Crazy for 2013 Kawasaki ZX6R

16 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Crazy for 2013 Kawasaki ZX6R
Kawasaki Square Four 2 Stroke Prototype

Table of Contents

Cycle World Review

Courtesy of Blake Conner

Bigger is definitely better when it comes to engine displacement in the middleweight supersport class. Kawasaki is once again convinced that formula is the ticket to sales success in a market segment in which only European manufacturers Ducati (848 EVO), MV Agusta (F3 675) and Triumph (Daytona 675) have recently been willing to take risks. In the case of the 2013 ZX-6R, the modest bump in engine capacity from 599 to 636cc feels like all the difference in the world when you open the throttle.

This isn’t the first time that Kawasaki has broken with tradition and built an oversize 600: Between 2003 and ’06, the company also produced a 636cc ZX-6R. But unlike this latest version, the original 636 achieved its displacement increase via 2mm larger bores than its 599cc predecessor.

I got plenty of practice on both street and track during a two-day press launch in Northern California that included laps at Thunderhill Raceway and on the twisty mountain roads above Chico.

Although sales of Japanese 600cc sportbikes have recently taken a big hit, Kawasaki says the ZX-6R has been a consistent seller and is predicting that the new machine will be its second-most-popular model in 2013. To help its product stand out in a class inhabited by so many strong contenders, Kawasaki not only bumped up displacement by stroking the existing four-cylinder engine but also totally revised the twin-beam aluminum chassis and introduced the most sophisticated electronics package found on any Japanese supersport.

Superior performance is guaranteed to get you noticed, and I only needed a few seconds in the saddle of the ZX-6R at Thunderhill to appreciate the engine’s newfound torque. When learning a new racetrack, you have to figure out your shift points and the ideal gear for each corner. In most places, the 6R gave me the option of either screaming or lugging the engine.

At times, carrying a taller gear out of a corner and letting the midrange torque pull me through to the next section of track was a better option than keeping the tachometer needle hovering between 15,000 rpm and the engine’s 16,000-rpm rev limit.

In fact, options are something that the ZX-6R has in abundance. The new electronics package offers four traction-control settings (including Off) and two power-output choices, plus available ABS, endowing the midsized Ninja with perhaps the best rider-aid system available on a middleweight supersport.

On the racetrack, I preferred Full power and TC 1 (least intervention), which provided exceptional drive with a bit of a security net. The following day on the street ride in the nearby mountains, I found that TC 2 was the most confidence-inspiring in the chilly conditions without taking away too much performance. Low power mode delivers identical performance up to roughly 7000 rpm, at which point output is clipped to 80 percent of Full-ideal for rainy or slick surfaces.

What makes the electronics so good? Their stealth presence, that’s what. At Thunderhill, I was all but unaware of TC intervention. Great grip provided by the DOT-approved Bridgestone R10 race tires (S20s are standard) definitely contributed to a planted rear end, but the system’s predictive nature kept it from being overly intrusive.

On the street, both TC 2 and 3 could be easily activated under hard acceleration in now-shorter first gear. Outside of my intentional invitation, I rarely noticed TC 2 cutting ignition (or additionally, fuel and air in TC 3). I also didn’t encounter any hiccups from the revised fuel injection with its bank of 38mm throttle bodies; mapping was perfect.

A top-notch chassis with a steeper, 23.5-degree steering-head angle complements that hot-rod engine and electronics package. The Showa SFF-BP fork (Separate Function Big Piston) and revised Uni-Trak/Showa combo out back delivered excellent front-end feel while I trail-braked deep into corners, and it capably absorbed mid-corner bumps. Helping tame corner entries is a new three-spring F.C.C. clutch with slipper and assist functions, the latter allegedly reducing effort at the lever by 25 percent.

Nissin monoblock front-brake calipers and larger, 310mm rotors are another significant upgrade. That combination provided great feel and power without a hint of grabbiness.

ZX-10R-like styling with a revised ram-air intake, projector-beam headlights and a restyled tailsection with Z-shaped LED taillights also deserves mention. New mirrors fitted with reshaped glass provide the best rear view of any sportbike in recent memory yet are no larger in overall size than before. Three colors will be available: Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Flat White or Lime Green.

The standard model will carry a suggested retail price of $11,699; add $1000 for ABS.

