First Ride: 2008 Suzuki GSX-R600 - Supersport Stalker

More Midrange Power And S-Dms Adjustability Whip The GSX-R600 Into Shape.

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Brian J. Nelson

There are certain conditions that must be met before you can summon the courage to enter Misano's Turn 11 properly-that is to say, flat-out in fifth gear. First, have a firm grip on the handlebars. Second, make sure you're aboard a proper sportbike, one that's responsive enough to snap into a knee-down bend at nearly 150 mph but not enough to wander off-line at any point. You want to nail this exit. Oh yeah, and it's also nice to be able to see where you're going.

We managed the first point, and Suzuki's latest GSX-R600 pinned the second set of conditions regarding the bike. The winter weather in central Italy, however-with temperatures in the 40s and dense fog that limited visibility to maybe 150 feet (or an inch, when you accidentally exhaled on your faceshield)-was complicating the third point, and making every lap during the official 2008 Suzuki GSX-R600 world press launch an exciting one. Welcome to the Misty Misano Hop.

Hey, at least it wasn't snowing, like the last time we rode GSX-R600s at Misano in the winter of '04. Suzuki must get a great off-season price on track rental here. Though questionable riding conditions might frustrate journalists looking to turn fast laps (or just stay upright and unbroken), they do tell us a lot about the character and ability of a given bike. Challenging (and constantly changing) conditions demand flexible, forgiving performance, and this latest-generation GSX-R600 is both.

It's a testament to how well the last-generation GSX-R600 worked that there were very few mechanical changes required for '08 to keep it in the hunt in the hyper-competitive 600cc marketplace. It already offered great handling with a reassuringly neutral character, capable suspension and excellent ergonomics. The most obvious area for improvement was the engine. Honda's CBR600RR made every other 600 seem underpowered, so Suzuki concentrated its efforts on pumping up low- and midrange power without sacrificing anything up top.

A milder intake cam, smaller-diameter throttle bodies and a smaller-diameter exhaust header all strengthen low- and midrange power. Peak output remains unchanged from '08 thanks to a slight compression increase (from 12.5:1 to 12.8:1) that is enough to restore the top-end power losses resulting from the midrange-boosting changes. Suzuki didn't divulge any hard numbers, but company dyno charts show a slight horsepower increase for the '08 engine around 7000 rpm and tapering off as the two curves merge again near 14,000 rpm, short of the 16,000-rpm redline.

The new engine feels strong off corners, accelerating with an authority that feels similar to what we remember from Honda's RR. Questionable grip on both test days (street tires, cold temps and 99.9 percent humidity, say no more) made us reluctant to rev too aggressively in the corners. Instead, we often ran a gear higher than usual to more easily manage the action at the rear contact patch. Thanks to the '08's added midrange oomph, this is a perfectly valid strategy-the new bike pulls strongly from as low as 5500 rpm, so being a bit lazy with the shift lever isn't the certain lap-time death that it can be on some other 600cc sportbikes.

It also helps that this latest Gixxer Six is a willing revver, thanks to newly enlarged inter-cylinder ventilation ports that help the motor spool up even faster, along with finer-atomizing, eight-hole injectors that contribute essentially flawless throttle response. No matter where on the tach you're starting from, peak power is never too far away.

In addition to improving outright engine performance, another engineering aim for '08 was to increase engine power "adjustability." Now, for the first time, the GSX-R600 also gets Suzuki's S-DMS drive-mode-selector apparatus that allows the rider to toggle among three distinct power output profiles (A, B and C mode) on demand using "up" and "down" buttons located on the right-hand switchgear.

S-DMS has some cachet on the sales floor, and we can see its utility on a GSX-R1000 or Hayabusa, but who ever asked for a slower 600? While this technology seems slightly superfluous on big bikes, it strikes us as downright unnecessary on the GSX-R600. Perhaps less-experienced riders will appreciate this form of passive traction control, but especially on a bike with such predictable power delivery as this latest GSX-R, it's redundant.

Compared to the minor powerplant refinements, the styling updates for '08 are pretty radical. Suzuki characterizes this as "emotional" styling, whatever that means; we might characterize it as "exaggerated." There's lots of surface tension and dramatic details, little points and fangs along the nose, peaks and spines on the fairing and lots of highly stylized elements that seem a bit over-the-top in person. Whatever our opinion, it's certainly aggressive looking, and at least effective as far as keeping you out of the wind. A new triple-headlight array (center projector low beam with left/right multi-reflector high beams) is said to offer an expanded illumination area, especially while cornering, while making room for larger SRAD ram-air intakes at the center of the nose where positive air pressure is the greatest.

Underneath the plastic, the GSX-R600 chassis is essentially unchanged for '08. We had no objections with the light-steering, neutral-handling '07 model. This was our first time riding at Misano since the course had been reconfigured to run clockwise, a change to make the track safer and pave the way for the return of MotoGP. This change also created one of the most challenging turn sequences we've confronted anywhere (turns 11-14 are now essentially one decreasing-radius corner), which revealed loads about the manners of this new bike.

Despite the substantial gyroscopic effect of two wheels spinning at almost 150 mph, turning the GSX-R600 into Turn 11 is surprisingly low effort: Lighter wheels and thinner brake rotors slightly decrease rotating mass. Bumps in T11 are nothing to worry about, even at this insane speed, because the new electronic steering damper keeps the front wheel right on line. You're still leaned over and now entering T12, maintaining throttle (and speed) right up to the apex.

