Kawasaki laps Honda's 600

It's a close contest, but one new sports bike has the edge, says Roland Brown

Japanese 600cc sports bikes are motorcycling's equivalent of the upmarket hatchback, fast and relatively cheap, with top speeds of over 150mph and price tags below £7,000.

It's a popular class that is traditionally dominated by Honda's CBR600F, Britain's top-selling 600 in no fewer than six of the past seven years. This year Honda has again revamped the CBR in an attempt to defend its position against attack from Kawasaki's latest challenger, the ZX-6R.

Like most rivals in the price-sensitive 600cc market the CBR and ZX-6R are very similar in specification, each having a watercooled, 16-valve four-cylinder engine producing about 100 horsepower. One significant difference is that while the Kawasaki's protective fairing is shaped to reveal an aluminum beam frame, the Honda relies on a steel frame, hidden behind more comprehensive bodywork.

Although it is far from being an all-new model like the ZX-6R, the CBR600 incorporates far more modifications than its almost unchanged styling suggests. From the rider's seat the most obvious difference is that this bike's screen is more racily angled - to improve aerodynamic efficiency, according to Honda. Ironically, I found the lower screen a disadvantage, because at speed more air is directed straight on to a tall rider's chest.

The CBR certainly zips along quickly, thanks partly to a new "ram-air" induction system, which uses the bike's movement to provide a slight turbocharging effect. Performance is improved a little, particularly at higher speeds without compromising the Honda's smooth and refined behaviour at low revs. Never mind that this bike is "only a 600". By any normal standards it's thrillingly rapid, with enough acceleration away from the lights to make a typical Ferrari driver's face match his paintwork.

The Honda's chassis, updated this year with revised suspension, larger front brake discs and a wider rear wheel, is even more impressive than the motor. On the road it is almost impossible to make the CBR misbehave. Its steering was light yet stable, its brakes powerful, its suspension firm yet compliant. The CBR has traditionally been the yardstick by which other 600s are judged, and this model raises the standard still higher.

But the Honda is by no means perfect. Its fuel tank is slightly larger than before, but the range is still only a little over 100 miles. Although the CBR is reasonably roomy and has a comfortable dual-seat, I found the fairly upright riding position too exposed for long-distance riding. And although the Honda's styling is neat and the standard of finish excellent, after four years the CBR's looks hardly set the pulse racing.

In contrast, Kawasaki's designers started with a clean sheet of paper, and the 7X6R benefits from their apparent determination to make this the sportiest and quickest 600 of all. Although the new bike resembles other Kawasaki models, its aggressive styling just about manages to make the ZX stand out from the lookalike 600cc pack. And this is certainly the fastest bike in its class in a straight line, with a top speed approaching l60mph.

That speed comes from a four-cylinder motor developed from that of Kawasaki's powerful but heavier and less sporty ZZ-R600. Kawasaki was the firm that pioneered ram-air induction on motorcycles and, like the CBR, the ZX-6R uses the system to produce stunning performance approaching the 14,000rpm redline. Even in cold and damp winter weather the Kawasaki rarely failed to excite.

Its slightly peaky power delivery encouraged frequent use of a six-speed gearbox that was a little more precise than the CBR's.

Having had the opportunity to take direct aim at the CBR, Kawasaki's designers produced a chassis with near-identical dimensions. Cycle parts are also very similar, particularly the multi-adjustable front forks and rear suspension unit; the Kawasaki handled, stopped and gripped the road superbly. Maybe the ZX felt a fraction more agile and the CBR marginally more stable, but there was really nothing in it.

For a sports bike the ZX-6R proved reasonably practical, too. It is slightly roomier than the CBR and has a taller screen. Low-rev response was not quite as smooth as that of the impeccably refined Honda, but the ZX-6R was docile and easy to ride in traffic.

Unlike the Honda the Kawasaki has no main stand (making rear chain maintenance inconvenient), but it matches its rival with comprehensive instruments, clear mirrors, a broad seat and solid handholds for a pillion.

These two bikes are so closely matched that anyone looking for a fast, fine-handling middleweight would doubtless be delighted with either. At £6,595 Kawasaki's newcomer is the more expensive by £70. But despite that, the ZX-6R's fresher looks, better wind-protection and racier character just about give it the edge.

News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen