2004 ZX-10R Track Test - Motorcycle.com

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander

Homestead, FL 12/12/2003~ Squirming and hazing, the tire paints a swath of rubber out of Homestead's turn four lefthander.

My head is shifted left and foreward almost over the clutch lever, while my knees tightly grip the tank and my knuckles ache, as I try to impart a light touch while hanging on tight enough to keep from being left behind by the rapidly accelerating ZX-10R. Fun? Hell yes this is fun! Thank you very much Kawasaki, it looks like you've jumped into the liter class war with both feet.

This isn't the first time weve heard the old "Open class power with 600 size and handling" cliche' from a sportbike manufacturer.

However, to my knowledge this is the first time its actually been delivered. The 2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R has less frontal area and is both narrower and shorter than the current ZX-6R.

Kawasaki claims the 10R weighs 375Lbs dry and there is normally a bit of fudge in a manufacturers claimed dry weight. However, after sitting on a ready to ride 10R, tipping it back and forth between my knees, then taking it out on the track, it's hard to tell the difference between it and the feathery 416Lb wet weight we measured for the 2003 ZX-6R. My hunch is that Kawasakis weight claim is fairly accurate.

I didn't get a chance to ride the bike on the new OEM Dunlop D218ZR tires that were especially designed for it, because the press fleet at Homestead was fitted with the slightly shorter profile and more triangulated Dunlop D208GP Star "DOT" race front and a one-off hand-cut Dunlop superbike slick rear. On these race spec tires and with the forks raised 5mm in the triple clamps, the biggest Ninja actually turned-in and changed direction quicker and easier than the ZX-6R I raced in the Fontana AMA Superstock event this year. It was also quite stable under power and as my trust in the tires and chassis grew, I started giving it ever larger handfuls of throttle while still on the side of the tire.

I repeatedly verified that -should you choose to do so- the uber Ninja is quite happy to smoothly spin the tire through corner exit and most of the way down the following straight. Yes, these were really good tires, but this is a great chassis and it isn't hard to make the tire or ride height changes that these press bikes had, although I suspect that street riders would be better served by keeping the stock tires and standard fork position, due to the increased stability they provide.

As configured, I actually had more problems with the bike wanting to run off the inside of the corner, than I did with the bike pushing or running wide. Sure, if I gave it a big handful of gas while traction was good, the bike would lift and skim the front tire causing some understeer, but this only happened when I was being lazy and not keeping my weight foreward and to the inside. It seems true then, this actually is a 155+ Hp full-steam-ahead liter bike that handles as well or better than most modern 600s.

"Kawasaki claims 175Hp at the crank without ram-air and 184Hp at the crank when air is being pushed in at speed."

If you think it takes a lot of power to spin a superbike spec slick in a straight line, or start effortless wheelies at over 120mph without using the clutch, you're right. Kawasaki claims 175Hp at the crank without ram-air and 184Hp at the crank when air is being pushed in at speed. The last GSX-R 1000 that MO tested made 157Hp at the rear tire and this new Kawasaki feels at least as fast at lower speeds and noticeably faster at higher speeds where the ram-air is most effective.

Overall power delivery is excellent, though the fuel injection is quite sensitive. This can make for jerky mid-corner speed changes, if you're as ham-fisted as I am. A few of the turns at Homestead are technically first gear corners, but most of us took them in second. We did this because there was still enough low-end grunt to overwhelm the tires when leaned-over, while the taller gear smoothed out the bikes reaction to an unsteady throttle hand. At the other end of the straights, the top-end rush is quite impressive and the engine revs quite freely through its 13,000rpm redline and hits a very soft rev limiter shortly thereafter. Several of us spent time on the limiter, using the overrun like a 600, to avoid up-shifting mid-corner.

Kawasaki switched to new "petal" type semi-wave rotors for the 10R and though a simple rotor swap isn't usually a big deal, this bike stops almost as well as the new Aprilia Mille Factory R -you know the one; WSB spec Brembos, $17,000 etc.- I was able to fade the stock ZX-6R brakes, when I track tested it at the beginning of the year. However, I had no such problems with the faster ZX-10R. I've yet to sample finer brakes on a Japanese sportbike. In addition to the excellent brakes the new "slipper" clutch that Kawasaki is using worked flawlessly through out the track sessions. The slipper enables the rider to take maximum advantage of the brakes, without being preoccupied about locking the rear wheel when downshifting.

"Like the 2003 ZX-6RR and ZX-6R, the new ZX-10R shows good attention to detail throughout."

Unlike the 600s, the 1000 has slightly more comfortable ergonomics and a seat that doesn't slope nearly as steeply. The more comfortable -though still racetrack aggressive- ergos are nice, but the flatter seat isn't ideal for a bike that accellerates as hard as the new ZX-10R does. Our test bikes didn't have the optional seat cowl/butt-stops on them so my hands and forearms quickly grew tired from trying to hang-on as this beast accellerated down the front and back straights. I suppose this isn't such a bad problem to have.

Lest you think you're reading a Kawasaki infomercial, I must sadly mention that several of the bikes on hand at Homestead had a sporadic problem with refusing to change-up from 3rd to 4th gear during rapid clutchless upshifts. This would cause a second and third failed attempt and eventually the rider would grab the clutch in frustration, at which point the bike would shift fine. This happened about 5% of the time on about 30% of the bikes at the intro.

At first the mechanics on hand thought it was the positioning of the shift-lever, so they adjusted them for us, but this didn't do much to help the situation. After that, they installed heavier linkage rods on the rearsets, thinking that perhaps there was some flex in the mechanism. This didn't cure the problem either. As of press time the latest word is that it was a pre-production setup issue and that it will be rectified before the production units hit the showroom floor. I hope this is true, because the occasional missed shift was the only non-rider-induced problem on an otherwise amazing new motorcycle.

It is with much regret that I must inform you that there isnt any on-bike video from this test. Click here for a good explination why. Stay-tuned for a street impression of the ZX-10R in a month or two and a full-blown Open Class Shootout in three to four months. Honda and Yamaha also have all-new or heavily revised open class sportbikes for 2004. I hope for their sake, that they've been doing their homework, because the 2004 ZX-10R isn't pulling any punches.

** Information And Specs Provided By Kawasaki **BEST POWER-TO-WEIGHT RATIO

  • Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, 998 cm3 engine has a bore and stroke of 76 x 55 mm.
  • Huge 43 mm throttle bodies fitted with dual throttle valves ensure massive power output and a smooth, step-free torque curve.
  • Automotive-type fine-atomising injectors improve performance, fuel economy and emissions. While fuel spray from conventional injectors has a droplet size of 120 microns, the fine atomising injectors have a droplet size of approximately 70 microns.
  • Flow analysis used to develop idealised dimensions for intake and exhaust ports, ensuring efficient cylinder filling and high power output (intake/exhaust valve diameters: 31/25.5 mm, stem diameter: 4.5 mm). Titanium exhaust valves contribute to reduced engine weight.
  • Hotter spark of the iridium plugs and high-voltage coils improves combustion efficiency.
  • Camshaft lobes and tappet surfaces feature soft-nitriding surface treatment for long wear and high-rpm reliability.
  • Sintered aluminium valve spring retainers reduce reciprocating weight for reliable valve control at high-rpm.
  • Forged pistons are lightweight and very tough, for low reciprocating weight and high heat resistance. Their flat tops enable a compact combustion chamber with improved combustion efficiency. Compression ratio is 12.7:1.
  • Plated cylinders are long wearing and offer excellent heat dispersion. Passageways in cylinders improve crankcase breathing and reduce pumping loss.
  • Intake air is routed via the central Ram Air duct and through the frame tubes to the airbox. A duct between the frame and the air cleaner prevents ingress of water.
  • Compact air cleaner fits snugly between the frame rails, allowing use of a seamless, high-capacity, flat-bottomed fuel tank. Flow analysis was also used to ensure efficient air flow inside the airbox.
  • Butterfly valve located in the cast titanium collector of the exhaust system ensures smooth, linear power delivery at all rpm.
  • One-piece cylinder/crankcase design, compact rear-mounted generator, compact cylinder head and "stacked" tri-axis transmission/crankshaft layout allows an amazingly compact and lightweight engine, permitting the crankshaft location to be idealised and the bike's centre of gravity to be lowered, thereby contributing to the bike's highly responsive handling characteristics. The engine is short enough to fit below the twin beams of the frame, allowing the 10R to have the narrow compactness of a 600-class machine.
  • Single valve springs use oval-section wire to realise short springs and a compact cylinder head design.
  • Camshafts are machined from forged billets of SCM420K steel for light weight and high strength.
  • Lightweight magnesium engine covers contribute to the engine's low weight.
  • Newly designed liquid-cooled oil cooler with internal aluminium finning is lightweight and keeps oil temperatures under control.
  • All-titanium exhaust system and oval-section muffler with titanium internals and a 1 mm thick aluminium cover designed for light weight.
  • The all-aluminium twin-beam frame is a composite structure of castings and pressings. Lightweight and very compact, it features a short wheelbase and a long swingarm.
  • The frame's thin walled die castings are a mere 2.5 mm thick for maximum strength with minimum weight.
  • Use of a cast cross pipe results in fewer parts and less welding.
  • Frame rails run over the engine to give it a width on par with current 600-class bikes.
  • Front fork features many aluminium internal components to reduce weight.
  • Lightening holes in the top triple clamp contribute to the machine's overall light weight.
  • Forged aluminium handlebars are gun-drilled for light weight.
  • Other lightweight chassis components include dual aluminium steering stem nuts, lightweight pop nuts for the bodywork and aluminium rear-suspension bearing arm sleeves and wheel side collars.
  • Lightweight new front and rear wheels feature "H" cross-section spokes. The unique, 6-spoke design permits use of thinner rims, for significant weight savings.
  • Close-ratio 6-speed transmission designed to give the 10R impressive performance on the racetrack and on twisting roads.
  • Adjustable back torque limiter fitted to the clutch helps prevent wheel hop under rapid deceleration.
  • Sloshing analysis was used to develop baffles for the oil pan for better performance under heavy braking. A sub oil pan helps reduce windage by keeping the oil location low, and also helps lower the oil temperature.
  • Like the ZX-RR, the 10R chassis minimises the distance between the steering stem and swingarm pivot to create a compact, responsive package.
  • Massive braced swingarm delivers the rigidity needed for a machine with the ZX-10R's horsepower. Long swingarm design reduces the engine's leverage on the rear suspension, for excellent suspension action and superb road holding qualities. Specially configured for high torsional rigidity and more flexible lateral rigidity, this "balanced flex" contributes significantly to the 10R's brilliant handling qualities. Amazingly lightweight, the swingarm weighs about the same as the ZX-6R swingarm.
  • The 10R's riding position was developed based on computer simulation and exhaustive rider feedback.
  • Thanks to the narrow width of the frame rails, which run over the engine, the rear of the tank could be made very narrow, allowing the rider to grip the bike with his legs.
