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Kawasaki ZX-6R: Is This the Sleeper 600?

Kawasaki completely redesigned the ZX-6R in 1998. This year, it’s easy to think of Kawasaki’s changes to the ZX-6R as purely cosmetic (including a distinctive new front end with dual “cat eye” headlights). Don’t be fooled.

I took delivery of a 2000 ZX-6R yesterday from Temecula Motorsports, and began breaking it in. This Sunday, I’ll be riding with a group of experienced street (and track) riders on various machines (including an R1, R6, CBR900RR, CBR600F4, etc.). I hope to have the bike fully broken in by then, and then I’ll really know something about its performance. But I am already impressed with its motor.

Last year, if you read the 600 sportbike “shootouts”, the ZX-6R typically fell into third place behind both Yamaha’s R6 and Honda’s CBR600F4. This was despite typically winning the horsepower and torque shootout, and having testers rave about its motor. Well, the motor is (according to Kawasaki) even better this year — up approximately three horsepower, with higher torque virtually across the board.

The reason for the increased engine performance can be traced, primarily to a large increase in compression — from 11.8 to 1 to 12.8 to 1. 12.8 to 1 is an extremely high compression ratio for a streetbike, and, not surprisingly, the ZX-6R requires premium fuel to run properly.

The redesigned combustion chamber, intake tract, and other tweaks (see our more thorough discussion of ZX-6R changes in our article on October 18, 1999) have me impressed already. I have written previously about how surprisingly torquey the new 600s are (including, particularly, Honda’s CBR600F4). The 2000 ZX-6R may have just raised the bar. I hope to ride it back-to-back with Yamaha’s R6 on Sunday, as well as Honda’s CBR600F4. I’ll let you know what I think.

The Kawasaki also handles well (as virtually all of the new 600s do). It has light steering, and turns even quicker than I am used to (I found myself turning in too far, initially). The ZX-6R also appears to have excellent brakes — including a redesigned, differential-bore six piston caliper and new brake pads.

I am going to reserve further comments until I ride the ZX-6R more extensively, and I hope to make some subjective, unscientific comparisons with the F4 and the R6 after Sunday’s street ride.