2005 Kawasaki ZX-6R

Team Green revamps its super middleweight for tighter track focus and better on-road manners

You reach nearly 150 mph on the long back straight at Circuito de Almeria in southern Spain. That high-velocity beeline ends in an uphill, sixth-to-second-gear braking zone, followed by a 90-degree right-hander. When you're banging four quick downshifts and scrubbing big speed in such a short distance, you definitely appreciate the slipper clutch in Kawasaki's 2005-spec ZX-6R.

Huh? Kawasaki's stuffed a back-torque-limiting clutch in its 600-class streetbike? That's racer-replica territory, the type of Supersport hardware you'd find on Team Green's 599cc RR homologation-special, right? This year, though, it's the $8599 ZX-6R that has the meanest spec sheet on the middleweight block--and judging from a first ride, all the performance it needs to back it up.

After introducing the oversized 636cc ZX-6R in '03, Team Green has given the bike its first major makeover for '05. Consider the all-new black-anodized aluminum frame, packaging a slightly longer swingarm in a fractionally shorter wheelbase; Showa suspension (in place of Kayaba) for the first time on a Kawasaki middleweight; and dual-stage, oval-throat throttle bodies, a first on production motorcycles according to Kawasaki. Then admire the fashionable new underseat exhaust, weight-shaving petal discs and slick new bodywork. The '05 6R's parts book has more than 150 new numbers.A perfectly good reason, then, for the full-Monty press launch in normally sunny Spain. Make your own "the rain in Spain" jokes, but a downpour on the morning of the road ride served a useful purpose.

Gingerly feathering the controls on rain-slick roads provided a chance to appreciate the light clutch pull and progressive engagement.

Likewise, the new radial front brake master cylinder provides superb feel, and for once there's a rear brake that's not too strong. Good pedal feel makes it easy to use without inadvertent rear-wheel lock-up. And the Bridgestone BT014 tires provide excellent grip on cold, wet pavement.

Slippery roads force you to explore low-rpm throttle response, where the 6R's off-idle reaction is excellent and driveline lash is negligible. Acceleration is seamless from there. You can't feel the new shower-type upper injectors (mounted in the airbox) or the new servo-operated exhaust valve cut in at 5500 rpm.

As the twisty back roads dried, speeds increased, thanks in part to the Showa fork Kawasaki says is more compliant than its Kayaba predecessor. A year ago, most riders backed preload and rebound most of the way out, and the ride was still firm. According to Kiyohisha Yoshikawa, head of the ZX-6R's chassis development, the Kayaba's lightest spring and damping settings now fall in the middle of the Showa's adjustment range.

Moving to more mundane issues, the new underseat muffler occupies what was once useful storage space. That, and features such as a built-in lap timer, illustrate Kawasaki's intention to make the ZX-6R more track focused. Still, the new bars are closer to the seat than before, the saddle itself is lower and the footpegs feel relatively low as well. You'll find practical touches such as lockable hangers for two helmets, bungee hooks and a passenger seat that seems reasonable enough. (We won't say who needed a two-up ride in from the gravel trap, but his initials are M.G. --Ed.)

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