Kawasaki’s ZX-6R came into this shootout as the 2009 top dog, with the target firmly on its back. Not letting the pressure get to it, both rounds of modifications only propelled the Kawi to a higher level of trackday bliss.
1st Place – 2010 Kawasaki ZX-6R
There’s definitely something to be said for starting with the strongest possible base package. It’s why all the manufacturers spend so much time and money developing the latest road-going sportbikes, working extremely closely with their top race teams, because the biggest advantage one can have in racing is to start with a machine superior to that of the competition.
This is exactly what Kawasaki started with in its latest ZX-6R, as the stock bike was top of the pile in our last shootout, making nearly seven horsepower more than the next closest machine with an extremely capable chassis to match. It’s for this reason that Kawasaki had a definite advantage coming into the second stage of our shootout, one which it only built on as the mods were added.
Kawasaki’s in-house press fleet maestro, Joey Lombardo, is also a man with an impressive racing history, one which includes countless AMA race wins and several championships, so we knew the Kawasaki was going to be in good hands. Speaking of the mods, for this round the stakes were raised as, like the rest of the bunch, Race Tech worked closely with Kawasaki to optimize its full Supersport suspension set-up, using their cartridge fork kit and custom-series rear shock.
Aiding the ergonomic package, Attack Performance rearsets and clip-ons, both available from Kawasaki’s own accessory catalog, were installed and got the riders feet up off the ground and put additional weight on the front end. A Dynojet quick-shifter mated to the Kawasaki kit ECU for full-throttle upshifting, while EBC “Pro” brake pads and Goodrich steal-braided lines increased stopping power. Attack performance modified the stock velocity stacks, which proved quite a bit cheaper than the kit units used on all the other machines, sans the Suzuki, which did not modify its intake system at all. This helped to keep costs down, bringing the Kawasaki in as the second-cheapest at a hair over 6-grand, only the Suzuki being cheaper, though they didn’t install rearsets either, saving a good amount of money but also hampering on-track performance.
Cranked over on its side around the high-speed Willow Springs proved to be an instant shining point for the ZX-6R.
Turn the key, hit the starter button and the Kawasaki barks to life with a nice rasp, though not nearly as loud as some of the competition. Clutch in, click it into gear, and go – once on track it’s nearly impossible to not notice the ZX-6’s monster motor. Almost feeling like a 750 compared to the rest of the 600s in this pack, it was again the better part of eight horsepower over the next closest machine. And while it’s the top-end where the rider really feels it, the Kawasaki is noticeably faster throughout the rev-range.
“Power wise, the Kawi has them all beat!” Waheed exclaims. “Especially in terms of top-end performance; once you get toward the red numbers the thing just takes off. Jetting was spot-on perfect, too, with the bike delivering an authentic “racebike” type feel and really packing a punch that none of the others have.”
Adds Sorensen: “Both on the track and the dyno the Kawi shines the brightest. The power delivery is strong down low with a good rush after 12k that beats out the other bikes hands down. This engine is the most fun to ride because of its power characteristics as well; closer feeling to a 750 actually, and because of this you ride the bike differently as it will spin the rear tire on corner-exit, something the others only do when you make a mistake.”
Handling was an area that took a bit of work for the Green Machine to be perfected, as early laps at Streets of Willow showed a bike far from competitive. Though with some serious hard work and once dialed in, things started to brighten up.
Equally backed up by the data, the modified ZX-6R accelerates the hardest of the bunch coming out of both Turn 12 and Turn 8, throwing riders to the back of the seat to the tune of 0.83g and 0.61g, respectively. This coincides with the fastest back-straight top speed it posted of 125.70 mph, as well as its second-highest front-straight pace with a 120.71 mph peak.
Wide-open up-shifts are the norm on all the 600s in this test, as speed-shifters were allowed in this round of the shootout. Some worked better than others though, and Kawi’s little missile performed flawlessly, the slightest tap of the lever initiating the next cog with a positive engagement and solid feedback to the rider. Combined with one of the better slipper clutches of the bunch and seamless throttle response, the overall engine package from the Kawasaki was top notch.
For this second round Race Tech suspension highlighted the new modifications (bottom), which took some work to get dialed in.
One can have all the power in the world, but without the ability to keep it in check and get the machine steering where and when the rider wants it, the bike will never be fast around the racetrack. And while Kawasaki typically shows up to the track with nearly-perfect stock set-ups, in this aftermarket-based shootout it took longer to get the ZX dialed in. That said; once to our liking the Kawasaki performed quite well, to say the least.
“The Kawi took some time to get a good setting, especially at Streets, where we had to go with substantially softer front springs to get the bike to use more of its travel,” remarks Sorensen. “Once this was done the fork worked well following the bumps and tracking with good rider feedback.”
As for the back? “The Race Tech shock worked good, though this bike moved around the most of any of the bikes,” he continues. “It wasn’t a loss of traction or chatter but it would dance a bit under hard acceleration, yet it wasn’t enough to prevent me from charging hard on the exits.”
This was partially backed up in the numbers as well. Through the Bowl turn the Kawasaki posted the second-highest corner speed (45.94 mph), maximum lean angle (56.7 degrees) and peak lateral grip load (1.51g). On the other hand, through Turn 1 the ZX-6R posted the lowest speed (76.04 mph) and least amount of lean angle (46.8 degrees), with much of this coming down to the machine sliding quite a lot in the first corner, which is shown by the Kawi’s low peak lateral grip load of only 1.06g. It was the same case in Turns 2 and 10, the ZX at or near the back in terms of speed and lean angle, with very low lateral g-loads showing excessive siding from the middleweight.
One of the few areas of the green machine that didn’t garner rave reviews was the brakes. The steel-braided lines and EBC Pro pad combination didn’t give that noticeable of a gain over the stock set-up, which comes from Kawasaki as a very capable package. Everyone who rode the ZX commented that the upgraded brakes performed adequately, but were nothing special, only providing a very small improvement over stock, if anything at all.
“I didn’t notice a dramatic difference in the brakes on the Kawi from the first shootout to now,” Sorensen adds. “They worked well before and work well now, they just aren’t anything special; I would honestly like a bit more initial bite and outright power if possible.”
There’s something to be said for starting out with the best possible base package and building upon it. Just look at the results from the Kawasaki…
This was shown in the data, with the maximum g-load under braking into Turn 3 being second from the bottom at -0.79g, while going into Turn 10 it jumped up one spot with a peak of -0.83g to put the Kawi in second spot.
But while the Kawasaki may not have had the best binders or posted the highest numbers when it came to lean angle, one thing that the Kawasaki did was respond to being pushed hard – the harder the better. As a result, when ridden at or near its limits during Superpole the ZX posted some impressive numbers. The Kawasaki was top of the pile at both tracks this time around, clocking a 1:26.05 at Big Willow and a 1:18.28 at Streets. Though this was a fairly small margin at both tracks, the numbers don’t lie.
But what really sets the ZX-6R apart from the rest of the field is the impressive base platform from which it starts. This without question gave them a leg-up on the competition coming into this hotly-contested shootout, which through the help of some smart and talented people close to and within Kawasaki, they grabbed the ball and ran with. It was our 2009 Supersport Shootout winner in stock form last year and this time around nothing has changed. It was the best stock and it continues to be once modded out. Say hello to MotoUSA’s 2010 Modified Supersport Shootout Champion!
Were you honestly expecting anything else?