Test Ride: Kawasaki ZX6R/ZX9R, Part 2

Words: Rob Harris Photos: Kawasaki

To read Part I, click here.

INTRODUCTION

Firebird Raceway – this is the start of the straight/strip. Circuit enters from left.

Okay class, last week we studied the event known as ‘Operation Phoenix’ with emphasis on carving canyons, getting caught speeding and frightening the shit out of oneself on a race track. This week we will focus on the mechanical and riding attributes of the new ZX6 and 9R along with additional impressions from Master Magnish.
Unfortunately, Master Richardson was also going to throw his two cents worth in but an ‘uncharacteristic’ mistake by Editor ‘arris left him with too little time to do it. Sorry Mark.

ZX9R

First, let’s touch on a bit of history. The ZX9R has been around since ‘93 but it wasn’t until 1998 that it got a serious redesign to not only loose an amazing 32Kg but also the bulky appearance, which had put it more towards a sports tourer than pure sports. But things rarely remain static for long in the highly competitive sport classes and so for the year 2000 Kawasaki opted to redo the ZX9R once more.

Okay, it’s a ZX6R, but the front styling is very similar to the 9R.

Although the 9 has major chassis and engine mods this year, dry weight figures remain the same as last years, at 183 Kg. This is a tad surprising, as the Blade’s recent (extensive) make over saw it end up at 170.4 Kg, with Yamaha’s R1 at 175 Kg. Of course, these are claimed figures, and Kawi may be the only honest one in the bunch, but then the ZX9 certainly did feel as if it had a few extra Kilos.

Styling also gets the once over with a new upper fairing, which adopts the ZX12’s dual lights and exaggerated ram air scoop. This change works well and keeps the 9 up with the competition, in the looks department at least.

The motor gets a good working over too, with electroplated cylinders, new cams and an increased compression ratio (thanks to cylinder head modifications). Oddly, carbs are still being used. Again the trend is toward fuel injection, but Kawasaki still seem content to stick with the proven at this time. When asked about this, Kawi big cheese, Andy Knowles pointed out that the redesign was more evolution rather than complete redesign, so … so there. In reality, the carbs worked just fine anyway, with a very strong power delivery – kicking in hard at 4,000 rpm and then real hard at 8,500 rpm, which surged all the way to the 12,000 rpm red line. Oddly, the only flat spot seemed to be just off idle, which made for a lot of embarrassing stalls when setting off. But then you just learn to rev it a bit more and it’s no longer a problem, init?

Both the 9 and 6 retain carbs over fuel injection.

One of the major chassis mods (as far as I’m concerned) is the new detachable rear sub frame. If you’ve ever seen a mildly wadded bike, the sub frame can easily get a slight twist, which means complete frame replacement, unless it’s a bolt on item of course. Not that you necessarily buy a bike with wadding it in mind, but it’s a necessary feature in my books. Oh, and the frame’s had it’s geometry altered to increase the trail and thus increase overall stability … at least I think that’s what it does.

While we’re still on the subject of chassis and dated parts, the front forks are conventional as opposed to the increasingly standardised up-side-down jobbies. Again, the bike handled just fine under my (non too strenuous) riding practices, so maybe the conventional telescopics don’t need upgrading after all, but it does now seem to be the standard in the above 800cc supersport class.

Did I mention the ride height adjuster? I think I just did.

The brakes are great, and … well, so-so. Up front are two massive 310mm discs, each clasped by 6 piston calipers. You don’t get much more braking power than this, and their linear rider feedback make them some of the best in the business. The single piston rear gets the ‘so-so’ grade, not because of any inability to stop, but more because of its inability to give feedback. I’d recommend to only use it in mild braking situations, unless you want to have the back end catching up to the front.

Since I generally don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to suspension adjustments, I left them at the standard settings which left me comfortable under all conditions that I met. So that’s good.

In general riding situations I was really quite impressed with the ZX9R. Unfortunately I never got to ride the previous versions so an ‘overall improvement’ grade is impossible to come by. To compare it to the competition would have me put it closer to a Blade than an R1. Like the Blade, it has a more general usability about it with a longer distance riding position and broad power spread, as opposed to the uncomfortable race replica R1.

Look … clocks.

If weight’s an issue to you though, then the Kawi loses out badly. However, extra weight can have some benefits, one being a relatively pleasing highway bike – feeling very solid and giving the rider a relatively roomy and comfortable riding position, but with the need for speed only a slight twist away. Having said that, I did suffer from some pain in my left wrist, but no other journalist backed me on that one, so I guess I’m just getting old.

Overall, the 9 felt most comfortable on the highway where the extra K’s were not an issue. The temptation is to tuck in and cruise very comfortably at the higher end of the speed spectrum, but I’ll let Mr. Magnish explain the perils of doing that. On tight twisties it becomes a bit more of an effort, doable, but tiring in the process. Whether or not it will compete well with the Blade and R1 in the dealership is questionable. The specs are against it, but hopefully it’s user friendliness and excellent highway abilities will not go unnoticed.

ZX6R

ZX6R motor looks gorgeous, lays down great power and has a very high compression ratio (not necessarily in that order).

Much like its bigger brother, the ZX9R, the 6 also got a big revamp in ‘98 and now also gets a revamp in 2000. The changes are similar to the 9, notably the upper front fairing with twin lights and ram air scoop. This actually makes it quite hard to distinguish between the two at a glance, the flashier graphics of the 6 being the main giveaway.

