2005 Best of the Best: R6 v. GSX-R1000
"There's no replacement for displacement!" says Sean.
"It's not what you ride, it's how well you ride it!" says Pete.
"Can we go home now?" says Gabe.
Does anybody really need a liter-sized sportbike? Aside from a few hundred racers and genuinely fast track-day enthusiasts, I think I can safely say no. We sportbike junkies know this instinctively, as we've all been passed by better riders on slower machinery. But in these wondrous times, owning a late-model 1000cc sportbike means having a bike with the light, responsive handling of a 600, but with power nobody even dared dream of having access to just ten years ago.
Why even bother with the 600s at all? Nothing can match the mix of rocket-sled acceleration and featherweight handling the latest harvest of Japanese 1000s offers. In fact, the average claimed dry weight of a 2005 Japanese 1000cc superbike is just 20 pounds more than the average weight of its 600 class counterpart. When the CBR900RR came out over 12 years ago, the hyperbole was that it had 600-class weight with open class power, but it barely produced the horsepower that the top 600s make now. Since products like the ZX-10R and GSX-R1000 have emerged, we now at last really have machinery that makes power like a GP bike from 10 years ago carrying less weight than a 600 from five years back. And with the 600's creeping up in price, the 1000s seem to be a bargain at just a couple of grand more.
We still buy 600s because what looks good on paper might not translate into real-world superiority. For instance, someone spent millions making "Gigli", and I owned a Razor scooter briefly before I purposely left it on the bus. Is owning a 1000cc monster-motored street bike the most satisfying sportbike experience? Or is it better to have merely adequate power and forgiving handling? If a 1000 was the "ultimate sportbike", wouldn't everybody own one after a minimal training period on a lowly 600?
To find out, we decided to pit 2005's best supersport against 2005's best open-classer in a week-long, street and track slugfest. The Yamaha R6, one of the most popular 600s ever, against the GSX-R1000, a terrifying, yet amusing beast that awakens the 16 year-old hooligan living within us all.
2005 Yamaha YZF-R6 - 105 hp - $8,399
Winner, 2005 Middleweight Supersport Shootout
The R6 has always been a benchmark in sportbike design. It has been regarded by owners and journalists as having a good blend of high performance, reliability and comfort.
Revamped for 2005 with chic upside-down cartridge front forks and radial-mount brake calipers and radial-pumping brake master cylinder and a better-breathing engine, the second-generation R6 is a turn-key trackbike that makes 105 hp at the back wheel, not counting for ram-air. You can read all about the tech stuff in our intro article, but rest assured it is pretty standard 600cc sportbike stuff: liquid-cooled, inline-four engine with 16 valves and an oversquare bore, and the not-so-usual 15,500 rpm redline. Revamped fuel injection results in 40mm Mikuni fuel injectors, the better for peak horsepower, while still providing smooth, seamless acceleration at all rpms.
Suspension and chassis are tuned just as carefully. The rigid twin-spar aluminum frame is slightly stiffer than the 2004's, and the suspension linkage has been raised 10mm for more progressive action and a higher seat. Rake, trail and wheelbase were also all increased to giveth back a little stability. The result is quick turning and rock-solid steadiness -- having your cake and eating it, too.
What's really remarkable is how even with such a sharp focus, the R6 is still a comfortable and civilized street ride. Sean called it "easily the most comfortable 600 Supersport on the planet", and it won our 2005 600 shootout on the basis of street comfort and rideability, because you people -- MO's readers in a survey -- decided we should bias our sportbike tests towards street riding, where 95% of you spend 100% of your riding. The bar/peg/seat relationship seems humane, the fairing coverage is good, but there is no impact on control when riding fast or on the tiny, compact feel of the bike.
Sean was an unhappy man when it came to the Yamaha winning the 600 Supersport shootout in March. For a veteran, sophisticated racer and rider with an almost molecular understanding of what makes a motorized vehicle good or bad, the R6's victory was an injustice. The Honda 600RR is a better bike on the track, the Kawasaki ZX6R is a lot faster, and the Suzuki GSX-R 600 is better balanced, faster on the track and almost as comfortable on the street. He also noted its instability, caused by the lack of a steering damper. But not even Sean, with his stockbroker-on-steroids powers of persuasion could turn the minds of the other testers, and the R6 won with a handy five-point margin.
Does being the best 600 mean being the best sportbike? Can balance, comfort, top-end horsepower and light, forgiving handling overcome the fantastic power-to-weight ratio that a first-string liter sportbike offers? It depends on the bike, so let's look at the Mike Tyson to the R6's Roberto Vasquez.
