Dramatic sport bikes need a dramatic title. What does a Ninja say? Shhh! I’m a Ninja! No, not in Kawasaki’s case, as a promised 200 horsepower rockets the Kawasaki ZX-10R motorcycle to an indicated 168 mph at the end of the straight, it growls like a tortured werewolf.
Kawasaki is very proud of their ram-air system and claims 188 horsepower without and 200 horsepower with full ram-air effect. It did blow away pretty much everything else down the straight, so there’s serious horsepower available.
Now the Kawasaki ZX-6R can’t boast with that sort of performance, but the new engine is claimed at 128 horsepower and 134 horses with ram-air. The 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R can however boast with a 22-pound diet and a supreme big piston 41mm fork.
The Kawasaki ZX-10R weighs a claimed 459 pounds with fluids, while the Kawasaki ZX-6R’s equivalent figure is 421 pounds. That’s almost exactly one whole 4.5-gallon fuel tank in difference so if the 6R is fully fuelled and the 10R is running out, they should weigh about the same. Interestingly it also gives the Ninja ZX-10R an almost true 1:1 power-to-weight ratio ready to ride, which is impressive. The power battle between a 600cc and a 1000cc bike is given, the 600 was murdered at standstill by the big brother Ninja.
However, the difference only shows on the straights. The Ninja ZX-6R out handles its bigger brother by quite a margin. In 2009, it’s only the 600 that gets the BPF (Big Piston Fork) and what a difference it makes! The other major difference is that whilst you can use all available power often on the Kawasaki ZX-6R you simply have to hold back a lot on the ZX-10R, if you want to stay on the same bit of tarmac at least. The Ninja ZX-10R loves to eat rear tires for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and there’s nothing even the sticky Bridgestone BT-003RSs can do to change that.
The littlest Ninja provided me with vast amounts of confidence already on my second lap of the day–enough to use all available lean in the first right-hander, whilst following a 2009 Honda CBR1000RR that I was dying to pass. The 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R is a fantastic handling bike out of the crate and kicks pretty much anything in the twisty sections. Late braking is no problem-put it all down to a perfect mass centralized balance and a perfect front suspension.
On cold tires from standstill I’d place a large bet on being able to set three faster laps on the ZX-6R than on the Kawasaki ZX-10R. Then, you’d be able to grow enough confidence on the Ninja ZX-10R to actually use it properly and lap faster than the agile green 600 annoying little brother. On full lean in second gear I had no second thoughts about just adding more and more throttle despite already sliding on the Kawasaki ZX-6R. On the Ninja ZX-10R there were second and third thoughts before attempting anything remotely similar. The big ten just carries an awesome punch and too much quite often at Almeria.
This fact actually makes you a bit lazy with the overtaking. While on the Ninja 600 you just have to make your moves in the technical part on the brakes or by applying very early throttle exiting corners. In the seat of the Kawasaki ZX-10R you just follow whatever on half throttle whilst yawning, then comes the main straight where you just simply say goodbye after maximum three gears. The Ninja ZX-10R seems invincible in a straight line.
The Ninja ZX-10R is definitely the more extreme of the two–not just in the engine performance, but also in the ergonomics with a 32.7-inch seat height pushing weight over the front. The ZX-6R has a 32.1-inch seat height, but with a supreme balance that adds a little more comfort, whilst providing an almost ideal riding position.
Of similarities, I can mention that the cockpits are almost identical, with the best windscreen in the business for onboard footage. The cockpit area and instruments are very tidy and functions are easy to both read and use. Both bikes are greeted with a trick Öhlins steering damper mounted in the Ducati 916 style just in front of the fuel tank.
Both bikes have powerful 4-piston radially mounted brake calipers. All we can hope for now is for the ZX-10R to also get the big piston forks next year because it really improves both braking and handling in general a lot.
Power corrupts and for that reason it’s extremely difficult for me to say definitely which of these two that I would choose. I’m completely addicted to the extremely powerful Kawasaki ZX-10R engine, but at the same time the ZX-6R’s handling capabilities are almost equally addictive. For the money, I save on both the purchase and the insurance cost the Kawasaki ZX-6R is an absolute bargain compared to the ZX-10R.
Being sensible on this one doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing much in terms of either fun or ability around a racetrack. The one and only thing you do sacrifice by choosing the Kawasaki ZX-6R are your bragging rights at the pub, and I could live with that. I think that I, an experienced motorcyclist, would be just as happy on the 600 as on the 1000, and for that reason I’m going to recommend the sensible Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R over the extreme ZX-10R for most people including myself. Photos by: Alessio Barbanti and Thomas Maccabelli