2011 Supersport Shootout - Track [Video]

Can Suzuki's new Gixxer spoil the 600cc party?

story by Troy Siahaan, Photograph by Alfonse Palaima, Created May. 12, 2011
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If you’ve been paying any attention to the state of the motorcycle world lately, sportbikes in particular, you’ll notice that the middleweight category has been largely overshadowed by its 1000cc counterparts. It makes sense for those manufacturers who make a literbike, as resources should be spent on a company’s flagship machine.

But for those of us who like the slightly more unassuming qualities of a 600cc machine, the choices have remained the same for a few years now. Heck, we didn’t even bother doing this test last year since the game hadn’t changed much except for a slightly longer exhaust canister on the Yamaha YZF-R6.

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For 2011 however, Suzuki has whet our appetite with an all-new GSX-R600. Pete had a chance to test the all-new Gixxer at its press launch, held at Barber Motorsports Park. If you haven’t read that yet, take a peek here. Keeping in line with tradition when it comes to new model revamps, the newest 600 on the block is lighter, stronger and more powerful than the model it replaces. Pete came back optimistic about the new GSX-R’s chances in the face of the current 600 king, Kawasaki’s ZX-6R.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

We really liked the Green Machine back when we last tested it against its peers in 2009. Two years on and the ZX-6R is largely the same motorcycle, save for bold new graphics. But every champ’s stay at the top must come to an end eventually, and who better to see if the new Suzuki can topple the ZX than us, right? And, to give each Japanese manufacturer a fair chance, we also brought in the Yamaha YZF-R6 and Honda CBR600RR to see if either bike could be a wildcard in this battle.

So we loaded up and headed to the tight and twisty Streets of Willow for a racetrack comparison test. We reunited with our friends at TrackXperience for a day of lapping at their well-run trackday. For more on TrackXperience, check out this feature article we wrote.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

To ensure each machine was on equal footing as we churned out the laps, we spooned on sets of Michelin’s latest DOT racing tire, the Power One. With its dual-compound 2CT technology and near-slick tread design, the Power One tires were about as close as we could get to a slick racing tire while still being street legal. So needless to say, we loved their grip. What was even more impressive was that the buns stayed consistent the entire day. You can read more about the Power One in Pete’s review of the tire here, but for now let’s get to the good stuff.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering where the Triumph Daytona 675 is, we felt this test was best suited to pure 600s. But don’t worry, we’ve got something up our sleeve for that bike as well.

Similar Yet Different

Each of these four machines obviously displaces 600cc (599cc to be exact). Each also has the same bore and stroke measurements of 67.0 x 42.5mm, dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. Despite these similarities, the four powerplants are distinctive in their own ways.

Next Page...Yamaha YZF-R6

2011 Yamaha YZF-R6

2011 Yamaha YZF-R6 $10,690 - $10,890

First introduced in 2006, Yamaha’s YZF-R6 has long been the one that drew comparisons to the two-stroke racing machines of old due to its rush of power up top. That’s fine for a bike that will spend much of its life on the track. Unfortunately, the number of R6s that will see regular track time is rather small.

Yamaha has revised the R6 steadily year by year — including a significant revamp in 2008 — to help provide some more bottom-end power, but it still hasn’t been able to shed its track-focused reputation. Add to that some “modifications” to help it meet noise emission requirements, and the R6 has become a conundrum of sorts as it will still rev to 15,000 rpm, but is choked in the power department past 13,000 rpm.

“You gotta keep the Yamaha's engine boiling to keep up with the other bikes in every situation,” notes contributor-turned-latest-MO-staffer, Tom Roderick. “For experienced riders this shouldn't be a problem and can very well be considered more exciting, nevertheless, better mid-range is needed to keep pace with the other bikes.”

