How do you spell 2008? If you’re Kawasaki, you spell it “Ninja,” as you update the top and bottom of your sportbike lineup.
We’ve already shown you photos and given you Technical Editor Kevin Cameron’s take on the new ZX-10R, but here are a few more details. Kawasaki calls it an all-new model, though the engine’s bore, stroke and compression ratio remain the same (76 x 55mm and 12.7:1). However, there are changes to fuel-injection, ignition, transmission, crankshaft and induction systems that shave 2 pounds and add top-end performance. The catalyst-equipped exhaust system now ends in an “orthogonal” titanium muffler jutting out from the right side.
The big news is traction control. Yep, Kawasaki gets the nod for being the first to announce that such a system will be available on a 2008 supersport production motorcycle, although they actually call it a “torque management” system.
How’s it work? Wheelspin gets the black box’s attention when it detects a significant, sudden spike in engine rpm, as when the rear wheel breaks loose under power. If revs rise too quickly, the ECU intervenes by retarding ignition timing to reduce power output. While primary indication that intervening action is necessary comes from engine rpm (there are no wheel-speed sensors), this rev spike actually only triggers the system to read data from other sensors that record gear position, throttle position and vehicle speed, before action is taken.
The chassis gets heavily refined, also. We noted heavy steering the last time we tested the ZX-10R, but Kawasaki still moved the headstock forward 10mm. They also optimized chassis rigidity by changing the casting process and shape of various frame components. The front suspension gets black diamond-like coating and the swingarm is now made of pressed beams instead of castings for greater rigidity. There’s a new subframe, the wheels are new and brake discs are now 10mm larger.
The most obvious visual change is the angular new bodywork. Kawasaki says the fairing is for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, but hot, fresh styling also sells bikes. This may not be a total clean-sheet design, but almost every part has been touched while leaving the hangtag alone; MSRP is still $11,549.
The new model year also marks the first update of the ZX-14, Kawasaki’s flagship hyperbike. We’ve named the Big Zed Sled “Best Open Streetbike” for two years running in our Ten Best Bikes voting, praising its comfort, smoothness, agility and of course, world-beating power and top speed. But Team K isn’t one to rest on its laurels.
To respond to ever-tightening noise and emissions requirements without losing power, a third catalytic converter was added to a much-revised exhaust, and the cylinder head was revised. Fuel-injection was also refined to improve power delivery in the low and midrange, and motor internals were redesigned to reduce mechanical noise (meaning more dB could be routed out the exhaust while still passing noise standards).
Additionally, the frame now uses die instead of gravity casting for the cast components. Kawasaki claims this saves weight, but probably because of the extra weight of the third catalyzer, dry weight is up to 485 pounds, 11 pounds more than the 2007 model. Pricing has not yet been announced.
At the entry point of the Kawasaki’s sportbike lineup is the 250 Ninja. It’s been only mildly changed since 1985, but its light weight, easy handling, fire-sale price and surprisingly powerful 249cc, liquid-cooled dohc motor have kept it selling strong. However, it had weak brakes, soggy, non-adjustable suspension and 20-year-old Men-Without-Hats styling.
Kawasaki finally updated this bike to ensure its position as one of the top-10 selling sportbikes in America. Since the motor is still class-leading after two decades (albeit in a class of two, counting the Hyosung GT250R), most of its improvements focus on making it more durable and to help it pass new emissions and noise regulations. So it gets dual catalyzers, a strengthened piston and reworked cylinder head. It keeps the Keihin CVK30 carbs, but now breathes through a 2-into-1 exhaust.
The tube-steel chassis is where the big improvements are. Similar to how the reworked 2007 Z1000 and 2008 KLR650 were revised, the lil’ Ninja uses basically the same chassis as before, but with improvements to address handling concerns. The triple-clamps, swingarm and non-adjustable 37mm fork are beefed up, as is the swingarm mount, and the rear shock is now adjustable for preload. Wheels are six-spoke cast 17-inchers, and the photos show them shod with IRC bias-ply tires, a 110/70-17 in front and a 130/70-17 in back. The front brake now has a petal-style 290mm disc and two-piston caliper.
What will really stun those of you used to the Purple Rain-era bodywork is the new styling. Intended to make the 250 look like its bigger brothers, abbreviated MotoGP-style tail and dual headlamps set this model apart from other budget machines.
We don’t know dry weight, seat height, MSRP or horsepower for the 250, but you can expect these numbers—so important to the success of the old model—will remain close to the prior bike’s.
Sportbikes aren’t the only news. A heavily-revised KLX250S dual-sport is offered as a 2009 model. Aside from new suspension, a revised motor and chassis and modernized bodywork, the KLX will now be 50-state legal. For off-road only fun, a KLX140 is offered in two flavors—with 17-inch/14-inch wheels or 19-inch/16-inch wheels for those longer of leg—as a simple, easy-to-ride playbike for young and old riders to sharpen their dirt skills.
Stay tuned for more details, pictures, video and riding impressions of all the new models.