2009 Kawasaki ZX-10R

A street-legal roadracing motorcycle complete with working headlight, taillight, turn signals and mirrors; That’s the best way to describe the Kawasaki ZX-10R on the street. And it all starts as soon as you lay eyes on it. Just fit racing bodywork painted in Team Green colors and a tucked-away shorty exhaust muffler and you would think this motorcycle was pulled out of last year’s MotoGP paddock. Looks wise, next to Ducati’s ultra-exculsive Desmosedici D16RR, the Ninja ZX-10R is the closest thing to an unobtainable pure-bred prototype racing motorcycle as it gets.

Hop into the Zed-X-10’s thin, flat saddle and you can’t help but notice its unique seating position. Its narrow feel is attributed to the way the frame spars wrap over instead of around the engine. Its fuel tank is also shaped to accentuate that slender sensation which in turn makes the bike unusually thin between your knees. It also feels light too, with it weighing in at 459 lbs fully fueled and ready to ride which makes it third-lightest in this test.

Grasp the handlebars and your torso is immediately thrust into an aggressive track-oriented riding stance. The placement of the footpegs only exacerbates the pose. Next to the Ducati, the ZX-10R’s ergos are by far the most-racy and the pegs don’t offer any range adjustability like they do on the R1 and GSX-R. Next to the Suzuki, the front brake has the widest range of adjustment for different size hands, and the levers, pegs and frame have an outstanding detail to attention with the black finish making each part appear high-end.

“When you’re sitting on the Kawasaki, it just feels like an aggressive bike,” comments our test rider Joe Wallace. “I think it would be better suited to the track. The ergos are more bent over and it seems like it’s dropped in the front. It just feels very track oriented.”

Thumb the starter and the Ninja’s engine fires to life with a less than racebike-like purr. Next to the Honda, this is easily the most quiet and smoothest engine of the bunch – though it does show some personality as the revs build. Like the R1, a bit of clutch slippage is required from a stand-still for the Kawasaki’s tall first gear, which is good for almost 100 mph before you even need to think about grabbing second.

If you’re new to literbike ownership, accelerating hard from a stop is truly an eye opening process. However, when compared to the other four bikes, the Kawi is noticeably more tame down low and the Kawasaki was toward the back of the time sheets during 60-100 mph acceleration tests.

“Every time we did an impromptu roll-on race during the street ride the ZX was near the back of the pack,” confirms MCUSA Editorial Director Ken Hutchison. “If you go apples to apples, gear to gear the ZX brings up the rear. Now, put it head to head in a drag race and it holds its own, but the gearing is too tall to get the jump on the rest of the pack in this scenario.”

Keep the throttle pinned, however, and even with its taller final-drive gearing the Kawi’s 998cc Inline-Four spools up quickly. Around 9000 revs things really start getting fun and from there until its 13,000 redline the engine zings to life. In fact the ZX mill pumps out so much power that its standard

Ohlins steering damper can’t keep the handlebars from slapping back and forth as the front tire creeps to the sky. The snarl emitting from under the fuel tank only deepens the sensation.

And this experience isn’t limited to just first gear, because the same thing happens in second and even third gear. If you don’t think this type of hooliganism is fun, maybe you should pick up a different sport. It isn’t until fourth gear that the Kawasaki’s front wheel stays on the ground, by which time you’re exceeding more than double the posted speed limit.

“The ZX doesn’t pull very hard off the bottom,” agrees Wallace. “But once the tach needle reaches around 10,000 rpm the bike just takes off. It’s a smooth hit though, so it doesn’t really catch you off guard. The handlebars can get a little flighty though, although not as bad as the Ducati.”

The Kawasaki ZX10 quarter-mile time of 10.05 seconds at a speed of 140.5 mph is third-best behind the Honda and Suzuki. Its trap speed, however, is the second fastest and only bested by the GSX-R1000 – another top-end horsepower-biased bike.

The Ninja’s superb throttle response might be too precise for some folks, as it delivers instantaneous acceleration whenever the throttle is twisted. The well-sorted fuel-injection system helps make the power delivery smooth but the Kawi goes through gas quicker than every bike but the R1 with a 31.9 mpg average. And with its 4.5-gallon fuel capacity that gives you a range of roughly of 140 miles based on how aggressive you wick the throttle.

While the Ninja isn’t the most stable, especially during hard acceleration on the bumpy pavement we experienced during our Nor-Cal street ride, it sure does turn sharply through the really tight stuff – you know, the ones that are better suited for a go-kart than a motorcycle. Here, with a slight tug of the bars and bit of lean, the Ninja carves right into the turn smoothly and predictably. There’s no question that the ZX-10R is a sharp handling motorcycle and almost as agile as the CBR.

In the transmission department the Kawasaki Zed-X-10 cuts through its six-speed gearbox with precision. Although the bike employs a slipper-clutch, you either have to not know what you’re doing or unleash some serious rear tire sliding hi-jinx to feel it working on the street.

Instrumentation is comprised of a large, brightly back-lit swept analog tachometer housing a medium-sized LCD multi-function display that includes speedometer and gear position read-outs, amongst other things. Unlike the other bikes, however, there isn’t a shift light and only one trip meter. Although it might not be the easiest to read, especially at warp speed, it gets the job done and looks high-tech enough for use in NASA’s new space orbitor.

When it comes time to slow down, the Ninja’s front brakes are so proficient that someone without delicate right-hand control could easily find themselves on their heads. The brakes are so good there will never be an instance where you’ll wish for more braking performance aboard the ZX10.

In terms of fit and finish and overall build quality, we’ve really got to hand it to Kawasaki, as this motorcycle is a quality looking piece of equipment. Not only are unsightly fasteners kept to a minimum, the motorcycle looks and feels solid. Check out how thick and burly the swingarm looks, along with the frame, triple clamps, shock linkage and suspension components. Everything on the Kawasaki looks like it’s heavy-duty and built for speed.

Perhaps more impressive thing about the ZX-10R is that you get all of that performance wrapped in genuine racetrack-inspired plastics. And they’re able to produce it for the least amount of money. Ringing in at $11,799, the Ninja is the least expensive motorcycle in this comparison.