2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja - First Impressions2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R review first impression– New Generation Ninja
November 28 2010 03:08 PM
Featured Sport Bikes, Kawasaki
Behold the next generation of traction control that can actually predict when the limit of tire grip will be reached
Traction control has now become the new buzzword among sportbikes. If your latest and greatest sporting flagship doesn’t have it, chances are that the buying public is going to wonder where your company stands technologically. And yet, at the same time, there’s also a growing contingent that wonder if this electronic nannying is really what they want in their sportbike. They don’t want a system that constantly intrudes and reminds them that something else is also controlling the motorcycle.
The current OEM traction control systems available are undoubtedly excellent systems with a wide range of adjustability. They are able to react to a power-induced loss of rear tire grip with incredible speed and accuracy.
The only issue is that—although adjustable for the level of intervention—the systems are based on a set table of parameters once traction levels are determined to be past the limit. In other words, only when a set limit is reached does the system activate, and then it just pulls back power until tire grip (or a preset amount of tire slip) is restored.
This is where the new 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R and its new S-KTRC system distinguishes itself from previous TC setups. Instead of only reacting to tire slip when it occurs, the ZX-10R’s TC analyzes numerous factors including throttle position (plus the rate of opening), wheel speeds, engine rpm (plus rate of change), gear position, and speed to actually sense and begin formulating a plan of various mapping scenarios before tire slip occurs. And then once tire slippage does occur, the S-KTRC system continues analyzing all parameters every five milliseconds and adapting its mapping strategy in order to maintain or even increase acceleration (which often means a certain amount of tire slip is ideal)—making it a true racing-developed TC system that can actually predict traction loss and proactively adapt its maps according to conditions.
But the new ZX-10R isn’t just all about the S-KTRC setup. “Forget everything you remember about the old ZX-10Rs of the past; the 2010 ZX-10R Ninja is all-new from the ground up,” said Karl Edmondson, Kawasaki Motor Corp U.S.A. product manager.
Without becoming overly involved in the technical features of the new Ninja’s engine and chassis (look to the print magazine for all the details, which are pretty extensive and help explain why the Kawasaki performs as well as it does), a brief overview of the powerplant shows that the bore and stroke remain the same as the previous unit—but that’s about it. Interestingly, the design brief was for more power overall, but without any “more midrange torque than is necessary” in order to provide a smooth, linear powerband that would provide more usable, smoother power to encourage earlier and higher throttle application for more time spent at full throttle.
The engine features more aggressive cams actuating 1mm-larger intake valves, with the cylinder head sporting new intake and exhaust porting, and lighter pistons pushing a higher 13.0:1 compression ratio. The crankshaft drives a new secondary counterbalancer, and is positioned slightly higher in relation to the main output shaft for better mass centralization. A new cassette transmission permits gear ratio changes (seven different accessory gearsets will be available) without draining the engine oil.
Up top, the repositioned ram-air intake duct (closer to the highest point of pressure on the fairing nose) funnels into a larger airbox/air filter setup. The new Keihin TTK47 fuel injection system sports larger 47mm throttle bodies (versus the old 43mm units). Down below, exhaust gases are cleaned up courtesy of a 2.6-pound-lighter system sporting a larger stainless steel under-engine chamber equipped with dual 300-cell catalyzers.
The all-new aluminum twin-spar frame shifts weight bias forward slightly with a 0.5-degree steeper rake (but longer trail) combined with a 20mm-longer swingarm. Showa’s BPF (Big Piston Fork) makes its way to the ZX-10R after debuting on the ZX-6R in ’09, with the rear shock mounted in a horizontal fashion above the swingarm with a reverse linkage. New three-spoke wheels are lighter, and the front brake calipers are slightly changed, with all four pistons measuring 30mm (instead of the previous staggered 32/30mm setup).
The usage of wheel speed sensors has also allowed Kawasaki to develop its new KIBS (Kawasaki Intelligent Braking System), claimed to be the world’s smallest and lightest ABS unit at just six pounds—with 2.3 pounds of that weight coming from the larger battery required to power the unit. Besides monitoring wheel speeds, the KIBS also analyzes brake system hydraulic pressure, throttle position, gear selection, engine rpm, and clutch actuation to decide how much and when to intervene at each wheel. The system is claimed to be able to detect rear wheel lift under aggressive braking without the use of gyro sensors; and its cycling rate is much quicker than conventional ABS, leading to better brake feel and feedback when the system is active. Unfortunately, Kawasaki had no ABS models at the press launch, so a review will have to wait until we get our hands on one for a full test.
All told, the new ZX-10R has a claimed curb weight (fully topped off with fuel and all fluids) of 437 pounds, which would put it right in the ballpark with the Honda CBR1000RR, current flyweight of the class. The ZX-10R ABS model scales in at 443 pounds wet.
