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2024 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Review | First Ride

Team Green unleashed its updated ZX-6R for a thrashing at Ridge Motorsports Park. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

The 600cc sportbike category was the most hotly contested class in motorcycling during the 1990s and into the mid-2000s, with completely redesigned models every four years and significant updates every two.  

But markets have veered toward adventure bikes and street roadsters, causing the middleweight sportbike class to languish in recent years. Honda and Suzuki haven’t performed any mechanical upgrades to their CBR600RR and GSX-R600 in several years, and Yamaha sells its YZF-R6 only as a racebike. High-revving 4-cylinder engines have been largely supplanted by humble twin‐cylinder powerplants that are compact and cheaper to build – but a lot less exciting.  

The 2024 Kawasaki ZX-6R revives the appeal offered by middleweight sportbikes with slick new styling and other desirable updates. It breathes new life into the class and reminds us that middleweights are perhaps the most balanced sportbikes on the market.

Related: 2023 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4RR Review | First Ride

The 6R gets a fresh face for the 2024 model year, with a beguiling new nose graced with LED lighting elements. Instrumentation is provided by a new 4.3‐inch TFT panel which provides access to integrated ride modes and smartphone connectivity.  

The ZX-6R gets fresh clothes for 2024, including a new nose with sharp LED lighting and new interwoven fairings with integrated front turnsignals. Most every metal component has been treated to a black finish, with the silver muffler cap, footrests, and heel plate among the few bright spots. 

The 636cc engine receives updates to meet the latest emissions regulations, including revised camshaft profiles with mildly reduced lift and duration, a new intake funnel design intended to increase lower‐rpm power, and a fresh exhaust system. Most other mechanical components on the 6R are unchanged. 

The midsize Ninja retains the former model’s Kawasaki TRaction Control, a quickshifter, and ride modes, but the systems don’t receive the enhancement of an IMU that would inform traction control and braking – there’s no lean‐sensitive TC or cornering ABS.  

New to the ZX-6R is a 4.3-inch TFT display that’s adjustable for brightness and background colors (black or white), and it provides a shift light, fuel gauge, fuel range, coolant temperature, clock, and current and average fuel economy. It can also be linked via Bluetooth to Kawasaki’s Rideology app that logs speed, rpm, and gear positions along your ride.

Ergonomics remain unchanged, described by Kawi as “naturally aggressive.” The clutch lever is adjustable over a five-position range, while the front brake lever has six. 

One of the many entertaining twists and turns of the undulating Ridge Motorsports Park near Olympia, Washington.

Ridge Romp on the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R 

Sportbikes are generally used for canyon strafing and other mundane street duties, but testing their ultimate capabilities deserves time on a racetrack. Kawasaki invited us to sample the 6R at the wonderfully hilly Ridge Motorsports Park near Olympia, Washington. The 2.47-mile circuit is quite technical with several blind hillcrests, offering a terrific playground for a middleweight sportbike.  

Scouting for apexes is easy when aboard the capable and cooperative ZX-6R.

Heading out onto an entirely unfamiliar track creates anxiety, but the ZX-6R reminded me why middleweights are the Goldilocks of sportbikes. The aluminum‐framed chassis inspires confidence to accurately set and then reset lean angles as your pace increases. Steering response is lively but without any hints of instability, and the fully adjustable suspension was up to the task of controlling the chassis even at deep lean angles.  

The 6R thrills without being overwhelming. Note the new layered front cowl with mini winglets.


Helmet: Arai Contour-X  

Leathers: Dainese Laguna Seca Pro  

Gloves: Dainese 

Boots: Dainese TRQ-Race 

Engines in new bikes almost always have more power than previous versions, but that’s not the case here. The 6R’s top‐end lunge has been somewhat muted by the emissions‐related mods, which is a bit disappointing. Regardless, plenty of power remains on tap to scream its way around a racetrack, and the improved midrange grunt should translate into a better powerband for street use.  

The ZX-6R readily complies with rider inputs, making for a willing accomplice at trackdays or on twisty roads.

A slip/assist clutch mated to a cooperative gearbox eases gearshifts, but the quickshifter doesn’t swap gears with the expediency of some other systems and lacks an auto-blipping downshift function. Braking is similarly satisfactory, with a radial-pump master cylinder actuating monoblock 4-piston calipers on 310mm rotors up front that have lost their petal-shaped edges. The ABS system is updated to the latest Bosch 9.3MP unit, but it exacts a $1,000 premium over the base model and wasn’t tested at the track. 

This view provides a glimpse of the 6R’s new exhaust system, with the catalyzer below the Kawasaki badge, followed by a pre-chamber ahead of the rear wheel that helps minimize the size of the muffler.

The electronic systems include traction control and a choice of two power modes. Three-level traction control relies on wheel-speed sensors to adapt to available grip at varying speeds and throttle positions, and it can be switched off if you wish to ride unfettered.  

We rode on super-sticky Pirelli SC1 slicks at the track, but the 6R is equipped with Pirelli Diablo Rosso lV tires. Its 120/70-17 front tire is slightly less triangulated to offer a broader contact patch at its edges.

Checkered Flag 

While the ZX-6R doesn’t offer a great leap forward in performance, it is an incredibly well-balanced machine for unwinding twisty roads and racetracks. It has enough power to excite but not overwhelm, and it’s more attractive than ever.  

Priced at $11,299 (or $12,299 with ABS), the ZX‐6R makes a renewed case for the viability of the middleweight sportbike class. A fresh set of attractive clothes makes the deal even sweeter. 

Riding the newest Ninja is so fun that you’ll want to keep riding even after sundown.

Check out more new bikes in Rider‘s 2024 Motorcycle Buyers Guide

2024 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Specifications 

Base Price: $11,299 

Price as Tested: $11,299 


Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles 

Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse inline-Four, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl. 

Displacement: 636cc 

Bore x Stroke: 67.0 x 45.1mm 

Horsepower: N/A 

Torque: N/A 

Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated slip/assist wet clutch, quickshifter (up only) 

Final Drive: Chain 

Wheelbase: 55.1 in. 

Rake/Trail: 23.5 deg./4.0 in. 

Seat Height: 32.7 in. 

Wet Weight: 432 lb (439 lb w/ABS) 

Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal. 

Fuel Consumption: N/A

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