2006 Middleweight Sportbike Comparison: Honda CBR600RR Vs. Kawasaki ZX-6R Vs. Suzuki GSX-R600 Vs. Suzuki GSX-R750 Vs. Triumph Daytona 675 Vs. Yamaha YZF-R6 - The Un-Comparo

Redefining Middleweights

By Brian Catterson, Photography by George Roberts

Surprise, Surprise
I Thought I Knew Everything Until I Rode The Honda CBR600RR
Neale Bayly

Age: 44
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 180 lbs.
Skill Level: Intermediate
Avocation: Freelance Moto-journalist

As I headed to Barber, I realized there was only one bike in the mix I hadn't yet ridden: Honda's CBR600RR. Having attended press launches of all the other models, I had some clear ideas about which would be my favorite and on which I'd go fastest. Climbing off the CBR at the end of the day, this thought couldn't have been further from the truth.

Hearing the 10-minute call for my final session, I jumped on the orange Honda. Color aside, it's the most pedestrian looking of the group, the master cylinder resembling something from a '90s-spec VFR and turn signals the size of billboards. The Honda is also the second-heaviest 600, tying with the Kawasaki behind the Suzuki. In fact, from the moment I swung my leg over, the CBR felt like the ZX-6R, with a deeper-sounding engine than the other 600s. The engine didn't seem to rev as quickly, but pulling onto the track the CBR felt immediately strong at lower rpm. I took the first lap easy to get a feel for the bike when Triumph's Jim Callahan went storming by on his Arrow-equipped Daytona 675. Well, I couldn't have any of that, so dropped the hammer and gave chase-which resulted in the most fun of the afternoon.

Enjoying the last few corners in cruise mode, I checked the lap timer, which shows your quickest lap in the top right corner-and had to take another look. I'd just lopped nearly 1.5 seconds off my best time on the Yamaha YZF-R6, and gone even quicker than on the Suzuki GSX-R750! If I hadn't seen my times, though, I would have ranked the Honda behind both of them. The actual mechanics of riding the bike had been unremarkable, yet I'd turned quicker laps.

Riding to the pits, I racked my brain trying to figure out how I dropped the time. I think it's that the Honda is so easy to ride and so deceptively quick it gets the job done without drama. The engine is smooth and has strong midrange, so it didn't seem to be in the wrong gear so often exiting corners, as some of the other bikes did. Getting on the brakes hard down into turn 5, the most difficult corner for me, the CBR was stable and gave a lot of confidence tipping it in.

Comparing notes later, I wasn't surprised to find at least two other testers went quickest on the Honda. So it gets my pick of the weekend. Not so much for the fact that it gave me my best lap time, but for derailing my preconceived ideas about which bike would be fastest. For a rider of my ability, the Honda's solid midrange and ease of operation allowed me to go faster with less effort.

They Call This Work?
Riding The Suzuki GSX-R600 Was The Best Job Perk Ever

Brian Sexton
Age: 31
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 190 lbs.
Skill Level: Intermediate
Advocation: Ad sales for Primedia Motorcycle Group

At the recent Indianapolis Trade Show, Motorcyclist Editor Mitch Boehm asked if I'd like to take part in an upcoming shootout at Barber Motorsports Park. My instantaneous "yes!" probably sounded like that of a 16-year-old who'd just been asked if he wanted to drive his dad's Ferrari. And if that wasn't enough, former AMA and World Superbike Champion Scott Russell was going to be there to help out. Someone pinch me.

Having raced older variants of the Yamaha YZF-R6, I was looking forward to riding the '06 model. This bike has the look-like it's going 170 mph sitting still. Diving into the first corner, I thought, "This is gonna be a great ride." The gauges are easy to read, the shift light is nice and bright, and the sounds coming from the shorty pipe and airbox intake are cool. The R6 turns well, but I got pretty bad headshake under acceleration out of several corners, which eroded my confidence. On top of that, the powerplant was extremely peaky. You had to rev it or power was lacking.

My personal fave was the GSX-R600. The Suzuki has a ripper of an engine. The suspension gives you a tremendous amount of feedback, which allows you to go past the edge and still find your way back. The brakes are plenty strong and have good feel. It has a very legible gauge setup, and I love the gear indicator. I ride my streetbikes with a GP shift pattern, and Suzuki obviously gave this some thought because you can flip the linkage in less than 5 minutes. The footpeg position is even adjustable this year. How cool is that?

