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The B-Team: Value Supersport Shootout 2005

story by MO Staff, Photograph by Fonzie, Created Thursday, Sep 08, 2005

Somewhere Special, CA --

Value. What does that word make you think of? For some it means cheap: settling for less to save a few bucks. But for others, it means getting maximum bang for your buck. It means using your money to its fullest to get exactly the motorcycle that will best fit your tastes, abilities and riding style.

For a prospective motorcycle buyer, there's a lot of ways to spend seven to nine thousand dollars on a new motorcycle. But what's the best way to spend that kind of money and make sure you have a sporty motorcycle that can do as much as possible?

Those of you bored enough at work over the last year have probably discerned a common thread in many of our reviews: we tend to like more street-oriented motorcycles that are still fast and handle well enough to be entertaining. None of us here at MO are old; but we're not spring chickens, either. We need comfort, reliability and value in our rides, but we also get out to the track from time to time, so we need something with sporting prowess.

The top-rung 600s like the ZX-6R, CBR600RR, YZF-R6, and GSXR-600 are incredible values, with triple-digit horsepower, excellent suspension and cutting-edge performance. However, they just don't offer the all-around comfort and versatility that some other bikes do, and they are climbing into price territory previously unknown to middleweight sportbikes: the 2006 Yamaha YZF-R6 will probably be more than $9,000!

"The CBRs have always been noted for comfort on the street and stable, predictable, easy handling on the track."

Luckily, many manufacturers offer a "second string" sportbike in addition to their top-rung supersports. We made a few calls to see what was out there to test. We came up with four bikes that many of you might be considering as a motorcycle to do it all, yet still have excellent sporting potential. How well do they work touring, on the street, and on the track? Which one is the best? Let's briefly look at the contenders, shall we?

Honda CBR600F4i

Introduced in 2001, the F4i was further revised for the 2003 model year with a more comfortable seat and new rear bodywork. It's a logical progression of Honda's CBR600 series, built to traditional 600cc sportbike specs: inline four, 600cc engine, six speed gearbox, aluminum frame, and full bodywork.

The CBRs have always been noted for comfort on the street and stable, predictable, easy handling on the track. It sounds like a winning combination, although at $8,499 it's priced almost the same as Honda's cutting-edge CBR600RR. Is it a good enough bike to justify the extra expense?

Yamaha YZF600R

Some things never seem to change, do they? If you crave stability in your life, set the clock back to 1997 and hop aboard Yamaha's timeless YZF600R. It's the oldest bike in the test, and has been evaluated many a time [1997 600cc Sportbike Shootout | 1999 600cc Supersport Shootout | MO: Overlooked and Underrated] here by MOrons past. You can glean all the technical details from our past reviews, but to save you time, here's the skinny:

The YZF is an extremely upgraded FZR600, with a Deltabox aluminum frame, stout 41MM cartridge forks, killer Monoblock brake calipers and our old friend, Yamaha's four-cylinder motor that first appeared in the FZR400 back when Reagan was president (don't all you GPTB members start weeping with nostalgia, now). Bored and stroked to its present 62 by 49.6mm dimensions, the engine displaces 599cc and makes 85.9 bhp on our Dynojet Dynamometer. This is down a bit from the 88.5 bhp our test unit made in 1997, confirming our tester's suspicions that the YZF has been softened a bit for new riders.

Those are some respectable figures for a bike that costs less now than when it was new: just $7,099. Is the low price enough to overcome 10 years of technological advances and arise as the winner of our test? Good Lord, the excitement is practically killing us!

Kawasaki ZZR600

Adding to our list of historic sportbikes is Kawasaki's ZZR600. Originally called the ZX-6R when it was introduced as a 1999 model, this motorcycle had the "ZZR" moniker applied, connoting its status as a more sport-touring oriented machine. However, other than the extra "Z" and loss of the "X", the ZZR retains all the sporting tackle and credentials of its past life as Kawasaki's supersport champion.

