Kawasaki ZX-10R test (2008)

The ZX-10R is preceded by its reputation. It’s considered a nutter’s machine, a hooligan’s bike, strictly for those of questionable sanity levels who enjoy scaring themselves shitless.

When Kawasaki unleashed the first incarnation of its ZX-10R on the world, for 2004, it was a long way different from the ZX-9R Ninja it replaced. It was, frankly, considered to be a bit of an animal – and we are talking more mad dog than poodle. And, before the 2008 incarnation, this reputation was at least partly justified. There was no getting away from the truth that the ‘Ten’ had a beast of an engine whose bite was definitely as terrifying as its bark.

So, what’s different with this 2008 model bike? Well, Kawasaki made a clear signal of intent when they announced that the 2008 ZX-10R was to feature traction-control.”What, traction-control on a road bike?” we cried, and, of course, that is what they wanted us to cry, because a point was being made: The ‘Ten’ has come of age and started taking life seriously.

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The new model produces it’s ‘oh shit’ power peak higher up the rev range. This gives it a less brash, intimidating feel, particularly when exiting slow-speed corners. In other words, to exploit the limits of this bike’s power, you have to do so (very) deliberately, which makes it a less daunting purchase for riders who perhaps don’t quite understand the gravity of having 167bhp baying for blood at the back wheel.

You can’t question the styling improvements. The new ‘Ten’ combines the previous model’s looks with that of the MotoGP bike, and the result is stunning. It’s sleeker, more athletic-looking, and the dirty-great cans of 2007 bike have thankfully been ditched. The ergonomics are basically unchanged, apart from a new-shape fuel-tank, which offers better feel through the legs.

Chassis dimensions have been altered only slightly, but have “transformed the handling,” reckoned our man Jon Pearson, who achieved faster lap times around Losail than on last year’s ultra-refined R1. The ZX-10R is still slightly harsher than competition like the R1 and GSX-R1000, but no-one would want it to lose all of its rebellious character. As for the new basic anti-spin traction-control, JP was unconvinced about its effectiveness at the launch, and the jury is still out.

The ZX-10R is back to its best, make no mistake. OK, so it’s been slightly tamed for 2008 but, don’t worry, that doesn’t mean ‘domesticated’. Despite a slightly sedated bottom-end, offset by a revvier, more track-focussed feel, this is one wild, raucous and extremely rapid motorcycle.

•Price: £8,950 OTR (2008 new price)
•Engine: l/c, 16v, DOHC, inline four, 998cc
•Bore & stroke: 76 x 55mm
•Compression ratio: 11.5:1
•Carburation: Keihin EFI, 48mm throttle bodies
•Transmission: six-speed, chain
•Power: 167bhp (tested)
•Frame: aluminium die-cast, twin spar
•Suspension: (F) fully adjustable 43mm USD Kayaba forks (R) fully adjustable Kayaba monoshock (including high and low-speed compression)
•Brakes: (F) dual 310mm petal discs, Tokico four-piston calipers, (R) single 220mm disc, Tokico single-piston caliper
•Wheels/tyres: Cast aluminium / Pirelli SuperCorsa Pro / Pirelli Diablo Corsa III (F) 120/70 – ZR17, (R) 190/50 – ZR17
•Wheelbase: 1,415mm
•Fuel capacity: 17 litres (3.7 gals)
•Dry weight: 179kg (394lbs)
•Contact: Kawasaki UK (01628 851000)