The three editors crowd around the conference table, the detritus of a long day and evening strewn about the sparsely furnished room. Reams of spreadsheets and evaluation forms cover every spare surface, but the results point to a disastrous conclusion. "We can't have a tie," stresses the grizzled veteran of hundreds of comparison tests. "One bike has to win!" The nerdy one looks up from his laptop, confusion evident in his eyes even behind bottle-bottom glasses: "But all the data . . . it's a tie, I tell you."
"I have a magic-8 ball," offers the new recruit hopefully. "It always gets me out of a pickle." The veteran looks scornfully at the innocent youngster. "We'll do this scientifically, as always!" He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a coin and tosses it in the air . . .
Okay, so that's not the way we really decide Bike of the Year, but with the final tallies close enough to throw a postage-stamp-sized blanket over, we may as well have saved a lot of work and trouble by picking the winner with a coin toss. Our three contenders-the Honda CBR600RR, Kawasaki ZX-10R and Suzuki GSX-R750-all put in solid performances that left our testing crew speechless at times. Each of the three machines has been covered in these pages previously, and each has shown its merit by already winning a comparison test. The Honda-the only carryover model here-emerged victorious in our July issue's middleweight smackdown ("Balancing Act"), the Kawasaki won our literbike shootout ("Turn it up to 11," June '08) and the Suzuki bested the Ducati 848 in their matchup ("Expect the Unexpected," August '08).
We've spent plenty of time aboard all three bikes individually this summer, and to choose bike of the year we spent a day with all three together in the canyons surrounding Los Angeles and a day at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in the San Joaquin valley. Our three full-time staffers were joined by part-timer Jim "Lucky" O'Connor, with all four riders rating each bike at both venues. Given the disparate nature of the three bikes-the ZX-10R has almost 60 horsepower more than the Honda-the scores and lap times are unexpectedly close, giving us plenty of grief when it came time to pick the winner.
Honda CBR600RR Test Notes...
Peppy engine refuses to believe it's a 600+
Jewel-like chassis works great for everyone-
No slipper clutch-
Soft brakes fade after extended usex
This bike will make you a better riderSUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGSFRONT
Spring preload: 10 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 2 turns out from full stiff; ride height: 5mm fork tube showing above triple clampREAR
Spring preload: position 6 from full soft; rebound damping: 2 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 14 clicks out from full stiff
On The Street
Honda CBR600RR: 89.3
While the little Honda brings up the rear on our testers' scorecards for canyon riding, subjectively the street results are much closer. Even after riding all three bikes for months and riding them back-to-back on some of Southern California's best roads, none of our riders was willing to point to a favorite at the end of the day without some serious thought. Not surprisingly, the CBR loses out to the Kawasaki and Suzuki in engine power but the feisty mill acquits itself well on the street with impressive midrange power that feels stronger than even the GSX-R's in tighter corners. And that power is delivered impeccably well, with an effortless off/on throttle transition and smooth response at practically any rpm.
Likewise as expected, the Honda fared well in the chassis department against the bigger bikes. 35 pounds lighter than the Suzuki and 50 pounds lighter than the ZX-10R, hop off either of those bikes and the CBR feels like a toy in comparison. "Handling is quick without the razor-sharpness that can easily cut the less-skilled rider," wrote Kento in his notes. "And that bolsters confidence as the pace picks up." The Honda carded top scores in the suspension and chassis & handling categories, and also drew favorable comments for city riding with the best mirrors, a comfortable seat and upright riding position. Our testers were divided on the 600's brakes, some citing crisp response and feel superior to the Suzuki's and Kawasaki's binders, others pointing out that the CBR's lever is soft and the brakes fade over time, even on the street.
"Whenever we stopped on the street ride," noted Trevitt when we could tear him away from his laptop, "the bike I was just on was the best. But then we'd switch, and that bike would be the best. My favorite is always the last bike I rode." When pressed for a street ranking of the bikes, however, the majority of our group reluctantly put the Honda at the bottom of their lists-not based on any shortcomings in the CBR's package but rather citing the Suzuki's and Kawasaki's advantages.