Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS - Long-Term Wrap-Up

Trackday delight.

Our lime-green ABS-equipped ZX-10R, a 2011 model, has performed superbly on the street and quite admirably on the track, thanks in part to a few affordable modifications.

We handed our bike over to Ken Hill, an instructor at the now-defunct Yamaha Champions Riding School as well as a private riding coach and part of faster­safer.com. Hill racked up thousands of trackday miles and applied a handful of mods that he felt offered solid performance gains while remaining within our self-imposed $1,500 spending cap.

A Lee’s Cycle Service’s stock ECU flash ($450; leescycle.com) with a revised map based on that of Kawasaki’s race kit ECU unlocked the engine’s hidden potential. This alone substantially boosted the engine’s output above 11,500 rpm and raised the stock 13,600-rpm rev limit to 14,100. Hill also installed a Muzzys Catless Slip-on exhaust with street-core packing ($489.95; muzzys.com) offer­ing an 8-pound weight savings. The ECU/pipe combination produced 174.2 peak horsepower with as much as a 25-hp gain achieved across much of the upper 2,500 rpm of the rev range.

Hill enlisted Mike Canfield at MC Technologies to assist with the chassis. An AMA crew chief and suspension expert, Canfield felt the shock spring was too soft overall, particularly so in the initial part of suspension travel. He also found the stock damping’s shim stack setup to be too light, causing the valving to open early. Since our target budget didn’t allow for a Race Tech Gold Valve kit, Canfield worked with Race Tech’s Paul Thede to come up with a new valve stack for both compression and rebound that was much more aggressive; Canfield also cleaned up a few internal pieces and used Race Tech US-0 high-quality suspension fluid when putting it all back together. All told, the shock makeover, including a firmer spring, was kept at a very reasonable $375 since we R&R’d the shock ourselves.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS Rizoma Proguard System

SIMPLE MODS: Rizoma Proguard System ($133 with adaptor; rizoma.com) offers protection against inadvertent brake lever contact, can be installed on clutch side as well. GB Racing high-impact nylon protectors ($266.29; orientexpress.com) easily install over the clutch, alternator and starter covers.

We stiffened the front to match the rear, increasing preload and compression settings from stock, but that was all the ZX’s Big Piston Fork required. Although the ZX-10R comes equipped with an Öhlins steering damper featuring a clicker knob, in stock form, it offers no discernible range of adjustment. Canfield installed a replacement orifice available from Öhlins, a ($95) fix that enabled damping adjustability for improved stability at speed.

The result is summed up nicely by former Superbike World Champion Scott Russell, who rode the bike for two days at Thunderhill Park in Northern California. “Man, I like this ZX-10!” Russell exclaimed with his signature ears-wide grin. “I can’t believe how stock it is; it’s as good as some of the racebikes I’ve had.”

The Kawasaki ZX-10R in this form is certainly impressive, mixing big racetrack performance and excellent streetabilty and stock reliability. Aside from a few oil changes, brake pads at 6,850 miles, and countless trackday tires, our long-term Kawasaki ZX-10R has been drama-free, an incredible feat given all that we’ve asked of this bike.

AVERAGE FUEL MILEAGE|36 mpg (street riding)
PRICE AS TESTED (2011)|$14,799
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Matthew Miles: Thanks to the recent rains, I’ve had several opportunities to play around with the different power and S-KTRC levels. With just a flick of a switch, the 10R adapts to situations that would have been pretty dodgy on Open-class sportbikes from just a few years ago. And the ABS? Seamless.
Mark Hoyer: This is, by far, the best ZX-10R I’ve ridden. I loved the chassis setup on the street, and the uncorked power gave the bike the sizzle it was missing. It was even better at a Chuckwalla Valley Raceway trackday. I had so much fun I rode it until I could barely walk. But I’d have to tone back that Muzzys “muffler.” Wow, is it loud!
Ken Hill: The drivetrain changes really work together. The motor pulls insanely strong, and the mapping proved to be spot-on. It revs out like it should. The modified shock completely changed the nature of the bike, giving it the feel of a well-set-up race bike. Canfield’s first try was right on.

Studio right-side view of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS.

Rizoma Proguard System installed on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS.

On-track action shot - Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS.