2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R v BMW S1000RR v Yamaha YZF-R1

Four cylinders and 200bhp; can the new kid challenge the kings?

Since the birth of the Superbike World Championship in 1988, Kawasaki Racing Team (KRT) have won 86 races. 50 of those have been achieved in the last four and a bit seasons* while current KRT riders Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes are 2015 and 2013 World Champions respectively. Leon Haslam has won two of the first British Superbike races this season too on the Kawasaki.

Needless to say, the ZX-10R is a thoroughbred in full race spec and in full road spec is fully updated for 2016.


All new ZX-10R v. R1 on track at Silverstone

But on-track success as we discovered in a recent feature does not equate to swathes of fans flocking to the showrooms any more.

Although the outgoing ZX-10R is still a very capable, rider-friendly motorcycle with a bag full of attitude, the Japanese manufacturer needed to keep up to speed with recent and rather emphatic power and electronic upgrades from its main rivals - the BMW S1000RR and the Yamaha YZF-R1. Throw in stricter Euro 4 emissions and Kawasaki were forced to upgrade the mighty ZX-10R.

The 2016 version of the 1000cc, four-cylinder ZX-10R was unleashed back in January of this year and immediately questions were asked about how it stood up to its tough competition? We took them to Silverstone's full 3.6-mile GP circuit, then flat-out at Bruntingthorpe for performance testing on the 2.2 mile runway and put them on the dyno to test their power and torque outputs. For now we have the three four-cylinder 1000s, but with the new Suzuki GSX-R1000 and much-rumoured V4-powered Fireblade next year 2017 will create an even tougher battle.

In front of the iconic Wing at Silverstone the trio await their track time


The red transponder on the pillion peg is for Silverstone's track dayThe instrument panel doesn't shout 'brand new technology'

At first glance the new Kawasaki appears very similar to the outgoing model but features a significant amount of changes to the engine and chassis including refined electronics, a bigger air box and, thanks to a lighter crankshaft, reduced inertia i.e. less resistance of the mechanical parts. All of which have bought the performance of the new ZX-10R up to the level now expected to compete with the newer, faster and more refined sports bikes. Straight-line acceleration, braking and change of direction are all improved, claim Kawasaki. The developments with weight distribution and race-developed advanced Showa suspension have also been kind to the handling and balance.

The front forks are now 'balance free' which essentially means that by separating the spring and the damping reservoirs, the compression and rebound of the forks is now smoother.

While comparatively slower to tip into lower speed corners than the BMW and Yamaha due to its weight (206kg, 7kg heavier than the R1) and longer wheelbase than the other two bikes on test, the Kawasaki sits nicely in the faster turns settling well once the nose is pointing in the right direction. Not that the tarmac of Silverstone is particular rippled but the ZX is still impressively stable over the bumps and rumble strips as well as under hard acceleration thanks to its steering damper and refined front end feel. It’s as comfortable banked over as it is upright.

Barrelling across the start/finish line used by MotoGP and keeping the revs deliberately high, which seems to be required to maximise performance, I clicked into 5th momentarily via the super-sharp quickshifter. The track then needs you to briefly grab the brakes under the bridge and bang down a couple of gears (NB: no auto-blipper) to take Copse with plenty of revs in reserve to drive the bike at full throttle over the slight crest towards Maggotts.

Copse opens into a wide exit and has plenty of run-off but it also has a blind apex so while I know plenty of corner speed can be taken if the turn-in point is right and the not too much speed is scrubbed off, my mind still plays the ‘what if’ game. The Kawasaki’s chassis, suspension and electronics combo is firm enough to inspire the required confidence to tip it in, balance and open the throttle as the electronics work away silently making me look and feel a lot more talented than I am.

Even on its least intrusive traction control setting I only suffered one un-induced slide but I put that down to being over enthusiastic on the left-side of the tyre after only one lap of the session. That said, the Bridgestone RS10 rubber felt really good and are worthy of praise, though not ultimately offering as much grip and feel as the Pirellis on the BMW and Yamaha.

Like on the other two bikes, pressures had been reduced to 30/28 psi for optimal track use.