SMART TRACTION CONTROL
Even though claimed power figures are slightly higher for the 2010 model, the new ZX-10R in stock form doesn’t really feel any faster than the previous version, which can surely be attributed to the more stringent EPA noise and emissions tests that have forced the manufacturers to keep their top-end power levels in check (of course, it’s not as if the previous ZX-10R was a slug…). Another reason is that the new ZX-10R’s powerband is smoother, without the in-your-face upper midrange hit of the previous generation that always gave the impression of serious steam.
The S-KTRC is adjustable to three levels, as well as being turned off. Level 3 is meant for low traction (wet) conditions, so it was too intrusive on a dry racetrack—although we’d like to see how it behaves in those conditions. Level 2, however, was very transparent; it seemingly allows the same amount of wheelspin as the “Race” setting on the BMW S 1000 RR, while simultaneously providing more drive. In fact, it’s this transparency where the S-KTRC system excels; instead of coarsely reigning in power to the point that the bike either isn’t giving you the power you want when you ask for it or the tire ends up going into a spin-grip-spin series of gyrations, the Kawasaki simply continues smoothly driving forward even with the rear tire spinning and hung out slightly. The power reduction is so subtle that often the only way you can tell is by the bar graph that displays the intervention level on the bottom of the dashboard’s LCD panel.
While the amount of tire slip Level 2 permits is fairly high, the intervention threshold of Level 1 is basically experts-only. You really have to be aggressive with the throttle and spin the tire in order to activate the system, and because of its high threshold, the system is not idiot-proof. Grab a handful of throttle and spin the tire while cranked over at maximum lean in a slow corner, and the system will let the tire slip continue to the point that if the rider backs out of the throttle instead of picking the bike up onto the fat part of the tire, the resulting sudden gain in traction will upset the chassis enough to possibly put the rider on his head.
We also tried the ZX-10R with the S-KTRC system turned off, and found its powerband to be amiable enough that in the right hands, spinning the tire off corners can be accomplished with confidence and ease. And the Kawasaki’s acceleration was just as fierce, showing that the traction control system was indeed very transparent and non-intrusive in most riding conditions.
The S-KTRC is sophisticated enough to detect and reign in power wheelies, again without the use of a gyro sensor. In Level 2, the system worked well for the most part, pulling back just enough power to keep the bike accelerating, instead of abruptly cutting power and slamming the front end back down as with the BMW when running in all but its top-level Slick mode. In Level 1 though, the S-KTRC was fairly hands-off, leaving the job of dealing with wheelies to the rider.
The ZX-10R also has three Power Modes: Full power, Variable middle power, and Low power. Full power mode is as the name suggests; Variable middle power is said to provide 75 percent of full power output with a milder power curve, “although full power can be accessed depending on the throttle’s rate of change,” and Low power only allows 60 percent of maximum. Full power provided crisp throttle response without being abrupt, while the Variable middle power setting provided a softer response that would probably work well on the street and tighter canyons—but on the track, it was a bit too lazy. And Low power was just, well, too low to be useful in our opinion.
Overall handling was excellent, with a very neutral steering response at any lean angle, unlike the slightly top-heavy feel of the previous generation model. The relaxed steering geometry provided better stability at a very small cost to steering effort and quickness, although the new ZX-10R was definitely easier to transition from full lean on one side to the other through Road Atlanta’s switchbacks than the previous model; the work at mass centralization obviously paid off here. Brakes are basically like the previous generation: excellent, with superb power, feel, and feedback, and a very linear response that allowed you to bleed off the tremendous speed generated by the Kawasaki with confidence and ease.
Usually we loathe bar graph tachometers for the simple reason that they are difficult to read at a glance, but we’ll make an exception here for the new ZX-10R. The Kawasaki’s bar graph tachometer is a very bright LED unit (instead of the poorly contrasting LCDs of the others) that can be programmed to flash at the desired shift point. The LED display automatically adjusts for ambient light, and it’s easy to notice the whole bar graph flashing even in bright daylight conditions.
ANOTHER STEP UP
Even without its superb traction control system, the new ZX-10R would still be a very impressive machine. But the addition of the S-KTRC takes the Kawasaki to a whole new level.
The 2011 ZX-10R demonstrates that today’s rider aids are not fail-safe devices, nor do they magically make mediocre riders into good ones. And as the S-KTRC demonstrates, they can be transparent enough that they aren’t the annoying electronic nanny that many fear. They only serve as a safety net that can give more people the potential to approach and learn the upper half of a modern literbike’s vast performance envelope.
And the S-KTRC system alone makes the new ZX-10R easily worth the $13,799 sticker price ($14,799 for the ABS model).