As soon as you apex T12 it's time to stand up the bike as much and as quickly as possible before clamping on the brakes for third-gear T13. Stronger four-piston radial Tokico calipers (same as on the Hayabusa) slow the '08 GSX-R600 down, and a revised radial master-cylinder ratio makes the more powerful brakes as easy to modulate as before-a good thing because you need to trail brake right to the apex to make this corner successfully.

The T13 exit is the first spot since the entrance to T11 that you have the bike completely upright, accelerating down the short chute into hairpin T14. This is the slowest corner on the track, with the hardest braking zone, and the best test of the newly upgraded (and excellent) slipper clutch that benefits from an extra clutch plate and a revised drive-cam profile that improves clutch action and feedback.

This back section of Misano, entering the stadium, is a tremendous test of chassis stability and overall composure and the rider's testicular circumference. That we were able to negotiate this challenge without major troubles for two days straight in what can only be described as dodgy conditions says loads about the little Gixxer's attributes. "Balanced Performance" was the primary goal of this redesign, Suzuki Sportbike Product Planner Norihiro Suzuki told us at the beginning of his presentation, and balanced performance is exactly what the '08 Suzuki GSX-R600 delivers.

Hard Parts
S-DMS: It's Not Just For Big Bikes Anymore.

Electronics
Like the GSX-R1000 and Hayabusa, the GSX-R600 now features Suzuki's Drive Mode Selector (S-DMS) technology that allows the rider to choose among three distinct power output profiles on demand, via a handlebar-mounted switch. A mode corresponds with full power output; B mode reduces power by roughly 20 percent across the rev range, while C mode cuts output by about 40 percent. A new, 32-bit ECM boosted with 1024KB of ROM (up from 384KB in '07) handles the math to manage S-DMS and some additional EFI functionality.

Engine
New forged-alloy pistons bump compression from 12.5:1 to 12.8:1. Changes to the intake-cam profile (lift has been reduced from 8.6 to 8.2mm) and exhaust system (header diameter has been reduced from 38.1 to 35.0mm) boost low-end and midrange power while still achieving the same peak output as last year, thanks to the across-the-board gains produced by the higher-compression engine. Underneath the engine resides a new, higher-volume Suzuki Advanced Exhaust System (SAES) with a servo-operated butterfly valve (Suzuki Exhaust Tuning, or SET) built into the mid-pipe to further enhance low-end performance, and a new, distinctly shaped triangular silencer at the terminus. Suzuki's Dual Throttle Valve (SDTV) fuel-injection system with two injectors per cylinder has been upgraded for '08 with new, finer-atomizing eight-hole injectors compared to last year's four-hole units. The throttle-body shape has also been revised, with the outlet diameter reduced from 40 to 36.5mm to increase intake airflow velocity. The motor also gets enlarged ventilation ports between the cylinder bores (increased from 39mm to 41mm), to reduce internal crankcase pressures and allow the pistons to more freely pump up and down.

Chassis
The twin-spar aluminum frame is composed of five individual cast sections engineered to maximize rigidity and minimize weight. The die-cast aluminum subframe is now a two-piece design (split down the middle), to reduce weight and minimize damage in the event of a crash. The braced aluminum swingarm offers a larger pivot area to better transmit rear-tire feedback to the chassis. Helping to stabilize the stiffer chassis over uneven pavement is a new, electronically controlled steering damper that uses a tapered needle attached to a solenoid valve that automatically reduces or increases oil flow to adjust damping resistance according to speed and steering action.

Suspension
Showa supplies the suspension front and rear. On the bow you'll find the same 41mm inverted fork as last year, with the standard twiddlers attached (preload, compression and rebound damping). At the stern resides a single 46mm shock, with adjustable preload and rebound as well as high- and low-speed compression ranges, for added tuneability. An extra-stiff, forged-aluminum shock linkage reduces side loads and enhances rear tire grip.

Wheels And Brakes
Lighter steering and quicker acceleration are the aims of the new, lighter-weight cast-aluminum wheels, which also feature a more modern, angled-spoke design. New 310mm brake rotors utilize 12 floating pins (compared to eight last year) for improved heat dissipation, and are reduced in thickness from 5.5 to 5.0mm to offset the added weight of the four extra buttons. Radial-mount, four-piston Tokico calipers (shared with the Hayabusa) are boosted by a revised front-brake master-cylinder ratio to improve lever feel and outright stopping power. Out back, a new caliper bracket makes it easier to remove the rear wheel or perform routine brake maintenance.

Tech Spec
Evolution
The 600 gets some trickle-down 1000 technology, including S-DMS and an electronic steering damper.

Rivals
The other 600cc screamers from Japan, Inc.: Honda's CBR600RR, Kawasaki's ZX-6R and Yamaha's YZF-R6.

TECH
Price: $9399
Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 599cc
Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 42.5mm
Compression: 12.8:1
Fuel system: SDTV dual-stage EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: na
Claimed torque: na
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: Showa shock with adj. preload, high/low-speed comp. and rebound damping
Rear suspension: 41mm Showa inverted fork with adj. preload, comp. and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Tokico four-piston radial calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Single Tokico one-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax 016
Rear tire: 180/55-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax 016
Rake/trail: 23.5,/3.82 in.
Seat height: 31.9 in.
Wheelbase: 55.1 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 359 lbs.
Color: Blue/White, Silver/Yellow, White/Silver, Black/Matte Black
Available: Now
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mi.

Verdict
With the same neutral handling and more low- to midrange power, Suzuki's littlest Gixxer is an even better motorcycle.

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