Last night I got back from another press intro at the amazing Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama – this time for Kawasaki’s all-new ZX-6R. In my dedication to bring our readers the first reports on the newest and most exciting bikes, I braved temperatures in the low 20s to test Kawasaki’s latest middleweight contender. A full first ride report will follow in a few days (along with full technical information), but I wanted to give you a quick preview.
After winning quite a few shootouts (including our 2005 middleweight shootout) over the last few years with their 636cc ZX-6R – which had a 36cc displacement advantage over its competitors, giving it extra power and torque that played a big part in these wins – Kawasaki made a surprising decision for 2007, electing to abandon the over-sized formula and build a bike that fell within the traditional 600cc displacement cap for four-cylinder bikes in this class. For more technical information regarding the new ZX-6R, refer to our preview article.
As we predicted in our preview article, the new ZX-6R is as focused on racetrack performance as any middleweight we’ve seen to date, with Kawasaki promoting the new machine as ‘the ultimate track bike’. The development team (the chief development rider was a former 125cc racer) focused on handling, corner speed, and other elements crucial to building a ‘racebike with lights’.
Kawasaki has certainly succeeded in building an excellent track-day tool, and one that will provide an excellent base for their race team to contest the 2007 Supersport racing season. How this racetrack-focused performance will translate to the street will have to wait until we get a chance to test a ZX-6R on the street, and in this article (parts one and two), I will concentrate on my track-based riding impressions.
The new ZX-6R has an impressive chassis and high-quality suspension components, offering superb handling at racetrack speeds. Front end feel and feedback is excellent, which gives the rider more confidence when braking and at all points during the corner, from turn-in to corner exit. The rear is similarly impressive, and the chassis helps keep both wheels working together to let the rider brake late, turn in sharply, carry hefty mid-corner velocity, and get on the throttle early at the exit. This is particularly impressive considering the weather conditions – the sub-freezing temperatures thicken the consistency of the oil used in the forks and shock, meaning that the dampers were not operating exactly as Kawasaki intended.
Further adding to the ZX-6R’s aggressive feel is a riding position that puts the rider’s shoulders almost directly in line with the front forks, aiding the aforementioned excellent front end feel. The trade-off is quite a bit of weight on the rider’s wrists, although how this affects street-riding comfort is yet to be determined. Setting up for Barber’s numerous left-right flip-flop sections didn’t leave my mind much room to think about how comfortable I was, and whatever attention was left was focused on the fact that I was freezing my ass off and couldn’t feel my fingers!
The all-new, ultra-compact 599cc four-cylinder powerplant is just as track-focused as the chassis, with an ultra-high redline of 16,500rpm that makes it the highest-revving bike in its class (assuming the tachometer is accurate, that is!). Power is delivered smoothly and linearly, building to a peak around 15,000 rpm (I don’t have the specs in front of me to quote the exact peak power point) before trailing off gradually as it reaches towards redline. I do mean gradually, though – the last 1500 rpm isn’t just over-rev, and the 6R is still pulling strongly 100rpm before redline. The new 599cc powerplant lacks the torquey punch of the old 636cc mill, but makes up for it with a broad spread of smoothly delivered power – I spent most of my time on the track between 9500rpm and redline, and the new 6R pulls well through that entire range. A powerband spanning 7000rpm is impressive for a 600, but we’ll have to wait for the street test to see how it runs down low.
Check back in a few days to read more about the new ZX-6R, and I’ll give you all the details of the ‘clean sheet’ motor and chassis, along with a more in-depth view of how the bike handled Barber’s 15 turns and exciting elevation changes.