Picking a winner from this group of fantastic motorcycles comes down to personal style more than anything else. And the GSX-R600 fit mine best.

And the Un-Winner Is
Nine riders, six bikes and no consensus-but we pick a winner anyway!

Whew! Lots of thoughts from lots of testers, with no narrator to make sense of it all. Kinda like an MTV music video without the hootchies shaking their junk. So that's what we'll attempt to do here-make sense of it all, not shake our junk. Trust us, you wouldn't want to see that.

The bike that got the least love was Kawasaki's ZX-6R. The fact that Scott Russell liked it best speaks volumes, but the rest of us weren't as impressed-even if Aaron Frank noted it was "well blung" with its tribal graphics and red-anodized wheels. While the cheater 636cc engine makes superb midrange, it paled in comparison to that of the Triumph Daytona 675 and-duh!-Suzuki GSX-R750. And, it got nipped by the Yamaha YZF-R6 on top, too. Add to that the hard-to-read LCD tach, the harsh-feeling suspension and a disturbing tendency to drag its brake pedal and shift lever at full lean, and the 636 gives away ground that it simply cannot afford in a class as hotly contested as this.

We expected a lot from the revolutionary Yamaha YZF-R6 and got more than we asked for. It looks like a 6-and-a-half-foot-long stealth fighter, banks into corners and flies like one, too. But like an old FZR400 (with twice the horsepower), its MIA midrange power made it hard to keep on the boil, requiring many more shifts per lap than the other bikes, and it often felt like it was between gears. And that was on the racetrack; it felt even more anemic during our two days of street riding. With different gearing, the R6 will no doubt win its fair share of races, and it may even win a magazine shootout at a track that suits its stock gearing. But for most of our real-world testers, it was simply too unreal.

Suzuki's GSX-R600 is all-new, but as Russell pointed out, it still has a familial feel. In a blind test, most riders would have a hard time telling the difference between an '05 and '06 model. Can Joe Public really notice changes like a 600-rpm-higher redline and 35mm longer swingarm? He'd more likely appreciate the GSX-R1000-derived styling and stubby, MotoGP-inspired muffler. All our testers found the GSX-R600 a willing companion, and no one had anything bad to say about it. But in this group, it kinda got lost in the wash.

It doesn't help that its bigger brother came along for the ride. Including the GSX-R750 in what has traditionally been a 600cc comparison was never going to be fair; tester Jim West went so far as to say it spoiled his impressions of the other bikes. The 750 is dang near perfect, its abundant midrange a bonus on both street and track. The only knocks against it came from our faster riders, who found its shock spring too soft and its footpegs prone to dragging. And even some of them echoed what our less-skilled riders said: that they found the smaller bikes easier to ride and thus went faster on them. Yes, GSX-R750 buyers get more for their money, but they also spend more: $700 to $1200 over the cost of the other middleweights. That has to count against it, right?

The bike that surprised everyone was Honda's CBR600RR. Great Pumpkin paint scheme notwithstanding, the CBR is totally unassuming. Yet tester after tester climbed off it and remarked that they'd never gone so quickly, so easily. Everything about the bike-control feel, seating position, engine power, steering effort, brakes and suspension-felt just right. There's no adaptation required, no re-learning how to ride to get the most out of it. Just hop on and haul ass.

So, the Honda wins, right? Not quite. There's one bike remaining-the Triumph Daytona 675. We're not big on Told You So's, but we said all along that the British manufacturer was wasting its time building a 600cc four to go head-to-head with the Japanese. Better to build something distinctive, something different ... something like this 675cc triple. What we never would have guessed is how well such a bike would work. It's like the designers combined all the best features from all the best sportbikes. It's the lightest machine in this test, the narrowest, it has the most cornering clearance and the best brakes. It's got the midrange power of a twin and the zing of a four. And talk about aggressive; forget about being prim and proper, this thing's pissed off and ready to rumble! With the Daytona 675, Triumph has truly redefined the middleweight sportbike. And that's what makes it the winner here.

By Brian Catterson
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