Weather issue’s aside we were treated to a dedicated mechanic who cuddled me after each session and adjusted my bike to match my portly dimensions. My guy, Satoshi Ebisu, was the best of the lot - he seemed to have a great sense of humor and although we both had very basic English-speaking skills, he said “no problem” a lot, so we got on famously. Due to the frigid conditions I edged closer to my ideal set-up, rather than through it and down into the gravel traps. Blowing through the fork stroke had me raising front preload a millimeter at a time until it felt a little more compliant (just 2-turns total - 2.5mm, I think), and a tad more compression damping (1/4 turn) to keep the front from collapsing. The rear was upped in preload as well to keep the balance (one turn), and with some low speed compression damping, all was good.
The bike responded very well on the second day to minimal adjustments too (one more turn on the rear shock). I was a little warmer but I could especially see my times drop when I increased that rear preload again - essentially raising the rear ride height.
Thanks to Honda I was up to speed on track knowledge and I was dropping times faster than Harald Eckl leaving the factory for his ADD support group. The one thing that was love at first sighting lap, was that slipper clutch, the fact is, these things work around a race track (and into your subdivision entrance) but where were the photo guys when I needed them? With three of the best shooters in the world at the same race track intro, Wingers, Nelson and Riles Inc, I was guaranteed a sideways shot - as it happens they were all in the SAME corner toasting marshmallows? The only other person who was remotely interested in the way this thing backed itself in was Cycle News’, Steve Atlas, and he was leaving fun little darkies everywhere too. How’s this for the proverbial icing on a clichéd cake? - It’s fully adjustable too.
The throttle to tire relationship on this bike is what made it so fun, it felt a little flat up top and perhaps didn’t quite have the power that the CBR6 made but it made it up in spades when over on its side, railing apexes and driving out. Especially nice was the over-rev, at any point in the track where an additional gear-change was marginal, I didn’t, I just hung onto the gear and throttle and let this bike sing.
At the hotel I overheard a sales dweeb telling his compatriot that he felt a synergy in his recent sales meeting - I’m not sure if his synergy with his workmate was in the same league as my top of fourth, 16,000 screaming RPM coming into turn one synergy, but I was definately feeling it too.
The bike has a very tactile feel to it now - go look at the rearsets (I’ll wait here) see how nicely they’re finished - that’s attention to detail, my freaky friends. Style-wise it’s got very graceful arcing lines. Little touches also gave me cheap thrills, like the 12-o’clock redline - that’s racer stuff too. Look, before I go on and on, I suppose I should go into some of the technical aspects and help you understand how this ZX6R’s development came about. Page/Line-one of the press kit contains four simple words to sum up the concept of this bike - the words are not for the technical minded but they offer a profound sense of the design goals of the 2007 Kawasaki 6R. Stay on the gas.
This bike was developed by an ex-125GP jockey and is Kawasaki’s first complete 600 redesign for ten years. Starting with a blank sheet of aluminum meant no real restraints. Like Honda, they used an in-line 16-valve four-cylinder motor, went smaller, some 40mm was lost in width and length, and internal frictional losses are reduced, presumedly using lashings of secret sauce, smaller parts and tighter tolerances. Valve sizes are up though, for midrange juice and the intakes are shorter for mid and high torque value as well. Those smaller cases are a little more rigid than of yore, the pistons are lighter and shorter and more forged than previous renditions. The flywheel is heavier, clutch included, which is an obvious aid to smoother power pulses (read traction). The whole thing’s going to run cooler than you’ll remember too, due to enhanced cooling coolant passageways. Finally the transmission is the now the standard tri-axis layout of a compact crank, cassette 6-speed close-ratio gearbox and whatever the third one is that nobody ever mentions.
The exhaust is somewhat familiar to last year’s bike but now has a pre-chamber under the motor (mass centralization, baby). There was a cutaway version to look at containing what I think is an exhaust valve in the silencer entrance, although I wasn’t told, I didn’t ask and the press kit was about as much use as a chocolate sparkplug. My Mum always told me not to point too, (‘cause that’s rude) so I have to assume it’s a midrange booster. That lower, under motor pre-chamber, by the way, allows the use of a lighter, and better-looking silencer.
