2005 Middleweight Supersport Shootout
Honda CBR 600RR :: Suzuki GSX-R 600 :: Kawasaki ZX-6R :: Yamaha R6
Get the Flash Player to see this player.Sean ~ Honda CBR 600RR ~ Street ~
Pete loved the CBR on the street because it seemed to fit him well. For me, even though the Honda may be the best bike in the canyons, in the "real world" the CBR's "racer" riding position and buzzy engine has me longing for the ergonomic excellence of the R6 or the plush seat of the ZX-6R. My discomfort aside, the CBR is the only bike in this test that gives you the feeling of holding the front axle in your own two hands. From the rider's seat, you barely notice the fairing and the visual cues are more like flying headfirst while looking down at the road's centerline. This sensation is a bit unsettling at first, but once you get used to it, the sense of traction and absolute control is something that just can't be matched. If we only rode on dirty canyon roads with lots of obstacles and dodgy traction, I'd pick the CBR as the best street bike. However, reality dictates riding to-and-from those canyons, commuting on freeways and trolling around town. In these conditions, the Honda lagged behind its competition in the comfort department and I must relegate it to last place for "real world" streetbike riding. If you are a little shorter than me and a lot lighter, the CBR's layout might work better for you, but it would still have a plank for a seat and a buzzy engine to make your commute a bit more tedious than the others. It is a rakishly sexy motorcycle with unmatched engineering and one trip to the canyons or racetrack will erase any doubts about its performance credentials. Just meet me there with the bike and I'll be happy to ride it for you.
Pete ~ Honda CBR 600RR ~ Street ~
At this stage of the comparison the Honda would get my pick for best bike. With just a couple of nits to pick, it seems to be the perfect blend for me. Standing a slim 5'8" and about 150lbs., with a short, little T-Rex upper body & arms, the RR gives me a nice compact feeling without that compactness coming at the cost of having my groin pressed into the back of the gas tank. It has the most "sporting" riding position of the bunch, giving you the sensation that you're positioned closely over the front wheel, more so than any of the others. Yet it never gives feedback as to feel uncomfortable about being in that aggressive of a riding position. The CBR's brakes may also be at the head of the pack. This was even more surprising to me, as I noted that it was the only one of the four test bikes with a traditional master cylinder. Apparently Honda sees no need to jump on the radial master cylinder bandwagon. The cockpit is a sign of Honda's attention to detail. The instrument cluster was laid out well enough to give all the important info at a quick glance and yet still had a fuel level gauge and a clock. None of the other bikes offers that. The only glaring problems, (and they're only "glaring" because this bike is so good in every other aspect) were the relatively firm saddle and a notchy tranny. The seat can be fixed but the gearbox on the other hand is something that a rider might become a little too conscious of, at least on the street. It really isn't a problem; it just stood out a little in the company of the others with their very smooth gear changes. On the positive side, its gearbox had an industrial, almost military quality to it. That lets me know that it would stand up to years of abuse and still function like new. Aesthetically, the Honda looks the part. When I see it I think 600 Supersport.Sean ~ Honda CBR 600RR ~ Track
It's still solid as a rock. Jumping on the Honda at the track, directly after getting off the other bikes makes you exclaim "I'm Home!" There's nothing wrong at all with the others, (they're fantastic) but the Honda is simply planted in bedrock by comparison. Its engine is quite stout, but the overwhelming impression isn't of outright speed, it is of a comfortable and unflappable competence. This feeling tended to make our test riders corner faster on the Honda and the laptimes seemed to reflected this fact, because our two "new" testers lapped faster on the Honda than they did on the more powerful Kawasaki. I was a bit faster on the Kawasaki, but only because I outweigh Gabe and Pete by about 70Lbs and that 636cc "cheater" motor did a better job of flinging me from corner-to-corner. Though I may have been faster on the Kawasaki, I simply love the way this Honda feels on the racetrack. After my initial track test of the '05 CBR, I spoke to a rep from one of Honda's competitors and they implied that the Honda only felt so solid, because it was heavy as a tank compared to the other bikes.... WRONG! The CBR's weight has been an easy target for the last two years, but for 2005, the CBR 600RR is no longer the heaviest bike in its class, although all four bikes are within four pounds of each other, so being "heaviest" really wouldn't matter anyway. In this case, the CBR's solid feel comes from one thing and that's excellent chassis engineering, period.
Uh folks... Lest ye think my impressions are a bit off... Let's not forget that last year's CBR600RR won the World Supersport Championship and this weekend, the 2005 CBR 600RR just swept the top three spots in the first round of the `05 World Supersport Championship. Say what you want, but there is no denying that this is the most competent racetrack chassis in the middleweight class.
