ZX6 & 9R
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.
First, lets touch on a bit of history. The ZX9R has been around since 93 but it wasnt 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.
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 Blades recent (extensive) make over saw it end up at 170.4 Kg, with Yamahas 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 ZX12s 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 its no longer a problem, init?
One of the major chassis mods (as far as Im concerned) is the new detachable rear sub frame. If youve ever seen a mildly wadded bike, the sub frame can easily get a slight twist, which means complete frame replacement, unless its a bolt on item of course. Not that you necessarily buy a bike with wadding it in mind, but its a necessary feature in my books. Oh, and the frames had its geometry altered to increase the trail and thus increase overall stability ... at least I think thats what it does.
While were 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 dont 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 dont 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. Id 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 dont know what Im 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 thats 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.
If weights 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 Im just getting old.
Overall, the 9 felt most comfortable on the highway where the extra Ks were not an issue. The temptation is to tuck in and cruise very comfortably at the higher end of the speed spectrum, but Ill 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 its user friendliness and excellent highway abilities will not go unnoticed.
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. Thats slap bang in with the competitions claims for their respective 600s 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. Theres 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. Theres also no sudden stop to the fun of an ignition limiter cutting in. I suspect its programmed to come in a few hundred rpms above redline, which is far enough along the natural power drop off that youve already snicked it up a cog long before then.
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 dont recall ever coming across these problems. Maybe weLL 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 didnt 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 .... Im talking about the bike by the way. But this is common to most sport 6s, the exception here being the linearness (is that a word??) of it all. These qualities dont work as well for high speed highway riding, but they do make all the difference when youre 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.
SECOND VIEW - By Scot Magnish
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.
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.
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.
© 2000 OMG Publishing