2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Street Test
Two words sum up the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R – confidence and inspiring.
From some of the most advanced electronics offered on a supersport, to the revamped suspension to the powerful brakes, Kawasaki’s latest Ninja ZX-6R creates the most optimal platform for a real-world sportbike. And Kawasaki says this is something likely 80 percent of the buyers will use this machine for.
We already had the 2013 ZX-6R on the track, and the supersport more than proved its worth. But following nearly two months in real-world street situations with an occasional track day thrown in, the ZX-6R kept reminding me of those two words – confidence inspiring.
The 2013 model brings back the larger 636cc to the world of 600cc sportbikes, something Kawasaki did from 2003 through 2006. The then larger bike became largely popular with real-world sport riders.
With its return to the 636cc version, the new ZX-6R was quickly grouped with other mid-weights that offer more cc, such as the Triumph Daytona 675 and the Ducati 848EVO. But obviously the latter two don’t feature an inline four, and instead carry a design that needs more cc to be competitive, such as the 675’s triple and the 848’s twin.
The 636cc Ninja was born to compete with its Japanese brethren, but offers that little extra displacement that excites on the street. After my first two days with the new ZX-6R, I could not stop comparing its optimal streetability to that of the venerable GSX-R 750.
For a true street-savvy sportbike, the new Ninja has it all – comfort, power, and some of the most advanced electronics found in the world of supersports. The new Ninja receives a host of upgrades in the electronics department, including three modes of traction control (plus the ability to shut it off), two power modes, and optional ABS (KIBS).
The ZX-6R also arrives shod with Bridgestone S20 tires, a tire I quickly fell in love with while testing the shoes on my 1198 at the track. And just as they came up to temperature quickly on the track, the S20s did the same on the street, helping add to the Ninja’s confidence-inspiring nature.
Kawasaki achieves the 636cc displacement by using a longer stroke. This, along with revised piston crowns and shorter 1.5mm connecting rods, helps the new engine achieve better additional mid-range torque – something needed in the real world.
The ZX-6R feels the same as previous models in the lower rpm range, but its much stronger around 6000 rpm. And once the needle rushes past 8000 rpm, the Ninja simply creates a powerful linear band of power right to around 14,000 rpm when the shift light brightens up the dash.
This type of power allowed for less shifting on some of my favorite mountain rides. Just keep the Ninja in the right gear, and play off that 8000 to 14,000 rpm range (or just crank it to the 16,000 RPM redline for a beautiful melody of inline-four sound). This power band also translates to optimal track usage where short-shifting (keeping it in a higher gear instead of downshifting) was welcomed.
Though Kawasaki America won’t release actual numbers, the ZX-6R should push the same as it does in Europe, which is 129 horsepower at 13,500 rpm. Not bad, considering the Honda CBR600RR produces around 118 horsepower, the Yamaha YZF-R6 around 122 horsepower, and the Suzuki GSX-R600 around 124
Along with the enhanced power of the enlarged 2013 ZX-6R arrives a flawless induction system. Kawasaki redesigned everything from the airbox (12.5 percent more internal volume) to injectors (optimized for atomizing fuel) to its Digital Fuel Injection system.
In two months and nearly 5,000 miles, I didn’t encounter one hiccup with the fueling system, even when drastic changes occurred in weather/elevation. The system that features four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies was beyond smooth.
Shifting was as equally as smooth as the fuel-injection system. I never missed a gear, and finding neutral was always simple. Also, the 2013 ZX-6R uses a new three-spring F.C.C. Clutch with slipper and assist functionality. Kawasaki says the pull was reduced 20 percent, and this is immediately noticed. The slipper function provided smooth downshifts during aggressive riding, and clutches upshifts were no problem for the new Ninja.
Compared to previous-generation Ninjas, the ZX-6R also receives a shorter first gear. This is noticeable on the street, and helps the bike get to that juicy mid-range quicker.
With this said, let’s get into the electronics, which are more enhanced than any other 600cc Japanese inline-four currently offered. The electronics are highlighted by the three-mode Kawasaki Traction Control – similar to the one found on the hypersport ZX-14R – and two power modes. As for the ABS, our street test bike wasn’t equipped with ABS, but it’s the same system used on the Kawasaki Councours 14 – a system that more than impressed us.
The “hi” power mode was used 90-percent of the time, it offering full horsepower. The “Low” mode was ideal in wet conditions where traction was limited; this mode limits engine horsepower to about 80-percent after the engine revs to 7000 rpm.
It’s the three Kawasaki Traction Modes – plus the ability to shut the system off – that provide all the smiles in real-world sportbike situations. Modes 1 and 2 provide maximum acceleration, the latter allowing the TC to intervene a bit quicker.
The only time I had the TC off was when I wanted to ride hooligan style and grab some wheelies. Besides that, it was almost always Mode 1. It has a flawless presence, and even when cracking the throttle open too early mid corner I was unaware of its intervention. Kawasaki says the parameters are “monitored and confirmed 200 times per second” before the TC system regulates engine power output through the ignition timing. This allows for the unknown intervention.
Mode 2 also provided full acceleration, though it intervened quicker. I used this mode in the early mornings when there was moisture on the road, and following rain storms when the roads were drying.
As for mode 3, it was used in any wet situation. This mode is similar to the tuning of Kawasaki’s flagship sport tourer – the Concours 14. During normal operation, it uses the same logic and control method as Modes 1-and-2, but immediately switches to three-way intervention – using ignition timing, fuel delivery, and the intake tract’s sub-throttles – if excessive rear wheel spin is detected. This allows Mode 3 to reduce engine output all the way down to a level that will allow the rear wheel to regain grip, even on very slippery surfaces.
