2006 Middleweight Supersport Shootout
Honda CBR 600RR : Kawasaki ZX-6R : Suzuki GSX-R600 : Triumph 675 : Yamaha YZF R6
Get the Flash Player to see this player.Buttonwillow Raceway Park, CA --
Not too big, not too small. Not too slow, not too fast. The middleweight supersport category -- cutting-edge sporting tackle bigger than 500cc and smaller than 750cc -- is a hotly contested category that has grown in popularity since the class's inception in the mid-1980s. Around this time of year, the first robin
of spring is drowned out by the howl of 14,000 rpm engines bouncing off the rev limiters as the magazines torture the latest bikes to determine which bike will be the hot ticket for that riding season.
We here at MO have a great love for 600cc machines, as well as a great love of free tracktime, tires and crispy fried foods. So every year we call up the manufacturers, procure trackday tires, and poach some tracktime from a cooperative trackday organizer. We've done it so many times now it practically runs itself.
The fly in the ointment was Triumph announcing the potential Jim Thorpe of middleweight sportbikes, the Daytona 675 triple. We figured we could ignore it and do our usual Honda-Kawasaki-Yamaha-Suzuki thing like we've been doing since 1997, but the feedback and buzz on the message boards indicated we would have to somehow get the Triumph to maintain even a shred of dignity and credibility with our attractive and discerning readership.
Triumph wouldn't have one available for us until 2009, and Publisher Sean Alexander had just spent our last $8,999 bailing his manservant Abdul out of county jail yet again, so we couldn't buy one. We put out a frantic call to our readers, and by some miracle, a bike materialized.
We have the 675. We have the new Suzuki GSXR 600. We have the new Yamaha YZF- R6. We also have the Honda CBR600RR and Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R. They have fresh tires, there's a trackday scheduled, and we have enough gas, snacks, lap timers and other implements of destruction to get the job done. Good MOridian, set your phone to "out of office" and hang the "Back In 15 Minutes" sign on your cubicle. It's Supersport Shootout time once again.
Five Bikes, but Only One is Best: The Competitors
Picking contenders for this annual comparison is easy; since the mid-90s, each of the Japanese factories has offered a cutting-edge middleweight sportbike. In 1999, Yamaha upped the ante with their YZF-R6, which offered uncompromising, track-oriented performance and handling. In 2003, Kawasaki fired back with a 636cc machine with very focused ergonomics, and even Honda -- long known for building slightly softer bikes that offered friendly, balanced performance with a broad appeal -- presented their CBR600RR, based on their hi-tech MotoGP racer. This year is as exciting as 2003, with the addition of two all-new machines. The Triumph is the big news, as it signals the abandonment of the English company's strategy of attempting to compete with the Japanese on their terms. Instead, the 102 year-old marque uses their signature engine configuration --the inline-triple -- to offer consumers a lighter, slimmer machine with the same top-end hit as a 600cc inline-four and the grunty torque of a middleweight twin.
The other big news is an all-new Yamaha YZF-R6. Lighter, faster and with aggressive styling, the new Yammie boasted a 17,500 rpm redline -- at least until it was discovered that the tachometer was optimistic, reading over 1,000 rpm higher than actual crank speeds. Still, it's a light, fast and potent sporting machine that has some of the most amazing looks we've seen in any sportbike.
As if these two new missiles weren't enough, Suzuki snuck in an all-new GSXR 600 for 2006. It's based on their incredibly versatile and dominating GSXR 1000, which is a blend of speed, comfort and incredible handling prowess. We also can't ignore the Honda and the Kawasaki, which we tested last year. They return for 2006 mostly unchanged, but they are still very good and looking for trouble. It's a motojournalism cliché to say they are all excellent bikes, but the level of competition in this class makes this a true statement. How do we determine which one is best?
|MO Dyno Results|
Who Ordered Rain? The Test
To figure out which bike is best, we have to actually ride all the bikes. Poor us. Lining up the four Japanese bikes was fairly easy, but Triumph wasn't as forthcoming about pooping a 675 on command. "We'll put your name on the list and let you know when it's available" they said, and judging by the 14-month wait we had for the Rocket III, we'd rather not hold our breath.
