Sunday, 14 February 2016

Kawasaki ZX-6R: Running wild

How to almost kill yourself in one easy lesson. Leap aboard a newish ZX-6R, whack the throttle open in third gear and see how rapidly the far distant traffic becomes an accident about to happen. Over a hundred horses at the rear wheel, from the 636cc watercooled four cylinder mill; not much more than 400lbs with a full tank of gas. Added up to a scorched rear tyre, a fast reeling brain and a couple of cages about to cut short my youthful life...

But is wasn't the searing acceleration to 16000 revs that almost did for me. Nope it was the hyper-tech front brakes, a radically mounted set of four-pad calipers – like hitting the proverbial brick wall. AND they gave sod all feedback, especially when grabbed in anger and desperation. A series of helmet destroying cartwheels but narrowly avoided by rapidly squeezing the lever on and off, the front wheel locking and screaming with each caress of the lever! The back disc wasn't much better, the rear wheel sliding off on a whim of its own.

The brakes were ideal for cutting and thrusting down the highway at 150mph, using the seemingly backward floating cars as an interesting slalom course, the ability to lose 50mph in a way that confounded the laws of physics rather useful. Also the kind of velocity at which the riding position began to make some kind of sense; otherwise a painful reminder of the ways of mice and men. The ZX's supposed to be one of the more comfy 600's but to me it's rather like sitting on an ice-pick when cruising at legal speeds.

The Kawasaki's engine an incredible mix of useful, almost tractable, low and mid range urge, combined with the snappy nature of hungry piranhas when the throttle's rolled open with a disregard for personal safety and the laws of the land. The bike could shred licences in first gear, let alone sixth, with a seamless lunacy bred by the the fuel injection system. The rev-limiter was a useful aid to engine longevity as I was damned if I could actually read the electronic tach – not merely down to my speed-melted brain!

Now it's unlikely in the extreme that my brain would ever reach a speed sated state on a mad little dust-cropper such as this, but if senility ever threatened to encroach the somewhat contrary chassis would concentrate the mind wonderfully. Smooth roads were not much of a problem unless so much power was used that the bike threatened to go sideways whilst hurtling out of corners, then you might get a bit of head shaking. Nothing that developed into a terminal wobble, mind. You'd have to be drunk and insane to highside the Kawa.

Nope, what the ZX disliked, curvy, bumpy roads. Messed the chassis up a bit, with a harsh, dislocated feel to the beast if I blithely ignored the warning rattles and shakes and insisted on using the throttle in anger. I am a bit heavier than average but messing around with the suspension settings didn't seem to make much of a difference. Whether it was the damping or the geometry I was unable to discern – more the rear shock than the upside-down front forks - but the ultimate trip was to ignore the bike's evocation of imminent destruction and just boogie on through the curves at hyper speeds. It would pull out or through the wickedness and, in its way, gave a certain reward to hard edged use.

Getting the better of the beast was a weird, if potentially dangerous, high that had elements of addiction written deep in its character. Put it this way, the daily commute was often extended to such an extent that I either didn't want to turn up for work or had to use the excellent lights to see my way home late at night!

And I wasn't a bit tired even with some secondary vibes buzzing the pegs when the motor sung its high rev song – and a lovely wail it has flat out – and the plank-like seat doing in my backside. My mind warped by the sheer speed of the ride, playing back rushing tarmac and blurred scenery – it was something like an adrenalin overdrive compounded by drinking a gallon of Peruvian coffee and having the best sex ever. HIGH!

The price paid for such addition – 30-35mpg, rubber that went unruly in a thousand miles or so and oil needed changing every 1000 miles to keep the gearchange up to the snappy, revvy nature of the engine. The chain, though, remarkably, needed little attention. Insurance was ridiculous and there were any number of sensible, small auto's that would've made a much more logical choice for the commuting chores.

But if work's boring, the women in your life asinine and life is passing you by, then something like the Kawasaki is just what the doctor ordered. Despite some shortcomings I can't keep off the bloody thing!

David Clements

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