We tested it in 1998 and 2001, so we'll keep technical stuff to a minimum, but basically you get a ram-air equipped motor which produces 95.96 bhp, well-hung in an aluminum frame and suspended by very-stout-for-1998 46mm cartridge fork. Everybody loves the comfort, power and decent handling, and at $7,299 you get a lot of extra technology for only a couple of Franklins more than the Yamaha. Is it enough to muscle its way to the front of our comparison? Oh no! Fonzie just passed out from the excitement! No, wait, he just passed out.

Buell XB9SX

One of these things is not like the other. Can you guess which one? Before you notice all the Buell banners on our site, put two and two together and email the Federal Trade Commission let us make our case for including this odd little duck (not that kind of duck!) in our comparison. First, it's priced very similarly to the Honda, at $8,895. Second, it is Buell's idea of what a middleweight sportbike should be: they actually designed it with the thought of providing an alternative to more traditional Japanese inline-four sportbikes. We tossed it into our salad because we figured there might be some readers curious to see how it would do compared to its intended competition. With that in mind, we can turn to its actual qualifications.

We spent some time on the XB-9S Lightning in 2003, and this 2005 XB9SX is essentially the same bike, except with translucent bodywork, different headlamps with cool little grilles over them, and most importantly, excellent Pirelli Scorpion Sync tires.

"Our own 'Dirty' rode this wee beastie at the 2005 Buell and Harley Davidson press launch last year and declared it easily the best streetbike Buell has ever built."

Big words from a big pink man. Is it enough to declare this machine the best value of the pack? To evaluate our odd quartet, we devised a rigorous and varied testing schedule. First was a day at the tight & twisty Streets of Willow road course in Rosamond, CA to measure track-worthiness. Then we rode the bikes up to Laguna Seca and back, to see how they do on the freeway drone. And then we did a second trackday at the Streets, just in case there was anything we didn't notice the first time. And since we are in Motorcycle Paradise here, we spent a couple of hundred-plus mile days riding through a nice variety of different kinds of twisty roads.

After all the dust settled, we took a few three-hour MO lunches to determine which bike was best. We then tabulated our votes, after giving props for comfort, handling, power and coolness.

So after all that, which bike was best? Here are the four bikes presented in fourth-through-first place. So put down your Oprah-shaped Pez dispenser full of valiums: the answer is just about to be revealed!

Fourth Place: Yamaha YZF600R

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

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.

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.

Second Place: Honda CBR600F4i

Every motorcyclist dreams of owning the perfect motorcycle. One that is perfect for touring, commuting, cruising back roads at an extra-legal pace and doing the occasional trackday. But like the dog chasing the car, what would you do if you actually discovered that bike? Would you buy it?

The Honda is a kind of mishmash, comfort-wise: they took the front end from the F4i, which was a sharp-edged racetrack-oriented bike in 2000, and slapped on the tail and seat from the older F4, which was more of an all-arounder. Pete described this perch as being a "great compromise between being firm enough to give support and yet comfortable for many, many miles." But although the seat is broad and supportive, the fairing is a little short on wind protection. With slightly higher bars, it loses the edge to the Yamaha on the freeway, but is still better than the Kawi, with a better seat and smoother engine. Gabe rode our test unit up to Streets of Willow, put in a day at the racetrack, and still felt good enough to ride Angles Crest Highway 100 miles back to MO. A Goldwing it's not, but it's still plenty comfortable enough to burn through a few tanks in a day. That afternoon riding a deserted two-lane road through the mountains was memorable.

Memorable thanks to the F4i's excellence in almost every category. The brakes are the best, according to Pete, and Sean declared "the Honda feels the most modern of these bikes, with the best fuel injection and a linear powerband that pulls well everywhere." However, he went on to lament "The Honda gets way too hot between your legs, when you're riding in 90°+ heat." The transmission and clutch are "invisible", according to small-but-mighty Pete, and Gabe declared it "one of the easiest bikes to ride fast out just sit on it and point it in the direction you want, and the bike becomes transparent." Is the perfect bike one that disappears beneath you?

