First it was a couple of phone calls from friends, then a few emails from acquaintances and then a deluge from strangers. The approach differed, the wording varied, the sentiment was the same.

“Which middleweight should I buy?”

This question is usually answered by magazines in the same way that firing squad executions are carried out. If a group of people take part in an activity it is harder to figure out whose bullet was the one that actually killed the condemned that way manufacturer’s ire can be spread over a group of people not directly at a single editor.

In our comparisons for Roadracing World we like to convert the variables of OEM tires and weather to constants of standard race tire fitment and running the bikes on a single track on a single day.

In that same idealized world we would never be sticking zip ties through the upper fairing mounts while struggling into leathers at the second call either. Racing is about time management and usually there is never enough time to finish developing a race bike, or enough laps to make the pass for the win. In the magazine world, we could simply not get access to all the 600s on a single day and still make the deadline for this issue.

So I am going to go with the next best thing. Once we can secure test bikes from all the manufacturers we will do our usual 600 comparison, for those of you who can’t wait (ie, all the racers who can only buy one new bike for the upcoming season) here is the Sam’s straight dope skinny. Don’t quote me on any of this because I will deny I ever said any of it.

I race, have raced and will race a GSX-R 600. I did the press launch in 2000 at Road Atlanta. I tested the Yamaha R6 in December in Spain, I tested the Kawasakis in December in Nevada and I tested the Honda CBR600RR in January in Nevada. I tested all of the bikes with stock tires except, I have ridden the Suzuki with DOT race tires and I rode the CBR600RR with both stock tires and race tires.

I am going to divide these recommendations into three groups:

Street:

I have, and will probably always maintain, that street bikes are not about performance so much as they are about style, attitude and emotion. The performance differences between these bikes are so slight that taste will be the most important variable not brakes, suspension or power. Buy whichever one appeals to you the most on emotion alone.

Track Day:

By Track Day I mean folks that are not chasing contingency dollars at race tracks and do not want to have to spend thousands of dollars on aftermarket upgrades for a bike which is being used for skill improvement or bragging rights but for which out and out performance is being tempered by some sort of fiscal responsibility. This mainly comes down to suspension. Aftermarket suspension is expensive. Most racers do not think twice about dropping $2,000-$3,000 on suspension before the bike has even touched the track. Most normal people would avoid that expense if it were at all possible.

So, I think the most rewarding bike for track days would be:

Kawasaki 636

The suspension is ready for a 90-95 percent track pace right out of the box. The brakes are the best in the biz and, with the extra displacement, the 636 is going to make more power in stock trim than the other ones will with the addition of $750 exhaust systems. At 355 pound dry it is light and nimble and you can buy it in any color of the rainbow. If you must buy something for it, get a steering damper.

Kawasaki 600

It doesn’t have the power of the 636 but the rest of the bike is the same as the 636, plus, with the slipper clutch you can amaze your friends by dropping from sixth to second when leaned over for turns. It actually steers a little easier than the 636 due to a lighter crankshaft. Even the stock tires are pretty decent.

Now, the 636 is a lot more fun than the 600 but both of these have a pretty substantial handling margin over the rest of the bikes due to the stiffer spring rates, the inverted forks and the brakes which are always ready to bail you out of a difficult situation.

But, next down on the list would be:

Yamaha R6

The Yamaha needs better brake pads than stock, but so do the Honda and the Suzuki, the Yamaha needs better tires in stock trim, but so does the Honda and the Suzuki. It needs a steering damper, but do does the Honda. It could use more rebound adjustment on the shock but so could the Honda and the Suzuki. The Honda’s front end is a little bit better but the Yamaha’s motor is more fun and they we don’t call these “frontendcycles” do we? It is close. It is so close that I typed the Honda first but then I remembered the first gear power wheelies on the Yamaha and had to reverse myself. It really is a toss up between these two.

Honda CBR600RR


If you choose this one just because of the exhaust pipe you would be in fine company. This bike has got some unique technology and can generate astounding lean angles with the stock suspension (as long as you can afford to change tires every two sessions or so). However Honda should have put better brakes on it, made that dual stage fuel injection generate some power gains over the F4i and lost about ten pounds off the bike. How about a plastic fuel tank under that shroud? One thing which could sway me towards the Honda is the reputation Honda has built for having bikes that are a reliable as rocks. Track day bikes are for riding, not replacing engine parts.

Suzuki GSX-R600

From Hero to Goat in one year? Is this class brutal or what? Although the GSX-R is still a competitive machine the other ones have ellipse it in features, power and handling.

Racing:

Racing is a much more complicated calculus than track days. A competitive race bike will usually cost at least the purchase price again in aftermarket tuning parts. Concerns about the quality of the stock shock or forks are mute since both with be rebuilt or replaced anyway. There is no point in worrying about the front spring rates if they are going to end up in the Ebay pile anyway.

The second tricky part of the race bike equation is Contingency dollars. If you are a top finisher and can make $750 on brand S or $2,000 on brand H, get the brand H. But the contingency amounts vary all across the country from sanctioning body to sanctioning body so I am going to avoid that question altogether.

The third tricky part is the class rules. Most sanctioning bodies in the US allow the 636 in middleweight Superstock, some do not, check local rules before putting down your deposit.

So, given $5,000 in bike modifications (shock, fork work, brake pads, exhaust, bodywork, fuel injection remapping, steering damper, race tires) and ignoring the contingency program complication, I am going to guess what my best lap time would be on each bike on a hypothetical track. This is to give you an indication on the relative differences between the bikes in full race trim.

Speedway Motorsports Grand Prix Track

  • Kawasaki 636 1:28.50 (brakes, forks, and power)
  • Kawasaki 600 1:29:00 (brakes, forks and slipper clutch)
  • Yamaha 600 1:29:20 (top end power, brakes)
  • Honda 600 1:29:40 (higher corner entry speeds and exits)
  • Suzuki 600 1:29:60 (I hope I can go faster than this since this is what I am actually racing in 2003)

Now, that is assuming that the rider is a constant. A faster rider on one of the slower bikes will still beat me…but never bring a knife to a gun fight.

 

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