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Indeed, all of our testers agreed that a lack of mid-range is the R6’s Achilles heel. “It feels noticeably soggier around 8000 rpm than the others, and this is a rev zone that is dipped into quite often,” notes head honcho Duke. Thankfully, the Yamaha’s fueling and calibration of the YCC-I and YCC-T is spot-on, allowing a competent rider to make the most of the power at hand with hardly a burble or hesitation between the throttle and the rear tire.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

In the chassis department, the Yamaha was a bike we never really had any complaints with. Its 24.0-degree rake measurement is tied with the Kawasaki ZX-6R for the “laziest” of the group but that in no way implies that the R6 is slow to steer. Quite the contrary, thanks to its 54.1-inch wheelbase, second shortest in this group behind the Honda.

Duke was impressed at how “quickly and assuredly” it responds to steering inputs, while Pete and I both admired how planted the front end felt. Right out of the box the R6’s 41mm, fully-adjustable inverted fork got along well with most of our testers, inspiring confidence. Although we weren’t bothered by any head-shaking antics, the lack of a steering damper is a notable omission in this company. A fully adjustable shock out back was setup a little stiff for our liking around the bumpy Streets of Willow track, but ‘twas nothing a few clicks and a couple turns of the adjusters couldn’t fix.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to our previous reviews of the R6, one glaring theme is the wooden feeling from its brakes. On paper, the 310mm rotors and radial-mount, four-pot calipers sound like a potent combination, especially since they have a Brembo master cylinder feeding it fluids, but they actually fall short of the latest class standards in terms of feel. While this pairing has no problem getting the R6 slowed quickly, we’re left wanting more in the feedback department.

With its racetrack focus, it’s no surprise that the R6 has the most race-inspired seating position of the bunch. A high seat combined with low clip-on bars places a lot of weight on the wrists during the normal commute, but here at the track it places the rider low and tight within the bubble.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Lastly, appearance is what ultimately attracts a buyer, and of the four bikes here, we think the R6 most looks like it belongs on the racetrack. “The Yamaha is the best looking, most aggressively styled sportbike of the bunch,” notes our FNG.

At the end of the day this contest was as close as it’s always been, and with no changes to the R6 since we last tested it, we’ve still got the same complaints. The lack of power down low hurts the Yamaha exiting corners, and now that all three of its Japanese counterparts boast healthy mid-range punch, that issue becomes exacerbated after hopping off any of those bikes and onto the YZF.

Combine that with the lack of feeling from the brakes (again, when the other three excel in this category) and we have no choice but to rank the R6 fourth place in this test. Although it’s important to note that if you’re a racer or serious trackday junky, one look at the Graves Motorsports catalog should be enough to convince you that all of these deficits can be overcome with a simple phone call and a deep pocketbook.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Next Page...Honda CBR600RR

2011 Honda CBR600RR

2011 Honda CBR600RR $11,199

The winner of our 2008 Supersport shootout is back for the 2011 edition, and like the Yamaha, Honda’s CBR600RR is unchanged since we last tested it. Surely the economic downturn has had a big part to play in it staying the same all these years, but if international competition is anything to go by, then the trusty CBR is still holding its own just fine.

The same can be said about its performance in this test. It’s nice to see that the characteristic mid-range grunt from the baby CBR isn’t lost in 2011, and after riding the relatively gutless Yamaha, hopping on the Honda and feeling the torque was a welcome surprise. Editor Duke, too, was impressed, though his notes did include one caveat. “The CBR’s best asset is a strong midrange pull, but noise regs since 2009 have disappointingly flattened out its surge up top.”

Ah, yes, those pesky noise regulations of 2009 that plagued the Yamaha also negatively affect the Honda as well. Like Yamaha, to skirt around this issue, Honda incorporates a “power valve” to please the sound Nazis during the bike’s certification testing. The side effect, of course, is a loss of power at high revs, easily felt at the track when the CBR engine suddenly falls flat on its face north of 13,000 rpm.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Still, that didn’t stop the Honda mill from receiving accolades from all our testers. Pete praised the Honda’s fueling and linear power delivery, as its smoothness was very predictable.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Complementing the torquey CBR is a stable aluminum chassis that we’ve been fans of for a long time. Turn-in feels quick and light on the Honda. Credit there goes to the most aggressive rake angle of 23.5 degrees combined with the shortest wheelbase at 53.9 inches. It also doesn’t hurt that he Honda is the lightest of the bunch, with a claimed curb weight of 410 pounds, 11 pounds less than the Kawasaki ZX-6R, the heaviest of the quartet.