  • Because the air cleaner is flush with the top of the frame rails, the fuel tank bottom can be made flat, significantly increasing fuel tank capacity without increasing overall tank size.
  • The top surface of the fuel tank is concave, making it easier to tuck in behind the fairing and increasing rider comfort during high-performance riding.
  • An ideal relationship between pegs, seat and handlebars results in a naturally aggressive riding position.
  • The Ninja ZX-10R is the first supersport bike to feature petal brake discs. This unique disc shape improves cooling and helps prevent disc warp. They are also lighter than conventional discs.
  • Front discs are 300 mm. Radial 4-pot opposed-piston callipers deliver impressive stopping performance with excellent feel at the lever.
  • The lightweight 220 mm rear petal disc is operated by a lightweight single-piston calliper.
  • Highly rigid 43 mm inverted fork is fully adjustable and features settings that are biased towards track riding.
  • A new super-hard DLC coating (Diamond-Like Carbon) has been added to the outer surface of the inner fork tubes to reduce sliding friction (stiction) and improve action, especially in situations where the suspension is subjected to heavy loads, such as during braking or when banked over. While the coating provides its greatest benefits on the racetrack, street riding is also notably smoother. The increased surface hardness also helps to prevent scratches and damage to the tubes.
  • Both front and rear suspension are fitted with top-out springs for stable suspension performance. Because the top-out springs regulate suspension elongation, the rider will also experience less nose dive feel under heavy braking after hard acceleration, as well as greater stability when getting back on the gas after hard braking.
  • Linkage-equipped rear gas shock with reservoir is fully adjustable.
  • Lightweight aluminium suspension linkage reduces chassis weight and contributes to the responsive rear suspension action.
  • Rear ride height is shim-adjustable.
  • Highly compact front cowl incorporates a central Ram Air duct and features a frontal area smaller than that of the ZX-6R.
  • Multi-reflector headlamp is compact and is located very low. Lighting performance is first rate.
  • Aerodynamic mirrors look great and offer high visibility.
  • Seamless fuel tank design enhances the 10R's high-quality look and feel.
  • 3-piece front fender is highly aerodynamic and contributes to the front end's light appearance.
  • European models feature front turn signals stylishly integrated in the bodywork for improved aerodynamics. Rear turn signals are extremely compact and feature a new conical design. (North American models feature standard front and rear turn signals.)
  • Attractive inner fender design follows the lines of the swingarm and contributes to laminar flow of hot air around the rear wheel.
  • Compact rear flap contributes to the 10R's slim appearance. It is mounted directly to the sub-frame for added strength.
  • Flush-surface LED tail light curves up slightly over the top of the seat cowl, making the 10R very visible to the drivers of high vehicles.
  • Multi-piece tail cover allows an ultra-thin design as well as easy maintenance. Removing the top two pieces allows complete access to the top.
  • Frame is finished in flat black to enhance its aggressive, racy image.
  • Robot welding is used for high quality and a superior finish.
  • Optional single seat cover can replace the tandem seat for an even more aggressive image.
  • Compact clutch-driven generator turns at twice engine rpm for high output, even when idling.
  • Idling Speed Control system contributes to easy starting.
  • Internal oil feed is via grooves machined in the crankcase mating surfaces, eliminating the plumbing and complexity of conventional oil feed systems.
  • Use of KLEEN (Kawasaki Low Exhaust Emission) catalyser system helps keep exhaust emissions environmentally friendly. Honeycomb catalyser located in the muffler helps ensure that the 10R meet Euro II emissions regulations.
  • Immobiliser function incorporated into the ignition switch on most European models helps prevent theft.
  • Lightweight instrument cluster features a perimeter LCD tachometer, digital LCD speedometer, adjustable shift indicator lamp, and stopwatch-style lap timer -- this in addition to a digital temp gauge, clock, tripmeter, etc. and a comprehensive range of indicator lamps. The shift indicator lamp has three settings: Off, Low and Bright. The fuel injection lamp also serves as an immobiliser indicator on immobiliser-equiped models.
  • Wiring harness features newly designed relay box, compact fuse box and simplified wiring layout for easier maintenance. Most electrical components are concentrated under the seat.
  • Wheels are centre-balanced using environmentally friendly steel weights.
  • An elegant 3D tank emblem enhances the 10R's high-quality image (not used on lime green models).
  • Lime Green / Metallic Flat Stoic Black (EUR/AUS)
  • Candy Thunder Blue / Metallic Flat Stoic Black (EUR)
  • Metallic Spark Black / Metallic Flat Stoic Black (EUR/AUS)
  • Lime Green / Metallic Flat Stoic Black (USA/CAN)
  • Candy Thunder Blue / Metallic Flat Stoic Black (USA/CAN)
  • Metallic Spark Black / Metallic Flat Stoic Black (USA/CAN)
  • Pearl Blazing Orange / Metallic Flat Stoic Black (USA/CAN)

