Kawasaki up the ante
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