Year 2000 World Supersport Shootout
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1. Mark Hammond, Managing Editor
My picks, in order:
R6: Light, super-handling, fast. Spins to the moon. Most thrilling to ride. Comfortable on the street. Way sexy looking.
6R: Almost a coin flip between the 6R and F4. Again, easy to go fast on. Comfy, best wind protection of the bunch. Black green color scheme is nice, especially if you can replace the green rims with black rims. Overall build quality not as good as the Honda put awesome engine makes up for it.
F4: Third for the shallowest of reasons: Almost identical to 6R in every area but not as much power down low and pumpkin/black and silver/red color schemes are UGLY UGLY UGLY!
GSX-R600: Easy to ride fast on track, stock settings almost perfect for the track. Down on power compared to the other Japanese 600s and not as comfy on the street.
Ducati: Great bike although single-minded. Too uncomfortable as a street bike. The big question: Is the 748 $4000.00 USD better than the Japanese bikes. No.
2. Brent "Minime" Avis, Editor of Something
I love supermodels. Nothing better than a fine woman, is there? And beer. Maybe I'd occasionally forgo the supermodel for a cold, frosty one in the shade of a tall oak on a hot summer day.
Motorcycles are OK, too, though they don't have quite the impact with me that either of the former do. But it's all the best, I suppose. I'd have to be a rock star to be able to spend my time chasing supermodels. And if I were to imbibe too much on beverages of the frosty alcoholic type, Mark "Kojak" Hammond and my girlfriend would have me in AA quicker than Anthony Gobert loses factory rides for much the same reasons.
People think motorcycles are dangerous, but given these two other vices I'd have to say that swinging a leg over any one of these World Supersport machines is downright civilized. Kinda fun, too -- I must admit.
Since we're being impractical with supermodels and beer, along those same lines I'd pick the Ducati as my favorite. It's like dating a supermodel, complete with the beautiful looks and high maintenance. It may be better, though: you can lock the 748 in the garage when you're done riding it and not get a call from an attorney the next morning.
In this same world, the F4 fails miserably since it's far too practical. It's too boring without a lot of personality, dressed up all flashy like your 60-year-old neighbor who thinks she still looks hot in black spandex and white high-heel cowboy boots with fringe.
The R6 is a screamer on the track; but it's like taking a greyhound for a walk to your local doggie-poop park. The back roads barely cut it and commuting is better done in your car. Somewhere between is the Suzuki, which is a solid track bike even if it feels neutered after riding the other in-line fours. Again, not a commuter, but at least it has more wind protection than an old open-face Bell helmet.
Which bike melds the best of all worlds together most seamlessly? That'd be the Kawasaki. It's got a rompin' and stompin' motor with enough handling and civility so that whether you're pretending you're embroiled in a battle for the lead with Jamie Hacking and Nicky Hayden or just off to pick up your supermodel for the night, the ZX-6R has got you covered.
3. Calvin Kim, Associate Editor
The bikes are in alphabetic order by manufacturer.
Drag Strip -- Wasn't the greatest launching bike out there, partly due to the lifeless clutch. Found it difficult to do a straight launch. However, it had good pickup and the down-low grunt could be felt immediately.
Street -- Although the power availability is stellar, its unfriendly clutch and racer ergos limit its street functions. Also, the exhaust caused excess heating underneath the seat when driven under 30 mph. Very uncomfortable. However, after extensive street riding, I got used to everything but the exhaust heating. Overall, probably the worst street bike, but not unbearable.
Track -- It took longer to get used to the 748 compared to all the other bikes mainly because of the different power and handling characteristics. The bike felt like it was on rails at all times. The brakes felt vague. At a slower, more technical track like the Streets, the 748 is more than capable of keeping up with in-line four monsters like the R6. However, with a lack of top-end power, a longer, faster track could be the 748's demise.
Drag Strip -- The generic bike of the bunch. Its clutch wasn't grabby, or slippery. Its power came on gently, but once in the upper third of its power band, you could tell the bike was really cooking. I'd assume thats when the ram-air system would start to kick in. Gear changes were smooth and nothing was really surprising.