Dunlop D218ZR

Dunlop has won all 17 AMA 600 Supersport championships, including Kawasaki's 2001 600 Supersport title.

Dunlop's road racing partnership with Kawasaki has also netted victories in AMA Superbike, and the technology developed in this partnership has helped yield the newest of Dunlop's O.E. sport radial tires, the D218ZR. You'll find the D218ZR on Kawasaki's own engineering marvel, the ZX-10R.



High traction and grip Improved handling and stability Balance of grip and wear.


Computer Aided Tread Engineering (CATE) for optimized tread pattern stiffness, yielding improved linear handling and allowing use of high-grip compound.

Tread profile designed for consistent contact patch at all lean angles.

Smaller diameter particle, high-structure carbon black provides tighter bond between tread polymers and carbon, to produce a compound engineered for high grip without sacrificing tread wear.

Lightweight to reduce unsprung weight for better handling and quicker transitions.

Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke In-Line Four
998 cm3
Bore and Stroke
76.0 x 55.0 mm
Compression ratio
Valve system
DOHC, 16 valves
Fuel system
Fuel injection: ø 43 mm x 4 (Mikuni)
Forced lubrication, wet sump with oil cooler
6-speed, return
Final drive
Sealed Chain
Primary reduction ratio
1.611 (87/54)
Gear ratios: 1st
2.533 (38/15)
2.053 (39/19)
1.737 (33/19)
1.524 (32/21)
1.381 (29/21)
1.304 (30/23)
Final reduction ratio
2.294 (39/17)
Wet multi-disc, manual
Backbone/Twin-tube, aluminium (Pressed/die-cast composite structure)
Wheel travel:
120 mm
125 mm
120/70ZR17M/C (58W)
190/50ZR17M/C (73W)
Caster (rake)
102 mm
Steering angle (left/right)
27° / 27°
43 mm inverted fork with top-out springs
Compression damping 16-way
Rebound damping 16-way
Spring preload
Fully adjustable
Bottom-Link Uni-Trak with gas-charged shock and top-out spring
Compression damping Stepless
Rebound damping Stepless
Spring preload Fully adjustable
Type Dual semi-floating 300 mm petal discs
Calliper Dual radial-mount, opposed 4-piston, 4-pad
Type Single 220 mm petal disc
Calliper Single-bore pin-slide
Overall length
2,045 mm
Overall width
705 mm
Overall height
1,115 mm
1,385 mm
Ground clearance
125 mm
Seat height
825 mm
Dry weight
170 kg
Fuel capacity
17 litres
Maximum power 128.4 kW {175 PS} / 11,700 rpm
128.4 kW {175 PS} / 11,500 rpm (USA/CAN)
78.2 kW {106 PS} / 11,500 rpm (FRA)
Maximum power with Ram Air 135.3 kW {184 PS} / 11,700 rpm
135.3 kW {184 PS} / 11,500 rpm (USA/CAN)
Maximum torque 115 N·m {11.7 kgf·m} / 9,500 rpm
88 N·m {9.0 kgf·m} / 6,700 rpm (FRA)

The specifications mentioned here apply to and have been achieved by production models under standard operating conditions. We intend only to give a fair description of the vehicle and its performance capabilities but these specifications may not apply to every machine supplied for sale. Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. reserves the right to alter specifications without prior notice. Equipment illustrated and specifications may vary to meet individual markets. Available colours may vary by market.

Sean Alexander
Sean Alexander

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