2005 Suzuki GSX-R1000 - 158 hp - $10,849
Winner, 2005 Open Supersport Shootout
If having a good set of statistics were the only thing that mattered to sportbike riders, you could get right back to work right now and I could start writing something else. The GSX-R1000 has an incredible set of numbers, for sure. With 158 hp measured on the MO dyno pulling just 365 claimed pounds, a stubby 55.3" wheelbase, and stout suspension and frame numbers, you know you're in for an entertaining ride.
2005 was a good year for the GSX-R, but the previous iteration (2003-2004) had slid to the back of the pack in the literbike wars, with plenty of power but a bland feel. Like the GSX-R 600, it's only real flaw was that it was a pretty standard motorcycle in its class, with less to make it noteworthy than its competitors. It seems insane to criticize a 158hp motorcycle that has legendary handling and armies of fans, but there you go. Competition and corporate pride make this a hotly contested class, and to be the best, a motorcycle must be competent, reliable, affordable and have character -- either through performance, handling, looks or plain old charisma -- enough to stand out from the pack.
The revised version knocked us on our editorial tushies when we rode it for the first time in our big shootout in May. It felt light, easy to handle and most of all big fun on the street and on the track. The styling is knockout, if a bit futuristic, and the components are top-notch, from the four-piston radial-mount brakes to the stout, fully-adjustable suspension. It's also comfortable for street riding and has a seat low and narrow enough for the little people to feel in charge at stoplights. Oh, yes, it's also got an incredible motor with torque, torque, torque. It's an excellent, well-rounded motorcycle, and it won our shootout because it was the favorite on the street and a close second favorite on the racetrack. It also doesn't hurt being the cheapest 1000cc repli-racer, especially when you're also the fastest and newest.
2005 meant an all-new 1000cc from Suzuki, and it has all the goodies. Suzuki's engineers started by designing a smaller chassis and cramming an 11cc-larger motor into it. They garnished it with a back-torque limiting clutch, sexy black diamond-like coating on the fork tubes, two injectors per cylinder for better breathing at high rpms, and a cool dual throttle valve system to smooth throttle response. If that all sounds like gibberish to you, rest assured it means that Suzuki stayed up late to give you a completely redesigned machine to win races -- and new customers -- with.
By now you should be getting the idea that we're pitting two very good but very different motorcycles against each other. Since they are what we think are the best in their classes, we are really asking which class is better, the 600 or the 1000? To find out, Sean Alexander, our fearless Grand Poobah, Pete Brissette, the Managing Editor (best zinger: "The only thing I really manage around here is my own stress!") and I, Gabe Ets-Hokin, Feature Editor rode the two bikes around on the street, commuting and at the racetrack to find out which was the bike we'd want to fulfil our sporting needs.
For the racetrack, we booked a day at Buttonwillow raceway with Track Club trackdays. Mark at the Track Club offered a true bargain at just $99 including lunch. They did it this cheaply on that day because they also ran a session for cars, alternating a car session with two motorcycle sessions. The cars added color and some of the car drivers offered rides in their shiny baubles, astonishing motorcycle riders with the amazing corner speeds cars offer.
Buttonwillow is a great track to test disparate bikes. Located about 125 miles from Los Angeles near Bakersfield, CA, Buttonwillow offers 14 turns in the full, three-mile configuration. It's a combination of high-speed sweepers, straights and technical, bumpy kookiness that might be one of the most fun tracks in the state. With laptimers armed and identical racetrack rubber mounted, we were ready to go.
Dunlop Qualifier Tires
Many of us refer to Dunlop tires by their model numbers, K591, D204, D208GP, etc., instead of their names "Elite" "Sportmax" and so on. It seems that's about to change, since Dunlop says this tire isn't a D209, it's simply a "Qualifier". Of course that didn't stop other riders from asking: "Are those the new D209s?" I guess old habits die hard, then again; we're going to have to change a lot of what we say about Dunlop.
You see, Dunlop seems to have jumped directly into the modern tire wars, with this new unit. Previously, riders chose Dunlops for their predictable and forgiving nature at the limit, but often found themselves wanting, when it came to maximum grip. In recent years, Michelin's Pilot series and Metzeler/Pirelli's Sportec/Diablo series have enjoyed a clear advantage in ultimate grip. That ends now.
Though the exact recipe is a closely-guarded secret, Dunlop's new Qualifier uses its carbon black and silica to great effect, with the new compound offering similar grip levels to a full-race D208GP "Star" but far superior low-temperature characteristics and much longer wear. The new Qualifier's construction and profile were engineered to shave weight and increase their footprint when leaned-over. Dunlop claims they are about a pound lighter and that the footprint has grown by 18% for the 120/70 front and 11% for a 190/50 rear, when compared to the D208 family.
