Sadly, after AMA and World Superbike racing went to open-class machines, performance bikes between 600cc and 1000cc dropped off most manufacturers' and riders' radar screens. Fortunately Suzuki's consistently brilliant GSX-R750 is still with us and better than ever.
In my 13 years of roadracing I competed riding every brand of Japanese bike in every category between 600cc and 1000cc (and a year on a Ducati), but it's no coincidence that I began on an FZ750 and ended on a GSX-R750. I've always thought this class represented the best balance of performance, often besting larger-displacement siblings in terms of lap times. Now, as a track-day rider and riding instructor, I think these bikes are almost impossible to beat. They're significantly more athletic and nimble than open-class bikes and offer far more useful powerbands than the high-strung middleweights. This is the type of bike that allows you to ride your best.
Ducati's 848 is far more forgiving to ride than its 1098 and represents perhaps the most sensible exotic bike ever. Its timelessly beautiful styling and the firsthand experience of watching Ruben Xaus work his magic on one in Spain make it a bike I'd never tire of owning. Suzuki's latest GSX-R750, however, might just be my all-time favorite track bike. Sure, it won't age as well as the Ducati, since Japanese bikes outdate themselves more quickly, but as long as Suzuki keeps making and updating its iconic repli-racer, happiness is still something you can buy.
If I could make one request to the OEMs it would be this: "Please bring back the middleweights!" I've always loved the three-quarter-liter class of sportbikes, especially the Suzuki. We say it all the time, but it really is the perfect size motorcycle for almost any rider. Now that Ducati has joined the fray with the 848, we've got another middleweight to join the party-and it couldn't come soon enough. Both bikes were a hoot to ride, but the Ducati actually surprised me with its performance. After riding it at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada, I knew it had potential for greatness but was held back by its suspension. On the other end of the spectrum, the Suzuki's suspension worked great, but I was hoping for a little more from the engine when the revs were near the top. I don't want to say I was disappointed, because it was an excellent bike to ride, but maybe I set my expectations a bit too high for the Suzuki and a bit too low for the Ducati. However, I'm a sucker for proper suspension, so for my money I'd still buy the GSX-R750 and spend a little extra coin to get the engine where I want it.
Going into this test I thought I had a pretty good idea how things would shake out, as we had ridden both the Ducati and the Suzuki for separate tests beforehand. But at the track the 848 surprised me and was better than I anticipated. And the Suzuki was not the missile I was expecting it would be, leaving me a bit disappointed in its performance. On the street the new GSX-R is simply magical, and even though it's still great fun to ride on the track, I didn't experience that same magic there. For a while the 848 was a tempting favorite, as it really is more than the sum of its parts and every bit as balanced a package as the GSX-R is. But one look at the price convinced me otherwise: the $2900-cheaper GSX-R is an easy winner for me.