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Sunday, April 19, 2009

KAWASAKI ZX- 6 R NINJA

I sometimes wonder if they ever eat. Most models adorning our glossy fashion magazines seem desperate for a hearty meal. A trip to the local Pizza Hut on an all-you-can-eat mission might not go amiss. But the 21st Century is one of excess and success. The pressure to be the slimmest, the sexiest and the most appealing is almost heady. Folk hanker after the very best and the most impressive of everything and it’s no different in the motorcycle industry.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (Image © Kawasaki)

So why then, when rival manufacturers are introducing their lightest and smallest middleweight super sports bikes, has Kawasaki just produced a relatively bulky bike, especially by comparison to the anorexic Honda CBR600RR? Kawasaki has never really focused on shedding the pounds when revising a bike (although this new ZX-6R is actually lighter than the current 636cc model, it is still heavier than the previous ZX-6R). Rather than be fixated on achieving a super light target weight, the company has concentrated on producing a bike that’s more than the sum of its parts – and succeeded.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (Image © PA)

One size fits all

It has also been manufacturing two middleweight supersports bikes simultaneously over the last few years, the ZX-6R and ZX-6RR respectively. Racing regulations prohibit the use of the 636cc engine (currently used in the existing ZX-6R) so although the bike is undoubtedly a favourite among road users, Kawasaki still has to produce a small number of ZX-6RR bikes, with the accepted 599cc engine capacity, for race teams to modify and compete with. So this brand new 2007, ZX-6R has simplified matters. One bike fits all and it meets the new Euro emission laws too.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (Image © PA)

The world launch was at Barber’s Motorsport track in Birmingham (Alabama, not Warwickshire) and the atmosphere created by Kawasaki mirrored the concept of the bike. It’s designed to be the ‘ultimate middleweight track bike’, which explained the swarm of Japanese mechanics all keen to tweak and fiddle until I was 100 per cent happy with the bike’s set up - which didn’t take long at all! The very first thing I noticed was how comfortable the ZX-6R is. Yes it’s a 600, but rather than being sharp and bony, it’s actually rather curvaceous and as a result, it feels roomy to ride.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (Image © PA)

Even when I adopted a regular road riding position, I could still see the instrument display beneath the screen and for a six footer on a 600, that’s pretty impressive ergonomics. But the most striking characteristic by far is the bike’s unwavering stability, all of the time. During the press launch, much was made of the bike’s new chassis. The frame and swingarm offers a different kind of flex and more rigidity than the current model. In practical terms, this translates to the ZX-6R being surprisingly composed, whether you’re hard on the gas, the brakes, or sticking the bike on its ear.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (Image © Kawasaki)

Gripping stuff

The slipper clutch also helps the bike remain unruffled. There was the odd occasion when I fully expected the bike to wriggle in silent complaint to something or other I’d done. But I found it very hard to unsettle, and that just made the ride all the more rewarding … and fun. On one section of the track, I fired uphill towards turn 14. The green goddess was still cranked over from the previous turn and I was hard on the gas in third and ready to change down. I braked solidly, knocked it into second and aimed at the apex - all with the bike on its side. Nothing - no squiggles, no murmurs, just total and utter compliance.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (Image © Kawasaki)

This ZX-6R is so reassuring and forgiving that I felt I was lapping fairly steadily, but it was the Kawasaki’s comforting composure that made my speed feel deceptively measured. Having been to the same track a few weeks earlier, it wasn’t until the end of the day that I realised my braking markers had all shuffled closer to the turns, such was the confidence I had in the bike. With the Bridgestone BT-002 tyres gripping the tarmac, the bike stuck like glue to the track, helped in part by the 1405mm wheelbase and 167kg dry weight.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (Image © PA)

Brand new engine

But although its physique has obvious benefits, it also means the bike needs more input, it needs to be manhandled into corners. The steering’s precise but not overly sharp, which some riders may prefer. But put the effort in and the bike will reward you by stretching a grin right across your face. And the engine? It’s been completely redesigned for the first time in 10 years. There’s no question there’s plenty of drive – just as long as you stay above 12,000 rpm. I tried to exit a few turns in a higher gear and wondered why the ZX-6R seemed to be hesitating.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (Image © Kawasaki)

There’s an air of procrastination about the bike if you let the revs drop below 12k. There’s very little punch under 10K and the midrange feels pretty subdued. But keep the revs high and the party’s in full swing. The red-line is set at an indicated 16,500rpm. Such a track-focused, high revving motor is, not always ideal for road riding and I suspect you’ll need to stir the gearbox a fair bit for overtakes and punchy acceleration. But circuits are where this bike was intended to live, so perhaps that’s where it’ll be most effective.

Verdict

The best things come in small packages? Well the new ZX-6R appears to be one of the few exceptions to the rule … and as a six footer with feet the size of small canoes, I’m kinda keen on anything that disproves that principle!

World Superbikes winner MSMW2012