2005 Middleweight Supersport Shootout

Honda CBR 600RR :: Suzuki GSX-R 600 :: Kawasaki ZX-6R :: Yamaha R6


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Interpretation will be a valuable skill for anyone who wishes to make a buying decision from this extensive shootout. That isn't because our opinions aren't clear, it is because these bikes are so close in quality and performance that our test riders' personal preferences and nit- picking have a greater impact on their respective rankings in this shootout than the actual performance metrics of each bike -- a position that has caused internal strife here @MO.

"I'm not comfortable taking responsibility for the results of this test," says Executive Editor Sean Alexander, "because, damnit, this is a shootout and our job is to tell you which is the fastest bike. It's simple, you kick everyone's ass and you win. Intangibles? They are, by definition, intangible, and I, personally, don't buy into that. But, I'm the guy that drives this test, and it was my decision to invite a plethora of testers with disparate street-based ideals and all three voted for a bike that wasn't the outright fastest. Yes, I agree that the winner was the best street bike, and the fact is that these are streetbikes...

but, screw that, I don't care, in my opinion the outright fastest bike, or the best-handling bike, should have won. Ain't democracy a bitch?"

If you're a numbers man, you need read no more: the Kawy ZX-6R's got the goods, posting outright highest numbers in every metric measured. It even tied for lightest wet weight. A day after submitting final text for this test, Sean's still ranting, pacing and causing havoc in the office. Sean's gear-head opinion differs from everyone else's because, for street riders, the decision isn't that easy. Consider this: Sean posted the outright fastest lap time of the test on the Kawasaki ZX-6R, but expert-level racer and new Feature Editor Gabe Ets-Hokin -- as well as million-mile motorcycle courier man (and neophyte racer) Pete Brissette both put in their personal best times on the Honda CBR 600RR. "The Honda is very confidence inspiring, and you're going faster than you feel you are on it," explains Gabe. So, what standard should decide which bike is really faster? The one you'll be fastest on, or the one a handfull of Championship-winning roadracers can coax more speed out of? See the delimna? Here it is, graphically:

2005 Performance Data
Avg. Best
Roadcourse
Avg. Best
Dragstrip
Dyno Actual Weight
Honda 1:59.130 10.93@125.2 104.11Hp / 44.19LbFt 427 Lbs
Kawasaki 1:59.388 10.75@126.9 110.42Hp / 47.38LbFt 423 Lbs
Suzuki 2:00.198 11.10@123.3 103.21Hp / 46.13LbFt 428 Lbs
Yamaha 2:00.132 10.85@123.6 105.09Hp / 43.53LbFt 423 Lbs

Best Individual Roadcourse Times Best Indivual Dragstrip Times
SEAN / GABE / PETE SEAN / RYAN
Honda 1:51.9 / 1:59.6 / 2:05.9 10.99@124.6 / 10.86@125.7
Kawasaki 1:51.4 / 2:00.1 / 2:06.6 10.89@126.4 / 10.61@127.5
Suzuki 1:52.3 / 2:01.5 / 2:06.8 11.17@123.4 / 11.03@123.1
Yamaha 1:52.6 / 2:01.4 / 2:06.4 10.94@123.8 / 10.77@123.4

You'd think testing sportbikes would be simple, and it would be if it was one writer, or a draconian editor that imposed his opinion on the entire staff. But, you all decided long ago that middleweight supersport shootouts should bias the results towards what is the best streetbike.

And given those criteria, the winner is...

 

1) The Street

...Yamaha's R6. "It's the best street bike because its riding position is immediately comfortable and feels the most natural," says Sean. Our street and everyday riding tests revealed some unexpected strengths and weaknesses. Who would've thought the compact Yamaha R6 to have the most comfortable riding position? Who would expect a Suzuki GSXR to offer ergonomics that fit everybody? Who would believe that last year's torture rack ZX-6R could transform into this year's living room couch? Would you believe that a Honda finished a distant fourth in our comfort rankings? It's all true.

After testing the new CBR 600RR at Buttonwillow Raceway, Sean named it the best-handling sportbike he'd ever ridden. On the street however, the CBR's stellar handling wasn't enough to overcome the weight it places on the rider's wrists, its hard seat or its buzzy engine. The Honda is a racebike and it seems best to leave the street duties to the other three. A good deal farther up the practicality and comfort scales, you'll find Suzuki's GSXR 600. With a nice combination of stability and surprisingly comfortable ergos, the Suzuki is a good choice for an all-around sportbike. First place in the street category was hotly contested between the ZX-6R and the R6, even though both bikes would benefit from a steering damper to help calm their twitchy heads. In the end, the R6's comfortable riding position and less-intimidating nature won out over the ZX-6R's awesome seat and motor. The Yamaha is, to put it bluntly, the least painful to ride in the real world, and everyone agreed it was the best streetbike. For Pete, Fonzie and Gabe, that impression was powerful enough to earn it the coveted overall victory vote. "Thus," says Sean, "the vote was three-to-one against me -- I voted the R6 last overall! -- and you'll never see those three guys again! They'll be swimmin' with the fishes!"