This combination of featherlight weight and racy geometry wasn’t lost on our testers. T-Rod noted the Honda steers really light, turns-in fast and holds a line well, a sentiment shared by Pete. “As in previous model years, the Honda CBR600RR offers supremely easy steering; and its wonderfully stable chassis ideally balances the feathery steering response,” said ol’ man Pedro.

Suspenders on the Honda are standard 41mm fully-adjustable Showa units in front and the company’s Unit-Pro Link suspension in the rear with a single, fully-adjustable Showa shock. We only had to make very minor adjustments in the morning to both units to suit the Streets of Willow track, and all four of our testers were happy with them throughout the day. The soft settings we placed on the suspension suited my riding style over the bumpy track as I was able to focus on my laps instead of fighting the bike over the ripples – an exercise that quickly leads to fatigue. To that end, Honda’s trick HESD (Honda Electronic Steering Damper) kept headshake at bay.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Honda’s decision to upgrade the CBR60RR’s calipers to the monobloc units found on the CBR1000RR was definitely the right move, as its braking abilities are very good. But when you consider the amazing binders on the Kawasaki and the Brembo units on the new GSX-R, we’d be hard pressed to call them the best in this bunch.

“The Honda brakes are well suited to the bike and offer plenty of stopping force and good feel at the lever,” Pete notes. For my tastes, lever travel was a little more than I cared for, but it was consistent, allowing me to prepare myself each time I reached for the brakes.

Ergonomically, the Honda is relatively comfortable for a sportbike. Handlebars are placed slightly higher than, say, the R6 and the pegs are also in a comfortable spot. Not that the CBR will be mistaken for a Gold Wing any time soon, however. A rider feels like they’re sitting on the Honda rather than in it. Regardless, the Honda and the Suzuki (which has the exact opposite effect when you sit on it) were the two machines we felt comfortable with straight away. After three corners the Honda felt like a bike I had ridden for months. Pete also shared these sentiments. “After only a handful of turns I was ready to lean the CBR aggressively into corners,” he enthused.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Despite ergo happy feelings from half our camp, our tallest rider needed time to adjust to the CBR’s cockpit. “The CBR’s seating position takes some getting used to,” notes T-Rod. “Perched on top and seemingly over the front end with the gauges below your chin under hard braking, it took a lap each time just to reacquaint myself with the Honda before I could think about going fast.”

That being said, the Honda is still a darling in our eyes. The attributes that made it a winner in 2008 — it’s mid-range punch and its agile chassis — are still features we love about it today, but as our 2009 test proved, time waits for no man or no bike. So while the Honda is impressive in its own right, it still loses out to the Kawasaki as it did two years ago and to the all-new Suzuki which has really stepped up its game.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Next Page...Kawasaki ZX-6R

2011 Kawasaki ZX-6R

2011 Kawasaki ZX-6R $9999

Our reigning 600cc champion two years running (granted, we didn’t do this test last year), Kawasaki’s ZX-6R has proven to be quite the 600. The real question now is whether it’s still the cream of the crop, or if Suzuki has brought a Green Machine killer in the new GSX-R.

In 2009 we described the ZX-6R engine as “hella-strong.” Team Green was able to meet the strict noise pollution regulations while still producing an engine that pulled crazy hard at the bottom while losing nothing up top. Out at Streets — where we performed the track portion of our 2009 Supersport test — the 6R’s engine was again the highlight of the show. While the bottom-end grunt feels nearly as strong as the Honda’s on corner exit, it distances itself from the CBR with its greater steam up top.

