This has become the cry of the rational motorcyclist when the subject of modern literbikes comes up. But what if you could have virtually all of the same performance-driven componentry and research and development that go into most superbikes in a motorcycle with roughly 30-35% less spank? Would most riders, young and old, veteran and newbie, feel like they could handle such a bike? Apparently, yes.
Supersports, or more commonly, 600s, are red-hot sellers. Editor Duke reported back from his time at the U.S. launch of the 2008 R6 that the tuning fork company claims "the 600cc segment makes up 51% of what Yamaha calls the Supersport market, a segment that is up in sales a huge 52% since 2001." Yep, these things are pretty important.
Changing of the guard?
As a matter of fact, the supersport class may become even more important to OEMs than it already is –whether they like it or not. When the AMA essentially admitted to its ineptness at handling American pro racing and announced in March of this year that Daytona Motorsports Group was granted rights to promote, sanction and manage various AMA racing series, one of DMG’s first moves was to change the current structure of road racing. Starting in 2009, the premier class will likely be the “Daytona Superbike” class. As of the writing of this story, DMG hasn’t yet released specific rules for the new class but has stated that the collection of contenders will include Twins, Triples and four-cylinder bikes, and will have “middleweight performance horsepower limits,” said to be 140 rear-wheel horsepower. In effect, this opens the door for six more brands that DMG says fit the bill: Aprilia, KTM, Triumph, BMW, Ducati and Buell.
Well then, guess it’s a good thing we got around to testing at least 5 of the 10 bikes potentially eligible for the new Daytona Superbike class.
Like our literbike shootout from last month, this battle supreme has a couple of freshened-up entrants mixed in with a couple of models not yet at the end of their model cycles. AMA Formula Xtreme reigning champ, Honda, is naturally in the fray with its CBR600RR unchanged from last year; same goes for Kawasaki’s 2007-08 Daytona 200-winning ZX-6R.
Though it can’t lay claim to any U.S. championships, the Daytona 675 from Triumph – unrevised since its ’06 intro – is a champion of the hearts of many and has taken top honors in the Supersport class at the Spain-based track-centric Supertest three years running now, and three-peated this year in the same category in a similar uber-evaluation called Masterbike run by the Spanish sportbike mag Motorciclismo. Tooting our own horn a bit while paying further accolades to the English Triple, the 675 won Motorcycle.com’s 2006 Supersport shootout as well as our 2006 Best of the Best comparison. Phew! That’s a tough act to follow.
This leaves the two newest bikes: the Yamaha R6 and Suzuki GSX-R600. Both bikes received a healthy dose of revision but not so much as to make either wildly different from last year.
For ’08 the R6 gained YCC-I (Yamaha Chip Controlled-Intake), first seen on the 2007 R1. Both supersport and liter machines from Yamaha now have throttle-by-wire (YCC-T) and YCC-I. In addition, the middleweight mill received upwards of some 50 tweaks, a couple of them being increased compression and substantially larger crossover pipes in the exhaust headers; the targeted goal being improved mid-range. To augment engine improvements, the R6’s frame was updated to enhance both rigidity and controlled flex in all the right areas. The aluminum subframe was tossed in favor of one constructed from magnesium. Finally, things like altered clip-on placement, new EFI, 0.5mm thicker rotors for improved heat dissipation and revised bodywork join numerous other changes that add up to what Yamaha calls a “brand new bike from the tires up.”
Suzuki has reason to be proud of the GSX-R600. According to Garrett Kai, American Suzuki’s Senior Communications Specialist, it is the best-selling machine of all the products in the company’s catalog. The little Gixxer got a gaggle of improvements this year, and like the R6, a heavy focus was on mid-range power improvements. Compression was pushed from 12.3 to 12.5:1, intake ports were reshaped, valve lift was reduced on the intake cams and exhaust pipe diameter was reduced by a scant 3mm while overall muffler volume increased. Fueling was enhanced and ventilation between cylinders was increased marginally to reduce pumping losses. Though the chassis remains largely unchanged from last year, the GSX-R600 picked up an electronically controlled steering damper. Improvements to braking come via changes to increase pinching power without increasing effort at the lever. Oh, and we almost forgot, to complete the circle, so to speak, the 2008 GSX-R600 now, like all current Zook sport bikes, has the A-B-C of Suzuki–Drive Mode Selector.
Back in the saddle
With the players in place we summoned a motley collection of hapless riders eager for a spin on the latest 600cc hardware and a free meal at Outback Steakhouse. Fresh from our literbike rumpus is ex-Limey, Steve “Speed” Kelly. Steve’s a salty veteran of the motorbike courier world, first in Ol’ Blighty, then sunny L.A. He’s owned more bikes – and sold ‘em at a profit! – than George Barber, holds a WSMC racing license (sourced from an I-5 rest-area bathroom) and has countless miles round a track. He’s plenty qualified, but we just like his accent.
Also returning – and still suffering mental duress – from the literbike battle is Alexandra Bongart. Alex owns a late-model GSX-R600, knows her way around the pits and track, and is an accomplished street rider. She brings a fresh, female perspective to Motorcycle.com, which is very important these days and rarely, if ever, seen in most publications. I hate to admit it, but I’ve had a hard time keeping her out of my mirrors during street rides.
'...we logged hundreds of street miles through twisted mountain pavement, urban sprawl and droned the superslab'
New to the tomfoolery is Kaming Ko. This incredibly friendly character has a lengthy resume in Formula car racing a well as a ‘70s motorcycle racing survivor. Kaming’s riding style is a dead give-away to his age, as some fused vertebrae keeps him from laying over the tank in a sportbike tuck, but he still rides faster than most us who have a fully functional spine! Again, like the other two above, we really keep him in the mix for ulterior motives. He has owned some of the coolest sportbikes ever built, like the Desmosedici RR he recently let Editor-in-Cheese Duke and me bumble around Willow on.
Finally, this time we added someone as sharp with a keyboard as he is with a twist-grip. Mark Gardiner is to motojournalism like a wrongly-accused inmate is to death row: full of time served and glad to be out. Jesting aside, it needs to be known that Mark worked at Motorcyclist magazine for a stint, raced in the Isle of Man TT, and is an accomplished author with his well-received book, Riding Man, about his TT experience.
Over the course of several days we logged hundreds of street miles through twisted mountain pavement, urban sprawl and droned the superslab. Mix in one nearly perfect day on the Big Track at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, CA, where we doubled-up on sessions courtesy of trackday company, Take It 2 The Track, and we were ready to cast ballots in hopes of a clear-cut winner. Clear-cut? Pfft!
We employed the same scoring method as in this year’s liter comparo wherein we took a cumulative sum of scores over 12 categories – with the same bias toward the Engine category – that encompass the things we care about in a motorcycle.
(power, tractability, response, user-friendliness, vibration)
Surprise! Not exactly, but the Honda’s powerplant, being as linear as it is, can’t quite compare to the 675’s, according to the unblinking Dynojet at our friends at Area P. In classic inline-Triple fashion, the Daytona makes the best use of its shootout-leading 47.9 ft-lbs of torque in a very manageable way starting from as early as 3,000 rpm where it’s making 36 ft-lbs. At that same mark the CBR, the next most potent powerplant, is only making 21 ft-lbs. This middleweight represents with near perfection the characteristics we look to consider when assessing the engines. Power comes on early and isn’t absent in lower rpms like so many flaccid 600cc mills. The smooth on/off throttle transitions of the 675 translates into the most tractable bike here. Driving into and through Turn 8 at Willow revealed a rheostat-like quality: dial the power in, roll it off gently, and then turn it back up. On the street, Mark and Kevin kept using the phrase “cheater motor” after climbing out of the saddle with silly grins on their faces.
Set the oddball aside for a moment and the CBR is clearly the best powered of the four Fours. In many ways it mirrors the 675. It, too, has an exceptional amount of user-friendliness, as it doesn’t require its neck be wrung for maximum fun. Feed the throttle in from way down the rpm range and the Honda pulls more like a 750cc Four, its powerful grunt belying its displacement. “Not sure how the hell Honda does it, but this bike rips out of corners,” exclaimed Speed Kelly. That’s a good observation considering it shares identical bore and stroke figures (67 x 45.2mm) with the other three Japanese machines. The simple answer is that the CBR is just a tick shy of the 675 in terms of horsepower and torque. With 105 ponies peaking at 14,100 rpm and 46 ft-lbs maxing out in the 12,500 rpm neighborhood, it’s a force to be reckoned with and understandable why the bike has been so successful in AMA Formula Xtreme.
It seems Suzuki’s efforts paid dividends in the search for more mid-range usability. It doesn’t have the stonk of the 675 but pulls with authority – save for a soft spot around 7,000 – as early as 4,500 rpm making 30 ft-lbs. The GSX-R600 actually outpaces the CBR’s torque figures by 2-3 lbs on average from just below 3k until about 8k where the CBR leaves the Gixxer behind. The strange thing here is that seat-of-the-pants sensation is quite the opposite. We’re attributing the Honda’s shorter gearing for its extra-torquey feel. The Gixxer offers smooth throttle transitions and trouble-free fueling that are the work of Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve system, and a new ECU controls fueling as well as a valve in the exhaust system. Torque is quickly becoming the new catch-phrase in supersport tuning. The end result is a more robust spread of power that brings the GSX-R closer to the CBR and Daytona in terms of greater everyday usability. One small negative with the Zook’s mill is that seemed to be buzzier than most on the freeway.