"I felt instantly comfortable on the CBR"

On the racetrack, a novice rider is best served by a motorcycle that has few bad habits, so they can learn the track and focus on the basics of fast, smooth riding. "I felt instantly comfortable on the CBR", said Pete, who is a relative newcomer to the racetrack, "by the third turn of the first lap on my first session of the day I was able to put my knee down immediately and without any trepidation about what the bike would or wouldn't do. That's a milestone for me." But it's not just good for newbies: both Gabe, who has 11 years of track experience and Sean, who is fast enough to hang with the best of them, were entertained as anybody, faulting only the lack of cornering clearance caused by the big muffler and low footpegs. But those faults are a mere slip-on muffler and adapter plate away from correction.

It's smooth, seamless and does nothing wrong. We really found this bike hard to fault. Sean nit-picked: "You'd think Honda would re-route that f'ing clutch cable, but nooooo... it's still right there smack-dab across the digital speedo", and Pete noted engine buzz thru the foot pegs and clip-ons, which is most notable around 4,000 rpm. Gabe, of course, complained of a sore back after too much freeway droning. But overall, the F4i is almost a perfect bike: "The very picture of refinement", according to Pete. Is perfection good enough? Apparently not...

Pete The Million Mile Man says: "It Ain't That Easy!"

Looking over our current line-up of bikes in this test it's easy to see how bikes that were once at the top of their game are now being referred to as "value" super sports. If you're honest with yourself you can't deny that first, micro-second impression you get when you hear the word "value" is really "cheap" or somehow "less than" in terms of quality or performance. In my opinion, with the current state of the motorcycle industry having record sales of sport bikes driven by ultra high-performance and race ready technology the term "value" can take on even more of a negative connotation.

Of the four in the shootout, one is an aging remnant; another has employed some modernizing but still uses what is quickly becoming dated technology; one has essentially stuck with the times and the remaining bike is almost out of place with its complete re-thinking of what a sport bike should be. But does this change of perception about bikes that were once the definition of their class mean that they're more of a value now than before?

I'm going to suppose that most MO readers fit the "all arounder" mold. The need to have a bike to commute on, do the occasional track day, some light sport-touring and a spirited ride up and down your favorite local twisty. When you really consider all of those requirements, that's a tall order for one motorcycle to fill. What I need from a bike to perform all those duties are: ergonomics that will keep me comfortable any where from a quick 20 mile trip or as far as the full range of the gas tank; overall dimensions that offer a sporting ride to keep me entertained without being overly aggressive; enough horsepower to make freeway droning less of a chore on the bike and myself; enough torque to make minced meat of city driving and/or the really tight stuff; brakes worthy to help give my over enthusiastic throttle hand a reality check and finally fuel injection (a new bike in this day and age without it? Come on!). Additionally, the older I get and the more time I spend around bikes the more I want some unique quality to what I own.

"What it boils down to is the need to have a bike that I can ride day in and day out for any reason. On that one prerequisite alone I could rule out the Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha. But it's never quite that simple."

Breaking the mold is often an exercise in futility. Thankfully for motorcyclists Buell scoffs at futility and the XB9SX CityX is fully capable of scoffing at traditional sport bike design. With bolt-upright seating position; a short reach from the saddle to the one-piece, motor cross style handlebars; super smooth motor for a Harley based V-twin; outstanding brake design and function; virtually maintenance-free belt drive; a wheelbase short enough to compete with a bicycle; stout USD forks that offer a plush ride and a super quiet but nonetheless cool sounding exhaust note, the CityX has a lot going for it. Let's not forget one of the biggest mold-breaking ideas: fuel in the frame and oil in the swing-arm. The CityX is like a Hyena in a pack of dogs: Similar in function but way different in appearance and attitude. Awesome!

As for riding comfort, none in this pack can compare to the Buell. It's incredibly comfortable to ride. Even over 80 mph, windblast really isn't a problem despite the teeny-tiny windscreen. Foot peg position and saddle to bar relation combine to make a nearly perfect set-up. And lest I forget, the tremendous amount of torque offered by the Harley twin is perfect for just about any type of riding except maybe for going all-out on the track. But it's still good for track days especially considering the great grip offered by the Pirelli Scorpion Sync's and the incredible lean angle you can achieve by what seems like limitless ground clearance.

