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2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride

Sunday, November 2, 2008
2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride
Kawasaki invited Motorcycle USA out to its very own Autopolis circuit in Japan to test out the high-performance creds of the redesigned Ninja ZX-6R.
Great nations develop a reputation not only for its populace and distinctive culture but also for the goods it produces. For the French it’s their bubbly. The Germans are acknowledged for their precision engineered automobiles, while the Chinese are recognized for cranking out all kinds of affordable goods we use daily. The realm of motorcycling is no different; and for aficionados of affordable, quality, high-performance sportbikes there is only one country that comes to mind - Japan.

Although a good majority of motorcycles pumped out from this beautiful island country are engineered for comfort and convenience; supersport replica-racers are built for one purpose - to get from point A to point B as fast as possible - whether it’s your favorite backroad or the racetrack.

So this year, Kawasaki ups the middleweight-class ante by releasing a revamped ZX-6R designed to trounce the competition. And what better place on earth to experience Team Green’s cutting edge 600 than on the very same 20-turn, 2-mile road course which it was born on - Kawasaki’s own Autopolis International Racing Course.

Ingredients of Speed

Leaning over on the 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R.
Every year the Big Four find a way to trim weight off their sportbike lineups. This year's supersport Ninja in no different.
Important aspects of a solid performing 600 include: lightweight, big power, responsive handling and, of course, ease-of-use. So Kawi engineers shaved off 22 pounds of mass, with the new machine weighting in at a claimed 421 pounds ready-to-ride. They followed it up with a power boost throughout its 16,500 rpm rev range, as well as integrated cutting edge chassis technology enabling the rider to put down fast laps with greater ease.

Your parents always said it’s what’s inside that counts; and apparently Japanese families are no different. Thus engineers introduced a substantially lighter, more powerful 599cc Inline-Four. Engine vitals like its 67 x 42.5mm bore/stroke and 13.3:1 compression ratio remain unchanged. What has changed, however, are the camshafts, which are nearly one pound lighter and coated with a more durable outer coating, revised cylinder porting and new friction-reducing pistons for improved performance, especially in the mid-range.

Above, cylindrical aluminum guides direct fuel spray into 10mm taller dual-bore velocity stacks that utilize inlets at two fixed lengths, thereby optimizing engine fueling during mid-and-high rpm engine loads. More powerful ignition coils are said to improve combustion efficiency.

Other weight saving adaptations includes narrower transmission gears and a revised shift dog shape. Oil pump and starter gears have also been trimmed down, while engine covers are now manufactured out of magnesium and feature removable noise-reducing pads on the inside. Primary fuel-injector mounting plate, relocated head pads, and a smaller coolant reservoir round out the changes and net an additional four-pound weight reduction.

2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride
A new frame, subframe, fork, shock and swingarm grace the new ZX-6R.
A small low slung exhaust, similar to the one on the Ninja ZX-10R, replaces the last generation’s trendy undertail system. Header pipes taper into a compact pre-chamber collector which in turn feeds a short right-hand side muffler. The setup has been designed to not only boost low-to-mid range performance but also to keep weight low and centralized.

In the chassis department, the new Ninja 6 benefits from an updated frame, tuned for added lateral flex within the frame spars and increased rigidity in the steering stem area and at the rear engine cross-mount. Steering head angle has been reduced by one notch (from 25-degrees) in order to sharpen steering. Engineers complemented this change by tilting the engine upwards around the countershaft sprocket, thereby raising the engine’s center of gravity and aiding the ability to change direction.

A beefier boomerang-shaped swingarm was designed for optimum rigidity balance, working together with the frame to give the rider a more accurate feel as to what’s happening at the business-end of the rear Bridgestone tire. A two-piece die-cast aluminum subframe further contributes to the bikes overall reduced weight and slims down the back end of the motorcycle.

2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride
A 41mm inverted Showa fork uses BPF (Big Piston Fork) technology - the first of its kind on a production sportbike.
Handling suspension duties up front is a 41mm inverted Showa fork utilizing the Japanese suspension company’s proprietary BPF (Big Piston Fork) technology - the first of its kind on a production sportbike. Internally, the BPF differs from a cartridge-type fork by using a much larger diameter main piston (37mm vs. 20mm in last year’s fork). The increased piston surface area permits damping pressure to be reduced yet still retains the same level of damping force. This lessens initial fork dive under braking or hard load and facilitates smoother, more controlled action, especially in the initial part of the stroke. The BPF system also is of a simpler design, using less internal components, thereby reducing weight. The fork offers 3-way adjustability with spring preload being controlled via a hex key on the bottom of each fork leg, while stepless compression and rebound adjustment are located atop the fork cap.

