Kawasaki has never been a manufacturer to abide by the rules or shy away from displacement advantages. Team Green enthusiasts with a decent memory surely remember the 2003 ZX-6R; it turned a cold shoulder to class standards by means of a larger displacement and extra emphasis on tractable power. The bike unfortunately lasted just four years in Kawasaki’s lineup, although that’s not to say that the Japanese manufacturer’s more-is-better attitude ever went away. Case in point; the 2012 ZX-14R, 2013 Ninja 300 and, most recently, the 2013 ZX-6R, all of which laugh in the face of class standards and those so called “rules.” The new ZX-6R, in particular, gets its kicks from 37cc of added displacement. More is better, according to Kawasaki.
Added power wasn’t the only priority for 2013, however; the ZX-6R also benefits from new Showa suspension, Nissin monobloc brakes, traction control, variable engine modes, optional ABS and an updated styling package. Furthermore, each new feature has been tuned with a purpose: to provide an equal level of performance both at the track and on the street. Gone are the days when focus was placed solely on a high-strung, purebred track package, claims Team Green.
A larger displacement will play dividends in just about any environment, but to really highlight the benefits of its larger engine, Kawasaki invited members of the press for a day of track testing and a day of street riding in scenic Northern California. After two days atop the perch of the new middleweight package I can say this, the new ZX-6R is a definite improvement over its precursor, and it will definitely give the competition a run for its money in any shootout it enters.
The ZX-6R’s engine has received the most attention for 2013 and benefits from a 2.6mm increase in stroke (bore remains 67.0mm), among other changes. Intake and exhaust ports have been reshaped to match the new displacement, with the intake ports widening near the throttle bodies and the exhausts ports enlarging near the valves. Retooled cams replace the 2012 model’s setup and provide increased exhaust and intake lift as well as three degrees more intake duration. The increased valve lift necessitated a new piston, which benefits from a revised crown for proper clearance and a molybdenum coating on the skirts for less internal friction. Connecting rods are 1.5mm shorter and run 2mm wider stems for increased durability. What’s more, compression ratio drops from an impressively high 13.1:1 to 12.9:1 as a result of the changes.
Kawasaki isn’t quick to advertise horsepower figures, although devoid-of-number dyno charts suggest that the new engine is sufficiently stronger, especially through the midrange. Kawasaki also suggests a .2 second advantage in the quarter mile, a quantitative number that provides at least a small glimpse of the new ZX-6R’s power advantage.
Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, CA, is fast, flowing and full of elevation changes, making it the perfect place to put the reworked ZX-6R through its paces. The changes for 2013 are immediately noticeable too, with the added midrange performance providing a perfectly clear look at how all middleweight packages should feel with the throttle wrapped to the stop. The engine feels more versatile, with an extremely wide range of power that lets you carry a gear higher through sections that, on any other middleweight, would have you continually searching the gearbox. Power builds exponentially quick from 10,000 rpm, but there’s plenty of grunt from 8000 rpm to warrant exceptional drives off pretty much any type of corner. Interestingly, the power tapers off a decent bit before the 16,000 rpm rev limiter, meaning short shifts are nothing to shy away from.
The ’13 model’s frame is identical...
The ’13 model’s frame is identical to the ’12 model’s hold for new fairing mounts. Geometry is only slightly changed thanks to a fork that’s been pulled 2mm through the triple clamp.
Spec sheet mavens will notice that the 2013 ZX-6R is actually two pounds heavier than the 2012 model, although that added weight is easy to dismiss at the track thanks in part to reworked geometry figures and new ride-height measurements. A plush, but capable ride comes courtesy of updated Showa suspension that’s softer yet designed to amply walk the line between street comfort and track performance. Biggest change is a new Separate Function Fork with Big Piston technology, which separates preload and damping adjustments between the left and right fork legs respectively. The fork has been pulled through the triple clamp 2mm, which puts more weight over the front of the motorcycle and steepens the trail by .5 degrees (new measurement is 23.5 degrees versus 24.0 degrees on the ’12 model) for quicker steering. The rear shock has undergone like changes and runs a 25mm longer spring for added rear ride height. Said spring is also 7.5 percent lighter for a plusher feel over bumps.
More rear ride height and...
More rear ride height and a slightly steeper rake allow the ZX-6R to steer quicker into the corner. Steering feels lighter than the ’12 model as a whole.