“Although we should have become overly familiar by now with the ZX’s engine power, somehow, it continues to impress,” says Pete. “Even now in its third year, its power delivery makes it feel more like a literbike than a supersport.”

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Duke continued the praise for the ZX, stating, “The Ninja’s most defining feature is its rompin’ and ever-ready engine that has a wide powerband and what feels like the strongest tug up top.” True dyno numbers will have to wait until the upcoming street portion of our test, but it’s fair to say that, judging by the butt dyno alone, the new Suzuki is the only thing that will come close to giving the Ninja a run for its money.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Looking at the Kawasaki’s specs on paper, it appears like it would be an underwhelming performer. It’s the heaviest of the four bikes, weighing in at 421 pounds. It’s got the longest wheelbase of the four at 55.1 inches, and is tied with the R6 with 24 degrees of rake. Granted, the Honda and Suzuki sport 23.5-degree rakes, but in this tightly contested game, everything matters. That being said, the ZX handles with the best of them. We all admired its responsive steering, which helped transition between corners.

Kevin noted that the Showa BPF, or Big Piston Fork, and Showa rear shock were setup slightly on the stiff side for his liking, but thanks to their full adjustability it didn’t take long to dial them in. Duke also noted that the suspension seemed to work better the quicker he was going.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

In contrast with the R6’s brakes, longtime readers should be well aware of the praise we’ve given to the binders on the Kawi. Though it boasts nothing fancier than 300mm petal-type rotors, four-piston Nissin calipers and rubber hoses, we could have sworn this bike comes fitted with steel-braided lines. Despite the fact the calipers don’t say Brembo on the side, we’re blown away by the performance of the Nissin units.

“Although lacking a prestigious Italian brand on the front-brake calipers like the Gixxer, the ZX’s binders are one of my favorites on any sportbike,” Kevin notes, adding “There is terrific power on tap but without having a too-sensitive initial bite, and solid feedback through the lever clearly communicates what’s happening at the front tire.”

Ergonomically speaking, the ZX falls somewhere in the middle in terms of its aggressiveness. While it’s definitely not as racy as the R6, its anonymity in this department shouldn’t be a detraction for anyone considering the Ninja. Tom pointed out the seating position feels similar to the Suzuki and is equally as comfortable.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

The Ninja also scores points when you look at the finer details. We’re fans of the ZX’s transmission and slipper clutch, which work flawlessly and keep the rear in check. Meanwhile, Pete applauds Team Green for his favorite instrument layout of the four, the ZX winning the honor for simply having a white faceplate tachometer that’s easier to read than the black faceplates of the others. Large graduating numbers and an array of colors (in addition to a shift light) tells riders if they’re in the engine’s sweet spot or if it’s time to shift.

Taking a year off from a 600-class shootout in 2010, the Kawasaki wasted no time in reminding us why we chose it as our favorite 600 in 2009. Its monstrous engine and eye-popping brakes are paired to a capable chassis with outstanding suspension.

To sweeten the deal, Kawasaki has lowered the price for the Zed to $9999, down from $10,699. Now who wouldn’t want an extra seven hundo in their pockets? But is it enough to retain the class title for another year, or has the ZX met its match with the new Gixxer?

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Next Page...Suzuki GSX-R600

2011 Suzuki GSX-R600

2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 $11,599

As the only new machine in this bunch, Suzuki’s new GSX-R600 has a lot to live up to. With all this time to develop a new 600, it’s win or go home as far as the Gixxer is concerned. As mentioned above, Pete’s first ride impressions in his story from the launch seemed cautiously optimistic that Suzuki has the winning package for 2011. The old bike earned second-place honors in our 2009 track shootout, but the deciding factor was only a lack of power compared to the Kawi.

