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That day, the quaint little villages on the outskirts of Pune woke up to the screams of two inline-fours. That day, the naive locals witnessed one of the only two surviving true 600cc supersports. That day, the winding roads of Tamhini became the vanguard for one of the greatest battles of the motorcycling world. That day, I got to play the ringmaster.

It is no secret that the 600cc supersport segment is dead and the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R is one of the two pure-breds remaining. And the birth of the BMW S 1000 RR back in 2014 was one of the reasons that put the 600cc screamers in the coffin. As fate (or I) would have it, the 2024 Ninja ZX-6R met the latest iteration of the Bavarian track scorcher. It ached to see my childhood icon trying to prove its worth. It was like an old lion standing up against a young one, knowing well that things may not end in its favour.

Seeing them in the ring, the S 1000 RR seemed like Goliath, towering over the ZX-6R. It’s not that the 6R is a puny motorcycle in isolation, but the BMW with its big windscreen, massive winglets, and the muscular fuel tank gave it a very imposing stance. The ZX-6R’s flat-ish tank, low windscreen and the lack of visual drama gave it a very unintimidating appearance. But David did put down Goliath, so I didn’t want the appearances to get the better of me, and so began the fight.

The first round was all about asserting dominance over the competitor and taking control of the fight. Naturally, the 6R’s 122.3 bhp and 7 kgm were no match for the RR’s 210 bhp and 11.5 kgm. The BMW, with its ferocious power could blitz past the 6R, and all I could see was a tiny white and green dot in the RR’s mirror. I dropped the anchor hard, made my way through the next set of corners and waited patiently for the 6R. That was it — the first round, and the BMW had it. So, the BIG battle ends in one round? It can’t, I wouldn’t let it. I am the ringmaster, afterall. So, I decided to ride the 6R.

The 636cc engine doesn’t feel a decade-old
But the RR’s unit will make everything else feel slow

And the difference was quite evident. Not just in performance, but everything else, too. The Kawasaki was too low for anyone that’s six feet and over. The seatto-footpeg distance was quite less, the handlebar too low and forward, and the windscreen was of little to no use. Meanwhile, the RR was tall, surprisingly roomy enough and yet committed enough to slice its way through the sharpest of turns with the agility of a cheetah. It took me a while to get used to the ergonomics of the 6R, and I felt I was ready for the second bout.

The 6R deserves an analogue tachometer
Though complex, the RR’s console is easy to use

Of course, nothing changed. The Kawasaki was still behind, and after a few runs, I managed to get a little faster around corners, but the BMW was still unfazed, ready for another round. Apart from the obvious displacement and performance handicap, what was it that made the BMW so precise and fast, I wondered. And so, I decided to hop back on the RR.

Was it the electronics? Because riding a 210 bhp machine the way I did shouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Hoping that’s what is making a big-bike novice like me carry ridiculous speeds, I decided to give the electronic nannies a rest, prayed that I live to write the story and set off for another exchange of blows. Surprisingly, even with electronics dialled to the minimum, I was in control of the motorcycle and a lot faster than the 6R. Perhaps, that’s it. This is why the middleweight supersport segment died. This is probably the ZX-6R’s last hoorah, and thinking there may never be a 2025 ZX-6R, I set out on one last ride around Tamhini.

Despite the fresh design, the 6R still looks old

It felt like a stroll with an old master, talking about their craft and the way forward. And this is when I realised how I was faster on the RR every time I swung my leg over it. The 6R, despite its ‘2024’ prefix, is a decade-old motorcycle. The chassis is not as agile or precise as the RR because it still is from the last decade, and the brakes aren’t half as good as the Beemer’s. In fact, I found myself  sing four fingers to shed speeds. On the RR? Just a tap of a finger and the front dived hard.

The brakes on the 6R need a serious upgrade

I couldn’t help but wonder if we are responsible for the current state of these 600cc track machines. Were we so enchanted by the false sense of taming 200 bhp+ machines that we decided to forgo the art of mastering them without a computer backing us up? Is that why the 6R flaunts quickshifter, ride modes, and not a new, better chassis and superior brakes? And despite being a decade old, the Japanese engine floored me with its tractability, naughtiness and refinement. The Beemer, though not bad, has that European ruffian character in the engine. Also, between the two, the 6R at the redline sounds far better than the RR. Though the electronic advancements lured the world into jumping onto litre-class motorcycles, it is bikes like the ZX-6R that shape skilled riders and help master the art of taming litreclass bikes.