As the factory Kawasaki engineers responsible for the new '09 ZX-6R were introduced, we noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Yasuhisa Okabe was the project leader for the team that redesigned the current ZX-10R, so when he was presented as the project leader for the new 600cc Ninja, it was easy to surmise that the same racetrack-oriented design philosophy of the bigger Kawasaki would be infused into the newest model as well. "Kawasaki's recent consumer research found that riders interested in purchasing a 600 weren't concerned with comfort or other street-going compromises. Outright performance was the single largest factor in the purchase decision," revealed Karl Edmondson, Kawasaki Motor Corp USA product manager.
Of course, the styling similarities between the new generation ZX-6R and the current ZX-10R would probably be your first clue. There's no doubt that the previous 6R definitely needed a power boost, but extracting additional ponies from a little 600cc engine is a far tougher proposition than a literbike powerplant. Would the new ZX-6R turn out to be a high-strung thoroughbred requiring a lot of skill from the rider to extract that performance?
The new ZX-6R's instrument...
The new ZX-6R's instrument panel is much more efficient in design and easier to read. The weird bar graph gear indicator has been replaced with a fairly conspicuous digital readout in the upper left corner of the LCD panel, and the rpm numbers on the analog tach are larger and much easier to discern at a glance. A shift indicator light to the upper left of the tach is actually easy to notice, even in daylight.
More Than Just Skin Deep
We previewed most of the changes to the new 6R in our December issue ("New Bikes 2009"), but for a recap you can check out the accompanying tech sidebar on page 32. There were plenty of new detail changes, however, that came to light during the bike's world press introduction held at Kawasaki's superb Autopolis International Racing Circuit in southern Japan.
Kawasaki was particularly proud of how much weight was shaved with the new 6R. And if the claims turn out to be true when we finally put a production model on our own scales, then the engineers have every reason to be pleased; 22 pounds is an enormous amount of weight to lose from a 600, where components are usually already pared down to the bare minimum. For instance, using chromoly steel in the camshaft construction saved approximately 400 grams, while magnesium engine covers dropped approximately 680 grams (with removable noise reduction pads inside comprising another 340 grams that can be deducted for racing) and narrower transmission gears cut 170 grams. Changes to the EFI construction dropped 200 grams, and the new titanium underengine exhaust system comes in 960 grams less than the previous unit. Alterations to the cooling system design dropped another 350 grams, with the new frame cutting an additional 7.7 pounds. Even the bodywork contributed more than four pounds to the weight loss count. All told, the new ZX-6R is claimed to weigh in at 421 pounds wet (full fuel tank, ready to ride), a 23-pound reduction from the somewhat porky 444 pounds we recorded in our '08 600 comparison test ("Balancing Act", July '08).
Optimized cam surface nitriding and more durable tappets allow more aggressive cam profiles for better all-around performance. A revised exhaust collector layout (still a 4-into-2-into-1 setup, but with subtle changes to the header balancer tubes and collector design) contributes to improved low-end and midrange power without sacrificing flow for top-end power.
Ergonomics have been revised, with the seat 5mm lower (as well as narrower at the seat/tank junction) and the clip-on bars moved closer to the rider and angled back a bit more. The seat is also shorter in length, working with the reshaped fuel tank to allow more contact areas with the rider for improved feedback.
Front brakes are still the...
Front brakes are still the same radial-mount/four-pad Nissin calipers biting on 300mm petal rotors, but the rotors have grown in thickness from 5.5mm to 6mm to better withstand track use.
Other small but notable changes include an adjustable Ohlins race steering damper to keep the steeper steering geometry from causing any headshake tendencies, and an increase in front brake disc thickness from 5.5mm to 6mm (diameter remains the same at 300mm) to enable improved heat dissipation during aggressive riding at the track.
The '09 ZX-6R will be available in Metallic Diablo Black, Candy Surf Blue or the usual Kawasaki racing Lime Green version for $9799. An extra $200 buys the special Monster Energy edition that is all black except for a lime green seat and lime green pinstripe along the circumference of the wheels.