Well, that seems simple, right? Suzuki just needs to add more power. Of course, solutions are never as simple as they seem, but Suzuki set out to achieve just that. Focus was spent on increasing low- to mid-range power, and our track impressions confirmed that it does come through on its promise. Using the ZX-6R as the benchmark by which all the other 600cc mills are judged, the Gixxer’s midrange pull coming out of tight corners at the track rivals that of the Kawi. Considering a lack of power is what hurt its score two years ago, this bodes well for the Suzuki.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

“The GSX-R600 has a decent spread of mid-range power that becomes noticeably effective by the 8000-rpm mark,” Pete remarks. This proved especially useful at Streets, since much more time is spent in the middle of the rev range as opposed to wide open.

We’ll have to wait for the official dyno numbers to confirm whether its top end rivals the ZX, but during a game of cat and mouse down the front straight between Kevin and Pete, both noticed that neither the Kawi nor Suzi were able to close the gap on one or the other. “I was amazed when the powerful ZX didn’t really close in on the Gixxer down the straightaways,” Duke raves.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

The Gixxer’s fueling is spot on. Power delivery is completely predictable without any sudden hiccups or hesitations. When comparing it to the Yamaha and Honda, Kevin believed its powerband is a good compromise. “It boasts more midrange than the R6 and a bigger top-end hit than the CBR.”

Beyond the fueling, however, the new Gixxer has an intangible X factor in the form of its intake snarl that is absolute music to the ears. “It’s so loud and satisfying that I wouldn’t feel the need to add an aftermarket exhaust for anything but aesthetics and weight reduction,” remarks an enthused Kevin.

One of the potential downfalls when redesigning a motorcycle is that while one area is improved, another might be compromised in the process. That holds especially true when increasing power is the main objective. There’s a risk that the chassis may not be able to cope with the bump in power. Considering the Gixxer chassis has been one of our favorites for years, we’re glad to report that none of the magic is lost on the new machine.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

All of our testers got along right away with the Suzuki’s chassis. In direct contrast to the Honda, you sit in the GSX-R rather than on it. This layout is typical Suzuki, and a trait which took no time to get used to, “I was immediately comfortable on the GSX-R and able to go fast,” T-Rod boasts. Pete and I both echo those sentiments, as, like the Honda, it took but a few corners before the Suzuki felt like my bike.

If confidence is something you’re lacking on a motorcycle, the Suzuki knows how to inspire it in spades. With 23.5 degrees of rake angle and 3.8 inches of trail, it’s one of the quicker-turning bikes in this crowd, and an electronically controlled steering damper reins in any instability. It turns in with complete neutrality, allowing the rider to place the bike precisely where they want it. Couple that with the second lightest curb weight of 412 lbs. — just two more than the Honda — and it’s no surprise that the GSX-R feels light to steer as well.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

A big upgrade in suspension for 2011 makes its way to the baby Gixxer in the form of a 41mm Showa Big Piston Fork, similar to that on the Kawi. A single, fully-adjustable shock lies out back. Feedback from both these units was superb as the bumps were absorbed, yet the chassis didn’t suffer a loss of front-end feel.

“Brembo brakes. What else need I say?”

Good point, Pete. Not much else needs to be said. Arguably the second most important upgrade to the new Suzuki (apart from the engine) lies in the brake department, where Brembo monobloc calipers are used for the first time. Needless to say, their performance was top-notch. Braking power is strong without being overbearing, while feel and modulation at the lever were almost telepathic.

“The addition of Brembo front brakes has vaulted the Suzuki up to the Ninja’s class standard,” Duke notes. “Perhaps even exceeding them.”

Combined with its athletic chassis, the GSX-R truly is an impressive machine.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

“Trailbrake through the entirety of a turn and the Gixxer remains on track, never wanting to stand up or complain in any manner,” says Pete.

When talking about the ergos of the new GSX-R, “comfortable” comes to mind. Of course, comfortable is a relative term when talking about a sportbike, but it’s worth noting that this is the only bike in the group with adjustable footpegs. Though we had them at the highest setting for the racetrack, Tom, our tallest tester, who hovers right around 6 feet tall, never complained about any discomfort.

