Kawasaki’s revamped ZX-6R struts its stuff on this supertough route, but does it deliver?
Kawasaki’s 2019 supersport weapon may well win on the track but can it win hearts and minds (and bottoms) on the road?
This test comes to you via the relentless, bloodcurdling scream of the new Kawasaki ZX-6R. We all know supersport bikes love to rev, but this green tearaway has been shouting at me from the moment I left home this morning and now, here in Northampton, it’s getting on my nerves. I can’t remember old ZX-6RS being this frantic. What’s going on?
It’s not as if the 636cc inline four-cylinder, taken from the existing model (launched in 2013) has changed that much. It’s been Euro4-ed, given a huge exhaust and new mapping… and that’s about it.
A glance at the specs shows that, as a result of this tampering, the ZX-6R has lost one bhp and
gained 4kg, so Kawasaki have done what most owners would do to give it a bit more acceleration: shortened the gearing. The front sprocket is now one-tooth smaller (now 15/43 overall); equivalent to three on the rear. That’s a big change.
Compared to the old model, the new ZX-6R has instant acceleration in every gear, making it far removed from peaky 600s of the past. But it’s all down to the gearing, which is so short you can pull away in sixth.
A 600 with instant power may sound perfect, but for normal riding its short gearing isn’t exactly relaxing. In top it does around 10mph for every 1000rpm, so at 70mph on the M40 it’s yelling its head off at 7000rpm. A 100mph autobahn cruise will be accompanied by the din of 10,000rpm drilling into your brain.
At a time when supersport sales have all but vanished, it’s heartwarming to see Kawasaki keep the class alive. Better still, at less than ten grand, you get a hell of a lot of screaming sportsbike for your money, including riding modes, traction control, ABS and, new for this year, a quickshifter, LED lights and upgraded Showa suspension.
But it’s a shame Kawasaki haven’t tried to lure us back to the joys of a 600 with their new race replica. The perception has always been that supersports are cramped, frantic things, which is why, as we’ve got older and creakier, we’ve left them behind. But the new ZX-6R is still a cramped, frantic thing with a new screen so low even Dani Pedrosa would struggle to tuck behind it.
Children of the supersports revolution, like me, brought up on jelly-mould CBR600S, FZR600S and the pin-sharp class of the midnoughties; featuring the likes of the R6, B1H ZX-6R, GSX-R600 and RR Honda, still want to love 600s. We don’t necessarily want 200bhp, tyre-shredding superbikes to scratch our itch, but that’s the only choice. We need 600s with sensible dimensions and grunty engines… but the wait continues.
Raining and stuffed with traffic, the first few hours of today’s ride highlight everything we don’t like about 600s. Six foot with gangly legs and creaky knees, I’m too tall for the ZX-6R and wrapped in layers of Gore-tex and a belly full of breakfast it’s a struggle getting my feet up on
‘ The ZX- 6R is designed for the track, shorter riders and thin riding gear’
the Kawasaki’s high pegs. Wrists take a pummelling and I can’t get my toes back far enough to use the rear brake and gears. It’s just as well it pulls so well in top.
It’s clear the ZX-6R is designed for the track, for shorter riders and thin summer riding gear. But none of those things are happening here.
It doesn’t get any better until the M40, of all places, provides some respite. With the wind supporting my chest the weight comes off my wrists and I breathe a sigh of relief, even if the engine is still revving like a maniac. With the wind noise cancelling out its airbox and exhaust din the engine is actually smooth, as is its throttle response. Mirrors are clear, the new clocks easy to read and, despite diminutive dimensions, it isn’t particularly unkind on backside or legs.
By the time I peel off to Stratford and into the Cotswolds, the rain has stopped and there are tantalising glimpses of dry Tarmac. Shedding waterproofs I can move around a little better, my inner Sofuoglo is released and the ZX-6R reminds me how brilliant 600s can be: pure, light, accurate and flattering.
Riding modes and aids are gimmicks here, even in tricky conditions. There’s little flab in the chassis so you can feel front and rear grip, the brakes are deliciously tactile and the power delivery is nothing like a brutish 1000, which, in these conditions, will swap ends faster than you can say: “I wish I’d left the traction control on.”
Keeping the 636cc motor spinning to 16,000rpm tests your mechanical sympathy, but is addictive. The new quickshifter makes for seamless gearchanges on the way up, but highlights a lack of autoblipper on the way back down.
The new ZX-6R is full of drama and gives a satisfying impression of speed, but for those coming from a 1000 it’ll feel flat up top. Yet 600s are all about maintaining momentum and it does that beautifully with a superb mix of friendly power and a talkative chassis.
Steering is light but never nervous and new Showa Big Piston Forks offer a compliant ride in all
conditions, with a hint of firmness for when you’re able to bury the front on the brakes.
As we continue on the MCN250 the roads dry out and get wet again. But as the conditions change I bat back and forth between hating the ZX-6R and having the time of my life.
If it was mine I’d add some adjustable rearsets, a tall screen and sensible gearing. Then it’d make a formidable road sportster, a superb track tool and be a credible alternative for a 1000, all for the bargain price of just £9699.
KAWASAKI ZX-6R £9699