1999 600cc Supersport Shootout
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Basically, the voting guidelines are as follows: Money is not a factor because all the motorcycles are roughly the same price. Evaluators were asked pick the bike they'd most likely plunk down their own hard-earned cash on, then rank the remaining bikes in descending order. Yes, these decisions are somewhat subjective but we've come to believe that there is no quantitative way to evaluate motorcycles. Bikes are a passion and many factors come into the mix, some of which are more important than others, but none of which are universal for all enthusiasts. A motorcycle might have all the right parts yet for a number of reasons the evaluator just didn't click with it.
To help protect against tests becoming too subjective we try to enlist as many opinions as possible in order to achieve a consensus. Also, the voting system keeps personal bias out of our stories -- any form of conspiracy would, by default, require that everyone agrees to conspire, which is far too complex for our simple minds, as we're still fighting over what's for lunch.
The bikes were ranked 4, 3, 2 and 1, respectively, with the last place motorcycle receiving one point per evaluator and the first place bike receiving a point total equal to the number of motorcycles tested plus a one point bonus for being voted first. In this comparison a bike chosen for first place received four points plus an extra point for a total of five points per evaluator. The second place bike received three, the third place two and the last place bike received one.
The results broke down as follows:
The Honda CBR600F4 and the Yamaha YZF-R6 tied at 19 points a piece. The ZX-6R came in third with 11 points and the GSX-R trailed with seven points.
"In short, this is a class where just about every riding style and desire is satisfied."
The racers liked the GSX-R for its excellent performance on the track but voted it lower than the Yamaha and the Honda because its design is a little long in the tooth and it's a little heavier and down on power.
The journalists simply didn't like it on the street. The racers didn't like the ZX-6R because it was the heaviest and the hardest to handle on the track. The journalists liked the ZX-6R because its was comfortable, had great throttle response and went the fastest in a straight line, great for dusting that annoying squid next to you at a traffic light. Everyone respected the balance and refinement of the CBR600F4, journalists more than the racers, who, along with the Managing Editor, leaned toward the R6 because of its styling and thrill factor.
In short, this is a class where just about every riding style and desire is satisfied. Expert and extreme canyon scratchers may lean toward the YZF-R6 while those who want a high performance motorcycle without sacrificing comfort may lean toward the CBR600F4. The ZX-6R will have many fans among those who are enthralled by its awesome motor and straight-line speed, while the GSX-R will still remain the club racers ride of choice because of Suzuki's large contingency program and the ready availability of racing parts and accessories. There isn't a bad motorcycle in this bunch, so pick your poison and try to stay an at least one wheel.
1. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief
"Exhilarating" and "Awesome" were the words spoken by everyone who rode the R6, and while I agree that it's a titillating ride, my only caveat is that you be honest with yourself about what you're going to be doing with your spiffy new 600.
The overwhelming majority of our readers spend their days in general commuting tasks, with sport touring a distant second.
In these two arenas, Honda's F4 and Kawasaki's 6R are better choices, so if your ego can deal with not having the latest and best 600, test ride them both -- chances are, you'll know which one is for you within a couple miles.
If flash and thrills are your ticket, bully for you, get the R6, you'll love it. Better yet, get an R1, it's twice the fun!
2. Paul Harrell, AMA Pro Thunder #1 Plate Holder
4. Kawasaki ZX-6R:
Kawasaki did their homework as far as the motor is concerned. It had power in all the right places and exiting hard on the gas made for simple, nice and easily predictable slides. It had a similar powerband to the Honda with a little more grunt on top. Unfortunately the chassis didn't support the motor. It felt heavy entering corners and was difficult to change lines mid-corner. The brakes were not as responsive as the others, making me a bit leery in places where harder braking was called for. All in all the ZX-6R can be a lot better bike if massaged in the right places.
3. Suzuki GSX-R600:
Good brakes, good chassis and an okay motor with a flat spot at about 10,000 rpm. The bike doesn't feel any different than last year's model, but it will be a serious contender if they can get more out of their powerplant. Just a good, solid bike out of the box, good for the track, good for the street.
2. Honda CBR600F4:
It was so close between the F4 and the R6. Super power and great delivery as well as a chassis to back it up. You can throw it into a corner without a care in the world and if you need to change a line, just point and fire. The brakes were great, leaving plenty of room for error. I thought: "Man, this is the bomb." That is until everything started dragging. What's up with that?
1. Yamaha YZF-R6:
This is the definition of the latest, greatest 600 supersport bike in all aspects. After the first few laps, only two words came to mind -- "bad" and "ass." It felt like a mini superbike. I found myself going back to the Yamaha every time after getting bored with all the others. The transmission is quiet and shifts well. The thing revs to the moon, which is perfect for racers who don't want to compromise one-half a tooth shorter or taller. It also felt extremely light and had plenty of ground clearance. Take any line any time, wait to see God, then brake. Even though it looks small, it has plenty of room and it's comfortable. After the track testing was over I stepped away and noticed that the bike's aggressive appearance set it apart from all the rest. It made me want to beat it with a bat just to find something wrong with it.
