2008 Kawasakis: First Look - Motorcycle.com

Pete Brissette
by Pete Brissette

Kawasaki comes out swinging for 2008 with a heavily tweaked ZX-10R, a thorough revision to the venerable Ninja 250R, and some minor but significant changes to the rocketship ZX-14. Also new is a reworked KLX250S dual-sport and the new KLX140, Kawi’s attempt to win a big slice of the playbike dirt market.

2008 ZX-10R Sharper and Stronger

Model years 2007/08 have been big for Team Green, and the stampede of new bikes just keeps a comin'. Kawasaki is taking its attack on the market seriously, not resting for a moment, it seems, as its superbike effort has been stepped up with a heavily revised ZX-10R. This can only serve the company well, as the mighty Ninja is the latest (and last) entry from the Big Four to ante up. Yamaha and Suzuki overhauled their liter machines last year, and we now know (much to their chagrin) from about two weeks ago that Honda is going to unveil a new CBR1000RR this week.

As an indication of how committed Kawi is to its literbikes, they proudly proclaim that Japanese Superbike racer Akira Yanagawa was the willing guinea pig chosen to help bring the 10R back to the ring to take another swing. The '08 bike is basically a ground-up restoration, so let's dive in and see what's new.

Plenty of tweaking and twiddling happened in and around the 998cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, inline-Four. Intake ports, exhaust ports and combustion chambers were reshaped in an effort to improve flow with a focus on top-end poke without sacrificing the mid-range grunt that the previous 10R was famous for. Specifically, the exhaust ports are narrower, while exhaust valves went on a diet, shrinking from 25.5mm to 24.5mm. Cam profiles also received attention, getting higher lift for greater power at higher revs.

On the induction side of things, the ZX picked up secondary fuel injectors aimed at improving top-end spank, and oval throttle bodies replace the old round units with the hope of better and more precise throttle response. Additionally, the ram-air system had its intake duct reshaped in order to quiet intake noise (Ugh! Why do that?) while force-feeding a bigger airbox with new oval-shaped velocity stacks.

Tied directly to the improvements in the fueling is a new ignition system that "assists with torque management by monitoring throttle opening, gear position and rate of rpm change, then retarding ignition timing to reduce torque when sudden unwanted rpm spikes are detected." This sounds suspiciously like a form of traction control, although the TC term is not used in Kawi’s press materials. Basically, the idea is that the bike's brain will make the decision for you as to whether or not you really need all the power you requested at that moment when it considers a myriad of other factors.

If you can't tell by looking at the photos, an all-new exhaust system resides mostly under the engine, not under the seat as in '07. Looking an awful lot like systems on other bikes these days, it has a pre-chamber located under the engine to help with noise reduction while keeping the titanium can as small as possible. It also meets those stupid Euro III standards and keeps the C of G desirably low. Chalk up another Buell philosophy convert?

To compliment the newfound power characteristics of the ZX-10R, the gearbox has received several tweaks. First, fourth and fifth gear ratios were lowered, and the countershaft and rear sprockets run a 17/41 combo.

All the power in the world is useless if you can't control it. Improving the balance between stiffness and feedback in the twin-spare aluminum frame is the hope of Kawi engineers. In light of that, concave components (stampings) were turned inside out to become convex in order to reduce stresses. Also, wall thickness was increased, and ribbing was added to the interior of the pivot plate around the swingarm pivot point that moved. Of the pivot point, Kawi won't say if it moved forward or back, just that "a slight front-rear weight balance change" took place. Wheelies are fun, but the wheelie monster ZX-10R could use a little more bias toward the front, in our opinion.

Speaking of the swinger, it's now made with pressed instead of cast-aluminum beams. And just to prove no stone was left unturned, even the sub-frame was overhauled, becoming narrower, and it now mounts to the frame's upper cross-member in order to give the rider more feedback as to what the rear suspension is doing.

