When it comes to sportbikes, and there are plenty to choose from, it’s one thing to build a racey-looking bike, but something else entirely to mass produce a bike that truly would be as comfortable on the track as it is on the street.

The Kawasaki Ninja has a long and illustrious racing history, and the ZX-10R carried Kawi to podium finishes over the years, and championship status in both the ’15 Rider’s Championship and the Manufacturer’s Championship, so it’s natural that Kawi would tap it to carry its race technology to the streets.

Enter the new-for-2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R and ZX-10R KRT Edition. Kawi blessed this bike with all the race-proven, superbike technology that propelled the Kawasaki Racing Team to its position as the dominant racing superpower within the aforementioned brackets. Usually I get to study bikes that do little more than pay lip service to the hardcore race enthusiasts, but this time, I’m faced with the Real McCoy, and I can’t wait to delve in and see what Kawi put together for us this year.

Continue reading for my review of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS and ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition.

  • 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS / ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Model:

Design

2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS / ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition
- image 669271

Gee, where to start. The Ninja family has always carried a racebike panache, and this newest design naturally has racer appeal in spades. Aggressive and intimidating are the first thoughts I have as I allow my eye to drift from the sharp entry of the front fairing with molded-in “shoulders” in the form of the airflow-control engine cowling back to the waspish tail designed to minimize the drag-inducing, speed-robbing slipstream turbulence.

The fairing improves handling at speed while protecting the rider from excessive buffeting forces, and everything in between is equally racetastic, from the knee hanger fuel tank to the impossibly narrow, beveled pilot seat and jockey-mount foot controls. A vestigial pillion pad acts as a passenger butt-cushion and serves to form part of the saddle scoop to make sure rider heinie and bike don’t divorce catastrophically under heavy acceleration. Only the inconspicuous, mirror-mount front turn signals, standoff rear blinkers and license plate holder give it away as a street-legal machine.

The “basic” ZX-10R comes in black on black, with just a hint of Kawi Green in evidence, but the ingeniously named KRT model comes shot in the Kawasaki Racing Team livery with bold green swaths over black with white accents. You know, just to remove any ambiguities as to the lineage and heritage of this new addition to the Ninja line.

Chassis

2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS / ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition
- image 669615

Kawi pretty much redesigned the ZX-10R from the ground up, starting with the aluminum frame. The new steering head sets the rake angle at 25 degrees with 4.2 inches of trail, and a longer swingarm pushed the wheelbase out another 0.5-inch for a total of 56.7 inches. Additionally, braces were added to increase resistance to torsional forces. End result; a chassis that is, somehow, simultaneously more agile and more stable in the corners. I know, it almost sounds counter-intuitive, but there it is.

While this is all well and good, the real magic starts when we get to the bolt-on components. Up front, we have a set of 43 mm, usd, Showa Balance Free forks that provide 4.7 inches of travel, and come with adjustable preload as well as stepless compression and rebound damping. The rear also gets a Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion (BFRC) gas shock, and it comes with 4.5 inches of travel as well as preload adjustment, dual-speed compression damping and stepless rebound damping. Additionally, an Öhlins-Kawasaki Electronic Steering Damper offers variable steering resistance and kickback protection.

Nice, but still rather mundane, at least by superbike standards. The real wizardry is in the dynamic braking controls on the ABS-equipped models.

The five-axis, Bosch Inertial Management Unit (IMU) reads the forces acting on the bike, which enables the Kawasaki Cornering Management Function (CMF) that works with the Kawi Intelligent Braking System (KIBS), and through the Brembo M50 monobloc calipers, to provide varying levels of ABS intervention based on the 200 readings-per-second data from the wheel-speed indicators.

Most of us already know how ABS works, it’s nothing new under the sun after all, but the CMF uses the angle-of-attack info from the IMS to modulate braking pressures, and help prevent the bike from trying to straighten out a turn. The end result is more stability in the corners that increases through-turn speeds and leaves bike and rider in a better position for post-apex acceleration.

