Back when we were in high school, a wide gulf separated 600s from their brawnier, big-bore brothers. Middleweights were small and light and cut up curves like a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, but their modest power output made them a workout on the racetrack and a downright bore on the wide-open road. Literbikes, on the other hand, made power for days but were big and bulky and too much work in the twisties. That gulf has now largely vanished, as more powerful middleweights and more manageable literbikes blur the distinctions between the two. This made picking a winner (warning: obligatory comparison clich ahead) harder than ever before.
As the undisputed lap-time leader, the new Ducati 1098 would be the no-brainer choice if everyone reading this possessed an AMA Pro license and lived at the end of a double-apex driveway. But the typically uncompromising design that makes the 1098 such a killer on the racetrack also makes it less than ideal in the everyday environs where most of us live and ride.
The Kawasaki and Yamaha are both excellent examples of just how much middleweight and literbike technology have advanced in recent generations. The ZX-6R is blessed with a brilliant chassis, but the 600cc motor retains just enough vestigial soft-on-bottom/narrow-on-top power characteristics to keep us wishing for more. The R1 makes big power, but plus-sized physical dimensions and high steering effort reminded us that a literbike can still be a lot of motorcycle.
The Suzuki, on the other hand, felt anything but big, with a compact riding position, careful mass centralization and utterly un-literbike-like agility in the curves. You'd never guess you were on a 1000 until you unleashed all 158 rear-wheel ponies. The big GSX-R was held back by soft, poorly calibrated suspension on the racetrack, though it shined on the street.
But even the mighty Gixxer was no match for this season's Most Likely To Succeed, the Honda CBR600RR. The tester's logs were a revelation. Never before have so many different riders, from so many different backgrounds, all arrived at the same word-PERFECT-to describe the CBR600RR's attributes. Street or track, that word appeared over and over again to describe the comfortable ergos, muscular powerplant, composed chassis, excellent suspension and brakes, light controls and more. Few bikes we've tested have possessed such a perfect balance of outright competence and all-around accessibility as Honda's latest-and finest-CBR600RR, moving it squarely to the head of this class.