2004 Suzuki GSX-R600
In a model year where the super-sporting crowd is bombarded with three new liter-class tools of the thickest caliber, a cool little 120 hp 600 such as the new GSX-R gets bumped out of the spotlight and into the shadows. There's no justice in this world, but what can a trim and sexy little girl do when she's confronted with a trio of 6' tall divas? Try walking on her hands to draw attention at the big party? During the Milan show, when everybody was busy guessing if the new biggies had indeed 180 or just 175 hp, it was easy to overlook the unassuming 2004 GSX-R 600. That's a shame really, if we journos would've paid attention to the small type, we would have noticed that the asphalt darling of many a 600 club racer got titanium valves this year, radial caliper brakes AND master cylinder, upside-down forks, a GSX-R 1000 style frame and a supercomputer of sorts for EFI tasks. In short, save for an oh-so-fashionable under the tail pipe there is enough techno-content in the GSX-R 600 to put it up there and in line with the greatest and the hippest of the new liter crop.
This total revamp hasn't come a moment too early. Last year saw the introduction of three new cutting edge 600's and even before their big splash, the GSX-R was looking already a bit anachronistic and ungainly. Although upgraded in 2001, the previous model leant heavily on the mid-90's architecture of the first GSX-R 750T. It had a bulbous presence between your legs, courtesy of those thick frame spars and a wide gas tank, a longish reach to low bars compounded by a high seat and an engine that was overshadowed when the R6 spoiled us with a 15,000 rpm redline in 99'.
Under the GSX-R 1000 like fairings there is a fair amount of new bits even if the engine's architecture is pretty much the same as before. Nothing wrong here, as the GSX-R's 600 & 750cc mills already had the fashionable stacked gear shafts and triple layered crankcase construction which yields a short power unit and enables the use of a long swing arm. It's only that now, between the shafts distances have been further reduced, shifting engine CG forward. While playing with their 3D modeling software, the sweet engineers did not forget to add to the crankcases some internal air passages to reduce internal pumping losses bellow piston level. Events that are more crucial have happened in the new cylinder head. Included angle between valve stems is down now from 27 to a meager 22 degrees, comp is up by 0.3 points at 12.5:1 and the inlet tracks have been tilted further up by five degrees to improve in bound airflow. But the real coup inside the GSX-R is the material the valves are made of. Just a few years ago SBK teams and Supersport class cheaters were willing to pay true human body organs prices to lay their hands on Ti valves and now we're gonna have them at the nearest Suzook dealer, installed. Remarkable. It's a first for Japanese four cylinder engines and you'd have to go as exotic as a $30K Ducati 749R to find them elsewhere. What's the big deal here? Reciprocating weight. It's not just the pistons that go up and down in an engine, creating enormous inertia forces when changing direction. Valves bounce up and down too and any weight savings here by way of aero spec metals allows the valves to follow the camshafts closely while returning to place under spring force rather than crash into the piston at high revs. How high is high in the new Ti valved GSX-R? How about a blood chilling 16,000rpm and change? That's true MotoGP territory. Claimed power is up by five horsies, 120hp @ 13,800rpm (I know the spec sheet says 13K, but that's because of some obscure regulatory reason) while torque has been increased too, 51LbFt @ 10,800rpm. If you know to read between the lines, a 3000-rpm distance between torque and power peak hints at a very flexible engine, most other 600's don't even have a 2K span between peaks. More on that later.
Let's jump into the cycle side of things. The 1000 Gixxer received extruded frame spars (instead of stamped sheet spars) last year and now it's the 600's turn to get them. The 600 GSX-R's frame spars are indeed much leaner than before, hug the engine tighter and its hard not notice the reduced width of the whole package (including gas tank and between the footpegs distance) especially when compared to the old model. Just for the record, overall width at the widest fairing point has gone down by 1.7" with the accompanying reduction in frontal, drag creating area. Other frame novelties are a reduction in rake angle of almost one degree, it's now 23.25 while trail's been reduced too by 0.125" if you must know. Other two big news items are the 43-mm upside-down fork and the all-radial braking system. Component by component, it's nothing that we hadn't seen before, but compared to the most sophisticated 600 front end, that of the ZX-6RR, the Gixxer gets the bonus of the radial master pump which, as I was to discover, adds that extra crispy feel when braking at the limit. Speaking of fine details that make a difference, it might be worth noting items like the new engine management CPU with increased calculus power. It was upgraded from 16 bit to 32 bit and memory is up from 96kb to 256kb. It means that there is room now for no less than 8 ignition maps, that play musical chairs as you row through the box and even supply different mapping to each cylinder in the last two gears. With liter bikes ever pushing the weight down, Suzuki engineers put a real effort to shave weight off the 600 too and the list of savings is simply endless. How about a reduction of a 1.5 oz in each of the turn indicator lights?
