Let’s not kid ourselves; the Kawasaki ZX-6R is a Tool, Hooligan, Grade One.
Sure it’ll commute all week long and, thanks to a low-power option on the left handlebar that caps power at about 77kW and smoothes out the delivery even more, it’ll tiptoe through the rain without trying to bite its own tail.
But what it’s made for is leaving your brain at home on a Sunday morning, giving it the full 96kW (101 with ram air effect), getting out there in the twisties and tilting the horizon to outrageous angles.
My initial impression, I must admit, was that the bike was twitchy; it felt as if both ends were moving about independently under me like an off-roader on very loose gravel, which did not bode well for performance testing.
But as I relaxed into the bike’s beautifully modulated power delivery - even in full-tilt boogie mode - and remarkably competent sports chassis, it became obvious that the problem lay with me, not the bike. Kawasaki’s 636cc Ninja is simply incredibly responsive to rider input - any input.
RIDE IT WITH FINESSE
Try to throw it around with a heavy hand on the ‘bars, and it’ll give you attitude. Ride with the finesse due to a machine whose direct ancestor took Kawasaki to the World Supersport championship and it becomes a remarkably well-mannered beast.
It turns into fast corners like a ferret after a mouse, settles into fast sweepers without the faintest trace of headshake, and hauls ass, steady as a rock, flat out on our six-kilometre test straight.
The 2013 ZX-6R’s engine is directly derived from that of the 2012 championship-winning bike, stroked to 67 x 45.1mm for extra midrange, and it is an absolute peach, pulling strongly and uncannily smoothly from 4500rpm to just under 10 000, at which point the intake roar becomes an angry howl, a little secondary vibration comes through ‘bars and ‘pegs, and the power curve gets a whole lot steeper.
Kawasaki quotes 101kW at 13 500rpm and indeed, the bike accelerates most strongly with the analogue rev-counter needle hovering between 10 and 14, but the power curve doesn’t drop off until just before the red line at 16 000rpm.
It shot up to 230km/h very quickly indeed on our test straight, then continued to gather momentum until, on our fourth and final test run, the bike’s digital speedometer was flickering between 263 and 264, with 15 100rpm on the clock.
A reality check with Mr Garmin and his friends in the sky showed that the bike was actually scooting along at 249km/h, with a marginally acceptable speedometer error of 6.01 percent. In car testing it is customary to allow up to 10 percent, but motorcycles are held to a higher standard.
But perhaps the clearest illustration of just how well calibrated the fuel-injection systems of modern motorcycles are, is that whether commuting on wet roads, flicking through our ride and handling section at 6000-10 000rpm or flat out on the test straight, average fuel consumption never varied from 5.7 litres per 100km.
HANG ON THE CABLES
Gearbox action is crisp if slightly notchy, the clutch light and predictable, but without that sold solid final hook-up that was a welcome feature of Kawasaki clutches in the days when all that mattered to American publications was quarter-mile times.
In fact, the easiest way to get this bike off the line in a hurry is to let the clutch out smartly at about 6000rpm and then hang on the cables.
The ZX-6R’s strong midrange will put you in Warp Factor territory before you have time to draw breath and the rest is just a matter of timing your clutchless upshifts right, while the traction control keeps the bike from flipping; it doesn’t altogether prevent wheelies - depending on which of the three modes you select - but it does keep them on the right side of disastrous.
The suspension, as befits a precision tool of this standard, was very firm, even on the factory’s median settings, and got the better of the bike’s revised, slightly steeper steering geometry a couple of times on our bumpy test track – and nearly spat me out of the saddle at the same time. Everywhere else, however, it contributed significantly to the 636’s ability to go exactly where it was pointed, every time.
The front brakes are, in a word, phenomenal - huge Nissin radial-mount callipers on 310mm petal discs, controlled by a deceptively compact Grand Prix-style master cylinder. Their power is immense, with ferocious initial bite that makes one-finger stoppies almost unavoidable despite the standard antilock braking system’s attempts to keep everything decorous.
And yet that power is so controllable you can steer into a corner with the brakes, letting them off slightly to tighten the line and reapplying them to move the apex outwards a few centimetres, all without upsetting the bike’s composure. Now you know how the World Superbike riders do it.
The rear brake, by contrast, is a simple, single-piston calliper, straight out of the 1970s, on 1 220mm petal disc, underlining again the fact that rear brakes are only meant for hill-starts, stabilising the bike on wet roads and trolling around car parks.
Build quality is a little patchy; the switchgear and instrumentation are superlative, as they need to be on a machine this sophisticated, the angular styling is very attractive and all the plastics are robust and neatly mounted.
But the panels seem to be made of far too many little sections, with an unseemly number of nooks and crannies that will make the bike difficult to keep clean and tidy, especially in a semi-matte finish, as on the test Ninja. There are also some roughly-finished fastenings on display that look as if they came from the corner hardware store, rather than a quality motorcycle manufacturer.
Nevertheless, the bike’s ergonomics are not as radical as they look and the neat, almost triangular front seat is well-padded by sports-bike standards; a longer than usual Sunday-morning test ride posed no problems in terms of comfort, while several days of commuting (including one in the rain) left my wrists unstrained and my neck uncricked.
Make no mistake, however, the ZX-6R is neither a commuter nor a tourer; an ultra-responsive chassis, state-of-the-art brakes and a stonking engine, second only to that of the Triumph 675 Daytona in terms of power delivery and then not by much, put it right at the top of the midweight sportster class. It is, as we said, a Tool, Hooligan, Grade One.
Price: R121 995
Bike from: Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town
Engine: 636cc liquid-cooled transverse four.
Bore x stroke: 67 x 45.1mm.
Compression ratio: 12.9:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power (with Ram Air effect): 96.4kW (101kW) at 13 500rpm.
Torque: 71Nm at 10 800.
Induction: Digital electronic fuel-injection with four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies and oval sub-throttles.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by belt.
Front Suspension: 41mm inverted Showa separate function big-piston cartridge forks with top-out springs, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Rear suspension: Bottom-link Uni-Trak linkage with gas-charged monoshock with top-out spring, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Front brake: Dual 310mm semi-floating petal discs with Nissin radial-mount, opposed piston, four-pot callipers.
Rear brake: 220mm petal disc with Nissin single-piston floating calliper.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 180/55 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 830mm.
Kerb weight: 192kg.
Fuel tank: 17 litres.
Top speed (measured): 249km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 5.7 litres per 100km
Price: R121 995
Bike from: Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town