Anxious to wipe the dust off the middleweight sportbike class, Kawasaki’s given its plus-sized 636cc-powered Ninja ZX-6R a makeover for 2019. New Ninja 400-inspired bodywork, with LED lighting and a more alluring, sub-10-grand MSRP make Team Green’s supersport more competitive on the showroom floor.
Like before, the ZX-6R is well suited to day-to-day life on the road. It’s a nice streetbike for someone looking for a sportbike riding experience but the middleweight still offers an adequate level of comfort and practicality.
Typically, 600cc supersports get a bad rap for their high-revving, all top-end powerband. But this Ninja has some grunt down low. It is still powered by the same long-stroke 636cc inline-four engine as the previous bike, but that’s okay. The engine’s extra stroke gives it added boost at lower rpm—a feature you’ll appreciate when riding around town. You don’t always have to row through the gearbox to make sure it’s in the powerband’s sweet spot either. On the track, it can be lugged as low as 7,000–8,000 rpm and it will still pull off corners hard, netting a machine that’s more forgiving to ride than, say, a YZF-R6.
Yet, this Kawi is more than willing to pull revs; however, power does taper off more abruptly compared to the aforementioned blue bike near redline. Still, it certainly sounds the part with a pleasing high-rpm shriek that makes you want to twist the right grip to the stop, every time. A programmable shift light is integrated into the tach needle, so you’ll know exactly when to grab the next gear. Based on our butt dyno, we’d say the engine is good for around 115-hp at the back tire in stock from.
Kawasaki did make a couple of tweaks in the powertrain department. First, it has an electronic quickshifter, so there’s no need to use the clutch when making upshifts, nor let off the throttle. Full gas and upshift. It’s that easy. Although, to be fair, the actuation of the quickshifter could be faster as compared to other OE-fitted systems we’ve recently tried. Furthermore, it would have been nice if engineers integrated auto blip downshift functionality. This was especially apparent when entering the back half of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 1.8-mile road course, when downshifting, in quick succession, from fifth to second gear with a modest degree of lean.
Another small but important change is the one-tooth-smaller (15-tooth) front countershaft sprocket. This lowers the final-drive ratio so the bike’s got more acceleration pep between each of its six gears. It accelerates more quickly but still carries a reasonable rpm in top gear at 65 mph. Plus the engine is smooth and doesn’t excessively vibrate. Despite being a little long in the tooth in terms of design, it remains a solid powertrain.
When Kawasaki overhauled the ZX-6R last time (2013 MY), it went a more conservative route focusing on comfort and overall street performance. And that’s still where it performs best. The squishy street-oriented suspenders allow for a supple ride quality filtering out bumps and other pavement annoyances. It floats down the road well, yet retains a high degree of control. True, it doesn’t have the ultra-precise damping and firm road holding of other bikes in this category, but that’s not a bad thing.
The suspension offers full adjustment front and rear, but even at an elevated track pace, making spring load and damping changes didn’t equal faster lap times. In the morning, we registered lap times in the 1:22 range with minimal suspension changes, using Bridgestone’s fabulous new Battlax R11 DOT-labeled race rubber. For reference, a race-winning lap time in the WERA Superstock class is 1:17.9. After turning clickers in the afternoon, we weren’t able to go any faster…
With its 4.5-gallon fuel tank topped off, it weighs just 428 pounds. And it feels every bit that light on the road with easy steering manners. Another plus is its superior overall balance which makes it easy to control, especially during stand-up wheelies.
Shorter riders will likely appreciate the ergonomic tweaks for ’19. However taller riders, not so much… The seat is shorter front to back making for a tighter cockpit for tall riders, especially when you’re in a tucked-in track riding position. The front of the seat has a narrower front lip that gives a straighter shot to the ground for your legs; again, a plus for shorter folks.
One of the most pleasing changes is the switch to Bridgestone’s newly minted Battlax S22 tires. The outgoing S21s were an already excellent tire, however they lacked a hint of road feel. The new design gives more of that ever-so-precious commodity, and a bit more grip too according to the Japanese rubber company. To be fair, we didn’t ride the bike fast enough on the street to notice a difference in terms of grip.
Like before, the Ninja includes a bevy of electronics including three-way-adjustable traction control and dual engine power modes (Full and Low power). However the architecture is a tad dated (six years old, to be exact) compared to other manufacturers’ setups.
Experienced riders will likely always run Full power mode. However those who are new to riding, or perhaps just getting up to speed on their brand-new Ninja, could likely benefit from the Low power setting. This makes for gentler power delivery, a welcome feature when you’re getting the hang of your shiny new Ninja.
Considering the Ninja’s relatively modest power delivery, as compared to a 175-hp liter-class machine, the engine doesn’t have the muscle to tax a fresh high-grip Bridgestone race tire at the circuit. So we track rode most of the day with TC manually disabled.
On the street, however, we ran it in its least restrictive setting (Level 1). The programming still allows for wheelies, but if you really want to loft ’em for the distance, it’s best to disable TC (easily done using the switch gear at a stop).
If you’re seeking a versatile high-performance motorcycle that you can rail on at the track and still be cool and comfortable on the street, this $9,999 ZX-6R may be the machine for you. It’s affordable, especially in the realm of 600cc supersports, plus it packs punch beyond its weight. We’d go with the base version, but if you want the ABS model, it will set you back another $1,000. The racy-looking KRT edition rings in at $11,299.
|PRICE||$9,999 / $10,999 (ABS) / $11,299 (KRT)|
|ENGINE||636cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four|
|CLAIMED TORQUE||52.1 lb.-ft. @ 11,500 rpm|
|FRAME||Pressed aluminum perimeter|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||41mm inverted cartridge-type Showa SFF Big-Piston fork; adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping (stepless), 4.7-in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Uni-Trak; adjustable spring preload, rebound, high-/low-speed compression damping (stepless), and ride height, 5.9-in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKE||Dual opposed four-piston radial mount calipers, 310mm petal discs w/ optional KIBS|
|REAR BRAKE||Single-piston caliper, 210mm petal disc|
|SEAT HEIGHT||32.7 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.5 gal.|
|CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT||428 lb. / 430 lb. (ABS/KRT)|