Kawasaki could make some green with its new 636.
The 2013 street-racer is no nostalgic return to the days of the Ninja 636, which sold well for the company but was discontinued in 2006. Instead, it's a streetier version of the 600cc Ninja ZX-6R that just won the 2012 World Supersport Championship -- but with a beefier, 636cc engine.
Kawasaki had withdrawn the 636 from the market in 2006 to concentrate on building a competitive racing machine -- and wound up with the ZX-6R. For 2013, folks at the company say, they wanted to create a bike that would be suited for canyon carving but could also function as a casual track bike -- as capable on Main Street as on the Streets of Willow Springs.
I found it a very snappy ride, with an extremely responsive high RPM engine and a trim, taut 6-speed gearbox. A little unsteady in traffic, but very sure-footed once it picks up speed, the 636 gave off a jet-engine whine and exhibited jet-engine acceleration on the freeway. Zero to 60 was impressive. Sixty to 90 was really impressive.
On the Angeles Crest the cornering was buttery and smooth, the stiff suspension and standard Bridgestone Hypersports delivering easy cornering and inviting me to ride in ways the CHP says I shouldn't.
Could I quibble? The windscreen might as well be decorative for all the wind it doesn't screen. The levers beg for heftier aftermarket replacements. The flat wide seat and the substantial seat vibration made me saddle sore after less than an hour.
On the other hand, the new and improved 636 boasts more low-end torque than the earlier Ninja or ZX-6R, comes standard with traction control and a slipper clutch, and like a lot of newer bikes offers choices of "low" and "high" power modes, depending on road conditions and how you feel like riding. (I didn't try the low. Road conditions were "go fast.")
The ZX-6R rolls out at $11,699, or a grand more for a model fitted with ABS.
Will riders embrace the new green monster? One man I met was on a 2005 636. He said, "I love it," but pointed at the one I was riding and added, "But that's my next bike."