Another point not mentioned earlier is the Suzuki-Drive Mode System, which allows the rider to choose between two different power settings, A and B. With this being a racetrack environment on a sunny California day, we didn’t bother with B mode as it drastically spoils the fun.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

Next Page...Conclusion

Conclusion

So What’s It Going To Be?

If it isn’t clear by now, the new GSX-R600 is a home run, especially when compared to the model it’s replacing. Its improved power spread and outstanding brakes have given it a legitimate shot at taking 600 honors for 2011. But is it really better than the Kawasaki?

In terms of power felt from the saddle, the two bikes are neck and neck down low and in the middle. Top-end horsepower may favor the Kawasaki, but the margin is assuredly slim. Brakes, again, are a wash. Both units are impeccable pieces of kit that leaves the rider wanting little by way of improvements.

So the deciding factor then lies in the chassis, and in that race we have to give the edge — albeit by the slimmest of margins — to the Suzuki. Its razor-sharp handling was immediately adored by the four of us. The Kawasaki is by no means an under-performer, but when splitting hairs, sometimes the smallest of niggles decides the winners and the losers.

2011 Supersport Shootout - Track

So there you have it, the 2011 600 Supersport shootout is in the books and we have a new racetrack king of the hill in this class. With the Yamaha and Honda getting a little long in the tooth, it’s only a matter of time before each of them come back stronger than ever with fresh contenders for the Supersport crown. To that we say, bring it on!

Now we know there’ll be a few of you who will point out that the majority of sportbikes never see the racetrack. Don’t worry; we’ve got a street review coming, too. Stay tuned.

2011 Supersport Shootout Comparison Specs Chart
  Honda CBR600RR Kawasaki ZX-6R Suzuki GSX-R600 Yamaha YZF-R6
Engine 599cc (67.0 x 42.5mm) inline-Four, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 12.2:1 c/r 599 (67.0 x 42.5mm) inline-Four, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 13.3:1 c/r 599cc (67.0 x 42.5mm) inline-Four, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 12.9:1 c/r 599cc (67.0 x 42.5mm) inline-Four, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 13.1:1 c/r
Frame Aluminum frame; alum. swingarm Aluminum frame; alum. swingarm Aluminum frame; alum. swingarm Aluminum frame; alum. swingarm
Suspension 41mm usd fully adjustable fork; Fully adjustable shock 41mm Showa BPF fully adjustable fork; Fully adjustable shock 41mm Showa BPF fully adjustable fork; Fully adjustable shock 41mm fully adjustable fork; Fully adjustable shock
Rake, Trail, Wheelbase 23.5°, 3.8 inches, 53.9 inches 24.0°, 4.1 inches, 55.1 inches 23.5°, 3.8 inches, 54.5 inches 24.0°, 3.8 inches, 54.1 inches
Tires 120/70 x 17 and 180/55 x 17 120/70 x 17 and 180/55 x 17 120/70 x 17 and 180/55 x 17 120/70 x 17 and 180/55 x 17
Brakes Dual radial-mount 4-piston; 310mm rotors Dual radial mount 4-piston/4-pad; 300mm rotors Dual radial-mount 4-piston Brembo; 310mm rotors Dual radial mount 4-piston calipers; 310mm rotors
Seat Height 32.3 inches 32.1 inches 31.9 inches 33.1 inches
Curb Weight 410 lbs 421 lbs 412 lbs 417 lbs
Fuel Capacity 4.8 gal 4.5 gal 4.5 gal 4.5 gal
Base MSRP $11,199; (ABS $12,199) Electronically controlled steering damper as standard $9999 Ohlins steering damper as standard $11,599 Electronically controlled steering damper as standard $10,690 Black or Blue/White; $10,890 Red No steering damper as standard.

Related Reading
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
2009 Supersport Faceoff!
All Things Sportbike on Motorcycle.com

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