1999 600cc Supersport Shootout
Get the Flash Player to see this player.1 (Tie):1999 Yamaha YZF-R6
Like Yamaha's YZF-R1 last year, the YZF-R6 is perhaps the most anticipated motorcycle of the year. Perhaps the sexiest looking Japanese sportbike made, the YZF-R6 is an uncompromising extreme supersport, which for some riders may be its biggest flaw. This is a motorcycle that is certainly not for everyone, evident from the diversity of opinions from our testers: It received three first-place votes and two third-place votes.
The YZF-R6 is a motorcycle that demands a more aggressive, physical riding style and rewards form. It can be unforgiving: The rear end is light, and tends to spin the tire if it's not warm -- Harrell almost highsided the R6 while putting around the track for the first time and at slow speeds. At higher velocities it has a slight tendency to run wide and it requires a smooth throttle hand. Although the power charts don't really show it, the R6 spins quickly up into the higher rpm range. The power and acceleration rush reminds one of a two-stroke GP 250 bike, soft at the bottom but accelerating fast and hard to redline. But don't forget the R6 is a four stroke. Engine breaking exists, in fact it is a bit more pronounced than on the others.
If not careful, a ham-handed rider used to slower-revving and more-forgiving four strokes might find himself involuntarily wheeling away from a stoplight (not necessarily a bad thing) or draped over the handlebars under braking if he's not careful.
With the exception of needing heat in the rear tire, handling is rock-solid: Pick your spot (any line is fine, but early is better), lean over, accelerate throughout the turn then try to wipe the smile off your face. And you'll still feel like you could have pushed it harder through the corners.
At 420 pounds measured the YZF-R6 was the lightest motorcycle in the comparison. Although Paul Harrell recorded the fastest time of the day on the F4, the R6 has a prodigious amount of ground clearance, and with race-compound tires we suspect that the R6 might have posted faster lap times because the F4 was already at the limit of its ground clearance.
Of course, with a race pipe and footpegs, the Honda could've kept up, so suffice it to say that, in box-stock form, the Honda is slightly faster. Paul's best time aboard the R6 was 1:13.47. Roland's fasted lap of the day on any motorcycle was aboard the R6 at 1:13.96.
The YZF-R6 was such an anticipated motorcycle that the hype at times overtook reality. True, the R6's redline is an over-the-top 15,500 rpm, but its power peaks where the remainder of the test bikes top out -- at 12,750 rpm -- although the R6 still produces a whopping 88.8 bhp at 15,000 rpm. Such prodigious over-rev will be a great advantage to racers while a relatively big bike that revs to 16 sure does look cool on the street. The other piece of hype that should be discounted is that the R6 will produce well over 100 bhp at the rear wheel. While our R6 produced only 94.8 bhp, most stock R6s tested so far made between 94 and 97 bhp, excellent numbers but not quite the 103 - 107 that a few journalists (including MO) speculated.
The YZF-R6 didn't perform particularly well at the drag strip, posting a 11.107 second quarter mile at 125.96 miles per hour, third fastest in the test. The R6 doesn't have a lot of torque -- 42.2 ft-lbs at 11,750 rpm was the lowest of the four bikes -- nor power down low but it revs so quickly that it makes up for it, particularly on the track.
Smooth launches were difficult, however, the quick revving engine and the enormous power hit between 9500 and 12,750 -- an over 40 percent increase in power (from 66.5 to 94.8 bhp) -- along with its light weight conspired to repeatedly lift the front wheel off the ground, even in second gear.
Still, with its tight handling, great brakes (the strongest initial bite) for track riding, its adrenaline-producing power and acceleration, and its sleek, aggressive styling, the YZF-R6 was the bike of choice among the pro racers and our in-the-midst-of-a-mid-life crisis Managing Editor. It isn't as comfortable on the street as the F4 or the 6R, -- especially annoying is the handlebar position, which smacks your hands into the gas tank at full lock in either direction -- but it is not uncomfortable and it's certainly better than the GSX-R. Besides, Yamaha already makes an excellent all-purpose 600, the YZF-600, MO's 1997's 600 Supersport victor. Positioned as an extreme supersport for more skilled riders, the Yamaha YZF-R6 promises to become the canyon scratchers and part-time racers' bike of choice.
