Kawasaki is set to unveil a revised ‘World Superbike-influenced’ 2016 ZX-10R, the firm has just announced.
The latest generation of the flagship Ninja superbike will have a ‘host of updates influenced by the Kawasaki Racing Team’, according to the release issued moments ago with the above teaser image.
The suspension has been comprehensively upgraded and a ‘premium-grade braking system’ has been added according to the release. It could point to semi-active suspension and cornering ABS for the latest version of the litre sports bike. It’s also received styling updates.
It’s set to be unveiled in October at ‘an exclusive media launch hosted alongside the Kawasaki Racing Team in Barcelona, Spain’.
Let’s imagine that rumors of a new or updated Kawasaki ZX-10R for 2016 above are true. To imagine this, we must set aside the present poor state of the market, and also this other rumor—that at least one other maker has a new liter-bike designed but cannot for the moment afford to tool it for production (dies for forged parts and plastic molding are expensive!).
What could Kawasaki change without having to break the bank in a tough economy? Yamaha’s new YZF-R1/R1M has been met with great critical acclaim, but it can be argued that the most significant changes in the machine are its high-level electronics. Japanese makers were slow to act when the electronics revolution began, and they let Ducati and BMW stretch out a big lead in that area. Why? Would the addition of electronics be perceived as enhancing safety, or would it be seen otherwise?
The adventuresome Europeans—who took the big first steps with automobile electronics—jumped in, calling traction control by its proper name instead of making up nonsense. Now the Japanese companies, having the most sophisticated electronics of all, developed in MotoGP, are at last applying to production machines the highly sophisticated knowledge they have developed in international roadracing.
This is therefore what I expect from Kawasaki next year: a real package of highly effective rider-assist electronics that pulls few punches. The kind of package of which test riders say, “I hardly knew it was there, but it made me feel like a much more skilled rider.”
Kawasaki’s program in World Superbike has been highly successful in bringing the company valuable attention, but the ZX-10’s rather antique bore and stroke dimension of 76.0mm x 55.0mm is a handicap. Rev such an engine to 15,000 rpm and you get a peak piston acceleration of 8700G every time those pistons reverse direction at Top Dead Center. The stress of reversal at BDC is a bit less, but here we have ideal ingredients for the stress cracking of pistons—the high constantly reversing stress at a rapid cyclic rate.
And one more ingredient makes it even worse: Pistons get real hot. High temperature, by giving every atom in that stressed hunk of aluminum more energy, increases the chances that a given atom-to-atom bond will break at the next stress cycle. Wherever stress or temperature is highest, atomic bonds break during every stress cycle. The job of the team developing race-worthy pistons is to find ways to reduce stress concentrations (which is why modern pistons have such smooth, organic shapes) and to reduce as much as possible the temperature in regions of highest stress.
Yamaha revealed some of its work in this area when MotoGP adopted the five engines per rider, per season, rule. A mathematical predictive temperature model was created, then validated (that is, checked against reality and corrected) by comparison with data from an instrumented engine used in one of the pre-season Sepang MotoGP tests. Every manufacturer competing in major racing series has to follow a similar path to create pistons that will last the required track mileage without advanced cracking or outright failure.
Perhaps, therefore, Kawasaki will shorten the stroke of the ZX. If the Japanese company shortened it to the same 48.5mm dimension as the MotoGP minimum (Kawasaki does not compete in MotoGP, so this is just plucking a number from the air), that would reduce piston TDC stress by a useful 12 percent.
What would this provide to Kawasaki’s World Superbike? In round numbers, another thousand peak revs at the original piston-acceleration level. If the revised engine could be made to breathe as well at 15,800 rpm as it does now at 14,800, that could be worth another 15 horsepower.
This would all depend on whether the existing crank forging could accommodate the change, and whether the upper case/cylinder casting has room for the larger bore.
Anyway, that’s my thought. This new Kawasaki ZX-10R model (perhaps for 2016) would have a new electronics package able to compete with (or top!) that of the Yamaha YZF-R1, plus some detail engine changes designed to keep Kawasaki on top of the podium in the Superbike World Championship.