The terminal brake-system gear includes dual, 330 mm floating discs and rigid, four-piston, radial-mount monobloc calipers to slow the 17-inch front wheel, while a single-pot caliper acts on the 220 mm disc to slow the 17-inch rear. Race-rated rubber caps the rims with a 120/70 ZR 17 leading the way, and a 190/55 ZR 17 bringing up the rear.

Drivetrain

2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS / ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition
- image 669263

Naturally, the showpiece of any racing machine is the beating heart, and the lump chosen to power the ’16 ZX-10R is no exception. The liquid-cooled, straight-four mill slides in just under the 1000 cc break at 998 cc. A 76 mm bore and 55 mm stroke makes for a decidedly oversquare configuration, and is fairly typical of the genre.

Among the engine improvements for this year are titanium valves to stopper the heads include larger 25.5 mm exhaust valves, ported and polished intakes and exhausts and a revised combustion chamber shape. That’s not all, not by a long shot. Lighter pistons, valves and crankshaft reduce both rotating and reciprocating mass for less stress during high-rev operations. Coolant passages within the heads were enlarged for greater flow and efficiency, and a new grind on both intake and exhaust cams gives us more overlap for better exhaust-gas scavenging and top-end performance.

A monolithic crankcase/cylinder casting coupled with thicker cylinder walls makes for a tough and rigid unit designed to better resist the forces at high revs. The exhaust system likewise got lightened and toughened with judicious use of titanium components, and that’s still not all.

The Sport Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KRTC) uses data from the wheel-speed sensors and IMU to anticipate potential loss of traction under acceleration, and intervene at one of five selectable levels to maintain contact-patch integrity. For holeshots, the factory included the Kawi Launch Control Mode (KLCM) that also comes with multiple settings that vary from just a little help, to almost total management for nearly twist-and-forget operation off the line.

For closed-circuit use, the Kawi Engine Braking Control allows for variable engine-brake manipulation that delivers greater control when scrubbing speed, and it works in conjunction with the slipper-clutch that limits backtorque during the same operation for a double-dip of protection for aggressive riding/racing. Yeah, I know the factory claims this is only for track use, but let’s be honest, you’re going to use it on the street. I know I certainly would. As if that wasn’t enough, Kawi slapped on an Engine Power Mode feature that allows you to limit output to 60-percent, 80-percent or you can unleash the beast and set the left-bar switch to full power for ludicrous speed. (Spaceballs, anyone?)

Crunching the ratios is a racetastic, cassette-type transmixxer that comes geared to minimize pumping at the rear end, while the close-ratio gear clusters aid in acceleration out of the corners. The gearbox comes positioned to preclude the need to drain the engine oil during cassette changes, so this is truly a racing tranny, make no mistake. OK, so we have a couple of features that helps manage the bike during downshifts, but the factory slapped on its own Kawi Quick Shifter (KQS) to help smooth out the upshifts during acceleration.

This leaves us with 84.5 pounds of grunt and something right around 200 ponies backing it up. One test rider reported passing 100 mph in first gear, so while I have no hard numbers on the absolute top speed, I can practically guarantee your nerve will abandon you long before you find it yourself, and top end isn’t as important as acceleration and handling on the track. ’Nuff said.

Price

2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS / ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition
- image 669273

We have four separate choices here folks. You can get the ZX-10R in Metallic Matte Carbon Gray with ABS for $15,999 or in the non-ABS version for a grand less. The KRT Edition comes in Kawi’s Lime Green and Ebony race team colors with ABS for $16,299, and the non-ABS version in KRT livery will save you a smooth grand.

Competitor

2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS / ZX-10R ABS KRT Edition
- image 669613
no article
- image 669616

The field of truly race-capable superbikes is a little narrower than most other genres, but I managed to find a suitable competitor in the U.S. version of the 959 Panigale from Ducati. Both are race ready within the same bracket, but also come in a street-legal package for the general public, so let’s take a gander at how they stack up, shall we?

Rather than use a traditional frame with bolt-on equipment and body panels as did the ZX-10R, the Panigale runs a stressed-skin, monocoque assembly that gives it a certain flow or continuity of design, at least visually. Aside from that aspect, superbike forms are entirely driven by function and similar functions leave us with similar forms. So yeah, they both look like exactly what they are; racebikes.