My initial impression of the 2013 ZX-6R was very positive. Considering that the 599cc version of the ZX-6R has been a Ten Best award winner three of the past four years, this performance-improved, incredibly refined technological leader has a great chance of making that four out of five. It’s really that good.

Motorcycle-USA First Ride

Courtesy of Adam Waheed

Kawasaki hopes to stimulate the sportbike world with the return of a cult classic: the 636-powered 2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R ($11,699). Team Green’s latest creation overlooks antiquated engine capacity limitations by incorporating a stroked 600cc-based engine to boost acceleration right where you need it whether your ride on the street or track.


The basic architecture of the Ninja’s liquid-cooled Inline-Four engine, including its case and 67mm bore dimension, is the same. Piston stroke however has been increased 2.6mm to 45.1mm. This nets a 37cc increase in engine displacement (636cc). Other key updates include the fitment of pistons with an updated crown design to accommodate the revised high lift valve timing specification.

New shorter connecting rods and a new crankshaft were also installed while the engine’s compression ratio was reduced slightly by 0.4 to 12.9:1 due to the bump in engine capacity.

Many of the intake and exhaust components were also modified for improved efficiency. The fuel-injection system now employs only four injectors instead of the previous dual-stage eight injector set-up. The new injectors are capable of delivering a higher, more finely dispersed volume of fuel. The shape of the engine’s intake and exhaust ports were also altered to compensate for the added flow. Since the upper fuel-injectors have been removed, the volume of the airbox could be increased.

Lastly, the velocity stacks atop the throttle body were also lengthened for greater engine performance at low rpm.

The exhaust was overhauled and the stainless-steel headers now employ cross-over tubes linking all four cylinders thereby enhancing the engine’s torque output at low-to-medium engine speeds. The muffler has a sleeker and more triangulated shape and both the U.S. and European ZX-6Rs now feature identical states of engine tune and power.

You wouldn’t think a 6% increase in engine capacity would make such a difference on the road-but it does. Bottom-end power is snappier, but it’s the mid-range where the engine’s added ‘oomph’ is most noticeable. At northern California’s Thunderhill Raceway Park, site of this year’s Superbike Smackdown IX Track test, the Ninja drives off corners hard-especially when the tachometer needle is pegged around 8000 revs.

The added grunt allowed us to run the bike a gear high, much like you would a Ducati 848 or a Suzuki GSX-R750. Top-end power was good-on par with the old machine, however it flattened out near redline. Still the engine spools up quick and offers lots of over-rev. We also love how softly the rev limiter intrudes which makes the bike feel like it will never stop accelerating.

Equally as pleasing is the roar of the engine. It begins as a racy induction howl and transforms into a maniacal high rpm shriek that will make your eyelids flutter with euphoria. The engine is pretty well balanced though it does transmit a small degree of vibration through the handlebars which was only noticeable during the street ride.

We’ve never had an issue with the level of cable tension required to depress the ZX-6R’s clutch lever, but the updated design proves to significantly reduce lever pull, requiring no more than one finger. It also offers a relatively wide range of engagement which makes it easy to get off and running. Out on track the clutch proved to work well under hard deceleration with it keeping the rear wheel inline with zero chatter.

On the street we did notice that it didn’t offer as smooth actuation as the old unit under the most extreme conditions when you’re purposely sliding the back tire with the rear brake.

The ZX continues to employ the same stacked cassette-style six-speed transmission except the thickness of the gears has been increased to compensate for the added torque of the motor. First gear has a lower ratio which makes the bike easier to launch from a standstill as well as enhancing straight line acceleration. Lastly, a lighter O-ring drive chain was fitted.

Final drive gearing remains unchanged at 16/43.

As we mentioned before, the engine’s broader powerband allowed us to actually carry a higher gear around many of the corners on track and complemented the bike’s final drive gearing well. Our only really complaint is the lack of an electronic quickshifter, especially since the hardware is becoming standard on other brand’s offerings.


Kawasaki Square Four 2 Stroke Prototype

Kawasaki’s involvement in the aerospace industry is obvious when you see the ’13 bike’s lines. The air intake is larger and the forward fairing is positioned at a sharper angle for decreased drag and to better shield the rider’s extremities from wind. The headlamp beams, turn signals and LED taillight are also updated and said to offer greater brightness and visibility than before. We’ll have to take Kawasaki’s word for it as we didn’t have the opportunity to ride the bike after dark.

