Kawasaki’s brand new mid capacity sports bike brings a breath of fresh air to the dying 600cc sports bike market, packing a revvy 129hp engine with a lightweight and agile chassis with modern rider aids.
Back in the ’90s and ’00s, the 600 class was a fiercely fought area with most manufacturers offering a middle of the roader. Enter Euro 4 and these pocket rockets are in steep decline, sales numbers are dwindling, purse strings are tightening on R&D budgets, and sales margins are tightening. All this means it’s getting incredibly hard for manufacturers to develop bikes, hit regulations and still get sales. Despite this, the 600 class is popular ever still with Supersport class racing, and aside from the track these machines are still joyous fun on the road, it really is a massive shame to see them fall into oblivion.
I have longed for a roadgoing 600 with all the bells and whistles most of the 1000cc’s have, a Quick shifter and LCD display shod 600. Complete with adjustable rider modes, traction control, some tarty suspension and a good set of anchors, this combination would make for an amazing road bike. It seems that the clever people at Kawasaki were on the same wavelength as me (for once).
The previous iteration of ZX6 ninja was a massive success. Seen endlessly lapping UK race tracks up and down the country, so why change the formula? Being honest the formula hasn’t changed much, a free-revving engine, lightweight and agile chassis, and some sticky rubber to keep it all in check. It has the same powerplant from the last generation 636, albeit forced to meet the latest Euro emission standards which does sadly mean it has dropped in power, by only a tiny 1HP. To counter the slight drop in power, the gearing is slightly shorter, nothing really to worry about. In typical 600cc fashion, the revs just climb the rev counter at ballistic speed up to the 16k redline. It’s this that makes small capacity bikes fun, you rev and ride them hard, and it just feels so much more rewarding than a larger bike. Whilst I was riding it I wasn’t really looking at the rev counter, but as you are accelerating and the revs build the only thing that runs through your mind is how much longer you can go before either the limiter strikes or you give in and changeup.
Whilst fuel economy really isn’t the primary thought when buying a sports bike, I can really say the new ZX6 was good on juice. The ninja has a 17-litre tank so theoretically good for 180 miles, when taking it easy. It might be small if you are doing long motorway distances, as the revs sit high at motorway speed so that could gobble some extra juice. Kawasaki’s new addition to the ZX6 of ECO mode leans out the fueling when on low or closed throttle, aiming to be extra frugal and get some extra miles range. The average readout when I picked the bike up was sitting around the 30mpg mark, pretty low, but it must have been sitting around idling for a while to lower it. Even with me riding hard for a morning I returned it with a figure north of 40mpg and still climbing, very impressive.
With the ZX6 meeting the latest euro standards, we get niceties such as Adjustable rider modes, traction control and ABS and because it has gone to a ride by wire throttle we also get an up the box quick shifter. I would have liked it to have a down blipper too, Kawasaki wouldn’t tell me if the standard mechanism would work on the way down too with some ECU tweaks.
The chassis itself has had a styling revamp with fitting touches from other models, like the fairing lights from the H2SX, and the paint job from the ZX10 KRT edition which looks fab. The new ZX benefits from a full LED light upgrade over the previous model. The Big piston forks from Showa has their trademark hollow knock at low speed over big bumps. I have had this issue before on other bikes and can’t seem to pinpoint what the issue with it is, but it doesn’t seem to affect performance at all.
Kawasaki has chosen Bridgestone’s brand new Battlax Hypersport S22 rubber which encompasses a new compound, boasting even more dry and wet grip. Warm up is quick and feeling on the Ninja through the corners is fantastic. Turn in is sharp, and predictable and inspires confidence. Typically with 600’s with the lack of power and grunt compared to others the but immense joy comes through carrying the speed through the corners and this combination certainly gives that smug satisfaction. Feeling from the front is unreal, having a good play with the front brakes, from various speeds and squeezing it on as hard as possible I couldn’t get abs to kick in despite it melting my face off trying.
When it comes to spaciousness, 600’s have never been the most comfortable places to sit, and the new ninja is no exception. It’s definitely no ZZR, but the positives do outweigh the negatives. The seat height is low, allowing the vertically challenged riders like myself to get flat-footed. I am 5’7 and I didn’t particularly find it uncomfortable, however, if you are 6ft+ then yes you might find it a bit cramped. The riding position is quite far forward and it does add weight to the wrists, but not in an uncomfortable way. Adjustable brake and clutch levers make things easier for the hands, and the nicety is the clutch is assisted the lever feel is feather light. Knees do feel quite high up on the tank, but I quite liked it as I could get a very nice grip with my knees. The windscreen only really works if you are in full tuck mode, no doubt aftermarket double bubbles will be avalible soon. The only very slight gripe was the position of the gear lever. I did forget to see if it’s adjustable, even so, I think rotating it a spline over on the shaft would make it feel a lot better on the foot as the standard position for me just felt a little off.
A range of genuine accessories are available, through Kawasaki including, Ohlins steering damper kits, crash protection, rear seat covers and the Akrapovic can fitted below. It looks amazing and oozed quality from its carbon and titanium construction however the baffle wasn’t removable. I did find it a bit too quiet for an aftermarket can although it did still have the cat fitted. With it being supplied by Kawasaki it might be because of having to abide by Euro regulations on noise and other legalities so best bet would be to get an aftermarket one from an Akrapovic dealer which should allow the baffle to be removed.
Overall the new ZX is a wonderful place to be. Initially, it did feel quite small and compact even for my small frame. It soon became comfortable, even quite an enjoyable riding position. It feels sporty as you would expect, the engine is an absolute peach, and despite it being “only” 130 horsepower it certainly feels much quicker than it actually is. The joy comes not from flat out straight line speed, but carrying the speed through the corners, and this is why 600’s are fun. The ZX6R does fun in bucket loads, I had a ball, and I really didn’t want the morning to end. The inlet symphony is mega, it makes up for the lack of exhaust noise and if I could record that soundtrack and play it on a loop to sleep to that would please me forever.
The only problem comes down to the reason why 600’s are dying in the first place. A list price of 9.5K for the standard black or an extra 200 hard earned for the KRT looking one, IS a lot of money. You can pick up an older ZX10 for that price, and there really are more comfortable bikes for less money. To buy one you really, really, really have got to want one. Saying that two people I know have bought one, so could this be the revival of the 600’s? I really hope so!