Who needs a crummy old Ducati 748 anyway? One week after abandoning our ten month wait for a red bike we were the proud owners of a brand-spanking new '97 model ZX-6R. Then with the rest of the dosh we bought a '94 ZXR750.
(The L2 model. Keen-eyed Kawasaki anoraks will note that the picture shows a ZXR750R (ZX750M1). But visually the only difference between this and ours is the single seat. Soon we'll have pictures of our own bikes and ditch these brochure scans.).
So then we had two great, if anonymous, plastic Japanese bikes, instead of one great, if fragile and hideously expensive, plastic Italian bike. For us it was a better buy, as we could both ride rather than going out alone (not so much fun) or forever two-up (definitely not so much fun). Lucky the Ducati didn't come, in a way ...
In March 1999 we traded the ZXR750 in for a GSX-R600, in August 1999 we bought a RVF400, then in June 2000 (while I was recovering from my Easter Nürburgring crash) we sold the ZX-6R to a friend.
There are plenty of pictures of both bikes in action on Adam's Trackdays Page. The ZXR missed the first trackday because I stupidly high-sided it - (see the the damage estimate)
I got my first Ninja in 1986, wrote it off the same year, then Amanda and I got another in '87 which we kept until '94.
The GPz900R endured to the 1996 model year, although it had cruelly been stripped of its Ninja appellation and relegated to the sports-tourer category. When shopping for the ZXR we sat on a GPz900R for old times' sake, to remind ourselves of the wonderful riding position.
It was terrible. It felt horrible. Never look back!
The mags raved about the ZX, invariably rating it as the best 600 (although it occasionally lost out to the CBR in boring magazines such as Bike and Sport Rider because it's not all-round dull). Motor Cycle News readers voted it Sports Bike of the Year, Motorcycle International made it International Bike of the Year and Superbike awarded it Sportsbike of the Year. Only the 748 pipped it for Bike magazine's Bike of the Year. Jamie Whitham, writing in Superbike (November '96), rated it the best road bike of all, and in Performance Bikes the ZX-6R not only destroyed the CBR600 in every arena, but at the track the ZX's average lap time equalled the Fireblade's best time, and it's best time was a mere 0.07s down on the GSX-R750WT's best! Even though we bought the bike without a test ride, we knew it would be good enough for us :-)
We bought our 600 new. We had been looking for a nearly-new bike and saw a year-old F2 ('96 model) with 6000 miles for £6599. The list price was £7450 on the road, and through a heroic discounting effort a dealer sold us a brand new F3 for £6500.
Running the bike in was a real pain. The first 500 miles were limited to 4,000rpm which equated to 50mph in top. Since you're not allowed to load the engine, and because there's not much power down there, it's a bit of a slug. Right from the start though, you could tell the bike was something special. It's light (182kg compared to 235kg for the GPz900R) and quick-steering; it handled really nicely and the brakes were great. The riding position's nice, but a bit too comfortable for me!
The second phase of running in (500-1,000 miles) was a bit better, as we're allowed 6,000rpm and a bit more throttle. 75mph and the improved acceleration through the gears means that you're not such a danger to traffic, although it's really hard to stop it revving at 6,000!
In late December '96, it finally crossed 1,000 miles and was run-in. Ya-hoo. Since 600 miles I'd squeezed the revs up gradually, adding 1,000rpm every 100 miles and gently increasing the throttle up to about half way. For the next 200 miles I added 1,000rpm every 50 miles and worked up to full throttle. From 8,000rpm it felt very fast. I'd been in the habit of varying the revs a lot and going to max revs periodically, and over the last few hundred miles of run-in it was harder and harder to find the necessary gaps in the traffic :-). Doing 11,000rpm on a small road, in the wet, at night made me decide to keep the rest of the exercising to daylight hours!
It's amazing to think that this 600 is lighter, quicker, faster and more powerful than the GPz900R.
At 205kg the ZXR has similar performance to the ZX-6R, but has an insignificant few mph on top speed. The handling was very surefooted - this bike was reckoned to have one of the best front ends in the business (and notoriously one of the worst rears. Our L2 model was supposedly an improvement over the H and J's, but it's still much too hard. Wise men say a softer spring and reshimming for less damping is the answer.)
The riding position is much more committed than the 600 and the long stretch around the wide tank to the low bars makes you feel part of the bike and really plugs you into the forks - I much preferred the riding position to that of the ZX-6R, which felt like a commuter bike after the ZXR! The solidity of the bike, the weight and the firmness of the suspension means that a pillion is far less noticeable than on the 600, and the pillion seat is larger and the pegs lower. Yes, the ZXR750 is our tourer :-)
In truth, the ZXR750 was old technology compared to the ZX-6R. Apart from the extra weight and size making two-up riding more comfortable (notwithstanding the hilarious ZXR grab rail), there's nothing it does better. But we wanted another bike, couldn't bring ourselves to buy a Honda (especially not a CBR600) and it was about right performance and price-wise. Compared to the bike's successor (the ZX-7R), the standard ZXR has a feeble midrange, slow steering, weak brakes and ponderous handling, but I found our ZXR more exciting!