The current ZX-6R is likely at the end of its lifecycle, and it’s starting to show in the face of the competition. Before all the Ninja loyalists start planning to burn us at the stake for such blasphemy, we fully and readily acknowledge the ZX as a very excellent choice, and the Ninja’s motor seemed the smoothest among the buzzy inline-Fours. But, the Green Machine was dead last in the horsepower race, posting a sub-par 97.7 hp in stock form, according to our pals at AreaP and their reliable Dynojet dynamometer. There’s something of a minor controversy regarding the tuning of the ZX, something you’ll want to read more about in the below sidebar.
ZX-6R Free Horsepower!
Pity the poor sportbike engineers who must find a way to create 599cc engines that produce 100 horsepower at the rear wheel while meeting every-stricter exhaust emissions regulations. And while spent exhaust gases must be cleaner than ever, noise emissions must also be kept in check, although that standard hasn’t been revised in decades.
Nowhere is that more apparent than Kawasaki’s ZX-6R. Since its 2005 iteration, the ZX’s ECU includes programming which closes a valve in the exhaust at high revs, restricting its top-end power and reducing its overrev zone past the engine’s power peak. (European ZX’s aren’t afflicted, as they have different sound-level regulations across the Pond.) This combines to make the stock Ninja feel less exciting, and its rapid power loss once past the engine’s peak forces some extra gearshifts, especially when riding in the power-hungry environment of a racetrack. Our ZX test unit was the least powerful 600 on the dyno, spinning up just 97.7 hp at its peak.
But why is the Kawi saddled with this limitation while the other OEMs don’t seem to suffer from similar programming? That’s been difficult to identify, but Kawi reps assure us their bikes adhere to the obfuscatory EPA noise regulations guidelines that are self-regulated by the OEMs.
“All Kawasaki street motorcycles, including the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R, sold in the United States have been designed to meet all current U.S. emissions and noise regulations for street-legal motorcycles,” is Team Green’s official statement on the subject. Since the sportbikes from other OEMs aren’t similarly affected, the implication is they aren’t meeting the same requirements.
Glenn Hansen, Suzuki’s communications manager, explained to us that the ECUs on Suzuki products bound for America are different than their Euro counterparts, and he added that all their bikes meet current regulations. He pointed out that using dual mufflers on Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 was partially the result of meeting noise edicts.
Lucky for ZX trackday riders (off-road-use only, doncha know? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more…), the party-pooping programming can quickly be defeated. Simply unplug the cap of the four-pin electrical connection under the seat and bridge the black/yellow wires to the green/dark green wires across from each other in the connector. This defaults the ECU to European spec and lets the engine breathe at high rpm by keeping the exhaust “power” valve open.
When we performed this trick on our ZX, we found a 5-hp increase (102.8 hp) in peak power, making it competitive with its rivals, but the biggest improvement was in the overrev zone above 13,000 rpm where the stock ECU programming strangles the Ninja. There is nearly a 10-hp gap at 14,000 rpm, with the stock bike wheezing out 93.4 ponies to the modified ECU’s 102.7.
It should be noted that the Ninja doesn’t feel particularly down on power during street rides, as it’s only when screaming up near maximum revs that this shortcoming becomes apparent. But it’s too bad that the stock bike needs an excuse, because in race trim the ZX-6Rs are formidable foes in the Supersport and Formula Xtreme race classes.
The R6 trails behind the others in terms of streetable power. It doesn’t make 30 ft-lbs until 6,000 rpm, then manages to dip below 30 for a short rpm range, then regains its composure at almost 8,000 where it barely makes 31.5 ft-lbs; at 8k rpm the Gixxer is making nearly 6 more ft-lbs. Though the ZX-6R sees a modestly better 32.5 ft-lbs in the same spot, it’s more linear much earlier than the R6 as it starts to see those 32 ft-lbs as soon as 5,000 rpm. Where the Yamaha shines is beyond the 13,000 mark where it screams, quite literally, to 100 hp, leaving the green bike in its dust. Unfortunately for street riders, the fun zone on the Yammie is all at the top. Racers won’t care.