The tall first gear on the Kawasaki is as prominent in the 2016 version as in previous models which contributes to being the slowest from 0-60mph – ok so its only by 3/100ths of a second but when compared to the BMW and Yamaha (see chart below for numbers). The Kawasaki isn’t as punchy lower down the revs. The moral of this story is keep the revs high to reap performance rewards.

We tested the ‘Performance’ model which carries a price tag of £750 more than the standard bike. This gets you an Akrapovic silencer which not only looks gorgeous but sounds devilishly WSB as well. This spec also includes a pillion seat cover and knee pads. The new ZX-10R is a looker in our book with nice styling upgrades around the front fairing and probably the best wind protection of the three, even with a cut out for your helmet on top of the tank when fully tucked in.

The steering head is some 7.5mm closer to the rider than previously. The seating position has the highest of the three sets of foot pegs too. A taller man (like our man Marc Potter) could feel a little cramped and in my opinion this means the ZX-10R is the most physically demanding of the three to ride hard. After a 20-minute session around the Grand Prix circuit my forearms were aching less on the R1 and S1000RR.

Being extra picky, I found the instrument panel old fashioned, not easy to read and less intuitive to operate than the other two. Disappointing when you consider how long Kawasaki have been developing this bike and the Ninja H2 dash is operationally easier and better looking.

Rev the Kawasaki high and hard for the best results

SECOND OPINION – Marc Potter (been testing 1000cc sports bikes on group tests since 1994)

Kawasaki have made quite a shout about just how different the ZX-10R is for 2016, yet to ride it really doesn’t feel that different. Okay, those forks are some of the best in the class, and you can really feel the front-end digging in under hard braking and letting you get elbow dragging lean angles without anything touching down, like the Yamaha does with its footrest here blobs. But it’s slower to turn than the rest, and those Brembo brakes just aren’t as good as they should be at this spec and this price. The feel is there, but they lack ultimate power.

6'4" Potter suffered with the cramped riding position

It feels long and low, heavier than the rest, and even with a pipe on as fitted to our test bike it only makes marginally more power than the BMW. The electronics are good, it has top-end power like nothing else, but you have to work so hard to extract it from the bike. And on the road, where the BMW feels like a sports tourer, the Kawasaki cramps your legs, there’s a long reach to the bars and it’s genuinely uncomfortable. I’m six foot four, but where the Yamaha’s pegs are high, the ZX-10R’s are in the wrong place for me.

The ZX-10R is as focussed as they come, and on pure lap time would be right up there, but you just have to work so hard, too hard in fact, to get the best from it.


Thank goodness the engine sounds more spectacular than the silencer looksOld school dash and fugly exhaust are easy to read and sound awesome, respectively

The German entry of the trio is still mightily impressive and the long-time king of the litre sports class continues to bat away competition. While not quite as effective at World Championship level, it wins races in BSB and dominates the sales charts as the best selling sports bike in 2015.

The current bike is the third generation S1000RR which was let off its lead at the beginning of last year with more power, less weight and a new chassis, though I wouldn’t be surprised if BMW stepped up with a completely overhauled machine within the next 18 months.

Despite being wider, heavier and with a longer wheelbase than the Yamaha, the S1000RR is a close match for the R1’s performance. It has the most powerful 1000cc motor of the three and reaches peak torque slightly earlier in the rev range too, culminating in a ferocious amount of pull out of the corners. The howl of the four-cylinder motor is as glorious as its performance and thankfully that means the ugliness of that buxom silencer is almost forgiven.

When rolling-on in top gear the BMW grunt is clear to see. It is over one second faster to get from 40mph to 120mph at 9.88s versus 11.09s for the ZX-10R and 11.16s for the R1. It's that grunt that you really feel on the road too.

Confidence with a bike particularly on track is absolutely key to feeling the most rewarded and the BMW offers it in abundance. Not that you’d notice, but its magical electronics work overtime to keep every ounce of horsepower in check as the throttle is rolled open. Revs rack up quickly as the plush, hyper-slick quickshifter (‘Gear Shift Assist Pro’ in BMW language) slices through the gears as softly as a hot knife through butter. The evidence of how flattering the electronics are becomes clear when comparing the rear Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP to the identical tyre on the R1 after identical use – far more shredded over the shoulder.

