There’s a prevailing platitude among two-wheel pundits that says this type of motorcycle is impractical for everyday use by the non-racing everyday rider. And while not in direct conflict with this theory of impracticality, an equally popular assertion that gets bandied about alleges that of the sportbikes purchased, most will never turn a wheel on a closed course and only ever exist under control of local vehicle codes rather than club-racing rules.
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So, after selecting the all-new 2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 as our top choice for use at the racetrack in our 2011 Supersport Shootout – Track comparison in which the new Gixxer went toe-to-toe with the Honda CBR600RR, Kawasaki ZX-6R and Yamaha R6, we now move on to Phase 2 of this often-annual examination in which we examine how they perform in a street environment.
It’s time to see if the fresh-faced Gixxer Sixxer can make it a sweep in 2011 at Motorcycle.com or if we somehow found one of the three other – and older! – bikes in this brawl a better streetable package.
And now, a word from Mr. Dyno
Patient readers, receive your reward.
Given the strength of the Kawasaki engine the last time we tested this full batch of Japanese 600cc sportbikes, we weren’t so surprised to learn that the Ninja retains its title this year as Most Powerful. Add to that honor, Mr. Linear.
With a best pull of 110.7 hp at 13,900 rpm, the Ninja 6R managed to keep at bay the Yamaha’s minimally updated engine, which while generating a worthwhile 7.0 hp improvement from when we last tested it as a 2009 model, still came up a few ponies shy with 107.2 hp at 13,600 rpm. For the overhauled GSX-R600, Suzuki touts an improvement to low- and mid-range power with a crankshaft peak horsepower figure of 123. That should’ve resulted in a peak rear wheel horsepower reading in the neighborhood of 110 hp or slightly less. The reality is a bit sobering.
The 2009 GSX-R600 we tested gave a peak reading of 102.7 hp at 13,400 rpm, where the updated 2011 model managed a best run of 102.2 hp at 13,700 rpm. We’ll just call it a wash there. Additionally, we didn’t observe a noteworthy increase in mid-range for the new Gixxer during dyno runs compared to when we lasted dyno’d the previous model.
But looking across the rev range, as well as during the reality check of riding, the GSX-R mill is our second choice next to the ZX for best engine, as the Suzuki provides linear pull that rivals the Ninja, and for a short period is more powerful than the Ninja.
“The powerbands of the ZX and Gixxer make excellent sparring partners,” says veteran sportbike shootout participant Kevin. “The Suzuki has best-in-class power from 4800 to 7000 rpm, while the Ninja is tops from 7100 to 8700 rpm, then they nearly match each other until 13K rpm when the Kawi becomes the clear class leader.”
Our biggest surprise this year came when we saw the Honda’s dyno figures.
Since the CBR is essentially the same bike as from two years ago, we were looking for a peak reading in the neighborhood of 97 hp, which is what we saw with its 97.0 hp at 14,400 rpm. However, what we didn’t expect to see was a graph line that revealed a less-linear CBR600RR in 2011 than what we rode in 2009.
With the exception of right off idle until the upper 4K rpm range, and a span from approximately 6800 to 8800 rpm, where the CBR is largely more powerful than the Yamaha, the Honda otherwise came up short to the R6’s wavy gravy powerband. This is quite a shift from 2009 when the CBR showed a much more tractable powerband, while the then-softer and seemingly smoother R6 lagged behind considerably.
Furthermore, while the CBR achieves more than 95% of peak power starting around 12,200 rpm and carries it to its 15,200-rpm rev limiter, it doesn’t continue building power as the other bikes do but rather stays flat. The saving grace for the Honda this time around is that it stays pretty close to the GSX-R and Kawasaki for a good chunk of the mid-range.
Quite a strange brew, but as you’ll soon read, what we collect in the lab for the sake of gathering objective data is often not wholly representative of the character and quality of each motorcycle when a rider is in the saddle coordinating the various operations required to make a bike go.
Let’s carry on then…
2011 Honda CBR600RR $11,199
“Some might call the Honda long in the tooth, but it’s still a solid performer.”
These succinct but wise words come from young Master Troy, with not-so-young Kevin echoing this sentiment. One of the enduring traits from the Honda to which we attribute its great-all-arounder status on the street is its useful mid-range. With the RR’s engine unchanged, it still isn’t a horsepower leader. However, in street environs rarely does a rider have an opportunity to tap the high reaches of the rev range where the peak horsepower battle takes place.
Despite the CBR engine’s poorest showing by numbers posted in the dyno room, the RR manages to convincingly mask its power deficiency, tricking all of us into thinking it might’ve had a more prominent mid-range punch.
“The Honda’s torquey feeling engine is fantastic, which is especially handy on the street,” says Troy. While the CBR’s mill doesn’t do anything particularly thrilling, and its exhaust note is metallic sounding rather than snarling or screeching, the Honda powertrain nevertheless offers a feeling of broad power – an ideal quality for getting around town or digging out of slow-speed canyon road corners.
Kevin says the CBR’s engine gives the impression that its midrange is the strongest in class thanks to slightly shorter gearing. If it weren’t for a minor abruptness during throttle reapplication that a majority of the testers noticed, the CBR engine could’ve slotted in as a top contender for street use. Out in the street, the Honda’s engine character belies its comparatively lower power.
We generally include ergonomics to a small degree during racetrack evals, but things like the rider triangle, seat comfort, reach to levers, etc., carry much more importance for street riding. As in tests past, the CBR60RR is a pleasurable ride whether dawdling down the boulevard or eating freeway miles. With respect to the rider layout, we didn’t find much changed for us from the track to the street, where only Tom found he needed a brief acclimation period when switching from one of the other three to the CBR.
T-Rod says he often felt as if he were “perched on top and seemingly over the front end” while aboard the Honda. Lending validity to his sensation of sitting on top of the Honda rather than down in it (like we all noted of the Gixxer’s seating position) is the CBR’s second tallest seat height of 32.3 inches – only the R6 is taller at 33.1 inches. Otherwise, the Honda’s cockpit provides a compact but still comfortable package, with Troy judging it best overall, noting that it’s relatively high bars place the least amount of weight on the wrists when commuting.
Kevin remarked that the Honda’s styling is aging well, and he got no arguments from the rest of the crew. The CBR-RR’s sleek bodywork projects an aggressive appearance that’s still relevant in the face of newer bikes in the class. Despite racy outer good looks, the 600RR’s instrument pod is something of a let down.
“The instrument panel’s coarse plastic construction looks cheap to the eye,” says Kevin. On the other hand he, as well as Troy, appreciate the Honda’s useful fuel gauge but not the lack of a gear-position indicator – another sign of the Honda’s age, as both the Kawasaki and Suzuki provide a GPI.
The Honda’s additional 0.3 gallons to the other bikes’ 4.5-gallon fuel capacity might not seem like such a bike deal to some, but we felt it worth mentioning.
Troy and I lauded the CBR’s superb suspension performance during time at the racetrack, with both of us feeling like the CBR had a perfectly damped fork and shock for the technical but bumpy Streets of Willow. Throw in the lightest wet weight (410 lbs) that only serves to enhance the Honda’s feathery agility, and handling is a key feature that quickly gets a rider’s attention.
And though the CBR is the only bike that continues use of an under-tail exhaust, the can’s placement doesn’t seem to negatively affect handling by caring weight high above the bike’s center of gravity. The under-tail exhaust also helps keep the CBR’s overall styling uncluttered.
The ease-of-use the Honda’s chassis performance offers doesn’t diminish much from track to street; however, we did notice that it wasn’t quite as compliant in some instances when hustling down serpentine canyons. It stands up slightly during braking, unlike the Suzi and Kawi that remain noticeably composed and neutral under the same circumstances.
“In back-to-back runs on a twisty road, I was surprised the CBR didn’t show a clear advantage in agility over the others, although it’s still very responsive,” says Kev.
Stopping performance is of a very high caliber in this class, as you might expect, and the Honda’s four-piston monobloc calipers on loan from the CBR1000RR are more than up to the task of hauling in the RR. There’s lots of force on tap in the Honda’s binders, but in terms of feedback they fall ever so slightly behind the GSX-R’s and ZX’s stunning brake packages. We even hate to imply here that the CBR600RR’s brakes may somehow lack; but in such a closely contested class the slightest advantage, if even barely perceptible, matters.
Wrapping up final thoughts on the Honda, Kevin says, “Although the CBR hasn’t been significantly revised since its 2007 introduction, the all-around goodness of the package still holds up well in the company of fresher competitors. No one thinking of buying the 600RR will be disappointed.”