Gabe ~ Honda CBR 600RR ~ Track ~
The RR greeted me with a hard, flat seat and very low bars. The seat is high and the reach to the bars is close, making me feel perched atop the machine. The instruments, which are nicely laid out and easy to see at a glance, are directly below the rider's helmet. At least they don't have a clutch cable obscuring the speedo like the Honda CBR 600F4i's!
My first session on the RR didn't impress me. The engine felt softer than the Kawasaki's, but the chassis felt harsh and stiff, not communicating the solid feel Sean raved about. The higher seat and weight-foreward riding position conspired to make the bike feel tippy- it would resist light steering inputs and then seemed to fall alarmingly into turns for the last bit of lean angle.
I did notice how refined and well-engineered the Honda felt, with perfect fuel injection that pulled hard from almost any RPM and a gearbox that didn't just feel liquid smooth- it felt like clicking a light switch. But overall, I went slower that first session on the RR than I had on my first session with the R6.
But overall, I went slower that first session on the RR than I had on my first session with the R6.
Back in the pits, I had told the Honda technician about the stiff, tall feeling I got from his RR. Now usually when I complain, people just nod at me, pretending to listen. They often say things like "I'll get right back to you on that" or "we'll be taking steps to rectify that situation next year." But now the guy actually took out a notepad and wrote down my complaints, which in all my many years of complaining have never been done before except maybe by therapists and emergency room physicians. I was practically moved to tears. Then he actually made the changes I requested!
My next trip out on the Honda was amazing. Suddenly I felt supremely confident on the thing, passing almost everyone who was supposed to be in the B group. I noticed much higher entry speeds on the red RR than the other bikes as the newly compliant suspension soaked up the bumps in perennially bumpy turn 5 like they weren't there, even passing slowpokes on the outside line. I was able to zoom up the hill in to turn 6 faster as well. In fact I had enough new-found confidence in the RR that I started to worry about the stock Dunlop D218 tires, especially when spinning the rear tire as I exited Infineon's Turn Two.
The Honda is so balanced and easy to ride that its rider is able to relax and get down to lowering their laptimes sooner than they can on the other bikes. Flawless fuel injection, sophisticated, perfectly selected suspension, great ground clearance and lack of headshake means you never feel like you are pressing the bike's limits, even as the day wears on and your lap times improve in leaps and bounds.
Pete ~ Honda CBR 600RR ~ Track
From a novice's viewpoint, the first two words that come to mind with the Honda are "confidence" and "inspiring." Or just call the CBR confidence inspiring. The difference in rider position from the other bikes to the 600RR seemed even more pronounced on the track than on the street. Giving the sensation of truly sitting forward on the bike, perhaps due in part to a higher ride height, the compact nature of this unit never led to a feeling of: "I'm going to get in over my head on this thing!" At least not after the first lap was under my belt.
Once accustomed, the Honda let you know it was there to adjust to your riding style however good or bad. Very forgiving of rookie maneuvers, it would stabilize quickly and be immediately ready for throttle input. The Honda was letting me think I was better than I really was. Or would the RR actually make me a better rider? I truly appreciated the way it would forgive an overzealous downshift in preparation for a tight right-hander. And even if I were able to upset the chassis the bike would come back into line so easily and quickly that any rider error was quickly forgotten. Once again the Honda was more than willing to accommodate, making it all the easier to apply gobs of throttle to get to the next turn. In simple terms, I was able to pin the throttle without fear of finding myself somewhere down the track that I hadn't anticipated arriving so quickly.
Another facet of this bike that let me experience broadening my limits was the brake quality. They worked so well and easily that I basically forgot they were there. Very light and subtle yet they applied more than enough stopping power. The bottom line for me about the 600RR was its ability to "disappear" from my conscious and let me think of little else than the task at hand.
Sean ~ Kawasaki ZX-6R ~ Street ~
Frankenbike! Take 1-part 63% MotoGP engine + 1-part ultra light & nimble racebike + 1-part tourer and after you've finished mixing, you'll have a new ZX-6R. The only glaring flaw in this package is that the chassis transmits too many grating engine vibrations to the rider's hands and feet. It may be uber powerful and plusher than any supersport has a right to be, but those vibrations and an occasional headshake make the bike feel somewhat unrefined and negate the long distance potential that the new flatter, deeper and softer seat promised. On smooth open pavement however, the Kawasaki will walk off and hide from the other bikes and this fact means that street riders who do a little dragracing on the side or who just like to brag about how fast their bike is, will find the 636 to be the ideal bike. With a smoother engine and a steering damper, the ZX-6R would be the best middleweight streetbike in the world by far. Stock, it's still damned impressive, but the GSX-R and R6 deliver a slightly more harmonious overall experience on the street.
