2024 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Review – First Ride

Troy Siahaan
by Troy Siahaan

Minor tweaks for one of the last supersports still in the game. But is it enough?

Photos: Kevin Wing
Photos: Kevin Wing

In recent years, what it means to be a supersport motorcycle has gone through a dramatic change. It had to – sales of traditional 600cc supersports have tanked since the Great Recession, and most of the old guard have either stopped selling their 600s in the US, or haven’t updated them in years. Why should they? Instead, we have a smattering of motorcycles with sporty intentions – some with fairings and others without. The only common denominator is they all have engines under 1000cc.

2024 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R

Kawasaki's keeping the supersport flame alive with a refresh of its 636cc ZX-6R that includes some styling changes and tweaks to pass the sniffer test. Unfortunately, performance has become a victim in this quest for cleaner emissions.

Editor Score: 78.5%

Engine

16/20

Suspension

12/15

Transmission

8/10

Brakes

8.5/10

Instruments

4/5

Ergonomics

7/10

Appearance

9/10

Desirability

7/10

Value

7/10

Highs

  • A refreshing reminder of why supersports used to rule the world
  • Stock brakes are surprisingly capable
  • TFT display is a big improvement

Sighs

  • Engine signs off up top
  • Quickshifter lags too much
  • Riding position is cramped

In a way, it’s ironic that Kawasaki – one of the first to upend the traditional 600cc model all the way back in 2002 with its 636cc ZX-6R – is one of the last stalwarts in the class. Not only is Kawasaki holding out, it’s pushing forward – introducing the “updated” 2024 Ninja ZX-6R.

Supersports might be fading, but Kawasaki is keeping the flame burning with the ZX-6R.
Supersports might be fading, but Kawasaki is keeping the flame burning with the ZX-6R.

Why the quotes, you ask? Because the reality is this new ZX-6R isn’t too far removed from the previous “update” released in late 2018 ( which I rode), itself dating back to the 636’s revival in 2013 ( which I also rode). I feel old now after writing those last few sentences and realizing how much time has passed since reviewing those bikes. But if there’s something the passage of time has given me, it’s perspective (and a few gray hairs).


What’s New?

Not a lot, really. The sad truth is that, with a class that’s stagnant at best, what’s the point of performing a major overhaul? As sad as it is, there’s a sense that we should just be happy Kawasaki is continuing the ZX-6R at all. With declining sales compounded with ever-tightening emissions requirements, it’s understandable why Yamaha pulled the R6 out of the lineup entirely and why Suzuki and Honda limited where its 600s are sold.

You can immediately tell a 2024 model from its predecessors from this new front-end styling. Now the Ninja family all share a resemblance.
You can immediately tell a 2024 model from its predecessors from this new front-end styling. Now the Ninja family all share a resemblance.

Still, a model refresh starts (and sometimes ends) with a new look, and that’s the most obvious difference with the 2024 ZX-6R. Viewed from the front profile, the nose of the bike has gone through a redesign to more closely match the look of the ZX-10R, and now the ZX-4RR. It’s tighter, with a reshaped ram-air funnel. The 6R now has LED headlights and turn indicators, and while the middle brother now resembles both its bigger and smaller siblings, the front ends aren’t exactly the same. In case you were thinking about swapping parts over.


As far as visual differences are concerned, two more items stand out. First is the switch to round brake discs – a somewhat significant change after years and years with the petal-type discs. The dual discs up front still measure 310mm and are clamped by radial-mount Nissin four-pot calipers. Though the bikes we tested were not ABS models, Kawasaki has updated the ABS software in the Bosch 9.3MP ABS unit for smoother operation.



In keeping with the Ninja continuity, the ZX-6R also gets a TFT display. Note the “Rider” mode in the top left. This allows the user to set power levels and traction control levels independently of each other.
In keeping with the Ninja continuity, the ZX-6R also gets a TFT display. Note the “Rider” mode in the top left. This allows the user to set power levels and traction control levels independently of each other.

The other is the transition from an LCD gauge to a 4.3-inch TFT display. Not only is the TFT more attractive and easier to read, according to Kawasaki, the transition also made it possible to integrate the riding modes to a power level and (non-IMU) traction control setting together. Riding modes, power levels, and traction control aren’t new features of the 6R, but tying them all together to individual riding modes is. Now when you choose between Sport, Road, or Rain, you get a preset power and TC setting. Sport gives you full power and the least TC (level 1), Road gives full power and TC level 2 (the middle setting), and Rain gives low power and the most TC (level 3). A fourth riding mode, Rider, allows you to set TC and power levels individually – though really, I’m not sure why you’d want to, unless you want to turn TC off entirely (which you can’t do in the other three riding modes).


