Kawasaki made a splash in 1995 with the addition of the ZX-6R line to the Ninja family, and the reverberations are still felt 20 years later, with the 2015 ZX-6R 636 Performance as its top-shelf entry in the U.K. mid-size bracket. Built to take on its traditional competitors (Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki) in the sportbike market, this little Ninja comes with a few extra features in an attempt to give it an edge over other comparable models in its weight class. It will need all the help it can get, because it shares this chunk of the market with successful, long-established models such as the 2015 Suzuki GSX-R750 and the 2015 Honda CBR500R, to name a few. Let’s take a look at what Kawi is hiding under all those body panels to compete with such august company, shall we?

Continue reading for my review of the 2015 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R 636 Performance.

  • 2015 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R 636 Performance
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke In-Line Four
  • Displacement:
    636 cc

Design

2015 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R 636 Performance Exterior
- image 626552
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The “Performance” model is essentially a ZX-6R with a few extra bits and bobs, and it follows the same basic design set forth by the ZX-9R – that of a purpose-built sportbike with full fairings and body panels that leave the bike looking clean, but not as bare as a true naked bike would be.

Visually, it’s hard to distinguish the Performance from the “regular” ZX-6R. The biggest clue up front is the bubble-shaped windshield that reduces drag on the bike and wind pressure on the rider. In back, we have the Akrapovic muffler with carbon-fiber accents to give it away. All else pretty much looks the same between the two models, unless you manage to glimpse the RAM air duct in the front fairing. Finally, the Performance edition comes with a pillion pad cover in the same green or white color as the “sheet metal.”

Overall, Kawi built the bike for aerodynamic efficiency, from the front fairing to the hugger fender over the rear tire, and that comes with certain design obligations that are evident here in the upper and lower fairings and teardrop-shaped windage profile. The bike has an aggressive shape, and the rider triangle puts the pilot in a commanding, slightly forward-leaning position. Simply put, it looks like a Ninja.

Chassis

2015 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R 636 Performance Exterior
- image 626569

For me, things got very interesting when I started digging into the chassis. Kawi went “Big” on the front suspension with the inverted, 41 mm, Showa Separate Function Fork-Big Piston (SFF-BP). Instead of using traditional all-in-one forks, this system uses a large piston in the right fork for compression and rebound damping, and compression springs in both forks. A dial on the right fork cap allows you to dial in the exact damping strength you want; while an adjuster on the left cap lets you dial in the compression-spring preload.

All I can say is someone at Kawi wants you to be able to dial in whatever ride you like.

The benefit of dedicating one fork to all damping duties is that you wind up with a large-diameter piston with lots of surface area for the oil to act upon, resulting in lower fork pressures and superior anti-dive performance. A bottom-link, Uni-Trak monoshock buoys the tail end, and much like the front suspension, you can adjust it for compression and rebound damping, as well as spring preload. All I can say is someone at Kawi wants you to be able to dial whatever ride you like – even if that ride is on a closed-circuit race course The go-fast crowd will also appreciate the adjustable Öhlins steering damper for its high-speed stability and kickback mitigation.

The factory went with its Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System (KIBS) on the Performance and made it an option for the other ZX-6R siblings. This proprietary ABS system does seem to be smarter than most, as the name suggests, and it provides dynamic brake modulation based on front- and rear-wheel speeds, engine rpm, gear selection and throttle position. I say dynamic, because the Bosch ABS ECU actually anticipates the loss of traction based on the aforementioned data, which takes it a notch above the usual reactive ABS technology. Kawi chose Nissin “monobloc” calipers for their stiffness and light weight to bind the dual, 310 mm, petal-cut discs up front and the 220 mm, petal-cut disc in the rear. The rear brake also has an anti-rise function within the KIBS that helps maintain control during aggressive deceleration, something the racers among us will appreciate. Overall, the chassis displays the racing DNA one would expect, and the only surprises so far have been pleasant ones.

Drivetrain

2015 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R 636 Performance Exterior
- image 626560

Kawi blessed this ride with a long-stroke, liquid-cooled, 636 cc engine that cranks out 71 Nm (52.3 pound-feet) at 11,500 rpm. Maximum horsepower gets a boost from the RAM air option that takes compressed air from the pressure wave in front of the bike for the air-fuel charge. Before you scoff, I would point out that this feature can raise the barometric pressure in the intake by as much as 3 psi at high speed, and it gives the Performance a total output of 101 kw (135 horsepower), 4.6 kw (6.1 horsepower) more than the non-RAM engine in the standard ZX-6R models.

Kawi blessed this ride with a long-stroke, liquid-cooled, 636 cc engine that cranks out 71 Nm (52.3 pound-feet) at 11,500 rpm.

In keeping with its racing tradition, this Ninja comes with what Kawi calls “track-ready electronics” in the form of its Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC) system. The brain, if you will, monitors wheel speeds and engine data, and intervenes when necessary to prevent wheel slip. You can set the amount of allowable slip by selecting one of three operating modes with a switch on the left handlebar. Mode one allows the maximum slip, and is more suitable for experienced riders on closed tracks. Mode two is a little more street-friendly, and mode three is set up for riding in foul weather with poor traction. You can even nerf the engine itself, a handy feature for beginners. Set it to “low power” mode to limit the engine to about 80 percent of its maximum output, or change it back to “full power” with a flip of a switch. These two features, together with the KIBS ABS, lend a flexibility to the bike that allows it to go from track to street riding with ease.

Finally, the gearbox is of the “cassette” type to allow for quick, trackside gear ratio changes. It gets its power through the FCC clutch that has a clutch-assist feature that uses a cam to replace some of the clutch springs, leaving the lever effort 25 percent less than before. But that ain’t all – it also has a slipper function that reduces torque feedback during heavy engine braking, and the dreaded wheel hop.

Rumor has it the Performance is turning in some impressive numbers on the strip. So far, I’ve heard of a 10.89-second quarter-mile run at 129.26 mph. The same bike and rider also turned in a 3.1-second 0-60 time, with 159 mph as the maximum speed. I’m sure skill level plays a part in these figures, so remember – individual results may vary.

Price

You can score a ZX-6R with the Performance package and ABS for £10,799 in Lime Green / Flat Ebony or Pearl Crystal White / Flat Ebony. You can also opt for a Lime Green / Pearl Stardust White paintjob as part of the 30-year anniversary package that celebrates three decades of Ninja production.

He Said

“The Ninja was one of the bikes that drove my imagination back in the late ’80s, and it really shaped my perception of the sportbike world. I gotta say that this Ninja still captures my imagination, and even though my tastes have changed, this ride makes me a bit nostalgic for the days when Ninjas were the hot, new thing.”

She Said

My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "I’m not a fan of crotch rockets, but lots of folks are and the Ninjas are very popular. I do like the RAM air feature to boost horsepower at the top end, and would like to see even more low-tech Easter eggs like that in the future."

Specifications

Engine Type: Liquid-Cooled, Four-Stroke In-Line Four
Displacement: 636 Cc
Bore X Stroke: 67.0 X 45.1 Mm
Compression Ratio: 12.9 to 1
Valve/Induction System: DOHC, 16 Valves
Fuel System: Fuel Injection:ø38 Mm X 4 (Keihin) With Oval Sub-Throttles
Ignition: Digital
Starting: Electric
Lubrication: Forced Lubrication, Wet Sump
Maximum Power: 96.4 Kilowatts (131 Horsepower) at 13,500 Rpm
Maximum Torque: 71 Newton-Meters (52.3 pound-feet) at 11,500 Rpm
Maximum Power With RAM Air: 101 Kilowatts (135 Horsepower) 13,500 Rpm
Transmission: Six-Speed, Return, Cassette
Final Drive: Sealed Chain
Primary Reduction Ratio: 1.900 (76/40)
Gear Ratios: 1st: 2.846 (37/13)
Gear Ratios: 2nd: 2.200 (33/15)
Gear Ratios: 3rd: 1.850 (37/20)
Gear Ratios: 4th: 1.600 (32/20)
Gear Ratios: 5th: 1.421 (27/19)
Gear Ratios: 6th: 1.300 (26/20)
Final Reduction Ratio: 2.688 (43/16)
Clutch: Wet Multi-Disc, Manual
Brakes, Front: Dual Semi-Floating 310 Mm (X T5 Mm) Petal Discs . Dual Radial-Mount, Monobloc, Opposed Four-Piston, Nissin
Brakes, Rear: Single 220 Mm (X T5 Mm) Petal Disc Single-Bore Pin-Slide, Aluminum Piston, Nissin
Suspension, Front: Type: 41 Mm Inverted Fork With Top-Out Springs Compression Damping: Stepless. Rebound Damping: Stepless. Spring Preload: Fully Adjustable (0 to 15 Mm (0.6 inch))
Suspension, Rear: Type: Bottom-Link Uni-Trak With Gas-Charged Shock And Top-Out Spring Compression Damping: Stepless Rebound Damping: 25-Way Spring Preload: Fully Adjustable (5.5 (0.2 inch) to 15.5 Mm(0.6 inch))
Frame Type: Perimeter, Pressed-Aluminum
Rake/Trail: 23.5 degrees / 101 Mm (4 inches)
Wheel Travel, Front: 120 Mm (4.7 inches)
Wheel Travel, Rear: 134 Mm (5.3 inches)
Tire, Front: 120/70ZR17M/C (58W)
Tire, Rear: 180/55ZR17M/C (73W)
Steering Angle, Left / Right: 27 degrees / 27 degrees
Dimensions (L X W X H): 2,085 Mm X 705 Mm X 1,115 Mm (82 inches x 27.8 inches x 43.9 inches)
Wheelbase: 1,395 Mm (54.9 inches)
Ground Clearance: 130 Mm (5.1 inches)
Fuel Capacity: 17 Liters (4.5 Gallons)
Seat Height: 830 Mm (32.7 inches)
Curb Mass: 192 Kilograms (423.3 Pounds) /194 Kilograms (ABS) (427.7 Pounds)
Color Options: Lime Green / Pearl Stardust White, Lime Green / Flat Ebony, Pearl Crystal White / Flat Ebony
What do you think?
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