2003 Six Hundred Shootout Part I: Pure Prurient Performance
Is 636cc Cheating? Kawasaki ZX-6R : Ducati 749S : Yamaha YZF-R6 : Suzuki GSX-R600 : Triumph Speed 4
Get the Flash Player to see this player.Jumping from GSX-R onto Yamaha is like trading in an old car that ran fine, but... For one thing, where the Suzuki carries its gauges on an unattractive steel bracket, the Yamaha dashboard is plasticked in like a finished-off basement (so's the Kawasaki). The refinement theme carries through in everything about the bike: throttle response, brakes, suspension. Everything is 13.6-percent crisper and more responsive, and like the previous R6, the distance from you to the clip-ons is short and enhances front-tire feedback. And unlike the deep, squishy Suzuki saddle, the Yamaha seat's flatter and firmer--the better to feel the rear tire.
And yet... All was not perfect with this Yamaha: Sean felt it and I felt it and Will Tate felt it: now and then, an occasional, instantly-gone unsettling feeling like the front tire wanted to tuck. The R6 never did fold up the front, but it slowed enough to affect the results of the test. Worn-out Dunlop 208? Don't think so, but I never felt this at the Spanish launch of the bike a month or two ago when we were rolling on Michelin Pilot Sport street rubber. Um, I wonder if the front Michelin in Spain was a 120/70 instead of the 120/60 our current test bike wears (mostly for fashion's sake)?
There is no place else to fault the Yamaha. Down the straights, the bigger displacement Kawasaki doesn't feel to have much advantage, nor do the 636's radial brakes seem to be much of an advantage diving into the corners.
On the Yamaha, you would never really know the infield circuit at Fontana has any bumps, nor would you have any idea that anybody would ever accuse the last R6 of being unstable under power. This one's a train, a really responsive 400-pound train.
And if you were Helen Keller, it would be tough to tell the Kawasaki from the Yamaha. Ergoes are very similar, the crisp control feels are in place along with a nice, light close-ratio gearbox.
"Handling-wise, it would be tough for me to tell the Kawasaki from the Yamaha"
At my speed, the brakes feel not as strong as the Yamaha's but at Alexander speed, he says, the feel is just the opposite: you have to be able to really carry the mail to appreciate the Kawasaki's stiffer inverted fork and radial brakes. (Either that or you have to be over 200 pounds...)
Handling-wise, it would be tough for me to tell the Kawasaki from the Yamaha, apart from the fact that the Kawasaki's Bridgestones seem better-matched to the task. The Kawasaki feels just as light and responsive, but a little stiffer out back than the Yamaha--which is how we know there are a few bumps at Fontana. The Kawasaki fairing might be slightly larger than the Yamaha's, its funky perimeter LCD tach is a little harder to read but still functional when you adjust to it (there's a lap timer too)--and like so many Kawasakis before it, this one has a most delectable exhaust rasp/intake honk, which is only fitting since they adorn the fire-breathingest engine in the class; sit back and the front tire rises in second gear (so does the Yamaha in fact). At the end of the day, I went 0.6 seconds faster on the Kawasaki than on the Yamaha, 1.5 seconds faster on the Kawasaki than the Suzuki.
2. Sean Alexander:
33, nasty (but damn fast) Fat Bastard - 6'2, 212 lbs
TRIUMPH SPEED FOUR
I was reminded of my Supermotarded past when I hopped back on Triumph's Speed Four. BANG!--suddenly I was back on my CR500, things were getting sideways and my smile was broadening. I ran out of laps before catching JB and Will T, but oh yes, I was gaining fast and ready to put the motardish hurtin' on those boys with my trusty CR500/Speed Four. The motor is ok, the suspension and chassis are very good, and the brakes are totally awesome. Couple this with friendly, high-leverage ergos and you get a fun bike to ride fast at the track and in the canyons. In the "real" world of blind corners, oncoming traffic, cops, squids and slick spots, the Speed Four can probably be ridden just as quickly as this latest crop of 600 racer reps.
It's expensive and it's pretty, it also works well, in a calm and reassuring manner. I've decided that I really like the styling of the new Ducati Superbikes, and our yellow 749S, with its white number field tail section, strikes me as prettiest of all. Excellent stock suspension and Pirelli Supercorsas enable the 749 to feel planted and smooth with no drama whatsoever at the track, allowing the highest lean angle and corner speed as well as killer drive from the apex with your choice of spinning or hooked-up rear tire.
Unfortunately once up onto the center of its rear tire, our 749 was unable to fling itself down the straights with quite the ghusto mustered by the inline fours, partially due to its heavier weight, lower redline and slightly lower power.