On the gloomy side of things the Buell does lack in a few key areas. Such as passenger accommodations that are almost non-existent thanks to one of the smallest, albeit comfortable, seats. Additionally, the clutch pull and tranny are reminiscent of a 1968 John Deere: clunky and a little notchy. Even though it's fuel injected, fuel and air mixing seems average at best with the occasional stall at stop lights and the poor throttle response off idle only adds to its sub-standard performance. Getting back to appearance, the Buell is hands-down the most fun to be seen on. Especially with the transparent, colored faux fuel tank. It should be noted that the material choice for the fuel tank may prove to be a problem in the not too distant future of ownership as it mars and scuffs easily.

The CityX may just be the perfect canyon carver, everyday city thrasher/commuter, hooligan machine, and weekend sport-tourer (so long as you've very little to carry) of the group.

Like I mentioned earlier it's never as simple as a black and white choice. Especially when we have a highly refined, years-in-the-making machine like the CBR F4i and the cutting edge of design meets function with the Buell XB9SX CityX.

So, to reiterate, ruling out all but one bike is never quite that simple and Buell and Honda certainly haven't made it easy. Their pros and cons seem to balance each other out so as not to make the choice between them clear or easy. Yet with the close race between the two I have to give the slightest of edges to the CityX due mostly to rider ergos. Use my opinions and observations as little or as much as you like. Hopefully I've made it a little easier.

-- Pete Brissette

First Place: Buell XB9Sx

If the Buell is a loveable little puppy dog, it's a pit-bull puppy, with a solid, muscular feel and a powerful bite. The Buell is a bundle of contradictions and unexpected engineering solutions that somehow all work well together, like Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor or a peanut-butter and banana sandwich. It's not the fastest, best-handling, lightest, or cheapest bike in the test, but three of our four testers preferred it and picked it as the "best" bike here.

The first surprise is freeway comfort. It looks like an overgrown Super Motard, with the vestigial fairing, tiny seat and tall, braced handlebar. However, that seat is much plusher (for the rider!) than it looks, with extra foam to make it higher. That extra height makes it hard for the "little people" like Gabe and Pete to get their feet flat at a stop, but the extra foam makes the perch surprisingly able for a long day of riding.

"Over 2,000 RPM it is as silky as a Ducati or even a Japanese liquid-cooled twin."

"I rode it 480 miles down Highway One in a day, and I could still walk at the end of it" said Gabe. The comfort is furthered by that teeny slip of a fairing, which actually works well enough to manage the windblast at speeds up to 80 MPH. Faster than that and you are fighting the wind, but this bike is better to tour on than you'd think.

The passenger seat on the CityX is a terrifying thing, but truly, it's not as bad as it looks. It looks like an afterthought, and is thinly padded, but the pegs are placed humanely, and as long as you're not too large, it's perfectly fine for short trips. Sean took Gabe over to Buell's fleet center to pick up a test unit, and aside from being scared silly on Dirty's favorite on-ramp, he weathered the 20-minute trip with no lingering effects. It's definitely not for touring, but it won't result in divorce the way a Ducati 916's passenger seat would.

Another surprise is a smooth sweetheart of a motor. Pete remarked that it was "smoother than any other in the group", and Gabe preferred the smoother and easy-to-manage XB9 motor to the rambunctious 1200 motor on bigger Buells. It's "perfect for just about any type of riding", according for Pete. Sure, it shakes like a diesel generator at idle, but over 2,000 RPM it is as silky as a Ducati or even a Japanese liquid-cooled twin. This smoothness means you can access the 72 horsepower output quickly with a minimum of shifting and revving.

And that is a handy feature, because this bike lags behind the Japanese machinery in the clutch, fueling and transmission departments. Both Pete and Dirty noted the poor off-idle response from the fuel injection, calling it the "least-sorted" and "sub-standard." That poor response can also be noted in the dyno chart as a big dip between one and two thousand RPM. The "clutch and tranny are reminiscent of a 1968 John Deere" according to Pete, and Gabe couldn't help but notice the long throw and crude feel from the gearbox. Finding neutral was about "as easy as finding a kosher butcher in Baghdad", according to the Visceral Wordsmith.

