Honda CBR600RR vs. Kawasaki ZX-6R vs. Suzuki GSX-R600 vs. Triumph Daytona 650 vs. Yamaha YZF-R6
"This thing does everything right, but its age shows," writes Mikolas of the Suzuki GSX-R600 in his notes. Granted, we don't get much useful information from the man (we keep him around mostly for comic relief), but that one's a real gem. You see, the little Suzuki was the star of the show last year, winning the middleweight title and just about ending up Bike of the Year as well. But the pace of development in the middleweight class is exponentially accelerating, and the unchanged Suzuki-while not fighting for table scraps-is definitely under the gun this year, fending off four new or updated models.
We've covered the basics of these new models: The Honda CBR600RR and Yamaha YZF-R6 have been fully tested, and while editor Kunitsugu raved about the Kawasaki ZX-6R in his first ride piece, our Geek did the same for the Triumph Daytona 650. Those requiring a refresher on each bike's updates and technical merits can peruse those stories in our previous issue. One bike we haven't sampled to date is the Kawasaki ZX-6RR, which is currently unavailable; a full test of the homologation special will have to wait for another day. That said, we'll address the issue of oversized 600s in the middleweight class and our stance on the subject right away. It seems to us that when shopping for a bike, the majority of riders will consider street riding with the occasional track day thrown in-meaning absolute displacement is not really an issue (though we'd recommend checking with your insurance broker about the exact breakdown for coverage). The five bikes gathered here all fall into the $8000 price range, weigh about the same and have similar power curves. Most buyers will compare these models in their search. Racers take heart, however. We've thoroughly track-tortured this quintet, and you can modify our conclusions to suit your sanctioning body's rulebook. In any event, it may all turn out to be a moot point, as the true 600s in this group are certainly capable of holding their own against the bullies.
Round 1: Buttonwillow Raceway
For the track portion of our test, we ventured a bit farther north from our usual Willow Springs stomping grounds to Buttonwillow Raceway in the San Joaquin Valley. This mostly flat track features a variety of configurations, and we chose a layout we felt was the best combination of turns (and one of two hills) to fully test our middleweight contenders. To keep everything on an even keel, we mounted Michelin's new Power Race buns to each bike for the day's festivities (see sidebar page 36).
While the Triumph Daytona 650 scored high marks for its potent engine and gets around the racetrack much better than previous efforts from the British company, it was still the slowest in this tough crowd, carding a 1:10.62 best lap time-more than a full second off the other bikes'. It's clear Triumph engineers did their homework with the engine, and it pulls hard off turns to the point that some of our testers compared it to the ultra-steamy Kawasaki. The Trumpet is also helped by a slicker-shifting tranny, a good thing because the 650 seems to have shorter gearing than most, requiring you to work the transmission more. While the engine is a big step forward in most respects, it's still a bit sluggish compared to Japan's best, and it lacks the top-end required for serious racetrack work. The Daytona's chassis, always stable and a good handler right back to its TT600 incarnation, hasn't changed much since those days, and the 650 shows its age in that respect. The brakes, at one time the class benchmark, pale in comparison to the latest-spec radial-mount stoppers. Ditto the suspension and the rest of the package: While the Daytona 650 retains the 600's overall excellent handling and the engine has brought it much closer to the other middleweights in performance, it's still a tick behind.
While we knew this would be a close fight, we didn't anticipate just how tightly grouped the remaining four bikes would be at the track. Just three-quarters of a second separate the four, and our testers' subjective comments were in many cases at odds with the lap times and our traditional ratings charts. Many sleepless nights ensued....
Posting a 1:09.25 lap time, which we'll say is the fourth-fastest rather than the second-slowest, the Suzuki GSX-R600 still put in a strong showing at the track, and in fact scored second after all the racetrack ratings sheets were tallied. As the opening line says, the GSX-R just doesn't do anything wrong. Familiarity plays a big part, and several of our testers pointed out they felt the most comfortable on the Suzuki and that it had the best chassis of the bunch. In the Suzuki's favor is seamless throttle response, corner exits that rival O'Connor's lunge for the morning donuts and light steering with good stability. Our one complaint is the motor's top-end, which is now lacking compared to the updated bikes.