1 (Tie): 1999 Honda CBR600F4
The battle for 600 Supersport supremacy boiled down to a choice between raw attitude versus refined balance. While attitude carries more pop currency, balance should not be ignored.
What Honda achieved with the CBR600F4 is nothing sort of remarkable, creating a high-performance 600 supersport capable of winning Championships while not sacrificing the comfort and versatility that made its predecessor the top selling sportbike in the world. It should also be noted that while Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha produce other, more-street oriented 600s, Honda chose to make only one 600.
To do what Honda did -- design a motorcycle that in many circumstances will outperform other OEM's race-replica supersports yet remain as comfortable and easy-to-ride as the competition's street-oriented 600s -- should not be underestimated. Perhaps no other manufacturer could pull this off.
If you take delivery of a stock CBR600F4 with the suspension set at stock and ride home down the freeway, you'll swear you were on a plush sport tourer. When you're home, crank on the very accessible and easily adjustable spring, preload and compression and you'll have a super-fast, super-tight, aggressive canyon scratcher.
The F4 is light: at 428 pounds wet, only the R6 is lighter. The versatility of the F4 is amazing: This is a bike that can be enjoyed equally by both the expert card holder and the intermediate rider fresh from track school.
Pick any line going into the corner, flick it over and the F4 obeys without complaints. Mistakes are forgiven while smoothness is rewarded. The brakes are excellent, and although they don't have the same initial bite as the R6's, they are more progressive.
"The thing is, the bright yellow bike is so comfy that going in a straight line for awhile isn't such a bad thing."
If it's true that the YZF-R6's uncompromising handling and performance are also its flaws the same may be said for the CBR600F4's forgiving and refined balance. Without nary a care you can throw the Honda into a corner and the F4 will do as commanded. However, the CBR600F4 is almost too easy to ride, it takes almost too little forethought.
While a blessing for intermediate riders, experts might actually become bored on the F4, even if they are in reality going faster.
For example, while both racers preferred the R6 over the F4 and Paul Harrell was unequivocal in his preference for the Yamaha, his fastest lap of the day was actually on the F4 at 1:13.17 seconds, a half a second better than his fastest lap on the R6 and almost a full second faster than Roland Sands' best lap, which was on the Yamaha. Paul commented, although facetiously, that on the F4 he almost felt like he was on a cruiser, so friendly and comfortable and effortless was the ride.
For some riders -- Paul included -- Honda's emphasis on refinement and balance is less desirable than viscerally thrilling acceleration. Thrills aside the Honda had the most powerful motor, with horsepower measured at 97.4 bhp at 12,750 rpm and torque at 45.2 ft-lbs at 10,500 rpm.
The CBR600F4 posted the second fastest drag strip times of 11.049 seconds at 127.04 miles per hour. There is ample power down low, yet the throttle response was not as smooth as the Kawasaki's, and like the Yamaha and GSX-R there was a slight hesitation when first opening up the throttle before the power suddenly hit, making the F4 susceptible to wheelies off the line.
The F4 shifted as smooth as butter -- better than any of the other bikes tested here -- but its clutch turned out the be the weakest among the bikes, frying after only 11 passes.
The CBR600F4 was clearly designed with street riding in mind. It was the most comfortable bike for long distance and freeway riding. Wind and weather protection is excellent, and the rider is a little more upright and the footpegs are a little lower than on its competition. This makes for great street ergonomics but sacrifices ground clearance. On the track, in order to keep up with the Yamaha, we had to grind the heck out of the footpegs and muffler.
Overall the CBR600F4's balance and refinement helped push it into a tie with the YZF-R6 for 600 supersport supremacy. It was the only motorcycle to either be voted in first or second place by each evaluator. For racers and extreme riders, the R6 seemed to be the bike of choice, but for those who need that rare motorcycle that can do everything from high performance track scratching to spirited sport touring to comfortable long distance freeway riding, the CBR600F4 is your motorcycle.
True, the F4 is street oriented, yet it surrenders nothing when it comes the supersport performance. Thrills and raw performance grab attention, particularly among motorcycle journalists, yet refinement and balance is not any less valuable. There might not be a more refined high-performance sportbike made, for that not-so-small feat of engineering we believe the F4 deserves a share of top honors.