Way, way back in 1990 Kawasaki launched two sibling rocket ships. Yes, at the time of their birth, both the ZZ-R1100 and ZZ-R600 were cutting-edge sports tackle and fast as buggery hell.
Soon – in just a few short years – pukka sports tackle saw both ZZ-R models quietly moved to the ‘sports-touring’ shelf of your local Kawasaki dealer, but while the 1100 had the kudos of being the king of speed and was able to be an impressive ride, the 600 did not…
The 600 was a straightforward, 599cc inline four built into the body of a capacious tub of a bike. This thing was large even for the time – but this meant it was comfy too. This and the combination of a low, squashy seat; vast, protective fairing and a 14,000rpm redline thanks to a typical Kawasaki motor meant that it was so very fast for a middleweight, even if it was a tad porky and softly sprung for real scratching.
It was updated for a while, but still lasted for 16 whole years, until 2006 and during this time the ZZ-R600 confounded biking fashion pundits by remaining popular. What kept the ZZ-R in a class of its own was its refusal to join the sportsbike set and simply be its own bike. Yes it was big (for its capacity) fast (for its capacity) but this meant that it was able to tour with ease… OK so it wasn’t the best-finished of the time, nor was it the best suspended but as a commuter and small tourer it showed the way to bikes we have today that are a half-way house on cubic capacity, but the full-bore when it comes to capability.
Today it almost matters not which model you look at: it’s all down to mileage and condition, hence some original Ds can out-price later models…With this in mind, rough ones start around £600 and decent ones top out at around £2500 plus. Not bad considering the machine’s capability…
ENGINE: Extremely reliable, punting out 99bhp and 47ft-lb of torque. No complaints here apart from reg/rectifiers that can go wrong.
CARBURETTORS: Like many Kawasakis of this vintage, the ZZ-R’s carbs may succumb to icing. Signs include poor starting and running, irregular tickover and a sticking throttle. Some use Silkolene Pro FST fuel additive, which dissolves ice as it forms in the carbs others keep the carb heating rail/filter clean.
RECALLS: E1 and E2 models had swingarm welds that could fail, so a recall replaced the swinger. E2 and E3 models could suffer drive chain failures so these were replaced and on the F1 the same chain problem could happen, and the tools could fall out of the bike onto the rear wheel: a mounting strap and additional cover sorted this.
SUSPENSION: Soggy and soft from new, firmer fork springs are a good upgrade today. Pre-1995 bikes had no fork adjustment; post-1995 bikes got adjustable preload and rebound damping. Rear shocks are often replaced, too: Hagon seem to be the most popular choice.
BRAKES: Were never the best and need regular cleaning or the calipers easily get caked with crud. Upgraded pads and hoses help here.
CUSH DRIVES: Need regular checking as they can wear quickly but they’re easy to replace.
COMFORT: Brilliant! The seat is wide and low, making the bike popular with smaller riders, while the reach to the bars and pegs isn’t a big stretch and the screen and fairing work effectively at speed.
FINISH: Exhaust headers and downpipes suffer. Back in the day Motad were the first port of call, but today Wemoto (www.wemoto.com) do a set of downpipes for around £300. End cans are more plentiful so take your choice…
EQUIPMENT: A lot for the (second-hand) money: centre-stand (which drags during enthusiastic cornering) grab-rail, bungee points plus fuel and temperature gauges, analogue speedo and rev counter and a digital clock. There’s also a lockable compartment.
Kawasaki ZZ-R600 D1 – D3 (1990 – 1992)
Colours: Two tone red or blue, black/red, blue/silver, ebony/grey, blue/red/purple
Price new: £5395 (1992)
Kawasaki ZZ-R600 E1 – E2 (1993 – 1994)
Colours: ebony/green, violet/red, ebony/red, violet/silver/red
Price new: £5275 (1993)
Comments: New bodywork with twin ram-air ducts, new silencers and minor engine modifications. The instrument panel had a facelift and got a fuel gauge: still no suspension adjustment on these models.
Kawasaki ZZ-R600 E3 – E6F (1995 – 2006)
Colours: red/black/violet, ebony/grey/violet, metallic eventide, red, silver, black, silver/beige, light/dark blue
Price new: £6350 (1995)
Comments: Suspension upgrade. Subsequent improvements included a digital clock (E4 model onwards) and an alarm/immobiliser as standard (E7 model onwards).
WHY WE LOVE IT: For the money, a great first ‘big’ bike with big bike elements…
WHY WE DON’T: Some haven’t worn well!