Huge power, torque and rideability makes the BMW still one of the greatest bikes ever built

The BMW is precise to turn with sharp-steering and is very well balanced. The throttle is sensitive but unaggressive even in Race mode - which also firms the semi-active suspension up. An easy, light clutch action to get you going is then wasted, thankfully, because the quickshifter works for the down shift too and includes an autoblipper which all worked flawlessly. Although there’s little between them I found the BMWs brakes the strongest of the three bikes on test here, this is backed up by our datalogging which showed it to stop the fastest from 70mph.

The S1000RR is rider-friendly and stable with controllable power. I use the word controllable even though its still frighteningly fast. The softer seat and roomy riding position is comfortable on the roads and still allows for relevant movement on track.

We rode the Sport edition which costs an extra £1060 on top of the £13,850 standard model and is equipped with Gear Shift Assist Pro, Dynamic Damping Control, heated grips and a colour coded pillion seat cover.


On the road the BMW is my favourite bike of the three – it’s physically bigger, it has loads of low-down torque and mid-range, the semi-active suspension is compliant on the road where the R1 will kick you in the spuds, and it even has cruise control and heated grips. That engine is the key, a full-on 1000cc howler but with lots of grunt. It’s hard to fault the S1000RR other than it’s starting to look a bit old in the latest company – the girder like sub frame for one. But to ride it’s an incredible experience that has you gasping every time you let it rip.

Potter saw an indicated 175mph on the Hanger Straight - 7mph faster than the R1

On track the Pirelli tyres and semi-active suspension make everything easy. Start to push, especially without the extra addition to the ECU of Slick mode on the traction control setting. It’s here where it really starts to lose out to the Yamaha.

There’s no question about how fast it is though. On the back straight it was hitting 175mph indicated, compared to the R1 at about 168mph and that’s because of that monstrous engine that literally makes you forget to blink, such is the aggression and the hit of adrenaline. Sadly, the chassis isn’t quite as good as the Yamaha, it’s not as flickable, and the electronics start to shred the rear tyre after a few laps, kicking in the traction control and making it feel intrusive rather than helping you ride faster. But for the road there is very little on this earth that could touch it. I didn't like the auto blipper gear change on the downshift either, it's clumsier on the downshift than equivalent versions fitted to the Ducati 1299 for instance, but at least it has one, the Yamaha and Kawasaki don't. But on the road it's the most practical choice, while still suicidally fast.


Yamaha YZF-R1. The red Silverstone track day GPS recorder kind of ruins the lookR1 dash is intuitive and the crossplane crank four cylinder lump sounds glorious even with the standard can

Back to Japan for our third contender; Yamaha’s R1. When a road bike is developed partly by Valentino Rossi it simply has to be good. And as we found out last year it is not only good, it’s flipping awesome.

One of the most technologically advanced production motorcycles ever, the R1 is jam-packed with electronics to assist with or control wheelies, slides, traction, gear changes and ABS. Yet dial them all down and encourage the bark of the now iconic cross-plane crank engine towards its 13,500rpm limit and everything about it makes me want to ride it more and more. It’s perfectly suited for the track and there’s little wonder the Silverstone instructors all use the R1.

It’s narrow and weighs less than 200kg ready-to-roll making it nimble and lithe, ideal for changing direction and easy to throw into a corner with the dexterity and poise of Jorge Lorenzo.

Don’t let its unassuming looks fool you, this most super of superbikes is impeccably well behaved and imperiously quick. It’ll cover a standing ¼ mile in 10.22 seconds and reach 180mph in less than 16 seconds – over half a second faster than the BMW and almost 2 seconds quicker than the ZX-10R. The way in which it lays its power down in a controlled manner is extraordinary, it messes with your mind. Once the clutch is out and you’re away, keep in pinned as the thousands of revs pass by, tapping the quickshifter up through the slick gearbox adding to the aural tease of this amazing experience. The electronic wizardry allows the front wheel to hover just above the ground where as you’d expect a monster equipped with almost 200 horses to pick it up and chuck you off. It remains perfectly poised while accelerating hard and requires trust from the rider as the wheel rises.

