It's a dilemma many sportbike riders face every year. With autumn comes sneak peeks at the flashy new models, followed by riding impressions in the magazines and show bikes to drool over and sit on each winter. Spring arrives, and those sexy new bikes are calling your name from the local dealer's floor. You want that new bike, but maybe-just maybe-you should hang on to Old Yeller for another year. With the money saved, you could buy some upgrades and make your bike stand out from the crowd; heck, with the right mods, your old sled could even be better than the new version. The new bike's siren call lures you to the dealer, but your current bike is such a trusty steed... What to do?
We're in a position to help you answer that question. With a cornucopia of '07 models in the shop, we rounded up a couple of "old" bikes and proceeded to modify and compare them to the new versions. Savvy readers will remember a similar test we conducted a few years ago, wherein we compared a modified '98 Yamaha YZF-R1 and an '02 Kawasaki ZX-6R to their then-current counterparts. This time around, it's the Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Yamaha YZF-R6 that get the treatment.
2007 Yamaha R6 and Modified...
2007 Yamaha R6 and Modified YZF-R6S
Holding Back The Years
First introduced in '99, Yamaha's new-from-the-ground-up YZF-R6 was a revelation. Its laser-sharp steering and sky-high redline practically redefined the middleweight class, leaving the other manufacturers struggling to catch up. The tiny R6 took our '99 Bike of the Year honors, the first (and still only) 600 to do so. Minor updates to the '01 model were aimed at decreasing weight and increasing usability, and it wasn't until '03 that the R6 received-or needed-a major overhaul. That year saw the introduction of Yamaha's controlled-fill die-casting, which dropped weight considerably; carburetors were dropped in favor of fuel injection, and both features improved performance significantly. Minor tweaks in '05 included an inverted front fork, radial-mount front brakes and slightly more top-end power, but in '06 the bike had its most significant update. Both the engine and chassis were all-new, with the engine featuring ride-by-wire throttle control and the suspension endowed with separate high- and low-speed compression-damping adjustments front and rear. The '07 R6 in this test is functionally identical to the '06 model.
Weight has seesawed over the years, with our '07 test unit scaling in just a few pounds lighter than the '99 bike's 425 pounds. Power, however, has steadily increased by a couple of ponies with each iteration. Our '99 test bike measured just under 95 horsepower versus 105.6 for our '07 model. On the used-bike market, a clean '99 YZF-R6 will run you $4260 in Los Angeles, according to the Kelly Blue Book (www.kbb.com), while an '03 model typically costs $5480. Yamaha still offers a variant of the old R6, dubbed the R6S. This model is a mix of the '03 and '05 versions, and an '07 R6S served as our platform for the "old" R6 in this test.
Stock 2007 GSX-R1000 and Modified...
Stock 2007 GSX-R1000 and Modified 2001 GSX-R1000
The Suzuki GSX-R1000 landed with a bang in '01, obliterating the open-class landscape-much as the R6 had shocked the middleweight class two years earlier. With 143 horsepower on tap and scaling in at just 437 pounds full of fuel, the big Suzuki was a monster we fell in love with. Since then, the GSX-R has received an evolutionary makeover every two years. Slightly more, and more refined, power in '03, with extruded frame spars replacing the stamped units and four-pot radial-mount front calipers in lieu of the original's six-pot binders. In '05 the frame changed again, this time to a combination of cast and extruded sections. The EFI sprouted a second set of injectors, and displacement was bumped by 10cc. For this year, twin exhausts help the Suzuki to make more power while meeting stricter emissions and noise standards, and a switch allows the rider to choose one of three power settings. The engine is still based on the original SRAD GSX-R750's, with a similar layout and architecture, but engineers have massaged the engine and chassis with each generation to finally coax close to 160 horsepower from the latest version.
The 1000 has filled out over the years, ballooning steadily from that original feathery 437 pounds to a porky 471 pounds for the current model. What price, progress? Nonetheless, countless literbike comparison test wins and BOTY awards adorn the GSX-R's trophy case, and the bike has left a trail of broken and battered opposition over the years-in both showroom and Superbike competition. The Kelly Blue Book lists $6205 as a typical price for an '01 GSX-R and $7525 for an '04 model. We were lucky to get our mitts on a cherry '01 version that belongs to a Suzuki employee and started life as a magazine test unit.
Let The Wrenches Fly
With the two pairs of bikes in hand, we set about modifying the old versions of each with an eye toward closing the performance gap as much as possible. Full exhaust systems and EFI tools were high on the list; while the R6S is just a few horsepower down from the '07 model, our '01 GSX-R started out almost 20 horsepower down from the '07, a significant deficit. The new bikes have made those increases at the expense of midrange, and while we could have easily gone with some more wild mods to fully close the top-end gap, we didn't want to sacrifice one of the few performance areas where the old bikes hold a clear advantage.
One significant item both new bikes sport is a stock slipper clutch, which allows more aggressive corner entries-especially with a high-revving middleweight such as the R6. The aftermarket in this area is steadily growing as the technology develops, with more companies offering slipper clutches and prices correspondingly declining. An easy decision, then, to order up units for both of the old bikes.