If you were hoping for a breakthrough in the 636cc engine, I have bad news for you – it’s mostly the same. In fact, it probably loses a pony or two since the 2024 engine gets new camshafts with a lower lift profile and a shorter duration compared to the previous model. In exchange, the new 6R produces lower exhaust emissions and passes stricter sniff tests.

Nothing to see here. Carry on. Actually, if you look closely, you’ll see the exhaust pre-chamber underneath the engine. It’s bigger than before to help reduce emissions.
Nothing to see here. Carry on. Actually, if you look closely, you’ll see the exhaust pre-chamber underneath the engine. It’s bigger than before to help reduce emissions.

Ah, the dreaded E-word. Love it or hate it, the quest for clean air isn’t something to be taken lightly, and it certainly isn’t by the manufacturers. It’s not a sexy topic to talk about, but the only way the manufacturers (not just Kawasaki) can legally put bikes on dealership floors is by passing regulations. The engineering involved to meet those requirements and still achieve the same performance levels is impressive and can't simply be dismissed. It’s also why we’re seeing legacy models get bigger engines – it’s an easy way to meet emissions requirements and deliver performance.


Without a bigger engine to turn to however, the 6R not only relies on new cams to pass the sniffer test, but also a different exhaust layout that includes a noticeably larger exhaust pre-chamber. This also places the O2 sensor slightly upstream, closer to the exhaust ports, for a more efficient read and cleaner burn.

If you didn’t like the petal-type brake discs from past models – and many people didn’t – Kawasaki’s gone back to round ones. Diameter stays the same at 310mm.
If you didn’t like the petal-type brake discs from past models – and many people didn’t – Kawasaki’s gone back to round ones. Diameter stays the same at 310mm.

After that, the last notable change with the 2024 ZX-6R is the ability to pair the bike with Kawasaki’s Rideology app to view vehicle info, phone notices, and have the ability to tune general settings. There’s also a riding log that tracks running information and uses GPS to track your route. For track oriented folks, technically this can be used to log your lap times, but unlike the ZX-4RR, the 6R’s software doesn’t include a lap function. You have to go into the app and parcel out your laps manually. An inconvenience, but anyone serious about tracking that kind of stuff is likely going to use a more sophisticated third party system, anyway.


Supersport Magic

The ZX-6R riding experience is a great reminder of why the supersport class was so popular. With a proper supersport chassis and a little over 100 horsepower, it’s a great recipe for fast riding without getting in over your head. These kinds of power levels, at least with today’s chassis and tire technology, strike this perfect blend between performance and pleasure.



If you’re wondering why so many riders love the Ridge Motorsports Park, this picture should help explain it. Beautiful curves and lots of elevation. Ironically, this particular section of the track is my least favorite.
If you’re wondering why so many riders love the Ridge Motorsports Park, this picture should help explain it. Beautiful curves and lots of elevation. Ironically, this particular section of the track is my least favorite.

You can ride the 6R as hard as you dare, and for the most part, you feel like you’re in control the whole time. When you raise the stakes and jump on a liter-class machine pushing 200-plus horsepower, the world is coming at you at a rate that’s hard to process. Not to mention the physical toll it takes to tame one of those beasts. If it weren’t for the recession and supersport prices going through the roof, I can only imagine how advanced the supersport class would be today.


To refamiliarize ourselves with what supersports can offer, and put the new 6R to the test, we gathered at the Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Washington. A favorite track to many across the country, “The Ridge” as it’s more affectionately known, offers a multitude of challenges including hard braking zones, lots of elevation changes, tight corners, fast corners, and blind corners – basically, it’s a rider’s dream.



Usually elevation changes are hard to see in a photo, so when you actually can see it, you know the drop must be steep
Usually elevation changes are hard to see in a photo, so when you actually can see it, you know the drop must be steep

Naturally, when at a dream-like racetrack, the plan is to get after it when the green flag drops. For this test, the stock Pirelli Diablo Rosso IV tires were shucked in favor of Pirelli’s Superbike Slicks in the SC1 compound and in the stock sizes (120/70-17 front, 180/55-17 rear) – meaning full-send mode was well and truly activated. However, it didn’t take long to reveal some of the bike’s shortcomings.


