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The 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R isn’t significant because it makes a couple horsepower more than any liter bike before it. It isn’t significant because it weighs a couple kilos less, nor because it brings very high-quality to components to a presumably very-low price. The 2011 ZX-10R is significant because it’s the first motorcycle to use electronic aids — traction control and ABS — to make it faster, not simply to serve as a safety net. The 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R will be the fastest liter bike ever.

Let’s back up for a second and take a look at those not-so-significant specs. When the next Ninja leaked last week we discovered it made 197bhp (207 with the aid of ram-air). Then, when we compared the specs of all the 2011 superbikes, we saw that not only did that number beat the BMW S1000RR by 4bhp, but also that the ZX-10R managed to weigh in at just 198kg (wet), 6kg lighter than the Bimmer. That gives the Ninja an all-conquering power-to-weight ratio of .99:1, the previous king of the liter bike hill, the S1000RR, only manages .95:1 in the same comparison. In previous years, such a performance advantage would have been enough for any maker to call it quits. Lighter? Check. More powerful? Check. Game over. Not for 2011.

In addition to those unprecedented numbers, the ZX-10R is equipped with some seriously impressive running gear for a showroom stock Japanese superbike. Forks are Showa Big Piston items, which ditch the traditional cartridge for a huge simplification of parts, reducing unsprung weight and increasing damping control. Rear suspension, too, is super fancy. The horizontal orientation of the piggyback shock is claimed to not only improve mass centralization, but cooling and smooth action through the complete range of compression too. There’s also an Ohlins steering damper, spec’d to keep newly steep front suspension under control and a slipper clutch, designed, like all such items, to keep the rear wheel from locking during rapid downshifts. Three-spoke gravity-cast wheels look straight out of the 1990s, but aren’t, ditching 330g of unsprung weight at the  front and 490g at the rear. Elsewhere there’s a front brake with radial calipers and a radial pump for the master cylinder and even adjustable foot pegs. All the above sound like the preserve of high-dollar European bikes, right?

But so far, so conventional, even if impressively spec’d. Like we said before, it’s the new traction control system and ABS that are really going to make this a significant motorcycle.

On most bikes, traction control is a welcome addition. Typically only cutting in when you’ve managed to overcome the back wheel’s traction with throttle, it feels like a gigantic hand gently nudging you back into a straight line. Nice, helpful, not terribly sexy. That’s not how the ZX-10R’s MotoGP-derived “Sport Kawasaki TRaction Control” is going to work. Wonky captilization intentional.

S-KTRC constantly monitors the separate speeds of the front and rear wheels, engine RPM, throttle position, acceleration and other factors, using those parameters to determine the best course of action. Where previous systems were slow to react — thereby allowing too much rear tire slippage — and harsh to respond — thereby slowing the bike down — S-KTRC recognizes that a small amount of slip delivers the best possible acceleration. Because it can react every five milliseconds, altering engine ignition to suit, the system can start working as slippage approached the optimal degree, then hold it precisely there as the bike continues to accelerate to the maximum potential of available grip.

S-KTRC is even designed to allow power wheelies while the bike continues to accelerate, but can cut in to handle abrupt, dangerous and slow wheelies that could cause you to lose speed or crash.

S-KTRC operates in three, rider-controlled modes designed to work everywhere from wet streets to dry tracks. A three-level power switch complements S-KTRC, allowing riders to alter power delivery to be appropriate for conditions.

S-KTRC is standard on the 2011 ZX-10R, but the whizz-bang “Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System” is going to be an option. Where previous systems have worked like you’d expect ABS brakes should — preventing locked wheels to maximize braking potential — KIBS is designed to deliver performance benefits too.

Like the traction control, KIBS monitors a variety of factors including throttle position, engine speed, clutch actuation and the hydraulic pressure being applied to the calipers to determine the best possible course for activation. Also like the traction control, KIBS has been designed to avoid harsh dips and troughs of application, instead delivering smooth retardation in place of the grab, let go, grab, let go ABS cycle. Not only should this shorten brake distances, but Kawasaki claims the precise control should eliminate spikes in front brake pressure during heavy braking while riding very quickly, thereby reducing the rear wheel’s tendency to lift. That’s a performance benefit, increasing traction and thereby maximum braking power while decelerating.

KIBS also accounts for rear wheels slides induced by downshifts, allowing them where most ABS systems would cut in to prevent the loss of traction. The system adds only 6.6lbs of weight to the ZX-10R, most of which is located virtually inside the center of gravity as the Bosch ABS computer is positioned inside the frame, just behind the cylinders.

All this should add up to a motorcycle that not only follows the new liter bike convention of less weight and more power, but one that enables its rider to exploit those headline figures to an unprecedented degree. The 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R isn’t just the fastest liter bike ever, it’s the most technologically advanced too.

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