2005 Best of the Best: R6 v. GSX-R1000

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On a beast like the GSX-R, terror-induced respect combines with good old American laziness to instill bad habits in the rider. You brake a little sooner because you were going so fast down that straight that your arms hurt, and you get on the gas later because you know that you will instantly achieve Escape Velocity as soon as you get the bike back at 90 degrees and on the gas. In the meantime, you don't realize that an R6-mounted You would be into the corner a half second faster, on the gas a half second earlier, and less than a second slower in transit on the short straight before the next turn. Multiply that by 14 or 15 turns, and you've got your time difference explained. Doubtlessly, once you get used to the bike the GSX-R would seem less fearsome and you could start to fine-tune it to work with your Sean does this a lot. A GSX-R1000 does this a lot, too. A match made in heaven?riding style and favorite roads or racetracks. Lower gearing would help for starters. But you could do that with the R6, too, and judging from recent AFM race results from Buttonwillow, even the fastest club racers in the USA can't keep up with a determined guy on a 600.

Scroll down and compare the 600 Production lap times with the "Open" production lap times. These are stock bikes on DOT tires with little modification allowed. You are not allowed to laugh at how lame our times are in comparison. If you guessed a liter bike would be the fastest thing on the track, you'd be wrong. It might be the most fun, but for an average rider, at the average track, it's not the fastest.

The Street

There's plenty among you who would rather have this part of the evaluation be first. I would tend to agree, as the street is were we spend 99% of our riding time. The track is there to hone our cones, as it were, but we spend most -- if not all -- of our time commuting, cruising, and playing with our cronies on whatever you call a twisty road. So Pete and I spent some time performing these activities to see if the GSX-R was any better at them than the R6.

On the freeway, both bikes cruise smoothly and efficiently at high speeds. I thought the R6 has better wind protection, with a slightly wider fairing and higher windscreen. The motor on the R6 is also very smooth at around 6-7,000 rpm, where the speedometer indicates 80mph. If you want, you can wick it up to go-to-jail speeds by twisting the wrist, and the excellent EFI gets you up there very quickly for a 600, unless you're doing an impromptu roll-on contest with the GSX-R, in which case you'd better come down three gears to hope to keep it in sight. The R6 accelerates in a very entertaining manner when it's kept in its powerband, and as long as you don't mind a few downshifts, most rational people should be happy with the R6's power output.

A 160hp sheep in wolf's clothing. Do wolves wear clothes; and why is it that naked sheep work their way into every MO conversation?The GSX-R is all about unlimited, incredible power. Whacking open the throttle in sixth gear at 80 mph results in the thing whipping forward hard enough to loosen fillings, with just a little shaking and rumbling down in the engine room to let you know the bike even noticed your request. Do you need to do that on the street? No. Is it fun to do anyway? Yes. The amusement factor alone could be worth the extra $2,450, as enthusiasts spend way more than that on turbochargers, nitrous kits, big-bore cylinder heads and other go-fast gear. If excessive, ridiculous speed is what a motorcycle is all about for you, stop reading and buy a liter sportbike.

That kind of power is going to make a street-riding squid on a GSX-R ride rings around anybody on an R6, right? Pete and I rode on some of our favorite canyon roads for an afternoon to find out. At first, I rode the R6, and found myself walking away from Pete, even though we were riding roads I'm only vaguely familiar with just a few miles from his house. Normally we are pretty matched on the street, as I have this thing about breaking bones and like to leave a wide safety margin. The R6 was a great street-riding companion, since it was comfortable, responsive and had great brakes and suspension, but how come he wasn't just gobbling up the gaps on the straights?

I found out why as soon as we switched. On the GSX-R, I appreciated the comfort and balanced feel. But Pete started pulling away from me on the R6! I tried to make up the distance with the silly power the GSX-R made, but Pete was in a zone, keeping up high corner speeds and slowly pulling away from me in turn after turn. Because of gravel, bumps and unknown hazards lurking behind blind turns, I never really felt comfortable utilizing all the power the GSX-R had, unless we were willing to get into a 150 mph drag race on public roads. The Bosslady doesn't pay me enough for that.

Pete agrees with me. Even though you feel like the GSX-R is going faster with less work, the R6 encourages you to work harder and go faster, without feeling like you are on the ragged edge. The reward is that you are, in fact, going faster.  

Mixed Winners Voting  However, as long as you are just having a friendly ride with your pal, the GSX-R offers "an immeasurable advantage -- you never have to shift, the throttle is responsive as a light switch", according to Pete. To go fast on the GSX-R, you just point, twist, and fire, over and over, turn after turn. Will you develop skills, increase your cornering speeds, and become a better rider? Is that what you want? Or do you just want to go really, really fast?

