2006 Kawasaki ZX-10R


'Sweet, that's a genuine dual-chamber Ohlins race-spec steering damper,' I notice as I gaze down, lustfully, at the fierce new Kawasaki ZX-10R. My gaze rises to the new tach with its razor-thin inset LCD infospeedo screen and I'm forced to admit it's even tricker than that new Ohlins damper. The new tach is still a bit hard to read in direct sunlight, but it is easily twice as legible as the old unit. My mind flows beyond the bolt-on and electronic wizardry as I remember the tech briefing. Trick things are happening down below behind the metal curtains which hide the engine's internals: Titanium exhaust valves, held in place by sintered aluminum valve spring retainers are forcefully popped open off nitride-coated cams. Iridium plugs fire hot, fast and help the whole package flame true and spin a relocated crank that's been raised closer to the bike's roll center. Yes, MOfos, it's pre-ride time at California Speedway, and I'm chock full O factoids and giblets about how racer-oriented this 2006 model is, all of which has me so wound up and antsy to grab the proverbial fist full of the new bike, take hold of it... Ahem! well, let's just say there's enough new inside the bike coupled with the aggressive styling, I'm swimming in anticipation and I just know there's going to be a happy ending here.

Out on the track, finally, and this machine doesn't disappoint. The ZX-10R puts me at ease immediately and my grin grows larger as the tires come up to temp. I love California Speedway, my confidence is skyrocketing and I fully intend to need said fancy steering damper. It doesn't take long to notice the stable and confidence-inspiring front-end which encourages me to try faster and hotter corner speeds, key ingredients to a fast lap time. However, this bike has so much power, accelerates so hard that full-throttle steering inputs usually result in little more than a wiggle from the handlebars as the front tire skims and skips across Fontana's tarmac.

Mighty indeed, the ZX-10R just charges forward under power while feebly trying to maintain its current heading. Your guidance options are two: less power exiting the turn, or just let it wheelie while leaned over and hope the rounded profile of the rear tire will help steer you. I tried both options and found the less throttle route to be most effective, since the bike tends to stand-up and run wide with large throttle openings anyway. Furthermore, that whole wheelie and turn thing always seemed to use too much racetrack and end with me rolling back out of the gas so I wouldn't run off. However, this chassis feels so forgiving that I think it encourages this type of experimentation and I suspect in the end, that this forgiving nature will result in faster lap times than the competition.

That whole wheelie and turn thing always seemed to use too much racetrack and end with me rolling back out of the gas so I wouldn't run off.

The 10R is fitted with the outstanding new Dunlop Qualifier tires and this fantastic rubber encourages further experimentation with cornering lines and speeds. Furthermore, the revised dual-butterfly FI system allows fine-adjustments to the torque delivery, without being so sensitive that it makes your inputs feel jerky. This type of grip and throttle accuracy is precisely what's needed to tread that fine line between wheelspin blvd and highside city. It isn't long before the fast-left infield sweeper becomes streaked with darkies from the hard-accelerating ZX-10Rs and the off-camber left leading onto the front straight begins to display a nice black path on the quick line. This is work?

As I continue to circulate the track and settle into the new Kawasaki's mannerisms, I'm more and more impressed with its stability, control and good manners. I shake my head and note that this new ZX 10 seems to have acquired the outstanding stability which the 2006 CBR1000RR lost. Go figure, the CBR is now the twitchiest bike in the 1000cc class, while the ZX-10R is its model of stability.

One trait that remains unchanged from last year's bike is that the '06 ZX10R is a bonafide rocket. It is pretty much always "on the pipe" and never needs to spool up, so to speak. Abundant power is available everywhere in the rev range, which makes Fontana's chicane-interrupted straights seem that much shorter. I saw 182MPH indicated into the braking zone for turn-1 and 160MPH at the end of the infield's longest straight.

One trait that remains unchanged from last year's bike, is that the '06 ZX10R is a bonafide rocket.

Those speeds are quite impressive for a closed roadcourse with a rider as large and heavy as me. Even more impressive, you'll see the ZX-10R pull 175 and 155 in the onboard video, all while I'm sitting straight up in the windblast, unable to tuck-in or move forward due to the camera on the gas tank. That's crazy acceleration under those circumstances. As an added bonus, the new larger ram-air intake sounds better, with a cleaner note and more aggressive roadside presence and the new all titanium dual exhaust compliments the intake's honk, with a pleasingly aggressive, yet not obnoxious backup. For those wondering why Kawi chose to go with a dual exhaust, instead of the latest under-engine stub exhaust, they say it's impossible to get enough canister volume in that space to pass Euro III regulations, without it being unduly restrictive. They obviously did their homework, because the bike makes crazy power, passes Euro III and still sounds great in the process. Bravo.

This kind of steam requires serious retardation (which I have in spades) Thankfully, the 10R's brakes are up to the task for a few hard laps, though my extra poundage and late-braking shenanigans had the lever coming closer and closer to the bar as heat built and the rubber lines swelled. A higher temp fluid and better lines would go a long way to reducing fade, but the ample stock components are at least able to convert that kinetic energy into heat well enough to stop this beast as fast as traction will allow.

Once leaned over and trail-braking to the apex, the 10R takes a set and resists quick line changes, though it is possible to change your arc if you use a firm hand and good body positioning. Kawasaki and the Hayden brothers claim the new ZX-10R is easier to turn and quicker to change direction than last year's bike, but my impression is quite the opposite. I think this bike is slower steering and won't carve the tightest of arcs. However, I don't consider it to be a liability, since I prefer relatively heavy/slow steering bikes. I suppose this preference stems from a heavy upper-body and wide shoulders, which make it easy to over-power front ends and tie light-steering chassis into knots. I suspect most normal sized riders will find it a bit slower to turn than the competition, even if the Haydens say otherwise.

Once leaned over and trail-braking to the apex, the 10R takes a set and resists quick line changes.

Speaking of Haydens, there's no race-prepped "ZX-10RR" model for 2006, but Kawasaki says that factory race parts will be available from Kawasaki dealers and Attack Performance. Parts availability for race bits isn't a non sequitur this year: Kawasaki claims a 30 percent quantity increase, so you should actually be able to get these trick race bits.

When introducing this model, Kawasaki handed out umpteen pages of press material. The media kit was extensive, detailing all major changes to the bike, such as the new swingarm, engine, steering head, bodywork, dual exhaust, revised instruments and numerous other items which are listed beneath the spec chart in our feature summary. What's most surprising is that the major changes seem counter-intuitive to the stated goal of making the bike faster around a racetrack. Raising the crank and adding flywheel mass, not to mention, lowering the swingarm pivot moving the steering head forward, lengthening the wheelbase and increasing rake are all things that tend to enhance a bike's stability or increase its tendency to wheelie. However, Kawasaki's stated aim was to allow easier mid-corner line adjustments and harder drives off the apex, and I think last year's bike might have been better at those two items. What they did accomplish, was to make the new bike more friendly and stable, traits that were sorely lacking in last year's ZX-10R. So, who cares if the result isn't quite what they say they were aiming for? They ended up with a better bike anyway.

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