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

The new literbike contender takes on the reigning champ at the racetrack

Off Come The Gloves

Off Come The Gloves

Enough with the boring details, we came here to see how these two fare against one another. By “here” we mean Buttonwillow Raceway Park, just outside of Bakersfield, California. Our friends at Lets Ride Trackdays were gracious enough to be our host for the day while we circulated the track in this battle royale of sorts.

First impressions? Both bikes feel awfully similar from the saddle. Our testers didn’t notice a discernible difference in ergonomics. Adjustable rearsets on the Zed, set to the high position for our day at the track, definitely help account for that feel (an option the BMW doesn’t have), but this similarity has us wondering if the OEMs have found an ideal setup or if this was just coincidence. Pete was really impressed by the new ergos of the Kawi compared to the previous version, saying it reminded him more “of a supersport than a literbike.” He also noted that the flatter tank surface made it more comfortable for him in a full tuck.

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

It didn’t take long to know this was going to be one hard test to decide. “Both of these bikes remind me of just how far along development of supersport bikes has come,” says Duke. “It wasn’t long ago there were clear winners and losers in literbike shootouts. Today, the lowest-ranked literbike is still a highly desirable piece of kit.”

Indeed. By no means is the new ZX-10R slow, but it still gives up over 20 horses to the BMW. Fortunately, the green machine is now among the lightest in the category, tipping the scales at a claimed 437 pounds wet, a 16-pound advantage over the BMW that puts it right in line with the lightest bike in the class, Honda’s CBR1000RR. Truth be told, the tight and bumpy confines of Buttonwillow never really allowed us to experience brutal full-throttle acceleration for more than a second or two on either machine, but our subjective butt-dynos all agreed that the S1000RR’s potent engine is still the king of the class.

“With the amount of torque and horsepower the S1000RR makes, it doesn’t take but a heartbeat before you’re hauling the mail!” wrote Pete in his notes. The Beemer’s powerband is quite broad, rising to a blistering crescendo up top. Its only power-delivery issue is slightly abrupt throttle response in Slick mode (the least-intrusive TC setting) when engaging from off-throttle to on. Pete was able to rectify the issue with little side effect by switching to Race mode, which relies on the ECU to moderate the degree of throttle opening at a rate slightly slower than what the right wrist is indicating but still delivering maximum power.

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“You can carve a good pace in the mid-level Sport mode,” Kevin observes, “but it does interrupt power wheelies and restricts power while leaned over. Fast track riders will at least want to choose Race mode.”

For its part, the Kawasaki feels nearly as explosive in the midrange. Its lighter weight definitely plays a part there. Fueling is spot-on everywhere except in off/on transitions, just like the BMW in Slick mode. It initially caught us off guard, but we were able to adapt to it. Experimenting with the two lesser power modes also seemed like a band-aid fix.

Despite the fact that Buttonwillow’s layout doesn’t encourage full-throttle blasts, those few moments where that’s possible revealed the difference between each bike’s top end power. As you saw in the Kawasaki’s dyno chart, power ramps up in a linear fashion all the way to 12,000 rpm, where it disappointingly flattens out. We’ve got Big Brother to thank for that, and the resulting lull in top-end power is felt in the saddle. I described it to my cohorts as feeling like a racing greyhound attached to a really long leash that’s just short of the finish line.

Traction Control Comparison

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With all this power on tap, getting the rear to break loose is a simple task. Kawasaki’s S-KTRC is touted by the company to be the latest advancement of traction control, one that can “predict” your intended path. That said, the fact that none of us could definitively tell when the system was working in the first or second settings (least intrusive and medium intrusion) should serve as a testament to its seamlessness, especially considering the standard Bridgestone BT-016 rear tire fitted on our test bike was only losing grip as the day went on.

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

Our Metzeler Racetec K3-shod S1000RR had a tougher time spinning the rear due to the near race-spec level of rubber, but nonetheless the DTC system did make itself more noticeable, especially in the more intrusive modes (Race, Sport) as you’d expect. Part of the reason for this comes down to the bank angle sensors that limit power past a certain degree of lean. That said, for the average trackday rider, we feel that BMW’s DTC will still help you achieve quicker lap times. In Slick mode, the intrusion was difficult to notice — if it even kicked in at all — leading Kevin to comment, “you would have to be an exceptional racer to feel hindered by the DTC’s parameters in Slick mode.”

We did like the single switch on the left switchgear of the Kawi that allowed us to adjust the different settings and power modes. It’s simple, convenient, and easy to operate with a gloved hand. Additionally, the 10R’s dash display was easier to distinguish and read, thanks to bigger letters and more pronounced contrast. Its new LED bar-graph tachometer (adjustable for brightness) is easy to see. The BMW’s buttons aren’t difficult to figure out, but the smaller “Mode” button is less intuitive. Likewise, the smaller font on the gauge cluster is now a minor setback in our opinion.

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