Just a smidgen quicker than the Suzuki with a 1:09.15 lap time was the Yamaha YZF-R6. Helping the littlest R-model is its ultra-nimble chassis. Even with more relaxed geometry, the Yamaha still carves an apex like no other, and the stronger brakes and updated fork just add to the package. The company claims the R6 is more track-oriented than previously, and that was certainly borne out in our testing; the screaming top-end added for '05 makes the midrange seem a bit poochy, and the engine definitely needs to be on the boil to make time. Along with the bigger throttle bodies comes an annoying off/on throttle abruptness that-while it didn't affect lap times all that much at Buttonwillow- decidedly takes away from confidence and early corner exits, mostly in second-gear corners. Of note also, the R6 has significantly more engine braking than the other middle-weights, exacerbating the throttle response problem and requiring you to stay on the throttle and keep the motor spinning even more.
The second-quickest of this group and the fastest true 600 was the Honda CBR600RR with a 1:08.75 lap. Certainly the most improved middleweight, the Honda's handling is now almost without fault. The nimble chassis has fantastic suspension and great front-end feedback-the engineers at Honda certainly did their homework, cutting weight from the CBR and adding steam across the rev range. Where the Honda still comes up a bit short compared to the Kawasaki is-as you'd expect-outright power, and the engine needs to be spun hard to keep pace. As well, without a radial-mount master cylinder the CBR's brakes are somewhat higher-effort than the other bikes' binders, and a bit wooden when close to lock-up. A curious benefit of the standard master cylinder, however, is that it allows for more lever height adjustment than any of the radial units on the other bikes; it's almost worth the trade-off, as the other bikes' levers just can't be adjusted to a comfortable position. One last detail: While we pointed out that ground clearance was an issue at the press introduction for the Honda, it was no problem at the same track with the Michelin Power Race tires fitted.
That leaves the ZX-6R with the quickest lap time, 1:08.53. The Kawasaki could really flex its extra 36cc in Buttonwillow's faster turns, but the new chassis is a stunner as well. With revised geometry as well as a longer swingarm for this year, the new Kawi is thankfully more stable than the previous iteration, but it is not at all truckish; steering, in fact, is delightfully neutral at practically any lean angle or speed. A couple of our quicker testers did note some chatter on corner entries, practically the only chassis fault mentioned on any test notes. The new Showa suspension (the company used Kayaba for previous ZX-6Rs) is good, the four-pad four-pot radial-mount calipers are still excellent, and the ergos are an improvement. One big plus for the Kawasaki is its slipper clutch, which was previously reserved for the 6RR version and allows for hairball corner entries. One big minus is the dash, as this year you are forced to look through the lowered windscreen to see the LCD tach, making a bad thing even worse.
Round 2: Angeles National Forest
With stock buns mounted and a break in the incredible amounts of rain Southern California had been experiencing, we ventured out for a day in the hills. Once again, our standard ratings sheets conflicted with many testers' subjective opinions, and picking the ultimate street middleweight was a tough call.
While the Triumph's bigger engine is a huge improvement in streetability over the old mill and it nipped at the heels of the other bikes, it's still lacking in some areas. It's easily the most comfortable of this group, especially for larger folk, with an upright riding position, nice seat and good wind protection. The engine pulls cleaner from a stop than the old 600, but there's still a bit of fluffiness and unpredictability that takes away from in-town riding. When things get serious, the 650's excellent Pirelli Diablo T buns provide great traction and feedback and help disguise some of the bike's heft; still, it's not enough to keep pace here. The brakes, suspension and chassis, all identical to the 600's, are still outstanding, but as at the racetrack, relentless progress is necessary to keep pace, and the Daytona is beginning to show its age.
