We put the mighty ZX-10R SE to the test on road and track and come away very impressed.... Review: Jeff Ware Photography: Kris Hodgson
Back in 2016 we were among the first in the world to test the all-new ZX-10R thanks to Kawasaki Motors Australia letting us and a handful of other Australian Motorcycle Press loose on the bike at Wakefield Park, NSW. Check it out here.
We then did a road test the following month – Review: 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Road Test. Our latest ZX-10R test is on this the current SE version, which we spent some time riding in Winter. The video review is here. First up though, have a read of our road and track test….
Kawasaki made a big step forward with the 2016 ZX-10R, refining their flagship sportsbike into a pin sharp, easy to ride, sweet handling yet super fast motorcycle. Nothing much needed updating for 2017 at all, however, for 2018 the green team have released one very special version that I reckon is the best ZX-10R yet, the ZX-10R SE (Special Edition).
Not only does the bike look absolutely stunning, it comes with trick kit in addition to the stock 10R such as forged seven-spoke Marchesini wheels, River Symbol 3D Ninja logos and special edition paint scheme, emblazoned seat, two-way quickshifter (KQS), Kawasaki Electronic Controlled Suspension (KECS), pillion seat, tank pad, plus has the same 3 Power Modes, TC (S-KTREC), launch control (KLCM), and extra, engine braking control (KEBC) and the Ohlins electronic steering damper remains. Check it out on Kawasaki Australia’s website here.
All of that kit comes at a price, though, and at from $32,125 Ride Away, the ZX-10R SE certainly is a high end Japanese motorcycle. The stock model is from $25,327 Ride Away so the SE is a $7000 premium. Is it worth the extra dollars? Personally, after riding it for a week and comparing it to other sportsbikes with similar spec running gear, I think it is if you can afford it.
THE RIDE – 2018 KAWASAKI ZX-10R SE
Ergonomically the SE feels identical to the stock 10R, which is natural and comfortable for a sportsbike, with a narrow feel between the things and a well shaped tank for gripping with the knees. The footpegs on the 10R have always been a bit high for my liking for straight line riding but the trade off is the ground clearance and good cornering body position. The black tank with the 3D badges, trick River Symbol key and highlights give the feeling that the SE is a special ride and that is before the starter button is pressed…
Firing the SE into life at Kawasaki’s HQ for my road test day, the first thing that gets me is the cammy, lumpy idle of the inline four, with a loud exhaust note coming from the stock muffler and rapy intake growl. It is impressive and doesn’t need an aftermarket slip-on.
The dash lights up with an array of information but is no different to the ZX-10R dash from the past years, meaning it is not easy to read in bright lights. I remember Kawasaki telling me at the launch in 2016 that Yamaha spent one million bucks developing the R1 dash, while Kawasaki decided to leave the dash and spend more money on performance. I get that, but, the bike definitely needs a better dash because and I set off up the road, with a small amount of sun, I can’t see much at all on the display…
I have the Ride Mode in Low, K-TRAC on 3 and KECS on Road on the presets. My test loop is to be a small commute followed by a 70km freeway ride, 30km tight twisties some smooth some bumpy, 80km fast bumpy country road, another smooth hotmix twisty road then freeway again home, around 250km.
I’m immediately impressed with the silky smooth throttle operation at low speeds and the plush ride the KECS is giving. The quickshifter is faultless at traffic speeds and the bike feels comfortable, easy to handle and weave through the cars and overall really user friendly. Power is like a supersport 600 bike with it set on Low, which suits the city riding or rain.
There is some heat from the high-spec engine of course as the thermo fan kicks in and out but in jeans I’m not uncomfortable from it. The clutch action is light and smooth, brakes strong and one finger at this speed, rear brake effective with good feel and power, switches standard and easy. It’s all great, aside from that dash!
Hitting the M1 freeway now in Medium Power Mode, the ZX-10R SE cruises at 110km/h at around 5000rpm with plenty on tap for passing and so forth. Despite being a peaky motor the SE, as is the case with the standard 10R, has enough pull in these situations to avoid back-shifting, not that it requires any effort with the quickshifter.