(clutch actuation/modulation, shift ease, precision, slipper clutch)
The two-year old Ninja may be lagging a bit these days in overall peak power and torque figures, but it seems it is still a step ahead in the gearbox game. The close-ratio six-speed cassette-style tranny is the poster kid for snick-snick shifting. Not unlike its bigger brother, the ZX-10R that shared top honors in this category with the Honda CBR1000RR in our liter comparo, the 6R’s tranny is essentially transparent. Taskmaster Duke often spoke of the 6R’s shifting as “light-action,” and never seemed anything short of impressed with its slipper-clutch. For myself, I couldn’t deny the impeccable function of the components that make the bike shift, but I also couldn’t help but note – whether on track or street – what felt like short gearing on top.
There’s a pretty big gap between the Kaw and the Suzuki here, but the Zook is still pretty damn good, especially its back-torque-limiting clutch. As Kevin reported from his time at the Misano unveiling of the ‘08 Suzuki, the company “… added an additional clutch plate with revised friction material and a modified drive cam shape.” Those minor clutch tweaks and a very smooth shifting transmission kept the junior Gixxer solidly in second in this category.
“Why such a poor showing for the CBR,” you might rightly ask when normally it’s raves all ‘round for most Honda shifting. The fact is that the RR is really quite good – as basically all of them are – but in such a closely contested battle small things stand out. There are some commonalities and some stark differences in this quintet: all five have cable-actuated clutches, yet only three have slipper clutches. The Honda is one of two slackers. Now that Big Red’s liter machine has one, Honda’s fans can sleep easy tonight knowing that the next iteration of the CBR600RR will have one too.
The R6’s biggest failing was a clutch that engaged near the end of lever travel making for some temperamental shifting on the street and thus was relegated to fourth spot. The 675 suffered “slightly notchy” shifting and is the other delinquent in this group without a slipper
(quickness, feedback, stability, confidence)
Claiming its first, first-place finish in the category of Handling, the nimble CBR600RR did the best job in the majority of our testers’ minds. Its chassis dimensions aren’t exceptionally flightier than the other four, and it is only rivaled by the 675 which has substantially shorter trail (86.8 vs. 97.7mm) and identical rake (23.5º). Nevertheless, the Honda simply was “the easiest to flick from side to side, yet was super stable mid-corner,” according to trackday junkie Steve. Along with the shortest wheelbase (53.9”) the Honda boasts the most advanced steering stabilizer in the group. Having improved greatly from its first edition, the HESD – discreetly hidden under the front lip of the fuel tank – is the perfect ally to “add stability to a bike with aggressive steering geometry,” notes Duke. If there’s a drawback to the HESD it is that steering can seem a touch on the heavy side when initiating a turn at high speeds, as the complex steering damper considers vehicle speed, throttle position and rate of acceleration when determining the amount of resistance to apply. The CBR’s handling is also aided by the superb Dunlop Qualifiers.
The Daytona most closely resembles the Honda’s handling as it has the aforementioned tiniest trail figure that could make for skittish handling, but it’s balanced out by a 54.8-inch wheelbase and a non-electronic steering damper. In addition, the 675 is the most waif-like in the collection. From tip to tail the Daytona is skinny. The bike’s narrow waist and slim fuel tank make for easy and unencumbered movement across the saddle when transitioning between corners. Add in the most excellent Pirelli Dragon Supercorsas, and it starts to become clear why the Tri has been the top choice in so many magazine evals and large group tests.
The Ninja still managed to “feel lighter than the 675” at the track according to El Duke, despite the longest wheelbase at 55.3 inches, a modest 25 degrees of rake and a crazy-long-by-class-standards 109mm of trail. The 6R’s wide, flat clip-on placement helps mask the lazy geometry, as does its lack of steering damper. Its stability-inducing geometry and a set of Bridgestone BT015 tires had Speed Kelly saying the “Kawi handled like it's super-glued to the tarmac!”
Once again, I found myself dissenting from the majority. For me, the GSX-R offered something that allowed me to get comfortable and go as fast as I felt right out of the gate. The Suzuki 600, with its 55.1-inch wheelbase, 23.8 degrees of rake and 96.5mm of trail, falls somewhere between the CBR and 675 dimensionally. It also has the lowest seat height at 31.9 inches, is narrow-wasted, has clip-ons that are set close to one another and has an electronically-controlled steering damper. This added up to a great package in my opinion. With the latest supersport tire from Bridgestone, the BT016, the GSX-R600 was the only bike that I felt like I could go out and start racing right away.
Unfortunately, for the R6, the Handling category was one in which it failed our testers considerably. Though it has very similar figures (54.3” wheelbase, 24° rake, 96.5mm trail) to the GSX-R and doesn’t¬ have a steering damper, the Yamaha managed to make all of us feel that it was the heaviest-steering. Once over on the tire’s edge, the effort required to get it there was rewarded with very good front-end stability and feel.