"It was able to narrowly beat the GSX-R 600"
It was however able to narrowly beat the GSX-R 600, which was afflicted with mediocre D207 street meats. Another factor in the Ducati's 4th place finish is that when my buddy Dave and I took the bikes to the LACR Dragstrip, for a little Wednesday night drag fest, the Duc felt just plain wrong--its dry clutch acting like a loud rattling light switch. With abundant traction, this led to bogging and lurching, followed by decent pull through the remainder of the run. Mr. Duc, I really do love you, but your good looks and reassuring manners do not outweigh your excessive girth and your 95% cost premium.
Surprise! This thing has a great motor, I said to myself on my first out-lap aboard the GSX-R 600. Whoa! great brakes, I said to myself on my second lap as I entered the braking zone for turn one. Unfortunately, the squirmy tires and very soft stock suspension settings prevented me from capitalizing on the motor and brakes.
I was able to bottom the suspension with ease on smooth level pavement, when I would put a little muscle in to a sharp transition.
"For club racers who immediately change tires and suspension tuning, the GSX-R is an excellent choice, due to Suzuki's excellent privateer support, and the huge aftermarket for racing GSX-Rs."
This isn't ideal. After cranking in a little more spring preload and a full turn on compression damping front and rear, the bottoming went away, but the tire squirm remained.
I'd never ridden a GSX-R600 before, so I listened to the tires and never really pushed for fastest time. I was reminded how good the brakes, engine and chassis were, each time I jumped back on it throughout the day. I have no doubt that with a couple hundred dollars worth of suspension tuning and some decent track tires, the little GSX-R would have been at the pointy end of the field. For club racers who immediately change tires and suspension tuning, the GSX-R is an excellent choice, due to Suzuki's excellent privateer support, and the huge aftermarket for racing GSX-Rs.
At the dragstrip, the Suzuki was easy to launch, but fell slightly behind the newer Yamaha and Kawasaki (though to be truthful, I am a terrible drag racer and my pace shouldn't be taken as gospel on 600-class dragstrip performance).
What a trick and sweet little bike! The Yamaha YZF-R6 is compact, beautifully finished and has a killer 104hp 600cc motor. Overall, aside from the ultra steep seat on the ZX-6R, the Yamaha feels quite similar to the Kawasaki in ergonomics. The funny thing is, in the real world, even with a flatter seat, it doesn't seem to be quite as comfortable to ride.
At the tracks (both roadcourse and dragstrip) the R-6 was my second fastest bike. Like the Suzuki, the Yamaha seemed to be held back a little by its stock Dunlop D208 tires. As Johnny B mentioned, it gave the unsettling impression that it wanted to fall into the corners and tuck its front tire.
Also as Johnny B mentioned, it never did, and indeed was consistently near the top of the charts at the track. At my size, I might just be outside the target that the engineers were aiming for when they designed the R6, so my comfort and "feel" impressions should be taken with a grain of salt, unless you are an aggressive 6'+ rider. At the dragstrip, the R6 was the easiest to launch and the trick shift light was entertaining to play with, while tucked in and pinned. With different tires and another 36cc, this bike would keep the ZX-6R honest.
There's no denying the Kawasaki ZX-6R's "edge." It is evident in the styling, in the handling and especially in the 636cc motor. This bike is so close to the edge that it is on the edge of crushing your naughty bits every time you ride downhill or over a bump on the freeway, due to the extreme slope of the seat and extreme height of the tail, in its "stinkbug" racer stance.
It is also on the edge of violent headshake, when you slam it right-left through the chicanes at Fontana, or when you are hard on the gas in 3rd gear at 110mph and you hit the right shaped dip or bump in the road, due to its raceresque geometry and riding position.
This is a take no prisoners/ask no mercy race bike, that happens to have turn signals. Don't let my description scare you away though, the bike is actually surprisingly comfortable in every day life and doesn't feel like it is going to bite you. You might want to invest in a steering damper, though. Speaking of every day life, the bike's edge might be partially responsible for it being livable on the freeway, because the extreme forward mounted seat makes the reach to the extreme low clip-ons shorter, allowing you to sit almost upright, with your hands close to your body (knees in my case) That seat may be too steeply raked, but it's still comfortable to your tailbone after over an hour on the freeway. I may have felt fastest and most comfortable at the limit, on the Ducati, but the time sheets don't lie. At Fontana, I was nearly 2 seconds per lap faster on the ZX-6R. That's nothing to sneeze at. Factor in purchase price, dominating dragstrip and dyno performances and the winner is clear.