Value 600-Class Sportbikes, 1997

Budget-Value 600s: Yamaha FZR600 Vs. Suzuki GSX-600 Katana


For years manufacturers have been locked in a dogfight to produce the best 600cc sportbike. Consumer demand for machines that are not only faster but better handling have forced them to constantly update and improve each model: These days, it is rare for a brand's flagship 600cc sportbike to go more than three years without a major redesign. While manufacturers have succeeded in producing remarkable motorcycles, the advances in technology have lead to astronomical prices, some soaring as high as $8,200. This places top-level 600s out of reach for many buyers, especially college students -- ever willing to finance their poverty-stricken, savings-depleted life away in hopes of a good job several years down the road, low payments are often the primary factor when buying a new bike. So where would you look for a quick middleweight sportbike at an affordable price? Not just inexpensive to purchase, mind you, but to own as well. We introduce you to the "Value 600" sportbike class -- Yamaha's FZR600 and Suzuki's Katana 600. 

There is a popular American saying that describes the philosophy behind the Katana and FZR: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" With this in mind, both bikes have remained virtually unchanged since their inception in the late 1980s. By saving money on research and development as well as factory re-tooling, Yamaha and Suzuki are able to keep costs down. How far down? Suzuki's Katana retails for $6,099, or $1,600 less than the new GSX-R600. Yamaha's FZR600 comes in at $6,499, a full $900 under its stable mate, the 1997 YZF600R.

Suzuki's Katana has a simple instrument cluster consisting of large, easy-to-read speedo, tach and fuel gauges.  

Yamaha's FZR shows its sportier edge with its tach and temp gauge separate from the speedo.Obviously, either value 600 will cost much less than top-level sporting machines, but how much bike are you getting for your budget buck? While both the FZR and Katana were competitive racers in the eighties, neither of them can hope to compete against modern 600s in any performance category. However, in the real world, lap times and stopwatches are unimportant -- but making it to class or the office on time is, and both machines will make capable and fun roadbikes. Old technology or not, riding either bike quickly is good enough to raise your pulse and get the blood flowing.

 But how do these bikes compare? Which one offers the best performance value? Although both machines share the same inline-four engine configuration, when it comes to outright performance the FZR is a lap ahead of the Katana. The Yamaha has strong top-end power and pulls harder over a wider rpm range than the Suzuki. Even though dyno charts reveal the FZR has only a few more horsepower, it also weighs considerably less, obviously helping acceleration. Its combination of superior power, two-finger braking, light weight, narrow cockpit and nimble feel make it easy to jump on and go fast on the FZR. Our only concerns were a clunky transmission and quirky rear suspension. An aftermarket shock would greatly help the rear end's handling manners.

 The Suzuki is a different story. Its extra weight, combined with poor turning characteristics (due in part to Suzuki's choice of Metzeler Laser front rubber), makes it intimidating for an inexperienced rider to go fast. The Katana often required extra countersteering input to complete a smooth arc when compared to the FZR. The little Kat would benefit from modifications aimed at quickening its heavy steering. Some trail could be taken out by pulling the fork tubes up in the clamps a few millimeters, which would reduce the effort required to turn the bike. Or a different tire combination with a more triangulated profile would help. Around town is where the Katana shines, as its thick seat, light clutch, high handlebars, and compliant suspension make for a pleasant ride.

Brakes on the FZR are excellent, providing great stopping power and feedback.  

The Katana's brakes lack the FZR's smoothness and strength. While either bike will prove entertaining on a twisty road, fitting into your monetary restrictions is what the FZR600 and Katana do best. Manufacturer financing is available for both through their respective companies, with Suzuki offering the best deal of zero down and 14.9 percent financing toward a new 600 Katana. Yamaha, on the other hand, requires a minimum downpayment of 750 dollars and 18.00 percent financing to purchase the FZR600. On a 60-month program the Katana's payments will be $166.69/month versus $170.48 for the FZR. Note that buyers can save significant amounts by locating a dealership with leftover '96 models that differ only by paint scheme.

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Full coverage insurance is mandatory when financing a new motorcycle in America, additional costs that should be factored into your decision. These 600s are relatively inexpensive to insure because motorcycle coverage is based on weight and displacement. A California State Farm Insurance agency quote for full coverage is $133.81 per month for either bike. Rates as low as $33.30 per month are available if your car policy is through State Farm and you have had a license for 10 years or more.

Obviously, financing and full-coverage insurance costs add considerably to the final bill for either bike. Buying an FZR with only 750 down would bring its total cost to a sky-high $10,978 with interest charges, almost a thousand dollars more than the 10,001 you'll pay for the Katana! This doesn't even include insurance, which could run as high as $8,028 for full coverage over a 60-month period. While not many of us are able to buy bikes outright, the more you can save towards the purchase price the better.

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