Street -- Very predictable. Would make an ideal bike for the intermediate rider who is making his first leap into the 600 Supersport world. The docile power delivery warrants minimal thought. Non-threatening ergos reinforces its stable street nature. Still, the more performance oriented rider will not feel the F4 lacking in anyway. Power spools up nicely all the way to the top, and the brakes feel fine. However, sterile ergos did not agree with me.
Track -- The F4 made the track seem more like the street than any other bike. Sterile ergos and the same docile power delivery really allow the rider to concentrate on a better racing line. Foot pegs were too low and ground clearance was the worst of the bunch. Suspension worked admirably to soak up all the racetrack bumps. Overall, the bike performed very predictably.
Drag Strip -- Almost too good. The bike would continually slip the rear wheel almost through second gear. If we changed tires/swing arm then I'm sure this bike would've ruled. Powerful motor and an easy to modulate clutch.
Street -- The 6R is like an improved F4. With more more power down low, it makes street riding more pleasant. Slightly larger than the F4, the 6R feels light on the tight back roads. More wind protection and better ergos then the F4 make it the premier street bike.
Track -- Same situation as the F4, but made better due to its peppier motor. However, the suspension wasn't setup for me, so it felt odd, namely the wallowing rear-end. Tracked through corners really well. Felt very light considering it was probably the largest of the five. When up to speed the bike would still have the grunt to power out of sweepers.
Drag Strip -- Considering how many runs we put through this bike, I'm surprised it was still ridable. Bullet-proof clutch really let the bike shine. Unfortunately the weak-motor is its one downside.
Street -- I personally did not have enough street time to really make a fair judgment. However, aside from a too-tall first gear, and no bottom-end power, I would imagine slow speed traffic situations would tax the clutch.
Track -- This is where the GSX-R truly shines. The Suzuki felt much like the 748 in that the whole motorcycle was stable and yet was able to offer lots of feedback through the bars. Nevertheless, steering was super light and it was very flickable. However, you never felt the same roll-on oomph that you could feel from the 6R or R6. More motor would help in that area.
Drag Strip -- Grabby clutch and short wheelbase equals tough launches. But with so much high-end power, the R6 can save a sloppy launch with brute force. Had notchy shifting though. Aside from that, the YZF has wickedly fast top-end.
Street -- Of the five bikes tested, I felt this one to be just as hard-edged racer-ish as the Ducati. Super high foot pegs and narrow clip-ons make for an uncompromising racing ergonomics package. Thankfully, that same package is still comfortable for the street. For the street, you'd have to keep the power up, and during full-lock turns, the inside thumb would get stuck between the bar and tank.
Track -- I had the most problems hooking up with this bike. The brakes worked one-finger fantastic. The YZF required a very aggressive riding style that this beginning track-o-phile just didn't posses to ride the bike to its capabilities. Nevertheless, the sheer thrill of winding the throttle up and feeling the power of bike transfer down to the rear wheel is just amazing. Especially for those fast sweepers!
4. Jeff Rheaume, MO's Fleet Manager
First let me say that I think a 600cc motorcycle is the perfect size street bike for all but the top speed/horsepower addicts. I had an 1987 Hurricane that I raced in AMA Supersport and then rode on the street for two years and more recently I rode an RRF600 Suzuki. When the opportunity to ride these four 600's and the 748 came about I was thrilled. Who would not want the opportunity to thrash/evaluate someone else's motorcycles?
We rode all the bikes on the street, around the new 1.8 mile Streets of Willow course and at the drag strip at LACR. Although I found little things to nit pick on all the bikes I would like to say they as a group are incredible motorcycles. They are all capable of winning AMA Supersport races and providing many tens of thousand miles of street riding excitement.
My favorite bike is Kawi's ZX-6R. It's a superbly balanced motorcycle, easy to ride because it does everything so well. It has the widest power band and best power delivery with a rock solid chassis and boat anchor brakes. My nit: The fairing, while providing excellent wind protection, blocks my view of the instruments. Not much to complain about, however.
In a very close second is Yamaha's R6. It's as good as the Kawi except for the gear box, notchy shifting with some missed shifts and back shifting. Except for the Duc it is the best looking of the bunch.
