2003 Six Hundred Shootout Part I: Pure Prurient Performance

Is 636cc Cheating? Kawasaki ZX-6R : Ducati 749S : Yamaha YZF-R6 : Suzuki GSX-R600 : Triumph Speed 4

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Where's the Honda you may very well ask and rightfully so.

The unfortunate answer is: We ain't got one. American Honda, it turns out, is miffed at MO over a series of alleged indiscretions which came to light a couple of weeks before the CBR600RR's U.S. intro--"the straw that broke the camel's back" being Honda's impression that we crashed its Metropolitan scooter intentionally (see the "CRASH" video). Well, we would never crash anything intentionally. However, when slapstick happens right in front of where the camera is rolling, to us that falls under the category of Entertainment, and it's our duty to run with it. (And we apologized for the scuffed Metro and offered to pay for it of course, at the time of the crash.)

Meetings in which we grovelled followed by affidavits in which we promised to behave better in the future have so far proved fruitless, but did get us a laundry list of our other past misbehaviors--including "drunken unprofessionalism" on the part of the now-departed Minime at the Las Vegas launch of the 954RR, what, over a year ago now?

Say, isn't that the same allegation that got me fired from Motorcyclist magazine? (I put that one in the "Bad Things that Turned out Good" category.)

Sean "Showboat" Alexander, John "Big Unit" Burns, Scott "Scott" Buckley, Will "Tate" Tate and Jeremy Toye.

Well, it's just all a little strange. I recall a meeting with the same people at Honda about this time last year with Minime in attendance, post-Vegas, in which Honda wished us and MO all the best amidst warm handshakes and promises to keep the lines of communication open and do lunch--and nobody said anything then about drunken unprofessionalism (though nobody offered us a cocktail either come to think of it).

In short, there's some strange stuff going on at American Honda and nothing much we can do about it for now.

We decided to just buy an RR, when word came down that there's some kind of production problem which means the first RR's won't be hitting the dealerships until mid-April--one per dealer--with the rest not coming in `til June. For MO then, the bottom line became simple enough: We can't get a Honda, but neither can you. We also know the Honda did not fare so well in the already published Roadracing World comparo, and the word on the street, Huggybear, is that the Honda will not be scoring much better when the big print mags hit the newsstands either.

So who knows? Maybe Honda doesn't have it in for us personally? Maybe they just decided to adopt the old "protect the product" strategy, knowing they have a 20 or 30-pound heavier bike on their hands in an important and highly competitive class, and that MO is not known for pulling punches?

Dammit Jim, we're not politicians, we're simple motojournalists... Whatever. On a happier and easier to deal with note, our less inscrutable friends at Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati and Triumph were happy to partake in the semi-annual speed binge that is the MO 600 SHOOTOUT. And so, without further ado...

Fontana, Cali 3/10/2003

And so it came to pass that on the tenth day in March in the year of our Lord 2003, the first Fastrack Riders (that's www.fasttrackriders.com) day of the season would happen at the imposing California Speedway, and that the Yamaha support crew would wait patiently at Willow Springs (ooooh, sorry about that Kurt...).

This is rapidly becoming JB's favorite corner to hold faster guys up in.

How cool is Fontana? Fontana is so cool that the Daytona 200, live, was piped into the TV sets suspended from the pit ceiling, which nicely set the mood as we unpacked our stuff: one Kawasaki ZX-6R 636, one new Yamaha YZF-R6, one Triumph Speed Four, one Ducati 749S, one Suzuki GSX R600.

Pirelli Diablos were supposed to be here, but had not arrived in time. Matter of fact it's now March 21 and still no sign of them. You think this job is easy? It's not. Anyway, there's a case to be made for testing bikes on stock rubber, especially now that stock rubber is so good, and also because we would be riding Fontana's infield course, which is not quite so ridiculously fast as the main Superbike circuit. (See both at Californiaspeedway.com.)


Just the facts, man (winners in bold)
Fontana Fastest Lap Kawasaki ZX-6R Yamaha YZF-R6 Suzuki GSX-R 600 Ducati 749S Triumph Speed 4

John Burns 01:21.3 01:21.9 01:22.8 01:24.6 01:25.4

Sean Alexander 01:15.9 01:17.4 01:18.2 01:17.9 01:20.1

Jeremy Toye 01:18.4 01:18.9 01:17.1 01:20.5 01:21.5

Dragstrip Sean Alexander 11.692sec 119.256mph 11.838sec 117.405mph 11.960sec 115.613mph 11.997sec 114.365mph Uh, no

David Hawks 11.790sec 117.366mph 12.504sec 114.743mph 12.508sec 114.166mph 13.100sec 108.340mph Nope

Dyno SAE BHP 108.3 12,700rpm 104.2 12,400rpm 102.1 13,200rpm 100.6 9,850rpm 84.1 11,850rpm

Torque 47.1 11,000rpm 44.3 11,750rpm 46.3 10,600rpm 56.6 8,450rpm 40.5 9,900rpm

Wet Weight Tank Full, pounds 416 420 426 468 437

Price MSRP $7,999.00 $7,999.00 $7,999.00 $14,795.00 $7,799.00*
*6,799 after $1,000 factory rebate on 2003 Speed Four.