Turning to the chassis, the GSX-R-while in mint condition-needed some TLC in addition to performance upgrades. The suspension was shipped out for rebuilding; the stock discs, worn pads and rubber lines were ditched in favor of new aftermarket bits; and the chain and sprockets were replaced. The R6S, a new bike when we started, needed no maintenance. While we had some suspension and brake modifications in mind, the necessary parts in both cases were delayed and eventually given up on-surprisingly, many companies we called didn't stock anything for the R6S. The upgrades for each bike are detailed in the accompanying sidebars.
To calm the typical R6 nervous...
To calm the typical R6 nervous handling, we mounted up this Pit Bull steering stabilizer.
ABM wave rotor ($159) from...
ABM wave rotor ($159) from Spiegler USA
We replaced the stock rear...
We replaced the stock rear hugger with this $166.95 carbon-look fender from Puig USA.
Old Versus New
Our testing for this comparison was conducted entirely on the street rather than the racetrack. Primarily, we figured that the majority of riders facing the new/old dilemma are street riders rather than track-day junkies, and made the modifications and planned our testing accordingly.
Immediately noticeable are the ergonomic differences between the old and new bikes. The R6S, with its clip-ons above the top triple clamp and tight seat-to-bar distance, has an upright riding position that is quite comfortable. The new R6's ergos are racier, with higher pegs and lower bars-no surprises here. The Suzukis, on the other hand, posed an interesting contradiction. Recent GSX-Rs have low, narrow seats with swept-back clip-ons and high, forward pegs to significantly close up the seating triangle. Most of our testers praised the new GSX-R for that, finding it more comfortable; some, however, preferred the old 1000's softer seat and less-angled bars, even though the reach is much further.
While we expected the new bikes to be more powerful than the old, both pairs surprised us in this area. The new R6 is known for its wheezy midrange, and here we thought the R6S would have a distinct advantage. The old model is definitely peppier in that area, but the new R6's shorter gearing-thanks to a higher redline-masks its deficiency in many situations. Not helping here were some fueling issues we had with the S model. We initially used the Power Commander "street" map provided by Graves, but switched to the "race" map after riding the bike and finding it quite abrupt at small throttle openings. Response was still not as smooth as stock, and we were also disappointed by the R6S's performance on the dyno: peak power is identical to stock, although the torque curve is somewhat smoother. Our past experience with Graves products has always been positive, and a call to the company revealed that we may need a different mix of parts from the various R6 models to work properly on the S model. Unfortunately, we were not able to rectify the situation before press time, but will report our results in a future issue.
The Yoyodyne slipper clutch made a huge improvement to the R6S, significantly reducing engine braking and easing the normally clunky shift from first to second. Lever effort is a bit more than stock, and the clutch's action is felt through the lever, but those are small concessions for the advantages the clutch offers.
This Yoyodyne slipper clutch...
This Yoyodyne slipper clutch ($795) replaces the stock inner and outer hubs and uses the stock plates.
Turning to the Suzukis, riding the K1 and K7 models back-to-back really pointed out how the big GSX-R has been softened over the years. The old bike has way more bottom-end and midrange, and feels more powerful just riding around town. Throttle response is not so much abrupt as it is instantaneous, and the K1's much lighter weight certainly helps here. Complementing the smoother power delivery of the '01 Suzuki is less vibration than the new model, another pleasant surprise that we wouldn't have otherwise noticed. Just as on the R6, the GSX-R's STM slipper clutch made railing into slow corners a simple matter.
In the handling department, the two Yamahas are not worlds apart. The R6S steers a bit lighter thanks to its higher bars, but the '07 bike turns just as quickly with some effort. While the stock R6S is certainly flightier than the new model, the Pit Bull damper calmed things nicely, and on the street neither bike had much of a handling advantage. The two Suzukis were more disparate in their manners; despite carrying more heft, the new model steers lighter and quicker, and is definitely lither than the old. A slimmer midsection and the close-set clip-ons help somewhat, and swapping back and forth really points out how bulky the old bike is. Race Tech's work on the '01 GSX-R's suspension-coupled with the Hyperpro steering damper that provides lighter damping than the stocker but still quells any headshake-paid off with a stable ride that gave our testers lots of confidence to muscle the bike around, but there's no question that Suzuki has done its mass-centralization homework and developed the 1000 significantly since its introduction-the '07 is more graceful and can be ridden quicker with less effort.
The Bottom Line
In a serious throwdown, the two new bikes handily outperform our modified old versions-there's little doubt of that. But step back from that abyss even slightly and the results change. The old GSX-R is peppier than the new in many real-world situations and, to some riders, more fun to ride. There's a lot to be said for the untamed rawness of the original thousand that turned the literbike world on its ear. Likewise, the R6S is more comfortable than the R6 and just as quick on the street-probably on the track, too, for most riders. One of our testers wrote that "the new-bike trend seems to be to make a better racebike, but often at the expense of what makes a good streetbike. It may sell more bikes, but is it actually better for the average buyer?" For the latest in style and the ultimate in performance, choose new. For real-world function and fun, go with old.