Third place is a very tough choice that goes to the Honda CBR600F4. The Honda lacked the knife-edge sharpness of the first two, but only by the smallest of margins. My nit pick is that the pegs are too far forward and this makes my 48-year-old back hurt.
Fourth place and is the Suzuki GSX-R600. I felt the most at home on the GSX-R mostly because I have raced them for over ten years. The only thing holding the GSX-R back is the motor. She just needs more horsepower.
Fifth but hardly last is the Ducati 748. It's hard to compare the Ducati with the rest of the bunch because the 748 is a race bike made into a street bike and the others are really street machines that with some prep can be raced. As you might imagine, the 748 excelled on the track but on the street I would ride it to my chiropractor's office and then take a taxi home. Maybe I could trade the Duc for 5 years of adjustments, but it's just to beautiful to give up.
5. Nigel Gale, Annoyingly fast British guy
Brent Avis, a.k.a. Minime, gave me a call asking if I'd like to spend a day at Willow Springs whupping up on motorcycles. Having been denied that avenue of pleasure for a while I accepted and made the pilgrimage to picturesque Rosamond on a pleasant April morning.
The victims for the day were lined up and dressed in sticky Dunlop frog skins (tires), very smart! It's hard writing about five bikes that are all quite special and having to come up with a winner. With me, it comes down to personal preference.
First place is the Honda F4. The CBR is a very predictable and friendly package. If you were to take ten novices to a racetrack and put them on these bikes it would be very stressful. If they were all on F4s, it would be much less stressful. Great bike, good handling, fun and easy to ride at very high velocity as well.
The GSX-R600 comes in a strong second place. For me the Suzuki was a very fun bike (that was a redundant statement as they are all very fun bikes). The Suzuki was very friendly at 100% user input. If you were racing a 24-hour endurance race and at 3:00 am it was your turn to ride again, it would be easier getting back on the Suzuki than the others. If you've ever been in a similar situation, you'll understand what a compliment I just paid the GSX-R.
Yamaha's R6 comes in third and will definitely be the bike most coveted by the young canyon-racer crowd. It's the closest thing here to a G.P. bike. However, it is not for novices. It makes no concession for comfort and the brakes on the R6 will get novices into trouble really quickly -- not because they are bad, but because they are so good. The only negative for me was the transmission which was clunky on up shifts (it may have been just this unit) but it was especially noticeable when up shifting in fast sweepers, for instance. If you give this bike 100% then it's a thing of joy to ride. If you're not that serious, get one of the other 600s.
The Kawasaki ZX-6R is fourth for me. When I was a young sprunt, Kawasaki came out with a 750cc two-stroke triple that was faster than anything before it by a large margin. Since then Kawasaki has made a reputation building extremely fast motorcycles. I didn't see the dyno sheets but if this was the most powerful 600, it would not surprise me. The only real complaint about this bike was that in the ultra-tight chicane at the Streets course, the 6R wasn't as happy going slow as were some of the other bikes. Still, with its tunable suspension with ride-height adjustability, things could easily be smoothed out. Good looking and fast, Kawasaki's reputation will not get tarnished with this one.
Bringing up the rear is Ducati's 748. One of my first bikes was a Ducati 350 MK III. It handled great, was loud and uncomfortable; I guess some things never change. Luckily there is no freeway at the racetrack or the Ducati would not be so much fun. If most of your riding is country back roads or canyon riding, this could be your dream bike. It handles well, looks great and is fun to ride. 'Nuff said.
6. Roland Sands, AMA 250 GP Champion 600's of the past have generally sucked. It's only been in the past three years that the manufacturers have been serious about the lightweight sport bikes, and thank God for that. The current crop of 600s are phenomenal. Testing these bikes was more fun than drinking orange juice and seeing if you can make your spit touch the ground before sucking it back into your mouth. Yes, it was a hoot and besides crashing a Suzuki I had a great time riding all these bikes.
