The Ninja is back

No other brand has won more MotoUSA Supersport Shootouts than Kawasaki with its Ninja ZX-6R ($11,699). This year Kawasaki further alienates the competition by upping displacement of its Inline Four engine to 636cc. In addition to its more powerful engine specification, it also sources updated suspension hardware, monobloc-style front brake calipers and traction control. Will this be the year Kawasaki reclaims Supersport supremacy?

Seated at the controls, we realize the Ninja’s cockpit resembles that of the R6. A tall seat and low bars equate to a more demanding stance as compared to the Suzuki, the Honda, and even the Triumph. Although it is a bit of a stretch, it is an attractive platform for going fast at the track.

“The seating position on the 636 is a little bit different," says Zemke. "A lot of the bikes, you sit down in them. But the 636 is a little bit higher and it feels more reminiscent of a race-style seat position. I think that’s allowed them to lift the pegs a bit, which gives you a little bit extra ground clearance. It’s a little bit more aggressive, but for me it felt very comfortable out on the racetrack, and that what’s important.”

But not everyone agreed, with our smallest test rider voicing similar concerns as experienced with the Ducati and Yamaha.

“It was a hard bike for me to ride,” complains Dunstan. “It sits so tall and felt a little top heavy. Ergonomics are so important to me, so I really couldn’t get this bike on the side of its tire no matter what I did. It’s because I didn’t have the confidence to move my body around.”

As Dunstan notes, the Ninja feels more top heavy at a standstill; however, in motion it is more athletic than you’d assume based on its 421-pound, fully fueled curb weight. This gives it title to third-lightest bike in the contest behind the CBR and GSX-R600. Although it didn’t serve up the sheer agility of the Honda, it wasn’t far off, especially through Turns 8 and 9 where it logged the fourth-fastest flick rate score.

Of all the bikes in this shootout, the Kawasaki offered the most linear handling, with it transitioning into corners in a predictable and linear manner – an area in which Honda’s CBR historically shines. Through Turn 4 the Kawasaki held a corner speed that put it toward the back of the field. Conversely, in the fourth-gear Bowl turn, it carried the most mph with the fourth-least degree of lean angle. In the second-to-last corner (Turn 16), it again impressed, registering the second-fastest speed at apex.

Much of the credit goes to its fresh suspension components. While aimed at improving handling and road comfort on the street, the ZX suspension made the bike devastatingly easy to ride at the circuit, too. Despite lacking the precise damping feel of the Triumph’s Ohlins hardware or the Honda’s new big piston fork, the Kawi’s suspension performed flawlessly, letting fast laps come with ease. Also of note is how improved the Ninja’s suspension performed compared to our initial test at Thunderhill during the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R First Ride test.

Despite not generating excessive braking forces into Turns 1 and 8, the Ninja’s Nissin-sourced monobloc-style calipers were hands down the favorite of the test, offering not only tremendous power and feel but smooth actuation – especially during deep trail braking maneuvers.

“Now I understand why it went so good compared to the GSX-R750,” Pridmore recalls. “The lap I did on that bike was the fastest one I did on any of the bikes here. It was probably one of my easiest, even though it was 110 degrees and it was the last bike I rode. I was pretty whipped at the end of it.”

The Ninja’s horsepower output ranked it fourth overall, belting out 114.25 hp at 13,500 rpm with another 1,800 revs of over-rev to spare. However, power tapers off after peak more dramatically than the R6 and Triumph, making upshifts more of a necessity. Fortunately, the Ninja’s gearbox shifts well under load and was rated above both the Ducati and MV despite not employing a quickshifter. It had the fourth-most peak torque figure too, cranking out 47.16 lb-ft at 11,300 rpm. That positioned it between the F3 and the Triumph but still between 8 and 16 lb-ft less than the mighty Ducati and GSX-R750.

