Yamaha As before, the R6's...
As before, the R6's gauges are more biased toward style than easy interface with the rider, and many of our testers didn't like them. Wind protection from the tiny windscreen is actually decent due to the riding position, and mirrors work OK.
With most of the other contestants receiving upgrades for '09, the R6's racetrack focus hurt it even more this year than in '08. The firm spring rates that work best at aggressive track speeds become harsh and unresponsive at anywhere near sane street velocities, muting the Yamaha's normally precise steering over rough pavement and—unless you weigh over 180 pounds—making any highway drones an exercise in feeling what it's like to be a bobble-head doll after 15 minutes or so. Midrange power has improved slightly, so accessing the top-heavy powerband is easier, but the power dip at 11,000 rpm is annoying, and it's still weak compared to the other middleweights. Taking off even normally from a stoplight requires copious revs and deft clutch work that sounds like you're on the starting grid at the local racetrack, attracting unwanted attention. And getting any type of drive off a corner requires you stay above the 11K rpm flat-spot, meaning more unintentional boy-racer impressions to those within earshot.
The Yamaha's stock OE-fitment Dunlop Sportmax Qualifiers provide very good grip and handling that helps accentuate the R6's agile steering, but their traction and feedback isn't on par with the Bridgestone BT-016 rubber on either the Kawasaki or the Suzuki. And the wooden-feeling brakes that were an issue on the track continued to be an irritation on the street, requiring a lot of lever effort for decent stopping power. Olsen summed it up best when he commented in his notes: "This bike is just plain raw…a bit too raw for street riding."
Suzuki Once again, the GSX-R...
Once again, the GSX-R garnered the highest rated instruments and controls, with an easily-read tach and LCD display screen. Wind protection is probably the best in this group, but the mirrors are definitely the worst, with not much adjustment possible.
After its decent street placing last year, we thought the GSX-R600 might fare as well or better this year, but with the Kawasaki and Triumph undergoing successful upgrades, it was not to be. We found the suspension rates to be on the soft side, with spring and damping requiring the same near-max settings used on the track before the Suzuki would behave normally. Its confidence-inspiring chassis and comfy ergos drew high marks, but with improved competition to contend with, the weak points of the engine became even more difficult to overlook. Midrange power is strong and linear, and throttle response is smooth as silk; but once you begin asking for some major steam from the engine room in the higher rpms, the GSX-R's lackluster top-end just feels flat in comparison to the others. The engine was a bit buzzy at anything but flat-out riding, and the gearbox exhibited some notchy shifting that was bothersome after extended riding.
Surely helping the Suzuki's street manners are the Bridgestone BT-016 tires, which provide superb traction and handling characteristics. Even then, it wasn't difficult to notice the bike's extra heft when riding aggressively through tight canyon roads, with a loose, wallowy feel when pushed hard. Perhaps Mikolas described it best with a telling description: "The tame one of the bunch."
All of the middleweights—save for one, the Suzuki—locate their ram-air intake ducts in the center point of the front fairing for maximum efficiency. Because of that lack of central positioning for the duct, the GSX-R is also the only one that uses a three-bulb headlight setup (a central projector high beam bracketed by two reflector low beams). Both the mirror stalks on the Suzuki and Yamaha are non-adjustable (they can be folded back, but only work in one position), which we feel drastically limits their effectiveness. The turn signals in the Suzuki mirrors are nice for styling, but they limit mirror adjustment even further, and surely cost more to replace in the event of a tipover.