The most important thing is to figure out what was the best bike off the showroom floor, so this is how I will judge my favorite; but before I'm going to do that I will list my favorite bike in each of the following important categories:
The bike I went fastest on: the Yamaha The bike with which I could get laid the fastest: the Ducati The bike that was the fastest: the Kawasaki The bike that could take a licking and keep on ticking: the Suzuki The bike that could win a pumpkin carving contest: the Honda The bike that makes you think you're a hero: the Yamaha The bike that calls you a pussy and makes you feel like you suck: the Ducati
After all this, I like the great pumpkin best. Yes, the Honda has come through again, not because of it's domination in any particular category (besides Halloween contests), but because of its overall goodness in everything. It's fast and the power is very easy to use in all situations. It handles great and is predictable. You can push it and it still holds a line and inspires confidence instead of becoming unsettled and making you think you're going to crash. It stops great and the transmission is buttery smooth. It's comfortable and it's, well, everything you ever wanted in a lightweight sport bike. We'll just ignore the color scheme.
Next on the list? Kawasaki or Yamaha depending on whether you prefer motor or suspension. This is hard to do but I am going to have to pick the ... uhh, I can't do it! I can't choose so it's a tie.
The Kawasaki is fast as hell, shifts like a dream and it's just really good. It didn't feel like I had to rev the piss out of it to make it run like the Yamaha, and grabbing gears was as smooth as doing naughty things to warm apple pie. The suspension did leave room for improvement and I'd have to say it felt the heaviest of the bunch. A little mushy feeling and it felt like it transferred weight too fast, loading the front on the brakes and the rear on the gas. That motor and transmission were sweet and the brakes were the s#!t, and I mean that in a good way. They were not as initially aggressive as the Yamaha, but more progressive and I think ultimately just as powerful. And the Kawi looks bad ass -- It's my favorite looking bike. Super aggressive and I don't mind the green. It's better than pumpkin orange any day.
Yamaha's R6: What hasn't been said about this cunning piece of Japanese wizardry. Super lightweight, handles like a 250 and revs to the moon. I could go faster on a racetrack on this bike than any other bike in the test. It's that good. It's all that it's cracked up to be and more if you can ride it like it wants to be ridden. But that's also it's downfall. You have to rev the piss out of it to go fast. It wants to rev, and high revs and shifting don't always mix. The transmission on the Yamaha was, to be polite, hard to shift. It took a lot of concentration that should have been focused on traction. The worst transmission of the bunch, but the best handling bike by far. And the motor, well it's going to once again be hard to beat by any bike but the Kawasaki. Oh yeah, the Yamaha is a looker and will prove to be a favorite in any 'hood. My favorite color by far. And the brakes are really good. Super hard initial bite, which I like and it just keeps stopping harder. Maybe a little too good for the street.
Ducati is fourth and if I had more time on this bike I'd definitely like it more. It's a little different to ride and requires modifying your riding style. I didn't ride it enough to make this change and hence didn't get as much from the bike as I would have liked to. The chassis takes some getting used to, but in time I feel it could be as good as the Yamaha. It just takes more than one day. The motor is good; it's not spectacular but actually very fun. I liked the smooth, wide power band but it just never hit like I wanted it too. The brakes are nowhere near the Yamaha or Kawi. The tranny is surprisingly good, and the looks -- well it looks like a 916. How are you not going to get laid on a 916? Just peel the 748 stickers off, buy the 996 SP sticker kit, some carbon fiber goodies and you're freaking Carl Fogarty! 'Nuff said.
The Suzuki: I am a bad, bad man. Not only did I crash the Gixxer, but I relegated it to last as if to say, "see it was not my fault. The GSX-R came in last, of course I crashed it, it sucks!" But this is not the case as the Suzuki is a sweet machine and one of the best handling bikes in the test, on par with every bike but the Yamaha. I would say anyone could get on this bike and go fast comfortably on a racetrack. It felt great the moment I stepped on it. This is probably why I crashed it. I wasn't scared to push it. It felt good and I could throw it around and it wouldn't do anything weird. Its major drawback is age and some serious competition. These other guys are not messing around. And with the overall goodness of the Honda, the speed of Kawi, the handling of the Yamaha and the coolness of the Duke, Suzuki has definitely got some work to do. It's a good machine, just not good enough.