More newness makes its way onto the Zed, this time in the suspension. Super-slick Diamond Like Carbon (DLC) coating graces the fork tubes for less stiction on the fully-adjustable 43mm inverted fork. Relocating springs to the bottom of the fork is said to reduce oil frothing. Rear suspension changes include dual (low and high-speed) compression damping on the fully-adjustable rear shock, and a new mounting spot for the Uni-Trak linkage connects that shock to the top-braced swingarm.

A process called squeeze-casting results in what Kawasaki says are lighter and stiffer five-spoke wheels. The benefit is less unsprung weight which should translate to better handling and suspension control. Braking duties are handled by radial mounted Tokico calipers that crush down on 310mm (10mm bigger than last year) petal rotors, and feature reduced thickness from 6 to 5.5mm. The rear petal disc is 220mm.

Although Kawasaki likes to tout the ZX-10R (and 6R) as racebikes with lights, it appears that street people weren't forgotten. A reshaped fuel tank has more flare (we wish we could come up with a really good "Office Space" reference) to allow the rider to rest his or her weary arms whilst caning the bike through a turn. The top of the tank has a recess added to make room for the helmet's chin bar when in a full tuck behind a new, flatter windscreen. A quick note about this reshaped tank: the compact fuel pump from the 2007 ZX-6R now resides in the 10R's tank because it takes up less space and permits the same tank volume despite the additional space required for the secondary injectors.

"A process called squeeze-casting results in what Kawasaki says are lighter and stiffer five-spoke wheels."

The saddle also got some work. It's now shorter front to back, narrower at the front and softer (Thank you!). We're not sure if this will matter to anyone, but a "special rib" was added to the end of a new throttle. This is supposed to give the rider better feel through the rubber grip.

Lastly, a new front fender directs cool air toward the radiator, redesigned mirrors now have integrated turn signals and are easily removable for race day, as is the new license plate holder/rear signal combo. A new LED taillight keeps others on the road aware of your presence and intentions.

As of right now MSRP is up $300. Or you can look at it as the same price as last year's Ebony paint at $11,549.

The 2008 liter wars are shaping up nicely, with Honda's soon-to-be-released CBR1000RR, this Kawasaki and the recently upgraded R1 and GSX-R1000 from 2007. Motorcycle.com can't wait! How 'bout you?

Ninja 250R
High Zoot Looks At An Outlet Price

When a bike has seen as many model years as the Ninja 250R (years ago aka as the EX250), it deserves a makeover every now and again. For 2008 Kawasaki has brought the looks of the littlest Ninja into the 21st century, right on par with its more powerful, high-performance brothers, the ZX-6R and recently updated '08 ZX-10R.

Do this simple experiment, and see if you can fool your brain: find a photo of a 2007 ZX-10R, then look quickly at the 2008 Ninja 250R. Toggle rapidly between photos of the two bikes in profile and see how long it takes you to discern the baby Ninja from its fire-breathing sibling. We did more than a few double-takes to make sure we were looking at the right bike. The 250R takes on a whole new appeal, and with it, we're guessing, even bigger sales figures.

Starting at the front you'll notice the dual-headlamp arrangement and front cowling are virtually identical to the Ninja 650R. The engine cowling is hauntingly similar to the 2007 ZX-10R. Moving toward the rear, a sharp eye will observe that the tail section isn't too far off the '08 10R. The fuel tank has also been reshaped, looking wasp-waisted like a Ninja of much larger displacement. Hopefully the 4.8-gallon capacity from the '07 250 hasn't be compromised. Additionally, Kawi assures us that they updated and improved the instrument cluster and gave it Kawi’s positive neutral finder system for easy access to neutral when at a stop. Perhaps they merely restyled the analog speedo and tach, but to our disappointment they don't mention anything about a gear-position indicator.

