2011 Middleweight Sportbike Shootout - Street [Video]
Ducati 848 EVO vs. Suzuki GSX-R750 vs. Triumph Daytona 675R
Ever feel like the odd man out, or the proverbial third wheel? If motorcycles had feelings, we know of three that might answer that question in the affirmative.
Ducati’s 848 and Triumph’s Daytona 675 have to work harder to get the attention of the modern sportbike buyer than do the 600cc supersports from the Big Four. A dollar to a doughnut says that the non-rider friend of a motorcyclist could, with decent accuracy, tell you what motorcycle company makes the Ninja. Ask that same person about a Daytona and they might reply, “What does spring break in Florida have to do with motorcycles?”
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Suzuki’s GSX-R750 may not have the same issue of poor name recognition, but it seems as though its glory days are far behind. Once the darling of the sportbike world, the Gixxer 750 is left looking in from the outside to see how the popular kids’ party is going. It was all over but the cryin’ for the 750 once 180-hp, 1000cc two-wheeled land rockets hit the scene.
We are Sportbikes! Hear us Roar!
So here we have three perfectly viable, high-performance sportbikes seemingly overshadowed by the popularity of 600s and 1000s. This begs the question then: Is this trio of sporting motorcycles, with their odd engine displacements, relevant in today’s supersport and superbike world?
The 848, 675/675R and GSX-R750 don’t fit neatly into a clear-cut category these days. If it weren’t for the AMA’s Daytona SportBike and SuperSport series – the only two venues in which the 848 and 675 can compete at the national level – the Duc and the Triumph would find themselves relegated to street-only status just like the Gixxer.
While many folks like to make the case that the 848 and 675 slot in with the 600s, we opted to set them aside, along with the GSX-R750 – the only modern sportbike with that displacement – into a separate classification, what we’re calling the Middleweight Sportbike category.
In addition to the extra displacement beyond 600cc, the up-spec 675R and GSX-R’s MSRPs bring them in line with the Ducati’s price tag, further setting apart these three from the Big Four’s popular 600s.
In our estimation this triple threat of sportbikes warrants your consideration if you’re in the market for a supersport. And If you’ve been daydreaming about the 2011 GSX-R600, winner of our 2011 Supersport Shootout Track comparo and don’t have designs on racing in the 600 class, but rather are looking for a great all-around canyon slayer and trackday tool, we say you’re silly if you don’t give serious thought time to the 750.
The Gixxer 750 makes nearly 20 hp and 9 ft-lbs more than the GSX-R600, gives up an insignificant 7 lbs in claimed curb weight while running the same chassis, and yet costs only $400 more than the 600’s $11,599 MSRP. Good luck finding an aftermarket accessory that will give the 600 an equivalent boost in power for a mere $400. The GSX-R750 is a stupid-good deal.
We taste tested each of these updated and upgraded for 2011 oddball sportbikes when Kevin Duke rode the 848 EVO late last year, Troy Siahaan spun the 675R around southern California’s newest road circuit, Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, this past April, and I was reintroduced to the all-new Gixxer 750 at Barber Motorsports Park’s undulating racetrack in early Spring 2011.
Make sure to read those separate reviews for additional details and insights; spec sheet jockeys should also look for a comparative spec chart in this shootout.
The Tale the Dyno Can’t Tell
A quick glance at both the horsepower and torque graphs for these machines gives a fairly clear view that the Ducati – just edged out by the GSX-R for best peak power – manages a healthy gap over the Suzuki until the Duc’s Twin stops producing while the Gixxer keeps spinning up. And, of course, the Duc’s voluminous cylinders handily out gun the Triumph’s inline Triple.
However, in the instance of this trio, the results of the controlled environment of a dyno test belie the character of what each engine is like in the real world of city streets, SuperSlab and winding, lonely two-laners.
“For a V-Twin engine with the largest displacement, it was odd to have to rev the nuts off the 848 to access the meat of its power,” says Kevin. The 848’s power development was perhaps one of the biggest surprises to us during this three-way evaluation.
With a large-displacement Twin as the 848 EVO’s power source, we were expecting what we always expect from a Twin and from a Ducati: stump-pulling force in the low and mid-range with a less-than-thrilling top-end. The EVO threw us for a loop when it exhibited what we can best describe as very non-Twin-like power. Dare we even say it’s more reminiscent of a multi?
