Riding impressions of the 2004 ZX10R

How could I turn down the invitation? "Come down to Southern California and take a brand new ZX10R for a ride!".

Swft and I flew in,. At the airport we met redelk! The three of us were taken by extremelean directly to Kawasaki for a tour of the facility. This was not my first trip into the "secret squirrel" room, but it was swft and redelk's.

Sitting in front of us were our bikes for the next days ride... 4 brand new ZX10Rs. We headed off for some dinner with the brass from KMC. They were fantastic and it was great to meet them and get a chance to talk with them about our mutual passion, riding motorcycles! (Turning your bike upside down to get the key back out? Aye carumba!) Later we hit the sack to rest up for the next day's adventure.

We assembled the next morning and we were set to ride... Kbyrant removes his raingear and leaves it at KMC... "aww... I wont need this" he mutters... hehehehehe... After a short safety meeting, extremelean, kbryant, redelk, swft and myself set out for the hills.

Riding the 10R, you immediately notice how small it is, especially for me.... I'm over 6'3" tall. Interestingly enough, the riding position didn't bother me though. The seat slides you forward into the tank, the pegs are up and back, but still provide enough leg and arm room to spin off a comfortable day's canyon carving without a sore butt or crotch. The bike can easily be tossed around underneath you. Definitely a hundred pounds and then some less than my 12R in sheer mass. It felt much more like PrincessKiwi's 6R than a liter bike.

In true Kawasaki form the bike felt "right at home", and it felt like this right away... this would perhaps be one of my only criticisms (I'll explain later). By now most serious potential buyers on this site have read the magazine reviews and seen the bike at the shows, so here's the deal...

The bike is amazing. Kawasaki has produced a greatly refined product. Obviously KMC has learned a lesson or two from the release of the 12R, and it shows.

Handling on the bike is crisp and throttle response is smooth. Gone is the bucking, lurching and surging akin to the early 12R's injection system. Nothing but smooth and manageable power.

Something that 12R owners should take note. Power delivery is very different than the 12R. It is more like that of an '00 6R, (not the 636/ '03 6R ) . There is almost nothing below 5 grand. Initially this was a bit of a disappointment. Don't take the previous statement the wrong way. This bike is fast.... Damn fast. The lack of low end power (it's all relative, remember. I've been riding a kitted out 12R for 4 seasons) made it very easy to "behave" when we were in the city limits. In fact this made it very a bike easy to ride in traffic. The 10R will certainly make a great street bike.

However, once the engine spins up to speed there is piles and piles of power on tap, ala 12R, just not in the basement. If you are used to a pile and a half of torque and HP down low, the 10R doesn't have it there with stock gearing. Interestingly, the gearing of the 636 sort of eliminates that problem by dumping you right at about 6 grand at 25mph/45kmh ... the 636 gives the rider an instant sense of power on tap, but it's teeny-weeny engine's power is so limited compared to the 10R that it literally gets eaten alive by the newer and way way cooler 10R. The 10R has another twist and a half (at least) of throttle to the 636.

Above 5 grand the 10R pulls like the 12R, minus the extra hundred pounds. In other words this bike is a rocket ship. Crack the throttle and your instantly launched up to 10 grand, and the front wheel lifts itself into the air. This really caught me off guard the first time it happened as we merged onto the highway.....

The slipper clutch is wild. That was a treat. XL convinced me to try it out and I did... instead of having to "match my speed" for my downshifts, I just brutishly jammed the bike into various gears... the bike responds by sucking up the extra revs and smoothing out your downshifts.. it's almost unnatural... after years and years of double-clutching and blipping the throttle... all of that has been reduced to nothing.... Cram the bike into any gear and give it gas.... Bizarre!

The brakes are fantastic. Stoppies were no problem. The 218s were surprisingly good in the dry and in the rain as well. The exhaust is raspy, has a great sound to it... almost an aftermarket sound.

The fit and finish are of a much higher level than KMC has produced before. Leaps and bounds above the 12R. Probably not quite as high as Yamaha, but certainly at least on par with Honda. (That's a BIG step in my books). The bodywork is very light and thin... it rattled at higher speeds from the wind etc, but hey! this isn't a Goldwing!... If your cranked on and leaned over in a corner and your worrying about your plastic making noise, then you shouldn't be on a serious sportbike IMHO...

I'm trying to think of analogies to describe how this bike feels... I believe swft said it reminded him of a wasp... for me it's a tightly coiled spring....

There is so much potential energy in this bike it's scary... and that brings me to my only real critisicm of the 10R.....

The bike is too easy to ride. By day two of riding I was feeling right at home... I started messing around with the bike.. yes... the odd stoppie, wheelie.. and generally going way way too fast. So here's the problem. The bike is very disarming. It's small and light. It looks, feels, and rides like a 600. It has an amazing clutch that eats up any mistake you make and corrects it for you, and it's power delivery is so smooth that it's 162 HP creep up on you without you noticing.

You see.. the problem with this bike, for me, is that I didn't fear it. I fear my 12R. Still. After 4 seasons that 12R scares the pants off me. It's a big, brutally fast bike with power that will suck your fillings right out of your teeth. Looking at the 12 commands respect. Sitting on a 12, you know that you have something serious under you. Riding my 12R, I know that with an errant crack of my wrist the 12R will slam me down to the pavement faster than I can blink an eye.

By the end of the riding season every year, I get that feeling... that "man, I'm riding this bike way too fast" feeling... that feeling where your sense of "respect" for the speed and the power of your bike have been diminished. That's when I know it's time to put my bike away for the year.. when I catch myself doing things I shouldn't.... and thinking it's okay.

The 10R is the same beast as the 12R. It has the same brutal power that the 12R has (the stocker 10R dyno'd the same as my piped 12R). The 10R out handles the 12R. It out brakes the 12R. It pretty much does everything the 12R does, but it does it better, faster, lighter and smaller...

The REAL kicker is that it doesn't scare me like the 12R does.

Somehow I think that could be a bad thing. Picture a kid in a store starting out... man... he should get an EX500, not a 6R... but why shouldn't he get the 10R? Feels the same as the 6R? Get the picture?

Maybe the 10R needs some prickles on it or something.... Somehow the engineers at KMC have managed to take a 162HP sportbike and make it disarming, in a nonchalant way, to an experienced rider.

That's scary.

It's also my next bike.

It's a great streetbike. Potentially a great trackbike and definitely a great bike to take to the twisties and the backroads.

I just hope I can take it easy on it!

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