Just as at the track, the remaining foursome is so tightly bunched that ranking them is a question of nitpicking. Again, our testers' subjective comments often conflicted with their ranking sheets, and it's unfortunate that one has to have the stigma of being pushed off the podium. That one, however, is the YZF-R6. As always, the Yamaha's chassis is a stunner, made even better this year with the radial-mount brakes and 70-series front Dunlop D218. The brilliant package is completely spoiled by notchy fuel injection (which wasn't as noticeable at higher elevations and in higher gears) and major engine braking, which again requires precision and staying on the gas as much as possible. And while the R6's stiffer suspension pays off at the track, it's noticeably less plush than the other bikes at lower speeds in the canyons.
The ZX-6R is next in line, helped along by its incredible motor, improved suspension and great brakes. The 6R is very much like the 10R in that there is an excellent compromise between steering quickness and stability. The suspension is heaps better than the '04's, and the brakes retain their excellent bite and feel. While the ergos are improved, you feel every little breeze behind the sloped windscreen, the freeway ride is a bit buzzy and it's an effort to read the speedo or tach. And while you'd think the oversized engine would have great midrange, it surprisingly needs to be kept above 7000 rpm to keep pace. Do that, however, and the Kawasaki makes quicker work of a canyon road than Kunitsugu can polish off a carnitas plate.
As good as the Kawasaki is on the street, the CBR does it one better. The engine has what feels like a better power spread, pulling equally well away from a stop, exiting tight turns or in fast sweepers. The riding position is plenty comfortable, the diminutive fairing provides a surprising amount of wind protection, and the Honda has the nicest gauge package. Its suspension is the best of the group for any street riding, and the chassis is the most balanced, making all our test riders instantly comfortable and boosting confidence. Sound almost perfect? It is, aside from a slightly lurchy throttle and an annoyingly hard seat, which will have you squirming around less than a half hour into a ride.
That leaves the GSX-R withstanding the onslaught of the four updated models as our favorite street ride. Its potent upper midrange and beautifully crisp-but-smooth throttle response make it easy to ride quickly; the raciest ergos of the bunch are considerably eased by a softish seat and ample wind protection; and the chassis-aside from suspension that is a bit harsher than the others over midcorner bumps-is without fault.
Round 3: The office
Summing up this test is a difficult proposition, and many restaurant-table conversations and hushed conferences were required. Basically, you can't go wrong with any of these five bikes. The Triumph now has a motor to match its always-good chassis, and it's the cheapest of this group by a fair chunk. The Yamaha is a fantastic package spoiled by an easily fixable fuel-injection glitch. But between the Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki, you could make an excellent argument for any one of them to be proclaimed the best middleweight (as no doubt many readers dissatisfied with our conclusion will proceed to do; that's Sport Rider, 6420 Wilshire Blvd...).
We're going to pick the CBR600RR for the overall based on a couple of key points. One is that it lapped just a hair behind the ZX-6R on the track, doing so with less motor and more stability. The second is that were it not for the blankety-blank plank of a seat, the Honda would have topped the GSX-R for street honors. The CBR finally delivers on Honda's promises of mass centralization and the Unit Pro-Link suspension. It really is a balanced package with excellent feedback that riders of practically any skill level will benefit from. The ZX-6R edges out the GSX-R for runner-up, and not just because of the killer motor. Kawasaki has built a great chassis around the 636cc mill. Lose the dash and low windscreen, and these last paragraphs may read differently. But finally, the CBR, easily the most improved middleweight this year, is as happy and capable of carving up the track as it is putting down to the corner store for a loaf of bread, something you can't say for either the Suzuki or Kawasaki.
