Tested: Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R

Kawasaki’s 30-year-old beast has still got the magic.

Riding a motorcycle is a physically and, for me, mentally exhausting challenge. Add a major city like New York where no one really cares about your safety, and it’s one versus eight million. While a superbike might be overkill in a major metropolitan area—like using a Desert Eagle to stop a mouse—the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R makes the ride more manageable with technology derived from racing and 30 years of advanced Ninja experience. Besides, every great city should have roads less than an hour outside, and luckily that’s exactly what I mostly enjoyed with the 636cc rocket.

FEATURES: Motorcycles are pretty minimal, but what the ZX-6R offers with its race-bred performance is adjustable Showa front forks that offer plenty of road feel—sometimes feeling soft—yet enough compliance for still-bad-from-winter roads. It’s enough confidence that going around fast sweepers with mid-turn bumps offer just the tightest of muscle tightening in the rear end (of the person, that is). Big Nissin four-piston caliper brakes and an even bigger powerband means there’s more than enough to get yourself out of any corner and straightaway quicker than you’ll ever need to.

DESIGN: High-tech superbikes need the looks to go with all that functional, specialty equipment, and the Kawasaki isn’t lacking. It looks menacingly bug-like, with an exoskeleton befitting of a Starship Troopers prop. If you’re looking for a classically beautiful bike, look elsewhere, but if you want something that’s continuously evolving, then this is where you’ll find it.

HITS: A combination of KTRC traction control and selectable power modes means that you don’t have to be as dedicated to fully monitoring every road surface or bend; the system works magically to keep you on top of the bike, not the other way around. The KTRC comes with three available modes: one that fully utilizes all available power, only knocking back power in extreme cases; the next which provides a balance of wheel slip and performance; and the last, which can save you in case the weather turns by fully retarding the engine’s power, if needed. And if you’re a fan of learning curves, the power is adjustable between “Full” and “Low,” offering either 100% or 80% engine powers, respectively. You have a lot of opportunity to gain confidence on the ZX-6R.

MISSES: No matter how hard I tried, I could not shift smoothly with the bike during normal highway operation (i.e. riding economically). There was never an engagement or method I could find to become smooth, it was only when I stopped using the clutch and instead lifted throttle—it’s a sequential transmission after all—that I found the best outcome. Also, not having a fuel monitor (only a low gas alert) makes you become frantic when you see it come on. For almost $12k, it would be a nice feature.

SUMMARY: With plenty of power and options to harness it all, the ZX-6R is relatively user friendly for a motorcycle that could be dropped into a professional racing series. Though it’s probably too much for a city setting, it can be used in it, and doesn’t ask much in return. It runs cool, it doesn’t bog down, and once you’re able to escape, it comes alive with a legendary chassis: This Kawasaki begs to be ridden for pure gluttonous adventure.

Efficiency: 44 mpg
0-60 mph: 3.1 seconds
Top Speed: 185+ (est.)
Horsepower: 114.34
Torque: 48.35 lb.-ft
MSRP: $12,699

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