So we put out an all-points bulletin for a MO reader with a 675 we could flog. We got many responses from all over the country, but we settled on loyal MO reader Ole (say "ol'-ee") Holter of Long Beach, CA, a piston's throw away from MO's Torrance headquarters. In exchange for the use of his shiny new 675 for a couple of days, we gave him a measly two sets of $300 tires, lodging, meals, a trackday, free racetrack coaching, two dyno runs and all the gas he could burn. What a sucker!
Pirelli launches the Diablo Corsa, the first tire with the revolutionary MIRS™ technology
Pirelli creates their latest tire without the use of those bothersome "humans."
Sounding similar but completely unrelated to the dated Russian space station, MIRS ( Modular Integrated Robotized System) developed by Pirelli R&D, is now utilized in Pirelli's production of their Diablo Corsa. The strength of this process is in "allowing the construction of a one-piece seamless cover, the new production method provides users with a tire whose qualitative standards are on a different plane than those obtained via the traditional process: absolute structural uniformity, no vibration or tire imbalance, and maximum comfort in road use." Pirelli also touts the "uniformity guaranteed by MIRS™ that permitted Pirelli engineers to develop the unique mix of compounds that render the tire suitable for use on the track."
The end result of all this tech is to offer riders who "use their Supersport bikes more for trackdays (70%) than on the road (30%)" faster riding enjoyment, peace of mind in all weather conditions and racetrack performance. An additional feature of the latest radial member of the Diablo family is a tire that is perfectly matched in motion to it's mate because the tire's profile always keeps the most suitable shape thanks to Pirelli's ICS (Ideal Contour Shaping) design and 0 degree steel belt construction. Imagine, all that from some soul-less robot.
Tread pattern plays an important role, with the front tire being "assigned the task to 'attack' water layers to clean the asphalt", thereby leaving what water is left in the path of the rear tire to be dispersed even further by way of transversal grooves between the center and shoulder sections of the tire with the remaining area being slick so as to be tractable and stable.
Man, those robots sure know how to make one heck of a tire.
With five bikes procured, we needed to level the playing field by putting equal, track-ready tires on them. A call to Pirelli sent a couple of pallets of Diablo Corsas to spoon on. The Corsa is a step up from the regular Diablo, offering more grip and a carcass better suited to track use, yet that is still suitable for street riding in all kinds of weather conditions; this last feature was to be useful later in the test.
Ole himself turned out to also be a useful resource, because not only did he provide a spare rider to help with the test (motojournalist and author of 101 Sportbike Performance Projects Evans Brasfield had to cancel), but he also mapped a route for us to Buttonwillow Raceway for the racetrack testing. The route went through some of the most spectacular roads in Southern California, with almost no Interstate involved. We started near Glendale at the Angeles Crest Highway and worked our way over to Lancaster, where we took flat, empty and wind-blown Highway 138 to I-5.
After watching Publisher Sean "Editor Emeritus" Alexander consume a 1.5 pound chimichanga in a horrifying, anaconda-like manner at a very tasty Mexican restaurant, we headed in a top-secret direction on one of the most excellent roads we've seen to do our photo passes and enjoy the handling and motor of the best sportbikes made. The road is so good, MOridians, that we will not reveal, even under torture, the name or location of the road.
Sadly, the weather Gods did not smile on us, lightly sprinkling us with rain for the remainder of the test. We stayed dry enough to enjoy some more high-speed hijinks on another top-secret road near the racetrack, and then retired to the palatial (compared to some other Buttonwillow area motels) Buttonwillow Inn and Suites after a traditional charred large-mammal dinner at the Willow Ranch barbecue.