The bike is vibe free, silky smooth and plush with the KECS doing a stunning job in Road setting. The mirrors are the same as the other 10Rs, which means they are just adequate, but I can see cars behind blur free so that is the main thing. The seat, being narrow and thin, is getting a bit hard as I reach my first hour (from home) in the cockpit but I’m carrying a backpack plus it is a sportsbike.
Off the M1 I take a break and have a cold can of Coke while looking over the bike and having another quick play with the settings to familiarise myself with them. It is so easy, all toggled via the left switchblock and dead set simple. Some other manufacturers could really learn from the Kawasaki system.
Leaving the KECS in Road but upping the power to Full and dropping the K-TRAC to 2, I hit the twisties and head to a rarely used road I use for testing up and down. Within a few corners I am blown away by just how good the KECS is. Usually there are compromises with electronic damping control but Kawasaki really have struck that spring rate and bike balance sweet spot that means it is good over a full range of conditions when supported by the constantly sampling (fastest of any production bike) KECS.
What it means is bumps that would normally upset a bike are soaked up, while stability and support is still there when braking or pushing the limits through the turns. The SE just seems to remain level and balanced all of the time as I flick it from turn to turn over bumps and humps and also push it on the smoother stuff.
Really impressive, not to mention comfortable and therefore not as tiring as most sportsbikes are through roads like this. Backed up with the ABS system, an up and down quickshifter which is faultless, an electronic Ohlins steering damper and of course the traction control, which I have now bumped back up to three as the road is a tad slippery, the SE has to be one of the easiest 1000s I have ridden through my local road.
As I arrive at my secret dead-end road I am grinning from ear to ear. Normally at this stop my knee is aching, my back smashed and I’m generally beaten up on a sportsbike but today I feel like I just did the ride on a touring bike thanks to the plush ride over the rough sections.
I now spend an hour fanging up and down the same 10km road, testing all base presets and then playing with the manual settings of the KECS. I leave the power in Full as I found Medium snappy on initial opening at the higher rpm and the engine braking is on standard (there is also L). I drop the traction to level 2 and push on fast for a run.
The bike is so agile, so confidence-inspiring, it goes where I look and tips into turns with accuracy and no surprises. I can alter my line at will and have massive confidence in the front tyre into corners, on or off the powerful Brembo M50s, which are incredibly good brakes but there is too much lever travel at the Brembo radial-pull master-cylinder.
By the end of the fast run I’ve over-ridden the Road KECS settings so flick it to Track and do the run again. The bike immediately feels more lively and responsive in the turns and more supported on the brakes. The KECS is a super fast one-step activation system that samples every millisecond to the KECS ECU and every 10ms from the FI and IMU so it is incredibly seem-less in changing.
With more support I push harder and find the back Balance Free shock just right for the conditions but the fork KECS presets not enough, so I stop and (easily and quickly) enter Manual and bump comp damping up to 14 of 15. I then do another run and find it spot on. Interestingly, heading back, at only a slightly reduced (legal of course) pace I end up reverting the presets and find that better. In the end though, it is fantastic handling and extremely fun. It is also freakin’ fast. Mega fast. Like, hold on tight if you can type of fast…
Cruising back through the countryside in Road mode, winding down from my fun sports performance testing, the ZX-10R SE is giving me a really satisfying, relaxed experience and I imagine I could happily own one of these as my only bike… if only I didn’t have a dud knee…
Back on the freeway and then home I park in the shed and crack a cold amber ale and just admire a bloody great motorcycle. I just did a 250km loop that would test the best sports tourer out and the ZX-10R SE took it all on, easily, plus out performed just about anything through the fast bits. I’m seriously impressed with the package as a whole on the road, the engine, ergonomics, electronics and general rideability make it one very special street bike…
ON TRACK – 2018 KAWASAKI ZX-10R SE
The next day I head to our proving ground not far from home. I gear up in full leathers and track kit, pop the SE in Road and again Low power, TC on 5 this time and I head off in the drizzle. The bike is a pussycat in the wet, with Low mode smooth and easy and the ABS and traction giving peace of mind and much appreciated back up.