3. Roland Sands, AMA 250 GP #1 Plate Holder
Four strokes. I wasn't so sure about the whole four-stroke concept at first. I'm a two-stroke guy and it seems like nearly every four stoke I've ridden has left me with a somewhat empty feeling. This is not the case with the new 600s. It was a gas riding these bikes.
Truly, I was in shock at how well the new R6 handled and how much grunt the F4 had. The Kawasaki was very fast and if not for a somewhat large-feeling chassis I would have really liked this bike. The Suzuki is tried and true, a bit outdated with this bunch but a still very strong overall package.
"The acceleration on top was phenomenal. It screams like a banshee."
The YZF-R6. Somebody at Yamaha had the wise idea to put a 600 motor into a TZ250-like chassis. The results are stunning. The Yamaha is a four stroke that actually handles and has rock-solid feedback right off the showroom floor. I was very impressed. It felt so solid throwing it into any corner, it would just stick and say: "Hey, what up guy, I thought you could ride, but you're just slow." I always felt like I could push it harder going into the corners. The acceleration on top was phenomenal. It screams like a banshee. The powerband is like a two stroke -- soft on the bottom with power on top. Can you say whoosh? And the brakes are just bad ass.
The CBR600F4 was my next choice. I liked this bike a lot but felt it to be geared more towards the street. The motor was just fabulous with plenty of torque and top-end boost. I was able to use the gears as I pleased with plenty of usable power throughout the rev range. Shifting was smooth as butter. My only problem was it felt as if I was riding on top of the bike instead of in it. It felt more top heavy than the R6 and was less stable upon corner entrances. Once in the corner it seemed to grip well and had very good feedback from the rear tire. I could slide the F4 effortlessly. It was also my favorite wheelie bike of the bunch. The brakes were good but not as solid feeling as the R6's.
Next was the Suzuki GSX-R600. I was very comfortable pushing this bike hard right. It has a very racy seating position and begs to be pushed hard from the get go. I love this chassis, but that is also its downfall. When your not riding to its limits it feels a bit strange. It lacks in bottom end and it also shakes and rattles more than the rest of the bikes, lending to a less-than-finished feel. Its true self only shines on the track and with this group of bikes, it's under-powered and a bit out-classed, but it's still a kick in the pants on the track. Needs some more brakes, motor and some bolts tightened or something to stop the rattling.
The Kawasaki ZX-6R had great motor, the feel and the sound of the engine gave me wood. I really dug how it came on gradually and progressively built to a howling banshee. It felt great, but I have some problems. It felt like the biggest bike of the bunch. My legs felt far apart and stretched out and it was more of a reach to the bars. The suspension felt soft and without much feel from the front or the back. We worked on the chassis and got it to turn in good but the bike just wallowed and spun the tire way earlier than the other bikes at the corner exits. It made for some exciting moments but wasn't very fast on the track. The brakes were decent but didn't have the exceptional bite of the Honda or the Yamaha. The gearbox was nice and positive.
All in all, I haven't had this much fun in ages riding street bikes. Nothing is more fun than burning the rear tire off one of these bikes coming out of a corner.
4. Mark Hammond, Managing Editor
This is me. This is what I do. All day. Every day. I look like this. Why? For a lot of reasons. Perhaps because I just read an e-mail from some maniacally angry male reader who says he's gonna write to every advertiser and potential advertiser not to patronize MO because the umbrella girls stories and the Bartels ads degrade women. Why is it that these complaints almost exclusively come from men?
Perhaps it's because one of the OEMs wants their overdue bike back today, now, pronto, but since Norman is off with the MO Van and Brent took the truck and went who-knows-where I have to pretend I'm not in when they call. Could also be because crazy George charged the race team $800 for cylinders he didn't cut right, which we shouldn't have had to buy except that the sets we already have are defective, but he won't warranty his stuff and forces us to buy new sets.
"I want a bike that makes me forget about work, forget that I live in LA, which offers great and crummy people."
Gee, here comes the tool guy with another set of $500 screwdrivers. Just what we need. Oh yeah, there's also the anal fuel guy who never invoiced us then threatens to sue over a 60-day late $35.00 race fuel invoice, never mind that it takes almost $100.00 to file suit in California anyway. It's raining, too. Wonderful. When is the landlord gonna fix the roof? Will AT&T ever stop calling? We don't want your long-distance service and no, we don't want to save money because if we did we wouldn't be racing.
