Call me a comfort junkie. Not as in "cushy pillow" kind of comfort--we are talking hard-core sportbikes here--but emotional ease. I like a bike to take care of me, to offer up predictability and stability alongside stunning performance. Let's just say I'm the opposite of Mr. Kento, who seems to prefer lightning-quick responses even if it trades away stability. I lack his nonchalance in the face of a quivering, head-shaking ride.
I'm a big fan of the GSX-R600 in general, and the new one in particular. I've spent a lot of time on the previous bike, mainly at the track, and it pulled me out of more close scrapes and lunkheaded maneuvers than I can count. The '04 bike is every bit a GSX-R: utterly stable with great feedback and, now, a thrilling top-heavy powerband. It's also interesting to note just how much Suzuki improved the 600's suspension. Used to be that the 750 got the very best bits--and that may still be so--but the 600's legs are a vast improvement over the old model, with the fluidity and poise of expensive aftermarket bits. (It could also be that the spring rates are finally high enough for me.)
In the end, the new GSX-R600 is better all around--faster, more comfortable (thanks to the repositioned clip-ons, with which I'm perfectly happy even if others aren't) and all the more confidence-inspiring. It brings out the best in my riding. I'll take everything I can get.
Although I have some reservations about a manufacturer homogenizing the styling of its sportbike lineup, the many engineering cues from the '03 GSX-R1000 that Suzuki bestowed upon the new GSX-R600 has resulted in a far more agile and capable corner-carving tool. I harbored some initial trepidation that Suzuki may have messed with an excellent handling package, but one ride convinced me those fears were unfounded. The suspension/brake package is a major improvement, and while the engine updates aren't earth-shattering, they are good enough to put the little GSX-R back into the thick of the fight. And out of all the sportbikes I've ridden to date, the new GSX-R600's riding position fits me the best when it comes time to strafe apexes. Let the 600 battle commence yet again!
The GSX-R600 bears more than a family resemblance to the GSX-R1000--many of the changes made to the 2003 literbike have found their way into the new middleweight. In fact, at the 600's introduction in Italy, the press briefing was eerily similar to the 1000's introduction one year earlier, right down to the five concepts on which the 600's enhanced performance are based: engine performance, handling performance, braking efficiency, reduced weight and styling for performance and compactness.
While the basic layout of the 600's engine is unchanged, minor updates abound. Mimicking the GSX-R1000's internal makeover are the changes to internal oil routing for the cam-chain tensioner, larger camshaft internal diameters and ventilation holes in the crankcase. Specific to the 600 are flat-top pistons (which have shorter skirts) with a more compact combustion chamber that ups compression from 12.2:1 to 12.5:1. New titanium valves are set at a narrower included angle, with the intake valves at 10 (vs. 13) and the exhausts at 12 (vs. 15) from vertical. The steeper intake valves allow the intake ports to be correspondingly steeper, straightening the incoming charge's shot at the combustion chamber. The combined changes make the 600's cylinder head 8mm shorter and 80 grams lighter than previously.
Further down in the engine, the connecting rods have been shortened by 3mm (with the cylinder deck lowered to match), and the crankshafts' main journals have been reduced in diameter from 32mm to 30mm for less friction. The transmission ratios are clustered closer together, with second through sixth all slightly shorter while the primary and final drives remain unchanged--the shorter overall gearing is offset by the higher rev limit. The shift forks' pins are slightly modified for increased rigidity, and the clutch springs are a lighter rate but have more preload.
The most noticeable change to the chassis is the new inverted Showa fork and radial-mount brakes. The 600's front brake system incorporates smaller, thicker discs and a radial-mount master cylinder, and the calipers are two-pad units as opposed to the four of last year's GSX-R1000. North American bikes have Dunlop D218 rubber.
Changes to the 600's electrical...
Changes to the 600's electrical system are likewise identical to the '03 1000's updates. A lighter, smaller ECM has twice the memory and processing power. The new black box provides individual ignition maps for each cylinder as opposed to grouping the outer and inner pairs, and takes its cue from a rotor with 22 trigger poles (vs. eight). The headlight, taillight instrument cluster and turn signals are all similar to the 1000's pieces.
To cope with the engine's...
To cope with the engine's increased output, the oil cooler has 13 percent more capacity, and the radiator--narrower, thinner and taller--has eight percent more cooling capacity.
Along with the titanium valves,...
Along with the titanium valves, smaller-diameter buckets further reduce valvetrain weight, allowing the use of 10 percent lighter rate springs in spite of the 600's 1350-rpm higher rev ceiling. Intake cam lift and timing remain unchanged, while the exhaust timing has been tightened up slightly. New piston rings have chrome-nitride plating (as opposed to conventional chrome plating), which is applied in a vacuum chamber using a physical vapor deposition system.
Like the GSX-R1000, the new...
Like the GSX-R1000, the new 600 incorporates dual double-barrel throttle bodies, still using Suzuki's Dual Throttle Valve. The multi-hole injectors are set at a steeper angle than previously, which aims fuel directly at the primary butterfly at low throttle openings for better atomization. The throttle-body spacing for the outer pairs of cylinders is 5mm narrower than the cylinder pitch. This allows the airbox (and hence the fuel tank at the rider's knees) to be slightly narrower. On the exhaust side, the larger-capacity muffler now has titanium internals.
Where the old bike's frame...
Where the old bike's frame spars (left) were made from stampings, the '04's (far left) are extruded and allow the frame to be 15mm narrower in that area. Geometry has been sharpened, with trail reduced from 96mm to 93mm, and the steering head is 0.7 degrees steeper. The swingarm, dimensionally identical to the previous unit, has sprouted additional bracing, and there is no torque arm for the rear brake caliper. The new bike's Showa shock is slightly longer than previously, and its shaft diameter has grown from 14mm to 16mm.