We rode these tires to the track, then spent an entire day thrashing on them, followed by a long street/canyon ride home. After all was said and done, the Qualifiers looked almost as good as the day we mounted them. That's not too surprising, considering the current state of the art in sportbike tires. What was surprising, was how they felt when we were hammering them at the racetrack. Even the mighty GSX-R1000 couldn't make these tires sweat. Sure, they'd spin when I asked, but even full-race slicks spin on GSX-R1000s. What the Qualifiers didn't do, was squirm or get greasy like a street tire. They just acted like a sticky race tire with a predictable and forgiving "Dunlop" feel. On the street, they felt a lot like the OEM tires that came on our test bikes, which is to say transparent. They worked fine, steered fine, and felt fine, simply with more grip and without the usual race tire on the street temperature and wear issues.
A race tire for the street, was Dunlop's claim, but I suspect their actual target was Pirelli's Diablo Corsa. After spending some time on the new Qualifiers, I have no reservations about saying they hit the bulls eye. The grip and durability might be similar to the latest Pirellis and Michelins, but with the front tire retaining Dunlop's traditional triangulated profile, I think the Qualifiers have a nicer turn-in and better mid-corner feel. Gone is the mushy carcass of the D207 street tires. Gone is the inferior grip of the D207/208 family. What we have here; is the best street and trackday tire you can buy, and that's high-praise indeed, when you consider my well-known love for the Pirelli Diablo / Metzeler Sportec line. If I were buying a set of sportbike tires today, they'd have "Qualifier" written on the sidewall.
I'm not much of a tire connoisseur, but I do know that my tires should stick when they should, predictably let go and hook up when they need to, and be light enough that you don't notice them when you're turning. A racetrack tire (not a racing tire) should be able to come up to temperature quickly and provide the same level of grip for session after session and not start to fade towards the end of the day, just when I'm starting to enjoy myself. The Qualifiers we used were on motorcycles that were pretty much on track all day long and never, as far as I could tell, altered their characteristics or feeling in the slightest.
The best part, for a cheapskate trackday enthusiast like me, was that after a long trackday, the tires still worked great on the street for high-speed hijinks in the mountains. On examination, I could see just a bit of wear, with the edges of the grooves still sharp and the ghost of the Dunlop logo still visible. I've always used Metzlers or Bridgestones as my street/trackday tires, but I think I'll consider a switch.
Gabe Ets-Hokin Features Editor
After the track testing, Pete and I spent some time chasing each other through the canyons of the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles. These bumpy, twisty roads are challenging, fun and most importantly, relatively free of traffic during the week. We also included a sampling of interstate droning and commuting to fully round out our test, just to refresh our memories of the many hours we spent on the bikes evaluating them in February and May.
After we did all the testing, The Bosslady told us that Sean, with his great knowledge of all things sport and racing, was to keep everything he knew about the bikes secret from me and Pete, so as to not affect our voting. He's very persuasive, you know.
Now that all data has been collected, analyzed, and re-evaluated, here are our findings, and Motorcycle.com's 2006 Best of the Best!
On the Track: Silky Smooth v. Mr. Kaboom
At the track, the individual characters -- and similarities -- of these two motorcycles really comes out. The R6 is a great learning tool and way for almost any level of trackday rider to improve their skills, where the GSX-R1000 is a crude bludgeon to humiliate other riders with while feeding the rider a cheap adrenaline high lap after lap.
"It's inviting to go fast" on the R6 said Pete and I'm inclined to agree. After Dave Moss at Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning set the suspension on both bikes up for us, the R6 handled like a dream, with sharp, responsive steering and excellent bump-absorbing characteristics on Buttonwillow's bumpy eastern portion. The brakes are even better than the already-excellent non-radial mounted calipers that were on the 2004 R6. They have a sensitive and delicate feel, with just a finger or two needed in even the most dire oops-I-forgot-about-this-turn racetrack situation.
The fuel injection's excellent functioning and great response makes accessing the motor's 105hp easy work, and the smooth gearbox makes working your way up through the gearbox while passing slower riders out of turns a clutch-free experience. The motor feels smooth on the racetrack all across the tachometer face, from 7,000rpm all the way to 14,000 rpm, when the programmable shift light glowers at you. Over 12,000 rpm, the R6 surges forward in a remarkable way, as long as you haven't ridden the GSX-R recently.
Ground clearance is more than adequate, as the footpegs remained unscuffed even in the tightest, slowest turns. In general, the R6 is a stable, predictable platform that feels instantly comfortable without being bland, a great combination for a track bike.
