2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR Shootout - Street

Can the all-new Ninja even the score in the street?

story by Pete Brissette, Photograph by Tom Shao, Created Mar. 29, 2011
A year after entering the hotly contested literbike market, BMW’s S1000RR continues to impress us. During the racetrack-only portion of our 2011 Literbike Shootout the BMW über sportbike retained its favorite son status – earned in its debut in the 2010 literbike shootout – when pitted against Kawasaki’s all-new for 2011 ZX-10R.

However, it was only after laborious debates and much hair pulling that we gave the S1000RR a narrow victory, its 20-plus horsepower advantage heavily influencing our decision of which bike is the better track-biased weapon.

Recently, we moved this duel to the street – an environment we often hear speculated as the place most purchased sportbikes spend their days. And it’s in a street setting the 10R has proved itself a desirable machine despite finishing a close second to the Beemer at the track.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

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Ridin’ in the Real World

Where traffic control devices, law enforcement officers and snarled traffic rule the day, what’s more valuable most of the time from an engine is its low and midrange performance rather than triple-digit horsepower figures. It was one of these real-world variables – a typically packed L.A. freeway on a Friday afternoon – that gave me an opportunity to fully appreciate the ZX’s engine.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

This was our first street ride of the new, technology-laden 10R, and after dozens of lane-shared miles aboard the Ninja I came away happy as a clam with how well the engine chugged along effortlessly through the traffic-choked concrete artery.

With speeds dipping as low as 30 mph, and the engine rpm barely registering a pulse between 2500 and 3500 rpm, the 10R pulled 6th gear without breaking a sweat.

I rolled into the throttle smoothly, yet with authority, at these low speeds and in the tallest gear. The Kawasaki’s 998cc inline-Four gave the slightest shudder and grumble, but only for a thousand or so rpm, as if to indicate it wasn’t taxed in the least. From there on it was nothing but seamless, linear power that moved the 10R forward with deliberate force.

Now a year later since we last sampled the S1000RR in the mean streets, would we enjoy the BMW’s most-powerful-in-class mill as much as we did the 10R’s?

Yes. Mostly.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

We know from dyno runs the BMW wins the power game across the board. As such it exhibits the same useful and exhilarating power characteristics as described above about the Ninja – and then some. Furthermore, the Beemer lump reveals its stouter midrange when dicing up tight canyon roads.

“The BMW definitely has an edge in torque that’s felt when exiting slow-speed corners,” remarked Troy.

A minor issue tempering enthusiasm for the Beemer’s engine is abrupt throttle response when selectable four-mode engine mapping is set to Slick.

For street testing we used a different S1000RR than the one used at the track. We experienced the throttle issue on both bikes, so we’re inclined to say this somewhat snatchy throttle is common to all S1000RRs.

“The abrupt fueling is more tolerable in Race mode,” observed Troy. “It doesn’t hit as hard as it does when you open the throttle in Slick mode.” This was the same solution we applied to the S-RR at the racetrack. The milder power development in Race mode is hardly perceptible and a small price to pay for throttle response noticeably smoother than when in Slick mode.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

We had a similar abruptness nit to pick with the ZX’s throttle during track time, but during street riding this was a non-issue. If the Ninja 10R we used for this portion of the comparison had any abruptness, it wasn’t discernable.

One final note about the BMW’s engine was some – and we do mean only some – tingling in the footpegs from engine buzz around the 4000 rpm-mark. We could, however, rephrase this minor vibration as a compliment rather than a demerit when we consider the Beemer engine has no counterbalancer.

Any liter-sized inline-Four we can think of uses some type of vibration-reducing device to counteract the inherent buzziness of an inline engine configuration. BMW says they simply engineered out most of the vibes via careful attention to reciprocating balance. And not having a balance shaft means less parasitic drag, which is part of the reason for the RR’s walloping top-end power production.

Next Page...Real World Advantages

Real World Advantages

Real World Advantages

The 2011 ZX-10R and BMW S1000RR are currently the only two sportbikes from major brand manufacturers that provide rider-selectable engine power modes joined by selectable levels of traction control; and Kawasaki is the first of the Big Four to do so. Power modes and TC are standard on the Ninja, while on the BMW they’re optional.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

Our ride day followed several days of rain in SoCal that left most curvy mountain roads spotted with sections of sand, mud, water, rocks and the like. What an ideal time to sample TC! We saw each bike’s TC intervene numerous times, and like so many things about these killer literbikes, we wrestled over which was better.