Due to the increased space made available by the relocation of the exhaust, the gas-charged rear shock has been repositioned and features improved internal damping characteristics. The shock retains four-way adjustability for spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping.

Technology Breeds Performance

The rev-limiter is just about to interrupt as you begin to slow for Turn 1. Pop up from behind the still comfortable at speed large windscreen and promptly get into the front brake lever. Heavy braking areas such as this make it clear just how well the BPF fork works. Load is transferred to the front wheel in a smoother, far more controlled fashion. Bang down three gears (from fifth) in rapid succession and the engine responds by continuing to zing in the upper echelon of the tachometer as you get into the corner.

Just as soon as you clip the apex, pin the throttle and the bike drifts out to the left, just clipping the candy-colored curbing. The track slowly veers to the right as you pass through Turn 2 and you’re full-on accelerating through fourth gear.

2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride
Pushing the front end on the new Ninja at Autopolis, the BPF fork proves its worth with smooth stability and feedback.
Once again, you’re hard on the brakes coming into Turn 3. Initially the radial-mount 4-piston Nissin calipers bite down softly on the dual 300mm petal-style rotors, but as you pull back on the radial-pump equipped brake lever, the brakes scrub speed with voracity, forcing your legs to clamp down on the well-proportioned 4.5-gallon fuel tank. Once more, the BPF fork exhibits its proficiency by keeping the front end firm and stable throughout the corner.

Back in second gear, swing wide for the entrance of Turn 4. With a knee on the deck, run the bike wide before cutting back in for Turn 5. Back on the binders and trail braking into Turn 6, the right foot peg feeler gently scrapes the pavement as you hit the apex and begin accelerating into Turn 7 - demonstrating just how much ground clearance the bike has. As you exit, the rear end gently squirms, signaling that the race-spec Bridgestone BT-003 rubber is looking for grip. Still leaned over, grab an upshift before diving into Turn 8/9. You’re fully cranked on your side as you accelerate uphill into Turn 10, the chassis keeping you well aware of just how hard you can push the bike.

Accelerating thru fourth gear you’d appreciate the extra velocity provided by a liter-class machine, yet the ZX-6R’s mid-range snap will surprise, as it’s robust for a 600 - and a vast improvement over its predecessor. Even more notable perhaps is the top end that just won’t quit. Where last year’s bike would run out of steam well before redline, the engine in ‘09 never says die. Even when you do hit the rev-limiter the cut-out is soft, so acceleration doesn’t feel like it is ending abruptly.

2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride
Along with improved front end feel, the '09 Ninja supersport initiates turn in well.
Since you’re now climbing uphill and fighting Newton’s law, you can come really deep into the left T11 hairpin. Drop two gears and let the well-sorted slipper clutch do the rest. Just like previous year, the 6’s slipper clutch feels like it has the perfect level of slip-to-engine braking. And if you’re looking for a little more in either direction, Kawasaki has different diaphragm springs available.

As you enter the hairpin, trail brake hard until you clip the inside candy-painted apex. Here you’ll be amazed by the direct amount of feel provided by the front brakes, which allows you to scrub speed at considerable lean with absolute confidence.

You have momentum working with you as you gain speed downhill - the tachometer needle swings wildly along with the incessant yellow flash of the shift light as you bang third, followed by fourth gear - descending towards the right hand, motocross-style berm - aka Turn 12. You can go really deep, carrying a high amount of speed into this corner, so it’s important not to go gangbuster on the brakes; instead brake swiftly, downshift, and toss the bike into the corner. On this type of fast entry corner you can appreciate how solid and unflappable the chassis feels.

