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?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Michael Neeves CHIEF ROAD TESTER

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.


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