Troy felt the ZX’s system was seamless and struck him as the less intrusive of the two. My two cents says that while the Kawi’s adaptive system (it “thinks,” if you will, altering the level of intervention on-the-fly) works as advertised, I found its activation more obvious when compared to what I surmised as subtler intervention from the BMW’s system, depending, of course, on which ride mode was selected.

Regardless of which of us has the better assessment, the thing to take away here is that both TC systems represent a high level of technical sophistication manifesting as a genuine asset for a street bike.

As for which bike’s power mode/traction control is user-friendlier, again, we’ve a bit of a conundrum ‘tween this pair.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

The Kawasaki employs a big, easy-to-use toggle on the left switchgear, with selection of the three power levels (F, M, L) at the top, and S-KTRC (1, 2, 3, Off) at the bottom. You can choose power modes or TC levels on the go and independent of one another. Just hold the toggle for a second or two and look for the change in levels in the instrument panel’s LCD.

The BMW system is an integrated package, so to speak, with varying degrees of engine power, traction control and ABS intervention predetermined for each of four levels (Slick, Race, Sport, Rain).

Like the 10R, a single switch/button on the BMW’s switchgear housing is all that’s needed to accesses the S1KRR’s mode selector. Although not a deal breaker, we’d like to point out that the Beemer button is small compared to the Kawi’s bigger toggle.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

However, there’s another button involved with the BMW power/TC system, this one on the left-side switchgear labeled ABS DTC. While the BMW’s four modes do all the thinking for you, the ABS and DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) can be switched off regardless of the chosen setting.

To fully engage a change in modes on the BMW while rolling down the road, you must close the throttle and pull the clutch lever (just a little will do). Not a complex routine but it does require more steps than the Kawi system. If you’re making mode changes while hustling down the tarmac, the Kawi system requires less eyes-off-the-road time.

While the Ninja’s systems are straightforward and easy to access, the BMW’s system also offers no-brainer pushbutton access – though with an extra step or two – as well as an option to be switched off completely. We see advantages and disadvantages to both systems.

Not only was this our first street ride of the 10R, it was also our first opportunity to try out the new Ninja’s ABS.

As indicated in the accompanying video, the Ninja’s ABS, while functioning just fine, isn’t exceptional in any way; Troy and I felt noticeable pulsing at the lever when ABS activated, and it’s an “always-on” system. Compared to the BMW’s rider defeat-able and adjustable anti-lock system that provides a higher threshold before activation, the Kawasaki’s ABS seemed no better than ABS on current sport-touring models.

But, like traction control, ABS on the Ninja is still a smart and worthwhile feature for the street.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

Comfort is King

“Despite the ZX-10R’s diminutive appearance, it felt more spacious in the saddle,” enthused Troy. He went on to say he preferred what felt like wider placement of the clip-ons on the 10R, as it allowed him more leverage to turn the bike where he wanted.

It proved difficult at first to discern exactly why the ZX was more comfortable feeling.

We swapped between bikes often to make sure we weren’t imagining things since both bikes have 32.0-inch seat heights and a similar-looking layout from seat to bar. We eventually determined a key contributor to the Ninja’s more pleasurable overall ride quality was the flatter angle at which its clip-ons are positioned.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

This flatter, wider angle contributes to the ZX’s roomier feel, creating the sense of a fluid, unencumbered motion as you move across the Zed’s saddle while transitioning between corners. Another ergo plus for the Kaw is its adjustable-height footpegs.

The BMW’s clip-ons have a more aggressive downward angle, an advantage that “works great on the track,” according to Troy, “but on the street that can get the wrists sore pretty quickly.” While riding the S-RR we became more conscious of the stress placed on our wrists as the day wore on.

We judged overall ride quality from each bike’s suspension as equally good, with excellent damping from either bike’s front-end. Extra kudos goes to the BMW for its stupid-easy compression and rebound damping adjusters that use a simple 1 to 10 designation and are adjustable with the ignition key.

Next Page...Summary


Fit ’n’ Finish, Extra Touches, Fuel Economy, etc.

The BMW’s funky, asymmetrical, function-over-form styling is finally wearing thin with some of us now that we have what is to date the best looking ZX-10R.