The big deal for this bike is the chassis. The Kawasaki elves have been busy on improving flex and finding the ideal balance of that flex Vs stiffness. The Fong Shui goal was a unity in the rider to frame relationship (have you hugged your frame today?) I truly loved how responsive this bike was to my inputs and especially how it shrugged off bad pavement. Honda had us avoid the natural race line going into turn one, due to the pavement rippled by those nasty race cars. The Kawasaki never registered complaint and a better line could be chosen, with the subsequent advantage in lap times. The press kit mentions a “split-second-pause” as the rider flicks into a turn... That smacks of a wobbly mid-70\'s Kawasaki two-stroke to me... but it wasn’t (although I kept my finger on the clutch just in case).
Kawi might have found something with the front suspension here, it’s basically an inverted fork with the fork spring at the bottom (immersed in oil) as opposed to the top in a regular unit.
They claim less frothing and a more consistent action. I thought they work well and were very sensitive to adjustment. My only grumble is that the preload is internal so there are no visual confirmations of preload setting - I’ll get over it.
The rear is a regular looking unit that has high and low speed compression damping. It also uses “pillow balls”instead of bushings for feel and feedback. Again, no complaints about how it worked, however, I have at least 100 “pillow ball” jokes that I could have listed here if I wasn’t such a sensible person.
Going into the corners, the brakes and master cylinders are top-notch radials up and down with aggressive looking semi-floating petal style rotors. Feel, although not quite up to the Honda, was good too - better than last year\'s, if I remember rightly. The combination of slipper clutch and radials offer seamless corner entry speeds, sloppy riding, (read missing brake markers) saw either one of the two, or both, save your hide. Coming out it was interesting to see no steering damper. Actually it’s not wanted or needed, a little two-shake reminded you to check yourself before you wreck yourself, courtesy of the generous 110mm of trail (12.5 more than the Honda).
Instrumentation was all good, as mentioned earlier, the tach is situated right and is traditional analog in style. The gear change indicator was a boon to me, I’m such a dumb-ass that sometimes I have problems remembering what track I’m at, yet alone what gear I’m in, or indeed the next corner coming.
The gear indicator offers a little reassurance in my hectic schedule, obviously I realize you guys are much smarter that me, so it’s easy to ignore too.
The body work on this bike is gorgeous, with the now de rigeur ram air intake up front, complimented by the smaller projector-style headlamps either side, it looks very sleek and has a family resemblance to the ZX-14 without the 27ft long motorcycle behind it. The rear seat is not passenger-friendly (nor should it be, says Kawasaki) and is slimmed down and stylized to match the rest of the bike’s dimensions.
The bike also looks fast and carries no pretension toward streetability. Interestingly enough, this bike felt more comfortable to me in the leg department - comparing photos with the Honda (same corners) and how I felt after riding it for two days - I have a pinch more knee room on the ZX-6R than I did on the CBR6.
If you want to race this bike, or set the thing up for the ultimate track day (incidently, Kawasaki’s billing for this World press introduction) they sell a host of race related parts to turn this bike into a unequalable track demon. Parts include, transmission, cylinder and airbox mods, conrods, adjustable ECU’s, ride height adjusters, brake parts, steering dampers and more. What’s your budget?
In closing, if you want to be comfortable go buy a Mean Steak - but if you remember the fact that this is not your father’s street bike, want crazy lean angles, love committed hardcore track days and exhaust driven aural satisfaction then a Kwacker 6 might be in your future. At $8999 it’s a bargain too. Is it better than the Honda? Very close call - Either way, I’d be looking to steal the Honda motor (and its clip-ons ‘cause I’m an old softy) and add them to the brilliant Kawasaki chassis.
Comfort, handling and speed - Now that would be a clear class winner.