(power, modulation, initial bite, feedback)
Here we have the Ninja leaving no question that it stops substantially better than any of the five. It usually never took more than the first ride for any of us to climb out of the seat of the Ninja before we started praising the superb sensitivity and abundant power coming from the radial-mount four-piston four-pad Nissin calipers that clamp down on 300mm petal-type rotors. The 6R has close competition in the CBR that offered a “vicious initial bite” in Gardiner’s opinion. No matter how good the Honda’s brakes are, they still came second to the Ninja’s best binders.
The Suzuki and Triumph share equal scores here and most certainly aren’t bad by any means, just not as great as the Kawi. Most of us felt like the initial bit of the GSX-R's brakes was soft, or “mushy” to quote Alex, yet they were progressive in power and offered sufficient feel as the lever was pulled farther in. The 675’s Nissin binders were somewhere between the very good braking of the Honda and Suzuki: not the best, but plenty capable. The 675’s braking scores were held back by excessive lever travel before biting.
Though all bikes in the test have radial-pump brake master cylinders and radial-mount calipers, only the Yamaha has something of a proprietary model with its Sumitomo calipers and Brembo master cylinder; the other four are either Tokico or Nissin. Not that this is an issue in and of itself, but for all the updates Yamaha gave the R6 this year, they needed to consider updating the brakes, too. All except one of us thought the blue bike’s brakes were lacking in sensitivity to the point of feeling wooden. Eventually they would develop enough power, but not before you started to question their effectiveness. Additionally, where the other bikes had simple dial-type adjusters with clearly marked numbers to denote adjustment points on the brake levers, the R6 has an inconvenient screw-type adjuster that proved difficult to operate.
(legibility, features, attractiveness)
This is where we start toeing the waters of subjectivity. Though there are some things that most people would consider an obvious plus, like the Kawi’s white-faced tachometer, a lot of instrumentation comes down to personal tastes.
The GSX-R came out on top with what the tester’s deemed the best package. Though not fully white like the Ninja’s, the Gixxer tach is prominent and has a ring of white on the face right where the numbers sit. Gear position and the A, B or C of S-DMS are displayed in a small LCD in the tach. To the right is the main LCD that has speedo, dual tripmeters, coolant temp, lap timer, shift light and a reserve fuel mileage counter; all the other bikes offer a variation on this basic theme. The Yamaha keeps its attractive display narrow and long, but like many here, its tach has a black face that makes reading it at race-track speeds a bit difficult. We really dug the “the progressive series of blue LED shift lights” on the 675 dash, but resetting the tripmeter is overly complicated and took us a while to figure out that two buttons need to be pushed simultaneously to do it.
Unless you’ll be stripping one of these dynamos down for race and/or track use only, not having a fuel gauge on a street bike in this day and age just seems silly. The Honda won points for being the only bike that offers a fuel gauge, although it comes in lieu of a gear-position indicator that is thoughtfully provided on the Daytona, ZX and Gixxer. If you sit far enough forward in the Kawi saddle, the top edge of the windscreen can obscure the view of the top of the tach. This is nit-picking, but I also didn’t like the way the Ninja’s tripmeter would disappear to be replaced by a flashing FUEL symbol when petrol was low.
Our first tie in the test sees the Suzuki and Honda sharing numero uno. Mark was clear about his thoughts on the CBR’s rider triangle, noting it felt the “raciest” as it allowed him to “make firm inputs,” but was still a cozy environment. Kevin chimed in on the Honda, remarking that its “seat is tolerable for 60 miles,” yet the windscreen offered minimal protection in his seasoned opinion. Indeed, the CBR600RR very much has a compact, GP-like stance and ergo package but it’s still quite tolerable on the street.
The Suzuki has the shortest seat height, and as Mark observed, creates a “sitting in rather than on” sensation. Alex and I were of one mind about the Gixxer’s rider layout. “For me the best seating position; it feels really comfortable in twisties, on the track, and for commuting,” says our fast female. With the only set of clip-ons that didn’t have my wrists or hands aching, and the only set of adjustable rearsets in the collection, the GSX-R600 offered the best blend of real-world comfort without sacrificing performance. The Ninja ranked pretty well here as just about everyone thought it offered the roomiest rider triangle; everyone, that is, ‘cept for me. I just couldn’t help but feel the seat-to-bar relation was a bit too short. Perhaps this was the reason that Kevin felt the ZX offered “great wind protection with the screen close to the rider.” He also observed that “the flat, wide seat is supportive but thinly padded.”
I mentioned earlier that the 675’s overall narrow shape helped make for a good handling bike when transitioning corner to corner. It’s very similar to the CBR’s racy ergo package, yet the reach to the bars proved to be a little too much, even for Steve who’s a tad taller than most of us. He commutes daily on his personal 675 through L.A. rush-hour traffic and usually calls the bike a “torture rack.” This stretch isn’t as noticeable on the track; however, the Daytona scored third place, or fourth, depending how you consider the Honda/Suzuki tie.
