First Ride

First Ride: 2002 Kawasaki ZX-6R

NOW WITH 36cc EXTRA FREE! If you can't beat 'em, cheat. Works for us and there's a decent chance it'll work for Kawasaki as they wheel out their new oversquare 636cc ZX-6R. Any good or dead horse flogged?




Without a back-to-back test of last year's ZX-6R and this 36cc larger one, it's hard to tell. The ZX-6R was always a cracking sportsbike tool anyway, so anyone expecting a midrange-laden super middleweight can walk away now and go buy a 750 instead. However, those wanting a brand new 600 with subtle motor refinements, stick around...

Kawasaki's choice of Circuit Pau to launch their new 636 was smart. Set into a valley it twists and twines its way all over the place. There's fifth-gear kneedown corners, a ridiculous first-gear chicane, third-gear highsiders, everything. Sling in a variable track surface and you have the perfect proofing ground for a sportsbike.

Visually, the ZX-6R hasn't changed one blob apart from the 636 sticker on the side. The new capacity has been arrived at by reaming-out (wahey!) the bores 2mm, to give a bore and stroke of 68x43.8mm, compared to 66x43.8mm on the old model. In essence, the only marketing reason I could gather for Kawasaki doing this was "because there was some space left in the motor, so we could," which is fair enough by me. 600 Supersport racebikes will (naturally) continue to be 599cc in capacity, and will be ordered to be fully stripped-down by suspicious opposition (naturally) every time a ZX-6R wins at a race meeting.

I spoke to a couple of insurance dudes and they both reckoned there would be no premium hike for riders buying a 636 over a 599.

So, let's ride. Small and roomy and dead smart in its new silver livery, the 636 makes you feel right at home straightaway. There's plenty of room to tuck away behind the screen, and the stretch from arse to footpegs is as spacious as it ever was. Pull away and the clutch and gearbox do their thing without cause for comment, which is unsurprising as they're unchanged from every ZX-6 that went before. I spent a couple of hours learning the track before having a proper think about the motor and handling.

The extra 36ccs are hard to detect, to be honest. I'm sure there might be more midrange in place, but I was buggered if I could spot it. Likewise, you might expect the over-square motor to rev a little harder and howl a bit louder at the top end of the powercurve, but it simply felt like a very healthy and happy ZX-6R to me. With only 36cc extra, expecting anything more is probably unreasonable and you've got to dance around on the gearshift to get the best from the ZX in traditional 600cc fashion. But surely that's the fun of a middleweight superbike - banging it down three gears on the way into a corner, screaming second gear all the way into over-run at 14,500rpm, getting back on full throttle as soon as you dare, and clutchless-shifting your way down the main straight, head buried deep in the bubble. And the 636 responds to this sort of treatment with a turbine-like whistle from the airbox and as crisp an exhaust note as you could ask for in road-silenced form. Nice. Very nice indeed. But difficult to tell if it's actually any nicer than before.

Handling was always a ZX-6R fortŽ, and it still is. Kawasaki have stiffened the fork action somewhat in the 636 and you can feel this straight away. It's dead precise around the track, although from stock all Kawasaki sportsbikes benefit from having the rear ride-height jacked right up (see set-up boxout) to make them turn faster. Once we'd spent the morning messing about with the 636's settings, it fair scuttled around Pau at a rate of bleedin' knots and never got out of shape or threatened to do anything untoward. Stability comes as standard with all ZX models, and despite setting the geometry head-down and arse-up for the track, there was never any slapping to write home about.

Perhaps the simplest vindication of the 636's handling is that you don't even think about it. At the circuit, the limit on lean angle was defined by the Dunlop 207 tyres and certainly not on any handling limitations. The 207s were batting it out manfully and totally predictable, but they're a standard-compound road tyre (as they should be on a roadbike) and a swap to stickier 207RR or 207GPs for the track would have meant you could have gone utterly bananas. There's no doubt the 636 would have loved every minute of it.

Kawasaki remain the very last of the Japanese manufacturers to still insist on using a fuel tap instead of a simple reserve light on the dash, and a good old-fashioned analogue speedo. Re-live the 1990s with Kawasaki!

600cc sportsbikes are seemingly difficult things to evolve over the years. Until someone produces a 600 that weighs 139kg dry and makes 120bhp at the back wheel, they'll continue to eke progress along a smidgeon at a time.

As such, the ZX636 is evolving nicely.

I wouldn't expect to see the other manufacturers tripping over themselves to squeeze another 40ccs out of their 600s, 'cos on the strength of this example there doesn't seem much point once you take all the expense of re-tooling into account, but it's a refreshing way of developing an existing model. The 600 class remains as close as it's ever been.