If you're a poor fashion victim you'll be asking: where's the under tail can? If you were a Gixxer 1000 owner, you'd add: "Why does it look exactly like my bike?" I assume you've heard about that little thing called cost? The tech guy from Suzuki admitted that putting the can under the seat costs more money by way of the extra isolation materials, extra tubing length (more weight for both) and ads nothing they could measure other than cool factor when parked. Regarding the second issue, what you'd rather have? A 600 that looks so unlike its big brother or that friggin' 16K redline? Yep, if the costs Suzuki saved by using the same fairing molds equal the money spent on the Ti valves, after riding the GSX-R I know what I'd rather. BTW, in Italy at least, the GSX-R is going to undercut all the other 600's price by a few hundred Euros.
Time to ride the thing around the famous SBK venue of Misano. It could have been a day to remember if it only wasn't end of January
in the central Europe. The night before our test ride I had put three hours of driving through a wild snow storm from Milan to the Adriatic coast in the cheapest of rental cars (Sean, there wasn't even an AM radio!) while constantly asking myself: Why am I doing this, I'm not even an ice skater?! (Though I hear Sean likes to drive sideways in radioless rental cars) Luckily, the snow did not reach the coastal zone of Misano Adriatico and by 10:00 am of the next day , the light icing on the track had melted down while temperatures were up to slightly above freezing point. An outing on a wet track you'd never ridden on before on cold as stone tires is a daunting task to say the least, let alone actually track testing a frantic ss600. Yet, after a few laps, with some calories rubbed onto the tires, I had to admit I was enjoying myself. The friendliness with which the GSX-R 600 received me and the immediate confidence it inspires were remarkable. Where is the hard racer edge GSX-R's are known for? Forget about the extreme riding position of the old model. The new Gixxer is smack up to date ergonomic-wise with bars that are closer to the rider and a riding posture that is much more compact and modern, giving you a real possibility to raise your upper body while learning the way around. It's not CBR 600RR short but close while the extra narrowness between your knees and ankles is felt too.
Then there's that engine. On my first tentative laps I wasn't really paying attention to the revs, but then it hit me, since when do you ride a 600 without caring much about engine revs? So it looks like Suzuki's claim for bumped up torque is for real and those zillion ignition maps must be doing their job right cause by 600 standards the GSX-R engine can almost be logged. Watch the video and see how the thing pulls out from turns from as low as 7000. In these harsh morning conditions the GSX-R was a doodle to ride while short shifting my way around this easy to learn track. It didn't take long to learn that the GSX-R is blessed with amazing tires too. Bridgestone's new generation BT014 S (S signaling a special version made for the GSX-R) were actually managing to grip well the cold and wet track and I kept finding myself generating more lean angle than I bargained for.
So far so good, by my second stint, (the one with the videocam on) it had started to drizzle but both riders and bikes seemed warmed up enough to up the pace. This leads us to the other face of THAT engine. With more confidence in grip I start to wring the thing's neck and the ease with which it shoot's up to 15K is amazing. Then in the short chutes between Misano's "Variantes" (chicanes in Italian), I found myself stretching the GSX-R mill to 16K , right up to the braking points accompanied by that awe inspiring shriek. Simply put, having an effective rev range that stretches from 8-16K is an extremely useful boon, one that is certainly important also on the street and not just on the track. So by 8000 engine is pulling nice and clean, at 12K things hike up and after 14K you can sense the power curve flattening out somewhat towards the 16K mark. This superb over revving capability saved me from quite a few time consuming, chassis upsetting gearshifts. Talking by seat of the pants, I wouldn't hesitate calling the GSX-R's mill the best current 600 engine, right there with the 636 mill in terms of flexibility but maybe even more enjoyable because of that sky high redline. We'll have to wait for MO's dyno final verdict though. Last mental note from this stint, when you have such a screaming top end, you can gear down things and eventually shorten gaps between gears and that its really how it felt, you had to be really trying to catch the engine off-guard. Even out side its effective rev range, the Suzuki trademark twin throttle butterflies setup, otherwise known as SDTV, supplied supreme response; something that was double appreciated in the precarious conditions.I dedicate my next stint to the cycle side.
While pumping up the forks and tail at stand still, damping and springing felt somewhat mushy in their standard settings. Not a bad setup for a damp track but as the day advanced things where drying and corner speeds were raising. Yet despite the increasing grip and accompanying side and braking forces, the Gixxer remained utterly composed and stable, even through mental Curvone turn (4a in the pic). It's the last in a chain of wide open left handers and by the time you approach it, already leaned more than halfway over, you need to kick in the bike harder still at close to 120mph while still rolling the throttle on. Damp patches and all, the GSX-R was gracefully hinting that the only limit was my chickening throttle hand. Not even a hint of tail wagging or weaving. Then, on the hardest braking bit of the track, before the Tramonto horseshoe, chopping off from 150 down to 70 mph the USD fork remained unfazed while still soaking up the irregularities of the tarmac. Only a few of the more skilled Italian journo-guns around were asking for extra preload and rebound damping at the front but that was it. Talking about braking, the new all radial setup is the bollocks. It might not have the outright initial bite of say the RSV Factory Brembo setup but it more than makes up for it with its superb feel while braking at the limit. When I started to get cocky in my fourth stint, going in too hot and muttering four letter words, I found that I could easily dial in the extra braking force needed to chop off the speed in controlled fashion. Lever response remained constant through my stints but it must be said that Misano is not terribly demanding on brakes.