Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja (2007 - 2008) review

2006 sees Kawasaki design a bike to win 600cc supersport production classes.

Ben Cope's picture
By Visordown on Mon, 1 Jan 2007 - 12:01

Details
Manufacturer:
Kawasaki
Category:
Sportsbikes
Price:
£ 7128
Overall
4
Pretty looking track focused 600 with a screaming 16,000rpm rev limit. Kawasaki gave its middleweight the brakes, slipper clutch, suspension and power to go and win races.
Too track focused for most. It has to be revved and worked hard to get the best out of the engine and chassis. The front end can get twitchy when pushed.

Since its original launch I've had a difficult relationship with Kawasaki's ZX-6R. One half of me appreciated how good it really is, especially when it became the first middleweight sportsbike with radial brakes and upside down forks. Then I would get frustrated at being unable to compare it to the opposition due to its bigger - by 36cc - engine. Well, I've had some counselling and I've come to realise I have to enjoy the 636 for what it is: a cracking motorbike.

The 'Philosophy of Speed' is what Kawasaki says is inherent to their machines so, sharing a similar philosophy myself, I accepted the invitation to sample the latest incarnation of their rapid offering. The Almeria Circuit in southern Spain is one of Europe's driest tracks, getting just 10 days of rain a year. Unfortunately three of them occurred when the British journalists travelled there to what should have been a mostly track-based launch. But three laps of the twisty, flowing circuit was all I managed before the session was red flagged by nervous Kawasaki staff wanting to keep their bikes in one piece.

So instead the surrounding quiet but challenging roads were where we put the much-changed middleweight Kawasaki through its paces. Waiting for the rain to clear gave me a good opportunity to visually scrutinise the best-looking version so far. Stand back to take in the view and you can see the influences from both the ZX-10R and MotoGP ZX-RR machines. The new 6R has a low screen and flowing contours all the way back to the tail unit, then up close the smooth curves of the nose, lights and front mudguard go some way to justifying Kawasaki's claim that this is the most aerodynamic Ninja to date. With everything pulled in, rear turbulence has been greatly reduced behind the rider, adding to comfort and top speed.

Later in the day, on a long straight (private road, of course), the speedo reading rose from 156mph to 165mph in a few seconds just by tucking in properly, which suggested the slippery shape was working well. I bottled out of doing more than one top speed run as earlier in the year I had an encounter with the TWO Transit and a dog on the same stretch of road. You don't need any more details. Other nice touches are the nicely engineered pillion peg mounts, integrated indicators and lighter ZX-10R-style wheels. The underseat muffler is less tidy and protrudes more than the CBR 600RR's, but looks good never the less.

On to the fun part. After hopping aboard I found the riding position for me was a tad cramped. The pegs didn't give me enough legroom, being a touch too high and forward, plus the brake and clutch levers were set too high. The clutch lever will move down but the brake line connections make it difficult to adjust the right hand lever. I admit after riding for a while I got used to these niggles, but were I to own this bike I would make minor alterations to make riding more comfortable. Its best feature though is the free-revving, 130bhp motor (claimed, and 136 with ram air effect), which starts with a wail around 8000rpm then develops into a full banshee scream en route to the 15,500rpm rev limit. There is no definite powerband but also no boring linear feel either; just a great engine that will never fail to set your pulse racing.

The extra engine performance comes from a combination of new, 38mm oval throttle bodies (keeping the frame slim), bigger intake and exhaust valves, new camshaft profiles and an integral exhaust valve. Cornering on a partial throttle is silky smooth, and I found I could use a higher gear than I would on a regular 600 having these extra cubes and torque to hand.The gearbox was positive - though not as slick as the CBR's - but I never came close to missing a gear and I could always shift quickly and with ease.

Third gear is now taller to provide more evenly spaced ratios, although the slight downside is that third gear wheelies are now more of a challenge. That's probably not a bad thing to be fair, as the phrase 'custodial sentence' always springs to mind on those occasions. Riding fast in a straight line could be done with no hands (although I don't recommend you try this yourself) as the stiff chassis and special 'J' model BT014 Bridgestones work in perfect harmony, but coming down from a fast wheelie or accelerating over an undulating or bumpy surface got my sphincter's attention on a few occasions. Unlike the last 636 there is no violent headshake, instead more of a slow-motion buckling feeling. I'm sure this could be improved by stiffening the rear suspension but the only safe fix would be a steering damper. There should be no shame in manufacturers fitting these as standard because, as any racer knows, there is always a stability trade-off to get a quick steering bike.They seem to view it as an admission of failure... Otherwise the new Showa suspension was brilliant and I particularly liked how the new 41mm upside down forks coped on the brakes, giving a nice and progressive weight transfer. The powerful 300mm radially mounted four-piston/four pad calipers also provided a consistent feel throughout the day, with the new petal discs front and rear complementing the fresh new look .

Being a minimalist, I like the single clock dash, but reading the rpm at a glance is impossible. You can use the adjustable shift light for gear changes but now and again I would like to know what is going on with engine speed. Split seconds count for safety more than anything else, and it just takes too long to read the rev counter. The other info is fine with the warning lights, speed and temperature all easy to read. Personally I think the new shade of Kawasaki green stands out best with the contrasting black sidepanels, frame and bellypan with the candy blue coming a close second. The 'raw titanium' option is my least favourite.

I thoroughly enjoyed my short spell with the new Kawasaki. It has a stonking motor, a great personality, is fun to be with and stands out from the crowd. I wouldn't describe it as perfect, but then perfect can be a little bit boring. Just look at Michael Schumacher.

The proof for me of how good a bike is whether or not I really want to ride it again. Well, I'm gagging for more of this one, so roll on Spring and a nice dry track.

NIALL SPEAKS TO ZX-6R DESIGNER SHIGEO TAKAGI

How long have you been working on the ZX-6R project?
Not so long, I began only two years ago working on this new model. What have you done to address the ZX-6R's nervous front end?
We have worked hard to improve this with a stiffer chassis, new Showa suspension and the steering head angle has been changed. We are also very pleased with the new Bridgestone tyres developed for this machine. Is a back torque limiter (slipper clutch) necessary on a supersports machine with minimal engine braking?
If you ride the bike hard on the track or mountain roads the back torque limiter is useful. It is also a good safety feature. Honda reduced the weight of their underseat pipe to improve the CBR600RR's handling. What is your opinion of underseat pipes?
We are happy with the handling and weight balance. Our only concern was with excess heat in the tail unit but that problem has been solved. Is the 636 the new ZX -7R?
The 636 is not a 750 replacement. We have no plans to develop 750s as we feel there is no interest in this category now. We believe our customers are only looking for 600cc or 1000cc machines. Many thanks. Perhaps I can interest you in some raw fish?
Cheers, sea bream please.

VERDICT

Slick styling, a strong motor and chassis tweaks put the ZX-6R right back up there. Big bore motor is still cheating though...

Since its original launch I've had a difficult relationship with Kawasaki's ZX-6R. One half of me appreciated how good it really is, especially when it became the first middleweight sportsbike with radial brakes and upside down forks. Then I would get frustrated at being unable to compare it to the opposition due to its bigger - by 36cc - engine. Well, I've had some counselling and I've come to realise I have to enjoy the 636 for what it is: a cracking motorbike.

The 'Philosophy of Speed' is what Kawasaki says is inherent to their machines so, sharing a similar philosophy myself, I accepted the invitation to sample the latest incarnation of their rapid offering. The Almeria Circuit in southern Spain is one of Europe's driest tracks, getting just 10 days of rain a year. Unfortunately three of them occurred when the British journalists travelled there to what should have been a mostly track-based launch. But three laps of the twisty, flowing circuit was all I managed before the session was red flagged by nervous Kawasaki staff wanting to keep their bikes in one piece.

