News & Features

February 18, 2020

Chief Accountant – the 2019 Kawasaki ZX-10R

Article by Braam Smit / ZA Bikers

You may look at the title to this story “Chief Accountant” and wonder what it means. Well, for one thing, accountants love numbers and statistics. They love to look at the bottom line and draw conclusions from that.

In this regard, the Kawasaki ZX-10R story makes for some very good reading. The last couple of years has seen the Kawasaki ZX-10R dominating the World Superbike stage, or SBK as it is officially known, especially in the hands of British racer, Jonathan Rea. But it was compatriot Tom Sykes who broke the ice in 2013, twenty years after Kawasaki’s sole title win in the hands of American Scott Russel. Back then it was aboard the ZXR-750.

Then came Jonathan Rea in 2015, and since then there has been no other world champion. Rea is also looking good for 2019, which would be his 5th title in a row. Kawasaki is simply dominating and it is hard to argue against statistics. Rea could well become the only rider to win the SBK title 5 times and that is amidst some very distinguished company.

I was fortunate enough to be the first journalist in South Africa to sample the 2019 model. It was quite a moment as I laid eyes on this unassuming champion for the first time, in the workshop at the headquarters of KMSA just a few short weeks ago. The champion was barely run in, and it was given its break-in service shortly before I took delivery.

To get technical for just a moment, it must be mentioned that Kawasaki has 3 different variants of the ZX-10.

Firstly, the ZX-10R KRT Edition, which is the subject of this test (and is the only 2019 version currently available in South Africa). As the bread-and-butter version of the range, it is equipped with an Öhlins electronic steering damper, quick-shifter and finger-follower valve activation. It also has titanium header pipes and a red tappet cover to signal the visual engine difference to the 2018 model. This, to me, was a nice touch. A further visual distinction is the addition of discrete red graphics on the fairing and belly pan. Otherwise, the styling has remained largely unchanged from last years model. It develops a claimed 203 Horsepower, without ram air.

The ZX-10R KRT Edition is currently on sale in South Africa at R259 995.

The ZX-10RR (not available in South Africa) is a single-seat variant. Only 500 units exist worldwide. This was done to comply to SBK homologation regulations and is therefore liable to compete on the world stage. The thinking behind this is to build a special model that revs about 600rpm higher. According to SBK spec, the official race bike is then allowed another 1000rpm. Why is this significant? Because more revs mean more power, more power means a greater possibility of racing success. Once again, the Chief Accountant is all about numbers and statistics. Surprisingly, the titanium Pankl conrod shod RR model develops only one horsepower more than the R version, but is fitted with delectable Marchesini Forged wheels.

This brings us to the ZX-10R SE model (not available in South Africa). The main differences to the standard ZX-10R are the addition of the Showa Electronic Suspension with road, track and custom selections. It has a special high-grade paint finish but is otherwise very similar to the standard ZX-10R model. I trust this brief summary will minimize confusion as to what each variant offers.

But how does it ride?

This is where the story gets interesting. I was fortunate enough to ride this bike on the road in dense traffic, as well as open highways and ultimately on the bustling Zwartkops Raceway, towards the West side of Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city.

On the road, this bike is surprisingly comfortable. Suspension comfort was never really a priority for Superbikes until the BMW S1000RR showed up in 2010. This bike demonstrated that track performance can be retained, despite a plush ride on the road. I also found this quality when testing the Aprilia RSV4 last year. The suspension was both plush on the road and razor-sharp when picking up the pace.

The ZX-10R is no different. It delivered a very comfortable road ride whilst entertaining me no end as I listened to the quick-shift delivering a crackling sound every time I upshifted. This was bone-chilling nice to listen to.

The bike has enough room for an average size rider like myself, although I did find the seating position a tad odd. The bars are low slung, as can be expected from a Superbike, and they are also quite narrow. I found that the footpegs are situated quite forward, and for my personal riding setup I would have prefered them slightly further back. This, however, is easily remedied with aftermarket rear-sets.

It must be remembered that most of the aforementioned Superbikes, will see way more road use than track action. Owners will want to extract as much value as possible and I often see Superbikes on commuting routes, breakfast runs and the inevitable track day. I even see them carrying passengers on the odd occasion. Hats off to the manufacturers, facing the monumental task of designing these bikes with multi-role capability as the highest priority.

But what about race track performance?

As mentioned, we made sure to take the ZX-10R to the racetrack for a more serious workout. We had the track to ourselves for an uninterrupted 90 minutes of riding. Needless to say, this was very enjoyable as I could take my time getting used to the bike before starting to push harder. There were a few ZX-10 race bikes practising on track with us, mostly from the popular, single make ZX-10 Masters Cup series. One of these individuals was a former “High-Performance Course” student of mine and I can proudly say that the protege was outshining the mentor on this occasion. I had a good laugh about the small world we live in. Zwartkops was in superb condition. The surface was clean and the track was basking in the lazy winter sun. With no wind to speak of, this was a typically perfect day on the reef.