Though Dunstan wasn't a fan of the green bike's ergos, she loved its engine.
The Kawasaki offered the strongest and most easy-to-use braking package.
Despite its more street-focused suspension components, the new hardware performed well on the track and was a big improvement over our first ride at Thunderhill last fall.

“The minute I hopped on it I felt right at home,” says Neuer. “The motor on the thing – it feels like a built 600 – it rips. It rips out of the corners. It’s great on the brakes and turn-in. It’s phenomenal, very confidence inspiring. They’ve got a great package.”

Much to our surprise, the Ninja didn’t record very high acceleration force numbers off corners. Driving off Turn 10, it registered only 0.53g and 0.34g at the exit of the Bowl. This may be explained by the Ninja carrying more momentum through the corners, so the engine didn’t have to accelerate as hard when the rider dials in full throttle while transitioning the bike from lean onto the center of the tire. This theory can be supported by the fact that the Ninja had top speeds near the front of the pack, ahead of everything besides the larger GSX-R, Ducati and MV (down the short middle straight off of the Bowl).

“I spent the least amount of time on the Kawasaki because it was always out on track under another rider,” jokes Wooldridge. “That should say something. The Kawasaki was fast coming off the corner. At lean it was easy to change lines and get back to an apex. Most importantly it was easy to dial in the throttle early on exit.”

“I rode the Kawasaki near the end of the day and was a bit hot and tired, but it woke me up right away,” Carruthers said. “I didn’t do lap times, but I’d have to imagine that if I did, I’d be fastest on the Kawasaki with probably the least amount of effort.”

We fell in love with the Ninja from the second we pinned the throttle. It’s wider powerband let us run higher gears through corners thereby achieving ripping fast drives on exit. Add in its powerful yet easy to modulate brakes and its balanced and superbly accurate chassis, and you’ve got a bike that is overwhelmingly simple to go fast on. Top scores in six categories and a ripping fast Superpole time tipped the scales in the green bike’s favor. Best supersport of 2013? That’d be the 636-powered ZX-6R.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Settings:

Suspension

Fork

  • Height: 9mm
  • Preload: 9 (Turns in)
  • Compression: 5.5 (Turns out)
  • Rebound: 4.5

Shock

  • Height: 10mm spacer
  • Preload: 6 (turns)
  • Compression: 2.25
  • Rebound: 1

Drivetrain

  • Engine Power: Full
  • TC: Off

Kawasaki ZX-6R Highs & Lows

Highs

  •    Excellent engine performance
  •    Best brakes of the group
  •    Easy to ride at speed

Lows

  •    Still no quickshifter
  •    Had to add engine displacement to get back on top

2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Specs

  • Engine: 636cc liquid-cooled Inline Four, DOHC
  • Bore x Stroke: 67.0 x 45.1mm
  • Compression Ratio: 12.9:1
  • Fueling: Fuel-injection, 38mm Keihin throttle bodies
  • Transmission: Six-speed cassette-type
  • Clutch: Wet, F.C.C. with cable actuation
  • Final Drive: Chain; 16/43 gearing
  • Front Suspension: 41mm Showa BP-SFF with spring preload, compression and rebound-damping adjustment; 4.7 in. travel
  • Rear Suspension: Uni-Trak equipped gas-charged shock with spring preload, compression and rebound-damping adjustment; 5.3 in. travel
  • Front Brakes: 310mm petal discs, radial-mount monobloc-style four-piston Nissin calipers
  • Rear Brake: Single 220mm petal disc, single-piston Nissin caliper
  • Tires: Bridgestone Battlax S20 120/70R17, 180/55R17
  • Curb Weight: 421 lbs
  • Wheelbase: 54.9 in.
  • Rake: 23.5 deg. Trail: 4.0 in.
  • Seat Height: 32.7 in.
  • Fuel Tank: 4.5 gal.
  • MSRP: $11,699 ($12,699 with ABS)
  • Colors: Pearl Flat Stardust White; Flat Ebony Metallic Spark Black; Flat Ebony Lime Green
  • Warranty: One year, unlimited mileage