The aforementioned changes make the ZX-6R steer quicker into the corners when compared to the ’12 model, but fortunately not at the expense of stability. The fork does feel very soft through the initial and middle part of its stroke (a testament to the bike’s street pedigree) and the shock is quick to squat under acceleration, but the nice thing about the Showa suspension is that there’s a wide enough range of adjustment to easily set the bike up for aggressive track riding. By the end of my time at the track, for instance, I had next to zero complaints in terms of suspension setup.
Shock spring is 25mm longer...
Shock spring is 25mm longer for added rear ride height and 7.5 percent softer for more compliance over bumps. Link ratio is also more progressive.
The Nissin monobloc front calipers are 90g lighter per set and a definite improvement over previous binders. It doesn’t hurt that the calipers bite on new, 310mm rotors that are 10mm larger than the 2012 units but also 1mm thinner for weight purposes. Thunderhill’s tight turn 14 taxed the calipers the best it could during the course of our seven 30-minute sessions, but proved to be no match for the Nissin units. Initial bite isn’t overly aggressive for fear of scaring newer riders or upsetting the chassis, but power through the pull is extremely impressive. What’s more, there’s a surplus of feel from the lever so that you can easily modulate the brakes as you get deeper into the braking zone. The best thing I can say about the brakes is that I never once was left searching for more power or feedback, which is all you can ask for from a set of binders.
Kawasaki’s new F.C.C. clutch is another welcomed change for 2013 and makes use of varying cams (an assist cam and slipper cam) for both a lighter pull at the lever and more control under deceleration. When braking hard for the second-gear turn 14 and getting aggressive with the shifter, I was amazed by the fact that it was nearly impossible to get the ZX-6R’s rear tire sideways. There was no rear wheel hop either, proving that the clutch has been dialed in with a near perfect amount of slip.
An F.C.C. clutch uses two...
An F.C.C. clutch uses two types of cams to provide assist and slipper functions. Lighter and fewer springs (three versus six) provide a lighter pull at the lever, while the slipper feature provides stability under deceleration. We found it hard to fault either aspect on the track or street.
310mm front brake discs are...
310mm front brake discs are 10mm larger than the rotors on the ’12 ZX-6R, but they’re also 1mm thinner and end up weighing the same. Nissin monobloc calipers are 90g lighter and provide superb power and feel without relatively any fade over the course of a 30-minute track session.
The ZX-6R’s new gauge indicates...
The ZX-6R’s new gauge indicates settings for each of the new electronics, including KTRC level and Power Mode setting. The analog tachometer is extremely easy to read at a glance and the digital display is similarly as accommodating.
Accelerating hard out of the corner allowed me to test the KTRC (Kawasaki Traction Control) system, which offers three levels of intervention plus Off. Levels one and two both control ignition and are surprisingly difficult to activate at anything less than an overly aggressive pace. Level three on the other hand controls ignition, fuel and air, deeming it relatively unnecessary for anything other than damp conditions. Each ignition cut in levels one and two are very minute, which promotes impressive drives even with the system turned on. In level one, for instance, I felt like my drives off the corner were just as strong as they were with the system off, only I also felt like I had a safety net I could rely on.
The ZX-6R feels just as capable off the track as it does on. It looks the part too, with revised body panels providing an aggressive look but some functional benefits in the form of better airflow around the rider’s shoulders. Mirrors are retooled to provide a better view of what’s behind you, and the ergos aren’t overly tight for someone on the taller end of the five-foot mark.
The roads traversing Plumas National Forest look and feel as though they’ve never seen a rough winter, making it difficult to predict how the Ninja would handle a rough section of L.A. tarmac, although I’ll say that the occasional bump in the road doesn’t jolt your insides the way you’d expect a sportbike’s suspenders to. The Showa suspension is plush, with enough damping to keep the bike stable but not enough to degrade ride quality on your daily commute.
A reshaped front cowl provides...
A reshaped front cowl provides better airflow over the riders shoulder. Notice also the larger, ZX-10R-esque intake duct.
The fact that the ZX-6R works so well both at the track and on the street is proof of how well Kawasaki engineers have walked the line between street comfort and track performance. There’s little not to like about the bike, although I’ll admit that the new transmission fights clutch-less up-shifts on occasion, and that the .6-inch taller seat height may not agree with everyone. Concerns aside, the bike is definitely more versatile in myriad environments, and more importantly, a better bike than the model it replaces. Although with that added performance comes a higher price tag; the ZX-6R will retail for $11,699, whereas the ABS version will sell for $12,699. Better start saving.
We’ll have more on the 2013 ZX-6R in the January 2013 issue of Sport Rider, which goes on sale November 27. Be sure to grab a copy and to also keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming middleweight shootout, full ZX-6R test and more!