sides, which minimises sensitivity to side gusts. Photos by Peter Mackenzie.

The 1000cc sportsbike market is highly competitive, with four Japanese manufacturers making bikes that seem pretty alike on paper. Peter Mackenzie samples Kawasaki's ZX10R to see if anything makes it distinctive.

  Looking over the specifications of Japanese litrebikes, they seem to have similar outputs, features and dimensions.

If you painted them all the same colour they'd almost look like cookies from the same cutter, but their differences each attract a certain following based on more than just brand loyalty.

Each one's engineering and fit-out represents the preferred emphasis of certain parameters over others.

I sense Kawasaki wanted a lighter, sharper steering, slightly more race-honed feel, skewing design decisions firmly towards the track and tuning the motor more for top-end performance.

That's not to say the ZX isn't right at home eating up highway or tractable enough for town.

It does both with ease.

The spec' sheet reveals what you notice about the bike visually: it's pretty mean and lean.

Spartan in terms of accessories, the engineering's squarely applied to matters of performance.

It starts with breathing, which both for induction and exhaust noise is surprisingly quiet.

Look closely and you'll notice the bike's angular nose has a black bit under the windshield.

That discreet throat is where engine induction starts, with ram air streaming through it and around the steering head directly into the airbox, then on through new oval throttle bodies.

Primary fuel injectors give precise response for calmer, normal running, while secondary injectors cut in at high revs to really light the candle on wide throttle openings.

Surging top-end power is awesome; strong enough to elevate the front end, but without being peaky.

The ZX10R is fast.

It has an evenly spaced sequence of six gears which allow the 141.3kW (that's 190 horses) motor to sprint from a standing start to 300kmh without letting up.

At that speed it's not all used up either, and could pull slightly higher gearing to go even faster.

That's wickedly quick.

Try pacing out 90 strides: this bike flat out could cover that distance in one second.

On-tap power for overtaking or pulling hard up hills is exhilarating.

The mill redlines at 13 grand, producing peak power at 12,200 revs.

From idle to middle revs the engine is predictable and can get off the mark as quick as you'd like, but a bottom-end puncher, it ain't.

The tuning emphasis is on-demand response higher up the range.

In the power band between six and 12 thousand revs the bike feels unquestionably made to race.

You get the impression that with higher gearing and maybe an aftermarket exhaust, 320kmh (200mph) would be no problem whatsoever.

It comes from the factory set up for the racetrack.

With pull-hard gearing and firm suspension, it's clearly targeted at motorcyclists keen to enjoy track days.

Slowing down is a big part of that and the ZX's stoppers are potent.

The Tokico set-up had fine feel, but could shave off a lot of speed with light lever pressure.

Squeezing harder to grasp the wavy 310mm twin front discs delivered stopping power up with Brembo anchors.

The rear brake worked fine but needed little use.

The 12.9:1 compression is almost a back braking system in itself, with downhill speed control easily achieved by rolling off the throttle, or chopping down gears for really steep descents.

Comfort is both a matter of fit and suspension.

I liked the weight balance between wrist and hips, with the bars not too low or far away, so not overloading the hands.

I like a compact bike and appreciated the ZX's narrow-nosed low seat, which still has a wider bum pad and generous capacity for a bigger person.

The tank contours around the knees nicely and the flared top panel provides steadying forearm bracing.

Kawasaki clearly rate the value of ergonomics.

Suspension is on the firm side as you'd expect, providing direct road feel.

The downside is tight, uneven roads can be a choppy.

Smooth tarmac is sublime and makes the bike feel totally planted and in its element.

The test bike had new Pirelli tyres with their profiles in perfect shape for laying the bike over.

It leans down easily, comfortably holding its lines, despite mid-corner bumps that would upset more flexible mounts.

The frame's rigidity seems to be the foundation for the suspension's effectiveness, and the bike has a real knack for turning large bits of landscape into expansive, consistently tracked arcs.

It steers accurately, carving through complex asphalt terrain at whatever radius of turn you choose, despite road irregularities.

It can get you exactly where you point it in very short measure, so riders have to be vigilant about getting entry speeds down to manageable levels entering corners.

This bike delivers more power than most riders could put to good use.

Power's transmitted via an easily shifted gearbox and through a slipper clutch that smooths out torque loads and prevents engine compression causing rear-wheel lock-ups if you back right off from high revs.

But there's another trick that keeps the green beast from spitting off the overconfident: electronic traction control.

The engine management keeps a lookout for wheelspin by monitoring engine revs 50 times a second.

If a rider's wicking things on so fast unintended lack of traction is detected, ignition timing is retarded.

This cuts power output to prevent the expensive and injurious situation where scrapey bits rather than the sticky bits make their way across the ground.

It also functions to prevent exhaust catalysers from being fried, by richening up the mixture at full blast.

That's the sort of useful feature that can save a bike and rider a lot of grief.

Kawasaki's ZX10R a sharp performer
At a Glance

Kawasaki ZX10R

Price: 19,995.

Engine: In-line liquid-cooled, 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder with 76 x 55mm bore and stroke. 43mm Keihin throttle bodies with oval sub-throttles, and two fuel-injectors per cylinder.

Transmission: Six-speed with slipper clutch.

Weight: 208kg.

Wheelbase: 1415mm.

Wheels, tyres: Cast alloys with front 120/70-ZR17 and rear 190/55-ZR17

Suspension: Front: 43mm inverted fork with carbon coating, adjustable rebound and compression damping, adjustable spring preload and top-out springs, 120mm of travel. Rear: Uni-Trak with top-out spring, stepless, dual-range (high/low-speed) compression damping, stepless rebound damping, fully adjustable spring preload, 125mm of travel.

Brakes: Front: Twin 310mm petal discs. Rear: single 200mm petal disc.

Fuel capacity: 17 litres.