First Ride: Suzuki RF600


Suzuki's entry in the hot-selling 600cc sportbike class - the RF600 - is a decidedly average bike, one that it will probably emerge as a salesroom winner. A contradiction? Not really: The RF600 is not the most powerful, fastest, nor the best handling mid dleweight, so the folks at Suzuki must be counting on potential buyers to look past the spec-sheet and judge this motorcycle on its merits. This strategy worked for the press-panned Katana series, one of Suzuki's best-sellers in recent years. Will this ap proach be successful for the RF600? It shouldn't be, at least not this year.

Sure, the RF600 has a lot going for it. The sexy full-coverage bodywork turns many heads in all its arrest-me-red glory - from the Ferrari-like side panel grates to a tailpiece that incorporates a highly visible brake light and a GP-style underbelly fair ing, the RF600 is drop-dead gorgeous. Indeed, it's one of the best-looking bikes we've ever seen. But the beauty here is only skin-deep.

The motor, canted forward 55 degrees to give incoming charge a more vertical path past the intake valves (it's always easier to "drop" charge into the cylinder than it is to suck it "up"), is an upgraded version of the discontinued GSXR600's mill, certa inly not the strongest motor in its class. This 16-valve powerplant barely managed 80 rear-wheel horsepower on a Dynojet dyno.

No, this bike won't be winning any Supersport trophies this year. And it won't be winning any Friday-night drag races, either: Off-idle carburetion is horrible, with a massive flat-spot that lags all the way to 4000 rpm. Launching the RF600 can be like r iding a tempermental two-stroke - get it above the low-rpm flat spot and it'll take off, come off the line with the revs too low, and you'll bog, stall, and generally look like a wimp. This is a new-for-'95 feature, as the '94 version had no such problems .

All of this is wrapped in a steel perimeter frame which is painted to match the bodywork. A few pounds were gained using steel, but it's an acceptable trade-off for Suzuki: Their GSXR line has a tendancy to wobble under high-speed, high-stress (read: racing) situations, and the RF600 exhibited no such traits when we tested it at Laguna Seca. The perimeter frame also gave the engineers more room behind - and above - the motor than the twin-cradle design of the GSXRs, and they made good use of the space . A huge, 6-liter air box mates to a rack of four 33mm downdraft Mikuni carburetors, which in turn feed the motor through a redesigned inlet system.

I developed this strange love-hate relationship with the RF

The seating position is very racer-like, replete with painfully low bars and high forward-mounted foot pegs that perch the rider in a painfully canted-forward position. Half an hour on the freeway is too much, and long-distance touring is a masochistic p roposition, at best. Forget about spending any time on the pillion seat, too--it's high, narrow and a pain the backside.

A pair of 41mm conventional forks keep the front wheel securely attached to the rest of the motorcycle. Adjustable for spring preload only, they work well both at the track and on the street, equally at home soaking up freeway expansion joints as they ar e blitzing around Laguna Seca Raceway, where we spent a day evaluating the RF.

The revised-for-1995 rear shock offers adjustable spring-preload and more-effective rebound-damping adjustments - Suzuki's have been plagued in recent years with too-soft damping. Unfortunately, this year, Suzuki overshot the mark, dialing in excessive r ebound into the rear. Even on the lowest of four settings, the rear shock still rebounds too slowly, meaning this is one of the few OEM shocks that will actually get better as time wears and it begins to fade.

Tires are high-quality Dunlop D202s that offer excellent grip and acceptable mileage. Wheels are 17x3.5" up front and 17x4.5" out back, meaning that finding high-quality replacement rubber won't be a problem.

Once at speed, the RF is an easy bike to ride fast. Clutch action is light and positive, and there is good throttle response once clear of the flat spot. A six-speed transmission diverts power to the ground and shifts very smoothly with a short click of the shifter. Gear ratios are closely spaced, but without the too-tall first gear found on most race-replicas. The bike turns into corners easily and neutrally, and stays on line without constant rider input. At a claimed 429 pounds dry, the RF is light en ough to be ridden hard without feeling like you've just gone 10 rounds with big George Foreman, and it hides its relatively long 56.3 inch wheelbase remarkably well.

This is a beautiful motorcycle!