Street Results:

1st place: Yamaha R6
2nd place: Kawasaki ZX-6R 
3rd place: Suzuki GSX-R 600
4th place: Honda CBR 600RR

2) The Dyno

Inflated manufacturer claims have a funny way of deflating, once you strap a bike down in a same-dyno, same-day test with its competition. It would be fun to expose one of those pie-in-the-sky claims in this shootout, but there were none! Each bike delivered about what we expected from them and the three 600cc machines were covered by less than 2Hp. Five horsepower further up the ladder we find the 636cc ZX-6R, as it delivers over 110Hp to the tire! Aye Chihuahua! Lest you dismiss the GSXR as the weakling of the test, please note that it delivered the most torque of the true 600s and almost as much torque as the 636.

Dyno Results:

1st place: Kawasaki ZX-6R  110.42Hp / 47.38Lb-Ft
2nd place: Yamaha R6  105.09Hp / 43.53LbFt
3rd place: Honda CBR 600RR  104.11Hp / 44.19Lb-Ft
4th place: Suzuki GSX-R 600   103.21Hp / 46.13Lb-Ft

 

3) The Strip

Sean makes sure MotorcycleUSA's dragstrip numbers suck.
These bikes simply aren't set-up for drag racing. They are intended to make passable street bikes that shine in the tight twisties and on the roadcourse. As delivered, they have tall first gears and grabby clutches that make getting a good launch a delicate balance between looping-out and frying the clutch. Since MO still had to go to the roadcourse after our drag testing, we chose to take it easy on the clutches and make typical "streetbike" launches at the expense of a few tenths. However, if you have the talent and are willing to sacrifice a few clutches, these stock $8,500 sportbikes will deliver low 10's at the strip. If (like MO) you aren't a pro drag racer and you don't want to be replacing clutches, they will still make reliable sub 11 second passes all day long, using a gentler launch technique, while simply embarrassing every stock or even lightly modified street legal car that money can buy.

It has been alleged that a mechanically stock Yamaha R6 turned a high-9 second run, during Cycle World's recent middleweight shootout testing. They did this with Ricky Gadson riding and the R6's suspension compressed with tie-downs to lower its center of gravity, thus reducing its tendency to wheelie. Allegedly, the Kawasaki ZX-6R didn't get a chance to run with its suspension tied-down, because the track closed before the CW crew could finish all of their "modified" runs. Chances are, that 636 would have beat the R6's time, but we'll never know. My source also tells me that there was more than one smelly clutch by the end of that day. However, you'll probably have to wait around a month to read about it in Cycle World.

With one very good guest drag racer (Ryan Evans from Motofab) and one heavy and hopelessly mediocre drag racer (Sean Alexander), MO managed to baby our four test bikes through a chilly night of drag racing at Los Angeles County Raceway. At the end of the night, Ryan and Sean concluded that these bikes were all geared too tall and their clutches were way too grabby to make clean launches. None of the bikes really stood out as excellent drag racers, with the feelings and comments being almost identical for all four bikes. About the only discernable difference between them, was that the Kawasaki pulled a bit harder and the Suzuki seemed slightly more difficult to launch cleanly. The lack of any shocking revelations is backed-up by the fact that their dragstrip ranking mirrors their dyno rankings. It would seem that in this case engine output, not chassis design determined the outcome.


Dragstrip Results:

1st place: Kawasaki ZX-6R 10.61 sec @ 127.5 Mph
2nd place: Yamaha R6 10.77 sec @ 123.4 Mph
3rd place: Honda CBR 600RR 10.86 sec @ 125.7 Mph
4th place: Suzuki GSX-R 600 11.03 sec @ 123.1 Mph

4) The Track

Honda's CBR 600RR was our favorite track bike, or, wait -- was that the ZX-6R? Talk about splitting hairs. The Japanese have been flinging middleweight supersport hardware at each other in an ever-escalating war since the late '80s. By now, they have truly mastered this formula, so whichever bike we don't pick as the winner is still the best bike, if it's the bike (brand, color, size, sound, etc) that you like.

We wouldn't hesitate to own or race any one of these four machines and if well balanced performance is your thing, you shouldn't either. If forced to choose from our personal experiences, we'd pick the Kawasaki ZX-6R as our expert Track Day / Club Racing weapon of choice, since it is the lightest and most powerful bike in this test. However, the Kawasaki can be a bit edgy and tends to wag its head a little more that we'd like, so if we were a new racer or slower track day guy, we'd skip the Kawasaki. If forced to stick with a "true" 600cc track bike, the Honda gets our nod, thanks to its best-in-class chassis. As for the R6 and GSX-R, we'd take the Suzuki over the Yamaha, based on its factory steering damper and overall competence at the racetrack. The R6 is slightly faster than the GSX-R, but like the Kawasaki, it shakes its head and can be a little demanding near the limit. These are just our impressions and as you probably noticed, different testers had different experiences with each of these bikes. As (sometimes) thinking men, we should probably declare this contest a 4-way tie for 1st place. However, as journalists we are expected to make a final decision, lest you decide to crucify MO.