I’m about to find out, however, that this is a true Jeckyll & Hyde motorcycle…
Switching the Engine Brake Control to L, power to F, K-TRAC to 1, KECS to Track I head out and go nuts on the 180.99 RWHP (on Sydney Dyno without ram air, check out the video review for footage) beast. The bike absolutely screams in the top-end and pulls off corners super smoothly and in a tractable manner thanks to the softish middle range.
With a lightweight crank it makes power and accelerates rapidly, with slick upshifts via the KQS and the front wheel getting light all through the gears. It is one damn fast bike. Into turns, backshifting is brilliant with the autoblipping and the EBC allowing fast entry thanks to low engine braking.
Oddly though, at the high rpm in Full power the throttle is snappy through the tight esses, which wasn’t something I felt on road. Switching to Medium eliminated that, opposite to on the road! In the end I revert to F as I want the power and I just put up with the choppy throttle. The rest of the lap the engine is fantastic. So fast yet so easy to manage, just like I remember it at the 2016 launch at Wakefield Park.
In the chassis department I am equally, if not more, impressed on closed circuit than I was on road. I push the SE hard, as hard as I ever dare to on our tree-lined proving ground, playing with manual settings but settling on the Track preset with a little extra front comp. I would have added rear spring preload if I hadn’t run out of sunlight…
The entire package is a delight to corner on, brake on, aside from the excessive lever travel, and play on. It is not nearly as tiring as some 1000s and handles on track as good as the out of the box stock ZX-10R, which has mega high-spec Showa suspension that is set-up brilliantly.
That is saying something for the KECS system as most electronic systems offer great convenience but at a compromise. Not on the ZX-10R SE. Sure, if you were to race the bike you would go to traditional suspension, but as a track day bike and daily rider, this thing is damn close to perfection…
The 2019 model Kawasaki ZX-10R has some updates that you can read about here, but the 2018 is still available and surely there will be some bargains on showroom floors shortly. What a bike!
2018 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE Specifications
PRICE: From $32,125 Ride Away See Kawasaki website for on-road cost at your postcode (link)
Click ‘How Much?’ tab to get your personalised On-Road cost (includes CTP, rego etc)
WARRANTY: Two-year, unlimited kilometer
COLOURS: Metallic Flat Spark Black with Metallic Matte Graphite Gray, Livery includes 3D Ninja logos, technical graphics and Kawasaki lime green highlights.
CLAIMED POWER: 147.1kW[200hp]@13000rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE: 113.5Nm[83.8ft-lbs]11500rpm
WET WEIGHT: 208kg
FUEL CAPACITY: 17L
ENGINE: Liquid-cooled, in-line four-cylinder, four-stroke, 16-valve, DOHC, 998cc, 13.0:1 compression, 76 x 55mm bore x stroke, four dual injection 47mm injectors, electronic throttle valves, S-KTRC, Ride Modes, KEBC, KLCM, KQS
GEARBOX: Six speed, cassette style
CLUTCH: Wet, multi-disc back-torque limiting clutch
CHASSIS: Cast aluminium twin spar frame, aluminium swingarm, Rake: 25, Trail: 107mm
SUSPENSION: 43mm Showa BFF fork KECS, external compression chamber, compression, rebound, preload adjustable, Showa BFRC KECS lite shock, compression, rebound, preload adjustable, horizontal Back-link
BRAKES: (KIBS) Dual 330mm semi-floating Brembo front rotors, Brembo radial Monobloc four-piston M50 calipers, Brembo master-cylinder, 220mm rear rotor, Nissin single-bore pin-slide caliper
Wheels & Tyres: Machesini aluminium, 120/70 – 17 58W, 190/55 – 17 75W Bridgestone RS10
Seat height: 835mm
Overall length: 2090mm
Overall width: 740mm
INSTRUMENTS: Digital multifunction display
2018 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE Gallery
The Verdict | Review: 2018 Kawasaki ZX-10R SE
Fast & Refined!
The 2018 Kawasaki ZX-10R SE offers road sports riders the best of both worlds, road comfort and track day handling, with electronic suspension modes (Track, Road, Manual) for bumpy country roads and sport settings for hard charging or track days. There is also a manual option and the system is by Showa. The SE also has an up and down quickshifter and forged Marchesini wheels… We test is out on the road and track to see how the most high tech ZX-10R yet performs…