A right side lay down scarred a once aggressive profile.
Corroded and crude is no way to put power to the pavement. The dusty chain and sprocket combo had to go.
Riding without a muffler is a sure way to attract all the wrong attention and give yourself a massive headache.
The scuffed clutch case cover was far from perfect but in 100 times better shape than the stator. For the sake of cost we left it alone for the time being.
Old stainless lines sold quickly on the secondhand market. Recycling old parts for new ones is a great way to keep your bottom line in check.
A right side lay down scarred a once aggressive profile.
The deep gouge in the plastic and nasty tear in the seat meant both needed to be replaced. Sure, we could ride it as is, but...why?
K&N; makes life easy with a 17mm nut affixed to the front of the filter for easy installation and removal.
Nothing better than flushing out black sludge for some sweet golden lubrication.
No tight spaces here as the 2004 ZX-6 has easily accessible coils. Autolite offers OEM replacement plugs at a fraction of the cost of NGK.
There’s no easy way to remove an old chain—unless you have a grinder.
A dab of Loctite assures that the small lever bolts won’t vibrate loose on the freeway.
Watch your fingers as the stator magnets will snap together with the quickness of a young Jackie Chan if you’re not careful.
Bringing the bite back with pad replacement is quick and easy as long as the caliper bolts aren’t over-tightened. Be careful, a stripped bolt is no fun drilling out.
For night riders an HID light kit is a must have—better visibility and classy looks for under a hundred bucks!
A colored 520 looks like candy compared to the crunchy old rope.
Applying wheel stripes is a quick and cost-effective way to enhance looks.
Traction control, ABS, map modes…they’re enough to make you want to max out a few credit cards just to roll the latest and greatest off the lot (and that’s assuming the bank will even back you). But when the excitement simmers down and you’re left with a beautiful piece of debt compounding monthly at a high interest rate, the thrill will most likely fade into the fuel tank along with every last drop of overpriced premium.
If you’ve got the bucks then enjoy spending ‘em, but for the vast majority of us, making ends meet in this slow economy is priority number one. Don’t toss in the towel just yet though— riding a stunner is possible with the cash left over after covering the house bills. It’s easy to talk the talk though, so we decided to scrape together five grand and invest in a bike that’d seen better days. Ready to spend time in order to save money, we mentally prepped for endless negotiating with Craigslist boneheads and set our sights on rebuilding a wreck. Would it be worth it?
While dreams of carbon fiber lulled us to sleep, the reality of buying on a budget set in. With a bike limit of $2000 and the remaining $3K for parts, we could only afford a truly hammered supersport—the kind that sputters on startup and shatters mirrors with its reflection. Browsing page after page of wadded rides drained our spirits, and salvaged titles and bunk motors weren’t going to cut it. The paperwork had to be straight and the engine needed to run strong just in case times got tougher and it had to sell quick.
All the weeks on Craigslist finally did pay off when a haggard 2004 Kawasaki 636 turned up. The 636 has been a favorite of stunters and track rats alike, and it looked like this one had been owned by both. It was spray-canned and had as many cracks in the mirror as there were in the bodywork. If the reflection wasn’t enough to break glass, the shriek of the straight pipe would be. Despite 22K on the odometer it had a strong transmission, straight chassis and punchy motor, though it was ticking loudly from out-of-spec valves. The owner “assured” it’d only been a hard fought commuter. We didn’t argue semantics just the $2,600 asking price. A small dent in the frame from a hard bar slap (collision caused), faint tank compression and drawn out story of how much work it’d need eased him into a $2K roll of greenbacks for the title. Seller urgency closed the deal and we were happily on our way with the remaining moolah for mods.
Once under the garage lights, the miserable bodywork and rashed case covers alluded to more neglect under the tank. Torn down, it actually wasn’t so bad apart from a rat’s nest of taped wires and over-torqued bolts. Of miniscule relief to the wallet were the “almost new” turn signals purchased by the previous owner after picking up a fix-it ticket for flushmounts. With pad in hand, we scribbled a list of replacement parts required before we could ride out with our heads held high.
Phase one of the Ninja restoration was spent snooping out the best quality bang for the buck. The parts list was long—as nice as it would’ve been to blow our stack on a full system, ECU upgrades and fancy brake rotors, we had to remember our strict budget required an even distribution of aesthetic and performance buys. While days were spent making calls and inquiring about products, the nights were filled with wrenching the life back into the once mistreated bike.
As we waited for aftermarket parts to arrive at the SSB HQ, we attacked general maintenance: tune-up, tires, fluids and brakes. It’s easy to jump right into the fun stuff like exhaust, levers and bodywork but you have to get dirty before cleaning up. First came a valve job and cam chain adjustment—avoiding such scheduled maintenance causes bigger problems like burnt valves and cam chain tensioner snappage. With the tick-tock of the motor ironed out and cam chain slap silenced, it was on to replacing the burnt out plugs.