Kevin said it succinctly when he remarked that the R6’s “seat isn’t quite as tall as the Daytona’s, but its wide pad splays short legs uncomfortably.” For this same reason, the 5-foot-5 Alex called it downright “undesirable for street use.” Though not necessarily having anything to do with ergos, and for reasons we haven’t quite figured out yet, we noticed that an unusual amount of heat worked its way to a rider’s legs and bottom. The mystery here is that the R6 has one of those new-fangled mid-ship exhausts for mass centralization, so there isn’t an obvious reason for the warming sensations. Oddly, we didn’t experience this with the 675, ZX-6R or CBR, all of which have under-seat exhausts.
(control, comfort, ease of adjustments)
All of the bikes provide lots of adjustability in suspension, and all five run an inverted fork. Despite many similarities between them, the CBR achieved a perfect score. Both front and rear suspension were ideally adjusted from the get go. This bike provided a very forgiving ride on the street and freeway without being overly soft. The rider was sufficiently isolated from crummy pavement or nasty expansion joints, yet the bike never felt numb or lacked feedback. On the track the Honda’s springy parts lent to its stellar handling. It never protested with confidence-sapping chatter or buck lighter riders in the bumps in the braking zone at the entrance to Turn 3 at Willow.
The Suzuki was a close second, mostly due to its very supple ride. I prefer a bike that’s a bit soft as to one that requires numerous adjustments to soften a harsh ride. Kaming didn’t care for this quality on the track, remarking that the Gixxer’s softer suspension caused the bike to pitch fore and aft, making it difficult to ride smoothly. The ZX and R6 were pretty well matched with both providing good feedback and responsiveness on the track, while time on the street revealed less forgiving mounts. The R6 gets kudos for its shock’s easily adjustable spring preload via a ramped adjuster, sharing this useful feature with only the Honda.
This is the department where the Triumph took a nose dive. It was quite the opposite of “divey,” especially on the street. When we received the bike it was nearly impossible to ride on the street as front rebound was too fast and rear rebound was maxed out. After we added two clicks to the front and backed off significantly the shock’s rebound, handling improved a ton, but the Daytona’s suspenders never performed as well as the CBR’s. As a matter of fact, no bike rode like the Honda.
|Fit and Finish
(how well is it put together, etc)
Another near-perfect score for the 600RR, except this time we expected as much. If one thing characterizes a Honda, it’d have to be perceived quality. This is a hallmark of all products from Big Red. After less than a day on the CBR, the rider comes away feeling like the entire bike was built by hand while still holding to the exacting standards set by the Japanese vehicle-making giant. Right down to the switch gear, the RR feels solid and perfectly assembled.
The GSX-R ain’t too shabby either, as this latest iteration carries a high level of refinement from years of model honing, and we all appreciated its front and rear turnsignals neatly integrated in its mirrors and tailsection, respectively. The R6 also exudes quality, from its CF aluminum swingarm to the luster of its bodywork. The remaining two certainly aren’t jalopies, but there may have been a squeak here or slightly misaligned body panel there. The Honda is the standard bearer.
In a calculated move by Suzuki designers, the Gixxer Sixxer gets some new duds, and in doing so they may have made it the best looking supersport on the planet, at least in our test unit’s new White/Silver color combo. This re-skin includes a very effective and eye-catching three-beam headlight design, a GSX-R1000-inspired fuel tank with a 4.5-gallon capacity and lighter wheels, among other details, to make this one sexy six.
The Yammie makes its best showing yet thanks to “razor-sharp” styling. The R6, like the GSX-R, got styling updates for 2008, and continues a menacing stance that makes the bike look as fast as it is. The Honda isn’t ugly or even unattractive, but it may suffer a bit in looks thanks to the usually conservative Honda styling as compared to a couple of the others that are more willing to take risks. Not quite sure what happened to the poor ZX. Maybe the green was too much to take?
(desirability, poser value, extra features)
If we could use one word to best sum up this category in this test, it might be uniqueness. The Triumph simply blows the other four away. In a copycat world of inline-Fours that all share identical bore and stroke figures, the English Triple is a breath of fresh air – even if it’s now three years old. Multiply uniqueness by a degree of exclusivity – you just don’t see many 675s – then factor in the unmatched intake and exhaust sounds the Daytona makes, and you’ve got a winner head and shoulders above the pack.