|Test Notes Honda CBR600RR |
|+ ||Stable, user-friendly chassis |
|Great motor's or a 600 |
|- ||Plank for a seat |
|Brakes could be better; where the radial-mount master cylinder? |
|x ||Most improved middleweight |
Suggested Suspension SettingsHonda CBR600RR
Front: Spring preload: 7 turns out from full stiff; Rebound damping: 2 turns out from full stiff; Compression damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; Ride height: 5mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload: Position 6 from full soft; Rebound damping: 0.75 turns out from full stiff; Compression damping: 11 clicks out from full stiff
|Test Notes Kawasaki ZX-6R |
|+ ||Amazing engine with slipper clutch |
|Now with a great chassis to match |
|- ||Can’t read the dash through the |
|x ||No wind protection |
|Not a true 600 |
Suggested Suspension SettingsKawasaki ZX-6R
Front: Spring preload: 3 lines showing; Rebound damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; Compression damping: 1.5 turns out from full stiff; Ride height: 6mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload: 2 threads showing; Rebound damping: 14 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 0.75 turns out from full stiff
|Test Notes Suzuki GSX-R600 |
|+ ||Superb chassis and suspension |
|Fantastic brakes |
|- ||Now down on power |
|Suspension a bit harsh |
|x ||Last year’s champ showing its |
|age already |
Suggested Suspension SettingsSuzuki GSX-R600
Front: Spring preload: 6 lines showing; Rebound damping: 0.75 turns out from full stiff; Compression damping: 1.75 turns out from full stiff; Ride height: 4mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload: 10mm thread showing; Rebound damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; Compression damping: 1.5 turns out from full stiff
The Same, But Different
While we brought Ducati's middleweight superbike along to our track day and street ride, we decided not to include it in the actual test. Some may point to World Supersport regulations and the inclusion of 750cc twins with 600 fours, but in street trim it's not a comparison fair to either the twin or the fours. In the Ducati's favor in this case is straight performance. At our track day, the 749S posted a 1:08.75 lap time, right in the thick of things and just a third of a second off the Kawasaki's-impressive stuff. But for a bike that costs $14,795, that performance is expected.
While both the 749 and 749S are updated for 2005 along the lines of the 999 (new swingarm, cam belt covers and lighter bodywork with wider-spaced mirrors), for the extra dinero more than the $13,495 plain 749 or bargain $11,995 749 Dark, the S-model boasts some race-spec components: a half-point more compression boosts output by a claimed eight horsepower; rake angle and ergonomics are adjustable, similar to the 999; a Showa shock replaces the standard model's Sachs unit; and the Showa fork tubes are TiN coated.
There is no question our test regimen played to the Ducati's strengths. Its stable chassis and wide powerband helped it make time in Buttonwillow's fast sweepers as well as the more open roads of the Angeles National Forest. While the engine runs out of breath at higher rpm, forcing you to be precise in your riding on the track with gear selection, it feels entirely opposite on the street, with a smooth, loping gait that gives you a choice of gears. In tighter turns, the 749 shows its extra pounds and slow steering when compared to the inline-fours, and it simply lacks the steam to fire off those turns as the true middleweights do.
At the end of the day, the 749S gets from point A to B just as quickly as the four-cylinders; it just does it in a much different way.