There is a significant drop in weight, down 5 Kgs on last years model at a claimed 171 Kg dry. That’s slap bang in with the competition’s claims for their respective 600’s and makes the ZX perform just like a well sorted 6 should. The power delivery is amazingly smooth for a 600, all the way up to the amazingly high (but also relatively normal now) 14,500 rpm. There’s non of the expected steps and surges usually associated with this high revving capacity, which is something I initially missed but then grew to appreciate as the testing went on. There’s also no sudden stop to the fun of an ignition limiter cutting in. I suspect it’s programmed to come in a few hundred rpm’s above redline, which is far enough along the natural power drop off that you’ve already snicked it up a cog long before then.

‘arris on the flip part, after the flop. This is the closest the knee scrapers got to being scraped.

Something else worthy of note is then new compression ratio of 12.8:1 (up from 11.8:1). I seem to remember this issue being raised recently on the Soapbox, with the concern that anything over than high octane fuel will lead to pre-ignition and detonation. Unless Kawasaki were sneaking in some octane boost, I don’t recall ever coming across these problems. Maybe we’LL try and grab one for a longer test in the summer and see how it reacts to the average road side gas.

Like the 9, it has a very similar rolling chassis with the superb six pot calipers up front, conventional front forks and a relatively relaxed and comfortable riding position. Oddly it also has a taller seat height (815 mm versus 810 mm) than the 9, although I didn’t really notice that between the two.

On the road, the ZX6R performed well. You have to get into the mentality of revving the knackers off it, as the harder you screw it, the more fun it gets …. I’m talking about the bike by the way. But this is common to most sport 6’s, the exception here being the linearness (is that a word??) of it all. These qualities don’t work as well for high speed highway riding, but they do make all the difference when you’re sliding from one side to the other as you flip flop through some gnarly twisties. It also bodes well for the race track, putting a fun aspect into the ride, instead of the smell of fear on the 9.

Editor ‘arris


SECOND VIEW – By Scot Magnish

Scot carves canyons on the ZX6R.

Decisions, decisions: Life in Phoenix, Az. was full of them.

Some were easy, like whether to stuff the Star’s Mark Richardson during our track session at Firebird Speedway.

Others were a little more dicey – like whether to stop for the state trooper who clocked me doing 145 mph.

And some were downright impossible, like whether to choose the ZX-6R or its big brother, the nine, for our canyon-carving sessions.

The ZX-6R had the handling advantage in the twisties, flicking through corners effortlessly and stopping on a dime. Like most 600s, it doesn’t really deliver the goods until 9,000 rpms – but it was big enough to comfortably accommodate my 6-foot-1 frame and powerful enough to make me forget it was only a six once it was in stride.

Scot rides the 9 all the way around the track in first gear (woosy).

Of course, the ZX-9R had the power advantage over its little brother, leaping from corner to corner without even breaking a sweat. (To be honest, there were long periods where the bike never even saw second gear, as much a comment on the calibre of the roads as the calibre of the rider).

When the going really got tight, though, the nine started to feel heavy, proving to be a workout until we moved out of canyon country and into the desert. Once the roads straightened out, the bike showed its stuff – and with the throttle cracked open, the ZX-9R felt more like a runaway freight train than just about any other bike I’ve tested to date.

It was a no-brainer to stuff Richardson, once the opportunity presented itself – although in my zeal to put a little distance between us, I ran off the track and blew my lead.

Sorry, we’ve run out of Scot pics, so ‘ere’s ‘arris on the 6.

I don’t regret stopping for the state trooper, either – despite the US $400 ticket I received (click here to laugh). Better than a six-month stint on an Arizona chain gang or a guest appearance on a FOX Friday night special, I always say.

As for the bikes, my only regret is that I didn’t have more time in the saddle. Both Ninjas boast seamless power delivery, sharp new lines and rider-friendly ergonomics. Both were also awesome to ride, but for different reasons: The six outhandled the nine, whilst the nine outpowered the six.

If I had to choose one to take home, I think it would be the ZX-6R – but only because I was riding the ZX-9R when I had my close encounter with the law.

It’s a shame that there isn’t a bike somewhere between the two that combines the best of both worlds. Something with about 750ccs of displacement that would be as adept at corners as the open road.

That said, there’s always next year – which is about the length of time it will take to recover from my ticket, if I decide to make good on the promise to pay.


Thanks:
* Canadian Kawasaki for the travel, accommodation and well organised event.
* Kimpex for the loan of the Spyke leathers.
* Scot Magnish for paying for all our sins.

 

Bike

ZX6R ZX9R

MSL

$11,000 $14,000

Displacement

599 cc 899 cc

Engine type

Inline dohc four, liquid cooled Inline dohc four, liquid cooled

Carburetion

Mikuni BDSR36R x 4 Keihin, CVRD 40 x 4

Final drive

Six speed, chain drive Six speed, chain drive

Tires, front

120/65 ZR17 120/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

180/55 ZR17 190/50 ZR17

Brakes, front

Dual 300 mm discs with six-piston calipers Dual 310 mm discs with six-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single disc with single piston caliper Single disc with single piston caliper

Seat height

815 mm (32.1″) 810 mm (31.9″)

Wheelbase

1400 mm (55.1″) 1415 mm (55.7″)

Dry weight

171 Kg (377lbs) (claimed) 183 kg (403 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Lime green/ebony, Galaxy silver/ebony, Firecracker red/ebony Lime green/metallic, Purplish black mica, Red/black

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