If you can overlook the crudeness of those items, you can find yet another pleasant surprise: handling on par with a custom-built roadracer.

"Surprising comfort, great handling, flexible motor and wicked good looks are sufficient to place this bike in first place over the more refined and polished CBR."

With a tiny wheelbase, well-calibrated, stout suspension components and a massive frame, the Buell manages to be passably stable while at the same time incredibly light and flick-able. "Handling is super responsive and quick...overall it's like riding a bicycle" said Pete, who had a blast riding the CityX on both the street and track, and even cynical and hard-to-please Sean noted the Buell possessed a "nice neutral toss-ability that just begs to do anything you ask of it." The big pink man flew around the Streets of Willow (on the Buell's stock Pirelli Scorpion Sync tires) like he was in a centrifuge, passing racers with double-digit number plates. A novice or expert rider -- and anybody in between -- will benefit from a fun, great-handling ride.

Surprising comfort, great handling, flexible motor and wicked good looks are sufficient to place this bike in first place over the more refined and polished CBR. As Sean says, "the Buell is the only bike in this test that makes you want to just hop-on and ride... to the store, to work, next door to your neighbor's house, up the mountain and back for lunch, anywhere, any time", and Pete thinks it "may just be the perfect canyon carver, everyday city thrasher/commuter, hooligan machine and weekend sport tourer." Gabe struggled to describe why he liked the little bike so much, especially after he had to ride it 500 miles in one day, but he summed it up by just saying, "it offers a great combination of usability and uniqueness for those who aren't happy with mere competence."


There was a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the MO office while we debated which bike was best. In a lot of ways, it's not fair to the Honda to pick the Buell over it. The Honda is as sorted and nit-free as a ball-peen hammer, where the Buell has many rough edges. It's also unfair to the ZZR to put it behind the CBR: for more than a thousand dollars less, you get a bike with equal power and comfort. The Yamaha...well, it's a nice bike, especially if you like old stuff, but it just doesn't have enough to offer to even come close to besting any of the other machines. We all agreed the Kawasaki was the best value, and that the CBR was the best motorcycle overall, but the Buell was the bike we'd most want to own. Sean summed it up: "It might be the least-sorted bike in this test, with FI tuning issues and after-thought passenger accommodations, but it's the one I'd actually buy ten times out of ten. Look to the rising sun if you want spec sheet domination and perfect refinement."

"We all loved riding the Buell, and we know our readers demand more than mere competence from their motorcycles."

Because of this, Gabe wanted to declare a two-way tie between the Buell and the F4i, until he was told that the punishment for not picking a winner in a MO shootout was waxing Sean's bikini area.

So he picked the Buell, since he appreciates having a good-handling and solid bike with enough character and individuality to boost his constantly-challenged ego. But he still likes the F4i for it's refined near-perfection: "If you really just want to concentrate on the ride, whether you're going fast or slow, that's good. If you want a more involving ride, that's bad. So if you're the kind of person who wants a perfect, if slightly bland motorcycle, the F4i is definitely the best here."

However, we all loved riding the Buell. And we know our readers demand more than mere competence from their motorcycles. As motorcyclists, we aren't just looking for the most bike for the money: we also need a bike that lets us stand out from the crowd, but can still be ridden like a real motorcycle. The Buell does this in spades, while being reliable, easy to service and cheap to fix. The Buell dealer network is as far-reaching as the Japanese brands, and compared to more exotic two-cylinder machinery from Europe, it's a real bargain at $8,899.

Sean said the Buell is as "loveable as a Golden Retriever Puppy (when it's not pooping on your rug with it's crappy off-idle FI tuning)", and that wraps it up nicely for us here at MO. This is a unique bike that needs the rider and will reward him with miles of fun and adventure. It's not the best-priced bike on the market, but we think that among this company, it's worth the extra money to the rider who wants more from his riding experience.


