Updated comprehensively for 2021, the potent litre-class machine comes at an alluring price
There are motorcycles and then there are litre-class motorcycles. The latter, as one can imagine, leaves indelible memories. The sound of the intake howl reverberating in your ear as the brain struggles to keep up with the rapidly changing numbers on the speedo, is a rush unlike anything else — especially on something as potent, yet accessible as the new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R.
It all begins with the way this motorcycle looks, most notably the new Kawasaki Racing Team colours and face. The large air intake duct in the centre is flanked by recessed LED headlights that give it a menacing look. The effect is also a result of the prominent chin spoilers below the headlights as well as the cleverly integrated ducts next to them. These ducts channel air into them and out through vents on the top of the side fairing. This helps improve high-speed downforce by 17% , although the road is no place to test that.
The side fairing has been redesigned and does a decent job of guiding hot air from the radiator fan out and far away from the rider’s legs.
Move to the rear and you will see a slightly re-profiled cowl, although the triangular LED tail-light is similar to the outgoing model.
The riding position is quite committed because the handlebar has been pushed forward by 10mm, although the clip-ons are slightly more spread out to offer better leverage. The foot pegs have been raised by 5mm to improve cornering clearance. While that bodes well for the racetrack, after a while on the road, the scrunched-up foetal position will leave your lower back, wrists and neck muscles screaming for mercy.
Peak power of the 998cc, inline-four stands at 203hp (up by 3hp) at 13,200rpm. Add the ram air effect and Kawasaki says that figure rises to 213hp at high speeds. The other changes include a new air-cooled oil-cooler, for consistent engine performance, as well as the revised exhaust and the new ride-by-wire system that offers precise throttle inputs. But that is not all.
Kawasaki has also shortened the first, second and third gears and put in a bigger rear sprocket (by two teeth). The effect of all of this is seen in the new ZX-10R’s more tractable nature at city speeds. It manages to hold third gear at 30kph without a murmur of protest. The surprising bit is that the heat management in congested traffic is excellent, given the sheer performance that this engine packs.
Speaking of which, a 200hp+ motorcycle is nothing short of a missile on wheels, especially on the road. The electronics package with the updates for 2021 is like a superhero, keeping you from being the next statistic on the accident board.
The three ride modes — Road, Rain, Sport — the IMU based, five-level traction control (two levels more than available previously), as well as the ABS, work seamlessly in the background allowing you to go about riding the Ninja over dips, crests, undulations, slippery surfaces and whatever the typical Indian road throws at you.
Scroll through the menu on the new Bluetooth-enabled 4.3-inch TFT display and you can preset four individual rider modes — a new feature in 2021. However, this only allows you to set the traction control intervention level and whether you want Full or Low power, which chops output to about 80%.
It is on a tight twisty road that the Ninja’s chassis set-up really comes to the fore and you realise why this superbike is looked upon with such reverence. Kawasaki has made a few tweaks this time by fitting an 8mm longer swingarm and lowering its pivot point by 1mm. The lowered triple clamp has also led to greater front fork offset, further contributing to the longer wheelbase. The result is a motorcycle that is super stable at corner entry, mid corner and while exiting. Turn in felt quick for a 207kg motorcycle and even direction changes do not require much effort.
The fully-adjustable suspension features revised internals, and even at stock settings, these were comfortable enough to deal with our pockmarked roads. They soak up mid-corner undulations quite well and there was never an instance where the front end skipped off an intended line. It is fast, yet friendly and forgiving, which explains why it is easy to get on and get used to.
Let us be honest. Considering the gamut of motorcycles that we desire in a lifetime, a litre-class superbike holds a special place in almost everyone’s heart.
The 2021 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is a shining example of a motorcycle that will blow you away with its abilities. While we got a little taste of it on the street, the racetrack is where you must take this motorcycle in order to ride it like it was meant to be. Agreed, the electronics and overall feel-good factor are not as good as some of the more exotic competition, but then again, at ₹ 14.99 lakh, the Ninja ZX-10R blows them out of the water, with its sheer price-to-performance value. And that makes it impossible to look past.
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