As the latest in a long line of popular Gixxers, this updated version is even more desirable with its fresh duds, and it ties with the R6 for the runner-up spot thanks to its full complement of features, although none of our testers believe the S-DMS has a useful place on a 600. As for the R6’s high score, you’d understand if you’ve ever heard the intense wail of the best-sounding 16,000 revs on the market.
Poor little Ninja...
(how big of a smile it puts on your face)
No doubt we can point to pretty much all of the same traits that helped the Triumph win the above category as helping it win this mini race, too. I really like the way Steve summarizes the bike from his motherland: “The Triumph is made from a different mold than your normal 600; foreign yet familiar, with a British style about it.” Fookin’ ‘ell, mate!
The Honda fared much better in this category than it did under the equally subjective Cool Factor rankings. We’ll safely guess that when casting their secret votes the majority of the testers were wooed by the CBR’s powerful and playful mill. The R6? Well, it has quite the opposite appeal of the 675, as its engine is still peaky relative to the others. Frankly, it has a two-stroke quality to it; soft until about 10k rpm where it opens up and screams like a banshee (Yamaha quad pun intended). On the street this can be nerve-wracking considering how blind corners flanked by granite walls tend to approach quicker than you expect.
Wow! Three victories in a row for the Triumph! This is no small thing in such a closely matched race. Full points go to the cheapest bike with minor deductions adding up for each MSRP as they get farther and farther from the winner.
Although the Suzuki is $400 more than the winning 675, its freebie passenger seat cowl helped anchor second place with the ZX that’s marginally more expensive than the Daytona. Both the R6 and Honda demand the most from potential customer pockets so they finish together at the bottom.
Drum roll, please...
Honda CBR600RR - 88.8%
Average fuel economy: 39.2 mpg
If you’ve been watching the individual category results you’ll have noticed that this was a very lively brawl with no obvious champ. Even we were a little surprised when the Honda was declared the victor when so much talk in the pits or at lunch stops was how much the 675 tickled our giggle bone.
Regardless of the Triumph’s high appeal and a strong win in the engine department, the 675 failed to topple the RR, which is missing only a gear-position indicator and a slipper clutch to be almost perfect. After years in the contemporary middleweight game, Honda presents a wealth of experience in creating an almost flawless package, and it’s called the CBR600RR. Mark Gardiner summarizes by saying, “The Honda seemed positively dowdy – no slipper clutch, no trendy MotoGP-style shorty exhaust. And yet as soon as I rode it, I found myself thinking, ‘The CBR600 wins again!’”
|The Perfect Bike For...|
|A do-it-all rider who simply wants to ride the most polished 600cc package, whether its on the way to work, scratching with buddies in the canyons or strafing other riders during trackdays – it does it all with no fuss.|
Suzuki GSX-R600 - 87.2%
Average fuel economy: 41.7 mpg
“What what whhaaat!” you scream into the monitor of your five-year old workstation as the coworker in the next cube calmly dials building security. Your surprise is understandable and somewhat warranted considering the Triumph scored consistently high, and that virtually every other publication in the world thinks it unbeatable. Suzuki, like Honda, has been making these things for a long time and has sculpted the little Gixxer into a finely-tuned device. Heck, they sell more of these than anything they make!
The GSX-R600, though not currently dominating any roadracing series, has a lot of street cred. I don’t know about you, but the question I get most often from people who don’t know bikes is, “What’s the best bike around, one of them Gixxers?”
|The Perfect Bike For...|
|Those who feel the allure of the racy GSX-R heritage and who want the latest, greatest example.|
Triumph Daytona 675 - 86.5%
Average fuel economy: 39.8 mpg
Consider two things before you call the Internet Police on us: The Daytona is now three years old and only slipped to third spot by seven-tenths of a percentage point. Though this beloved bike tied the Honda for four category victories and is clearly the least expensive, it didn’t score quite as high as often as the Suzuki did.
Regardless of shootout results, we’re more than sure the legions of Daytona devotees will only grow. There was an exceptionally narrow gap between the top three bikes in this shootout, and given a different crew of inmates, the Triumph could just as easily have won. If hard numbers weren’t used, and votes were cast with the heart, this three-cylinder siren may have wooed us all to its cause.
|The Perfect Bike For...|
|The rider who wants his Supersport serving spiced up from the cookie-cutter four-cylinder norm and who enjoys a symphonic exhaust note.|
Kawasaki ZX-6R - 84.7%
Average fuel economy: 37.3 mpg
Whatever nuances our testers individually determined were a little too off-putting about the ZX-6R, all of them combined couldn’t have amounted to the biggest factor in the green bikes low finish: not enough go power. Even after modifications that demonstrated our disrespect for the EPA, the little Ninja still didn’t have the steam needed to chase the others down the front straight at Willow after exiting Turn 9. The rest of the bike is really, really good. As Kevin said, “The Kawi might’ve won this test if it had the Triumph’s motor.”