A fresh set of Autolite Xtreme Sport iridium all-sparks fit the bill and improved overall ignition performance easily, as the coils were accessed right under the airbox. Before bolting the tank back into place, a clean OEM air filter ousted the old crusty one that’d been choking the motor of breath. Amsoil and a K&N; oil filter took care of the gunk gumming up the motor, and then it was time for rubber replacement. Scalded tires with little life left got the boot for a sticky pair of Conti RaceAttack Streets. There is no point in extreme grip if you can’t slow down, so we ditched the skinny stock pads for more serious SBS Street Excel pads that paired nicely with German-made Melvin stainless lines. Had it not been for a snapped brake lever and slippery grips, the stock setup would’ve felt just right. Instead, matching and adjustable/foldable Sixty61 levers and textured Avon grips did the trick on the cheap.
It was now safe to hit the open road but the Ninja was still fugly—time for a makeover.
Christmas came early when bodywork from Nice Cycle arrived. We’ve used this company several times and for good reason: true ABS plastic, overall great fitment and attention to graphical detail. In this case, a red/black Monster scheme with clearcoat covered decals made for drop dead gorgeous fairings that cost stacks of cash less than stock. Before buttoning it all up to mint, we lopped off an ashy chain, removed the equally worn sprockets and unwrapped a stylish substitution. A neon red RK 520GXW rope and Supersprox Stealth sprockets (+2 rear) didn’t just look good, they added a swifter kick in the pants. The new RK replaced a stretched stock chain, and going up two teeth in the rear caused snappier throttle delivery down low.
Going out and playing with what we had so far just felt wrong without a muffler—the open exhaust left our heads ringing louder than the car alarms following our ZX-6R through the lot. A simply shaped HMF slip-on quickly stifled the problem with the turn of a few bolts and restored order to the decibel chaos so wrongfully sported before. The exhaust note changed from a squid siren to a low grunt that progressed into an F1 car scream by the top of each gear.
Happy with the clean new pipe, we noticed the dirty dog bones while down by the midpipe. For adjustability and a better-looking stance the stock bones were replaced with a pair of Yana Shiki lowering links. Finally, the time had come to clothe this naked oddball.
Piece by sparkling piece, the new plastic made its way from cardboard box and onto a chassis that would’ve given us a hug if it had arms. Nice Cycle provided everything from the undertail to a windscreen (which we opted out for a more form-fitting Hotbodies unit). Time and time again we’ve been impressed with the Nice Cycle quality, and the seemingly endless aftermarket graphic options make it an easy choice for an instant facelift.
The once beaten and abused Kawi came a long way with a modest amount of money, but there were still a couple glaring issues accentuated by the clean new bodywork. The stator cover looked as if it’d done ten rounds against a belt sander. Running low on cash, we ignored the lightly scuffed clutch cover (for now) and splurged on a bling-tastic chrome stator. Cover bolted into place, our eyes cringed at the sight of sun-dried seat vinyl repping classless tears in all the wrong places. Luimoto’s carbon textured seat covers wrapped over both the main and passenger assembly, and with some finagling stapled into place just like stock.
All that was left to seal the deal were some dress up bits that bolted on quick and easy: A1A Sportbike Concepts spiked hardware, Vortex V3 gas cap, Lockhart Phillips sliders and billet mirrors from Roaring Toyz. With the finishing touches in place it was obvious the bike would get attention by day, but by night the dark color scheme wasn’t exactly high-vis so we added reflective ProGrip wheel stripes and a Lockhart Phillips HID headlight kit for some cool, white light.
What was a sad excuse for a sportbike is now praiseworthy. Smart spending and reselling old parts kept us right in line with our original budget. In total, the tally was just over $5,000—including the bike. We spent a small amount over expected but that generally happens— nothing that can’t be recouped with a few extra hours of overtime or a weekend away from the clubs.
Don’t get discouraged the next time an off-the-lot supersport rolls by because as we confirmed, an older substitute can be the more attractive and affordable option. Get creative and take pride in the priceless lessons learned while getting hands-on, and remember that a clean bike never gets old. ssb
Riding our 636 back to HQ could best be summed up as a loose spectacle of sound—like throwing a leg over a two-wheeled box of rocks. Buttoned up with fresh parts made the ride as clean as the look: throttle engages quicker, brakes bite harder, rubber holds through corners and lever feel is tight. Not to mention the bodywork doesn’t rattle around at highway speeds anymore. Visually and mechanically this bike feels close to new. We’d be more than confident ripping it around a track or clutching up a fat wheelie.
_When Sean showed up at the office with the tattered 636 I wasn’t too keen, but the end result was a pleasant surprise. Obviously it looks a hell of a lot better—even enviable—and the ride itself has improved greatly as well. All of the constituent upgrades like new tires, fluids, plugs and brakes went a long way when combined with the total makeover.
_And then there’s the pipe. The bike’s exhaust note gives me goosebumps and reminds me of the sound that made me love bikes as a kid. If you hear a bike with a perfect exhaust note screaming in the distance one evening it’s probably one of us blasting down the freeway, enjoying the freedom of being loan free.__
$19.95 front / $79.95 rear
Excel 520GXW chain
RaceAttack Street tires
$174 front / $222 rear
Baseline seat covers
V3 gas cap
Stainless brake lines
HID Bluestreaks kit
Avon SB Contour Open End grips
Chrome stator cover
Street Excel brake pads
$56.95 front/$40.95 rear
Xtreme Sport plugs