It's all change in the supersport class. First Yamaha, then Honda, now Kawasaki. Niall braves the rain again and tries his best to stay on board the new ZX-6R
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 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.
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