Kawasaki ZX-10R: Superbike becomes a road ninja
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A superbike isn't really the sort of machine you expect to use to cover serious distances nowadays; the advent of many sub-categories of motorcycles means you can get something that's fast but also includes a few creature comforts. But if you really want the whole 200hp experience, razor-sharp handling and breathtaking braking then you also need to be able to deal with a sore butt and wrists, something I am happy to endure for a blast from Taupo to Dannevirke and back.
Looking at the back-end of the Ninja it's clear Kawasaki had no intention of you carrying a passenger any further than the local dairy, which also means there's not much room for a tail pack. My solution is an Ogio tankbag and travelling light.
The ZX-10R doesn't feel like a bad place to be, with the sit-in feeling meaning the clip-ons don't feel especially low, so I am hopeful spending the day on the Kawasaki isn't going to be that bad. That is until I put my feet up on the pegs which are positioned high underneath you, giving maximum ground-clearance and lean-angle but not exactly promoting comfort.
Before long I've forgotten the high pegs as I am enjoying the noise from the powerplant as I flick up the gearbox with ease thanks to the addition of a quickshifter.
As this is my first road trip on the Ninja I haven't a clue what sort of distance I'll get from a tank, but I can tell you that I roll into Taupo with "fuel" flashing on the LCD dashboard and a yellow light blinking. I know the tank isn't quite full so am expecting somewhere in the region of 200km before starting to panic, but by this time I am also hanging out to give my butt and wrists a rest from the punishment I am getting from the firm suspension.
The Showa suspension has been developed with World Superbike racing in mind so it's unsurprising that it's on the firm side, but I am keen to see what I can do to soften things up. Using the provided tool kit, I twist a few clicks towards soft at the bottom of the adjustable forks combined with a couple on the rear shock.
With everything on the Ninja designed to be lighter and probably smaller than previous ZX-10Rs, the one issue I have is with the LCD display on the Kawasaki. The rate at which you're travelling and the gear indicator stick out. But as for the rest of the acronyms from the various electronic aids available on the ZX-10R, trying to work out what is what will be easier if Kawasaki includes a magnifying glass under the saddle along with the tools.
Everything on the ZX-10R is designed for better performance, but with the updates to the 2016 machine honing what is already a finely tuned package, it's seen the Ninja become not only better on the racetrack but also better on the street.
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With a claimed 210hp at 13,000rpm the Ninja didn't need any more performance up top, but as with most sportsbikes it could always benefit with a little bit more at the bottom, so changes to the mapping which controls the fully electronic throttle valves gives the ZX-10R perfect fuelling in any situation.
As is always the case with machines like Superbike, the hardest part is finding somewhere to be able to get anywhere near exploring the outer reaches of its performance. On the road and it's more of a case of seeing how the Ninja behaves in a real situation - fast cruising with the occasional squirt as and when the road conditions and population allow.
Tipping into 55km/h corners sees the Kawasaki only too eager to respond, with the merest touch on the brake lever scrubbing speed before tipping in and enjoying the glorious sound of the ZX-10R's exhaust reverberating off the hills around me.
The inline master-cylinder on the stunning Brembo brakes adds a bit of bling to the handlebars while the actual system gives performance that matches the rest of the machine - stunning. Thankfully, the lever has a soft feel to it, meaning it's easy to modulate exactly how much braking force you require in normal riding situations, rather than a race system that gives you fierce braking but with no feel.
Keeping the rev counter in the 5-7000 zone provides good drive in most situations, although a drop of a couple of cogs is sometimes required if you want to make a slightly faster pass on the traffic in front.
The double-bubble screen is a definite advantage for keeping the blast at bay, although the bag strapped to the tank means I can't hug the tank and get into the still air it creates.
There is (and always will be) something special about riding a litre superbike. Every time you open the throttle and the world becomes a blur it reminds you that you're aboard what is undoubtedly one of the fastest vehicles on the road, and that is a cool feeling.
If you're a track day junky, live, like we do, at the end of one of the best biking loops in the country or simply like a bike to be light, powerful and agile, then the ZX-10R is the supreme choice.