'03 Kawy ZX-6R - Motorcycle.com

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander

Rosamond, CA -- Whoever said "Size Doesn't Matter" hasn't met the 636cc motor in the 2003 Kawasaki ZX-6R. Like its sibling the ZX-6RR, the 6R is all new for '03. Those of you familiar with the 2002 6R will be shocked by how physically compact the new bike is.

Those of you familiar with the strong, friendly like a Labrador Retriever 02 motor will also be surprised by the snarling beast that's crammed inside the new 6R's fairing.

Kawasaki arranged for City Bike's Mike Solis and me to ride the new bike at The Streets of Willow, in Rosamond, CA. This was a make-up for our rained out Pahrump track intro in December.

We did this test, at a Track Daz track day. With temperatures hovering around 71 degrees and sunny skies, it was quite a make-up. Track Daz uses a 30 minute format for its two rider groups and they transition quickly back and forth between them. This results in an all you can eat smorgasbord of track time. By riding in both groups, I was able to spend nearly five hours with the new 6R, on a track that I very much enjoy.

Once on the track, the OEM Bridgestone BT012 tires warmed quickly and proved predictable with a decent level of grip. The bike's lighter weight and new chassis quickly made themselves evident. It turns in well, and rolls over the top in quick transitions smoothly and easily. Small wiggles on corner exits signaled wheelspin, but the gentle nature of them allowed the limits to be explored with a minimum of drama.

The bikes that Mike and I rode are the same ones that were used in Malaysia and Pahrump, so the stock suspension was already dialed to stiffer settings and felt good enough that I didn't fiddle with an adjuster all day.

Sean sure can lump his 220 pounds around the Streets with alacrity!

When the stock Bridgestones gave up, Kawasaki Product Support Spec. Scott Buckley quickly mounted a set of Michelin "Pilot Race" tires and the fun factor went through the roof. Because of the solid feeling of the race-compound tires, the little squiggles, easily transformed into full blown darkies out of The Street's uphill-left, turn-3 and off the 100 mph exit of the turn-8 "bowl."

None of these shenanigans upset the stock chassis and ground clearance is good enough that the only things touching down all day were my knees and the peg feelers.

The 6R pulls nicely to 7,000 rpm, where the power starts an appreciable rise to 10,000 rpm. From 10,000 thru 14,500 rpm, the thing absolutely screams and is more than happy to over-rev through 15K. I spent a lot of time short-shifting the bike at The Streets, to keep wheelspin in check while leaned over, the bike didn't mind a bit and pulled reasonably well, from as low as 5,000 rpm. When tooling around the pits, I did notice some abrupt on/off throttle response from the fuel injection and a small amount of drive snatch. This wasn't a problem on track, but might be annoying around town.

"I swear to you, that I was able to run-down and pass a couple of 750s on the front and back straights."

I'm not used to lighting-up fresh Michelin race tires this easily on a 600, what's going on here? Oh yeah! 36cc. I tell you folks, this feels like one hot 636cc motor. Too hot perhaps? Scott seems pretty handy with a wrench and a bike, so I trust him to know the skinny on the testers. Scott swore to me, that these were "stock" bikes and that no blueprinting, porting or other optimization techniques had been performed on them. I SWEAR to you, that I was able to run-down and pass a couple of 750s on the front and back straights, by getting a good drive off the preceding corner.

Furthermore, an all around good-guy and friend of MO, who manages the So Cal test fleets for Triumph and Aprilia, was there on a Mille equipped with race pipes, chip and Pirelli Supercorsa tires. Even with the camera on my tank preventing me from tucking-in, I was able to stay close enough to him on the straights to take him on the brakes.

He and I hooked up several times throughout the day and though he is an excellent rider, the 6R's motor and chassis allowed me to catch and pass him every time. I wish we could have gone across to the big track at Willow, so we could compare them in a setting that is more favorable for the Mille. Wait, what am I talking about? I'm comparing a 600-class Supersport to the king of open class v-twins. This is twisted.

My impressions of the motor and chassis are seconded by Mike Solis at City Bike. Mike raved about the motor all day and though he didn't have as much experience at The Streets of Willow, he was also able to do some giant killing, though he wasn't able to catch the Mille.

The compact size felt great on the track, but I fear it might be a little extreme for commuting or anything other than hard core sport riding. It does not have the relaxed ergos of the 2002 6R, so sport touring and long stints on freeways probably won't be a picnic. I however, wasn't sitting in one spot for too long, and even at my ahem "enhanced" size, I never felt cramped or uncomfortable.

The tank has nicely sculpted thigh cutouts in it and they worked well on the track, allowing me to use my legs to support myself under extremely hard braking. This doesn't sound significant, but good cutouts can significantly reduce fatigue under race conditions. Speaking of brakes, they had excellent power, but fade resistance and feel were hurt by the stock rubber brake lines. After my first session, the lever was coming all the way back to the bar, with one finger. Scott adjusted the lever to its widest position and replaced the fluid with some Motul 600. This helped the fading, but the lever still felt mushy. I know that the first thing most of you will replace is the stock pipe, but I recommend that you skip the pipe and swap the stock brake lines for some Kevlar or braided stainless instead.

Speaking of the stock pipe, this one sounds great! It has that raspy Kawasaki snarl, coupled with a very nice intake honk through the new center mounted ram-air duct. The plating on our testers was thrashed though. It's as though the muffler overheated and burned it off in spots. So though the pipe seems to breathe well and sounds good, I think it might suffer cosmetically after a month or two of hard riding.

Overall, I'm mighty impressed with this track oriented street bike. From a racer's standpoint it has very few weaknesses. In fact, with a swap to Kevlar brake lines and race bodywork, I would be thrilled to race this bike all year. Bring your guns!

Sean Alexander
Sean Alexander

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