Cheap speed with a punchy middleweight Kawasaki
What we said then
‘The ZX-6R’S rear shock is so hard that on any road that’s not as smooth as a race track, the rear tyre struggles to grip and will kick sideways, which dents the rider’s confidence. Comfort is not the Kawasaki’s forte – it has a track-friendly bum-up, head-down riding position and looks and responds without hesitation to every input, so riding is not a relaxing experience. It looks like a race bike and goes like one, too.’ MCN, 2003.
But what is it like now?
Despite being 14 years old, this Kawasaki ZX-6R still feels sharp and modern. With jagged, aggressive styling, fantastic handling and one of the best induction notes I’ve heard of any bike, the 2003 ZX-6 is still more than adequate for most riders looking for a supersport thrill.
Much like many early noughties Japanese sportsbikes, this one has been treated to a handful of additional bolt-on extras that aren’t to everyone’s tastes. Finished in the traditional Kawasaki green, the bike is sprinkled with neat touches, from HEL braided brake lines at the front and rear, to a rather blingy set of golden Renthal chain and sprockets.
Sitting on the bike, the trackfocused nature of the Kwak becomes immediately apparent. It’s a narrow, cramped position (even for me at 5ft 7in) and forces you into a hunchedover position, which can get very heavy on your wrists. Knees bent and toes on the pegs, it feels racy and committed – if anything it is slightly too extreme for everyday riding.
Due to this body position, your elbows occupy almost all of the mirrors and offer little to no visibility of the traffic behind you. This means regular lifesaver checks are a must, which can grow tiresome.
Our test bike fires up with no hesitation – despite having had its choke cable removed at the time. Spouting a deep, throbbing sound from its aftermarket SP Engineering slipon exhaust can, it’s an intense sound and one which can get a bit too much on long stints of constant throttle. You could always stick in a baffle or switch to a quieter can if it was upsetting the neighbours. Riding at a constant speed, there is also a noticeable vibe through the pegs and bars, which can cause further irritation and discomfort.
Out on twisty B-roads, the Ninja comes to life. Wind the throttle back to the stop and the 636cc inline-four motor starts to scream as you climb towards the redline, with the front end getting lighter and lighter.
On a smooth road, the front end feels planted and both swooping and tight corners are dispatched with ease. Our test bike is on Bridgestone Battlax S21 rubber, which – despite being slightly squared off – feels right at home when pushed on a warm, dry day.
Any obvious faults?
One of this bike’s biggest complaints has always been its rear shock. From factory, it was far too harsh for the road and many owners have since made the logical step of fitting an aftermarket one. This model still has an original shock and, unfortunately, this shows on the road. On a smooth surface, the ride is perfectly plush; however, taking bumps and potholes at speed could see you launched off the seat.
The 2003-2004 Kawasaki ZX-6R was, and still is, a hugely exciting machine, offering great handling and a fantastic soundtrack in a tiny, focused package. The engine has bags of character and the Kawasaki is great fun when the going gets twisty. However, this trackfocused nature means riders must make compromises when riding on the road every day. The ride is harsh over bumps and the turning circle is massive. It is important to bear in mind though that a supersport bike is not designed for the everyday – and therefore you must put up with the drawbacks, in order to experience its full potential when the roads get fun.
Flaky paint The gold finish on the front and rear calipers can fail, especially on bikes ridden in winter. Poor maintenance can also cause the brakes to seize.