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LEVELLING THE PLAYING FILD

Kawasaki's ZX-10R was the first to abide by new Euro4 legislation – and suffered because of it against its rivals. But what happens when you tweak the Ninja to turn it into a fair fight?

No-one likes being the new kid at school – especially when you have a few ‘issues’. Debuting the ZX-10R at the power-mad playground of the Sepang circuit in Malaysia, Kawasaki diligently got the school run route spot on and the uniform certainly looked great, two parental wins, but we learned within a few corners that the Ninja in this form might struggle if it got into a fight with one of the other kids in the class

So while the ZX-10R struggled to pull itself out of the uphill fourth turn on track (a second gear corner all day long, but down to first on the Ten) the blame for this lethargy lay 6,000 miles away. You may have noticed that the European Union has copped a lot of flack this year, and when it comes to the performance of the ZX-10R the embattled institution is going to receive a lot more. Regulation (EU) No 168/2013, or Euro4 to give it its colloquial name, nearly halved every measured limit to pass the test. The belching out of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides had to be curbed – and this could only be done at the cost of power.

To meet previous power levels required either expensive internal changes to make up for the horsepower rustling, or, in football parlance, the route one method of increasing capacity. For a bike with no race class (other than its own) like the Ducati Panigale 959 this mattered little. For a machine with serious competition pedigree and a world championship crown to defend, this mattered a lot – even if tuners pay no heed to what a Brussels bureaucrats decree. Ripping out the Ninja’s collection of catalysers and honing the motor to, effectively, emit as much as mechanically possible, Kawasaki’s race bikes adhere to a green movement of a different kind. The inclusion of a Euro4 mandatory ABS system that couldn’t be turned off also intervened on occasion around Sepang, further sullying the legislation’s name and impinging on the ZX-10R’s performance.

So after a difficult first day, we took the bike aside for a gentle introduction to life back home. But even with the class bullies not yet making an appearance the ZX-10R still had a tough time. The first thing we did was to stick it on the JHS Racing dyno, and after much gnashing of teeth trying to find a pick-up to measure revs and fiddling with the buttons to try and turn all the electronics off we finally got a figure. Impressive it was too, with the bike’s peak power up on last year’s machine despite the increased restrictions. We rolled it off the dyno with an engine management light on, one that we couldn’t get to turn off. As sophisticated as the new bike’s electronics are on track, making it nigh-on impossible to crash around Sepang, when it comes to a dyno run (or even pulling off a tyre warmer, according to some race teams) the brains of the outfit senses an impending catastrophe and fastens down its safety systems. It was like a scene from 2001 – A Space Odyssey. Conflicted by a desire to preserve both man and machine, Kawasaki’s own Hal 9000 slowly shuts everything down unable to resolve the conflicts generated by its extensive array of sensors. We tried everything to get the light to extinguish, but only a return to HQ and a soothing hug from some expensive diagnostic equipment restored its full functionality.

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