2011 Kawasaki ZX-6R $9999
“Lots of good things to say about the ZX, and they all start with motor.”
Directly from Kevin’s video mouth to your ears in the racetrack portion [http://www.motorcycle.com/shoot-outs/2011-supersport-shootout-track-90963.html] of our 2011 Supersport Shootout. Where the Honda is admired for its mid-range, the Kawasaki’s engine is enjoyable for its linear, predictable response, and for having the biggest bang up top. We also deemed the Kwaker has having the best slipper clutch. In terms of serious competition for the ZX’s stout engine, it’s only the new GSX-R600’s revamped mill that gives the Kawasaki a dose of its own medicine.
Despite the undeniable top-end power of the ZX, as mentioned earlier, this isn’t quite the asset on the street as it is on the racetrack. “The top-end of the Kawi trumps everything else here, though the times you’ll use it on the street are pretty limited,” Troy astutely notes.
A curb weight of 421 pounds makes the Kawasaki the heaviest bike of the four. Sure, an 11-pound spread from the heaviest ZX to the lightest Honda isn’t something to stop the presses about, but again, little things matter in this class. More important than sheer weights is how each bike feels transitioning between corners. “I wouldn’t have ever guessed the ZX-6R was the heaviest bike here,” says Tom.
The sure-footedness and high levels of feel the ZX’s front end provided on track were equally welcome and noticeable during aggressive canyon carving. However, as delivered the BPF front seemed firm for most our testers, with sharp-edged freeway expansion joints and sections of rough pavement making known the fork’s firmness. But, with full adjustability, a rider shouldn’t have any problem tuning the premium Showa Big Piston to suit their needs.
The ZX is not only the heaviest bike here, but it also sports the mildest chassis dimensions.
Considering the CBR’s skittish-looking 23.5 degree rake, 3.86 inches of trail and shortest span between the axles at 53.9 inches, the Green Machine’s 24.0 degrees, 4.09 inches and longest of the group 55.1-inch wheelbase might seem to make the Ninja handle less adeptly – at least on paper. However, the ZX-6R gives the rider the impression that it might have some of the raciest geometry for how quickly it transitions between turns. Kudos to Kawasaki engineers for masking so well the Ninja’s extra pounds and modest steering geometry.
“Although we didn’t rate the Ninja’s handling as best,” states Kevin, “it’s still a quick and responsive tool that works well with the Showa BPF to deliver solid and secure cornering manners.”
From our first day with the current generation ZX-6R we’ve raved about the power and sensitivity from its dual four-piston Nissin front calipers. With Suzuki raising the bar bunches in this class as the first Japanese supersport to wear Brembo binders as standard issue, we suspected we might have to squelch our love for the Ninja’s brakes. Wrong!
While the Gixxer Sixxer’s brake performance easily lives up to the Brembo name, the ZX’s equipment still impresses us. Lots, as a matter of fact. So evenly matched to the Brembos in terms of modulation of braking force, sensitivity at the lever and outright stopping power, we deemed the Kawasaki’s now three-year-old brakes – with rubber lines, no less! – on par with the Suzi’s.
Tom found the Ninja’s ergonomic layout nearly as comfortable as the GSX-R600’s (our ergo favorite), while Troy noticed the ZX’s clip-ons were “just a touch lower than the Honda but higher than the Yamaha.”
Of our test riders, I’m likely the biggest detractor of the ZX-6R’s jagged, origami-looking face. And while Kevin found plenty to like about the ZX’s appearance, he, too admits that it isn’t the looker of the group.
“The ZX looks good in its 2011 graphics (including green pinstriping on the wheel rims), offset by consistent black anodizing on all frame and engine components. But buggy-eyed headlights and a bulky tailsection keep it from being the belle of the ball.”
As noted in the Track portion of this two-part tale, the Ninja’s dash is well thought out. With an easily read white-face tachometer (the only one of the four) with graduated numbers highlighted in green to indicate you’re in the powerband’s sweet spot, and a large, clear LCD panel that includes a GPI, we deemed the Ninja’s clocks as the best.
The Ninja ZX-6R is now in its third year in its current form. And the Green Meanie is still relevant as a contender for top dog, just as it was in 2009 when it won our Supersport Shootout that year.