We have come to the conclusion that our individual rankings are more dependent on our own racetrack experience levels and our physical sizes, than they are on the actual technical merits of each bike. Therefore, we will stick with the objective numbers and base our "official" decision on the combined average of the "best" laps from all three test riders.

Racetrack Results:

1st Place: Honda CBR 600RR 1:59.130
2nd Place: Kawasaki ZX-6R 1:59.388
3rd Place: Yamaha R6 2:00.132 
4th Place: Suzuki GSX-R 600 2:00.198


-Tester Profiles-

Sean "Dirty" Alexander
Executive Editor
35 Yrs Old, 6'2", 225Lbs

Sean wrote much of this monster of a story. Now, he's hiding under a rock somewhere weeping and praying that he doesn't see  another keyboard for at least 40 days and 40 nights. In an alternate universe, Sean would be a perpetually 22-year-old 5'6" 135-pound world roadracing champion. However, in this universe he looks more like he ate a world roadracing champion.

Don't feel too bad for him -- Sean was lucky enough to be born and raised around the early Yoshimura Racing shop in Simi Valley, CA. Sean's been riding motorcycles for over 30 years -- his first instructions came from none other than Yvonne DuHamel, who was racing for Sean's father at the time. Following in his fabled Yoshimura roots, in his first year of racing Sean won the overall Amatuer CCS California Roadracing Championship. He now holds seven individual CCS class championships and has over 35 race wins -- and he'd be glad to show you each and every trophy, all categorized in cronological order, nonetheless. Just kidding. Sean did all this aboard a self-built and self-tuned 500cc two-stroke CR500 motocross-bike- turned-SuperMOtard, and a self-tuned SV-650S, while competing against everything from TZ-125s and 250s up to GSXR 750s.

Sean has in intuitive grasp of speed, traction and what it takes to go fast. If you have any doubts, we think you'll get the picture after watching him lap Infineon Raceway on the bone-stock Suzuki GSX-R600, replete with the stock Dunlop tires.

Gabe Ets-Hokin
Feature Editor
35 Yrs Old, 5'6", 145Lbs

Gabe is a long-time MO reader and regular feedback participant. Some of you might have met his alter ego; MR ALLCAPS. If you've read his work, you  already know that this guy can write. After working with him on two previous stories and now this huge shootout, we've decided to offer Gabe a full time position as the Feature Editor at Motorcycle.Com.

Gabe comes to us after doing a stint at City Bike, a monthly motorcycle newspaper in Northern California and miscellaneous other freelance assignments in the motorcycle press. He will be expected to crank out new stories at a furious pace, so you can expect to be seeing a lot more of him in the near future. Gabe possesses some AFM racing experience and has previously served as a motorcycle riding coach and track day instructor.

His motorcycle industry experience includes several years in motorcycle sales, both as a retail salesman and factory sales representative for a motorcycle and scooter manufacturer. He loves to hear comments, tolerates critical feedback and looks forward to serving MO's readers and taking advantage of its generous expense account.

Pete Brissette
Guest Tester
34 Yrs Old, 5'8", 150Lbs

Pete doesn't own a car. Instead, he rides a Bandit-S 1200 to, from... and at work, since he's a motorcycle messenger in downtown LA  ::shudder:: In his hundreds of thousands of miles of street riding, Pete has seen and encountered just about any situation you could imagine and has enough experience to qualify himself for any three magazine jobs. He also holds a virtual PhD in Motorcycle Desperation Mechanics. On the weekends, Pete rides his Bandit to Willow Springs, where he club races it as a newly minted novice. He is always ready and willing to lend MO a helping hand and he laughs at our sick jokes. What more could we ask?

Alfonse "Fonzie" Palaima
Photography & Web Layout Specialist
34Yrs Old, 5'10", 185Lbs

Coming from the East Coast, where he co-produced and/or shot two feature length films and a handful of shorts, running the  image show comes naturally for this guy. Mix that with a college degree in photography and regular photographic contributions to magazines like Robb Report Motorcycling, Barnett's Motorcycle Showcase and Cruising Rider and not only does he have Sean's back on the street and around the office, but he's also the keenest eye in town! Fonzie serves double duty as our resident hippy and a much-needed backup conscience for Dirty. He doesn't own a car, but since he's a full time staffer and we can't pay him nearly what he's worth, he gets to ride any test bike he likes.

Fonzie has nearly 20 years of riding experience and Sean says he's one of the better street riders he's ridden with. Unfortunately, Fonzie is very pen shy, so his valuable insight is rarely shared with our readers. However, since he takes the bikes home on the weekends and then rides them to exotic locales to photograph them, he has probably put more street miles on these test bikes than the rest of the staff. Because of this fact and also because he was there for every step of the testing, review and discussion processes, he gets a vote in our "Overall" rankings.



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