First Impression: 1997 Kawasaki ZX-6

Urban Assault Weapon


After a month with the underrated ZX-6 it came time to return it to Kawasaki, and Editor-in-Chief Plummer asked: "Who's been riding it?"

Over in the corner of MO Central sat Graphics Editor Billy Bartels with a big smile on his face.

"That would be me," he replied, in a rather surly tone. What happened? Had our de-facto cruiser guy gone over to the dark side? Or had he just come to his senses? Read on, grasshopper, and learn the truth.

By Billy Bartels,
Graphics Editor

I don't drag knee. The only reason I know who won the 600 Supersport title last year is because Miguel DuHamel wears a fat #1 on the front of his Honda F3. Kevin Schwantz is just a guy who raced dirt track for my dad in the late 1980s. Get the picture? No hablas calamari. Yet from the time we picked up Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-6 from their Southern California headquarters until we gave it back there was no prying the keys from my clutches.

The Kawi's combination of powerful motor, comfortable ergonomics, compliant-yet-sporty suspension and excellent handling manners were just too much to resist.

Ergonomics of the Six were both roomy and comfortable, even for my six-foot-tall frame.

The relationship between pegs, bars and seat was spacious and well thought out. Seat quality is another good combination of sport-serious and freeway-friendly.

A wide base allows hours to pass in comfort while the sloping front lets you lean forward to place more weight on the front wheel during aggressive cornering.

For the first couple of weeks our ZX served as a general purpose commuter bike, a role in which it shines. With rebound and compression settings on "slug" and "pillow" respectively, there was no pothole tough enough to daunt the Ninja. Even a cross-town courier trip through the darkest recesses of L.A. failed to overwhelm the Six as it soaked up bumps and road creases like a champ.

"The ZX is certainly not lacking in power."

Kawasaki has always been known for building high-horsepower engines, and the Six is no exception. After spending the last few weeks with our slightly anemic Bargain 600s, I was instantly hooked by the engine's flexibility and high-rpm pull.

Good power starts as low as 4000, and builds through a healthy midrange to an arm-stretching rush as it soars to its stratospheric 14,000 rpm redline. Adding to the fun is Kawasaki's ram-air system. You feel the rush even at triple-digit speeds, and it just keeps pulling.

When I prepared to face the more challenging environment of the canyons, I enlisted the help of our resident racer, Shawn Higbee, to help dial-in the suspension.

Shawn propped the bike up on its handy centerstand and cranked up the preload, compression and rebound settings.

It still had a bit of sag, but Shawn believed it would increase cornering prowess while retaining the bump-soaking ability that I enjoyed. It did.

In the twisties the ZX-6 was capable, but not ideal. You could certainly have a good time, but hustling through corners required more effort than we'd like, due mostly to the Six's heft.

It took an extra push here, a little more lean there, than you might find on another more sport-oriented 600-class machine. Our Ninja had its share of the legendary Kawasaki drive lash too, but its mild manners and smooth power delivery made up for it.

Higbee offered that he felt the average canyon-carver wouldn't be able to out-ride this bike, although he thought they might be irritated by its lack of flickablity. "Very stable and predictable -- altogether more of a street bike," said Higbee, "with plenty of motor."

Kawasaki's ZX-6 is a motorcycle whose suspension is supple enough for day-to-day riding, yet sharp enough to hustle through corners at a spirited pace.

Ergonomics are roomy and comfortable, allowing ZX pilots to spend hours in the saddle if required.

Power is abundant, with more midrange and top-end punch than you have a right to expect from a 600. Although the ZX-6's few extra pounds will allow F3 or ZX-6R riders to leave it behind at racetracks, in real-world riding the Six is hard to beat.

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Kawasaki
Model: 1997 ZX-6
Price: $7,499
Engine: Four stroke, DOHC,
liquid-cooled, 16 valve inline four
Bore and Stroke: 64 by 46.6mm
Displacement: 599cc
Carburetion: Four Keihin CVKD36
Transmission: 6-speed
Measured Horsepower: 87.5 hp
Wheelbase: 56.3 inches
Seat Height: 30.7 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gal
Claimed Dry Weight: 430 lbs

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