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Kawasaki’s ZX6R – a perfect 600 / 636?

Road test by Adrian Percival, photos by Steve Gregory & Simon Bradley

KAWASAKI seems to have come up with a bike to rival all the other 600’s on today’s market. The new ZX-6R in 636 guise not only looks sharp, but is extremely fast and takes almost everything in its stride. It really is a bike for the ‘real world’ and will do just about anything that the likes of the GSXR 600 and R6 can do without that ‘living on the edge’ feeling. It will be out-scratched on the track, but as a bike for all types of riding and roads it’s very hard to beat. I got the distinct feeling when riding the new 636 of the refinement and civility of the CBR 600 but with crisper handling and a generally sharper bike all round.The new ZX6R has kept that typical Kawasaki aggressive look about it with the huge ram-air intake situated under its two raked headlights. The chassis is unchanged for 2002 but the minor mods to the enormous 46mm forks give the front end a smooth action and a positive feedback on most roads. This together with the Dunlop D207 tyres, now up to 120/65 ZR17 front and a massive 180/55 ZR17 rear – the same as most 750’s and some larger bikes – makes this new 636 cope superbly with anything the road can throw at it.

The engine has an extra 2mm bored out in each cylinder to give it the extra few cc’s, this simple modification has made such a difference to the mid-range power delivery and has put the bhp up to a very respectable 116. This spread of extra power and torque actually makes the gain feel much bigger than it really is, so much so that at times I really thought I was riding a 750 due to the lack of gear changes needed. The new motor is smooth and has a progressive power delivery from as little as 3000rpm. This builds up quite significantly at 5000rpm and gives you that typical rush associated with larger bikes from around 9,000rpm all the way up to the high 14,500rpm red line. The one thing that you really must do is keep an eye on that speedo, this bike is so deceiving in it power delivery and its general attitude on the road that you do find yourself travelling at much higher speeds than you really think.

As the power delivery is smooth, so to is the fairing and the general feel of this bike. The riding position is comfortable and roomy, and with those slightly higher set bars it gives this bike genuine touring capability with the need to stop being only down to its fuel range. I’m sure that the lack of wind blast from the higher screen and well designed fairing added to the impression of lower speeds, all you need do is slip slightly down behind the screen and it really is surprising how little wind blast you get. I was stunned at the lack of flies on my visor, I’m sure this is to do with the fairing aerodynamics and screen design, in any case it was just a pleasure to ride a sports bike that actually did have an effective standard screen!

The ZX6R is a great bike for the road, it does everything you want with ease and can cover great distances without the need for those obligatory stops to rest your wrists, arms and neck you get on other more radical supersports. Riding this bike on a daily basis is not a challenge, it is great fun and it can keep up (and sometimes embarrass) the ‘big boys’. The 636 has the power and torque to swiftly overtake traffic without the need to change down, just twist the throttle and let the bike take off. It is certainly a departure from the rev hungry 600’s on the market and will satisfy many riders who want both performance and ridability in a smaller capacity bike.

During our time with the 636 we had the opportunity to ride it on a track day at Cadwell Park, just to see how it really performed, and to get some indication of just how well it would hold up as a track day tool! After a week or so of running in and out of London and blitzing the A & B roads of the Oxfordshire countryside it was time to take it out on the track. Cadwell Park is a beautiful 2 mile hilly circuit in Lincolnshire and has both long sweeping corners, some tight downhill sections a good straight and of course the ‘Mountain’ where its virtually impossible to hold the front end down as you crest over the top! Some people describe it is a ‘mini Nurburgring’, both the scenery and the style of the track give you that distinctive feeling of the real thing.

Now on track with this bike is another story. Gone are the somewhat civilised manners you get from riding the bike on the ordinary roads, suddenly the ZX6 turns into some howling banshee as the motor spins up beyond 14,000rpm in 4th and you see 130mph looming on the speedo. Ok so it’s only the 1st lap out, admittedly on warm tyres, but having the power and straight line speed to seriously give most bigger bikes a hard time was a bit of a laugh at times! Straight out of the crate handling is a little road biased and we found this out as the day progressed. With a few small tweaks to the compression, pre-load and rebound on both the front and rear we managed to get most of the minor irritations dialled out and progressively gave the bike a harder set up for the track.

On larger capacity bikes you have to be very careful with the throttle to avoid slides, unwanted wheelies and the possible visit by Mr Highside, so much so that it can be intimidating for a lot of riders. Open the throttle as hard as you want on the ZX-6R and this fear needn’t restrict you, less is more with some bikes and this is a prime example of one. Keep that engine spinning, that’s the best way to get the thrills from the ZX-6R. Progressive power delivery right up to 14,000rpm where the power tails off, but change up a gear and just listen to that hair-raising roar from the air-induction. Keep it howling and you will see 160mph plus from this amazing engine. The ZX6 has an excellent balance of light and quick steering for the tight corners and last minute direction changes, while staying solid and flap-free at all speeds. It really doesn’t matter what the roads are like, and even when pushed to the limit on the track, you always have total faith and satisfaction in its performance.

The new 636 has six-pot calipers up front. When I first saw this I thought it was a bit extreme on a six hundred, but after riding it for a while the conclusion was that they have to be to match the performance of this bike. They work incredibly well hauling you down from ridiculous speeds at the last moment. The only criticism I had about the new ZX6 was the front forks. There was always a little shuddering under heavy braking, and a high speed through a certain very long corner. With a bit more time and a little more playing around with the suspension settings I felt that this was something that could be dialled out

Over the course of the day we had 3 different riders give the ZX6 a really hard time. It would have been nice to finally find something to criticise the Kawasaki for, but apart from the fork patter there was nothing this bike couldn’t do that the others could. Yes it is pushed hard by the likes of the more demanding to ride GSX-R 600’s and R6’s on the track, but only by experienced riders. Life on this bike is calmer and much more composed than it is on the other 2, and the ZX6R is just as fast. It is likely that this bike would be the choice for the majority of riders as it’s so easy to ride fast, it handles and stops really well, it’s comfy and practical and it’s even got bungee loops & headlight adjusters. The ZX6 also gets the really useful pillion grab rail award, but it could definitely do with a fuel light instead of a sudden warning that you need to turn the fuel tap to reserve halfway around a long corner on the track!! (just a little gripe Mr Kawasaki!) Indeed the new ZX6R is a great bike for all types of riding, It may not be the ‘new boy’ on the block but as a real world bike it’s probably the best you can get in it’s class.



Tech Specs

  • Model: ZX636-A1P Ninja ZX-6R
  • Engine: 636 cc, 16 valves,
  • Power 116ps,
  • 6 gear
  • Frame: Aluminium perimeter
  • Suspension: 46mm cartridge front fork. Aluminium swingarm, Uni-Trak rear suspension. Both have compression/rebound damping and preload adjustment
  • Tyres: Front - 120/65-ZR17
  • Rear - 180/55-ZR17
  • Brakes: Front - twin discs, 6-piston calipers.
  • Rear - Single disc Dimensions:
  • Wheel base 1400mm
  • Seat height 820mm
  • Dry Weight: 174 Kg

Motorbikes Today Rating

  • Engine 4 star
  • Handling 4 star
  • Braking 5 star
  • Comfort 5 star
  • Fun factor 4 star

MotorBikes Today rating 4 star


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