In 1990 Kawasaki introduced the first ever ram air device on the awesome 176mph ZX11. So it was of little surprise that when the ZX6-R was first introduced, it had the power advantage over its classmates. Having owned and raced a \'95 6R, I can attest to the bikes power.
There wasn’t another 600, or hardly a 750 for that matter, that could run with that bike down the straits. However, everyone agreed that the bike’s handling left a lot to be desired. Slow guys like me just found the front to be numb, unwilling and somewhat uncommunicative. Fast guys like Barney (Mike Barnes), would actually flex, chatter and even bend the front forks under hard racing conditions. It’s still hard for me to imagine braking so hard that you bend the front forks, but that’s why I get paid to type, not ride.
Kawasaki made strides in 1996 increasing the fork tube diameter to 33mm, which helped the chattering problem, but the overall cornering was still behind the curve. So the 6R became the ultimate point and shoot machine, drive it in hard, square off the corner and rip on the throttle. With the new Suzuki GSX-R 600 steadily moving to the front of 600cc supersport class, and Honda and Yamaha waiting with their all-new 600s, Kawasaki decided to make the preemptive strike.
The hard part about throwing the first punch is making sure it’s hard enough. How hard was it? Our little green machine gave us the following numbers to ponder, 96 rear wheel horsepower, 11.05 @124 mph., and …, well thanks to a broken clutch that’s all we got to do. We didn’t get to make our top speed run or take advantage of the track time we arranged, all thanks to back ordered clutch parts. More on that later.
We knew our new ZX6-R would be fast, it’s a Kawi, but does it handle and stop. When I asked our friend, and recent Daytona EBC champion, Mike Luke, what he thought about the bike, he had this to say, "This bike is just awesome, it’s so perfect. The old 6R, unlike a Honda where you can ride the front wheel, was hard to get to turn, so you had to back it into the corners. The new 6R is so balanced you just take it in and ride both tires, even sliding both together."
And what was everyone else in the race on? GSX-R 600s with 750 motors limited to the class limit 102 horsepower. By the way, this was Mike’s first professional win, and he wasn’t exactly riding a race-prepped bike. Mike had 60 miles on the odometer, tape over the headlight, and still had the rear seat on. The way he was speeding through the field, he probably should have kept the signals lights attached to be polite.
After spending just a few minutes with Luke, we were really chomping at the bit to get our new test bike, so we went shopping. Of course we heard all about how "hot" the new bikes are, and anything under sticker was a steal. However, we found prices from $7,700 to $7,100, and like idiots we opted to pay the 77 (don’t ask).
As with our last \'95 6R, Kawasaki does a good job of satisfying the polishing freak in all of us. The new six is packed with all sorts of cool and nifty parts to feast your eyes upon. Polished clamps and brackets, anodized fork caps, digital readouts, and really bizarre looking ignition and clutch covers. Our standard green and purple bike even has very cool gold metal flake in the purple paint. These extra touches make you feel like you are on something much more expensive and exotic than a 600.
The very first impression everyone had upon sitting on the bike is, "This thing\'s a lot wider than before". The frame bows around a definitely fatter tank with a minor resemblance to a Honda 900 RR. In addition the clips-ons are wider apart than last years by 5mm. In fact the entire handle bar expanse is wider by 25mm. A great deal of effort went into increasing the stability of the motorcycle. The fork diameter increased by 5 mm, the Rake decreased .5mm, and the trail also decreased 1mm.
The quest for a perfect 10
Well, seeing that Drag Racing was the next course of action, we decided to leave it alone until we made it down to Moroso for our road racing test. Now for you readers who have been around for a while, you know we like to have our buddy Kirk do our drag racing, but we figured Barney could do it, after all he drag races once every race weekend.
As we pulled up to Orlando Speed World, and met with our friend Randy (who wants us to remind everyone they can come out every Wednesday & Friday night, and run whatever they\'ve got for $10) we knew what we we\'re looking for. Based on our past experience we felt strongly that the 6R had a ten second pass in it. "O.K. Mike, go out there and get us a ten, and we all go home early."
On his first pass he pulled down an 11.11 at 124mph; not bad but we needed a little better. So because Barney was competing in the "Bithlo Biathlon", dirt tracking and drag racing at the same time, he missed 2 passes. And on his second and last pass he got a bit too aggressive with the clutch and wheelied half way down the track.
That left the job of getting the 10 second pass up to our man, Kirk. So the following Wednesday we loaded up the truck and headed off to Bit-a-low. "O.K. man, it\'s up to you. Go out there and get us a ten so we can go home." First pass, a little difficulty getting the clutch slip right, and he pulls an 11.08 at 123. "Oh, this bike\'s got a ten second pass in it no problem!" Kirk stated emphatically. No problem huh? If we only knew. Next pass (about 20 minutes latter), pretty good start and an 11.05 at 123. "O.K. I\'m still getting used to the clutch, it feels a little funny, but I\'ll get it," he assures me.
Well guys this is where the story takes an ugly turn. \'A little funny\' turned out to be \'a lot broken\' as the clutched slipped all the way down the track on the way to mid 11\'s.
looking at our all gear dyno run, performed a few days earlier, we could see the clutch was already going bad, this is with less than 750 miles on it. That being the case, we wonder how much horsepower it really had. Our racing buddy got 98hp out of his new 6R on the same dyno only days later.
In another stupid move, we decided to buy an entire new clutch pack and springs for around $200, and give it another try. On the first pass it grabbed hard out of the hole and slipped the rest of the way down. Great! Another burned up clutch! So we tore it apart and started looking for the real culprit.
Marty, the very helpful service manager for Cycle Sports Center, in Orlando, told us about the ZX9R service bulletin showing new parts for the actuator and rod. Now considering that the 6R and 9R have virtually the same clutch, we thought we might be on to something. Now this was just 2 days before our arranged track time at Moroso. In addition, Mike drove all the way back from CA to be here for the test. So in a panic we went to order all the parts, priority overnight, to fix it, only to find the parts are all on back order (I wonder why K).
No track time. No top speed test. No ten second pass. This absolutely sucks! ZX6R\'s have earned a reputation for going through clutches, but this seems extreme. We wish that when Kawasaki was busy redesigning everything on the new bike, they would have spent more time beefing up the clutch.
So in the end, we have a bit of a sour taste from our clutch problems, but I feel that once we get everything back together and running smoothly we will fall in love with the bike all over again. Besides the clutch, the bike really is that good and just as happy either spending its Sundays in the garage being polished, or on the racetrack polishing the competition.