It must be mentioned from the outset that the bike is fitted standard with the Bridgestone Battlax RS10 (Racing Street) road-based tyres, which was truly a shame for a bike so composed, calm and clinically refined as the ZX-10R. I must admit that I would have preferred the “no compromise” Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa specimens when testing on track, as the said fitted Bridgestones did not allow me to ride the bike to its full potential.

I literally felt the bars shake from side-to-side in the very fast right-handed turn 3 as I picked up the pace later in the session. This happened despite the Öhlins steering damper that comes as standard. I can only describe it as a handlebar shake, rather than a shimmy through the whole bike. The rear end remained fairly planted and composed while this was happening upfront. To me, it felt like sidewall flex, which I have experienced before on one or two variants of Bridgestone front tyres. I got to grips with this phenomenon by simply ignoring it later on in the session. I could never really find the bike’s limit as the tyres gave out way before the chassis.

Another quality of an undiluted Chief Accountant is that they go about their job efficiently and objectively without much fuss or emotion. The same must be said about the ZX-10R. It is an almost uneventful motorcycle to ride fast. Almost boring in comparison to the contemporary Ducati and Aprilia, if I could dare to call a 200 horsepower Superbike boring. But this is a quality all of its own. Allow me to explain;

Race bikes are designed to go fast. They are meant to assist the rider in such a way that he or she can concentrate on speed and precision, only that! The less excitable a race bike, the calmer the rider. The calmer the rider, the more he or she can focus on the job at hand. This is possibly where the ZX-10R has an advantage. It gets the job done without raising its voice or losing its temper, so to speak. I hope this makes sense to the reader.

The flip side of this coin, as far as characteristics go, is the Ducati Panigale V4 range. I have never had more fun on the track, than riding the aforementioned bike. Its brutish power delivery and edgy handling keeps you on guard as you sometimes forget to even breath. None of this happens whilst riding the Kawasaki. I will venture to say that I will probably do faster lap times using less effort on the Kawasaki than on the Ducati, provided they are fitted with the same quality tyres, as mentioned earlier in this article. That is a hefty statement and remains to be proven in practice, as with most theories.

The power delivery on the Kawasaki is another subject to elaborate on. Turn 2 at Zwartkops Raceway is a very slow, hairpin type right-hander which falls away below the rider towards the exit. This unloads the suspension and many a racer has ended their race here whilst becoming impatient on the throttle. This corner cannot be “rushed” if I can use a term Kevin Schwantz taught me whilst I was an assistant instructor at one of his events, a few years back.

I found the full-power mode on the ZX-10R too abrupt whilst exiting this corner. I can almost describe it as snatchy. This phenomenon persuaded me to tone down the power delivery one notch, which immediately made me faster all round. Sometimes less-is-more, especially around tight racetracks and tricky road conditions.

The brakes on this refined motorcycle is also a bit too “civilized”. Although fitted with Brembo hardware, it feels and performs quite differently to the vast array of Brembo’s I have tasted and tested over the years. The initial lever travel is a bit disconcerting and once the brakes start engaging, the bite is less than expected. Of course, pull the lever a bit harder and the story changes to one of good stopping power.

Brakes was always a strong point in my past racing career and I would have preferred a more powerful, direct setup. Having said this, I never once felt the ABS interfere whilst exploring the braking limits. This is certainly good news, as I do know that some faster riders have complained about ABS interference on past variants.

Probably the greatest selling point on this bike is the value for money that it offers. At just a shade under R 260 000, the ZX-10R comes in at around R53 000 less than the standard Ducati V4. The new BMW S1000RR to be debuted later this year in South Africa will also be about the same price as the Ducati. In the local market, these will be noted as the biggest threats to the Kawasaki. Honda South Africa is presently making a strong price argument in the local market, as the Öhlins shod Honda Fireblade SP is priced head-on with the new Kawasaki. I will have the privilege to sample one of these on road and track in the coming weeks, so please watch this space. This will give me an even better idea of how and where the competitors are positioned.

In conclusion, I let my thoughts go to the early years of modern Superbikes. I think back to the days of the first Suzuki GSXR 750, Kawasaki ZXR-750, then, later on, the Honda Fireblade and I just shake my head. We have come such a far way since then. As motorcyclists, we are surely living in a dreamworld of choice and variation. There is literally something suited to everyone’s taste. I made a comment earlier this weekend to one of my friends on Facebook; “it does not matter so much what we ride, as much as it matters what we do with our ride….”.

So go out there, get on your bike and make some memories. Life is too short to sit around and wait for the perfect ride and the perfect moment. Go out there and create your own perfection…

Ride on my fellow travellers, in this journey called life!

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers