Kawasaki ZZR600 as a first time bike

Author - Finn

First appearing in 1990, the ZZR600D series was always billed as a sports tourer by Kawasaki. Although a powerful faired bike (The fastest 600 at the time) it was never quite small and light enough to compete in the pure sports class. It had an aluminium frame but was still fairly heavy at almost 200kg dry.

There were minor revisions for 3 years until, in 1993; Kawasaki almost completely re-created it from the ground up. The total weight stayed the same but the engine internals was completely re-worked and ram-air added bringing the engine power up to a claimed 100BHP, improving the low end torque and increasing the throttle response throughout the rev-range.

This, “E Series”, although having minor updates over the years (the last one in 1995 - one of the two trip meters was changed to a clock) has by and large stayed the same since and is still on sale now.

Note for anyone across the pond: In the states and Canada the ZZR600 was instead named ZX6D and ZX6E. There were 2 revisions of each, a “California” model; and “49 state” model. While the California model had improved emissions for the tighter laws, the 49-state model is identical to the bike the rest of the world received, just with different paint schemes and decals. From 2005 onwards Kawasaki started selling a bike called the ZZR600, but it is not the same bike and is instead the same as the 2002 ZX-6R.

Manufacturers Specifications (E series)

Engine Four-stroke, DOHC, inline four, 16 valves
Displacement 599cc
Starting Electric
Bore x stroke 64.0 x 46.6mm (2.52 x 1.83 in.)
Compression ratio 12.0:1
Red-line 14,000 RPM
Power 100.00 HP (73.0 kW) @ 11500 RPM
Torque 62.76 Nm (6.4 kgf-m or 46.3 ft.lbs) @ 9500 RPM
Cooling Liquid
Carburetion Keihin CVKD36 x 4
Ignition Digital
Transmission 6 speed with Positive Neutral Finder
Frame Aluminium perimeter design
Rake / trail 24.5° / 97 mm (3.8 in.)
Suspension, front 41mm conventional fork w/adj. preload  4-way rebound damping
Suspension, rear Mono-shock with threaded preload adjustment and three-way rebound damping
Wheel travel, front 119mm (4.7 in.)
Wheel travel, rear 130mm (5.1 in.)
Tyre, front 120/60 x ZR17 tubeless radial
Tyre, rear 160/60 x ZR17 tubeless radial
Brakes, front Dual 300mm semi-floating discs w/dual 4-piston callipers
Brakes, rear 240mm Disc w/single-piston calliper
Overall length 2070mm(81.5 in.)
Overallwidth 696mm (27.4 in.)
Overall height 1176mm(46.3 in.)
Ground clearance 119mm (4.7 in.)
Seat height 780 mm (30.7 in.)
Dry Weight 195.0 kg (429.9 pounds)
Wet Weight 208.3kg(459.2 pounds)
Fuel capacity 18.00 litres (3.96 UK gallons) (4.76 US gallons)
Reserve 4.20 litres (0.92 UK gallons) (1.11 US gallons)
Wheelbase 1,430 mm (56.3 in)
Top Speed 155mph(approx.)
Power/weight ratio 0.5128 HP/kg (0.37 kW/kg)
Insurance group NU13

My bike is a 1999 E7 Model, I got it with less than 6000 miles, I have had it for just over 2 months and so far done just over 1000 miles on it.

My Previous
This is my first “big” bike. Previous riding experience had been an SR125 for CBT, Honda CG125 for a year or two to prepare for and do my test on and then a Moto Guzzi V35 for my 33Bhp “restricted period”. None of these bikes were mine though – it pays to have a mum who went though the same bike license route shortly before I did!  I had been off of 2 wheels for a couple of years though, so not only was it my first big bike, it had been a while since being on ANY bike.

First Impressions
Due to not having a bike when I bought it (so no bike insurance) I hadn’t been able to ride it before buying it.

After handing over my hard earned money to the previous owner, we both filled in the V5 docs and I finally got to put on my gear, strap my helmet on, start the bike up and ride off heart pounding!

My very first impressions were it was huge, heavy and I felt like I had to lift my feet up miles to get them on the pegs!

In the first few minutes I was terrified, and having serious doubts that I had bought the wrong bike. The throttle was far too sensitive causing me to surge back and forth in town, my wrists were killing my and the armour in my (new) textiles was digging into my knees when I finally managed to get my foot high enough onto the peg.

Once I got out of the 30's and into some National Speed Limits it started to make more sense. I was taking it very easy, slowly getting to about 40-50 while the other half followed in the car doing anti-harassment duty to make sure no cars tail-gated me.

I pretty soon discovered that I could leave it in a high gear and it still had enough torque to be completely responsive on the throttle even coming back down to 20-30 for in town. No surging and it gave me a chance to get used to the rest of the bike.

The only problem I encountered was that it seemed to track every little groove/over banding in the road - I really had to “fight it” out and do everything I could to not getting stuck in another. Not easy when it seemed to snake all over the lane!

About 30 miles later I was getting used to the steering and although still surging a bit in town I no longer felt like I was a hazard to both myself and anyone who got near! Unfortunately this was just as I got home!

I came in and relaxed as I think my whole body had tensed up due to the stress and gripping everything far too hard in the blind panic of the ride back! One cuppa later and I was feeling much better, chatting with SWMBO I discovered that I had felt far more dangerous than I looked, although a bit wobbly in town I hadn’t been “all over the road” like I felt I had.

Getting to know one another
Over the next few weeks whenever I got the chance I was back out on the bike steadily building up my confidence and getting used to riding again. I was still having problems with it tracking any minor groove in the road until I had new tyres fitted (the old ones were still the factory fitted originals and starting to border on the illegal), A Bridgestone 014 on the front and 020 on the rear completely fixed that so it now has to be quite a deep rut to cause problems. Taking it easy to get used to the new bike, and break in the new tyres I just steadily built up my confidence and started wearing the rust off my biking abilities!

Gradually the confidence appeared and instead of struggling to reach the speed limits I was more struggling to stay under them!

It’s quick, damned quick, quicker than any vehicle I had been on before (The closest being pillion on a guzzi 1100).

The Engine
It took a long time before I was willing to even get slightly close to opening the throttle to anything near its potential, and the first time I did it felt like it tried to rip my arms out of their sockets. The bike seems to have 2 engines strapped together - From 1000-7000 RPM its quite steady and perfect for just plodding alone, my initial ham-fisted ness passed and if I just want to get from A to B with little fuss its all I need. Either in second or third around town, or in 5th or 6th in NSL its responsive enough for most needs but very forgiving if your occasionally clumsy - basically its much like driving a pretty damned fast car.

However, if your feeling a bit adventurous, or want to go for an overtake, drop it down a gear or two and it takes off. From 7000 all the way up to the redline at 14k it just takes off dragging you along for the ride. It just seems to keep pulling giving you the insane urge to just keep feeding more gears and keep going. Unfortunately by the time you’re out of second and into third you’re already passed 90mph and still accelerating like a madman. Top speed is reportedly around 150mph although red-line in top gear would equate to around 170mph if you had a strong enough tailwind (or a big enough steep slope!)

I haven’t been anywhere near that but it certainly gets up to license loosing speeds fast enough - its not unusual to accelerate for an overtake and find your doing a ton and still accelerating as you pass the car. It is also perfectly stable at whatever speed you wish to travel at, whether trundling along in town, or bombing along the motorway it just does it all without fuss.

The Plastics
I had never ridden a faired bike before but it really makes such a difference. I'm 5"9 and the wind blast is directed at about shoulder height making it effortless to cruise along at speed. It’s not quite the “bubble” you would get from a full on touring screen but it’s more than enough for me.

Me ‘n her ‘n her
We have done a little 2-up riding, and that was certainly an interesting experience, the other half (my main pillion victim) was completely terrified of being on a bike, and although not my first time riding with a pillion, it was the first in a while and the first on this bike. The first few rides consisted of up to the end of the road and back with her with her eyes closed muttering about too fast, and we didn’t even get above 20!

We both got used to it however and have done a fair bit more although no long distance stuff. Its more than adequate for 2-up stuff, a bit more throttle is required but it’s still got more than enough oomph to out-accelerate almost all cars. Certainly it’s got far more acceleration than required according to the pillion anyway!

The main issue we have is the rear suspension doesn’t quite seem up to the task of having to keep sprung over 25 stone of combined weight. (If I don’t want to be sleeping on the sofa tonight, I will have to admit a good proportion of that is mine!) With the pillion seat being rather flat and slippery it felt like she was being bounced up into the air on bumps. The worst example of this being the joints between blocks on dual carriageway/motorway giving the feeling she was being bounced up out of the protective bubble of calm air then ripped backwards off the bike by the wind blast. We are still trying to experiment with different seating positions for her but it might require an aftermarket rear shock. Although personally as the rider it has never felt uncomfortable other than rather jarring if we hit a sunken manhole cover.

At low speed the suspension is not as much of an issue although the bike does feel very top heavy and a bit wobbly. I don’t know if that is true of all bikes, but it means filtering, while possible, requires a bit more planning and care.

Turnaround
Speaking of low-speed, the full lock is atrocious. I don’t know how it compares to other faired bikes, but a U-turn in all but the widest of roads is next to impossible. We have a patio in the back garden where the bike is locked up and turning it around involves a complex dance of multi-point turn - the only saving grace being that the low seat height gives plenty of leverage to lug the bike around while you’re on it. Just as well really as I certainly wouldn’t try to lug it around from the side, it’s too easy to drop it!

Fat bottomed girl
And that brings us on to weight, it’s definitely a heavy beast if you’re not used to it, almost 210 kilos with a full tank of fuel. I have had a couple of almost drops where it teetered, the only thing saving it (and my wallet) being the excellent leg leverage offered by the low seat. I can stand with my knees slightly bent and both feet flat on the ground very easily - not something I can do on most other bikes. At 5"9 I’m not short but I certainly appreciate the lower seat.

It was only really after riding with the other half on the back exclusively for a few weeks that really got me used to the size and weight, although I was confident enough to filter before, it still felt a heavy bike. The first solo ride after the pillion riding was such a shock though; the bike seemed so light and fast in comparison that I felt like I could just throw it around with abandon!

 

Stopping
The brakes I’m unsure about, the front seem to be on the good but certainly aren’t awe-inspiring, they certainly stop you but it can require quite a bit of force applied to the lever during heavy braking. The rear however is next to useless, it seems like I have to almost stand on it just to feel any effect whatsoever. It doesn’t feel spongy; it just doesn’t feel like it actually does much whatsoever. Compared to the guzzi V35 which, although not a sports bike, had excellent brembos front and rear the brakes department just seems somewhat lacking compared to the speed and power difference between the bikes. It’s just as well then that the engine braking is so immense compared to a smaller bike or a car. Most of the time out of town I find myself only using the throttle to control speed and have to often just nudge the brakes to make sure I have shown some brakes lights to any cars behind. The engine braking is enough that I have skidded the rear during a miss-judged change down slowing down to a halt for a T junction where the road surface was crap.

 

Feeding her
On a full tank of fuel I’m currently getting around 200 miles to the tank (150 to reserve) equating to around 50mpg. The lowest mpg I have had was 45 (135 miles to reserve or 177 in total) which was due to some extensive in-town 2-up riding (Isn’t Christmas shopping wonderful? :/ )

I haven’t actually reached reserve yet as the tap is a bit stiff and fiddly to try to turn with gloves on. I certainly don’t relish the thought of trying to grope around under my knee to try and turn it while going along the road with a spluttering engine.

 

Tarting her up
Since getting it I have had new tyres fitted, done and oil and filter change, fitted a rear hugger and changed the light bulb.

The oil filter change wasn’t too bad, complicated by having to remove the lower fairing and loosen off the oil cooler to get access to the filter. The rear hugger was completely painless as the only thing that needed removing was the chain guard it replaced.

The light bulb however - what a nightmare, it took a good 3 hours to do in daylight, I don’t think it would have even been possible at the side of the road especially not at night where you are most likely to discover the bulb is blown. The job wasn’t helped by the Haynes manual being wrong and having the entire fairing removed (not required) but not mentioning having to remove the tank and rear side panels (required!). The standing joke in the house is that if/when the bulb goes - I sell the bike and buy another - it will be simpler!

The reason for the light bulb change was I replaced the standard one with one of the Philips GT150 +50% brighter for the same wattage bulbs. Although on main beam the factory bulb was adequate, on dipped I found I was having a great deal of difficulty. Where the dipped pattern was light wasn’t a problem, but beyond that “line” it looked pitch dark and I couldn’t see anything. I have yet too really try out the new bulb to see if it has made much of a difference or not but what little I have it does seem to have helped. It also has a slight blue tinge (not like the HID ones as this doesn’t disappear when you get close) which can only help in trying to achieve contrast with any car headlights behind.

Summary
It’s a great “stepping up” bike - I love it. It’s large enough to get used to a big heavy bike, but the low seat height has been enough (touch wood!) to mean no drops. The engine is brilliant with the power to scare the pants off of you if you give it some, but happy and docile if that’s all you want. The brakes and suspension could be better but are adequate enough for my purposes. I do have plans to upgrade both in the future but right now I'm just enjoying it for all its worth.