|Test Notes Triumph Daytona 650 |
|+ ||650 motor has potent midrange |
|Stable chassis with good sus pension and brakes |
|- ||Good just doesn’t cut the mustard in this |
|x ||A bit big and porky |
|The class bargain at $7999 |
Suggested Suspension Settings
Triumph Daytona 650
Front: Spring preload: 7 lines showing; Rebound damping: 1 click out from full stiff; Compression damping: 1 click out from full stiff; Ride height: Fork tubes flush with top of clip-ons
Rear: Spring preload: 32mm thread showing; Rebound damping: 3 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 0.25 turns out from full stiff
|Test Notes Yamaha YZF-R6 |
|+ ||Still the benchmark for mid |
|dleweight handling |
|- ||Screamer engine |
|Notchy throttle remains a mystery |
|x ||Engine needs to be revved to make power |
|We miss the ’03 model’s great throttle response |
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload: 6 lines showing; Rebound damping: 4 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 8 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: Fork tubes flush with top of clip-ons
Rear: Spring preload: Position 5 from full soft; Rebound damping: 4 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff
Triumph Daytona 650
Michelin Power Race Tires
For our smackdown at Buttonwillow Raceway we mounted Michelin's Power Race tires, the company's new DOT race bun, to each of the bikes. The highlight of the new tires is the availability of dual compounds, with some tires having softer rubber on the sidewalls than in the center. Using seven different compounds of rubber, a selection of three fronts and three rears is offered. This is made possible by Michelin's Two-Compound Technology (2CT), which is the result of the company's extensive R&D efforts and the sharing of production and MotoGP technology.
Using the exact same all-synthetic compounds and processes as the company's MotoGP tires, the Power Race buns are manufactured in a single phase as opposed to the previous seven normally used. Michelin's C3M process utilizes a solid insert mold, which allows the tire to take the correct shape before curing; this means exact amounts of tread can be placed precisely where needed on the tire; the company claims this provides improvements in the grip/wear balance. This same technology results in tires that are lighter as well as having a higher void ratio (the amount of tread that water can escape through) without compromising grip.
To help riders choose the appropriate compound, Michelin has published an interactive tire guide, which makes recommendations based on ambient temperature, weather conditions, the type of track, use and engine size. For our track day, we used soft fronts constructed entirely from the softest-available compound, and medium-soft rears, another single-compound tire. The front Power Race is considerably smaller in diameter than the old Pilot Race 2 front, and is even smaller than most stock tires. This significantly quickened steering, but we had few problems with stability. Grip both front and rear was excellent, with only the rear tires showing signs of wear after a long day of lapping.
The Power Race buns replace the Pilot Race 2 series, and are available in a variety of sizes to fit most current sportbikes.
|PERFORMANCE NUMBERS |
| ||Quarter-Mile ||Roll-ons, ||Roll-ons, |
| ||60-80 mph ||80-100 mph |
