A Perfect Slacker's Perspective
Height: 5' 7''
Weight: 170 lbs.
Skill Level: Expert
Avocation: Editor, Super Streetbike magazine
As far as I was concerned, this one was over before it started. The Suzuki GSX-R750 would come out on top, followed by the Triumph 675, the Kawasaki 636 and, finally, the three 600s holding up the rear. The fact that I own a 2004 GSX-R750 and had long ago declared that platform the ultimate blend of big-bike power and middleweight handling only bolstered my confidence. I might as well write this story on the flight down and file it from my arrival gate, then kick back and enjoy my time at Barber stress-free
Just one problem: This perfect slacker's scheme fell apart as soon as we took to the track. Sure, I went well on all three cheaters, but these hardly afforded the advantages I'd anticipated. In fact, my lap times on the Suzuki GSX-R600 and 750 were near identical. Uh-oh, looks like I'll be working this weekend after all
The GSX-R600's new chassis is beyond complaint, with solid, neutral handling, rock-solid brakes and a very communicative (hence trustworthy) front end, which you really appreciate at a handling track like Barber. My best laps on the 600 were utterly unremarkable (a good thing when you're at the absolute edge of your skill), characterized by confident, predictable steering (thanks to a new, more forward weight bias that helps improve front-end feedback) and ample, accessible power from the redesigned and revvier engine.
The 750's chassis is identical to the 600's, and as you might expect its handling is similarly faultless. The difference is in the new, longer-stroke motor and the extra 150cc, good for an additional 20 horsepower. You'd think that would have been worth a second or two on the racetrack, but it wasn't; my lap times on the two bikes were high 1:40s and low 1:41s.
What gives? All I can figure is I was riding the 600s really well and didn't have the skill, nerve or energy to ride the 750 any faster. Besides, the big motor was letting me be lazy, making five fewer shifts per lap than on the smaller bike. A lazy moto-journalist-maybe my slacker's scheme did play out at Barber after all.
Riding The Bell Curve
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 180 lbs.
Skill Level: Intermediate
Avocation: Silver-tongued car salesman
During the course of a typical track day, my riding follows a sort of bell curve. First session: cold track, new tires, I'm cautious and careful. As the day warms up, I get going better. My best sessions are usually right after lunch. Later in the day, I start to get tired and ease up a little. I notice this most when I haven't been to the track in a while, like in the spring. Which was last Saturday at Barber.
This time, I wasn't at the track for a vintage race or to play on my RC51, but to help evaluate six different middleweights. I only had one day, which meant one session on each bike to gather my impressions. No pressure, really. And did I mention Mr. Daytona was there? Each bike had an AiM Sports MyChron lap timer (www.aimsports.com) on it-lap times matter, and did I mention that crashing one of these things would be a big problem?
I went out on each bike in turn, riding in the intermediate group. After each session, I wrote down my impressions. It seemed as if I had just finished when it was time to go out on the next one. Meanwhile, I was trying to factor in the bell curve.
I was lucky to find a natural partner in Jim West. He rides at my level and we played tag session after session. Jim gave me a kind of reference point for each bike: "Whoa, you were really cooking on that one! I could barely keep up!
I've been reading comparison tests in motorcycle magazines since Cook Nielsen raced a Harley Sprint, and I've always hated it when there was no winner. So here it is, my favorite of an amazing group: the CBR600RR. This bike is every bit a Honda, with a level of fit and finish that has become a benchmark. I even liked the wild orange paint. The ergos are noticeably comfortable for me. There was so much legroom that I was initially concerned about cornering clearance at the pegs, but no worries. I could tuck in easily, and what little moving around I did was easy.
The Honda's engine pulls hard in the midrange, then gives a really satisfying top-end shriek. The transmission ratios are spot-on, the overall gearing feels perfect, and clutchless upshifts are crisp and natural. The brakes are strong and linear and stayed consistent even when hammered. This bike won me over with its confidence-inspiring feel. Every control input is met with a silky immediacy of response that had me grinnin' big-time inside my helmet. I rode the CBR late in the day when I was well into the wrong end of my personal bell curve, and it woke me up with its overall excellence. It felt to me like a perfect track-day partner.