Another nice touch is the pentagon-shaped mirrors which provide a wider view from behind.

The primary components of the ZX-6R’s chassis, including the frame and swingarm, are untouched for ’13. What has changed however is the castor angle (from 24 to 23.5-degrees) in an effort to sharpen steering. Complementing the change is a new steering stem seal that is claimed to further reduce any binding.

Both front and rear suspension components are new and feature the latest technology from technical partner Showa. The fork now employs Big Piston Separate Fork Function (BP-SFF) design which makes use of a coil spring in each leg. Adjustment is split between legs with the left housing spring preload adjustment.

The right leg offers compression and rebound damping tuning.

Adjustments are made atop each leg which makes dialing in the damping settings less of a chore. The set-up also uses fewer components thereby reducing weight, and of course cost. The gas-charged shock also received some attention and is now nearly one inch longer from eyelet to eyelet. The spring rate has also been reduced by 7.5% and it operates within a more progressive linkage.

As before the shock offers spring preload, compression and rebound damping adjustment.

Predictable, rock solid handling has been a hallmark feature of Kawasaki’s middleweight since its last major overhaul (2009), and the new bike expounds on those characteristics by offering quicker steering than ever before. In fact it turns into corners so sharply, and with such little effort, it’ll take some time for your brain to adjust to its precision.

The damping settings controlled chassis pitch without flaw during all-out braking and acceleration but felt like it lost a degree of its hard core track ability at that nine-tenths level. But it’s a small compromise based on how well the bike’s suspension works on the street. Granted, the freshly paved rode we treaded on during the course of our 70-plus mile street ride was smooth but the Ninja’s suspension glided over the occasional bump while still serving up a sporty but not overly taut ride.

Last year’s Ninja was certainly not lacking in terms of stopping power. But the new model aims to evolve performance with the introduction of new-generation monobloc-style calipers manufactured by Nissin. The calipers employ 32mm pistons compared to the 30/32mm combination before. The design also allows each binder to be more rigid and lighter, too.

The calipers clamp to larger diameter petal-style rotors (up 10mm to 310mm). In spite of the bigger size the weight of the discs is unchanged since the thickness has been reduced by 1mm to 5mm.

The 220mm rear disc brake is also new and borrowed from the Ninja ZX-10R. A new Bosch-sourced ABS system is now available for a $1000 upcharge. The package offers only one fixed mode and cannot be disabled. It also adds almost five pounds to the weight of the motorcycle.

The machines we rode were not fitted with the ABS option so we’ll have to reserve comment for a later time.

On the track the Kawasaki’s brakes proved to be downright spectacular. We’ve spun a lot of laps at Thunderhill and we were amazed by how deep the Kawasaki would run into corners. A firm two finger pull on the front lever netted outrageous stopping power with a matching level of feel-and the best part is that the chassis stayed glued to the ground without excessive pitch (credit also goes to the new fork).

The brakes do fade ever-so-slightly under prolonged heavy use which necessitated us adjusting out the position of the lever but given the six-levels of available adjustment it’s a moot point, unless you have crazy large hands and you constantly lean hard on the brake lever.

The Kawasaki continues to roll on black six-spoke cast aluminum wheels (the front hub has modified slightly to work with the updated braking set-up) shod with Bridgestone’s S20 high-performance road tire in sizes 120/70-17 front and 180/55-17 rear. We had limited time on these tires but they served up plenty of grip for medium-to-fast paced cornering maneuvers and warm-up time was quick, too.

Kawasaki trickles down its advanced electronics package as used on its other top shelf sportbikes. The ZX-6R rider can now choose from two separate engine power modes: Full and Low. As the name implies, Full power mode allows access to maximum engine performance, all the time, at any rpm.

The ZX-6R’s traction control system is another first for the Japanese middleweight class. The set-up borrows technology from the Ninja ZX-14R including a pair of wheel speed sensors. The electronics monitor front and rear wheel speeds and compute data from the engine’s other sensors to calculate when wheel spin can potentially occur.

Unveiling of the 2013 Kawasaki ZX6R

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