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Living with a 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R

Andy Hogan and John Stevens share a 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R for a year. Here's their review

June 2009

Say hello to my little friend - the 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R. It weighs about the same as one of the fork legs on the Victory I ran last year, revs to 17,500 rpm, and I love it. I’ve ridden loads of sportsbikes at TWO, but never really lived with one for more than a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing if they are as hard to live with as I have always presumed they are.

Initial riding impressions are impressive. It feels so smooth for a 600 and it’s got midrange too, making it feel more like a 750 than a 600 in the fat part of the rev range. Unlike Rob or Niall I don’t class myself as an out-and-out sportsbike freak. While I appreciate the extreme levels of everything that they offer, it does seem a little pointless when they spend the majority of their time pottering along with the rest of the traffic.

I took the 6R along to our Dyno friends Banjax High Performance (0207 729 8500) over in Bethnal Green, to see what kind of power it made. 109bhp and 46ft-lbs of torque proved that the ZX-6 was healthy. And getting the ZX-6 was a great excuse to try and shift some weight.

Rather than bolting on loads of shiny lightweight stuff, I’ve ditched takeaway food, been commuting on my trainers and joined a boxing club. The reasoning behind it (apart from the health benefits) is that it will surely be the cheapest way to lighten the weight of the bike. I’ve managed to ditch just over a stone since Christmas, and it’s cost me nothing.

My current weight plus the weight of the ZX-6R fully fuelled is 275kg. With 109bhp as standard my current power to weight ratio is 397 bhp/ton. The goal is 400bhp/ton. If anyone knows how to do that cheaper than I’ve managed to, drop me a line!

DATE RECEIVED: 27th March 2009

PARTS ADDED: none yet

TOTAL MILEAGE: 505 miles

MILEAGE THIS MONTH: 100 miles

COSTS THIS MONTH: none

PURCHASE PRICE: £7,899

July 2009

It didn’t take long – about two weeks to be precise. I’ve quickly morphed into a bit of a sportsbike-riding nobber, as opposed to a normal nobber. Last year, on our longterm Victory, I got used to getting comments, but now I’m so focussed on getting the drop on scooters, bicycles and my own shadow at the lights, I don’t really speak to people. Christ knows why. Living with the ZX-6R is a constant battle. In town it’s the riding equivalent of the vinegar strokes. It feels great to ride it but you never get to the best part, which is anything over 8,000rpm.

It needs to be thrashed to be fully appreciated, as I found out when I did the Metzeler Racetec Interact launch at Brands Hatch (see p28). Metzeler had a ZX-6R available to test on their new rubber, so I got the chance to give it a spanking round Brands Hatch. This completely justified putting up with the bike in town – on track the Kawasaki was brilliant. I definitely went quicker on it than I did on the litre bikes, mostly because it doesn’t feel anywhere near as intimidating as the big stuff.

This month I’ve fitted me an exhaust. It’s a GPR Grand Prix Evolution. It’s a prettly little thing in

all its titanium glory, and I went for the cat-free option, which is light at half the weight of the original equipment parts I removed, and it found a further 7bhp. It took a little longer to fit thanks to all the foreign instructions, but it was worth it as I’m now back to being ignored by my neighbours. Just like when I rode the Victory.

I’m sticking to the training for free speed that I spoke about last month. I’ve lined up some biological tuning work with Maximuscle. They’ve promised they can make me lighter, stronger and faster. Unlike bolting parts on though, it’s going to take a few weeks of sweating before I see any results. If I’m not dead by next month I’ll check back with the results of my experiment next month.

DATE RECEIVED: 27th March 2009

TEST DURATION: 9 months

TOTAL MILEAGE: 785miles

MILEAGE THIS MONTH: 350 miles

COSTS THIS MONTH: £540

PURCHASE PRICE: £7,899

September 2009

John gets skinny for a date with a hot set of Dunlop slicks, things don’t quite work out

Rob’s holding my Zee-ex six by the ears, the slicks are in the bike, bubbling hot and waiting, just for me. “Don’t be scared John, just nail it as soon as you get out there or the heat will drop out of the tyres” Rob shouts into my Shoei’d shell-like. I jump onto a bike wearing slicks for the first time. I’m dead excited - I do believe I’m about to have my socks blown off. First time up to Druids on the sighting lap and I’m knee down. If I had three hands and no helmet on I’d be scratching my head at the same time. Winding on more throttle than I’ve ever dared on a cranked-over bike, I look in the mirror just in time to see my size eight A-stars socks landing on the other side of the perimeter fence. Socks duly blown off - slicks are ace. I’m going to use the next three pages to explain why you need to try them, and how I came to be on them.

It was a combination of things that lead to me being a lardy, lazy and near as dammit 15 stone lump. Having a bunch of kids is an excuse you can only roll out so many times, and I’d tired of patting my wayward midriff like an expectant mother and rolling my eyes in the direction of my daughters. It wasn’t that I was working too many hours to train, or that I was drinking and eating too much, I just got lazy. While extremely drunk on New Years Eve I made a promise to whoever would listen that 2009 would be the year I’d get stuck back into training. How hard could it be? On January the first I dragged my hangover onto the scales. 14st 9! Blimey. I rolled into my shed and dusted off the rowing machine.