|Honda CBR600RR ||10.49 sec. @ 133.3 mph ||3.59 sec. ||3.56 sec. |
|Kawasaki ZX-6R ||10.38 sec. @ 135.6 mph ||3.50 sec. ||3.51 sec. |
|Suzuki GSX-R600 ||10.62 sec. @ 130.5 mph ||3.72 sec. ||3.75 sec. |
|Triumph Daytona 650 ||10.72 sec. @ 129.1 mph ||3.98 sec. ||4.15 sec. |
|Yamaha YZF-R6 ||10.54 sec. @ 132.9 mph ||4.03 sec. ||4.39 sec. |
|BIKE ||HONDA CBR600RR ||KAWASAKI ZX-6R ||SUZUKI GSX-R600 ||TRIUMPH DAYTONA 650 ||YAMAHA YZF-R6 |
|MSRP ||$8799 ||$8599 ||$8299 ||$7999 ||$8399 |
|Type ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, |
| ||4-stroke four ||4-stroke four ||4-stroke four ||4-stroke four ||4-stroke four |
|Displacement ||599cc ||636cc ||599cc ||646cc ||600cc |
|Compression ratio ||12.0:1 ||12.9:1 ||12.5:1 ||12.85:1 ||12.4:1 |
|Bore x stroke ||67.0 x 42.5mm ||68.0 x 43.8mm ||67.0 x 42.5mm ||68.0 x 44.5mm ||65.5 x 44.5mm |
|Induction ||Dual-stage fuel injection, 40mm throttle bodies ||Dual-injector EFI, 38mm throttle bodies ||SDTV fuel injection, two dual-body 38mm throttle bodies ||Twin-butterfly, multipoint sequential EFI, 38mm throttle bodies ||Fuel injection, 40mm throttle bodies |
|Front ||41mm inverted HMAS ||41mm inverted ||43mm inverted ||43mm conventional ||41mm inverted |
|suspension ||cartridge fork, ||cartridge fork, ||cartridge fork, ||cartridge fork, ||cartridge fork, |
| ||4.7 in. travel ||4.7 in. travel ||4.7 in. travel ||4.7 in. travel ||4.7 in. travel |
|Rear ||Single shock absorber, ||Single shock absorber, ||Single shock absorber, ||Single shock absorber, ||Single shock absorber, |
|suspension ||5.1 in. travel ||5.2 in. travel ||5.1 in. travel ||4.7 in. travel ||4.7 in. travel |
|Front tire ||120/70-ZR17 Dunlop ||120/65-ZR17 Bridgestone BT014F J Battlax ||120/70-ZR17 Dunlop D218F M Sportmax ||120/70-ZR17 Pirelli ||120/70-ZR17 Dunlop D218F M Sportmax |
| ||D218F K Sportmax ||180/55-ZR17 Bridgestone BT014R J Battlax ||180/55-ZR17 Dunlop D218 Sportmax ||Diablo T ||180/55-ZR17 Dunlop D218 M Sportmax |
|Rear tire ||180/55ZR-17 Dunlop ||25.0 deg./4.2 in. (106mm) ||23.3 deg./3.7 in. ||180/55-ZR17 Pirelli ||24.0 deg./3.4 in. |
| ||D218K Sportmax ||54.7 in. (1390mm) ||(93mm) ||Diablo ||(86mm) |
|Rake/trail ||24.0 deg./3.7 in. ||427 lbs. wet (194kg); ||55.1 in. (1400mm) ||24.6 deg./3.5 in. ||54.3 in. (1379mm) |
| ||(95mm) ||400 lbs. dry (181kg) ||429 lbs. wet (195kg); ||(89mm) ||424 lbs. wet (192kg); |
|Wheelbase ||54.5 in. (1384mm) || ||402 lbs. dry (182kg) ||54.7 in. (1390mm) ||397 lbs. dry (180kg) |
|Weight ||429 lbs. wet (195kg); ||35 to 47 mpg, || ||445 lbs. wet (202kg); || |
| ||400 lbs. dry (181kg) ||40 mpg average ||37 to 42 mpg, ||417 lbs. dry (189kg) ||35 to 39 mpg, |
| || || ||39 mpg average || ||37 mpg average |
|Fuel ||30 to 41 mpg, || || ||32 to 39 mpg, || |
|consumption ||36 mpg average || || ||36 mpg average || |
| ||HONDA ||KAWASAKI ||SUZUKI ||TRIUMPH ||YAMAHA |
| ||CBR6000RR ||ZX-6R ||GSX-R600 ||DAYTONA 650 ||YZF-R6 |
|Engine power delivery ||9.0 ||10.0 ||9.0 ||8.0 ||7.5 |
|Engine smoothness ||9.0 ||9.0 ||9.0 ||8.0 ||8.0 |
|Transmission ||9.0 ||8.5 ||9.0 ||7.5 ||8.0 |
|Brakes ||8.5 ||9.5 ||9.0 ||8.0 ||9.0 |
|Suspension ||10.0 ||9.5 ||9.0 ||7.5 ||9.0 |
|Chassis & handling ||9.5 ||9.0 ||9.5 ||7.5 ||9.0 |
|Ergonomics ||8.0 ||9.0 ||9.0 ||8.5 ||9.0 |
|Instruments & controls ||9.5 ||7.0 ||8.5 ||7.0 ||9.0 |
|Quality ||9.5 ||9.0 ||8.5 ||7.0 ||8.5 |
|Fun to ride ||9.0 ||9.5 ||9.0 ||7.5 ||8.0 |
|Rating Total ||91.0 ||90.0 ||89.5 ||76.5 ||85.0 |