We’re all suckers for 600s around here. Boasting race-bred handling along with more “rational” and manageable power than the headline-grabbing literbikes, they provide a performance ride that is perhaps the best balanced in the realm of sportbikedom.
This year sees the arrival of an all-new contender to the class since our 2003 Supersport Showdown the completely retooled GSX-R600. Last year, the four-year-old Gixxer struggled to keep pace with the three new offerings from the rest of the Japanese Big Four. Now the shoe is on the other foot as the freshly baked 2004 Suzuki is the one attracting the limelight.
But the supersport class hasn’t stood still. Yamaha and Kawasaki have made subtle improvements to their machines to address the few shortcomings we noted last year. And Ducati has released its 749 Dark for 2004, mechanically identical to the standard model Ducati 749 we used last year’s test that retailed way up at $13,499. But the new Dark version we have here narrows the price gap to the 8-grand Asians, coming in at $11,999, and the only thing it lacks from the standard edition is a steering damper and glossy paint.
Keep in mind that the aforementioned bikes were all-new machines last year, and these upgrades just 12 months hence demonstrates the intensity in which this class is fought. Honda is the lone manufacturer not to tinker at all on its candidate for category honors.
The MotorcycleUSA test crew preps the four supersport contenders before heading out onto the track on that fateful afternoon. Notice the effort Ken took in getting the R6 shiny and clean for what was supposed to be an afternoon of photo ops for the defending champ.
Those of you wondering at this point where Triumph’s Daytona 600 fits in obviously haven’t yet read the sordid details behind this costly shootout. May we direct your attention here for a look at an aspect of bike testing that isn’t often revealed.
Before we begin, we’d like to note that there wasn’t much to choose between the suspensions of this quintet. Each has adjustments for rebound and compression damping as well as spring preload, and they all responded well to clicker changes. Judging ride quality and wheel control had more to do with how each bike was set up for a particular rider than blanket criticisms of the suspensions. The R6 and CBR get bonus marks for having a ramp-type preload collar on their shocks, making adjustments out on the road possible as opposed to the locking-ring threaded collars on the others that require a hammer and punch to change.