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

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


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

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