Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R – Best Supersport Buy of 2014
When Kawasaki revamped its Ninja ZX-6R for 2013, the motorcycle immediately impressed.
The biggest change was the return to the larger 636cc engine, which was also used from 2003 through 2006 – and with much success.
The reason for the street-savvy redesign? Kawasaki claims over 80 percent of the ZX-6R buyers are strictly street riders. So why not impress the majority?
The Ninja ZX-6R has not been updated since 2013 – and it doesn’t need it. Following a six-week bout with the 2015 ZX-6R Ninja, it once again impressed, becoming my pick for Best Supersport buy. This ranking deals strictly with supersports in the real world, though the Ninja is no slouch on the track.
The only changes to the 2015 ZX-6R arrive in paint schemes, and the only thing that differentiates the green 2015 model with the green 2013 one I tested is a flat black fairing over the frame – that’s it.
At around 130 horsepower (at the crank), the ZX-6R is more powerful and capable than the other inline fours – the Honda CBR600RR (around 118), the Yamaha YZF-R6 (around 122), and the Suzuki GSX-R600 (around 124). I actually consider the new ZX-6R Ninja more of a rival to the venerable GSX-R 750, which is the only bike currently available in the unique 750cc class.
Here are the top 10 reasons why the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R is my pick for Best Supersport of 2014.
1. Savvy Electronics
The ZX-6R is currently the only supersport from the Big Four with Traction Control (KTRC), and it works extremely well on the street. It arrives with three TC modes, with the capability to shut it off (aka – wheelie mode), combined with two Power Modes.
Modes 1 and 2 provide maximum acceleration, the latter allowing the TC to intervene a bit quicker. I almost always rode in Mode 1, barely aware of its intervention. The reason? 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 subtle intervention.
Mode 2 is more noticeable, and Mode 3 – the rain mode – is truly unbelievable. While testing Mode 3 in the rain, I goosed the throttle a few times mid corner, getting more and more aggressive every time. I never felt unsafe, and in the hands of a newbie, this is great insurance.
Doing the math (KTRC + Power Modes) eight separate combinations are available. 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 enjoyment of piloting the high-shinning engine.
2. Comfy Ergonomics
Nearly 6-foot tall, the ergonomics of the 428 lbs (wet) machine were optimal. The rider’s triangle kept weight off the wrists, and the balls of my feet in a comfy position while aggressively sport riding. As for the 31.7-inch seat height, it’ll do justice for many taller riders. But the seat does get annoying while normal riding (not aggressive sport riding).
The answer is simple – buy an aftermarket one such as a Sargent or Corbin. I use these exclusively on all my personal rides, and they allow for much longer time in the saddle.
3. Optimal Power Delivery for the Real World
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 power deliver is strong up to 6000 rpm, but get past 8000 to the 16,000 redline, and make sure you have full focus; speed happens quickly, and you want to keep the grippy stock Bridgestone S20s planted.
4. Easy Suspension Adjustments
One of the many advantages 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. I didn’t have to alter it much from factory setup (185 lbs rider with full gear). The ride was not too stiff, but allowed for amazing feeling under heavy braking and WOT.
The Showa Big Piston front fork absolutely shows its race-developed design under heavy braking. Unlike traditional cartridge forks, the larger-diameter damper piston provides a smoother stroke when braking is initiated.
The rear Uni-Trak setup with the gas-charged mono shock was also easy to adjust, and features a 25 clicks of rebound damping, allowing for precise suspension tuning.
The Ninja ZX-6R arrives with Nissin radial-mounted monoblock brake calipers and 310mm petal-style discs up front. The setup provides a firm initial bite, and never pulsated under extremely-hard braking. The brakes also remained consistent throughout every spirited sport ride, never fading.
6. Beautiful Sounds (exhaust/intake)
Ride one and you’ll immediately notice the noise from the intake and stock exhaust. Under acceleration, the ZX-6R sounds like a fighter jet. And the exhaust has just enough roar to keep the rider happy, but does not annoy. If I owned one and tracked it, the only reason I’d change the exhaust would be weight savings. But for the street, the stock exhaust would remain.
7. Usable Mirrors
Simply put – they work. And there are no vibrations.
8. Unique Style – Especially in the Cockpit
Besides the sharp body lines, Kawasaki also did a great job designing the dash layout.
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.
And the lack of an inner fairing exposes all the workings, bringing a race-like feel to the pilot.
9. Track Sufficient
Yes, this review concerns the street, but the bike can quickly transform into a weekly track missile. Do yourself a favor if the local circuit is near – and you know your limits on the track – ride it there. After a few pieces of tape and easily removing the mirrors, you’re set to find out the true potential of the Ninja ZX-6R.
10. Priced Right
The 2015 Ninja ZX-6R is priced $11,699, but I’d add an extra $300 for the 30th Anniversary graphics. This is cheap considering the bike is a do-all sport bike, and with the correct rider can keep up with the liter bikes, especially in the corners.
It’s cheaper than the GSX-R 600, but rivals the GSX-R 750, the latter carrying a base MSRP of $12,299. That old clique “best bang for your buck” can be used here, and this is what makes the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R the Best Supersport Buy of 2014.
Photos by Jason Healey