2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 $11,599
Revamps to the 2011 GSX-R600 are many, but key among them is the addition of Showa’s BPF, Brembo front brakes and a weight reduction of 20 pounds. These upgrades were significant enough in enhancing the Gixxer Sixxer’s overall performance that we selected it this year as our top 600cc supersport for track duty.
With the most time in the Suzuki’s saddle during street riding, Kevin notes say that the Gixxer’s fueling has a propensity to exhibit a slight lean bog at low revs. And during freeway stints he observed the engine produces “notable vibrations in certain rpm zones, making it the buzziest of this group.” KD suggests that replacing the GSX-R’s small bar-end weights with larger ones would calm down the tingles at the grips, thereby potentially reducing vibration-induced numbness during longer rides.
Beyond improved power characteristics, the GSX-R600 has one more trick on tap: a snarling growl emanating from the airbox.
“The Gixxer’s ripping intake roar creates a visceral feeling as the twistgrip is yanked, even at just a quarter turn,” states Kevin with a devilish grin. “It never fails to make each ride more stimulating and is a simple yet effective asset to its sporty personality.”
An interesting aspect of this exciting noise is that despite sounding quite loud to the rider, almost seeming like some sort of aftermarket work goodie was bolted on, the intake snort isn’t noticeable whatsoever to everyone else. When the GSX-R600 pulls away from a stop the only discernable sound is an emissions-friendly exhaust note. Way to slip one past the EPA, Suzuki!
“The Suzuki’s chassis is very neutral across its entire lean axis,” says Troy. “Some bikes require more effort to initiate turn-in. Others require more effort to reach max lean. The GSX-R is completely neutral from vertical to horizontal.”
Indeed, each of the four tester riders found a way to use the word neutral when describing the GSX-R’s handling qualities. The Suzuki’s low-effort steering and perfect composure in any situation we encountered (thanks in big part to the BPF front-end) create the overwhelming sensation that the Gixxer has the user-friendliest chassis here. “The Suzuki felt as if I'd already owned a 2011 GSX-R600 for a few months,” says FNG Tom.
So friendly is the Gixxer that Tom felt as though the bike communicated to him complete confidence in its abilities – to the point he thought he heard the bike whispering in his ear, "It's okay to go faster, I won't hurt you. Together we can catch that guy in front of us."
The Suzuki claims the lowest seat height at 31.9 inches and second lightest curb weight of 412 pounds – both factors that contribute to its excellent handling and easy-going ergos. “Setting its adjustable pegs in their low position delivers more seat-to-peg room than the others,” notes Kevin, “and I expect to see this feature on most future sportbike models.”
The GSX-R look is as familiar as is the name, and the 2011 Sixxer, while restyled, continues the iconic Suzuki supersport appearance. New, lighter bodywork, and stacked headlamp assembly, a la the GSX-R1000, keep the supersport looking lean and angry.
Kevin says the metallic-y blue anodizing on Suzi’s frame and swingarm “is especially appealing in warm light.” Additional subtle touches also caught his eye. “The GSX-R boasts a list of features – adjustable pegs, gear-position indicator, fuel gauge, helmet lock, mirror-integrated turn signals – that is unmatched in this class.”
We’ve heaped praise on the GSX-R600 in the past, and the new bike, while improving across many categories, retains everything we’ve liked about this supersport machine from previous model years.
“I already liked the chassis and brakes on the outgoing Gixxer, but the improvements in both areas that Suzuki made on the new one takes it to another level” notes Troy. “I'm a little surprised it didn't do better on the dyno - it sure feels stronger from the saddle than the numbers imply.”
2011 Yamaha R6 $10,690 – $10,890
Only the CBR beats the R6 for “Least Changed 600.” With the exception of exhaust and ECU tweaks aimed to improve mid-range in 2010, it’s the same bike as when introduced in 2008.
While a strong mid-range has some benefits during trackdays or racing, useful pulling power in the meat of the powerband is of even greater value where street signs, traffic lights and divided lanes rule the riding environment.
The result of this regrettable reality is that a rider might feel it necessary to keep the R6’s high-strung engine spinning in the upper reaches of the rpm range in order to access more power. Too bad for the R6 rider that street riding usually doesn’t present regular opportunities to hover at high rpm. Instead, day in and day out riding is generally dominated by short squirts between stoplights, dreary freeway stints and the long arm of the law.
“On the street, the R6’s weak lower-end power makes itself constantly known,” laments Kevin.