Mixed Winners Voting
  Sean Gabe Pete Overall
Yamaha YZF-R6: 2nd 1st 1st 1st
Suzuki GSX-R1000: 1st 2nd 2nd 2nd

There it is. When the question is put to us three merry MOrons, "which bike would you buy with your money?" we get a couple of different answers, and it appears commensurate with rider ability. Pete and I would buy R6's, and spend some of that money saved on steering dampers. The R6 offers manic street fun, precise handling, economic operation (does anybody but me swoon over 26,500 mile valve adjustment intervals?) and plenty of room to grow. For middling riders like us, it's all we'll ever need, and unlike buying something like a 500 Ninja, we get all the top of the line suspension, frames, fuel injection and brakes that we could want. All this for just $8,399? Sign me up. Heck, I'll even spend the extra money for the black one.

Sean operates on a different level from your average guy. No tropical fish for him, he has to have a salt-water tank full of colorful exotica that should be decorating the office of some James Bond movie villain's office. No Timex for Big Red, either; he trusts only the precise chronography of a Rolex Submariner. So if he were to buy a sportbike, only the best, fastest sportbike around is going to do it for him, regardless of price. The difference between a guy like Sean and some dweeb with good credit using a rocket like the GSX-R as a penis extender is that Sean will go out on a track day with street tires and dice with racers, using the bike as it is intended to be used. I can't do that and neither can Pete, and judging from the caliber of 80% of the riders at track days, you probably can't either.

Pete on the street, puttin' heat into his meats.The votes are in. When it comes to what the best choice is for a sportbike, the best 600 around (according to us) is preferred to the best 1000, just because it's easier, more satisfying and more sensible to ride. The R6 is fun on the street, great on the track, and saves you a passel of money in purchase price, insurance and tires. Of course, if you need power and torque to help you make sense of your life, if you need to experience life on the other side of 160 mph, or if you really can use that kind of power on the racetrack or dragstrip, the GSX-R is really great too, a sheep in wolf's clothing that would make a great everyday streetbike for years and years. Either way, you can't go wrong; you just have to decide on your priorities.

This is a decision that will have happy consequences either way. If only every choice were like that!

Revelations, Sportbike Style

1). Sean "Dirty" Alexander

Sitting on the pit wall at Buttonwillow Raceway, I gaze out at the long, windy straights and think 'I wonder if I could get one of those NOS kits for a Hyabusa onto the Gixxer 1000? How cool would that be?' MOfos, I'm here to reiterate that there is no replacement for displacement. Yes, Gabe and Pete picked the Yamaha R6 over the speed-superior Kawasaki ZX-6R in our middleweight Supersport Shootout, and yes, they've picked the R6 over the GSX-R1000 here, too. But if anyone says "it's just too big" within earshot of me ever again, I'm going to vomit right on the spot. If you're faster on a 600-class bike -- and 99 out of 100 of you will be -- it only means you need to go to more track schools/days and learn how to go faster on your 1000. Call that fear it grips you with "healthy respect" and know that the grin factor of owning a modern liter-class bike is worth the work it takes to master it. Don't cheat yourself!

I catch frequent references to the 600s being "better handling" than the 1000s. Folks, that's just bunk. -Sean I catch frequent references to the 600s being "better handling" than the 1000s. Folks, that's just bunk. They simply handle differently and just because it's easier to make direction changes or open the throttle on a 600 doesn't mean it's "better" handling. In fact, I'd tend to argue the opposite. All things -- mostly, the amount of trail -- being relatively equal these days, a 1000 is more stable thanks to the greater gyroscopic stability created by it's larger rotating mass. It takes a much stronger, and thus heavier, crankshaft to handle the torque and abuse you'll put through it on a 1000 Vs. a 600. This is the same force that causes the heavier feeling on a 1000, but more importantly it helps to make the 1000s feel more planted and stable. Now that 600s and 1000s are the same size and nearly the same weight, most of the other handling and "feel" differences have disappeared. Now, you're just left with that greater stability.

Aside from a 10mm wider rear on the GSX-R, both bikes were fitted with the same tires for this test. Furthermore, once Dave Moss from Catalyst Reaction fiddled with their rebound settings and I'd adjusted the Suzuki's ridiculously high front brake lever position, both bikes felt the same mid-corner. I would argue that neither bike held a significant handling advantage over the other. Sure, the R6 was easier to hop-on and go fast, but after a session or two, that advantage is negated by the GSX-R's vastly superior power. If Gabe and Pete had a couple extra days to locate their testes, they'd have seen that the GSX-R1000 was capable of lapping significantly quicker than the R6.

