Kawasaki is back with a vengeance with the ZX6 range and is vying for the middleweight crown. CARtoday.com correspondent Brett Hamilton revs the ZX-6R.

In 1984, Kawasaki re-wrote history by introducing the legendary GPZ900R. Much like the ZX-12-Blackbird-Hayabusa battle of the late 1990s, the GPZ claimed to be the cutting edge of modern motorcycling. Almost two decades later and Kawasaki is at it again.

The updated versions of the popular ZX6 range show that Kawasaki is back with a vengeance, vying for the middleweight crown.

The signs of GP-influenced road motorcycles are starting to show in the new road-bike generation. The Honda CBR 600RR closely resembles the factory machine of Valentino Rossi, and the ZX definitely mimics the works Kawasaki GP machine. Take a closer look at the bike during the next MotoGP race…

The ZX-6R seems small. The ultra-low screen increases the Kawa's sporty appeal, while the angular lines are reminiscent of the company’s GP machine. The small decals project an aggressive look.

Crouching next to the bike, you soon realise that combining 636 cm3 with such a small package is exactly what Kawasaki needs to restore its reputation from the past few years of sub-standard machinery. The new 600 range, penned by the man behind the Mazda MX-5, has been given a refreshed appearance and a modern sportiness.

Every component of the ZX is diminutive. The instrument panel is a single component with the rev counter and speedo located on the same dial. The overall feel may not have the flair of the MV, but for a Japanese motorcycle, the ZX is one of the finest examples of aesthetic build quality. However, the bodywork, despite being gorgeous, seems flimsy in some places.

Kawasaki’s first flirtation with the “cheating” capacity of 636 cm3 began in 2002, with the launch of the ZX-636R. The latest version offers even more and should be the machine to have on the road and track. The only problem with the brilliant concept of 636 cm3 is the fact that it does not comply with current FIM regulations. Sadly, the ZX-6R has to sit in the pits, while the ZX-6RR, fitted with a “normal” 600 motor, contends with the competition on the World Supersport circuit.

The determining factor with the ZX-6R is the newly-developed engine. Last year’s 636 model was a result of increased bore size, but with the 6R, the engine has been re-designed around set parameters. The redesigned cylinder head has been shortened by 10mm, while the intake ports have been reduced by the same amount. The performance of the extra 36 cm3 in capacity is immediately apparent. The engine is strong and much more powerful than any current 600.

The R is a devastating machine and it is clear why the FIM bars such machines from WSS racing. Where the ZX-6RR’s engine was designed to be race-tuned to infinity, the R offers more than enough power to keep any racer happy. The increased power is most evident in the mid-range, making the ZX-6R much more flexible, allowing the rider a wider choice of gear selection during cornering.

Both Kawasaki 600s now also feature electronic fuel injection with 38mm throttle bodies and ECU controlled sub-throttles. The system is adequate, but it needs refining and Suzuki still leads the class here.

After a few pushes of the starter button, the mill jumps to life and a rather non-performance-like rumble fills the air. The gearing is short and very mechanical in the lower rev range, making the ZX-6R a rather difficult machine to control in confined spaces. Once the revs start to climb and the speeds start to reach the upper triple figures, the motor whistles with a distinctive Kawasaki howl and the scenery blasts past the speeding machine.

Another important contribution to the ZX-6R’s impressive performance is the near-perfect chassis. It features the normal bells and whistles you would expect on any modern motorcycle, but the ZX-6R also features ultra-high tech components normally reserved for racing machines. The ZX-6R showcases some of the most advanced parts ever used on machines in its class.

High speeds and incredible power count for naught if you cannot stop. This is where the ZX-6R really excels. Both the ZX-6R and ZX-6RR feature Kawasaki's recently developed-for-the-road radial-mount front brake calipers. Usually only seen on ultra-trick racing machines, radial brakes mount to the brackets off the bottom end of the fork leg. The mounting bolts align with the centre line of the caliper, parallel to the disc. This mounting reduces flex in the suspension and improves braking performance.

On the road, this equates to dangerously potent brakes and reduced weight. The stopping force of the dual 280 mm front discs is lethal, and locking the brakes is quite easy, even in the dry. It’s not a set-up for the faint-hearted, but will allow the ZX to out-brake any machine on the road and power away through the corner.

The ZX-6R also features 41mm, fully adjustable, USD forks at the front and a fully adjustable monoshock at the rear. At first, the set-up seems very harsh, but after spending a few kilometres in the saddle, it becomes barely bearable. However, there’s not a single mention of the word “comfort” in the Kawasaki press release. The hard suspension communicates every bump through the forks and seat. This becomes rather painful on not-so-perfect roads. Clearly, the system would be perfect for track use where rider/bike communication is paramount.

The seating position is very steep and pushes the rider forward onto the tank. This, much like the Honda, brings the rider's weight closer to the motorcycle's centre of mass. However, Honda engineered the fuel tank under the seat to allow the rider to be seated closer to the tank instead of shunted onto it. Wrist-cramp is also a definite worry, coupled with the extremely low clip-ons. Not even a Ducati could offer the rider such discomfort…

Despite the ZX-6R’s unsurpassed speed and performance, you just do not look forward to a ride on the ZX it you’re not looking for a blast of manic proportions. Kawasaki has definitely abandoned its rather sedate history and created a modern-day GPZ, without the comfort, of course.

SUMMARY: The ZX-6R is the perfect road racer's motorcycle. For aspiring racers, the it would be the perfect fit. But it should be noted that the blast is only half the story.

Once you have finished your weekly blast on the pass, you still have to take the longish trip home – and this is where the ZX will punish its rider. The ZX-6R is an extremely focused motorcycle that only truly feels at home on the track with taped lights and tyre warmers.

At a cost of R89 990, the ZX-6R is also one of the most affordable motorcycles in its class despite featuring some of the most advanced technologies ever used on production 600s. A must-have for boy racers and track veterans alike.

By Brett Hamilton of Twist Grip.

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Original article from Car