The next morning it was off to Buttonwillow Raceway for the racetrack evaluation. Composed of 14 twists and turns, Buttonwillow is already a technical challenge that highlights a machine's suspension and responsiveness. Trackday organizer Ti2TT decided, after getting strong customer demand, to run the full course backwards, in a counter-clockwise direction for more fun and challenge. Now exits would become entrances, increasing radii turns would be decreasing ones, and apex would be in the wrong place. If there was a place that flexible, easy-to-ride and forgiving characteristics of a bike would shine, this was it.
Did I forget to mention the forecast for rain?
Fortunately, we did not have to go it alone. Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki all sent their tech support staff to keep their bikes clean, fueled and perfectly tuned for each rider's preferences, and the Suzuki and Triumph had their suspenders dialed in by the very competent hands of Dave Moss of Catalyst Reaction suspension.
An electrical engineer for a large corporation that builds expensive and destructive machines for the government, Ole (say "Ol-ee") was a natural to test expensive and destructive motorcycles for us. He has been riding motorcycles for 16 years and is the proud owner of the grey 675 we used in the test. He stood up to Sean's withering torrent of foul jokes and alpha-male posturing with flying colors and rode a passel of unfamiliar motorcycles with confidence and verve on our test. He is currently building a death-ray to attach to Ashley's RV.
We also enlisted the throttle-twisting services of Eric Putter, a 20-year veteran motojournalist. He's a former 600 owner and racer who is now an unabashed open-class streetbike devotee. He currently rides a lightly modded Yamaha FZ1 and is in the market for a middleweight track-day steed to offset his diminutive Honda NSR50 race bike. He attended the R6's press introduction and recently spent a day riding all of this year's open-class sportbikes.
Remarkable for not eating land animals and being married to a former Mouseketeer, (Mary) Mike (also an engineer for an aerospace firm) proved his mettle by riding in wet leathers over the 4100-foot Tejon Pass in the rain and then eating a large and greasy In-n-Out cheeseburger at Sean's urging. He's a true enthusiast with 18 years of riding under his belt and over 60,000 miles on his 1998 CBR 900RR as well as odd tastes in motorcycling footwear.
Sean "Editor Emeritus" Alexander
Pugnacious, gracious, tenacious and with the innate fashion sense of a Mexican Soap Opera star, Dirty finishes up his tenure here at MO with this shootout. He is known throughout the industry for having a flawless moral sense, an incredible knowledge of anything and everything with a motor, and being incredibly filthy-minded, with nothing off-limits to his foul and offensive sense of humor.
Sean is also wicked fast on the track or street and can go faster then most mortals while riding one-handed. He will be sorely missed by all of us here at MO who don't offend easily. Editor Ets-Hokin has spent the last four days sitting outside Sean's office, waiting for him to take him to lunch. We don't have the heart to tell him he's not coming back.
Gabe "Are We There Yet" Ets-Hokin
Woody Allen once said, "90% of success is just showing up." To prove that true, Gabe stuck through 14 months of almost daily abuse from MO's executive power structure to move to the front of the line and become the Editor when Dirty left the building.
More than qualified to plan, execute and write content for MO, Gabe is an AFM expert roadracer and former trackday coach who still can't wheelie on command. He is, however, furry, warm and easy to subdue, characteristics that make him popular on long road trips.
After a trackday that was disrupted by an afternoon rainshower, we packed up MOvan, connected electric vests, and got on I-5 for a chilly, rain-soaked 150-mile trip back to the office. The next day, we commenced to put the bikes on the MO DynoJet Dynamometer and hash out our votes.
As always, votes are based on the 100 percent subjective impressions of our five testers. We ask ourselves which of these bikes we'd want to own if we happened upon the necessary cash for the asking price of each one. We then tallied the votes and turned in our notes and impressions. One week later, the finished story is presented for your enlightenment.