Out on the open highway, a windscreen provides ample coverage to hide behind, and there is an integrated push-to-open glovebox in the left fairing that's within easy reach. The box is big enough to hold a couple packs of smokes, or a garage-door opener. Thankfully the gas tank, which hold 4.7 gallons of juice, is quite tall, meaning that it's a short dip to lean on and rest aching wrists and arms (which will ache, no matter how jaded a sport-bike enthusiast you are!) while cruising.

There is an amber low-fuel indicator light on the dash-panel that alerts the rider when there is about 80 miles left on tap. Expect to see this light often. On average, we went 34 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and when sport-touring, and about 42 mp g when droning at constant speeds. The light is simply a reminder, as there is also a fuel petcock with reserve switch.

Overall, though, we weren't impressed with the RF. If you don't mind spending the time and money to replace the handlebars (easily changed since they bolt on above the triple clamps) and dig through the carburetors to replace low-speed pilot jets, the RF 600 could be the perfect bike for you. Indeed, once the kinks are worked out, the silky-smooth engine and striking beauty of this machine could make it a timeless masterpiece. But in stock form, Suzuki's missed the mark with the RF600--its flaws simply ou tnumber the benefits, especially for 6699 dollars.

Specifications:
Manufacturer:  Suzuki 
Model: RF600R 
Price:  $6699 (American Dollars) 
Engine:  dohc, 16-valve, Inline-Four 
Bore x stroke: 65.0 x 45.2mm 
Displacement: 599 cc 
Carburetion: (4) 36mm Mikuni 
Transmission:  6-speed 
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. 
Seat height: 30.5 in. 
Fuel capacity: 4.7 gal. 
Claimed dry weight: 429 lbs. 

Impressions

1. Brent Plummer, Editor ***

Smooth and supple with to-die-for looks that had several ingrates blurting: 'Dude, is that a Ducati?' at the local watering hole, the RF600 left me grasping for greatness: I fell in love with the looks and ultra-svelte motor after 10 minutes of ri ding, but disliked the darned carburetion glitch and positively hated the RF after spending four hours in the saddle. Ouch! Don't even think about riding the RF600 for more than a half hour - the low-mounted handlebars will have your wrists crying for rel ief in no time, and are a long-distance call away from the seat.

After a 1000 miles in a week or so, I developed this strange love-hate relationship with the RF, and offer up this opinion: The 1995 RF600 needs work. If you're willing to put in the hours (or pay someone else) to fix the riding position, carburetion gli tch and shell out the better half of 1000 dollars for a new rear shock in addition to the $6699 asking price, the RF would be an awesome bike. But as is, mediocrity is the word, and I give it three stars.

2. Mike Franklin, Road Test Editor  **

Our bike could have benefitted tremendously from a jet kit - the lean spots made the bike a handful to launch smoothly, and robbed all-important mid-rang e power. Higher bars and lower pegs would go a long way towards making the RF a very good all-around street bike. In its current confused state, I give the RF 2 stars.

3. Tom Fortune, Contributing Writer  ***

I found the RF600 to be an enjoyable middleweight with drop dead looks. This is a beautiful motorcycle! With it's blood-red paint and gill-like side ope nings on the fairing, you're reminded of a Ferrari Testarossa. The initial impression is that the bike is quite large for a 600. Feels kind of wide. And heavy. But once underway, the RF has good balance. The riding position was okay, with a nice seat/peg relationship for someone my size (6'2") but Suzuki should have put a little bit taller bars on the RF; I felt I was leaning too far forward on my wrists. The passenger accommodations, however, were simply awful. Handling was fairly stable, the brakes had good feedback at the lever, but ground clearance was a limiting factor. I found myself wishing for more midrange punch when riding our local point-and-squirt mountain road. A bothersome driveline snatch made on-off throttle cornering with the RF a bit of a handful. For me, its more of a middleweight sport-tourer. And when ridden within it's means, the RF600 rates 3 stars on our scale.

What the ratings mean:

***** Break out the credit card! A superior product that is the best in it's field.

**** A truly great product that, if you are in the market, will serve you well.

*** A good product whose merits outweigh its flaws.

** Mediocre to poor performance, think twice before buying.

* Buyer Beware! This stuff sucks! Don't go near it.

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