The plan was to train for 45 minutes a day, five days a week. I’d cut my intake of takeaway food down to once a month as a treat, rather than a late night necessity, and got stuck in. My Victory longtermer went back and was replaced with the shiny, tiny ZX6-R you see on this page.

When I had to start making decisions about boltons for the ZX-6, instead of ordering the WSS spec indicators etc, I decided to utilise my new found enthusiasm for weight loss; if I could lose weight, me and the bike would be lighter, making us as a package, faster. Apparently going fast is what it’s all about when you own a sportsbike. Once I knew I had a goal to work towards, the training felt all the more justified and came to me a little easier.

Life assumed a decidedly sporting twang, both on and off the bike. I knew things were looking up when I found myself choosing to run to and from work rather than ride the bike. I lost the plural chin and found the will power to say no the mid-week Domino’s. Maximuscle got on board with my ‘power for free’ project and supplied some Thermobol tablets and some Promax powder. The Thermobol is a three times a day tablet that speeds metabolism. When used in conjunction with a good diet and exercise, it speeds weight loss. The Promax would help with strength and definition.

I had a clear month using the chemicals before me and the bike had a date with some super smooth race rubber at the Brands Indy circuit. I trained consistently hard twice a day, four or five days a week, running to and from work. The only snags I had were being laughed at in the office for dressing like an athletic tramp, and a bird shitting on my head as I ran under some trees in Brixton. I didn’t care though. My efforts were rewarded with 12stone 13 readout on the scales a week before the trackday. That’s 17KG, or 37lbs, or a full tank of fuel, or 7.5 standard bags of potatoes. You try hanging all them spuds off your handlebars and riding to work, it’d make quite a difference. The all in cost was less than £50 for the Maximuscle products. A set of light weight wheels from Marchesini would only reduce the weight of the bike by 10lbs, add a Power Commander and a breathe easy pipe and I would have had to spend £2300 to find a similar jump in performance had I not bothered to lose any weight. Ridiculous.

With my new found fitness, I was keen to try slicks rather than just bolting some power onto the ZX-6. I saw it as more of a test of how good I could go on a standard bike, rather than how well I could hang on to a tuned rocketship. Dunlop supplied a set of GP Racer slicks, a soft front and an Endurance rear, apparently exactly what I would need for a sunny day at Brands Hatch.

Handily I had my lap times from a feature I did last year at the same circuit. I started the day doing 1:09’s and ended that day with a high 59-second lap. Not too shabby for a road rider with no racing intentions. So I had a benchmark to aim for. Hoyles was on hand to make the most of the suspension pending my feedback, he would also give me the benefit of his racing wisdom. I felt like a bit of a nobber, his Thundersport race number 59 splashed up the side of his truck and over his toolbox. My old Army squadron number 59 on my helmet. Tyre warmers on and Rob doing his best Jerry Burgess impression, I’d turned into one of the guys I usually laugh at for having all the gear and no idea on a track day.

This is where things get a little strange. I went out on the standard Bridgestones that the bike comes on and rode a session, best lap was a 57.6. Rob then set the suspension to what it said in the manual, I went back out and managed a 56.8 second lap. I felt like I was riding really well, no sweating or aching muscles, nothing. We stuck the slicks in and I started going backwards, time wise. Apparently this happens a lot. The profile of the tyres feels sharper, turning felt more intuitive, the bike was doing exactly what I made it do. In one of the sessions, exiting Druids in second I was able to apply a stack of throttle and change line to get underneath a bike in front of me, the tyres swallowed up multiple inputs no problem.

I expected at least a couple of seconds after some suspension tweaks, but they never came. The feedback that I was able to give Rob when on road tyres was nothing like what the bike was telling me on the slicks. Instead of the tyres shouting at me, on slicks they were whispering, I wasn’t working them hard enough to get into the feedback zone. You need to push much harder on a slick tyre to get the thing to tell you what it’s doing. A couple of times I was getting into this zone, but because I was having to ride the bike harder than I ever had, to be honest, it was scaring me shitless and I was backing off, hence the slower lap times. I consistently added half a second to my best lap time from each session until eventually I was riding 59.4 second laps. I even stepped up into the fast group for the first time, the thinking behind it was that I would be one of the slower riders in the quick group, giving me more clear track time. This kind of worked, I managed to get past a couple of fancy track bikes and felt great, but this wasn’t reflected on the (onboard) lap timer.

The next step is to not look back, to stick with slicks and get used to riding how they need to be ridden rather than how I feel comfortable riding them. It’s only by doing this that I will see the improvements that they offer. If you haven’t tried slicks you really should. If you’re fat you really shouldn’t be.

