"These bikes are all so good, I have no idea how you pick a winner."
Reading that quote, eight of the nine testers who took part in our 2006 middleweight sportbike comparison are no doubt nodding their heads, thinking he or she was the one who said it. (The exception is the one who typed it, who knows it wasn't him.) But those words came from none other than Scott Russell, former AMA and World Superbike champion, who after a five-year layoff came out to play with us at our new favorite playground, Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
Truthfully, sportbikes have progressed to the point that they're all so good-and so mind-numbingly capable-that the winner of a shootout is typically decided by mere decimal points: a few hundredths of a second at the dragstrip, a couple of tenths at the racetrack, a horsepower or two on the dyno. That's all good information, and great for bragging rights at the bar. But how many riders actually possess the skills to tell the difference? You pretty much have to be a Pro roadracer to ride a current 600 to its limits nowadays, let alone a literbike. The vast majority of sport riders are limited not by their machine's capabilities, but by their own. And that's truer on the street than it is on the track.
So ... rather than conduct yet another numbers-heavy comparison where we let lap times determine the winner, we thought we'd do something a little different. Call it the Un-Comparo. Still jazzed from our Sportbike Track Time experience at Barber last fall, we rounded up a retired Pro racer, a few magazine types and a bunch of friends, loaded the bikes in the vaunted Motorcyclist fish truck and convened in Irondale, Alabama, the city that gave us Fried Green Tomatoes. But don't hold that against it.
We also decided to do something different with the bikes this year, and include more than the 600cc fours that traditionally define the middleweight class. So in addition to the Honda CBR600RR, Suzuki GSX-R600 and Yamaha YZF-R6, we brought out the 636cc Kawasaki ZX-6R, the Triumph Daytona 675 Triple and-gasp, horror!-the GSX-R750. Yes, the 750 is illegal for 600cc Supersport racing; so is the 636, and at press time the AMA hadn't approved the 675, either. So what? Racing be damned-if you're in the market for a middleweight to ride on the street and at the occasional track day, why should you be limited to some arbitrary displacement?
Our testers were no less diverse, ranging from 31 to 55 years of age, from 128 to 220 pounds, and from track-day intermediate to former world champion. Manufacturers call this a focus group; photographers call it bracketing; shooters would say we had good scatter.
What we lacked was a consensus; votes for the winning bike were all over the board. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before flipping ahead to the conclusion, read what each tester had to say on the following pages.