Weight: 210 lbs.
Skill Level: Expert
Avocation: Executive editor, Motorcyclist magazine
Blame it on St. Patrick's Day. Or blame it on the three Irish Car Bombs I drank that night, which happened to be the Friday before our track day. (What's an Irish Car Bomb, you ask? A pint of Guinness mixed with a shot of Bushmills, into which you drop a shot of Baileys. Drink it fast before it curdles.)
Clouded judgment notwithstanding, the motorcycle I liked best in this group was the Triumph.
As the stats at the top of this page attest, I'm larger than the average American male, and piloting a 600-class sportbike has always reminded me of riding a 125cc motocrosser. I find myself pinned everywhere, shifting constantly, fanning the clutch, trying to get the revs up to where the engine makes good power. Meanwhile, the 130-pound teenager I'm chasing is disappearing into the distance.
Add a little power to that equation and the odds tilt back in my favor. And that's why I liked the bigger bikes in this mix better than the smaller ones. Even though its engine displaces just 36cc more than the true 600s, the Kawasaki ZX-6R feels much more powerful through the midrange. And the cheater Suzuki GSX-R750 feels stronger everywhere, and weighs a scant few pounds more than its smaller sibling.
The Triumph, however, strikes the perfect balance. It's the lightest bike in this test by 6 pounds, and the slimmest by far, with a racy-yet-roomy riding position that doesn't make me feel the least bit cramped. Its standard setup, with a 4mm shim wedged under its top shock mount, is pretty stinkbug-esque, which means its handling is fairly edgy, suiting experts more than novices. It turns in just as quick as the R6 (some said too quick), and has equally good feedback from the front end, but never shakes its head. And when you get back on the gas at the corner exit, the three-cylinder engine produces ample torque to catapult you down the straight. It feels just as strong as the GSX-R750 through the midrange, and doesn't give away a thing to the 600s on top. That wide power delivery makes the 675 really nice on the street, too, where it's reminiscent of an open-classer. It even wheelies like one!
My main complaint is with the transmission, which has somewhat notchy action and a large gap between first and second that renders low gear all but unusable once under way. A slipper clutch would likely help this scenario, but the Triumph doesn't have one. Fortunately, with the engine's strong midrange, you don't really need to use first like you would on a regular 600. Also, on the racetrack, the spring rates felt a little soft for my weight. But that's my problem, not the bike's.
On a peripheral note, I appreciate the fact that the 675 technically isn't a cheater. Though the AMA sees things differently, the FIM, the British federation and most U.S. roadracing organizations will allow it to compete alongside 600cc fours and 750cc twins in the 600cc classes.
Lastly, it has that European flair that distinguishes it from the cookie-cutter Japanese machines, and it sounds great. It is, after all, a triple.
Maybe I'd have felt different if I'd drunk four Car Bombs?
Suzuki's GSX-R750 Is Suh-Weet!
Height: 5' 8"
Weight: 128 lbs.
Skill Level: Intermediate
Avocation: Web designer
Whatch'y'all doin,' honkey tonkin'?" inquired Tim Langley, owner of 29 Dreams Motorcycle Resort, where Brian and I stopped for our first two tall glasses of sweet tea on this trip. Tim's southern drawl was music to my ears. It was great being back in 'Bama again, and I'd been anticipating the sweet nectar for weeks. It was a sunny Friday morning and we'd just started our third and final loop of Birmingham's finest backroads. The previous day we'd done two street loops and the following morning was supposed to be the first of three days' track testing. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas, and we only got one dry day at Barber. Boo!
I've been riding GSX-Rs for the last couple of years, beginning with a 600 and upgrading to a 750 after finding the additional engine power helped me stay ahead of the pack at track days. And now both bikes were supposed to be even better. I couldn't wait to ride them.
So on Saturday, I saved the best for last and rode the two Suzukis at the end of the day. As on all the other bikes, the suspension was set up too stiff for me, but even so they felt totally stable. I can't say that about the Yamaha. I had absolute confidence in the GSX-Rs' front ends and trusted their brakes immensely, regularly outbraking other riders. Anytime I set my sights on a place at the head of the pack, I could grab a handful of throttle and the bike would take me there-especially the 750, which has noticeably more power everywhere. The new slipper clutch works great on both street and track, especially for someone who isn't, um, especially adept at smooth downshifting. Another added bonus is the gear indicator, which helps when you get caught up in a heated battle and forget what gear you're in.
After reviewing my times at the end of the day, I turned my fastest laps on the GSX-Rs, a 1:48.8 being my outright best. Not that impressive compared to Scott Russell's 1:38 flat, but I did volunteer to ride in the intermediate group, so I had more traffic to contend with. Good excuse, huh?
So the GSX-R was my favorite 600. But the GSX-R750 was my favorite motorcycle. If you could have a bike that handled like a 600 but had a much more powerful engine, why would you choose anything else?