Verdict:

If you were expecting massive changes to midrange or performance, forget it. The 636 is a decent evolution
of an already-decent bike, and will be right in there with the others when the 600 Group tests kick off this Spring

SPECS


TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £6695

ENGINE CAPACITY - 636cc

POWER - 106bhp@12,700rpm

TORQUE - 48lb.ft@10,100rpm

WEIGHT - 172kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - 158mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

Without a back-to-back test of last year's ZX-6R and this 36cc larger one, it's hard to tell. The ZX-6R was always a cracking sportsbike tool anyway, so anyone expecting a midrange-laden super middleweight can walk away now and go buy a 750 instead. However, those wanting a brand new 600 with subtle motor refinements, stick around...

Kawasaki's choice of Circuit Pau to launch their new 636 was smart. Set into a valley it twists and twines its way all over the place. There's fifth-gear kneedown corners, a ridiculous first-gear chicane, third-gear highsiders, everything. Sling in a variable track surface and you have the perfect proofing ground for a sportsbike.

Visually, the ZX-6R hasn't changed one blob apart from the 636 sticker on the side. The new capacity has been arrived at by reaming-out (wahey!) the bores 2mm, to give a bore and stroke of 68x43.8mm, compared to 66x43.8mm on the old model. In essence, the only marketing reason I could gather for Kawasaki doing this was "because there was some space left in the motor, so we could," which is fair enough by me. 600 Supersport racebikes will (naturally) continue to be 599cc in capacity, and will be ordered to be fully stripped-down by suspicious opposition (naturally) every time a ZX-6R wins at a race meeting. I spoke to a couple of insurance dudes and they both reckoned there would be no premium hike for riders buying a 636 over a 599.

So, let's ride. Small and roomy and dead smart in its new silver livery, the 636 makes you feel right at home straightaway. There's plenty of room to tuck away behind the screen, and the stretch from arse to footpegs is as spacious as it ever was. Pull away and the clutch and gearbox do their thing without cause for comment, which is unsurprising as they're unchanged from every ZX-6 that went before. I spent a couple of hours learning the track before having a proper think about the motor and handling.

The extra 36ccs are hard to detect, to be honest. I'm sure there might be more midrange in place, but I was buggered if I could spot it. Likewise, you might expect the over-square motor to rev a little harder and howl a bit louder at the top end of the powercurve, but it simply felt like a very healthy and happy ZX-6R to me. With only 36cc extra, expecting anything more is probably unreasonable and you've got to dance around on the gearshift to get the best from the ZX in traditional 600cc fashion. But surely that's the fun of a middleweight superbike - banging it down three gears on the way into a corner, screaming second gear all the way into over-run at 14,500rpm, getting back on full throttle as soon as you dare, and clutchless-shifting your way down the main straight, head buried deep in the bubble. And the 636 responds to this sort of treatment with a turbine-like whistle from the airbox and as crisp an exhaust note as you could ask for in road-silenced form. Nice. Very nice indeed. But difficult to tell if it's actually any nicer than before.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Review

Handling was always a ZX-6R forté, and it still is. Kawasaki have stiffened the fork action somewhat in the 636 and you can feel this straight away. It's dead precise around the track, although from stock all Kawasaki sportsbikes benefit from having the rear ride-height jacked right up (see set-up boxout) to make them turn faster. Once we'd spent the morning messing about with the 636's settings, it fair scuttled around Pau at a rate of bleedin' knots and never got out of shape or threatened to do anything untoward. Stability comes as standard with all ZX models, and despite setting the geometry head-down and arse-up for the track, there was never any slapping to write home about.

Perhaps the simplest vindication of the 636's handling is that you don't even think about it. At the circuit, the limit on lean angle was defined by the Dunlop 207 tyres and certainly not on any handling limitations. The 207s were batting it out manfully and totally predictable, but they're a standard-compound road tyre (as they should be on a roadbike) and a swap to stickier 207RR or 207GPs for the track would have meant you could have gone utterly bananas. There's no doubt the 636 would have loved every minute of it.

Kawasaki remain the very last of the Japanese manufacturers to still insist on using a fuel tap instead of a simple reserve light on the dash, and a good old-fashioned analogue speedo. Re-live the 1990s with Kawasaki 600cc sportsbikes are seemingly difficult things to evolve over the years. Until someone produces a 600 that weighs 139kg dry and makes 120bhp at the back wheel, they'll continue to eke progress along a smidgeon at a time. As such, the ZX636 is evolving nicely.

I wouldn't expect to see the other manufacturers tripping over themselves to squeeze another 40ccs out of their 600s, 'cos on the strength of this example there doesn't seem much point once you take all the expense of re-tooling into account, but it's a refreshing way of developing an existing model. The 600 class remains as close as it's ever been.

Verdict:

If you were expecting massive changes to midrange or performance, forget it. The 636 is a decent evolution
of an already-decent bike, and will be right in there with the others when the 600 Group tests kick off this Spring.

Kawasaki ZX-6R Specifications

SPECS - KAWASAKI
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2002
PRICE NEW - £6695
ENGINE CAPACITY - 636cc
POWER - 106bhp@12,700rpm
TORQUE - 48lb.ft@10,100rpm   
WEIGHT - 172kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - N/A   
TOP SPEED - 158mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

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