So instead the surrounding quiet but challenging roads were where we put the much-changed middleweight Kawasaki through its paces. Waiting for the rain to clear gave me a good opportunity to visually scrutinise the best-looking version so far. Stand back to take in the view and you can see the influences from both the ZX-10R and MotoGP ZX-RR machines. The new 6R has a low screen and flowing contours all the way back to the tail unit, then up close the smooth curves of the nose, lights and front mudguard go some way to justifying Kawasaki's claim that this is the most aerodynamic Ninja to date. With everything pulled in, rear turbulence has been greatly reduced behind the rider, adding to comfort and top speed.

Later in the day, on a long straight (private road, of course), the speedo reading rose from 156mph to 165mph in a few seconds just by tucking in properly, which suggested the slippery shape was working well. I bottled out of doing more than one top speed run as earlier in the year I had an encounter with the TWO Transit and a dog on the same stretch of road. You don't need any more details. Other nice touches are the nicely engineered pillion peg mounts, integrated indicators and lighter ZX-10R-style wheels. The underseat muffler is less tidy and protrudes more than the CBR 600RR's, but looks good never the less.

On to the fun part. After hopping aboard I found the riding position for me was a tad cramped. The pegs didn't give me enough legroom, being a touch too high and forward, plus the brake and clutch levers were set too high. The clutch lever will move down but the brake line connections make it difficult to adjust the right hand lever. I admit after riding for a while I got used to these niggles, but were I to own this bike I would make minor alterations to make riding more comfortable. Its best feature though is the free-revving, 130bhp motor (claimed, and 136 with ram air effect), which starts with a wail around 8000rpm then develops into a full banshee scream en route to the 15,500rpm rev limit. There is no definite powerband but also no boring linear feel either; just a great engine that will never fail to set your pulse racing.

The extra engine performance comes from a combination of new, 38mm oval throttle bodies (keeping the frame slim), bigger intake and exhaust valves, new camshaft profiles and an integral exhaust valve. Cornering on a partial throttle is silky smooth, and I found I could use a higher gear than I would on a regular 600 having these extra cubes and torque to hand.The gearbox was positive - though not as slick as the CBR's - but I never came close to missing a gear and I could always shift quickly and with ease.

Third gear is now taller to provide more evenly spaced ratios, although the slight downside is that third gear wheelies are now more of a challenge. That's probably not a bad thing to be fair, as the phrase 'custodial sentence' always springs to mind on those occasions. Riding fast in a straight line could be done with no hands (although I don't recommend you try this yourself) as the stiff chassis and special 'J' model BT014 Bridgestones work in perfect harmony, but coming down from a fast wheelie or accelerating over an undulating or bumpy surface got my sphincter's attention on a few occasions. Unlike the last 636 there is no violent headshake, instead more of a slow-motion buckling feeling. I'm sure this could be improved by stiffening the rear suspension but the only safe fix would be a steering damper. There should be no shame in manufacturers fitting these as standard because, as any racer knows, there is always a stability trade-off to get a quick steering bike.They seem to view it as an admission of failure... Otherwise the new Showa suspension was brilliant and I particularly liked how the new 41mm upside down forks coped on the brakes, giving a nice and progressive weight transfer. The powerful 300mm radially mounted four-piston/four pad calipers also provided a consistent feel throughout the day, with the new petal discs front and rear complementing the fresh new look .

Being a minimalist, I like the single clock dash, but reading the rpm at a glance is impossible. You can use the adjustable shift light for gear changes but now and again I would like to know what is going on with engine speed. Split seconds count for safety more than anything else, and it just takes too long to read the rev counter. The other info is fine with the warning lights, speed and temperature all easy to read. Personally I think the new shade of Kawasaki green stands out best with the contrasting black sidepanels, frame and bellypan with the candy blue coming a close second. The 'raw titanium' option is my least favourite.

I thoroughly enjoyed my short spell with the new Kawasaki. It has a stonking motor, a great personality, is fun to be with and stands out from the crowd. I wouldn't describe it as perfect, but then perfect can be a little bit boring. Just look at Michael Schumacher.