The Ridge’s long pit lane allows plenty of space to row through the gears and get up to merging speed, and besides the fact the 6R still doesn’t have an autoblipper to go down gears clutchlessly, the quickshifter for upshifts felt snatchy. The ignition kill times were too long, causing an unnecessary pause in power delivery long after the next gear was already selected. It wasn’t as bad in the higher gears, but it was still evident. Aftermarket tuning could help smooth out the lag, but you’d think after being on the market for this long, this would be dialed out by now. Fortunately, Graves Motorsports, Kawasaki’s authorized tuning house, has a complete autoblipper system for the 6R.

2024 kawasaki ninja zx 6r review first ride

One of the things that makes The Ridge a rider’s track is the elevation changes that lead you up and down into a series of corners. Navigating these sections requires a combination of finesse on the throttle, power from the engine to climb up hills, and feedback from the brakes when descending.


Along with a snatchy upshift, the ZX’s fueling leads to jerky on/off throttle transitions, at least in Sport mode (which is where I spent my time). Despite making an effort to turn the grip as gently as I could, the hit when the power comes in is hard to ignore. On the bright side, compared to other 600s, the torque from the extra 36cc was nice to have pulling out of slow-speed corners.


As far as climbing up hills, as the revs start to climb towards the 15,000 rpm redline (indicated on the tach, anyway), there’s a notable drop in power after about 12,500 rpm – likely a result of the new cam profiles. It’s disappointing to have a few thousand more revs at your disposal that are virtually useless, at least it in the current engine’s configuration. Then again, I suppose that’s better than having 5,000 empty revs before redline when riding the stock (electronically restricted) ZX-4RR…



2024 kawasaki ninja zx 6r review first ride

During my time with the ZX-6R, I quickly learned that riding it involved a series of tradeoffs. Lagging shifts, snatchy low-speed fueling, and an engine that signs off early are certainly not good traits (luckily, these can be cured in the aftermarket), but I was pleasantly surprised with the standard Nissin monoblock radial brakes. There are certain corners that put a high demand on the brakes – not least of which is the first turn leading into the chicane. You’re approaching it in the top of fifth gear, sometimes sixth if you get a good run, and dropping down to second. Shedding a ton of speed quickly is of the highest priority, and though the standard pads don’t have as strong an initial bite as I would like, the braking power never failed to scrub off all the speed I needed while still allowing me to trail the brakes deep into the apex. Lap after lap. That said, steel brake lines would be a big upgrade.


With the speed set, the chassis was put to work. Even though the Showa SFF-BP fork is adjustable for preload compression and rebound, all I needed was to slow the rebound damping two clicks to get it where I liked it. Since the front would stay low on corner entry and hold its line through the corner and on the way out, I didn’t have a need to change anything.

In lieu of a larger rear tire, a 2mm shim in the shock raised the rear end and improved the Ninja’s flickability.
In lieu of a larger rear tire, a 2mm shim in the shock raised the rear end and improved the Ninja’s flickability.

Even the rear of the bike felt mostly spot-on. Granted, Kawasaki test riders estimated where the settings should be beforehand. And they were right. However, with the standard 180/55 rear tire, transitions from side to side are a little on the slow side, requiring a little muscle to achieve. This is one of the reasons the reputable tire companies making slicks offer sizing with bigger contact patches and/or aspect ratios – to pitch the bike on its nose a little more and make transitions easier.


Without that option, Kawasaki’s solution was to add a 2mm shim to the shock to achieve the same result. With all other settings being left alone, the shim made a noticeable difference getting the bike to turn. Then, once on its side, the lateral flex from the chassis gives enough feedback to allow the brave – or those looking for social media points (myself included) to dip their elbow on the ground. Considering their relatively budget nature, the Showa suspension is easily capable of going fast right out of the box. The chassis doesn’t communicate as precisely or accurately as more expensive bikes out there, but that’s picking an awfully small nit. Ironically, I still consider the ZX-6R chassis circa 2007 one of the best chassis I’ve ridden. But I digress…



2024 kawasaki ninja zx 6r review first ride

One unexpected nicety I discovered was the shape of the fuel tank allowed me to comfortably place my outside leg on it to brace and support myself as needed. That was especially handy when using my lower body and my core to pick the bike up off a corner or for transitions.


