The B-Team: Value Supersport Shootout 2005

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Fourth Place: Yamaha YZF600R

The big bike has an imposing visual presence, with that big fairing and elongated tail section. The styling is pushing 10 years old, but it has a timeless look that has aged well, although it does represent Yamaha's build and finish quality of 1996, which wasn't what it is today. The bare instruments and exposed inner fairing panels have a cheap look that isn't up to modern standards. However, for all its budget equipment, the Yamaha is the best bike here for the long freeway drones. GabeZilla declared it "My first pick to connect the far points on the map."

The bar-peg-seat relationship is roomy and comfortable, the seat is broad, supportive and comfortable, if a little too squishy, and the windscreen provides more coverage than Greta Van Susteren on crank. A hundred miles goes by like nothing.

"At $7,099, the Yamaha is packed with value, starting with the styling."

The YZF is fun on a twisty road, just like any motorcycle is, but it's not enjoying it as much as the other bikes are. Our own Million Mile Man, Pete Brissette, complained of a "noticeable amount of buzz" through the clip-ons, especially between 6k and 7k in all gears.

A motor that propels you along at a good pace on the freeway at a fuel-sipping five or six thousand RPM suddenly becomes buzzy and unhappy. Pete isn't through trashing the blue bike: it's "seemingly the least powerful of the three sport bikes."

It's not just the motor that's lacking: the chassis feels big and heavy to steer, the suspension lacks the sophistication of even the Kawi, and it's just more work to keep up a brisk pace.

It's not bad, but it's an old design and it really shows, especially compared to the newer stuff. However, the brakes are pretty good.

GabeZilla thought they "might be the best ones here: what is it about those one-piece calipers that feels so good?", but Pete's harder to please when it comes to stopping (which he is good at): "they're average at best".

Still, on the track, the Yamaha is surprisingly rideable, as long as you don't push it too hard. There's adequate ground clearance and the suspension is good enough for track work; Sean says the "Yamaha is stable and easy to ride as long as you don't wind-up the soft suspension."

The brakes are, even after a decade, still some of the best around with nice feel and good bite, even though Pete characterizes them as merely "sufficient". But...and it's a big but, because this is a bike with a big butt and not a lot of power by modern 600 standards.

The motor, which is pleasant enough to use in the midrange during street activities, becomes buzzy and slow-revving when you try to be a hero with the blue bike on the racetrack.

Pete sums it up nicely when he says, "the engine doesn't seem to do anything to really inspire or perform poorly either.", and photographer Fonzie couldn't think of anything to say about it: "I guess it wasn't very memorable."

Compared to the Honda, Kawasaki and even the Buell, it's the most work to use. However, it's definitely fast enough, good-handling enough and well-suspended enough to do the job at the track. And doggone it, people like the YZF. Its legions of fans are fiercely loyal and love this bike. It's comfortable, handles well, works great with a passenger and is the lowest-priced bike of the test, at a mere $7,099. However, Sean kicks this old horse a bit more when he opines that "the Yamaha is starting to feel a bit old in this crowd and there is no masking its horsepower deficit." There seems to be no move to replace or update this model, as Bridgestone still has BT-56s they need to do something with, but we here at MO are not overwhelmed enough by the bike's good, solid performance and value to make it our favorite.

Third Place: Kawasaki ZZR600

The one thing that came through from all of our tester's comments is that the ZZR is big. Pete noted the "feel of the bike is that of the larger, older 750 Ninja", and Sean said that it "has the roomiest cockpit and most comfortable passenger accommodations."

Along with good peg placement, this makes the ZZR a nice place to spend some time on the freeway, especially for taller folks. But if you are shorter, the bars are a bit far away for true comfort, and the seat is hard and slopes forward. The wind protection is also pretty good: better than the Honda's but not as nice as the Yamaha's. Overall, Gabe said that it was "not my first pick for a long freeway drone."

Freeway, shmeeway: we buy sportbikes for sporting. And we buy Kawasaki sportbikes because we love Kawasaki motors. All the testers enjoyed what is truly an impressive powerplant. Gabe noted that "the engine is almost as smooth as the Honda's motor, more so than the Yamaha's, and it has a nice midrange hit.", Sean said it had the "most grunt", but noted a flat spot near the 13,000RPM redline; Pete thought the flat spot seemed to be at around 11,500RPM and was unhappy with the fueling: "a carb in this day and age?" But Sean's florid prose sums up the joys of riding Kawasaki: "The ZZR 600 actually sounds like a racebike when its intake is honking and you're burying your head behind the bubble."

For a visceral, powerful hit of pure sportbike, the ZZR's seven year-old design still satisfies, making as much power on the dyno as the more modern F4i. All that power is not without refinement; Pete noted that the "transmission is the best of the smooth that it's transparent." and Gabe enjoyed the heavy-duty brakes, which are the same as the ZX-9's: "they take some initial pull to get them biting, but once they do: look out! Six pots, baby!" Other touches like the 180-section rear tire and digital clock eclipse the less-than-perfect build quality that Pete noted: the "body panels squeak and groan together", not unlike MO staffers.

"You won't hear that groaning on a twisty road: the signature Kawasaki sound comes on when the tachometer gets busy, accompanied by a kick in the ass as the bike leaps forward."

You feel like you're going faster than the Honda, and are in fact going faster than the Yamaha or the Buell. "Wait a minute here..." pipes in Sean, "there is no effing way the ZZR is faster than the XB-9Sx on a twisty road! Sure, it's way faster in a straight line, but the Buell will easily run circles around it in the tight stuff." Sean was the fastest here regardless of what he was riding on, and you have to trust his highly tuned editorial heiney -- if he says the Buell has the most speed in the twisties, then it has the most potential for speed in the twisties. Your results will vary. Back to the Kawasaki:, its suspension felt fairly well set-up, but not as smooth and compliant as the Honda's. The bars put you in a nice position for turning the bike, and the seat is easy to move around on. Still, the bike's weight and bland feeling kept any of us really preferring it on our twisty road testing, except for Al, who was raised by hippies.

On the bumpy, tight confines of the Streets of Willow, the ZZR was OK but didn't really shine. Pete complained of the bike feeling undersprung, and Sean noted it felt "dated and heavy to steer." Gabe liked the feel of the ZZR on the track, saying it "turned in smoothly, albeit with a bit of effort." It's also got a taller feel than the other bikes, and has surprisingly little cornering clearance- payment for the roominess we experienced on long stretches of freeway.

The nuclear-option six-piston caliper brakes give a rider plenty of confidence, but they can quickly overwhelm tires that were not our favorites. Nobody at MO, even the most crusty and wizened veteran of hundreds of press intros and tests, can attest to anybody saying anything nice about Dunlop D207s. Sean said they "weren't any good when they were new and now that they're out-dated they just plain suck", Pete remarked that they are "a tire choice that the Petersen Automotive Museum may be interested in", and Gabe, always ready with a kind word, wondered "if the 300,000 leftover D207s in Kawasaki's warehouses might not be better used as swings for needy children." The D207's sidewall construction causes excessive flex, resulting in squirming and inaccurate feedback, much like the message boards.

When you put it all together, the ZZR offers a fairly comfortable ride, acceptable handling and an excellent motor for a truly value price: of $7,299. It's an easy winner over the less powerful and much less sharp Yamaha, but just doesn't offer the refinement or ease-of-use of the Honda.

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