For a long time, Kawasaki motorcycles were at the forefront of motorcycle technology. The company built some of the most brutal motorcycles ever, and it’s this aggression that set them apart from the competition. Kawasaki’s latest offerings appear to have recaptured the true spirit of the brand …
There was a spell – Andrew Pitt’s championship win aside – when it looked as though Kawasaki had retired to building rounded-off bikes with little research and development being done. Now, it seems, this has all changed, heralded in by new introductions such as the ZX10-R and ZX6-RR.
It was around the end of 2002 that Kawasaki announced a totally revamped model for 2003. The all-new ZX-6RR and ZX-6R were launched amidst some of the biggest hype and media speculation a motorcycle had ever drawn. Kawasaki had given these new models a complete make-over and thereby re-established itself as market leader.
The ZX-6RR was going to be the saviour for the World Supersport championship team, while the ZX-6R with the 636 cc engine would take numerous accolades for its rideability and brute power.
Topbike recently took ownership of a ZX-6RR. It is the 2004 version, and has again been totally revamped compared to last year’s bike. The factory has taken valuable feedback from road racers and customers alike and made changes to the middleweight Ninja, including new cams, larger intake valves, a revised intake system and new gear ratios to better complement the six-speed gearbox.
Superbike enthusiasts and racers will love the power from the revised 599 cc, four-cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve motor, with its larger intake and exhaust valves and a more radical camshaft combined with the unmistakable track bias set-up of the ZX.
Gentle acceleration is sufficient to see the ZX-6RR blast from zero to beyond the national speed limits in a matter of seconds. Be a little more aggressive with the acceleration and the bike will almost certainly leave many a supercar standing at the lights.
High speed on the Kawasaki ZX-6RR comes quicker than expected.
The improved acceleration is due to a new; more advanced fuel injection system combined with larger 38 mm throttle bodies and twin injectors per cylinder, as opposed to the previous model’s single.
Accelerating through the new six-speed gearbox is as exciting as it comes, with the short ratios helping to keep the revs up and the motor on the boil.
The gearbox is typically Kawasaki, from one chunky gear selection to the next. But the changes are positive and at no time during the extensive road and track test was there ever a mis-selection. The gearbox employs a new multi-plate wet clutch, with cable operation for the selection process.
Finding the right seating position is a bit of a task. For taller riders, a contortion lesson is recommended before purchasing this machine. But average-sized riders will manage to tuck in behind the diminutive screen of the race-inspired fairing more easily, to take advantage of the wind protection offered. This said, Kawasaki claims an exceptionally low drag coefficient, thanks to the slippery aerodynamics of the ZX’s fairings.
The centrally mounted ram air intake makes a statement up front with its aggressive styling. This force-feeds clean, cooler air into the pressurised air box to further enhance the already impressive performance.
With this Kawa’s finger-stretching urge, the engineers had to do something special when it came to the braking department. The resultant stopping power is awesome to say the least.
The radial-mounted, four-piston, four-pad, front brake callipers clamping down onto twin 280 mm steel discs make for some arm-crushing braking capabilities. The smaller 220 mm rear disc and callipers offer the rider exceptional feedback and superior control. Combined, the braking capabilities far exceed some of the newest models on the market.
Braking, acceleration, and fast riding take its toll on any motorcycle’s suspension. The fully adjustable 41 mm inverted Kayaba front forks run a stiffer stanchion tube, offer higher levels of rigidity, and exceptional feedback throughout the damping and compression action. The DLC (diamond-like coating) on the tubes reduces friction in the suspension’s movement.
The rear is a bottom link Uni-Track system by Kayaba, with a piggyback reservoir. It’s fully adjustable for rebound and compression damping. The rear suspension has been upgraded quite substantially. It features a top-out spring for improved shock action, a stepless damping adjuster with check valve instead of needle valve to improve damping, and adjustable ride height with 1 mm shims.
Riding fast is almost a prerequisite when on a machine of this calibre: testing the limits in each corner, braking later, accelerating earlier and leaning further over become the norm. The ZX’s balance and poise both on the road and track are outstanding and offer the rider a feeling of exhilaration. The firm standard set-up doesn’t bounce the rider, as one would expect, but rather nips the top of each bump, reacting fast to counter, and making the ride exciting.
Although the test unit has been used more for daily commuting through the grind of morning traffic, the occasional spurt on the open road has proved fascinating. The Kawasaki ZX-6RR loves speed, and needs to be revved to produce the desired effect.
With a rev limit set at 15 500 r/min, it is sometimes difficult to get the bike to perform at its best before having to slow down for either the law or other traffic obstructing what could have been the perfect ride.
Opening the throttle fully sees the bike hurtling through its gears at a rapid rate, the exhaust note almost non-existent as the bike accelerates away from the sound. A new tone emanates from the bowels of the ZX-6RR as the induction system feeding the fuel into the hungry cylinders roars with its insatiable need for fuel.
Revving the bike all the way through the rev range is a great feeling, but seeing where the revs are sitting can be a bit tricky. The digital liquid crystal display housed in a comprehensive dash unit can be a little difficult to read at times. The speedo is not affected as much as the rev counter, but is difficult to see in bright sunlight. However, riding at night is fantastic with the dash lights giving the bike an almost futuristic look.
So it’s taken a while, but what you are looking at here is the Kawasaki revival in full force. Clearly the big K wants to kick some competition butt, and with this model we’re sure it will.
(Individual scores out of 20)
ENGINE AND GEARBOX18
Faultless power delivery that just keeps on giving. The gearbox seemed to be better when worked harder, but the chunky feeling could not be disguised.
HANDLING AND BRAKES 17
Stiffer and more rigid than ever, the bike is capable of turning on a dime. The suspension is a big improvement over the previous model and coaxes more confidence from the rider
Well thought out riding position; although slightly cramped for taller riders, it is not uncomfortable. The rider is in a position to manoeuvre the bike with little physical effort
STYLING and finish 17
Radical lines and strong aggressive features set this bike apart from its competition
Not the most affordable in class, when you buy the ZX6, you’re paying for a racing machine
A track-orientated motorcycle for the road. This is every boy racer’s dream. The Kawasaki has the go to match its show and worth every cent
Roy is a Topbike reader who got the opportunity to spend a day testing bikes, riding for photo shoots and giving his feedback. Here’s what he had to say about the bike:
Being used to riding a bigger capacity bike, I at first wasn’t keeping the ZX on the boil. But once I changed my approach and kept it above 7 000 r/min, the Kawa was brilliant. The acceleration above this point is phenomenal – the ZX is hungry for the road.
The gear changes are smooth and effortless and the clutch is very light. Brakes are also excellent and help give you the confidence to take the bike to the limit. They’re also easy to modulate.
The bike is very specifically designed for the track and isn’t ideal for everyday use. Particularly on bumpy roads, it tends to leave the tar quite a bit. The weight of the bike makes it easy to handle with compact dimensions making for excellent cornering.
Styling is good, but there are just certain elements that look like they haven’t been finished off properly. Also, the instrumentation is quite difficult to read in direct sunlight.
Overall though, an awesome machine; the more you hammer it, the more the Kawa enjoys it.