Unfortunately though, that’s where the praise for the ergos stops. The rider triangle is far too narrow to comfortably get into a tuck – which is saying a lot coming from a shorty like me who’s 5-foot, 8-inches tall. The rider pocket is too cramped, and I couldn’t scoot far enough back in the seat, which ends up making my profile wider, in the flow of air, because my elbows are beside my thighs instead of in front of my knees – where they are better protected from the wind – when trying to crouch into a tuck.



2024 kawasaki ninja zx 6r review first ride

The ZX-6R Isn’t The Supersport Savior

While it’s certainly fun, the ZX-6R is starting to show its age – which is especially bad considering what some of Kawasaki’s European competition is bringing to the table. Long gone are the days of complete model refreshes every two years, which was never sustainable anyway. Clearly, considering the ZX-6R is still capable of winning races, as evidenced by Stefano Mesa’s victory at the MotoAmerica round in Pittsburgh recently, the aftermarket (Chuck Graves, specifically) can bring the platform up to a high level. But in stock form, it leaves some to be desired. On the one hand, I’m glad the ZX-6R is still around since it’s always nice to have options. I was just hoping it would be… more.

2024 kawasaki ninja zx 6r review first ride

The 2024 Kawasaki ZX-6R will be available in three colors: Pearl Robotic White/Metallic Graphite Gray, Metallic Flat Spark Black/Ebony, and the KRT Edition with the classic Kawasaki green. All three have the same price: $11,299 for non-ABS models and $12,299 equipped with ABS.

2024 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Specifications

Engine Type

4-stroke, In-Line Four, liquid-cooled

Displacement

636cc

Bore x Stroke

67.0 x 45.1mm

Valve Train

DOHC; 16-valves

Compression Ratio

12.9:1

Lubrication System

Wet sump

Clutch Type

Wet, Multiple Disc

Starter System

Electric

Transmission System

Constant Mesh, 6-speed

Final Transmission

Chain

Fuel System

DFI w/38mm Keihin throttle bodies (4) and oval sub-throttles

Frame

Aluminum perimeter

Rake

23.5°

Trail

4.0 inches

Front Suspension

41mm inverted fork (SFF-BP) with rebound and compression damping and spring preload adjustability, and top-out springs /4.7 in

Rear Suspension

Bottom-link Uni-Trak with gas-charged shock with piggyback reservoir, compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability/5.9 in

Front Brake

Dual semi-floating 310mm discs with dual radial-mounted, monobloc, opposed 4-piston caliper, Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System (KIBS) (ABS only)

Rear Brake

Single 220mm petal discs with single-piston caliper, Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System (KIBS) (ABS only)

Front Tire

120/70 ZR17

Rear Tire

180/55 ZR17

Seat Height

32.7 inches

Wheelbase

55.1 inches

Curb Weight

436.6 lb* (ABS), 432.2 lb* (non-ABS)

Fuel Tank Capacity

4.5 gal

Warranty

12 Month Limited Warranty


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Comments
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2 of 10 comments
  • Rendell Dolan Rendell Dolan 6 days ago

    I had the 2013, ZX-6R. The Isle of Man TT video Kawasaki made with the ZX-6R fired me up! I bought the first one my local dealership imported and I rode it to the Rocky Mountains from San Diego, Sequoia National Park and camped, regularly commuted on it, and rode all the canyons in SoCal I could find.


    After 44,000 trouble free miles l put it on consignment at Fun Bike Center, San Diego. Why? I wanted to try something new and in hindsight I should have kept my beloved 636. I was going to buy another one but I did not care for the color schemes (except for the 2017 white and gold model).


    I do like the 2024 all black model a lot but I have a Triumph Street Triple sitting in my garage that I am happy with. I'm sorry I know TFT screens are the rage but I like the analog tachometer. If I had the money I would but the 2024 and keep my Street Triple :)

  • Patrick Doyle Patrick Doyle 3 days ago

    A lightweight, snappy bike is a good thing to see, even if the ergonomics sound like it better suits jockeys.

    It feels like a vicious circle consumed the 600 class, where the bikes became less of an all-rounder to win races, and then the racing ergos took away from the all-rounder aspects of the class.

    I have fond memories of my year 2001 ZX-6R, which was a commuter, track bike and tourer for me.

    Although it should be entirely unrelated, I now own a white 2015 Panigale 899. The look of the white version of the 2024 ZX-6R is curiously familiar to me....

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