My new 2005 Kawasaki ZZR600 is my baby.
I bought her on March 25th. I had her trailered to my fatherís house in Fort Worth. I wasnít real keen to ride in rush hour traffic from Irving to Fort Worth on a brand new, unfamiliar bike. It rained a bit. Droning on the highway is the worst thing for a new engine at the beginning of break-in. The trailering was a slam dunk.
The price was $6400, which was $900 off the MSRP of $7299, which in turn is $800 off what the bike was going for in 2002. Inflation? Bah. You see, the í05 ZZR600 is the very same bike as the í00 to í02 ZX-6R. The 6R was completely changed for í03, and for 2005 has been updated yet again. Both are more track-oriented than before. So Kawasaki brought the í00 to í02 model BACK for 2005 as their more street-oriented 600cc Supersport model.
Not only that, but the insurance cost (through Progressive) is about a THIRD of what it was for the SAME bike three years ago. The new 6R is even more expensive now. Kawasaki classifies the bike as a ďsport tourer,Ē which is hilarious, considering the bike has won championships, provides only nominal passenger accomodations, has no inherent way to mount luggage, has no fuel gauge, uses chain drive, has less than complete wind protection, has no provision for equipping heated riding gear, and doesnít have the strongest torque curve. If you think about it, though, the insurance discount makes plenty of sense Ė a young squid is going to gaze right past the ďoldĒ non-Ninja ZZR and on to the new ZX-6R Ninja. This ZZR, lacking the Ninja moniker, is less likely to attract the element that tends to total bikes within the first three months of ownership.
And the 6R isnít that out of place as a light sport-tourer. The riding position is fantastic so far. I admit, I was a tad intimidated in the shop by getting back into riding on a bike with clip-ons. I shouldnít have been. I feel positively weightless on this bike. The bars, pegs, seat, and fuel tank are all perfectly placed and proportioned for someone of my stature and economical build. My weight is split evenly between legs, arms, and back. The seat is quite comfortable, the perfect balance (so far) between firmness and give.
The í03 Ė í04 6R (which my friend Robert owns) is much more aggressive and track-oriented Ė the pegs are rearset by a few inches, the grips are mounted at least two inches lower, thereís less wind protection, and the seat is harder and taller (and forget about taking a passenger more than a mile or two). But the ZZR strikes a great balance. The ergonomics make all the difference, and with the right tank bag, tail bags, riding suit, odometer vigilance, and frame of mind, it can pass as a short-to-medium-distance fair-weather one-up sport-tourer.
So what is an í05 ZZR600, really? The engine is 599 cubic centimeters in displacement, liquid-cooled, uses double-overhead cams with 16 valves and four separate carbureters Ė throttle response is obviously lazier and less precise than a modern fuel injected engineís response. The frame is a pressed/welded aluminum perimeter design Ė heavier and less stiff than todayís advanced controlled fill designs, but still decent. The brakes are 300mm semi-floaters with six-piston calipers on each side Ė not as stout as todayís radial mounts and wave rotors, but powerful anyway. Front suspension is by 46mm, fully adjustable cartridge fork Ė not as stiff or controlled as the fat inverted designs in use on todayís top of the line bikes, but a good compromise for street or light track use. Rear suspension is known to be somewhat harsh and wallowy Ė lacking in both compliance and damping, but with some adjustment, probably acceptable for my weight in most situations. The body of the ZZR is big Ė the exhaust hangs out huge on the right (rather than nearly hidden under the tail like the Hondas, the R1, and the new 6R), the interior fairing is wide, the whole thing feels massive.
The tires on my bike are definitely budget items, made for mileage more than grip and performance, but they can and will be replaced by higher spec items. Unfortunately, the front tire is in a size that is no longer made very widely Ė 120/65-17. 60s and 70s are now the industry standards, and 65s are scarce. This means the riding dynamics will be changed somewhat by my choice of either a 60 or a 70.
The engine uses a very high 12.8:1 compression ratio and requires the highest octane of fuel, which unfortunately is only 93 around here (higher than that is preferred, but slightly lower than that is what you usually get, since todayís fuel stations all use a single line to deliver fuel at each pump Ė half a gallon of 87 octane fuel can be stuck in the line even when selecting 93, so the average octane in a small fuel tank is lowered by this). Back in í01, the engine made about 95 peak rear-wheel horsepower on high octane fuel at sea level; it makes less on 93 octane and at higher elevations, although thereís no indication so far that Kawasaki has had to neuter the power output any (to meet EPA regs), despite the old-fashioned, inflexible carbureters.
Peak torque comes at about 10,200 RPMs. Redline is an indicated 14,500 RPMs and an actual 14,000 RPMs, which is good for 68 mph (an indicated 74 mph) in first gear. 6th gear can be used for ďpullingĒ from as low as about 50 mph. Top speed is about 153 mph. 60-100 mph takes about 3.8 seconds in 1st-2nd-3rd gears, and about 9.8 seconds all in 6th gear. A 9.8 second 6th gear roll-on time makes it as quick in that critical 60-100 range as cars like the RX-8, G35 Sedan, and the 2003 Boxster, when those cars are rowing through all optimal gears. Total weight with a full tank of fuel with me on the bike in full gear is about 587 pounds. This gives us a weight/displacement ratio of about 980 pounds/liter, about the same as budget sports cars such as the 350Z and new SLK350. Thatís about right Ė a 600 is about the equivalent of a 3.5 liter six, albeit one that can rev twice as high but has four times worse aerodynamics.
My riding impression so far has only been formed by riding around the neighborhoods in Fort Worth. It pulls alright from 3000 to 5000 RPMs in lower gears, but I havenít been able to give it more than about one-third throttle, and Iíve only gotten it above about 6500 RPMs once. Itís still deep in break-in. Iím not going to baby it the whole time, because I think thatís a far from ideal way to ensure tight seals and even wear. Iím constantly varying the RPMs, shifting a lot, avoiding any lugging (lots of throttle at low RPMs in a high gear), keeping the throttle inputs on the low side, and letting it cool down after each ride. The first oil change is right around the corner, at 50-100 miles. The second will be at 600-700 miles, the third at 1200-1500, and then finally at 2500 miles, and then for the fifth oil change, at maybe 4000 miles, Iím switching to Amsoil synthetic. Sheíll pick up a couple of HP and better clutch action and shifting after that switch, and sheíll wear out more slowly.
Anyway, the riding position is remarkable. I love it. It puts me in control of everything and it just fits my body so nicely to rest on that fuel tank, let the wind hold me up a bit, and keep my feet up high. Not having any sort of gut or flab helps. Shifting is extremely smooth, better than I was expecting given that itís brand new. Throttle control is generally decent, although the flywheel is very light and itís proving a little difficult so far to implement Nick Ienatschís ďmaintenance throttleĒ routine through corners without making the bike jerk or accelerate. On/off throttle transition is not as smooth as it could be Ė heavier-flywheeled bikes or ones with highly advanced fuel-injection are no doubt much smoother, but the old-fashioned carbs will force ME to adapt and improve.
The brakes (and by ďbrakesĒ I mean the front brake, since I have not even touched the rear brake) are excellent. Reading back over reviews from 2000 and 2001 shows that the 6Rís brakes were thought to have the most initial bite of any 600 back then; reading a couple of reviews of the ZZR reveals that todayís 600s have much more bite. Whatever, they feel really good to me. The bike just comes right to a stop with little effort (though too much dive). Such nice progression, and the one or two times I passed from light effort to a slightly more firm pull, I could feel what monstrous stoppers they are and what stoppie potential the bike has (though again, the suspension needs help coping with so much stopping power). Should get even better after bed-in as well.
Handling is moderately light, at least at the speeds Iíve been going. Thereís not much chance to appreciate what she can do at these speeds, though. The bike seems a little confused that Iím riding so slowly and mildly. The R6 I rode for a very short bit felt quite a bit lighter and smaller as I recall, but that was a few years ago. Meanwhile, the ZZR isnít as manageable at very slow speeds or full lock slow turns as, say, the VF700 Interceptor. Thereís not a lot of steering lock to speak of. Itís not near as bad as a kicked out cruiser which feels like itís going to fall right over in the slow speed turn, but itís not real easy to gracefully turn around in a small space.
The lack of a fuel gauge bothers me, especially since the fuel tap is in a position that, right now, seems impossible to use while riding (itís also a bitch to turn). Iíll have to keep VERY careful track of my fuel consumption and mileage to avoid even having to activate the fuel tap, which means I can only go about 65 miles one way before I have to turn around, without visiting a fuel station. On the plus side, Iím happy with the non-gimmicky mechanical analog speedometer and tach. And the lighting is adequate.
Suspension seems satisfactory so far. I havenít really encountered anything that would test the widely-held opinion that the rear shock is harsh and wobbly. The front fork dives excessively on braking inputs Ė I can only imagine what it would do when braking HARD on the track from high speed. Iím sure I can firm it up a bit. Some fork compression is desired in order to tighten up the geometry and get the bike turned, but itís no good for track work the way it is (but Iím positive itís way ahead of what I would have gotten on the 599 or SV650!). When this bike competed in AMA Supersport, there were relatively few modifications allowed; but suspension was one area where pretty much everything on the stock bike was ditched completely. And this suspension really dates back to the 1997 model, so itís expecting a little too much to be blown away by it. Just like with the choppy throttle, the suspension will probably teach me to concentrate more on being smooth than on being fast.
Clutch action is good. I stalled the bike once. I think I was expecting the torque of the revs I was giving it to pull me forward, but the stock gearing is rather tall, and thereís hardly any torque to speak of down in the basement (unlike, say, the Bandit 1200, which will move out with the tiniest of throttle inputs). You have to slip the clutch some to get moving.
The engine sounds nice at anything above 4000. Itís actually got a decent volume, although the growl down low and the midrange wail is muted by the EPA mandated (and extremely heavy) stock pipe. I donít think Iíll be able to hear the engine on the freeway, with the wind and other cars and my earplugs in. See possible mods, below.
The one time I gave it pretty good throttle and mid revs, it took off smartly. Exhilirating. Itís not a torquey twin or a big open classer. It needs LOTS of revs and throttle to get anywhere quick. Without revs itís a slowpoke. However, Iím sure the full throttle experience from 8500 to 12500 RPMs in 2nd and 3rd (about 56 mph to about 104 mph, prime track riding territory) is something rather eye-opening. I canít comment on the smoothness of the engine at freeway drone speed, but I didnít feel much of anything in the way of buzz or vibration. And this with a brand new bike using conventional oil. What a peach itís going to be at 4000 miles with Amsoil.
As for appearance, Iíll admit it looks a bit frumpy these days. The tail is big and bulky. The inside edge of the fairing is thick, almost like the VFR Interceptors. The nose and front end are big and tall, with lots of frontal area to push through the wind. Even the casual observer who knows nothing about motorcycles can tell by looking that itís a much less serious motorcycle than the í05 Supersport bikes. Sport-touring, remember? But enough of all that. I adored this bikeís looks back in í01 when the yellow Barbasol shave cream model came out. That paint job Ė deep purple and white rays on a brilliant yellow backdrop Ė was gorgeous, the best looking bike that year.
When I first heard about the ZZR coming for 2005, I was excited, but that was tempered just a bit once I caught a glimpse of the paintjob. Itís called ďmidnight blue metallicĒ or something, but itís a low budget solid dark purple with a hint of meta-flake Ė quite unexciting. The wheels are painted a not particularly shiny silver, which looks unfinished. Iíd much rather have the 599ís much-maligned matte grey. Painting a faired bike is an arduous and expensive process, so Iíll probably just learn to live with an ugly bike. I donít care that much anyway. My gear is all black and red, which actually complements the dark blue-purple alright. A non-flashy paintjob may help me avoid unwanted attention from idiotic cops. And I wonít feel as guilty letting the bike gather a bit of dust or dirt.
Iíve had this fantasy about removing the fat lower lip on the front of the 6R for years. I donít know that this would adversely affect the intake at road speeds. I also donít know if itís really possible without some cutting. I may just attempt this surgery at some point though. I think it would improve the looks.
Other cosmetic mods I may make at some point in the future: chop the rear mudflap (or go for a clean undertail installment); remove reflectors (of course) remove grab bars and left passenger peg (no passengers allowed); add a rear seat cowl (probably only feasible if I got a new paintjob); clear signal lenses (or even flush mounts); a tank guard (to prevent scratching caused by my jacketís zipper); red grips (nice accent, goes with riding gear); and a double bubble windscreen (actually higher, but makes the bike look a bit narrower in front).
Iím certainly going to buy better tires, but probably not until 4000 miles. Iím debating the exhaust issue. The stock exhaust is very heavy, but if I got a slip-on, I wouldnít want something that annoys and turns heads everywhere. A slip-on probably wouldnít require rejetting the carbs, but a full exhaust would. Who rejets anymore? Fuel injection has made tuning sportbike engines much easier. FI maps can actually be exchanged over the net. Rejetting requires hours of work by an expert, and lots of surgery. Just one of several drawbacks of carburetion.
Iím probably going to, at some point, shorten the gearing by installing a larger rear sprocket. If I get involved with frequent track days, the suspension will be seeing some work. This is where Robert is focusing most of his attention on his í03. Heís given it an Ohlins steering damper and is having all new rear suspension and a total rebuild of the front fork done. These are things I may do some time. I may install rearset pegs at some point. I love cornering clearance, and while this bike has adequate clearance for the street, itís sorely lacking in clearance for intermediate track duty (even in 2000, the 6R had the lowest pegs and least clearance of any 600).
The bike is coming home to Keller today. Itís the big test: will the exit gate OPEN for the bike, or will it just sit there? The answer to that question will determine whether I decide to stay in my current apartment and rent one of their garages or move quickly to find a new apartment with a more accomodating exit strategy. Iíve got a pretty nice cover which locks at the bottom, but I still canít do much maintenance work until I buy the Pit-Bull stand and get a garage of some sort. There is a lot of maintenance to do, even at (or especially during) this early stage in the bikeís life. And a cover doesnít prevent the vandals who live here from pushing the bike over.
Ideally, the gate would open fine, and Iíd come home from work each night this summer and go riding for an hour or two in the warm night. Iíd do a track day or two, to get my feet wet and learn all the ins and outs of getting the bike ready for the track. Iíd meet up with a group for Thursday evening and Sunday morning rides. Iíd commute on Saturdays when it was nice. Iíd take a long trip to the Hill Country or up to Arkansas, staying over night one night and taking lots of pictures. Iíd explore the twisty roads around the deserted parts of the DFW area on my day off. Iíd work on my braking, throttle modulation, and slow speed handling skills in the empty parking lot with some little plastic cones.
Iím collecting notes from Ienatschís Sport Riding Techniques Ė my riding needs work. Itís a great resource. Iím going to keep good notes on items worked on and learned, maintenance records, and roads found.
I canít end before Iíve mentioned my new Shoei helmet. I have a few more items to add to my gear collection Ė Iím set for gloves except for cold weather ones, I need another pair of boots (more protective for the track or aggressive riding), I want at least two more jackets (thick leather and something textile-based with a removable liner that fits more tightly and has a bit more armor), and Iíve ordered the Icon Recon blue jeans and need a set of armored leather pants. But for my helmet, Iím set. The Shoei RF1000 is the most comfortable thing Iíve ever put on my head. It fits perfectly Ė firmly but not tightly anywhere, even after an hour and a half. The venting is great. Itís relatively quiet, and doesnít make that stupid whistling noise that my HJC likes to create. And it looks nice Ė red and black with superb finish and a narrow, small, sleek profile. Iíve ordered the dark smoke faceshield for day riding, but the helmet works okay with sunglasses as well. Maybe if itís really bright Iíll use sunglasses and the dark shield. Iím glad I decided not to cheap out on the helmet!! Shoei makes a wonderful product.