The brakes were rubbish when we got the bike - way too much lever travel and not much power when they did start working. We replaced the pads with Ferodo Supersport, which made it worse, so we switched back to some Kawasaki genuine pads, which seem to offer more bite. We replaced the brake lines with Goodridge hose, but although the brakes did work eventually they still had far too much lever travel. In the end, our friendly bike shop found that the pistons were retracting too far, and very kindly swapped our calipers with a new set discarded from one of the race bikes he prepared. After that, the brakes are as good as any I've used.
The midrange was quite disappointing, so a stage 1 tune was in order. Posessed of a social conscience, we chose to fit a Dynojet stage 1 jet kit with a K&N filter, but to retain the standard can. Although we knew we wouldn't get the best from the kit, Dynojet's blurb said we could still expect a better midrange and improved throttle response. Well, it was awful. Nick, having fitted many of these kits in the past, couldn't get rid of a huge rich patch which didn't just give a hole, it was a chasm in the torque curve. It totally bogged between 7 and 8,000rpm. After two days of fiddling Nick phoned Dynojet and was told to his amazement that the kit would not work with the standard can. That left us with three unattractive options: put up with the bike as it was, remove the kit, or fit a race can. In the end we chose to fit the can, and got a "relatively quiet" carbon race can made by Rhino Dyno in London.
Bloody Hell! If that was relatively quiet, I'd hate to hear a loud one. Amanda was at home once and heard me coming from five miles away ... anyway, it was a gorgeous throaty sound through the carbon can, and the midrange improved beyond all recognition. With the stage 1 tune, the ZXR was quicker throughout the rev range than a friend's standard ZX-7R, especially at the top end. I loved it!
The suspension was notoriously hard, but despite being under 65kg I find it OK on smooth roads - in fact I increased the preload to reduce sag and quicken the steering a bit. On bumpy roads, I just used my legs to lift in the saddle a little and absorb the bumps like that - you gotta ride the thing anyway, you can't just sit there like a blob! Unfortunately, Amanda couldn't touch the floor properly, so we didn't tend to swap around much.
The gearing was reduced by the use of a 46 tooth rear sprocket (instead of the standard 44 tooth). It revved a bit higher for a given speed (top gear became 6,000rpm @ 80mph), and the gears were a bit closer together. Essentially it's like losing the old 6th gear and gaining a new (lower) 1st gear.
Motorcycle industry figures show that between January and May 1996, 17540 new Hondas, Suzukis, Yamahas and Kawasakis were sold in the UK. In the same period police figures show 18,374 Japanese bikes were reported stolen. Since 1993, almost 60,000 bikes have been reported stolen, with 35,000 never recovered.
In 1992, 60% of all stolen bikes were recovered. In 1996 it was 28%. Bike thieves are no longer joyriders but professionals who either change the bike's identity or break it for spares.
"I know of people compiling lists of bikes and owners by trawling suburban areas, then selling these lists to thieves," says Dr Ken German of the Metropolitan Police's Stolen Vehicle Squad. The trawlers find Sunday evenings are a good time to pin bikes to addresses, because that's when lots of them are out on the drive after a day out riding.
If a thief is having trouble getting hold of a particular bike ... he'll go trawling town centres waiting until he sees one. Then he'll follow it home, note the address and pop back later with some mates. "I know of one bunch who do all their trawling in the rain," says motorcycle security specialist Julian Beardsell. "They found they couldn't follow sports bikes home in the dry because they went too fast. But in slippy conditions ... easy."
There are numerous stories of thieves moving cars and demolishing walls to get to bikes.
Source: RiDE magazine, November 1996.
Our bikes are as safe as we can make them: We live in the country; they're in an alarmed brick garage with deadlocks on the doors; they're fixed to the earth's crust by concreted-in ground anchors with police-approved locks and chains; they both wear top disc locks. They have alarm/immobilisers, the garage is connected to the hoe alarm, and our (alarmed) car is parked in front of them. In addition, the bikes both have Alpha-Dot (invisible, traceable tags).
Of course, none of this guarantees that the bikes can't be stolen, but if anyone tries to get at them in the garage, we'll know about it - and our local police will have time to get a riot van in before the bad guys have tackled all the obstacles. When the bikes are out and about, the Datatag, immobiliser and disc locks will prevent casual thieves from making off with them, and hopefully the alarm will alert us if bad guys try to stuff 'em in a van.
We very much resent the money and time we've spent on protecting our property from the thieving scum, and would certainly prefer that the criminals themselves were tagged. The ideal solution was used by the British a couple of hundred years ago - individuals who decided to live outisde the laws of civilised society were themselves removed from society to live in their own criminal anarchy. Bring back deportation! (the trouble, of course, is finding somewhere to put them. Apparently we can't use Australia any more :-))