So you're probably saying "Who cares, I ride on the street". Well congratulations! If you were solely concerned with street riding practicality, you wouldn't even be looking at this test. Nope, you'd be looking at a standard SV-650 or a Triumph Bonneville. Face it, if you are considering an R6 or GSX-R, you probably do care how it performs on a racetrack (even if you'll never use it) and you definitely care how it performs in the real world.

On a good day, our total combined IQ falls somewhere between the Hp ratings of the R6 and GSX-ROn the street, outright speed and ultimate handling are a moot point. Sure a newer rider might go faster sooner on an R6, but neither bike is likely to get anywhere near its true performance potential and I don't think I'd encourage you to buy the bike that makes you push harder, sooner. I'd argue that these bikes aren't suitable for a "beginner" and once you're above the beginner level, your own experience level, judgment and natural talent are going to be a much bigger factor in enjoyment and speed, than the differences between these two bikes. As for wanting to go faster, sooner; shame on you. Take your time and practice, speed will come if you give it time and when it does, it won't matter if you're on a Rebel 250 or a ZX-14R, you'll still be faster than some dude trying to "look" fast on a racer replica.

Now that you've sorted your own potential and practical considerations, lets talk about the real differences between these two bikes. The R6 holds an obvious edge in price and insurance rates, but it suffers from headshake when accelerating over rough pavement and should have a stock steering damper. Street comfort is mediocre on both machines, with the R6 slightly more bearable, thanks to a better seat. Enjoy your puny little victories R6, because not only does the GSX-R carry 55 extra horsepower, it's also more stable and less likely to see you tank-slapping your way into a crash, thanks to its factory steering damper and the extra stability imparted from its heavier internals. Almost any bike will corner as fast as you are willing to try on the street, but almost none will produce a grin like the one you get when you open the GSX-R's throttle. And that's really where the difference lies. It's almost a draw on every other dynamic comparison, but torque and acceleration is an order of magnitude stronger and more fun to play with on the Suzuki, even if it is a bit too abrupt, thanks to hyper-sensitive fuel injection tuning.

Since both these bikes are way too fast for the street, you'd think I'd be inclined to vote for the R6. However, my flawed logic allows me to reason that you're not going to use the max from either one, so you might as well take the stupid silly giggly fast one, just so you can entertain yourself on those boring straights.

2). Pete "Million-Mile Man" Brissette

I knew that when we took delivery of these winners two things would be clear: pitting them against one another was going to be fun and choosing a winner wouldn't be. At the outset the Suzuki would seem to be an easier choice with its screaming 1,000ccs and the fact that it is the latest and greatest GSX-R but the R6 is not so quickly dismissed.

My previous time on the GSX-R was during the annual MO liter bike test. My stint then was limited mostly to the track so I was eagerly awaiting some serious saddle time. First assessment: intoxicatingly fast! Second only to my recent foray into riding drag bikes, the GSX-R is the fastest street-legal bike I've ever ridden. I challenge anyone to utilize anything beyond third gear in most canyon or track sessions.

Notice the lovely way that Pete cordinates his mascara with his helmet selection.In a comparison like this detractions often turn into nit picking. In the GSX-R's case it would have to be the super sensitive throttle response. It's so responsive that engine speed seems directly connected to your hand--there is no lag time. How can this be bad? Considering how rapidly power builds, a very subtle and smooth hand is required. The slightest tweak will be rewarded with abrupt acceleration. On the track it's less of an issue but carving around a blind corner in your favorite canyon, this nuance can be a little disconcerting. There's something a little more inviting about wringing the life out of the R6. Do that on the GSX-R and you'll find yourself approaching 145mph in third gear before the shift light comes on, let alone redline (hmm...three more gears to go).

Handling, braking and suspension are so closely matched on these machines that the easiest targets for comparison are acceleration and rider comfort. Neither are torture racks, but I found the R6 to be a little more comfy than the Suzuki. With wider set clip-ons and a slightly roomier saddle to bar relation the Yamaha was a little more inviting over the long haul. Couple that with a virtually vibration free engine and you've got yourself an everyday easy rider.

The one failing mark for the R6 would be the nasty headshake that can develop. I encountered this on three separate occasions, one to the point that I thought I was going to be spit off in a most violent manner. The bottom line is that the R6 needs a steering damper.

All things considered I really enjoy the power on tap that a liter engine can provide. It just makes life easier or at the least more entertaining at times. But at this juncture in my riding progress the R6 suits me better, and with a savings of $2,450 I can buy an incredible steering dampener.

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