It might have won six out of the last six World Superbike Championships, with Johnny Rea onboard, but the Kawasaki ZX-10R (or RR) hasn’t been flavour of the year in the real world, for some time now. It wasn’t that it was too slow. It’s just that it seemed to take the engine a bit too long to get spun up. Oh, and the tech’s been a little bit old fashioned. It just generally needed a big injection of 21st century excitement. Particularly if it wanted to compete with its contemporary litre sportsbikes.
Now, I’m a bit of a Kawasaki fanboy. In fact I own a ZX-10R myself (a 2017 race bike), so when the 2021 ZX-10R and RR press pack arrived in my email inbox, I couldn’t wait to see what they’d done to close the gap up to the competition.
The headline updates to both the new models were all about aerodynamics and chassis improvements. There’s a few minor tweaks to the engine but, if I’m being honest, it left me a little disappointed.
‘Downforce’ has obviously been the name of the game for Kawasaki’s designers. Thanks to some new integrated winglets and a redesigned seat unit, they’ve been able to achieve an extra 17% more downforce compared to the 2020 Ninja.
They’ve also made it feel even racier by lifting the foot pegs by 5mm. The screen’s 40mm higher too, and they’ve replicated Johnny Rea’s World Superbike handlebar position. It’s one of Kawasaki’s ‘next step WorldSBK features’ for 2021. The new TFT dash is pretty ‘racey’ too. And the new Cruise Control, although very welcome, gives the game away that this isn’t Mr Rea’s Superbike. Just in case there was any confusion.
There have been quite a few little chassis alterations here and there. The swingarm is 8mm longer, with a 1mm lower pivot point. The forks have an extra 2mm of offset. And the lower triple clams on the forks have a wider clamping area for better rigidity. You don’t get electronic suspension but you do get softer fork springs and a stiffer spring in the shock; although you’ll need it, with that extra swingarm length. You can still get hold of the ZX-10R SE (with Showa electronic suspension) if you want.
As far as the engine goes, there isn’t a massive amount to write home about. There’s been a slight redesign to the inlet port and first, second and third gears have been made shorter. That certainly gets my vote; the old Kawasaki ZX-10R had a monstrously tall first gear and, coupled with such a mega revvy engine, quite often made the thing feel a bit lazy when you weren’t screwing the tits off it.
The absence of any power and torque figures in the official Kawasaki press release was rather conspicuous. I had to do a bit of digging to find any official figures. Upon laying my hands on the numbers, I soon realised why they’d been emitted from the product information. Ok it’s not that bad, neither the R or the RR have lost power, but they haven’t gained any either. The R makes 200bhp (@13,200rpm) and 114.9Nm (@11,400rpm) and the RR makes 201bhp (@14,000rpm) and 111.8Nm (@11,700rpm). Maintaining the same power figures isn’t that bad, I suppose, (considering Euro5 and all that). But the problem is that the RR now makes its peak power 500 revs higher than last year. That means you’ve got to work the thing even harder, to get the same out of it. The RR’s also lost 4Nm of torque.
So why go for the RR over the R? Well it’s got Pankl lightweight con-rods, Pankl low friction pistons, Pankl gudgeon pins and of course an extra 400rpm. The potential’s there for the RR to make a whole lot more power; once you forget about all the emissions regulations nonsense. Oh, and you also get a set of Marchesini wheels as the icing on the cake. But there are only going to be 500 of them and they aren’t cheap; no less than £24,799 will buy you a 2021 ZX-10RR.
If you’re happy to go with the cooking version, then all you’ll need is £15,799. In the current litre sportsbike market, that isn’t really out the way. It’s not going to float everyone’s boat and I don’t think Kawasaki have reached the zenith of motorcycle technology with the new ‘Ten, but I still like it, so when the invite to go and test it at Bedford Autodrome landed on the 44Teeth doormat I stashed it somewhere Al and Chris wouldn’t find it and put my name down sharpish.
And I’m glad I did. Because what a day I had! In fact it reminded me why I fell in love with the ZX-10R ten years ago. The engine that loves a proper good rev, the chassis’ super stable. Ok, it’s still not the fastest thing in a straight line, and outright agility isn’t the ‘Tens modus operandi, but it’s such an exciting bike to ride because of the fact that you’ve got to give it you’re all if you want to get the best out of it.
For our critical analysis of the new Kawasaki ZX-10R, stay tuned to the YouTube channel for some imminent video droppage.
Oh look, there it is…