"Put My Money On The Table" Table
How the testers ranked the bikes overall.
Rankings: Motorcycles are given five points for first place, three points for second, two points for third and one for fourth.
  Pete Brissette Sean Alexander Alfonse Gabe Ets-Hokin Points
Buell XB9SX 1 1 4 2 14
Honda CBR F4i 2 2 3 1 13
Kawasaki ZZR600 3 3 1 3 12
Yamaha YZF600R 4 4 2 4 6


Gabe Ets-Hokin, Editor-at-Small

"Motorcycles aren't about sensibility, are they? They're all about what makes the little devil on your shoulder happy, while providing the bare minimum of justification to any other decision-makers in your life."

Although all four bikes are in similar price and performance categories, two of these bikes are really out of their leagues and should be upgraded or retired. The first is the YZF600R. Although it's as good a bike can be with the old FZR600 motor, the old YZF feels like a relic, with its heft, bulk and buzzy, soft motor. It would be a good choice for a commuter/sport-tourer, but at $7,099 plus freight and set up, I'm not so sure it's such a great value, especially compared to such fun, nimble bikes as the SV650 or the Triumph Speed 4.

The Kawasaki is interesting because it shows how much sportbikes improved between 1995 and 1998. Unfortunately, sportbikes improved much more from 1998 to 2001. The ZZR600 has lots of nice details, and has a very entertaining motor, but its lack of comfort and heavy feel would keep me from purchasing it, especially when there are so many other great bikes for less than $7,299. Even Kawasaki's own Z750 would be a better choice for the kind of riding I like to do.

This leaves two very different contenders vying for my very fictional money. The Honda is the rational choice: its smooth, sophisticated feel will age well, just as the F2/F3 series have. The high admission price of $8,499 should amortize nicely, as Honda can really screw a motorcycle together. If I was a serious numbers-cruncher, and wanted a capable, fast, economical and sensible choice, I'd have an F4i in my garage. (Come to think of it, I've had two.)

But motorcycles aren't about sensibility, are they? They're all about what makes the little devil on your shoulder happy, while providing the bare minimum of justification to any other decision-makers in your life. The Buell should satisfy the latter with its fuel economy and low maintenance costs, while keeping the former cackling because of its good handling manners and zany fun-factor. At $8,695, the Buell is hardly a "value" bike, but getting this much character, versatility and clever engineering for under $9,000 seems like a bargain anyway.

Al "Fonzie" Paliama, Dissident

Let me tell you all a little story. A story about the Value Supersports shootout votes that I was forced to give and how they came about. Forced because I tried to keep out of the fray -- I'm an easy-going, non-controversial kinda guy. Motorcycles and motorcycling is all good, in my opinion -- I like to get out and ride, anytime, anywhere, on anything.

When it comes to testing here @MO, I'm the photographer -- so I carry more weight in camera gear, lenses, video equipment, a laptop for editing said materials, and so on. I'm also de-facto sheep herder, corralling the destination-challenged MOrons ahead of me to the right locations. And so, I don't feel that I ride to evaluate, I ride each bike in order to have it in place where it needs to be for the next picture. I'm also last on the totem pole for pick'ems. For instance, our first riding stint was during some very windy miles where no one wanted to ride the Buell -- so, yup, you guessed it: "gee, Fonzie, it's your turn now on the bike with the least wind protection." And guess what? Yessir, the Buell has the least wind protection.

When I ride testbikes, it's with commuting and/or traveling laden in mind, and with that in mind, the ZZR was my top pick because I enjoyed the torque curve common to Kawi's engines, and it had an enjoyable exhaust note. Fast but not too uncomfortable to ride around the city. The Buell is too tall to stand over for this 32" inseam rider -- tippy toes at red lights gets old, fast, for me.

Buell XB9SX
Honda CBR F4i
Engine 60in. Thunderstorm® 984cc Air/Oil/fan-cooled, four-stroke, 45° V-Twin 599cc liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder
Horsepower 72.17 95.67
Torque 56.36 42.47
MSRP $8,895 $8,499

Kawasaki ZZR600
Yamaha YZF600R
Engine 599cc, Four-stroke DOHC inline four, 16 valves 599cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, inline four-cylinder
Horsepower 95.96 85.86
Torque 43.68 43.26
MSRP $7,299 $7,099