Kawasaki’s street focused updates are not just about horsepower and torque. The Ninja’s riding position is exactly as it was, but slight changes in chassis geometry—via reduced front ride height and increased rear ride height—put a little more weight on your wrists than before. The bars, seat and pegs are all in exactly the right place for sport riding, but the riding position isn’t too committed for the street, and is made unobjectionable by new, softer suspension that’s downright plush at the top of the stroke. The seat is soft (for a sportbike) and wind protection is adequate thanks to the well-contoured windscreen and revised fairing shape.
Kawasaki focused effort on lightening the bike’s feel by reducing steering resistance, accomplished with the installation of low-friction steering-head seals and removal of the steering damper. These changes pay big dividends on the street and at the track. The Ninja’s near-effortless steering makes the bike feel even lighter than last year’s model, despite a wet weight of 422 lbs., 2 up on the 2012 machine.
Rush hour traffic is the last place you’d expect a sportbike to shine, but in gridlock the Ninja gleams. While humanity is in a frenzy around you, the Kawasaki Ninja 636 rolls along unperturbed. Its stable chassis and ultra-light steering let you maintain balance at near-standstill speeds and carve your way through traffic with what seems like telepathic handling. New, more functional mirrors give a good view of surroundings aft, and there’s nary a hint of hot air to bake your backside or calves. Then there’s the Concours-caliber suspension that soaks up Botts’ dots and concrete seams, and while the transmission cogs feel like they’re bathed in butter and the clutch lever is as light as a feather, there’s rarely a need to work the shifter. How flexible? The engine pulls smoothly from as low as 2000 rpm in sixth. Abundant midrange power compels you to short-shift and leave the Ninja in a tall gear. It’s not uncommon to roll to a stop, only to look down and see an unexpectedly high gear position displayed on the dash. That’s the sort of thing you might expect to experience on Triumph’s super-torquey Daytona 675R triple, but not on a 600.
The only odd behavior the engine exhibits is upon start-up, where it occasionally idles just above stall speed for a few seconds. For the most part the motor is silky-smooth, but some high frequency vibes creep into the tank sides and grips above 8000 rpm. Top gear gets you 80 mph at 7500 rpm, so you can ride to work all week without ever experiencing a tingle, and when you punch it past eight grand in the canyons you’re unlikely to notice any discomfort, since you’re well into the Ninja’s impressive top-end rush by then. That means you have other things to consider, like when to apply the brakes for the next turn. Odds are you’ll pull the lever far too early; the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R’s new Nissin front brake setup is as good as any component combination from Italy, with a strong initial bite, tremendous power, and lots of feel. ABS is an option, adding $1000 to the $11,699 MSRP and a heap of confidence to your riding experience.