When the 2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R hits the streets it will not only need to beat Yamaha's acclaimed R1, but live up to a 30-year legacy of mean green superbikes, writes Patrick van Sleight.

When the 2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R hits the streets it will not only need to beat Yamaha's acclaimed R1, but live up to a 30-year legacy of mean green superbikes, writes CARtoday.com correspondent Patrick van Sleight.

Turn back the clock to 1973, when Kawasaki Heavy Industries unveiled the Z1 to an expectant public. It was Kawasaki's first attempt at a four-stroke engine, and what an attempt it was. It boasted four cylinders, 9000 r/min, 900cc, 210 km/h, 64 kW and double-overhead-camshafts. Figures we take for granted today, but which were unheard of on a regular production bike at the time.

The Z1 was claimed to be more powerful than 500cc Grand Prix bikes of the time, and along with the 1967 Honda CB750, started the breed of Japanese superbikes as we know them today.

Fast forward to 1984 and the launch of the immortal Kawasaki GPZ900R. It was also the birth of the Ninja brand. It combines the weight of a 750cc with the power of a 1100cc. Its main claim to fame was to be the first production bike to reach (and sometimes exceed) 250 km/h and do quarter-mile runs in sub-11 seconds - until then the preserve of drag-racers only.

Ten years later, Kawa brought out the ZX-9R. As fast and powerful as it was, the ZX-9R was simply too big and porky. But for riders looking for real-world practicality and usable power, the bike was a new discovery, and suddenly in a class of its own. The ZX-9R combined sports-tourer comfort with Fireblade power and speed, and it had the friendliness of a wrestler with a hangover. And it found many buyers.

After that model, updates became few and far between. In technology, power, weight and size , Kawa's bikes (the ZX-9R along with the ZX-7R and ZX-6R) were falling behind every year, seemingly to no-one's concern, least of all the Kawasaki engineers , who would only wake up from their slumber for an annual paintjob and decal change. However, A notable exception was the 306 km/h, 131 kW ZX-12R launched in 2000 with a hollow, aluminium monocoque frame and integrated airbox.

Now the world awaits the Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja. Kawasaki released an official communicae stating its intent to produce up-to-date, razor-sharp bikes and the 2003 Z1000, ZX636R and ZX6R showed us that the manufacturer was deadly serious.

Traditionalists will lament the fact that the new top Kawa is not a 900cc. Kawasaki made this capacity class its own as it did the colour green. But the relentless quest for more power leaves no place for sentiment. Even the new Fireblade is a 1000cc as well, and Honda considered not calling the bike a Fireblade at all.

So, what can we expect than from the ZX-10R? For one, it is clear that it will be right up there with the main contenders.

The recent research and development tie-up with Suzuki probably has something to do with Kawasaki's ability to produce a bike of this calibre, as the former is the current king of the sports bike market with the GSX-R1000. Many might have expected a sleeved-down ZX-12R, so it is a surprise to see little evidence of its advanced technology in the ZX-10R.

Historically , Kawasaki has produced the bikes with the highest top speed in every class. As the GSX-R1000 has already been recorded at 298 km/h, chances are the new ZX-10 will be just as fast.

But could this mean that the well-known Kawasaki trademarks will go amiss? The new ZX-6R suggests otherwise. It is arguably the new leader in its class, and still takes you to that deep, dark place only a Kawa seem to be able to reach. And nobody complains about missing the old ZX-6R.

The ZX-10R has a tough job on its hands. Kawasaki claims that the ZX-10R will have the highest power-to-weight ratio in its class. The new 172kg R1 develops 128 kW, giving it a one horsepower-to-one kilogram ratio - the first for a road vehicle ever. The ZX-10R also puts out 128 kW, but weighs 2kg less...

It looks certain that the main fight for the headlines and your wallets will be between the ZX-10R and the R1 this year.

Original article from Car