A slipper clutch inside the Yamer engine works pretty darn well and is a worthwhile feature – one that the Honda lacks but the other two posses. Yet we think the Kawi’s back-torque limiting clutch has the slightest edge thanks to its near transparency, whereas we could get the occasional tire chirp from the R6 if we banged down through the gears too fast and carelessly dumped the clutch lever.
The gearbox in each machine was trouble free, like usual, but the Yamahauler’s clutch engages near the end of the lever’s release, making for occasionally tricky modulation of throttle and clutch when starting from a stop or picking around tight spaces at ultra-low speeds.
The R6’s race-inspired design is reflected in its aggressive seat/peg/clip-on relationships. As mentioned earlier the Yamaha has the tallest seat height. The rear half of the saddle is quite wide which offers decent support, but this width also exacerbates seat height; it’ll splay a shorter-inseamed rider’s more so than the others, therefore seeming to make the seat feel even taller than it already is. For the track environment, the R’s saddle isn’t so bad, for the street realm, not so good.
Combine the tall, wide saddle with what feel like the lowest clip-ons, and the R6’s ergos are racetrack ready. Which is fine if all you’re doing is racing or having a blast at as many trackdays as you can possibly attend. Contending with such an assertive rider triangle while commuting is a less pleasing prospect.
Back-to-back canyon runs revealed the R6’s compares well with anything in the class. However, Kevin was of the opinion the Yamaha should’ve exhibited greater agility than it did considering it’s the only bike in the 600cc inline-Four class without a steering damper. And Tom thought the Blue Bike required the most steering effort of the four.
With an identical trail and steering rake only 0.5 degrees milder than the GSX-R, we expected the R6 to provide handling similar to its competitors. While that’s not entirely the case, what the Yamaha chassis does do well is communicate to the rider that the front-end is securely planted with predictable stability throughout a canyon corner or racetrack turn.
Several years ago the R6 had class-leading front brakes, the likes of which provided stopping power we hadn’t previously experienced on a modern supersport. Now, in contrast to the Ninja’s superb stoppers and the Brembos on the Suzuki, the R6 binders are average at best. A healthy handful of brake lever will reel in the Yamaha pronto, but we noted the numb feel at the lever prevented us from braking as late into some turns as we were able to do when aboard the other machines.
Again, not a bad set of brakes here, but the competition keeps raising the stakes.
The R6’s dash area is as uninspiring as the Honda’s, and doesn’t offer the small token of a fuel gauge or GPI. But we must give the Yamaha props for being the bike that looks as fast with its sidestand down as it does when screaming to 15K rpm.
We all agreed it was the best looking of the four, with a distinct, fast-looking line that runs from the center of the main fairing to the razor-sharp tail, and its pointed headlamps and upper fairing shape reinforce the fast-at-a-standstill illusion. The bold but tastefully styled white accent on the main fairing and underside of the tail section is the icing on this good looking 600cc cake.
“There is much to like about the R6, most notably its racy feel, stellar appearance and laudable racing history,” says Kevin. “It’s held back only by a relatively weak street engine and mediocre brakes.”
Taken on the merits of individual performance, the CBR600RR, GSX-R600 and R6 are spectacular motorcycles in their own right. But when price matters, like it does for the street rider – not so much for the racer who’ll likely spend thousands more in race prep – the Kawasaki, with a still-strong performance package, is vaulted to the top for street duty by virtue of its remarkable MSRP of $9999 that offers a savings anywhere from a little less than $700 to as much as $1600 in this crowd.
Oftentimes we, your dedicated test riders here at this illustrious webzine, didn’t see eye-to-eye on various aspects of each of these race-crafted, capable and fun machines. But when we put ourselves in the shoes of the buyer, the guy or gal laying out the greenbacks to garage one of these supersport dynamos, we all agreed choosing the Kawasaki ZX-6R is a no-brainer.
The new GSX-R600 is a significant step forward from the previous model, boasting an improved suspension, power delivery, brakes and appearance. The only thing keeping it out of top spot is the group’s highest MSRP.
2011 Supersport Shootout – Track
2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 Review
2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R vs Triumph Daytona 675
2009 Supersport Shootout
2009 Supersport Racetrack Shootout
2009 Honda CBR60RR C-ABS Review
All Things Sportbike on Motorcycle.com