The proof for me of how good a bike is whether or not I really want to ride it again. Well, I'm gagging for more of this one, so roll on Spring and a nice dry track.

NIALL SPEAKS TO ZX-6R DESIGNER SHIGEO TAKAGI

How long have you been working on the ZX-6R project?
Not so long, I began only two years ago working on this new model. What have you done to address the ZX-6R's nervous front end?
We have worked hard to improve this with a stiffer chassis, new Showa suspension and the steering head angle has been changed. We are also very pleased with the new Bridgestone tyres developed for this machine. Is a back torque limiter (slipper clutch) necessary on a supersports machine with minimal engine braking?
If you ride the bike hard on the track or mountain roads the back torque limiter is useful. It is also a good safety feature. Honda reduced the weight of their underseat pipe to improve the CBR600RR's handling. What is your opinion of underseat pipes?
We are happy with the handling and weight balance. Our only concern was with excess heat in the tail unit but that problem has been solved. Is the 636 the new ZX -7R?
The 636 is not a 750 replacement. We have no plans to develop 750s as we feel there is no interest in this category now. We believe our customers are only looking for 600cc or 1000cc machines. Many thanks. Perhaps I can interest you in some raw fish?
Cheers, sea bream please.

VERDICT

Slick styling, a strong motor and chassis tweaks put the ZX-6R right back up there. Big bore motor is still cheating though...

Since its original launch I've had a
difficult relationship with Kawasaki's ZX-6R. One half of me appreciated how good it really is, especially when it became the first middleweight sportsbike with radial brakes and upside down forks. Then I would get frustrated at being unable to compare it to the opposition due to its bigger - by 36cc - engine. Well, I've had some counselling and I've come to realise I have to enjoy the 636 for what it is: a cracking motorbike.

The 'Philosophy of Speed' is what Kawasaki says is inherent to their machines so, sharing a similar philosophy myself, I accepted the invitation to sample the latest incarnation of their rapid offering.
The Almeria Circuit in southern Spain is one of Europe's driest tracks, getting just 10 days of rain a year. Unfortunately three of them occurred when the British journalists travelled there to what should have been a mostly track-based launch. But three laps of the twisty, flowing circuit was all I managed before the session was red flagged by nervous Kawasaki staff wanting to keep their bikes in one piece.

So instead the surrounding quiet but challenging roads were where we put the much-changed middleweight Kawasaki through its paces. Waiting for the rain to clear gave me a good opportunity to visually scrutinise the best-looking version so far.
Stand back to take in the view and you can see the influences from both the ZX-10R and MotoGP ZX-RR machines. The new 6R has a low screen and flowing contours all the way back to the tail unit, then up close the smooth curves of the nose, lights and front mudguard go some way to justifying Kawasaki's claim that this is the most aerodynamic Ninja to date. With everything pulled in, rear turbulence has been greatly reduced behind the rider, adding to comfort and top speed.

Later in the day, on a long straight (private road, of course), the speedo reading rose from 156mph to 165mph in a few seconds just by tucking in properly, which suggested the slippery shape was working well. I bottled out of doing more than one top speed run as earlier in the year I had an encounter with the TWO Transit and a dog on the same stretch of road. You don't need any more details.
Other nice touches are the nicely engineered pillion peg mounts, integrated indicators and lighter ZX-10R-style wheels. The underseat muffler is less tidy and protrudes more than the CBR 600RR's, but looks good never the less.

On to the fun part. After hopping aboard I found the riding position for me was a tad cramped. The pegs didn't give me enough legroom, being a touch too high and forward, plus the brake and clutch levers were set too high. The clutch lever will move down but the brake line connections make it difficult to adjust the right hand lever. I admit after riding for a while I got used to these niggles, but were I to own this bike I would make minor alterations to make riding more comfortable.
Its best feature though is the free-revving, 130bhp motor (claimed, and 136 with ram air effect), which starts with a wail around 8000rpm then develops into a full banshee scream en route to the 15,500rpm rev limit. There is no definite powerband but also no boring linear feel either; just a great engine that will never fail to set your pulse racing.