Don’t let the Ninja’s fourth-place result take away from the fact that Steve Rapp has fared quite well in AMA Formula Xtreme on this same basic machine.
|The Perfect Bike For...|
|A rider who wants quick, confident handling and superb brakes and gearbox, and who is willing to do some electronic trickery to extract the maximum power available.|
Yamaha R6 - 79.6%
Average fuel economy: 36.2 mpg
We don’t imagine it’s all that often that a revised bike finishes a distant last place in a shootout held in the same year of the revision. Yet, the R6 managed to do just that. Combing over the notes and score sheets from each tester, it become obvious early that the Yamaha just didn’t do enough things right for us. There isn’t anything that doesn’t function correctly or is wholly unacceptable about this machine, but it also doesn’t sacrifice enough of its racing-edge performance to make it sensible for the prudent but demanding motorcycle enthusiast.
Initial turn-in requires more effort than the other four, the brakes lack sensitivity in an arena where the best binders require little more than a hot breath, and its ergos aren’t forgiving enough for the rider who needs to get on and off the saddle more often than just between races. Moreover, its engine, though maybe the most thrilling to hear and feel at peak horsepower, creates a bike that’s too focused on the podium rather than being focused on its owner’s well-rounded enjoyment on public roads.
Steve “Speed” Kelly says it plainly: “For this one, I would say that only racers need apply.”
|The Perfect Bike For...|
|Ben Bostrom and other similarly racy riders.|
In my garage...
If I had to choose one of these bikes to for myself, I would love to get the Kawasaki for its performance. However, looks and cool factor are important for me, too, which brings the Honda and the Suzuki into the game. And there I’d have a really hard time to making a decision; it might just come down to what I’d get the best deal on. They’re all so close that I’d probably base my decision on looks and price.
It is very difficult to choose between these five outstanding motorcycles. As far as I am concerned they are all perfect depending on owner’s intentions. If I plan to do mostly trackdays, my first choice would be Yamaha R6, but at age 53 I now spend most of my time in the canyons. For this reason I found both the Triumph and Kawasaki user-friendly due to their power delivery and comfort. On the other hand, the Honda CBR and the Suzuki are nearly perfect on all categories, great for both trackdays and canyons. The truth is, I can't make up my mind.
I came to this test with a completely open mind, but left slightly confused. Having previously owned three different 600s – a CBR600RR, GSX-R600 and two Daytona 675s – I felt I would be able to have a good feeling for each bike’s strengths and weaknesses. The CBR600RR is light and agile; it was the easiest to flick side-to-side yet was super stable mid-corner. Fueling and power were excellent; with a slick gearbox and no missed shifts. One of best things about the Honda is the great engine. This bike rips out of corners! Overall a super-enjoyable bike to ride and probably the bike I’d pick as a personal fave. Please don’t make me pick!
What would I buy? The Hondumph. Or maybe the Trida. Okay, seriously, if it was shaded for the street and high mileage, the Honda. If it was shaded for trackdays and occasional use, the Triumph. The Honda gets a bonus point for what I imagine is superior durability; the Triumph for its amazing motor.
Even though I’m not a fan of the Triumph’s committed riding position, the Daytona’s lusty three-cylinder is simply too intoxicating to resist. It combines punch that will make you forget about updating to a literbike with a glorious howl out its exhaust. The torquey Triple is the bike’s defining feature, and it’s more than enough to overlook the bike’s pedestrian finish quality. The Kawi might’ve won this test if it had a comparable motor. As it is, the three-year-old 675 excels because of it, making the package distinct and highly desirable. A near-unblemished service record and the lowest MSRP seals the deal.
Though these little beasts are fully of techno wizardry and already perform at brilliant levels, I expect it to get even better. Perhaps we won’t get more horsepower, but maybe we’ll start seeing things like OEM-spec traction control. The 675 is now in its third year and probably due for an overhaul, perhaps in time for the inaugural season of Daytona Superbikes. As good as it is, we can dream at how it may get even better! In the meantime I’d take a deal on a good used 675. Now to completely contradict myself after thousands of words, I just want to say that most literbikes offer a better value than most supersports. C’mon, when you amortize the extra two grand or so over five or six years, who wouldn’t want that extra 30-35% spank?
2008 Literbike Shootout: ZX-10R vs CBR1000RR vs GSX-R1000 vs YZF-R1
2008 Suzuki GSX-R600 Review
2008 Yamaha R6 - First Ride
Choose Your Weapon: Best of the Best, 2006
2006 Middleweight Supersport Shootout