If its six consecutive WorldSBK championships or Jordan Szoke’s own success on the ZX-10R weren’t enough to sway your litre bike aspirations to Team Green, perhaps the tweaks for 2021 will strike your fancy. Chassis updates and upgrades to the engine and electronics are complemented by new bodywork that includes integrated aerodynamic winglets. Kawi is claiming a 17 percent increase in downforce over the 2020 model.
Given the current lockdown restrictions, an official launch program wasn’t possible which left us having to test it on the street. Truthfully, this was a futile exercise in frustration. It was downright impossible to properly evaluate its lofty capabilities in a manner that wouldn’t risk me losing my license, so a more in-depth review will have to wait until we can arrange some track time with it.
What I can say upon my initial introduction is that it is a wildly impressive machine that feels much different. Components are robust, and the faster you ride, the more planted and stable it becomes. The liquid-cooled 998 cc inline-four sounds wonderful at startup and idle, only improving from there – even with the stock pipe. The throttle position sensor has been moved to the hand grip to avoid the need for a cable, making throttle inputs and modulation very precise. The six-speed transmission’s gear ratios have been shortened and a Kawasaki Quick Shifter (KQS) is offered as standard equipment. As is the Öhlins steering damper.
Weighing 207 kg (456 lbs), the ZX-10R’s peak horsepower of 200hp comes on at 11,500 rpm and its maximum 84 lb-ft of torque at 11,300 rpm. It certainly doesn’t require much coaxing to get going, but certainly does come on slower than its supercharged sibling Z H2 which feels like its perpetually in the meaty part of the powerband.
Braking is obscenely, shockingly good. You’ve got to brace yourself when grabbing the front brake lever otherwise you could risk going right over the bars as the bike comes to an almost immediate halt. Stopping power is handled by dual semi-floating 330 mm Brembo discs with radial-mounted Brembo M50 four-piston callipers up front and a 220 mm disc with single-bore pin-slide calliper in the rear.
2021 also sees the introduction of electronic riding modes (Sport, Road and Rain) and a three-level launch control mode. Electronic cruise control is a new and welcome addition. Heated hand grips are available at a price, but this isn’t the most suitable bike in the lineup for sport touring. A 4.3-inch colour TFT screen with Bluetooth connectivity and Kawasaki’s Rideology app compatibility are also new.
The wheelbase has been lengthened from 1,440 mm to 1,450 mm through the use of a longer swingarm and offset front fork contributing to greater high-speed stability and improved turn-in. The Showa Balance Free Fork and rear springs get a stiffer spring rate for a ride that is very firm. So firm that it is simply jarring on poor roads. Stitch together a couple smooth, serpentine turns and you’ll understand why the changes were made though. The pegs are 5mm higher and the bars positioned further forward, resulting in a very aggressive riding position indeed. This narrowed performance-minded focus will no doubt improve track times, but has also sacrificed everyday rideability.
MSRP for the 2021 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R starts at $19,999, with the KRT (Kawasaki Racing Team) Edition (like our tester) costing an extra $300. The changes may not equate to an all-new motorcycle, but it certainly feels like a distinct departure from the previous model. The collection of updates make it feel like an overhaul. If these changes can easily be felt on the street by an amateur, I can only imagine what the bike is capable of in the hands of a professional on the track.