Pete ~ Kawasaki ZX-6R ~ Street ~
The Kawi was the bike I was most eager to ride. Straight off-the power is awesome for its relative displacement. I got a chance to wind it up on an open stretch of freeway, and it punched forward with the force a two-year-old liter bike. Hooray for Kawasaki's seat engineers! It is by far the most comfortable seat of the bunch. I've sat on couches that were less comfortable than the ZX-6R's seat. Unless someone buying one of these intends to go straight to the track, everyday practicality should be a large part of their buying decision. The 636 would be the bike you might actually ride from L.A. to Laguna and back. Switching to the Kawi from one of the other bikes allowed me to immediately sense some additional leverage from the wide clip-ons. I think this is a nice quality to have for real world use, as it equates to easier steering. This very green machine might have the best brakes, challenged only by the Honda. On the Kawasaki, braking is basically a one-fingered, sub-conscious act.
On the downside, the 636 delivered a noticeable engine buzz, especially at freeway speeds. The 636 also looked and felt the longest. Another problem spot was the quality and placement of the ZX-6R's instruments. My view of the cluster was cut in half by the top line of the windscreen and the poorly lit and contrasted gauges became almost useless. Assuming the suspension was at factory settings, the ride also seemed a little too firm for me. Especially at speed over consistently rough pavement. Also, my perception of the clutch was that it can be a little "grabby" when trying to modulate speed off the line. This might have been an aspect of the slipper clutch they're using and would probably become invisible once you were accustomed to the bike.
Sean ~ Kawasaki ZX-6R ~ Track ~
Two years ago JB and I interviewed Colin Edwards and he just couldn't shut up about how fast the Aprilia RS3 (ok, not a world beater, but it did make a ton of power) MotoGP bike was. He kept saying "It's like sticking an ICBM up your ass." Well, I've never stuck anything up my ass, but I think I know what he meant anyway. All four bikes in this middleweight crop feel faster than the bikes they replace. However, the 636cc Kawasaki is in another league compared to last year's 636. This thing is truly ballistic. Its acceleration builds in a headlong rush that intensifies with speed/rpm. Thrilling would work as a description, but I think addictive might be more accurate. Throttle response is outstanding, with a linear delivery that lets you use all 110Hp without testing your karma.
The ZX-6R does occasionally shake its head. However, the Kawasaki feels a bit more "planted" than the R6, so when the Kawasaki shakes, it is a bit less of a scare, where on the R6 the twitches occasionally set-off secondary motions that caused me to pucker-up and roll out of the throttle. Both bikes feel a bit more on-edge than the Honda or Suzuki, but once you get used to them, the headshake and chassis activity can actually become entertaining in a TZ-250 sort of way. An accomplished rider will go faster on the Kawasaki than any other bike in this test, thanks to the Kawasaki's light weight and most importantly, its monster motor. Since the Kawasaki can be a bit intimidating at times, its extra capability doesn't seem to help it as much with intermediate level racers and occasional track day guys.
At the end of the day, I set the fastest lap time on the ZX-6R, even though it doesn't quite possess the overall goodness of the Honda or the quick steering of the R6. Bottom line: If you can use its extra power, the 636 will get you there faster.
Gabe ~ Kawasaki ZX-6R ~ Track ~
"Ha, ha" said the insanely green Kawasaki 636. "I'll spit you off my high-side like Chuck Yeager in an ejection seat! Go back to your car dealership, little man!"
Like hell! I flung my leg over the Kawi. It felt bigger than I had expected, with a broad, comfortable seat, which was so high I could barely put my feet flat on the ground. The handlebars were sooooo low compared to my Triumph, but I figured that was the price I would have to pay today and thumbed the starter. The engine came alive with the expected raspy, clattery four-cylinder roar. I pulled in the clutch lever (which, like all the clutch levers on motorcycles these days, has a longer reach to the bars than I find comfortable) and snapped the slick gearbox into first. I headed out to pit lane.
I was already late for my first session and the starter didn't even look up. I looked over my right shoulder for oncoming traffic and powered up the hill.
Yow! The 636 responded with perfect throttle response and a nasty growl from the air box- I had forgotten my earplugs! No matter, the top of the hill, dreaded turn two, was upon me!