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kawasaki zx-10

Profile: Kawasaki ZX-10 1988-90

by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, May 2021


kawasaki zx-10

Heavy Hitter

Kawasaki’s third-gen liquid-cooled rocketship offers a lot of bang for the buck in a very eighties package


kawasaki zx-10

If any litre-class motorcycle screams high eighties glam, it’s a Kawasaki ZX-10. Also sold as the Tomcat, the big bruiser was a key transition model from the firm’s iconic GPz900R through to the mighty ZZ-R1100.

The run-list went:
GPz900R from 1984;
GPZ1000RX from 1986;
ZX-10 from 1988;
ZZ-R1100 from 1990.

Where however the first two generations were effectively the marque’s top-flight sports bikes, by the time the ZX-10 rolled along, Kawasaki was splitting its performance offerings into two niches. They were sports, led by the ZXR750 (aimed at the then-new world superbikes class) and sports-touring led by the ZX-10.

kawasaki zx-10

Launched at Spain’s Jerez GP circuit in December 1987, the ZX-10 represented a big revision of Kawasaki’s offering in this class and had Honda's then-new CBR1000 firmly in its sights.


Most significantly, it marked a shift away from steel frames. The new toy boasted a massive ‘E-box’ aluminium perimeter main member, extruded in a two-box profile.

Suspension remained conventional, with a non-adjustable 41mm fork up front and a monoshock rear. The rear had preload and rebound damping adjustment – with the latter being a four-way offering on an easily-reached knob.

kawasaki zx-10

Brakes were upgraded to two-piston rather than single-piston calipers.

kawasaki zx-10

The engine shared much of its architecture with the GPZ1000RX, though the updates were significant. Pistons and rods had been upgraded, and it was said to be capable of safely revving to 13,000rpm, though redline was set at 11,000.

kawasaki zx-10

Its head came in for a comprehensive make-over with larger valves and a new set-up for the shim adjustment. Each valve had a separate rocker, rather than the previous fork set-up. Those spring-loaded rockers could be moved aside to allow removal of the shims without having to lift the camshafts – a major bonus for anyone considering long-term maintenance.

That lot resulted in a power claim of 137 horses and Kasawaki’s fastest-ever road bike (at the time) with a top speed of 270km/h. Yep, it was a missile.

Its transmission was conventional with a six-speed manual and wet multi-plate clutch. The chain final drive had been reduced in pitch, though Kawasaki assured the market it was actually stronger.

There was general agreement, this was a quicker and better-handling package than the GPZ1000RX which is what you might hope for. It was around 15 kilos lighter and claimed and extra 20 horses.

When compared to a GPz900R, again the ZX-10 was lighter (by around six kilos) and had near enough to 20 per cent more horsepower.


However if someone got on a ZX-10 expecting a quicker 900, they might be in for a shock. While it is undeniably faster, the ZX-10 also looks and feels bigger. It is 65mm longer in the wheelbase, and presents to the rider as a much more substantial motorcycle – very much fulfilling the sports-tourer role.

How you see that would depend on what you are looking for. While the GPz900R is a very capable long-distance mount, the ZX-10 is another level again. It remains an exceptional interstate blaster. Also, if you happen to be tall, you’ll find the later machine a much more comfortable fit.

As a ride today, the ZX-10 is surprisingly good. It is willing enough in the corners, though needs some friendly persuasion in the tight stuff. Braking is good by the standards of the day and acceptable in the current world. Of course there’s no ABS and the feel is nowhere near as refined as a current set-up.

kawasaki zx-10

There are a few appealing little practical touches on the bike that are worth mentioning. One is the pop-up pillion handle. Normally it sits flush for a tidy appearance, but it provides a good grip for the co-pilot when deployed.


Next is the little folding luggage hooks in the sides of the bodywork. It’s a set of four and something of a Kawasaki feature for some years.

kawasaki zx-10

Last is the mini storage bin under the passenger seat. A handy place to toss keys or a phone and useful for anyone using a logbook for classic reg.


We have one of these bikes in our shed and admit it’s a bit of a favourite as a ride. The engine is a cold-blooded thing and likes a decent warm-up before it settles into a lumpy idle.

Performance is still more than enough to get your attention, and it remains high on the list of options if a day of mixed riding is on the cards.

Fairing protection is very good, while fuel consumption is more or less what you’d expect at around 16km/lt if you’re taking it easy.

The ZX-10 had the misfortune to hit the market when sales overall were in the doldrums, so you won’t see herds of them around. They tend to be relatively inexpensive – under Au$10,000 (US$7300, GB£5400) will get you one in good shape.

That represents a lot of motorcycle for the money.



Eighties glam!

Not so good
Substantial size
Not easily flickable


Kawasaki ZX-10 (ZX1000B) 1988-90, aka Ninja 1000 or Tomcat


TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, inline four

BORE & STROKE: 74 x 58mm


FUEL SYSTEM: 36mm Keihin CV x 4


TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: E-box alloy perimeter

FRONT SUSPENSION: 41mm telescopic fork, 46mm, nil adjustment
REAR SUSPENSION: Monoshock, preload and 4-way rebound damping adjustment 

FRONT BRAKE: 300mm discs with two-piston calipers

REAR BRAKE: 250mm disc with two-piston caliper


DRY/WET WEIGHT: 222/260kg



FRONT: 120/70-17
REAR: 160/60-18


POWER: 137hp (102kW) @ 10,000rpm

TORQUE: 103Nm @ 9000rpm

NEW PRICE $9600 on the road


More Kawasaki features:

kawasaki gpz900r

GPz900R – our bikes
We buy a 34-year-old GPz900R A1 in central Australia and ride it 2300km home to Melbourne.

kawasaki zz-r1100

ZZ-R1100 – future collectible
The fourth-gen liquid-cooled Kawasaki took the series to new heights and has a well-deserved following.


See more Features


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