Thankfully Team Green did more than gussy up the tiny assassin with new, wind-cheating bodywork; improvements are found in its rev-happy parallel-Twin. Still basically the same ol’ lump, it’s received several upgrades, such as improved intake and exhaust ports for better off-idle response, and altered valve timing and cam lift for better low- and mid-range omph (torque). Piston heads and pin boss areas were beefed-up, all in the name of durability.

After the tiny but merciless Twin has its way with the fuel mixture from its twin 30mm carbs, it expels what it can no longer use through an all-new 2-into-1 exhaust system. The move from the dated twin silencer set-up not only propels the 250R's looks into the present, it'll probably give the engine a boost of a couple foot-pounds of torque (claimed 18.1 ft-lbs in '07) as well as a couple more ponies thanks to its freer-flowing nature. Based on Kawi's early info we also know the system utilizes two catalyzers (one in the collector and one in the silencer). This arrangement, they claim, minimizes power loss. Being a former owner of two EX500s I can tell you that when I replaced that model's 2-into-2 system with a 2-into-1 unit, not only did it have more spank, the bike actually handled better from the weight reduction.

"The other big deal on the little bike is the long-overdue upgrade to 17-inch wheels."

The other big deal on the little bike is the long-overdue upgrade to 17-inch wheels. Hurray! Now an owner of this machine will finally be able to get some quality buns in what we can only assume will be on the order of a 110/70 x 17 up front, and most likely a 160/60 x 17 on the rear. This not only means better tire selection, but should translate into more assertive lean angles thanks to a bigger footprint.

Keeping those new sportbike wheels stuck to the pavement are forks up-sized to 37mm (36mm on the previous bike), though they lack adjustability. The five-position preload shock out back is still linked to the box section swingarm via Kawasaki’s venerable Uni-Trak system.

Finally, you can anticipate slightly better stopping prowess as the 250R's front rotor increased from 260mm to 290mm; the rear is 220mm. But! Both are now the more fashionable petal-type rotors that seem to have permeated every sporting bike in Kawasaki’s line-up, and both are pinched by two-piston calipers.

As of this writing the spec chart is littered with a bunch of TBDs (we've always wondered when OEMs "decide" what those specs will be?), but we don't expect too much deviation from the previous 55-inch wheelbase, 27-degree rake and 3.3 inches of trail. Nor do we foresee much in the way of weight loss over the claimed dry weight of 304 pounds from previous 250Rs. That's perfectly okay, as its lightweight, and user-friendly 29.3" seat height (2007) make the 250R a favorite among new riders, women, the inseam-challenged and those simply wanting a proven and reliable means of economical transportation. The best part is that prospective purchasers will get improvements from the previous model and stunning sportbike looks that are as eye-catching as pricier machines.

Kawasaki has a consumer-benefiting habit of bringing in dramatically restyled, or hopped-up versions of models at only a fraction more than previous MSRP. We’re happy to report that the addition of all the new upgrades demands a premium of just $500 over last year's $2,999 MSRP, maintaining the Ninja 250R’s reputation as one of the best values in all of motorcycling.

2008 ZX-14
The Mothership Runs Cleaner and Faster

When we tested the ZX-14 last year in our Rocket Tour Comparo we thought 171 horsepower and 105 ft-lbs of torque was more than enough for most imbeciles. Believe it or not, the 2008 Kawasaki ZX-14 is alleged to have more power.

The bump in performance doesn't appear to be driven by fear of slipping from their King of The Hill title in the two-bike (the second being the 'Busa, of course) uber-sportbike war. No, it seems the driving force behind the enhancements this year are those pesky Euro III exhaust and noise emissions standards.

The class-dominating 1352cc mill didn't receive any major changes this year, just a few nips and tucks aimed at reducing mechanical noise and smoothing out power. On the induction side of things, the lateral spray angle of the fuel injectors increased from 15 to 20 degrees in order to improve power delivery across the board, while the intake ports were refined for better flow. Additional tune-ups include reshaped pistons and a urethane liner on the inside of the magnesium chain cover; both aimed at reducing mechanical noise.