The most perfect production bike to have ever graced the track? Yep.

The electronics are simply of a new generation and other than the Ducati 1299 Panigale, there are none others that can match the R1. Because of the complexities they will take a little getting used to but the instrument panel is user-intuitive making it a simple to make the relevant adjustments to totally personalise the settings. The pre-set modes are in the form of A, B, C and D. A and B offer full power but aren’t really suitable for comfortable road riding.

Then again neither are the dimensions. The R1 has the tallest seat of the three bikes on test and is the narrowest with the shortest wheelbase and that equation doesn’t make for luxurious comfort on any longer journey but let’s be realistic, you don’t buy a 200bhp superbike for touring and 50-mile plus commutes. The styling might not be to everyone’s liking with those sad looking eyes for headlights and the late clutch bite point has the potential to embarrass


One of the most striking and exciting bikes to be launched in recent years, the YZF-R1 is a game changer for four-cylinder sports bikes, and a year on is still the king, in my opinion.

There’s something about that Crossplane crank motor that grabs you immediately in the same way a thumping twin cylinder bike does. It hasn’t got the same levels of low-down torque as the BMW S1000RR, but it finds traction like nothing else, and gives you a feeling of being in touch with every power pulse from the 998cc engine. At higher revs it barks, grabs hold of you and begs you to try and be Valentino Rossi. The initial throttle deliver is far from perfect but I'll forgive it for everything else this bike offers.

On the road the Yamaha is small, tiny and the suspension feels hard, kicking you in the balls over bumps. But on track it’s everything a sports bike should be. Focused but tractable, and with a razor sharp chassis that leads you deeper and deeper into corners beyond your own ability levels. The limits are you, not the bike. It lets you lean to new levels and gives you so much feel you feel like marrying it after a session at Silverstone.

Potski saves a little wear and tear on the Pirelli's by using his elbow

The front-end gives ultimate feel, you always know where you are with the engine’s drive and feel from the rear tyre, it gives a top-end rush and the electronics are of the level the MotoGP boys were playing with five years ago. Slide control is standard, as is wheelie control and it takes your riding to a whole new place. Suddenly you are a MotoGP God, in your own head at least, and the Yamaha helps you ride faster, safer and better than almost any bike you’ll ever ride on track. It’s my clear winner of this test.


Overall, the exquisite R1 is still the all-around package to beat on the track, it’s just so damn easy to riding quickly, making you feel fully in control and ultimately enjoying the experience.

If I were commuting or the majority of my use was on the road, then it's the BMW keys I’d be grabbing. A little more comfortable and physically larger plus having the benefit of electronically adjustable suspension, heated grips and cruise control are the extras a road rider would benefit from.

The ZX-10R has come on leaps and bounds and is a magnificent specimen if ridden independently. However, ride it back-to-back against the existing champs and here’s the reality: as the last track session of the day approached, Potter and I approached the three sets of keys on the table ready. Which were left behind? You know the answer.

Price-wise there’s only £600 between these three wonder-weapons in the spec we tested them in and this actually makes the real world choice potentially easier – it means the R1 is incredible value for money by comparison. If these three are on your shopping list then trust me and ride them back-to-back before choosing.

Good enough for Rossi, good enough for Mann


Air flow in the real world cannot be replicated on a dyno but the experienced team at BSD near Peterborough helped achieve the headline figures.

As predicted after track use, the BMW is the most powerful but only just shades it over the Kawasaki at 194.19bhp v. 193.43bhp.

However, the electronics on the R1 revealed something else. The bike has a soft rev-limiter in sixth gear, limiting the revs by 800rpm to 12,700rpm meaning that its maximum peak power is found in 5th instead.

BMW produces the most horsepower and torque, fractionally more than the Kawasaki


After a stint on track the three bikes headed to the Bruntingthrope Proving Ground in Leicestershire. Bruce Dunn is motorcycling’s version of The Stig; a national racer who has tested pretty much every bike from the last 20 years and is trusted by many publications. We hired him in as our guest tester for this part of the test.

