Suzuki: 84.5 points
Heavily revised for 2011, the GSX-R600 certainly looked to make an impact on the class this year. And for the most part it did, with testers’ subjective comments peppered with numerous positives often associated with the Suzuki: “…by far the easiest to get acquainted with…much improved midrange power,” said Adams. “Easily the quickest steering of the bunch, with tons of feedback when leaned over,” chimed in El Jefe. Most everyone preferred the slightly softer response and linearity of the Suzuki’s OEM-spec Brembos versus the hyper-responsive off-the-shelf units on the Triumph, and the Showa Big Piston Fork garnered plenty of praise. The Suzuki’s chassis feel when cornering was a definite favorite among our testers.
However, every single tester also mentioned the GSX-R’s apparent Achilles Heel at the racetrack: a distinct lack of top-end acceleration compared to the others. This is reflected in the Suzuki’s lowest trap speed on the back straight, as well as its slower numbers in many of the Streets’ section times. Had we tested at a racetrack with a faster layout, it’s a good possibility the Suzuki’s times would have suffered even more.
It’s obvious that in modified form the GSX-R has what it takes (one need only watch the AMA Daytona SportBike races). And despite that lack of top-end, everyone ranked the Suzuki highly, both subjectively and in the numerical rankings.
+ Midrange-strong engine, great brakes
+ Quickest steering in the group
– Lacking top-end acceleration
– Lethargic below 4500 rpm
x Just some top-end horsepower short of near-perfection
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload—9 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping—4 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—4.5 turns out from full stiff
Rear: Spring preload—10mm thread showing above locking preload collar; rebound damping—2.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—1.75 turns out from full stiff
Kawasaki: 86 points
The undisputed winner of our last middleweight comparison back in 2009, the ZX-6R returns basically unchanged from that edition. With its beefy engine boasting a smooth yet stout power curve that comes up just 1.5 horsepower shy of the Triumph’s class-topping peak, the Kawasaki certainly wasn’t lacking in the speed department. “A healthy amount of midrange and top-end power…many upshifts up the front straight at the Streets of Willow were cause for the front wheel to loft into the air,” remarked Adams about the ZX-6R’s powerplant. The Kawasaki’s chassis is certainly capable of putting that power to good use around the track as well, with the stable chassis and Showa BPF offering up loads of feedback and confidence entering corners, and the Nissin brakes providing power and feel that rival the Brembos on the Triumph and Suzuki.
Unlike the 2009 comparo though, it wasn’t all sake and cherry blossoms with the ZX-6R. A nagging issue we encountered this time around was a slight chattering in the front end when coming off the brakes entering fast corners that we couldn’t tune out with suspension adjustments. This robbed confidence at a crucial portion of the track (the fast parts are where the greatest amount of time is made or lost).
+ Strong engine, stable chassis
+ Superb brakes
– A little overweight
– Steering a bit heavy
x A solid performer still capable of winning with a little more refinement
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload—11 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping—3.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—4 turns out from full stiff
Rear: Spring preload—11mm thread showing above locking preload collar; rebound damping—10 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—1.5 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping—1 turn out from full stiff
Yamaha: 87 points
Well now…from bringing up the rear in the track portion of our 2009 comparison to the head of the class two years later, with no major changes according to Yamaha. How can that be? Sure, the R6 still comes with a scalpel-sharp-steering chassis that feels like it could run rings around the others in the corners. The quick-revving, high-rpm engine’s character is perfectly suited to the on-the-limit environment of the racetrack, with well-chosen gear ratios allowing you to keep the four-cylinder mill on the boil, and a slipper clutch that allows banzai corner entries and machine-gun downshifts without complaint.
The main reason for the Yamaha’s reversal of fortune at the racetrack is a significant power increase courtesy of new camshaft profiles. While our 2009 test unit barely managed to wheeze out 102.1 horsepower, our 2011 R6 pumped out an eye-opening 107.2 horsepower. And it’s not just at the top; the 2011 model’s power curve sits well above the 2009 unit at nearly all points on the rpm scale. This translates to far better drives off the corners, despite the same flat spot at 11,500-12,500 rpm that stunts drives off corners, and brakes that—while not bad—couldn’t match the rest of the middleweight binders in this comparison.
The other is second-gear acceleration. Look at the thrust chart, and you’ll note that especially in second gear, the R6 towers above the others in the upper-midrange portion of the chart. The Streets of Willow course has a good number of second gear corners, and this rewards the Yamaha’s strength in that area.
+ Supremely agile chassis
+ Beefy, quick-revving engine
– Now the heaviest 600
– Lumpy powerband
x New camshafts for 2011 makes a world of difference
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload—2 lines showing; rebound damping—17 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—1.75 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping—5 clicks out from full stiff; ride height—10mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload—position 4 from full soft; rebound damping—5 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—3 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping—13 clicks out from full stiff