The B-Team: Value Supersport Shootout 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!

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