The year 2010 was not a good year for the middleweight sportbike class. With the world economic crisis in full swing, the major motorcycle manufacturers were forced to circle the wagons and dig in to weather out the financial storm resulting from a precipitous drop in overall sales. Sportbike R&D eats up a good portion of a manufacturer’s financial capital, so for most the throttles were rolled back for the time being in order to save money—meaning no new middleweight models in 2010. Because of this, we decided to forego our annual 600 comparison test.
But 2011 has brought renewed optimism, and a couple of manufacturers decided to cut loose with new models. Sport Rider’s associate editor and resident FNG Bradley Adams sampled both the all-new Suzuki GSX-R600 (“Don’t Call It a Comeback”, June 2011) and the new Triumph Daytona 675R (“R is for Ready”, July 2011), both of which pack some serious performance that would be sure to upset the middleweight apple cart.
Thus, we decided to renew our middleweight comparison test this year, and included the new Suzuki and Triumph into the test with the winner of our 2009 comparison—the Kawasaki ZX-6R—plus the always capable Honda CBR600RR and Yamaha YZF-R6, with the latter three returning basically unchanged from 2009 (well, according to the manufacturers, at least—we would soon discover a significant performance increase in one contestant; more on that later). To assist our intrepid testing crew of Adams and El Jefe, we drafted in previous SR guest testers Eric Nugent and John Reeves, with Corey Neuer helping with our track testing and Kento’s former boss Kevin Smith lending a hand with the street portion of the test. For the racetrack portion, we spent a day carving around Willow Springs’ 13-turn, 1.8-mile Streets of Willow road course, with our Racepak G2X data logging equipment recording each bike’s (and Bradley’s) performance. Then a long day starting with a commute through city traffic before running around in the canyons helped us analyze each bike’s manners on public pavement.
As usual, our testers evaluated each bike in 10 categories of performance in both track and street venues, with the scores averaged for street, track, and overall ratings.
Honda: 83 points
While there’s no denying that the CBR600RR is a fantastic bike that can easily keep pace with the others, with a group this closely matched, any weaknesses become glaring issues when you try to go quicker. The Honda did well subjectively, with testers’ comments citing its agile handling and good midrange acceleration (Bradley even picked it as his favorite on the track, despite ranking two other bikes higher in his numerical ratings) as major assets, in addition to superb front-end feedback entering corners. But when it came to objective numerical evaluations where comparisons to the other bikes came into the picture, the CBR’s stock dropped significantly. Main items on the racetrack complaint list were a lack of top-end power (backed up by our dyno results), lack of slipper clutch causing some chattering issues entering some of the Streets course’s tighter bends, and ground clearance issues with the footpegs under our heavier testers. Brakes are more than adequate, but in a class now peppered with Brembo or monobloc calipers, the Honda’s ratings in this category dropped quite a bit. A bike that hasn’t changed since its 2007 revamp, the Honda is beginning to show its age in a class that punishes sitting still.
+ Agile handling
+ Linear powerband
– Could use more power
– Needs slipper clutch
x Still a great bike but perhaps in need of an update
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload—10 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping—2 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—2 turns out from full stiff
Rear: Spring preload—position 6 of 9; rebound damping—2 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—8 clicks out from full stiff
Triumph: 84 points
Hmm…so how does the bike that turns the quickest lap time end up fourth in the racetrack rankings? The easy way out would be to simply designate the Daytona 675R as the winner, but the fact of the matter is that while the Triumph has the performance potential to turn the quickest lap times, it requires a good amount of skill to extract that speed. Yes, there’s no doubt that the 675R’s engine is the strongest, and its Öhlins suspension has superior action to the rest of this group. Its Brembo monobloc calipers and twin 308mm discs offer unrivaled stopping power, and the triple-cylinder’s slim, quick-steering chassis provides excellent feedback when leaned over.
But that suspension and chassis require precise setup, and the Triumph demands riding that is sharp enough to keep it in the razor-edge-thin envelope of stability. Get too anxious with the Brembos, and their response and power can upset the chassis; be a little sloppy with your cornering technique, and bumps can instantly cause enough instability to wobble you off your intended line. The engine’s narrower rpm range compared to the revvy four-cylinder machines also enforces more shifting per lap. Make no mistake, on the racetrack the 675R definitely delivers the goods; just make sure you’ve got enough to pay the bill.
Triumph Daytona 675R
+ Seriously strong engine, monster brakes
+ Sharp chassis, latest Öhlins suspension
– Nervous and touchy handling over bumps
– Reverse-contrast LCD panel completely useless
x Rewards precise chassis dial-in and riding—just don’t get sloppy
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload—3.5 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping—8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—12 clicks out from full stiff
Rear: Spring preload—6mm thread showing above locking preload collar; rebound damping—8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—8 clicks out from full stiff