We love riding at the track. So much so that we decided to abandon all hopes of riding our beloved 2009 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R on the street ever again, choosing instead to transform it into a purpose-built trackday weapon that’s hell bent on hauling ass and taking names. Actually, it’s more like hell bent on surviving the carnage and making us look good in photos. Mu-wah-hah-hah…. Igor, flip the switch!
Our Franken-Ninja is a conglomeration of bits and pieces from different aftermarket performance equipment manufacturers, some of which we had previous experience with from back in the club racing days and some that we’ve not yet laid our hands on. In the end, we assembled a bike that would be equally well suited as a club-racer or a track day machine and here’s how we did it. We already have the Leo Vince exhaust system and a Power Commander V installed so we turn our attention to the bike exterior.
First of all the OEM bodywork is very expensive and if you hope to someday recoup the money you spent on this hobby of yours, then we suggest removing it immediately and replacing it with some aftermarket fiberglass bodywork. We chose Hotbodies Racing Bodywork ($674.99) for the Ninja’s new skin. Hotbodies makes some of the most affordable bodywork on the market today, undercutting the competition by $500-1000. We had our pieces painted Kawasaki green which allowed us to avoid painting the gas tank and keeps true to the Franken-Ninja theme. Hotbodies doesn’t pre-drill their bodywork so you can do it before or after the paint goes on. We recommend mounting it to the bike, drilling the holes and riveting the fasteners components into place prior to painting the bodywork so that when you’re man-handling the pieces and experimenting how to get it together, you are not buggering up the new paint.
If you’re building a track-only motorcycle then Hotbodies Racing has a full set of fiberglass bodywork for under $700. That’s about the same price as one new OEM upper cowling so without a doubt aftermarket bodywork is a must-have for track riders.
Our paint shop, Cutting Edge Illusions out of Eugene Oregon, laid a one-color paint job with number plates tossed in for good measure. Typically, you can get this done on the cheap for $500 to $1000 depending on whether or not you plan on getting creative with the colors. Preparation is key to a nice paint job and what we discovered with the Hotbodies stuff is that it’s really light and as a result is also kind of flimsy and as a result it’s easy to crack and fray when handling it. The painter reported some patches of fiberglass fiber that didn’t seem to adhere to itself too well, which required them to do additional prep work to get it ready for painting. We recommend the Hotbodies bodywork for anyone who wants an inexpensive way to replace the OEM bodywork without breaking the bank. We do not recommend it for anyone with their eye on squirting a high-end paintjob on their ride because it’s so light that it can be fragile in spots.
Even though the fasteners are not pre-drilled, the Hotbodies bodywork bolts up very neat and tidy. The fit is very good and it retains that OEM-look while shedding over 10 lbs off the OEM bodywork. We use a Zero Gravity Double Bubble windscreen ($89.95) which provides significantly more wind protection at full-tuck than the OEM screen.
With the exhaust and bodywork in place, old Frank is lean, mean and green but our project is far from complete. Before we actually bolted the bodywork back in place we tore Franken-Ninja limb from limb, sent the suspension to Catalyst Reaction Suspension where tuning-guru Dave Moss laid hands on the stock Big Piston Fork and rear shock for us.
We are firm believers that Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning is an excellent choice when you need your bike set-up. If you have never had help getting your bike set-up properly then odds are, you should call CRST for help immediately. You’ll be glad you did.
This is an area where preferences really come into play. We found that the OEM suspension is excellent, but we can’t help but experiment with it and try to make it better. It is particularly great when it’s set up properly, as we found out during our participation in the Catalyst Reaction Suspension School on this very motorcycle. CRST installed their proprietary CRST valving and changed the shock oil to a medium weight oil to help stop fade during repeated heat cycles for the shock and then simply changed the fork oil to 7w in an effort to improve damping qualities of the BPF design. They only utilize high-speed damping and the objective says Moss, is to take some of the harshness away. But the fork is so good we didn’t want to get too crazy with it because it works really well. It is set-up for a 175 to 180-lb rider. Once we got warmed up we were able to push the middleweight ZX around the Spring Mountain Motorsports 2.2-mile road course.
The surface is a little bumpy and rough in parts so it revealed a significant difference in how plush the Ninja feels with suspension tuning in place compared to the stock set-up. Basically the CRST set-up was pretty stiff for the lighter riders. It also proved to be a too stiff at the rear shock for Waheed. With Adam’s input we softened up the shock to try to protect the rider from the rough track surface. It was especially obvious over mid-corner bumps. As far as the fork is concerned, the modification was minimal so front end feel is very consistent to what we experienced in the past. If anything, it seemed to work better the faster we went but still provides excellent feedback, especially when at or close to the limit of front end traction.
Our first track day at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park revealed how much of a difference the suspension work made compared to the stock ZX-6R.
All in all it’s our feeling that the adjustments we received from CRST were made a little better with the addition of the new shock valving ($250) and fork oil change ($150) would be a bigger benefit to a racer or someone who uses their bike at the track more than three to four times per month. For our purposes it is nice to have the added damping qualities from the fork, but the BPF is so damn good, it will work fine for most riders. For people who will ride the bike competitively, making the slow transition from a properly set-up ZX-6R like we have here to a full-blown fork kit with either Ohlins or GP Suspension internals is a smart move. It allows a rider time to develop a feel for the ZX by getting up to speed before putting the additional cash into the high-end components.
Now that the bike looks the part of a track bike and has suspension dialed-in specifically for track use, we put the extra time to put the finishing touches in place. In our next installment we will replace stock bars, controls, brakes, gearing and our favorite aftermarket accessory of all: The sticky tires.