The Chicago Bulls might have the worst basketball team this decade.
What does this have to do with my choice for best 600 Supersport? Everything. Like most of you, I find work, even with the cool perks MO offers (press intros, newest and coolest bikes, often before the public, being the envy of the Rock Store, etc.), for the most part a drag. I need to blow off steam. I need get as far away from work as possible. The quicker the better. That's why I ride. That's why I/you/we ride, isn't it? Because we want to, not because we need to. Instead, I need to call the plumber, the toilet won't stop hissing.
I want a bike that makes me forget about work, forget that I live in LA, which offers great and crummy people. The bike has to look cool. It has to be exciting. It has to make me focus. It has to draw me down into the garage to admire it for hours on end.
Among these four motorcycles the bike that does it best for me is Yamaha's YZF-R6. Greg and I argued about the R6 versus the CBR600F4. In an attempt to dissuade me -- if I'd swung my vote, it would've broken the tie -- he went point by point, through every conceivable category and attribute. I found that head-to-head I either preferred or believed the F4 to be superior in 15 categories, the YZF-R6 in 9 and tied in 7. Believe me, I'd be ecstatic owning any of these motorcycles, but if I had to choose, I'd own the YZF-R6 over the F4 or the Kawasaki or Suzuki. Why? It's plain and simple: it gets me off.
5. Greg McClure, Associate Editor
"My friends are so depressed/I feel the question of your loneliness …" Anthony Kiedis's words echo rhetorically through the hallways of Mark's impression. Or something. The fact is, the R6 is one fine piece of two-wheeled engineering, fast and edgy, with a breathtaking top-end rush that forces your face into a big, fat smile. Nevertheless, Mark is following his heart and not his head, and this is where most love affairs, in the end, go terribly awry.
"Give me the Dana Scully of bikes: The F4. She's intelligent, beautiful without being too beautiful, over-educated, and she secretly carries a gun and handcuffs in her pocket at all times which can come in handy if you decide to get a little wild."
What if the R6 was a potential mate? She would definitely be hot, probably hotter and faster than is healthy for most men, which is always the one you think you want but in the end turns out to be the one that rips your still-beating heart from your chest and, as you watch helplessly, devours it bite by bite, your blood dripping down her chin while she laughs and tells all your friends what a lousy lover you were.
Not that I have any experience with this, I'm just saying, you know, "hypothetically". But the point is made.
The R6 is a high-maintenance mistress, riding style-wise. She doesn't tolerate mistakes as well as others, she isn't super comfortable in casual situations, and while she's got loads of ground clearance, unless you're truly in a position to make the most of it, you'll never appreciate her true talents as often as you'd like. Sure, she's gorgeous and can fill your nights with ecstasy and your friends' hearts with envy, but she's demanding like some certain Italian mistresses that come to mind, and she won't take your crap. Nah, too much work for me, this Cindy Crawford of motorcycles.
Give me the Dana Scully of bikes: The F4. She's intelligent, beautiful without being too beautiful, over-educated, and she secretly carries a gun and handcuffs in her pocket at all times which can come in handy if you decide to get a little wild.
The F4 is wholly desirable because of her refinement. She's way comfortable without sacrificing sheer agility in the canyons (heh). You can spend hours with her and still feel like she's your best friend. She's forgiving. Get caught distracted on a sunny Sunday ride and find you might go a little wide at speed? Don't worry. Just lean her in a little more. It's okay with her. She doesn't mind. She loves you.
But decide you need to catch the guy on the R6 that just passed you? If you've got the way, she's got the will. The fact is, she's so secure with herself, the R6 doesn't intimidate her. She knows that her powerband is even and usable all through her rev range, and there aren't any sudden rushes or surprises. Sure, sure, I know: But what about passion? What about excitement? Well, it's there. There's definitely great low end and streetability, and if that isn't quite as thrilling as a night with a supermodel, well, Dana's a lot smarter. She'll never bore you and she'll indulge your weird fantasies like "Let's pretend you're an alien and I'm the curious FBI agent!"
The ZX-6R is similar, just not quite as educated and a little tamer. She doesn't carry a gun. She might still have handcuffs though. She'll indulge your fantasies, but not the weirder ones. But she's so very comfortable and surprising in a different sense. As soon as you get her alone she kicks in with that engine, and baby, you're in for a ride. Hold on, smile, enjoy it. It will always be there, and it's all yours. The ZX-6R's like Willow on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. She's not quite as hot as Buffy, but she's got a few tricks up her sleeve.
The GSX-R is really only built for one thing, and she's looking a little grey here and there. But she's available and still pretty firm so if you're into what she's into then you can't go wrong. There's lots of examples I can think up, but nothing that won't get me in trouble or four hundred "You're-An-Egocentric-Male-Bastard" emails.