Stay to the outside as you exit, accelerating hard, then flick the bike onto its right side into Turn 13, which gradually tightens into Turn 14. In sections like this, where you’re turning the bike quickly from side-to-side, you’ll appreciate just how easily the bike initiates a turn. There are a number of different line choices in this portion of the track, but for us, we’d hug the inside of Turn 15, then stay to the outside and turn into T16 at the last possible second, all while being sure to keep your momentum as you’re again climbing uphill. Here you’ll notice the crisp and instantaneous throttle response which really helps you stay in control when you’re between gears in a section of track.

2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride
Fork compression damping adjustment has been moved to the top of the fork.
Despite the fitment of an adjustable Ohlins steering damper, we still get a bit of headshake while quickly transitioning from right-to-left through Turn 17, however, it was never enough to warrant concern. Being that the chassis was so well composed we didn’t ever fiddle with damper adjustment, but we overheard others stating that even when maxed out, it still didn’t do much.

As you pass underneath the bridge and enter Turn 18, you’re again on the front brakes while dipping the bike to the left. Accelerate as you drive out, then right before you enter Turn 19, downshift into second gear. The engine will be zinging as you carve right. Muscle the bike left without letting off the gas in order to get a strong drive out of the final chicane-style turn. Back on the front straightaway you’re again in full-tuck, rowing through the precise-feeling, 6-speed, cassette-type gearbox.

2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride
The 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R is improved and looking to knock off the Honda CBR600R and Yamaha YZ-FR6 in the upcoming Motorcycle USA Supersport Shootout.
And that, my friends, is a lap of one of the finest racetracks we’ve ever ridden on, onboard a motorcycle equally worthy.
After two days and seven 20-minute sessions aboard the new ZX-6R, we came away impressed. All of the troubles of last year’s bike - engine power, heaviness, and then some - have been addressed, while the positive attributes like its phenomenal brakes, excellent throttle response, and stable chassis have remained intact.

So will the $9799 ZX-6R have what it takes to ace Honda’s CBR600RR on the streets and Yamaha’s YZF-R6 on the racetrack? We know this - it’s going to be close… Really close. Keep your eyes peeled as we’ll know the answer come January 2009 when we conduct our seventh-annual 2009 Supersport Shootout.

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2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R Spec Sheet
2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R First Ride

Engine: 599cc liquid-cooled Inline-Four, DOHC
Bore x Stroke: 67 x 42.5mm
Compression Ratio: 13.3:1
Fueling: fuel-injection, 38mm Keihin throttle bodies
Horsepower: 124.3 hp @ 13,500 rpm (claimed)
Torque: 49.2 lb-ft @ 11,800 rpm (claimed)
Transmission: 6-speed cassette-type
Clutch: Wet, slipper-action w/ cable actuation
Front Suspension: 41mm Showa BPF with adjustable compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload; 4.72 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Uni-Trak equipped gas charged shock with adjustable high/low speed compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload; 5.24 in. travel

Front Brakes: Dual 300mm petal discs, radial-mount 4-piston Nissin calipers

Rear Brake: Single 220mm petal disc, single-piston Tokico caliper
Tires: Bridgestone Battlax BT-016 120/70R17, 180/55R17

Curb Weight: 421 lbs (claimed, ready to ride)
Wheelbase: 55.1 in. Rake: 24 deg. Trail: 103mm
Seat Height: 32.1 in.
Fuel Tank: 4.5 gal.
MSRP: $9,799

Colors: Lime Green; Metallic Diablo Black; Candy Surf Blue; Monster Energy

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Kawasaki Heavy Industry Tour
Whether it's two wheels, four wheels, or even on the water with no wheels, here in the U.S. the name Kawasaki is synonymous with fun. But what most don't know, and what we came to find out during our visit to Japan for the world press introduction of the '09 Ninja ZX-6R is that they manufacture far more than we Americans could ever imagine.

You name it, Kawasaki probably builds it. Turbine engines, life science equipment, bridges, propellers, helicopters, aircraft, ships and even attack submarines, Big K from Japan does it all. Our first stop was at Kawasaki's Good Times World. The museum, which is open to the public, showcases all the various products that its created over the years-including both piston-driven and turbine aircraft engine, consumer products such as motorcycles, personal watercraft, a Vertol 107-IIA helicopter, and even some of its automated robotic devices.

Later we got exclusive look of the companies Kobe Works Shipyard. The facility began operations in 1902 with a dry dock capable of holding a vessel displacing 6,000 gross tons. The dock has since been retired and replaced with three other docks capable of building and maintaining ships displacing up to 59,000 gross tons!