Being the environmentally conscious company that Kawi is, it did its duty and worked hard to comply with ever-tightening emissions regulations by giving the exhaust on the 14 a really good going over. Not directly tied to the exhaust, but important nonetheless, the cylinder head and its cover were altered to allow for 20% larger secondary air ports for reduced emissions. A third honeycomb catalyzer in the collector teams up with two existing catalyzers, one in each silencer.

Speaking of the silencers, portions of each were fiddled with, as was the length of the header pipes. Additionally, a 75% increase in the size of the entrances of the cross-over tubes that connect header pipes 1-4 and 2-3 was made due to the reshaped exhaust collector. All of this came about thanks to that free-loading third catalyzer we mentioned above. Lastly, something called an "ASV" or Air Switching Valve puts the final touches on reducing emissions.

"The casting method for the aluminum portions of the main frame was changed from gravity- to die-casting to result in lighter pieces of the same strength."

"So what do I care about some chop job on the exhaust," you ask? Well, you might care, because it's Kawasaki’s contention that all this "green" tuning actually improved low-end torque without sacrificing the mid-range, and it poked peak power slightly higher. Of course no specific claims as to actual numbers have been made, so we'll have to wait and see what the dyno and our butts tell us. It’ll be interesting to see how this revised ZX compares with the new Hayabusa.

Capping off upgrades to the mightiest of Ninjas are improvements to the aluminum monocoque frame. The casting method for the aluminum portions of the main frame was changed from gravity- to die-casting to result in lighter pieces of the same strength.

That about sums up the functional news on the '08 Kawasaki ZX-14, but we all know motorcycling is every bit image as it is performance. By peeking at a couple of the pics they're letting out, it looks like the trickest of the trick paint options available now sports a swingarm that's color-matched to the wheels and lower portion of the swoopy bodywork. We don't know how "in" flames are these days, but the candy red (or whatever trendy name Kawi will give it) and black is a great combo. It retails for $11,999, while the standard version is up $100 over last year to $11,699.

2009 KLX250S
Dual-sport Funster

The big news on the KLR650's little brother, the KLX250S, is that the little dual-sport is now legal in Cali. Thanks to a new evaporative emissions set-up, the little liquid-cooled, DOHC, 249cc Single meets the strict requirements of CARB (California Air Resource Board). In addition to the new charcoal canister, a secondary air system in the exhaust also contributes to a cleaner dualy. Refinements in the tranny department include closer ratios between fifth and sixth gears, and a revamped shift cam is said to aid in smoother shifting.

Being a bike with off-road inclinations, the little KLX has some formidable suspension. Yet, in an effort to improve handling and make it easier for a rider to paddle their toes on the ground, travel on the 43mm forks was actually reduced from 11.2 to 10.2 inches. Rear suspension travel sees an even bigger chop, losing just a tick under 2 inches, going from 11.0 to 9.1. Both springers offer 16-step adjustable compression damping.

The now stubbier shock will attach to a new airy aluminum swingarm with a stiff D-shaped cross-section via new progressive linkage. The swinger also adopts KX racing-type chain adjusters.

Wrapping up changes to the chassis package is a mellower 27.5-degree steering rake, increased from the previous 26.5-degree dimension, while trail bumps up an almost indiscernible tenth of an inch (4.2 to 4.3 inches. The wheelbase also gets a minimal increase going from 56.5 to 56.7 inches. Carefully worded press materials infer that all the chassis and suspension changes are to improve handling, specifically straight-line stability. We didn't hear many complaints, but we can only guess Kawasaki felt this was an issue on the previous model.

The rear brake set-up was the winner this time as it received new pad materials, a new caliper, new lever ratio and a 10mm jump on the 240mm petal rotor. The 250mm semi-floating petal rotor and twin-piston caliper up front remain unchanged.