“The hotter cams in the 848 EVO shift its powerband upward, gaining more top-end lunge at the expense of some midrange,” notes Kevin. Indeed. It was only a matter of handful of miles after I first saddled up to the black-as-night 848 EVO that a flat spot in the 5–6K rpm stood out like a cat at a dog show.
Give the EVO a big handful of throttle while in that 5-6000 rpm zone and the result is nothing less than a flaccid response from the 849cc L-Twin, regardless of gear selection, but most notable in top gear. Starting around 7500 rpm the 848’s mill thaws out quickly and becomes borderline explosive around 9 grand. This soft-ish spot in the powerband isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but a soft spot in the midrange is a drawback for street use – especially so for a Twin, as that’s where most riders considering a V-Twin expect to dwell so they can lazily rely on grunty power.
The 848, like many Ducatis, is also saddled with tall gearing.
“Some deft clutch/throttle work is required to get moving from a dead stop,” says Troy. “On the bright side, if you’re not riding aggressively, the tall gearing allows some room to be lazy with your shifting.” A minor thing worth mentioning here is the Duc’s heavy clutch pull. It’s not Harley-Davidsons-of-yore heavy, but nevertheless requires more yank than the GSX-R or Triumph’s clutch.
Despite the Triumph’s overall power deficit, it does produce hardy low-end power, even more than the GSX-R until approximately 5100 rpm, at which point the Suzuki pulls away. From the saddle, however, the Brit bike feels much stronger than the graph line it plots on the dyno.
“I love the character of the three-cylinder engine,” says Troy. “It has great torque down low with healthy a mid-range, too. Although its top end is lacking when compared to the other two bikes, it feels strong across its entire rev range when contrasted with a 600’s power curve.”
Digging out of slow-speed canyon corners or pulling away from intersections is child’s play for the 675R. The Triumph’s grunty, linear Triple makes for a better street-going tool compared to the 848’s somewhat peaky powerband Twin. According to Kevin, he’d “rate the 675’s three-cylinder mill as one of the best motorcycle engines of all time.”
The deceptive strength of the Triumph’s engine, and what felt like the ol’ switcheroo by the Ducati as to how we expected its engine to perform, caught us off guard. However, of no surprise was the GSX-R750’s perfect blend of mid- and top-end power.
With the anticipated weak-ish low-end of a revvy inline-Four, the Suzuki otherwise provides an ideal powerband for use in the street. And as you can see by the horsepower graph, it is also the most linear of the three engines once past the 5000-rpm mark. Additionally, the 750 provides the same snotty intake snort that we so liked on the GSX-R600. The tendency of the Gixxer engine to get a little buzzy at times – but again, not a big surprise for an inline Four – was perhaps the most notable complaint we could summon for the Suzi’s powerplant.
And with that, we deem the GSX-R’s engine as our favorite, but only by a narrow margin over the Triumph’s spectacular Triple. If the 675R could spare just a few more horsepower on top, we’d have given it the nod as our fave.
Unity in Braking
While there was quite the interesting disparity in engine performance ‘tween these three, they are very much on the same page in one area: brakes.
We’re not sure if we have ever had a collection of motorcycles wearing essentially the same type and brand of calipers, but this matchup brought together three sets of Brembo radial-mount monobloc front brakes. If you guessed no losers here, you’re right. It was only the subjective quality of brake feel that created any differences in our opinions. My preference is usually for calipers to exhibit strong initial bite joined by a solid feel at the lever, and the 848 EVO delivers this in spades.
The Trumpet’s binders also supply a strong bite on the rotors, but in Troy and Kevin’s estimation this brake set allows a little more lever travel, which better suits their preferred type of action at the lever. The Gixxer is the only one that employs rubber brake lines (steel-braided lines on the 848 and 675R), which is likely what contributes to the least aggressive feel of the three. But by no means are the GSX-R’s Brembos lacking in any way. As Kevin says, “they are nothing less than faultless on the street.”
The Rest of Story…
We’ve covered a lot of ground at this point by going over the qualities and characteristics of the three very different engines in this friendly competition, as well as highlighting some minor traits in braking. But there’s even more to discuss to help weed out an overall winner. So let’s delve a little deeper into the 848 EVO, 675R and GSX-R750.