Tight fitting panels, no noticeable creaking or vibrations in the bodywork, along with a much-needed departure from the previous 10R’s origami shapes, make the new 10 look clean and polished.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

With respect to some of the S1000RR’s details, Curmudgeonly Kevin wasn’t at all keen on its cheap-looking black plastic body-panel trim or the “goiter-like” appearance of the exhaust collector when aggressive lean angles expose the bike’s belly-pan area. Kevin did, however, admire the polished look of BMW’s beefy swingarm that now wears a larger, presumably more effective, boot heel scuff guard.

And Kevin’s always a fan of self-cancelling turn signals, which this Beemer has. Also kind of trick are the RR’s headlight pitch/angle adjusters located within easy reach on the backside of the lights. I gave the Best Mirrors vote to the Ninja, as their shape and position give a good rearward view and don’t become blurred beyond usefulness by engine vibration – rare accomplishments for most sportbikes.

If fuel economy in a literbike is important to you – and right now we’re guessing mpg is important to everyone! – take note then of an observed 36.5 mpg for the BMW and 37.0 mpg for the ZX.

Another fuel fun fact: According to a label on the BMW’s gas tank the RR can run 89-octane; the ZX requires a minimum of 90-octane. Depending on fuel costs where you live, the few cents difference between the two octane ratings may add up over the course of months if prices at the pump continue to rise. Just sayin’.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR


Regrettably, picking a favorite literbike for the street wasn’t any less perplexing than was picking a winner at the track. A solid case for why either bike should come out on top seems at once both easy and impossible.

In the macro view of what matters most in cutting-edge, race-bike-like liter machines, creature comforts may get ranked as close to trivial. But an honest assessment – like the one we made in the beginning that supposes most sportbikes spend their lives on the street – says rider comfort is a big deal on the street, and why it factored so heavily in our decision-making.

“Ultimately I chose the ZX-10R as my street ride because it’s that much more user friendly compared to the BMW,” opined Troy. “And I don’t mind the fact that the Ninja has less power, because 163 horses are more than enough for me, especially on the street.”

In addition to rightly pointing out high horsepower figures are superfluous for street duty, and that overall chassis and brake performance are closely matched, Troy highlights that, perhaps above all, “people want to buy something they’ll be glad to look at each time they open their garage.”

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR

In no uncertain terms Troy says the Kawasaki looks “downright mean” while the asymmetry of the BMW to him sometimes “looks weird and like it’s different just to be different.” However, he acknowledges BMW’s claim that the S1000RR was styled for function first, looks second. But in a comparison this close “a small thing like appearance,” says Troy, “is enough to sway opinions.”

Of course, price carries a lot of weight, too. The 2011 ZX-10R with optional ABS has an MSRP of $14,799 – a significant saving of $1081 when compared to an S1000RR equipped with Race ABS and DTC.

Literbike Battle: By the Numbers
  Kawasaki ZX-10R BMW S1000RR
Engine 998cc (76.0 x 55.0mm) inline-Four, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 13.0:1 c/r 999cc (80.0 x 49.7mm) inline-Four, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 13.0:1 c/r
Frame Aluminum frame & swingarm Aluminum frame & swingarm
Suspension 43mm Showa BPF
Fully adjustable horizontally mounted shock
46mm USD fully adjustable
Fully adjustable shock w/ high & low speed damping
Rake, Trail, Wheelbase 25.0°, 4.2 inches, 56.1 inches 23.9°, 3.7 inches, 56.0 inches
Tires 120/70 x 17 and 190/55 x 17 120/70 x 17 and 190/55 x 17
Brakes Dual Tokico radial-mount 4-piston; 310mm rotors; optional ABS Dual Brembo radial mount 4-piston; 320mm rotors; optional ABS/DTC
Seat Height 32.0 inches 32.0 inches
Curb Weight 436.6 lbs (443.2 w/ABS) 450 lbs (455 w/ABS)
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal 4.5 gal
Base MSRP $13,799
$14,799 w/ABS
Rider-selectable traction control (S-KTRC) and 3-mode engine mapping are standard
$15,880 Premium Package (Race ABS w/Dynamic Traction Control, Gear Shift Asst.)

Related Reading
2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. 2011 BMW S1000RR Shootout
2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R Review
2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R Unveiled
2010 Literbike Shootout
2010 BMW S1000RR Review
All things BMW on Motorcycle.com
All things Kawasaki on Motorcycle.com
All sportbike reviews on Motorcycle.com

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