In the not-very-exciting-but-probably-good-anyway department, you can look for a half millimeter increase in wheel spoke diameter (4.0mm for '09) and smaller knobs on the tires for longer life and better street manners.

Finally, new bodywork compliments improved ergonomic features, such as a straighter handlebar for better control and comfort, footpegs moved closer to the center of the bike and a reshaped saddle that gets a stiffer urethane cover. Wonder if a rider's tushy will think that's an enhancement?

It's nice to see a relatively little-talked about bike get refinements like these. They're a good indication that Kawasaki is concerned with the smallest details. MSRP is $4,899, and you can have the bike in Lime Green or Sunbeam Red. Exciting!

2008 KLX140/KLX140L
Pint-sized; huge fun

This year Kawasaki brings in a new dirt bike to make the kids feel like the big guys, and the big guys feel like kids.

Starting with a bore and stroke of 58.0mm x 54.4mm we get a 144cc air-cooled Single with a compression ratio of 9.5:1 that's fed by a Keihin PB20 carb. The five-speed transmission is easily accessed via a manual clutch that has a spring damper that allows for two-stage half-clutch engagement (like so many kids and new riders are apt to operate a bike) for very low or idling rpm speeds. Speaking of revs, the little 140 spins all the way up to its amazing 10,500-rpm redline. The tiny powerplant rests in a box-section perimeter frame that shares upper tubes with the KLX250S.

The L designation stands for Large, as in the wheel sizes. The primary difference between the two bikes is the 17"/14" front/rear wheel combo of the KLX and the 19"/16" pairing on the L model. Whatever size wheels you wind up with, you should be happy that they'll come in RK Excel flavor laced up to die-cast hubs.

"Whatever size wheels you wind up with, you should be happy that they'll come in RK Excel flavor laced up to die-cast hubs."

Another important separation between the two is in the rear suspension. The smaller bike has a five-way preload adjustable shock, while the larger-wheeled L uses a slightly more serious unit that has a piggyback reservoir, is fully preload adjustable with four-way compression and 22-step rebound damping. On either bike you'll find that the shock attaches to an aluminum swingarm with KX racing-type chain adjusters. Up front the 33mm telescopic fork spring rates and damping settings are specific to each model.

Here's an interesting note on that beefier shock: seems that it'll bolt right into the frame of the smaller-wheeled KLX140. So, if you're little racer to be is pretty friggin' aggressive and can ride the wheels off the bike but is still too tiny to move up to the L, it appears that Kawasaki has made upgrading your bike (or should we say, your kid's bike?) pretty economical.

Another handy feature making life easier on you and/or your diminutive dirt slinger is the trick orange LED inside the ON/OFF switch that illuminates letting you know power is at the ready anytime you want to thumb the electric starter button.

Braking performance should be ample with a 220mm petal rotor pinched by a twin-piston caliper in the front (the same caliper found on the KX450F/250F). A 186mm petal rotor/single-piston caliper combination handles things out back.

A couple more of the various features on this small dirtbike should be pointed out. The handlebar is held into place by a simple two-piece upper triple clamp and bar clamp that are rubber mounted. This should allow for easy swap out with more trick aftermarket bars. And for safety, the muffler has a plastic end cap to prevent burned digits.

The racing genes in this bike are obvious, especially when we consider their source was a development team that "not only included young test riders, but also pro SX/MX racers and Kawasaki’s motocross engineers to give the KLX140 the same pedigree as the World Champion KX models."

The KLX140/140L seems like it's all that and a bag chips to get your aspiring dirt digger started, no matter if they're young or old, big or small.

MSRP is set to be $2,699 / $2,999 respectively for the smaller and larger wheel bikes. The only color available is Lime Green.

