There is no replacement for displacement and the ZX-6R proves that with class-leading horsepower and a street-wise power band.
We knew before this test commenced that the radically revamped Kawasaki ZX-6R was going to give its challengers a run for their money. Our First Ride report from the Circuito de Almeria in southern Spain was full of positive impressions of the new bike, whether referring to its more stable chassis, improved suspension, impressive motor or sexy new styling.
All those feelings were backed up when we threw it into our supersport cauldron. First off, we think this is probably the best looking Ninja since the original GPz900 came out in 1984. Remarks were exceedingly positive about the Zixxer’s appearance, pleasing the cognoscenti and neophytes alike. It’s one of those rare Japanese sportbikes that look cool even without all the multicolor boy-racer decals. The “Metallic Raw Titanium” color on our tester also drew praise for looking smart yet understated.
For those paying attention, you already know that Kawasaki has been in a bit of a styling renaissance for the past couple of years. Shunji Tanaka, the clever designer of the Mazda Miata and currently Kawasaki’s Senior Manager of product planning and design, has been with team green since 2001 and he has injected a renewed focus on styling. Kawi has also been conducting more market research since then, both with its customers and those of its competitors, and it’s really starting to show. For example, take a look at the ZX’s footpeg brackets. They’re easily the nicest looking of the group, with an artful design than embarrasses the bulky components on the CBR and GSX-R and the cheap pot-metal stuff on the R6.
The Kawi’s cockpit with one notable exception is a pleasant place to spend some quality supersport time. Kawasaki has moved the bars 0.5-inch closer to rider than last year, and it has ditched the old model’s slanted seat that caused genitalia a more intimate relationship with the fuel tank than preferred. The new seat is broad and supportive, and it offers space to sit back and stretch legs or mosey up to the fuel tank to get more weight on the front end in full strafing mode. Although the windscreen is swept back near horizontal, it still provides more protection from the elements than the R6 and CBR. Like the Gixxer, wind is blocked at the neck level of my 5-foot-8 body, while the other two bikes left it exposed. Compared to the CBR or R6, there’s a lot of bike visible in front of its rider and it feels relatively long.
“The cockpit area is really nicely put together,” says Don Becklin, president of the old MCUSA. “Everything is covered by flowing bodywork and it fits cleanly without looking over the top. Kawasaki did a very good job in the detail department. Nothing vibrates or rattles and it feels well put together.”
For the past two years, we’ve raved about the so-called cheater motor in the ZX-6R, but the bike was let down by its sub-par chassis and suspension. For ’05, Kawasaki has tamed the beast with slightly less radical steering geometry and by switching from Kayaba to Showa suspension components. The Showa bits do an infinitely better job at damping wheel motion. Back off the compression damping and you’ll get a plush freeway ride that rivals the suppleness of pricy aftermarket equipment. Screwed up tighter, suspension motion is nicely controlled for those times when you’re inspired to wick it up and get your head down.
The ZX’s chassis is less nervous than before thanks to a half-degree more rake and 11mm extra trail. With the stock Bridgestone BT014 tires (a 65-series front rather than the 70-series rubber on the others), the ZX steers quick yet doesn’t have that darty and nervous feeling of last year’s bike. Although the Kaw ties the R6 for lightest-in-class honors at 396 lbs, it should be noted that is up 11 from our 2004 test bike. We warned you that the all-steel underseat exhaust was going to cause the ZX’s weight to go up, but also to blame is the larger radiator, new slipper clutch and thicker engine castings, the latter only somewhat helping to suppress the previous model’s excessive vibration.
Duke Danger found the goodies on the ZX tough to overlook. Inverted forks, radial-mount brakes, wave rotors, it’s all here in one stunning titanium package.
Of course, with 37cc of extra cubes, the talk surrounding the ZX always gets around to a discussion of power. With larger valves, a trick dual-stage fuel-injection system, revised cam profiles and class-first exhaust powervalve, it’s even more of a beast up top than before. The mutant Ninja’s dyno trace has an advantage in both horsepower and torque, and it’s only during a small lull around 9000 rpm when its exhaust-system valve is about to open up that the GSX-R has a short stint at the top of the graph.
“Kawasaki has the engine to beat in this shootout,” notes Korfie. “Certainly the extra displacement makes a big difference on the street, but give Kawasaki credit for making sure there is ample giddiyup in all areas of the powerband. From top to bottom the ZX is a blast and all it takes is a twist of the throttle.”
Off the dyno and on the street, the ZX’s midrange doesn’t feel quite as strong as the dyno numbers indicated, and a comparison with the ’04 bike’s dyno chart shows the new bike to be down on power from 6000 rpm until nearly 11,000 rpm. Still, there’s no denying who the class bully is in this group, as it almost became the first production middleweight to top 110 horsepower a the rear wheel. While it’s obvious there is more power under the ZX’s hood, the surprisingly torquey Gixxer compares well and the sprightly R6 feels nearly as lively.
Also receiving high praise was the Kawi’s slipper clutch. Formerly available only on the race-rep RR model, the clutch design allows the rear wheel to spin freely when compression braking, minimizing rear-tire wheel hop when banging downshifts. This is not only a boon on the racetrack, it also helps make sloppy street downshifts less abrupt. We’re expecting a similar setup to grace almost all high-end sportbikes just a few years down the road.
The ZX-6R biggest flaw is the same one it’s had for the past two years. The circular sweep of its LCD tach is impossible to read quickly at a glance in daylight hours. We were sure Kawasaki was going to fab up a new cluster after the public derision it suffered in the press for the past two years, but it frustratingly remains a part of the 2005 model. We don’t have a problem with the digital speedo (or the convenient clock), but that tach has to go. Making matters worse is how the upper edge of the windscreen blocks the view of the top end of the tach. At least a useful shift light is provided for precise timing of high-rev shifts.
As before, Kawi continues to offer the 599cc ZX-6RR for those who need their bike to conform to the rules of many racing organizations like the AMA. It is also new this year and costs a $300 premium over its bigger brother.
There is a price to pay for all this goodness, as Kawasaki has increased the ZX’s price by $600 to $8699, now second only to the pricy $8999 CBR.