The extra engine performance comes from a combination of new, 38mm oval throttle bodies (keeping the frame slim), bigger intake and exhaust valves, new camshaft profiles and an integral exhaust valve.
Cornering on a partial throttle is silky smooth, and I found I could use a higher gear than I would on a regular 600 having these extra cubes and torque to hand.The gearbox was positive - though not as slick as the CBR's - but I never came close to missing a gear and I could always shift quickly and with ease.

Third gear is now taller to provide more evenly spaced ratios, although the slight downside is that third gear wheelies are now more of a challenge. That's probably not a bad thing to be fair, as the phrase 'custodial sentence' always springs to mind on those occasions.
Riding fast in a straight line could be done with no hands (although I don't recommend you try this yourself) as the stiff chassis and special 'J' model BT014 Bridgestones work in perfect harmony, but coming down from a fast wheelie or accelerating over an undulating or bumpy surface got my sphincter's attention on a few occasions. Unlike the last 636 there is no violent headshake, instead more of a slow-motion buckling feeling. I'm sure this could be improved by stiffening the rear suspension but the only safe fix would be a steering damper. There should be no shame in manufacturers fitting these as standard because, as any racer knows, there is always a stability trade-off to get a quick steering bike.They seem to view it as an admission of failure...
Otherwise the new Showa suspension was brilliant and I particularly liked how the new 41mm upside down forks coped on the brakes, giving a nice and progressive weight transfer. The powerful 300mm radially mounted four-piston/four pad calipers also provided a consistent feel throughout the day, with the new petal discs front and rear complementing the fresh new look .

Being a minimalist, I like the single clock dash, but reading the rpm at a glance is impossible. You can use the adjustable shift light for gear changes but now and again I would like to know what is going on with engine speed. Split seconds count for safety more than anything else, and it just takes too long to read the rev counter. The other info is fine with the warning lights, speed and temperature all easy to read.
Personally I think the new shade of Kawasaki green stands out best with the contrasting black sidepanels, frame and bellypan with the candy blue coming a close second. The 'raw titanium' option is my least favourite.

I thoroughly enjoyed my short spell with the new Kawasaki. It has a stonking motor, a great personality, is fun to be with and stands out from the crowd. I wouldn't describe it as perfect, but then perfect
can be a little bit boring. Just look at Michael Schumacher.

The proof for me of how good a bike is whether or not I really want to ride it again. Well, I'm gagging for more of this one, so roll on Spring and a nice dry track.

NIALL SPEAKS TO ZX-6R DESIGNER SHIGEO TAKAGI

How long have you been working on the ZX-6R project?

Not so long, I began only two years ago working on this new model.

What have you done to address the ZX-6R's nervous front end?

We have worked hard to improve this with a stiffer chassis, new Showa suspension and the steering head angle has been changed. We are also very pleased with the new Bridgestone tyres developed for this machine.

Is a back torque limiter (slipper clutch)
necessary on a supersports machine with minimal engine braking?


If you ride the bike hard on the track or mountain roads the back torque limiter is useful. It is also a good safety feature.

Honda reduced the weight of their underseat pipe to improve the CBR600RR's handling. What is your opinion of underseat pipes?

We are happy with the handling and weight balance. Our only concern was with excess heat in the tail unit but that problem has been solved.

Is the 636 the new ZX -7R?

The 636 is not a 750 replacement. We have no plans to develop 750s as we feel there is no interest in this category now. We believe our customers are only looking for 600cc or 1000cc machines.

Many thanks. Perhaps I can interest you in some raw fish?

Cheers, sea bream please.

VERDICT

Slick styling, a strong motor and chassis tweaks put the ZX-6R right back up there. Big bore motor is still cheating though...

Score Breakdown
Overall
4
Engine
4
Brakes
4
Handling
4
Comfort
4
Build Quality
4

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