During our stop we witnessed workers putting the finishing touches on a gigantic cargo ship commissioned by a Singapore company. Propelling a ship of that size across seemingly endless expanses of water requires an engine of immense size. And guess what? Kawasaki makes those too. Inside No. 1 Assembly Shop, we got to see workers putting the finishing touches on a massive six-cylinder 2-Stroke diesel engine that puts out thousands of horsepower at just a scant 90 rpm! The engine measures over four stories tall and has full-sized access doors in which workers can actually enter and build/service the innards of the engine.

Later in the afternoon we cruised on over to the nearby Hyogo Works, Rolling Stock Company where Kawasaki manufactures its rail cars and locomotives. Established in 1906, the division now employs over 1,141 persons, with annual revenue exceeding one billion U.S. dollars. We saw car bodies and "boogies", which are essentially the drivetrain body that the car, in various states of construction, and learned about some of the unique manufacturing techniques.

We always heard that Kawasaki built much more than motorcycles, but up until our visit to Japan, we hadn't a clue to the considerable scope of its operation. Having the opportunity to tour other divisions of the manufacturing conglomerate proves that it has the man power and resources to compete on a global scale.
Check out the full story in our Motorcycle Travel Feature:  Touring Japan with Kawasaki

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ruben!! -awesome bike!  December 28, 2010 04:26 PM
my 2009 zx-6r handles great. its also my first bike so i know i made a great choice! go KAWI
javiersteve -KAWASAKI  August 9, 2010 06:02 PM
Una moto pistera es exelente !!... me encanta y espero comprarme Poder Una al finalizar Este Año .
GianniVegas -Great Artical  November 21, 2009 07:53 AM
Very well written. I felt as if i've ridden the bike just sitting here reading this. Great job.
Crystal -Awsome  June 4, 2009 07:30 PM
I love this bike. It is so easy to ride and handles great!!
tyler -adam  May 30, 2009 01:17 PM
he's got flow
Cap -Incredible!!  January 15, 2009 07:34 AM
I took delivery of this bike last night and it is incredible! I had a 2007 ZX6R and it is completely different. The sound of the engine, handling characteristics, smooth acceleration, and just plain looks were instantly noticed. This bike is a winner!!!!
J-Train -HP Number  January 4, 2009 08:40 PM
Nick, the 124.3 HP number listed is BHP (Brake HP, or at the output shaft)number, not RWHP, when you get your bike Dynoed you will get a RWHP number, a good estimate is a 15% loss from the BHP number. So figure the new ZedX 6R should put down around 108-110HP
Nick -Horsepower  December 23, 2008 06:43 PM
I was wondering about the horsepower stat in the side bar. Is this 600 really putting out 124 hp? That's almost a full 24 horse upgrade from last year! Not to mention beating out an '08 GSX-R750 by nearly 3 ponies. Either that's a typo or the green guys decided to make a run for top spot in your Supersport Shootout this year.
adi cahya -Its really wonderfull bike  November 21, 2008 09:59 AM
The new zx-6r is seems easy to ride , more powerful than the previous version. Although they upgraded its bike with many technologies. But i prefer suzuki products. For example the legendary suzuki gsx-r-1000. All version suzuki gsx-r-1000 has performed the best engine performance. Now iam still waiting to buy the new gsx-r-1000 2009.
Amabilul -kawa  November 19, 2008 09:07 AM
grate bike... i will wait to come in my country....for change my zx6r 2007 :)
Grady Fabianto -Briliant  November 10, 2008 11:44 PM
i think that bike is most perfect hiperbike in the world
wishinItwasMe -Man I wish I coudl ride for a liviing  November 4, 2008 04:54 PM
A jealousy aside - he is rockin it.
x2468 -BPF  November 4, 2008 02:56 PM
The new Honda 450 motocross bike has KYB BPF forks as well right?
harley1 -wikked form  November 3, 2008 05:03 PM
Yep, that's our boy Adam. Seems like his time spent at Freddie Spencer's riding school did him some good. He was already fast, but since he got a little professional instruction, his form has been much better and now he's even faster!!
Desmolicious -nice photos  November 3, 2008 01:57 PM
Is that Adam pictured on the bike? If so, wikked form!