The CBR feels like its designed for the track; there are better option for street riders. However, the track test is still to come and we think the CBR will make up some ground.
Those who’ve been reading about motorcycles for a long time already know that the meaningful differences between any of these bikes are very slight. The full-moxie supersport riding experience is available from all brands, as each has a performance envelope that can’t be fully exploited by the majority of riders, especially in a street environment.
As such, this comparison test that explores the street capabilities of a sportbike puts a greater focus on things like accessible power, riding comfort, style and the way the bikes make us feel. Those who are interested in things like triple-digit stability, ultimate power, maximum braking abilities and tell-no-lies lap times will want to tune back in when we publish our supersport track shootout.
Fourth Place Huh?
We can’t believe it, either. What was once our subjective favorite just two years ago has slipped to the bottom of our street rankings even with less weight, better brakes and a stiffer chassis. Such is the pace of development in this hottest-of-all sportbike class.
The CBR was once the most expensive and heaviest middleweight by a large margin, but this has been tightened up for ’05. The RR’s weight is now competitive, and though its MSRP is still the highest, it is just $200 more than the radically revamped ZX-6R. Plus, it retains its strong qualities that have always endeared it to us, such as the most stable platform, an attractive, edgy look that still ranks near the top of the class, and an overall execution that is polished to a glossy sheen.
We could probably forgive the CBR’s hard seat and lack of wind protection in this test of streetbike abilities, but what ultimately lets the CBR down most is its relatively meek motor, a feeling compounded by taller gearing than the rest. While it doesn’t feel slow on its own, it lags a bit when put into the company of these other mini-missiles. Perhaps this is the reason why Honda’s factory team isn’t even contesting the AMA Supersport championship, a class that Big Red used to dominate and one that is sponsored by one of its subsidiaries (Pro Honda Oils).
“If it weren’t so raced out and had a little more on bottom it would be my winner,” Korfhage sums up, “but those two aspects are important on the street and unfortunately it takes third in my book.”
In this street-biased test, the Gixxer’s midrange punch, Swiss-clock gearbox and class-leading fairing coverage are just a few of its strong points.
Third Place Torque To the Hand
Although we received the Gixxer late into our test, it has many desirable qualities that immediately had it in the hunt. On the street, we love the torquey nature of the GSX-R’s responsive engine, the relatively expansive wind protection, its buttery gearbox and its titillating intake growl.
But there are four key areas in which the Suzuki received demerit points. None of us liked the long reach to its bars and short seat-to-peg distance, and most of us thought its overall look and level of finish wasn’t up to the high standards of the others. Plus, it has a relatively lackluster top-end hit. Finally, we never became enamored of the way the Gixxer feels a bit bulky, whether speaking of the signals it emits to its rider or the clumsier way it tackles slow and tight transitions.
Somehow, as good a package as the Gixxer is, it lacked personality in this group. While the R6 is peakier, it makes up for it by having the most willing and rider-friendly personality. Although the CBR has worse wind protection, its chassis is more stable when pushed. The Kawasaki’s gearbox isn’t nearly as slick, but “Best Transmission” doesn’t make as riveting a headline as “109 horsepower!”
It may not have won the street portion of our shootout, but the R6 does take top honors in the non-cheater bike category.
Runner-Up Close But No Undertail Cigar
Well, it had to happen sometime. After two years at the top of our Supersport rankings, the R6 has finally been usurped, which is not to say the Yamaha is not still a top-shelf thrill ride. We love the way the R6 feels obedient and willing from the moment you throw a leg over it, giving off a lithe, light and narrow impression that was appreciated by all.
A look at its dyno chart reveals a flat spot right in the middle of its rev range, which normally would be a flaw. But off the dyno and on the street, the prevailing impression of the R6’s engine is very positive, as our testers made several comments about its torquey response and healthy midrange. Perhaps it’s because that lull in the powerband is followed by a near-vertical horsepower trace as it clears its throat for hyperspace launch, giving our staff wheelie hounds a real mono-wheeling toy.
And unlike our 2003 shootout in which the Yamaha diced with the new CBR600RR for the bike with the most style, the R6 now is beginning to look a little dated as its appearance has changed only moderately since its original launch in 1999. We were expecting this new R6 to look more like the wicked R1, but it was turned out with only minor revisions that didn’t get our style engines revved up very high.
“The downside of the R6 is the dated looks,” Hutchison weighs in. “Sure, some people may still find it attractive, and it was the black frame a sculpted swingarm that always salvaged it for me. But, here’s a note to Yamaha: Wrap this package in R1-esque bodywork, stick on an underseat exhaust, and add a few ponies for good measure by upping the displacement over 599cc, and the R6 would likely be on the verge of a three-peat.”
Winna, Winna! The ZX-6R takes top honors in our 2005 Supersport Shootout. Design changes have removed all the old ZX’s previous faults, both aesthetically and functionally (except for that damn tach!), and it remains as having the motor to beat
First Place Muscleman Gets Revenge
It’s finally happened. After two years of picking the mighty ZX as my personal favorite supersport machine, everyone around here has finally started to get a clue. Or maybe it’s actually because Kawasaki has endowed the new Ninja with the style, handling and suspension manners its killah motah has always deserved.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Kawasaki earns the street supersport title this year. After all, it comes on the 20th anniversary of the 1985 ZX600R Ninja’s debut, a bike that really kickstarted the class as it became the first of the super-sporty 600cc machines.
It also didn’t hurt its ranking by being voted as the most stylish of this group. While it’s true that this class puts an emphasis on performance, there is no doubt that many consumers make a choice based largely on appearance. The ZX’s attractive bodywork and attention to detail is now second to none, and a measure of its success lies in the fact that it looks great even without all the decals that ubiquitously are slathered on Japanese sportbikes. It looks more expensive than it costs and is downright classy.
So now the ZX has class-leading style and composed handling to go with the mega motor that has always ruled this roost. Plus, it has a real gem in its slipper clutch that is a class exclusive. Yeah, some may say that it’s really not a 600, so it doesn’t really belong in this class. But as long as it’s priced competitively with the 599cc machines, it’s definitely a viable choice for street riders. We’ll give our man at the top the final word.
“The 636 might be a cheater,” says Becklin, “but it’s a fun cheater.”
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Check out the “Specs.” for the 2005 Supersports.