Once fitted with datalogging equipment we were able to compare performance times rated over a 1/4 mile, from a standing start to 60, 100 and 180mph. We also tested their braking ability from 70 mph to stand still. Underlining its lofty status, the Yamaha beats its two rivals in five of the six categories.

Yamaha strikes in 5 out of 6 categories while only 2/100ths behind BMW when brake testingYamaha beats BMW with Kawasaki in third to 60mphKawasaki faster than BMW to 100mph but neither as fast as YamahaR1 is over half a second quicker to 180mph than the BMW, taking just 15.94 secondsA standing quarter mile has the Yamaha not only as the fastest to get their but also with the highest speedOn the brakes and the BMW rules

For more information about future Silverstone Track Days including an exclusive Bennetts customer event in June with appearances from MotoGP star Scott Redding, BSB riders Ryuichi Kiyonari and Tommy Bridewell with the Bennetts Suzuki BSB team plus BMW’s Christian Iddon and Isle of Man TT legend, John McGuinness, head to www.silverstone.co.uk



KAWASAKI ZX-10R Performance


BMW S1000RR Sport


Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke In-Line Four, 998cc

Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, forward-inclined parallel 4-cylinder, 4-valves, 998cc

Water/oil-cooled, 4-cylinder, 4-stroke in-line, 999cc

Power (Claimed)

197.3 bhp @ 13,000 rpm (207 bhp with Ram Air)

197.3 bhp @ 13,500 rpm

199 bhp @ 13,500 rpm

Power (Actual)

193.4 bhp

186 bhp

194.2 bhp


83.7 ft lbs @ 11,500 rpm

82.9 ft lbs @ 11,500 rpm

83.3 ft-lbs @ 10,500 rpm

Bore and Stroke

76 x 55 mm

79 x 50.9 mm

80 x 49.7 mm


Twin spar, cast aluminium

Aluminium Deltabox frame

Aluminium bridge frame, engine self-supporting


Front: φ43 mm inverted Balance Free Front Fork with external compression chamber, compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, and top-out springs. 120mm travel.


Rear: Horizontal Back-link with BFRC litegas-charged shock, piggyback reservoir, compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, and top-out spring. 114mm travel.

Front: Telescopic forks, Ø 43 mm, 120mm travel, 24 degree caster angle, 102mm trail


Rear: Swingarm, (link suspension), 120 mm travel

Front: Upside-down telescopic fork Ø 46 mm, compression and rebound stage adjustable


Rear: Aluminium 2-sided swing arm, compression and rebound damping adjustable


Front: 120/70 ZR17


Rear: 190/55 ZR17

Front: 120/70 ZR17


Rear: 190/55 ZR17

Front: 120/70 ZR17


Rear: 190/55 ZR17


Front: Dual semi-floating φ330 mm discs. Dual radial-mount, opposed 4-piston caliper.


Rear: Single φ220 mm disc. Single-bore pin-slide, aluminium piston.

Front: Hydraulic dual disc, Ø 320 mm


 Rear: Hydraulic single disc, Ø 220 mm

Front: Twin disc brake, floating brake calipers, 4-piston fixed caliper, Ø 320 mm


Rear: Single disc brake, single piston floating caliper, Ø 220 mm


Length: 2090mm

Width: 740mm

Height: 1145mm

Length: 2055mm

Width: 690mm

Height: 1150mm

Length: 2050mm

Weight: 826mm

Height: 1140mm





Seat height




Weight (wet)




Fuel capacity

17 litres

17 litres

17.5 litres

Price (as tested)





Michael Mann

Suit: Dainese Laguna Seca D1

Boots: Dainese Torque D1 Out

Gloves: Dainese Druid D1 Long

Helmet: AGV Pista GP

Marc Potter

Suit: AlpineStars

Boots: AlpineStars Supertech R

Gloves: AlpineStars GP Pro

Helmet: Shoei X-Spirit 2

*WSB wins correct following Donington Park, 28-29 May 2016