One thing is painfully clear; I am not getting any faster, which is really no big deal since I never was fast to begin with. Actually there's no pain. Never mind. It must be hell to be Jeremy McGrath, to have to admit you are starting to suck at a thing where you once whipped all comers. I wouldn't know. I did do well on the postal exam, though, and lately my organizational skills are coming to the fore. For instance, I was able to organize for two-time Willow Springs champion Jeremy Toye to ride all these bikes when we happened to bump into him at Fontana, and I even organized hiring our new man Sean Alexander, who organized everything else and even organized himself to go even faster than Toye in spite of the fact he looks like the guy who should be driving the MO transporter (if we had one, he probably would drive it...).

"We had a Triumph Speed Four to play with..."

The new-and-cool Triumph Daytona 600 will be here in a matter of months; in the meantime we had a Triumph Speed Four to play with, which we thought might be fun on Fontana's short circuit as it needs lots of off-the-corner acceleration--just the place where the more midrange-intensive Speed Four is said to excel. It's a willing-enough little unit, and does seem to pull out of corners pretty well. Then it gets to what feels like a power plateau around 8-9000 rpm where not much happens, then it pulls like a train again all the way out to 14K like a real sporty 600, according to the nice white-faced tach.

Unfortunately for the Triumph, there are some longish straights between the corners too. While nobody went fastest on the Speed Four, we all thought it was a blast to ride--Toye especially--and voted it least likely to eject the rider. Higher, wider bars and lower, more forward pegs don't do anything for top speed, but they do encourage you to fling the green Triumph into corners harder, semi-secure in the feeling you'll be able to grab things back should they become suddenly too slithery. Like nearly all the Triumphs, this one comes with well-dialled suspenders completely ready for a good trackday shag, and supremely strong brakes. Not able to hang with these 100-plus horse front-line beasts on the track, though, everybody turned laps two to three seconds slower on the Triumph. Things will be different on the street. Just you wait. Okay maybe not.

The "S" model gets very nice Showa suspension, four-pad Brembo brakes, and well, I forget. Go to www.ducati.com if you must know.

The Ducati 749S, some would argue, really doesn't belong in this group and I'd have to be one of them. It's not quite twice the money, but it's close--and for most riders it's just off the pace of the 600's. Will Tate went fastest on it, but he's from the Hailwood era, back when the knee puck had not yet been invented. The "S" comes with Pirelli Supercorsas, and though these had a few hard miles on them, they still seemed to give the Ducati a slight advantage. Either that, or the thing is just completely rock-solid, encouraging entry speeds and lean angles the others can't match--only to miss the bus with too much weight and not quite as much power down the straights. When we're talking pure performance, which is what we're doing, the 749 will always be a dilettante because it weighs as much as the 999.

Ducati claims 439 pounds for both of them, and the true weight with fuel is considerably more. The 999 might beat up these 600's on the infield course, but the 749, most of the time under most riders, will not.

Which brings us to the three real contenders. The Suzuki is still a cardiac-serious package, and it is not giving up much at all on the track oh no. I don't feel the excessive vibration other riders always complain about with it, I just feel an engine making power and I have really good earplugs. The other engines are a bit smoother running and more refined, but it's a racetrack isn't it? And the dyno says the GSX-R has the widest sweet spot--2600 rpm separates its 10,600-rpm torque peak (lowest of these) from its power peak--highest, at 13,200 rpm.

Two-time WSMC champ Jeremy Toye's dog ate his homework again, but the gist was he didn't care for the Kawasaki suspension. It is a tad stiff out back...

"The refinement theme carries through in everything about the bike: throttle response, brakes, suspension."

The big difference is simply how you interface the GSX-R; your butt's further back and you reach a little farther forward--which makes the Suzuki a hellacious braker but not quite so quick-reacting as the Kawasaki and Yamaha at changing course. Our fastest and heaviest guy, the now infamous Sean Alexander, couldn't come to grips with the bike's old Dunlop D207s (we thought the new GSX-R would arrive with the better D208s), but the old Dunlops didn't keep Jeremy Toye from turning his best time on the Suzuki. Toye doesn't ride on street tires much, and he thinks he goes well on the Suzuki mostly because he's ridden so many of them and knows what to expect.

Sean's greater mass and aggression had the Suzuki spinning its rear out of every corner, not a problem for him apparently but not `zackly an aid to acceleration either.

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