The twin-cylinder Duc mill falls just a little short in the displacement department at 955 cc, just a skosh shy of the four-bore 998 cc Kawi mill, and it shows up in the performance metrics with 158 horsepower and 77.9 pound-feet of torque from the Duc. Again, just a bit short of the 200 ponies (depending on whose dyno you ask) and 84.5 pounds of torque according to the factory. While both rides come with some form of traction control, ABS, variable-power rider modes and a quick-shift feature, it seems Kawi alone thought to run a launch-control system. Bottom line; the ZX-10R seems to gain a decisive edge in the “battle of the blocks,” as it were.

Pricewise, the U.S. Panigale rolls for $15,295 MSRP, middle of the range for the “basic black” ZX-10R, and a grand cheaper than the KRT. I call this close enough for government work, and honestly, anyone looking at a bike like this is unlikely to quibble over a measly thousand bucks, the performance numbers and brand loyalty will probably be the deciding factors.

He Said

“Wow, just freakin’ wow. I know Kawi makes a good product, and the Ninja line has been around for a minute, but I must admit I was impressed as all get-out with this one. Even before I saw the performance numbers, I told Allyn that this thing almost makes the Ducati look like amateur hour...and I was almost right! Granted, in my opinion, bikes like this have no place on the road in a polite society, but I reckon that really comes down to how much of the performance the pilot actually uses. Yeah, I know, this from the guy who made a 140+ mph speed run down I-4 in Orlando — a run I did not have the skill or experience to handle at the time and was lucky to come out of intact — but it’s from this perspective that I say such things, because most of YOU don’t have that skillset either. Lest you think I would shelve it, let me just say I’d ride that thing like I stole it......if my wife would just let me.”

She Said

My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “Looking at this from a loved-one’s position, I think it’s a bike like this that scares most people when you tell them you want to ride a motorcycle. All that speed with no real protection for your body just scares the crap out of your mom and your spouse. That aside, it’s an awesome bike that looks good standing still, which is the only time you’re going to get a good look at it. Once in motion, this baby is just going to be a blur.”

Specifications

POWER:
Engine: 4-stroke, 4 cylinder, DOHC, 4-valve, Liquid-cooled
Displacement: 998cc
Bore x Stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm
Compression ratio: 13.0:1
Fuel System: DFI® with four 47mm Keihin throttle bodies with oval sub-throttles, two injectors per cylinder
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance and Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC)
Transmission: 6-speed
Final Drive: Sealed chain
Electronic Rider Aids: Kawasaki Launch Control (KLCS), Kawasaki Intelligent Braking (KIBS), Kawasaki Sport Traction Control (S-KTRC), Kawasaki Engine Braking Control (KEBC), Quick Shifter (KQS)
PERFORMANCE:
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 43mm inverted Balance Free Fork, adjustable stepless rebound and compression damping, spring preload adjustability/4.7 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Horizontal back-link with Balance Free gas-charged shock, stepless, dual-range (low-/highspeed) compression damping, stepless rebound damping, fully adjustable spring preload/4.5 in
Front Tire: 120/70 ZR17
Rear Tire: 190/55 ZR17
Front Brakes: Intelligent Braking (KIBS), Brembo dual semi-floating 330mm discs with dual radial mounted monobloc 4-piston calipers
Rear Brakes: KIBS-controlled, single 220mm disc with aluminum single-piston caliper
DETAILS:
Frame Type: Aluminum perimeter
Rake/Trail: 25.0°/4.2 in
Overall Length: 82.3 in
Overall Width: 29.1 in
Overall Height: 45.1 in
Ground Clearance: 5.7 in
Seat Height: 32.9 in
Curb Weight: 454.2 lb**
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal
Wheelbase: 56.7 in
Color Choices:
Ninja ZX-10R: Metallic Matte Carbon Gray
Ninja ZX-10R KRT Edition: Lime Green/Ebony
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty
Kawasaki Protection Plus™ (optional): 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Price:
Ninja ZX-10R: Non-ABS - $14,999, ABS - $15,999
Ninja ZX-10R KRT Edition: non-ABS - $15,299, ABS - $16,299
What do you think?
Motorcycle Finder: