Of all the sportsbikes (or rather sporty bikes) that I have owned, I must say that my favourite was the Kawasaki ZX6E, also known as the ZZR600. This was the 5th motorcycle that I owned since I started riding. It was the 4th sportsbike that I owned at the time. I tried to go down the sensible route by moving from a FZR1000 to a Bandit 400 for a while but that lasted only about 6 months.
The Bandit 400 was actually a very nice motorcycle and the engine felt much nicer than the oh so popular Honda CB400 Superfour (good engine, but soooo boring…it was like driving a Nissan Sunny). It had nice torque and was a blast. The let down was the spongy suspension. I liked the looks too. It had a beefy look and mine was red, which was lovely.
Anyway, the reason why I sold off the Bandit was because I was not used to the upright riding position. All my previous bikes were sportsbikes and I just felt weird and out of place riding a bike that had an upright riding position. Cornering felt different and I did not feel very confident doing it. So in my silly mind, I decided that I had to get a sportsbike again.
Being not very rich (still in the university) the choices available to me were rather limited. The most popular Class 2 sportsbike during that time was the Honda CBR900. It was what everybody wanted. For the more hardcore guys, the motorcycle of choice was the Suzuki GSXR750. Some people called it the “Bumble Bee” for the hump like rear seat cover or the “SRAD”. My heart lusted for the GSXR750, but there was no way that I could get my hands on one. The CBR900 never really appealed to me cos, well…it didn’t look very attractive (besides the point that I could not afford it either!).
So, with a rather limited budget, I had to look else where. At that time, the 600cc class sportsbikes were not as popular as they are now. The thinking then was that an additional 200cc did not make much difference when compared to a 400cc motorcycle, hence there was no sense in buying a Class 2 motorcycle of 600cc when you should be buying something like a 750cc or 900cc class bike, something that gave you over 100bhp with a twist of the wrist. Actually, the additional 200cc DID make a difference, but that was the perception then.
So what was out there?
There was the Honda CBR600 F2, the Suzuki GSX600F, also known as the “flying teapot” and the Kawasaki ZX6E. Now, Yamaha had the YZF600 Thundercat and the FZR600, but I had only ever seen one of each in Singapore. They were super elusive.
If I ever hoped to buy a sportsbike on a budget, it would have to come from this pile of unappreciated, unloved group. Actually, there were only 2 models that I could consider. As I mentioned earlier, the Yamahas were no where to be found and I would not consider the Suzuki because, well…it looked…erm…you go and take a look at a photo and you will understand (it didn’t have the flying teapot nickname for no reason).
So it was down to the CBR and the ZX6E. I could not find a CBR, but as luck would have it, I came across an ad of the ZX6E at an affordable price. If my memory serves me right, the owner was an expat who could not get used to a sportsbike and wanted to go back riding an off road bike (opposite of me!). It was a 5 year bike, and being a Kawasaki, she was a little tatty at the edges.
She was wearing the dark green/black colour scheme (the best looking colour scheme for this model I might add) and came with a new Bitubo rear shock. Now that caught my eye. I knew that good suspension was what made a bike a joy to ride. You can have all the power you want, but if the bike is uncontrollable or scares the pants off you at every corner, you will not like it very much. If I remember correctly, the owner was asking for a reasonable $4.5K . That fell nicely within my budget.
The deal was done and I took delivery of the motorcycle.
I was delighted with the bike and loved the engine. It had a nice rumble or growl underneath the tank and if you twisted the throttle and started speeding, the ram air system made a nice howl. I had never experienced an engine like that. It felt muscular and manly. The best thing was that it had a good mid range and yet could rush to the red line.
On my first ride home, I took a short detour to test out the handling in a nearby road with a sweeping bend. Oh goodness, was I totally in love. The rear Bitubo shock was perfect, keeping the whole bike steady and composed even as I was winding up the engine. Fantastic…that was until you braked and the front end dipped. Ah soft front suspension….but still much better than the Bandit (I think most bikes are..haha).
She was a little heavy, but not like the FZR1000, much more nimble than the FZR, smaller and had better suspension than the Bandit. And that lovely engine….This was the bike that taught me how to ride and didn’t scare the s%^t out of me while doing so. I loved her.
I mentioned earlier that she was tatty at the edges. For a 5 year old bike, she was kind of worn. Not in the functional, performance kind of way, but in the finishing and areas like that.
I could see that the paint was not as nice as the GSXR400 I had before. The finishing was not as nice and glossy. The paint on the frame and metal area were dulled and some parts were flaking off. The manifold down pipes were rusting. The paint on the rims were flaking off at some places. The windscreen was yellowed and had little hairline cracks too, but overall, for the price I paid, I should not be complaining.
After riding for year or so, I also noticed that she would jump of second gear sometimes. I sent it for repairs and though the situation improved, it did not go away totally. Interestingly, it only happened when I wind up from lower revs (where the meaty mid range started to kick in). So what I did was to rev the engine up in 1st gear and then change to 2nd gear. That solves the problem (but created another problem also known as “speeding”).
Lovely Time Together
Until recently, I gave almost all of my bikes names. The ZX6E had the name “Korai chan” – 小雷ちゃん. It is Japanese for Little Thunder. The inspiration came from the rumble and howl that the engine produced. I loved the engine, did I mention that?
We did everything together. She brought me to school, to my internship, brought me to the Johor Circuit, trips with my then girlfriend (now wife) to Cherating. I enjoyed every moment. The important thing was that this was the 1st bike that really inspired confidence in my riding and helped me to enjoy my rides. Though she was no top of the line sportsbike (no where near), I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Johor Circuit. She was fast enough for me and it was really fun at the circuit.
On the road, she had more than enough power at her disposal. The mid range made the bike a lovely machine to ride. I did not have to constantly change gears and overtaking was easy. The brakes were great, but needed servicing once in a while. It just needed some sorting out of the forks as they were non adjustable and a little soft.
My mind was thinking of what to do to improve the bike as I was about to start my first job when the street fighter conversion occurred. I was planning to purchase the race tech valves and springs and ask my workshop to fit it. I should probably replace the windscreen and maybe find a replacement down pipes and maybe even 2 nice aftermarket exhaust pipes. Well, all that did not happen as we shall see later.
Unplanned Street Fighter Conversion
So what’s with the street fighter conversion thing? Why did I think of converting a perfectly nice sportsbike into a street fighter?
It was a hot sunny afternoon and I was on my way back home. At a junction, the rider of a pesky little 2 stroke cub was bipping his throttle kind of challenging mua to a race. I knew that the straight in front had 4 lanes and no one travels at 50kph here, so off we went.
Being the light 2 stroker (I think it was a Yamaha 125Z), he sped off first in a cloud of white smoke while I wound up the engine on the ZX6. By winding up the engine, I meant letting the engine speed to its rev limit. She didn’t fail and started howling and after a little while we flashed past the smoky guy. All would have been well, if an uncle in a car had not decided to cross 4 lanes as he came out of a side road. I braked, the front wheel locked and at the last moment, she crashed onto the rear of the car. I guess the pesky 2 stroker had the last laugh. You know the saying…pride comes before a fall? Oh yeah…can’t be truer in my case. Maybe stupidity comes before pain would be more appropriate.
Funnily, the last thought in my mind was “oh no, not again….” I hate crashes, skids, drops don’t you? And that was the one day that I decided NOT to wear my usual mesh jacket. Talk about being lucky huh.
When I got up, I realised that I was basically ok, no broken bones, but my lip was cut by the broken visor and I had road rash on the usual places, knee, elbow and forearm. What was interesting was that my bike, which had fairings was now a naked bike! She fought with the tarmac and lost. It is amazing how fast the plastic disappears in a crash. If you are contemplating a street fighter project, this is not the best way to go about it.
Anyway, the following day, after I woke up, I took a look at her. Bent forks, check. Bent clip ons, check. Bent foot rests check. No headlights etc… I took my bent key stuck it in and cranked the engine expecting silence, but she fired up without a pause and her engine was rumbling contently as if nothing had happened. Talk about a tough girl!
I sent her off to a trusted workshop to see what could be done. My plan was to fix her up as a naked bike. However, after looking at the cracked frame, I decided not to go ahead and stopped work. She was my favourite of all the bikes that I had.
I would buy another, but if Kawasaki is listening, please make her a little lighter. A drop of 20kgs would be just nice. But keep the nice easy going nature of the bike and do not make her too race focused and she would be perfect.