DATE RECEIVED: 27th March 20

TEST DURATION: 12 month

TOTAL MILEAGE: 2102 miles

MILEAGE THIS MONTH: 389 miles

COSTS THIS MONTH: £98

PURCHASE PRICE: £7899

November 2009

Andy abandons his thumping V-twin in favour of something a little smaller and revvier. After time off a modern 600, you forget just how small, light and fast they are

The term ‘dead man’s shoes’ springs to mind this month. With John Hogan, our resident funny man and all round nice bloke, leaving Visordown and absconding to Aprilia to manage their press activities, the keys to his ZX-6R were handed to me. A right result as I’ve had my green eye on the blue Kawasaki since it landed here in the spring.

This year I’ve been mostly riding an Aprilia Tuono, so the ZX-6R is a drastic, but more than welcome change. Having ridden the Tuono for more than 8,000 miles through every type of weather, I’d become accustomed to the brutal, thumping yet lazy nature of the torquey V-twin engine. It wasn’t until I took the ZX-6R out for the first time last week that I realised just how much rider input is required to keep the Aprilia riding smoothly; input that is absolutely not required with the ZX-6R!

Interestingly (and totally coincidentally) when I look back at the bikes I’ve owned over the years, most of them have been Kawasaki Ninjas. I’ve had a ZXR400, ZX-6R G1, ZX-6R J2 and a ZX-9R and the three things all those bikes have shared in common is decent low down grunt, fast flickable handling and an addictive induction roar that comes at you from under the tank.

The latest ZX-6R hasn’t lost any of those attributes. Of course, it’s gained a whole load of other cool stuff like a slipper clutch, steering damper, radial brakes and one of the smoothest injection systems I’ve ever experienced, but one of the big changes for this year’s Ninja is the styling.

While some might disagree, I have to say, in my eyes, the ZX-6R has the most beautiful front end I have seen to date. The headlights look like they have been robbed off Johnny Five from the Short Circuit films of the eighties and the ram air scoop is absolutely huge. The bike has a look all of its own that sets it apart from the rest of the supersport clones. Another touch that gives me a warm feeling in my pants is the all-black finish to the rearsets, hangers and levers. It’s the details that count, y’know.

Over the next month I’m going to be riding the bike on everything from twisty country lanes to laborious motorways and of course the treacherous melee that is central London. I can’t wait get thoroughly acquainted with it.

DATE RECEIVED: 27th March 2009

TEST DURATION: 12 month

TOTAL MILEAGE: 2645 miles

MILEAGE THIS MONTH: 389 miles

COSTS THIS MONTH: N/A

PURCHASE PRICE: £7899

January 2010

The sun got sunnier and the roads got grippier when Andy suddenly discovered what rubber awareness was all about

Last month after some fairly hefty commuting the tyres on the ZX-6R had finally worn down to the markers (canvas more like – Ed) so I was pressed into trying some new rubber.

With a few months of reasonable weather left I opted for a pair for Metzler Racetec K3’s. Now I understand as well as the next man that more rubber on the road equals more grip (well at least that’s how it works in the racing world) but it’s still really unnerving when you’re looking at a pair of tyres with virtually no tread on them whatsoever. They look totally illegal, even when they’re brand new.

Another concern I had was how they’d perform when the weather turned mingin’. How could a tyre with precious little tread possibly clear enough water away to allow it to grip?

I never paid much attention to tyres because I figured I don’t really ride them to their limits like Rossi and would really struggle to spot the microscopic differences between all the different makes. However, last year I became a big fan of the Bridgestone BT16s because they gave me more all round feel and feedback. So with this new found rubber awareness I was keen to try Metzeler Racetecs to see if their radical appearance made a radical difference.

The first thing I noticed was at really slow speeds the bike felt like it had a flat tyre. There’s slow speed resistance because Metzler introduced a new construction technology to give a larger contact patch. Once you’re up and running, though, the sensation from the front tyre is the exact opposite. At speed the bike feels really light and nimble.

After I’d run them in and the sun came out I took the Kwak for a damn good thrashing. The grip these things offer is ridiculous. And despite me braking, turning and getting on the gas as hard as I dared, the tyres just dug in and gripped., almost as if my efforts weren’t worthy of their attention. In the wet they’re not the nightmare I thought they’d be. Far from it in. Despite looking like a slick tyre they grip pretty well and I guess that’s all you can ask for. I’ve genuinely never had a pair of tyres improve the overall handling and capability of a bike by so much.

If I was using the ZX-6R just for weekend jaunts then I’d always have a pair of Metzler Racetec K3s on because they transform the handling of an already phenomenal bike. However, I commute 80 miles a day and after just 1800 miles the back tyre’s already on the wear indicators so its back to more sensible rubber for winter. Boooo!

DATE RECEIVED: 27th March 2009

TEST DURATION: 12 months

TOTAL MILEAGE: 8441 miles

MILEAGE THIS MONTH: 2357 miles

COSTS THIS MONTH: £514.34

PURCHASE PRICE: £7899