Doing the math, eight separate combinations are available if you use each power mode with all three modes of KTRC plus having the system off. But most of the time, it’ll be full power and KTRC on mode 1 – this combination inspires confidence during aggressive sport riding because it provides slack for some human error without sacrificing the feeling of high horsepower.
On the subject of corners, tossing the 428-lb. wet ZX-6R into corners takes little effort. The turn-in is quick due to the steeper, 23.5-degree steering head angle. This steep angle, combined with the long 54.9-inch wheelbase – the longest of the Japanese 600cc inline fours – helps create a perfect mix of agility and stability needed in real-world situations.
This combo allows the 2013 Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja to enter corners quickly, and remain stable throughout mid-corner and exit. Also aiding this process is the suspension – the 41mm Showa Big Piston – Separate Function Fork (BP-SFF), which is new for 2013, and the bottom-link Uni-Trak rear suspension.
Since our test bike arrived from another publication that reviewed it only on the track, suspension settings were stiff. The genius of the Showa BP-SFF fork is the ease of adjustability; everything is located on the top of the fork tubes. Preload is adjusted on the left tube, and compression and rebound on the right. We simply went back to factory setup, and didn’t have to change much (175-lb. rider).
The Showa Big Piston front fork absolutely shows its race-inherited design under heavy braking. Unlike traditional cartridge forks, the larger-diameter damper piston provides a smoother stroke when braking is initiated. This feeling further helps inspire confidence in the rider.
Also new for the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R are Nissin radial-mounted monoblock brake calipers and larger, 310mm petal-style discs up front. The new setup provided a firm initial bite, and never pulsated under extremely-hard braking. The setup remained consistent throughout every spirited sport ride, never fading, which helped inspire further confidence in rider ability.
Regarding ergonomics, the rider triangle was optimal for my 5’11” height. Not too much weight is placed on the wrists, and the angle is not too drastic that the back hurts after an extended sport ride. Though adjustable footpegs would be welcome for lowering on longer trips, the ZX-6R’s stock setup does the job.
Helmet buffeting at highway speeds while not in full tuck is minimal for a sportbike, and the mirrors actually work, displaying more than just elbows. As for the seat, it works perfect on spirited sport rides, providing adequate firmness while hanging off. But on longer rides, the seat can become a PITA. But a few aftermarket companies have the solution for this.
The Ninja ZX-6R’s dash features a no BS layout, with a classic analog sportbike tac, and a digital display of all the necessities, including speed, power modes, TC modes, gear indicator, time, and of course, speed. For some, the only visual downfall of the Ninja is the lack of inner-fairing covers. But I personally like seeing wires – it reminds of a true race bike.
The dash also provides enough lighting during those late-night rides, as does the ZX-6R’s single right headlight in low beam. When switching on the high beams (both right and left headlamps), the bike provides a wide view that’s optimal for those unlit, country roads.
As for aesthetics, what’s there not to like about the revamped styling off the 2013 Ninja X-6R. The bike – especially in white, or as Kawasaki calls it, Pearl Flat Stardust White/Flat Ebony, simply screams sportbike sexiness. The bike is also available in Kawasaki Lime Green or Metallic Spark Black.
For 2013, Kawasaki brought back to life a larger version of its staple midweight ZX-6R, again offering the bike with 636cc. Unlike 2003-2006, though, Kawasaki is not offering a ZX-6R version that can be used for racing homologation – not yet, anyway.
Kawasaki states that 80 percent of ZX-6R purchasers will use the bike for the street, and following our long-term test, we know that percentage of riders will continually end their sessions with smiles.
This is what sport riding is all about, no? Spirited sport-bike riding should cause orgasms of the senses, and when a bike can do this while providing all-day comfort and inspire confidence, what’s there not to like? The 2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R gives riders all of this for a competitive price of $11,699 ($12,699 with ABS). As for the 2014 model, nothing has changed, except the Metallic Pearl Black is dropped as a color option, and Candy Burnt Orange is added.
2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Specs:
- Engine: Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, inline-four
- Displacement: 636cc
- Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 45.1mm
- Compression ratio: 12.9:1
- Fuel injection: DFI with four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies and oval sub-throttles
- Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
- Transmission: Six-speed
- Final drive: 520 series X-ring chain
- Rake / trail: 23.5 degrees / 4.0 in.
- Frame type: Aluminum perimeter
- Front tire: 120/70 ZR17
- Rear tire: 180/55 ZR17
- Wheelbase: 54.9 in.
- Front suspension / wheel travel: 41mm inverted Showa BP-SFF fork with top-out springs, stepless compression and rebound damping, adjustable spring preload / 4.7 in.
- Rear suspension / wheel travel: Bottom-link Uni-Trak with gas-charged shock, top-out spring and pillow ball upper mount, stepless compression damping, 25-way adjustable rebound damping, fully adjustable spring preload / 5.3 in.
- Front brakes: Dual 310mm petal rotors with dual radial-mount, Nissin four-piston, monobloc calipers with optional KIBS ABS
- Rear brake: Single 220mm petal rotor with single-piston caliper with optional KIBS ABS
- Overall length: 82.1 in.
- Overall width: 27.8 in.
- Overall height: 43.9 in.
- Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
- Seat height: 32.7 in.
- Curb weight: 427.8 lbs.
Photos by Jason Healey