Kawasaki has been on a winning streak in the Superbike World Championship, and the 2016 Ninja ZX-10R unveiled today is designed both to capitalize on that success in the form of sales in the showroom and also ensure the winning continues on the track.
The electronics arms race continues to escalate at the liter sport bike level. The new electronics package on the 2016 ZX-10R uses a Bosch five-axis Inertial Measurement Unit that also calculates yaw rate to add the sixth component. Kawasaki said the software draws on the company’s experience from World Superbike.
Buyers can choose a Ninja with or without ABS, and on the ABS models the IMU works with the braking system, in addition to the engine. Called Cornering Management Function, the system adjusts the brake pressure based on the lean and pitch angles of the motorcycle. Kawasaki says this reduces the tendency of the bike to stand up while braking in a turn. Deeper trail braking, anyone? This comes on top of the existing Kawasaki Intelligent Braking System (KIBS — Kawasaki loves some acronyms) that already factored things such as speed, throttle position, engine rpm, etc., into the braking equation. The hardware is also updated. Those brakes are now radial-mount Brembo cast aluminium monoblocs squeezing 330 mm discs and fitted with braided steel lines.
Electronic aids include Sport Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC), with five intervention levels, two of them for racing, one for track, one for street and one for wet conditions. There are also power modes, where the rider can select full, 80 percent or 60 percent. There are three launch control modes, including one where the rider just has to pin the throttle open, dump the clutch and hang on while the electronics do the hard work of keeping you from looping yourself into YouTube fame.
Kawasaki says the S-KTRC now has the computing power to take all its inputs — throttle position, wheel speed, engine rpm, tire slippage and acceleration — and predict when slippage is about to occur, so power can be adjusted, through ignition and air-flow changes, before things get out of hand.
But what’s under the hood?
Of course all that electronics needs a really powerful, sophisticated engine to control, if you want to win Superbike World Championships and impress your friends during intense bench-racing sessions at your local Bike Night. Kawasaki reworked the ZX-10R’s 998 cc engine by lightening the crankshaft for faster revving (and easier deceleration, by the way). The cylinder head got a lot of work. It’s lighter and all the ports are now polished. There’s a host of other changes, from titanium valves that are one millimeter bigger to pistons that are five grams lighter to a different combustion chamber shape.
The bottom line is that the 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R may not look that much different from the current model, but there are a lot of changes under the fairing, many of them invisible to the eye, in the form of electronics magic.
And speaking of the fairing — it is slightly redesigned — Kawasaki is offering the Zed-ten in the United States in a racy lime-green-and-black version called the KRT Edition for $16,299 and the regular ZX-10R in “metallic matte carbon gray” for $15,599. Based on the similar color of the recently unveiled Yamaha YZF-R1S, a trend toward stealth-mode sport bikes developed while I wasn’t paying attention.
There’s a lot more, of course, so spec-sheet junkies can wander over to Kawasaki’s web site.
So where are we?
Yamaha stepped up its game with the advanced electronics on the 2015 YZF-R1, logged impressive success in national-level Superbike racing, and is returning to the World Championship next year. Kawasaki is clearly defending its front-row status in SBK, with this update of the ZX-10R.
While those two manufacturers have been working to match the progress of European brands like BMW, Aprilia and Ducati, we’re still awaiting news from the other Japanese companies. Suzuki will have a new GSX-R1000 in some form for 2016, but the details remain to be seen. As for Honda, the “advanced electronics” on the CBR1000RR consist of electric starting.
Your turn, Suzuki.