'07 Kawasaki ZX-6R Intro First Impressions!

Motorcycle.com Staff
by Motorcycle.com Staff
Barber Motorsports Park, Leeds, Alabama -- Greetings, MOfos from icy cold 'Bama. I'm currently attending the world press launch of the all-new Kawasaki ZX-6R and thought I'd shoot you some initial impressions and photos to whet your appetite before the full report.

First things first. Our day started with probably the coldest temps
I've ever ridden in. At 6:30am it was a frosty 15 degrees. Yep, I said 15. Never fear, Kawi had us supplied with support from test riders and crews from Europe and Japan as well as a team from Bridgestone. So with tires (medium compound race) nice and toasty inside their warmers, all that was left to do was climb aboard and try not to freeze to death. That was near impossible until at least the second session.

After thawing out and getting comfortable with a track that was new to me -- Barber is probably the best track I've ridden -- a switch was flipped inside of me and I was riding at a pace that had me feeling more confident then I've been on a racetrack in a long, long time. Some of this is due to the fluid layout of Barber, but much more of it has to do with the entirely-redesigned bike. Although the Ninja has an "all-new engine", according to Kawasaki, handling is really the heart of the new ZX-6R.

After four long sessions in the day, the single-biggest impression the bike made on me was the ease with which it stays composed no matter the track surface, or how aggressive my steering, braking, and throttle inputs are. After exiting the hairpin known as Turn 5, 5A, 5B and 5C, a slight rise leads to the kink that apparently qualifies as Turn 6. Cresting six while still accelerating you'll be greeted with a sneaky little bump that's sure to get the bars dancing if you're hard on the gas and not as far forward on the seat as possible in order to keep the front end down.

I fancy a little excitement, so naturally I don't mind a front end that gets a little busy. Indeed the Ninja will shake its head but it settled down immediately after no more than two cycles of shake. And the head shake was so controlled, that it seemed to be happening in slow motion. Now I wasn't particularly impressed with this until I learned that -- are you ready for this? -- the Ninja
has no steering damper! No matter the track surface or crummy technique with which it's ridden, this bike remains composed.

A natural extension of this composure is the relative lack of effort required to set the bike into the turn and keep it planted. Mid-corner line change? Simply give a little shove on the inside bar and the Ninja moves on command with no complaints. But it moves only as much as you demand, and not a bit more. Trail braking or sloppy downshifting mid-turn? The chassis keeps the bike exactly where you placed it. Over-confident late braking? The Ninja maintains a perfectly stable environment, giving the sensation that the bike is connected to the tarmac with a high-power electromagnetic field. Stability is the name of the game on this machine and underscores Kawasaki's concerted efforts to create a bike that is "synched" with the rider.

Other than a chassis that finally had me dragging my right knee as much as I do my left -- something I've struggled with for what seems like eons -- the ZX is some kind of wonderful when it comes to the binders. With outstanding feel and even more power, the four-pot, radial-mounted brakes make two-finger braking a routine habit with only the faster corners requiring more sensible braking discipline. At no point in the day did I experience any fade.

I'd like to say something substantial about the tranny and clutch, but unfortunately both items operated so smoothly and seamlessly that they simply disappeared into the background. Clutchless upshifting and downshifting are the order for the day. I guess if something works so well that you forget it, it’s probably pretty good.

Equally as forgettable -- but in a good way -- is the fueling. Throttle response is instantaneous and free of any hesitation or bothersome glitch.

With a new 599cc powerplant propelling you from corner to corner, the Ninja relies on a high-revving mill with a "mile-wide"
powerband to keep you chasing your podium dreams. Indeed, the mid-range proves to be your ally should you find yourself a gear too high exiting a turn. I purposely made several loops with the bike up a gear more than I should have just to see how well the bike could rescue a rider from such shifting bumbles. I took many low-speed turns in third gear knowing full well that Kawasaki tried to impress upon us that the bike was designed with the idea of keeping revs up as much as possible.

I'm happy to report that the bike loses nothing to the rider's poor gear selection choices as it pulls strongly from down low until about 10,000rpm where it really begins a smooth but rapid climb to roughly 15,000rpm where it just kind of fades out, despite a redline that starts at roughly 16,000rpm. I had some of my best laps when I specifically short-shifted somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000. No momentum is lost and the little Ninja that could keeps the tach needle slamming upward until you either hit the shift light or rev limiter. Other than good mid-range and smooth, quick acceleration, the 6R has a mill typical to the Supersport class without the peakiness found in other makes.

Finally, it's very worth noting in this quick impression that the Bridgestone tires fitted to the bikes today worked phenomenally considering the frigid conditions. Conceding the fact that tire warmers were used on most bikes for most of the day, they came up to temperature quickly, provided good feel and most importantly stuck like glue. No slip-slidin' away today.

That's all for now. Keep your eyes peeled for a more in-depth report in the coming days and a warmer reporter sending it.

- Pete Brissette, Managing Editor

[ Subscribers can find more pix here; including a cut-away.. -- Fonzie]
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