It's not all a bed of roses, however. All three of us noted headshake from the R6, and we are mystified that Yamaha doesn't include a steering damper. Pete noted three times while riding the R6 on the street where he thought he was finished, in the moment where you're saying to yourself, "oh no, I'm crashing", but the bike somehow recovered from proto-tank-slappers and left him upright, if a bit rattled. This is a motorcycle that should have a steering damper, and we've noted it each time we've tested this bike. Luckily, a steering damper is something most sportbike enthusiasts buy anyway, even if the bike is already equipped with one (or they don't need it), so it's not a serious enough issue to really fault the bike on.
Hopping on the GSX-R, what is most remarkable is how much it feels like the R6. The dimensions like the reach to the bars and footpeg height are similar, and even if it is 20 pounds heavier, you don't really notice it unless you've just hopped off the R6. Then it's noticeably stiffer on turn-in (although this could be because of the GSX-R's steering damper), and you can feel that heavy crankshaft throbbing beneath you. That throbbing quickly moves from below you to up in your throat as the revs climb and the bike accelerates down range like an armor-piercing round fired from an M-1 Abrams. The motor offers so much speed that at a trackday it's kind of like cheating -- when it's time to pass you just open the throttle and wave `bye bye', if you dare take your hands off the bar.
At first, I was using similar shift points as the R6, rowing up and down through the GSX-R's precise gearbox while enjoying the light clutch pull. But then I thought it might be a waste of time and started shifting less and less, until I just left it in second gear almost the entire way around the three-mile roadcourse. Before you call me a wussie, keep in mind that this bike redlines at around 125 mph in second gear! With 190 mph gearing, there is no real reason to shift, as there is useable power from 3,000 to over 10,000 rpm. For those of you who hold that "twins have more torque", keep in mind that the GSX-R1000 makes its peak torque right in the rpm range where the Ducati 999 makes its peak torque, except there's seven more foot-pounds of it.
Let's digress a moment and examine the peak power output of this motorcycle. It's about 160 horsepower. Yes, that's right. 160. It's CARB, DOT and EPA legal, producing less than 82 decibels from the odd-looking exhaust. You can ride it to work or teach your girlfriend to ride on it. You can ride it with little or no training. But this kind of power (combined with the flawless handling this bike offers, of course) has the potential to set lap records at just about any racetrack on Earth.
But do you have this potential? Can you use this motorcycle to its limits? Do you seriously want to try? Because 160 is what only GP racers had access to not so very long ago, and those guys get their jobs because of a special blend of incredible skill, God-like natural ability and a dash of pure insanity. Does that describe you? It doesn't describe me or Pete, and even Sean, who does have the potential to be a not-so-bad professional racer but was still 10-15 seconds off the pace of what a professional racer could do with that kind of power. Sure, he was on street tires and just tooling around at a track day -- but isn't that what you will be doing on your bike as well?
Whatever you do with it, the GSX-R makes lots and lots of power, at any rpm, in any gear. It's also reasonably smooth, although vibration in the handlebar became very noticeable when the bar-end weight fell off. Third-gear wheelies, tire-spinning, burn-outs, all manner of silliness is definitely enabled by those tireless 160hp.
Handling and braking are also very good. Unlike the R6, the shock is infinitely adjustable for pre-load, and once set up, the GSX-R felt great on all kinds of pavement from choppy to smooth. Even the big divot in the apex of the Sunset turn, where I witnessed many high-sides during my racing days, failed to unsettle the big bike's chassis. That's notable, as Pete, Sean and I differ in weights by about 60 pounds. The spring rates must be well-chosen indeed. The brakes feel as good in every way as the R6's binders, despite the greater velocities the GSX-R attains. Thirty years ago, Japanese manufacturers surpassed tire, chassis and braking technology with monster motors, creating ill-handling power wagons that were suitable for little more than drag-racing without extensive aftermarket improvement. We live in a golden era, my friends, especially when you consider that the price of a big GSX-R has only increased $450 since 1997.
At the end of the day, we headed for home so we could download our laptimes into the big MO mainframe and crunch the numbers. We were surprised -- or maybe not -- to find that both Pete and I went slightly faster on the R6 than on the GSX-R, while Sean only bested his R6 times by two seconds a lap, despite the 1000 having about 60% more power. 60%! How can this be?
Buttonwillow Raceway Laptimes Riding on a racetrack is all about spending as much time accelerating as possible. This means you brake as late as you can and get the bike upright while getting on the gas as soon as possible upon exiting a turn. With a bike like the R6 -- or even smaller -- the relative lack of power gives the rider confidence to wait until that last minute to brake and get on that throttle quicker without worrying about the tire spinning, sliding, then catching and sending you over the highside. You also know that since half the people that show at trackdays are on liter machines, you have to keep your corner speeds up to avoid being passed like a hard-boiled egg through Cool Hand Luke.
|Pete||Gabe||Sean||Avg. Lap Times|