It doesn't take much to upset the middleweight-class applecart-a minor update in one model year can vault a competitor from the back of the class to the front. Just as easily, a single, tiny glitch can punt last year's winner off the podium. Case in point: In our 2005 middleweight smackdown, Honda's then-new CBR600RR emerged from a veritable three-way tie-that had to be broken by rounding scores to two decimal points-for top honors. The following year the same CBR, unchanged but for a different brand of OEM tires, ended up in last place. This past year, coincidentally, our middleweight-of-the-year trophy ended up at Honda, as the new-for-2007 CBR600RR won the smackdown with a clean sweep of the street and track scores. Will history repeat itself?
The contenders this year include the aforementioned Honda CBR600RR and the Kawasaki ZX-6R, both of which are unchanged for 2008 following major revamps last year. Also making a return visit is the Triumph 675, now in its third year of production and identical to the version that debuted to major accolades the world over in 2006. New for 2008 are the Suzuki GSX-R600 and Yamaha YZF-R6, which both benefit from engines with stronger midrange power and chassis tweaks to match. Senior Editor Trevitt sampled both the new 600s over the winter, reporting from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the R6 ("Scream II," Mar. '08) and Misano World Circuit in Italy ("The Right Tool," June '08) for the GSX-R.
As per our usual modus operandi, we spent a day at Buttonwillow Raceway Park with this year's quintet of middleweights. Hired gun (and former staffer) Lance Holst and local club racer John Reeves performed the riding duties along with full-timers Kunitsugu, Trevitt and Siahaan. For the track sessions we fitted each bike with Continental's ContiRaceAttack Comp tires (see the sidebar on page 52 for more information about the new tires). Following the racetrack festivities we spent a day strafing canyons around Malibu with rising film star Jim O'Connor subbing for an at-his-real-job Reeves. Each rider rated each bike at each venue in the usual 10 categories, giving us a total of 50 ratings for each bike at the track and another 50 for the street ride. The averages of those scores are listed with each contender in the following text, with the overall scores-an average of 100 ratings for each-listed in the SR Ratings chart near the end of the story.
Time waits for no one, and that is especially true in the cutthroat middleweight class, where just one year of development can make a huge difference. Every other bike in this test has been updated since the 675 was introduced in 2006, and that progress leaves the Triumph at the bottom of our testers' track score sheets despite its logging the second-quickest lap time. That fast time is partly due to the Triumph's sultry-sounding three-cylinder engine, which generates far more torque and horsepower at lower rpm than the four-cylinder 600s, equating to speed on each corner exit. The other factor contributing to the 675's quick laps is the bike's light weight: Just 10 pounds heavier than the flyweight CBR600RR, the Triumph is a few pounds lighter than the R6 and 20 pounds lighter than the Kawasaki and Suzuki.
But good power and light weight alone don't make for a great overall package, and it's in the finer points that the 675 loses out in this group. "If you're only as strong as your weakest link, then the Triumph is in trouble because the rear shock is absolute junk," wrote Siahaan. With a too-stiff spring, very aggressive link and a bizarre rebound circuit that has the rear end rebounding too quickly at the bottom of its travel and too slowly at the top, we couldn't find settings to make anyone happy at the track. In contrast, the front suspension is much more easily sorted and soaks up big or small bumps equally well. While steering is quick and aided by the bike's light weight, some of our testers noted that the stinkbug seat height made transitioning from side to side difficult.
That great power is difficult to access at times, as the bike's short gearing and little overrev let you become well acquainted with the harsh rev limiter and get stuck between gears in places around Buttonwillow's layout, and this year's choice of tires, which affects gearing, plays to the 675's strengths in this regard. That shows on the timesheets. Kento described best the paradox of low scores coupled with quick lap times: "The Triumph has that nervous feel in that you may be railing along and turning good laps, but you always feel on edge, like the bike could get out of shape at any moment-not the environment conducive to maximum confidence."
Triumph Daytona 675
+ Great power and torque
+ Soul-stirring sound and style
- Rear shock needs to be trashed
- High seat makes handling and ergos awkward
x Desperately seeking an update
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front Spring preload: 5 lines showing; rebound damping: 4 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; ride height: 4mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
Rear Spring preload: 9mm thread showing; rebound damping: 2 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping: 22 clicks out from full stiff