Kawasaki up the ante

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Kawasaki Zx-6r -

BY THE MID-’90S the CBR had be­come the one model Honda’s ri­vals yearned to beat. De­spite re­peated at­tempts, Suzuki, Yamaha and par­tic­u­larly Kawasaki failed to do that. Kwak’s su­per­fast 1990 ZZ-R600 had a brief flurry of glory with sales and track suc­cess. Suzuki’s ’93 RF600R sim­ply wasn’t good enough.whileyam’s FZR, a favourite on track, was too brit­tle and ba­sic for most.

But that same year Kawasaki had re­leased a bike that would be­come the tem­plate for an all-new 600 that, per­haps at last, would steal the Honda’s man­tle.that was the ZX-9R.

Dubbed ‘New Gen­er­a­tion Su­per Sport’, it was an ap­peal­ing road ma­chine, but never dom­i­nated its cat­e­gory, thanks mostly Honda’s Fire­blade.the 600cc class in which its ZX-6R ju­nior sib­ling would be com­pet­ing, was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter en­tirely.

As a con­se­quence, when the ZX-6R was launched in early ’95, it proved a rev­e­la­tion. Gone was the slightly mud­dled sport-tourer ZZ-R600 re­placed by the sporti­est 600 yet.

At the 6R’s heart was an all-new 599cc mo­tor which, with a shorter stroke and wider bore than the ZZ-R which, al­lied to ram-air in­duc­tion, de­liv­ered a class-lead­ing claimed 100bhp (the first 600 to do so), a scream­ing 14,000rpm red­line, a gen­uine 93bhp not to men­tion an in­take roar like no other. Sim­ply, no 600 yet built had been so quick.

The big­ger dif­fer­ence was that, this time, all that po­tency was in a light­ened, more com­pact chas­sis.with an alu­minium beam frame, qual­ity, multi-ad­justable sus­pen­sion and state-of-the-art brakes, and all in within com­pact, sharp di­men­sions, not only was the new Ninja fast, it was also lighter, shorter, snap­pier and more track-fo­cussed than any 600 that had gone be­fore.

Although quicker, ‘bet­ter’ even than the reign­ing Honda CBR, the new Kawasaki cer­tainly didn’t have every­thing its own way. Yes, the ZX-6R was a suc­cess, both in sales and sport, but the Honda in par­tic­u­lar was so es­tab­lished it re­tained a strong fol­low­ing while, in rac­ing, by be­ing so well de­vel­oped, the CBR re­mained good enough to win.

But the ZX-6R was good enough to be a cat­a­lyst for change in the most com­pet­i­tive class of all. First, af­ter less than two years, the Ninja was up­dated into the more pow­er­ful, lighter, racier and ar­guably bet­ter-look­ing ZX-6R G1 in 1997. Sec­ond,yamaha, moved fur­ther into ex­treme sports ter­ri­tory with the launch of its ju­nior R1, the first R6. Honda re­sponded (per­haps be­lat­edly) with a lighter, more so­phis­ti­cated and now al­loy-framed CBR600 of its own – F-X of ’99.

Kawasaki was still not done: in 2000, it re­leased a fur­ther up­date. Power was boosted

yet again to a more than re­spectable 108bhp. The sus­pen­sion and steer­ing was sharp­ened up and the styling was given a facelifted nose that now re­minded of the ZX-12R.

It was a good bike, too – a great one.yet it was al­ready clear the Kawasaki was now liv­ing on bor­rowed time. By 2000, the R6 and Suzuki’s GSX-R600 werethe su­per­sports to have – sporty, sharp, un­com­pro­mis­ing and quick, where the ZX, though real world com­fort­able, welle­quipped and hand­some was also big and baggy by direct com­par­i­son. In­stead, with the orig­i­nal Ninja’s ‘tran­si­tional’ job now done it was time for Kawasaki to pro­duce a stabby, sharp rac­ing ZX-6R of its own.af­ter a stop-gap, big-bore, 636cc ZX-6R in 2002 that bike, the all-new, un­com­pro­mis­ing, stubby ZX-6R B1, came in 2003 and is an­other story. Mean­while, the ZX-6R fam­ily lives on. None of that would have been pos­si­ble with­out the orig­i­nal clas­sic. Buy one be­fore prices start ap­pre­ci­at­ing that fact.

F-model: roomy and plush, fast and fu­ri­ous

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