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

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

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.

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