2008 Kawasaki Ninja® ZX™-10R Specifications*
Engine: Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, inline-four
Displacement: 998cc
Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm
Maximum torque: TBD
Compression ratio: 12.7:1
Fuel injection: DFI with 43mm Keihin throttle bodies with oval sub-throttles, two injectors per cylinder
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance and torque management
Transmission: Six speed
Final drive: TBD
Rake / trail: TBD
Front tire: 120/70 ZR17
Rear tire: 190/55 ZR17
Wheelbase: TBD
Front suspension / wheel travel: 43mm inverted fork with DLC coating, adjustable rebound and compression damping, spring preload adjustability and top-out springs / TBD
Rear suspension / wheel travel: Uni-Trak® with top-out spring, stepless, dual-range (high/low-speed) compression damping, stepless rebound damping, fully adjustable spring preload / TBD
Front brakes: Dual semi-floating 310mm petal discs with dual four-piston radial-mount calipers
Rear brakes: Single 220mm petal disc with aluminum single piston caliper
Overall length: TBD
Overall width: TBD
Overall height: TBD
Seat height: TBD
Dry weight: TBD
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Color choices: Lime Green / Flat Super Black
Metallic Diablo Black
Candy Plasma Blue / Flat Super Black
MSRP: $11,549

2009 Kawasaki KLX™250S Specifications* Engine: Four-stroke, Liquid-Cooled, DOHC, four-valve single
Displacement: 249cc
Bore x stroke: 72.0 x 61.2mm
Compression ratio: 11.0:1
Cooling: Liquid
Carburetion: Keihin CVK34
Ignition: Digital CDI
Transmission: Six-speed
Final drive: Chain
Frame: Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel
Rake / trail: 27.5 degrees / 4.3 in.
Front suspension / wheel travel: 43mm Inverted Cartridge Fork with 16-Way Compression Damping Adjustment / 10.2 in.
Rear suspension / wheel travel: Uni-Trak® with Adjustable Preload, 16-Way Compression and Rebound Damping Adjustment / 9.1 in.
Front tire: 80/100x21
Rear tire: 100/100x18
Front brake: 250mm semi-floating petal disc with two-piston hydraulic caliper
Rear brake: 240mm petal disc with single-piston hydraulic caliper
Overall length: 87.5 in.
Overall width: 32.1 in.
Overall height: 47.1 in.
Ground clearance: 11.0 in.
Seat height: 34.8 in.
Dry weight: TBD
Fuel capacity: TBD
Wheelbase: 56.7 in.
Color choices: Lime Green, Sunbeam Red
MSRP: $4,899

2008 Kawasaki KLX™140 and KLX140L Specifications* Engine: Four-stroke, SOHC, two-valve single
Displacement: 144cc
Bore x stroke: 58.0 x 54.4mm
Cooling: Air
Carburetion: Keihin PB20
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Ignition: CDI
Transmission: Five-speed with wet multi-disc manual clutch
Final drive: Chain
Frame: High-Tensile steel, box-section perimeter
Rake / trail: TBD degrees / TBD in.
Front suspension / wheel travel: 33mm telescopic fork / 7.1 in.
Rear suspension / wheel travel: (KLX140) UNI-TRAK® linkage system and single shock with 5-way preload adjustability, (KLX140L) UNI-TRAK® linkage system and single shock with piggyback reservoir, fully adjustable preload and 22-way rebound damping / 7.1 in.
Front tire: 70/100-17 (KLX140), 70/100-19 (KLX140L)
Rear tire: 90/100-14 (KLX140), 90/100-16 (KLX140L)
Front brake: Single 220mm petal disc with a dual-piston caliper
Rear brake: Single 186mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
Overall length: TBD
Overall width: TBD
Overall height: TBD
Wheelbase: TBD
Ground clearance: TBD
Seat height: TBD
Dry weight: TBD
Fuel capacity: 1.4 gal.
Color: Lime Green
MSRP KLX140 / 140L: $2,699 / $2,999

Pete Brissette
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