There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a 600cc sportbike could be seen as a credible entry-level motorcycle. Light in weight yet manageable in power, a Honda Hurricane or Ninja 600 was a non-intimidating mount on which to hone burgeoning rider skills.
Well, that certainly has changed. The current crop of middleweights has more in common with the Milky Way than with milquetoast. The out-of-this-world bikes assembled for this test all run 10-second quarter-miles and can lap a racetrack quicker than a literbike from less than a decade ago.
However, this cautionary piece of advice is often lost on noobs who have an insatiable desire for the coolest and raciest hardware available. Just a few years ago, items such as inverted forks, radial-mount brakes, 15,000-rpm redlines, titanium valves and slipper clutches were seen only on factory-supported racebikes. Now, all this trick hardware is available on standard production bikes that retail for less than 9 grand.
Appealing to battle-hardened racers and squidly newbies alike, the 600cc class is the best-selling category of sportbikes, despite the recent upsurge in demand for terrifyingly powerful literbikes. And being number-one in volume translates into a development priority for the manufacturers. As such, the Japanese factories have been on a production schedule that sees a stout platform being abandoned after just four years in favor of the latest technology, with significant revamps offered midway though their respective cycles. This means that considerable updates are required every two years, putting a massive burden on engineers, especially compared to the lucrative cruiser market where specification stability has little bearing on unit sales.
For 2005, Kawasaki has upped the ante, offering what amounts to an almost completely new ZX-6Râ€”just two years after introducing its previous all-new model. New bits include just about everything except the engine’s basic architecture, although it, too, has been comprehensively reworked, including big parts such as its thicker crankcase casting and completely new cylinder heads.
For its part, Yamaha brings in a revamped R6 to the playing field. Winner of our past two Supersport Shootouts, Yammie’s little screamer comes into ’05 equipped with revisions to its frame, brakes, suspension and fuel-injection system.
It’s an old cliche by now, but all the bikes in our Supersport Shootout are awesome. But, only one can walk away with the ’05 Supersport Shootout title.
Honda has taken a similar route as the boys in blue, revising its frame and fitting an inverted fork and radial-mount front brakes. But the formerly porky CBR has also been put on a drastic weight reduction program, lopping off an incredible 22 lbs from last year’s bike, according to our expensive electronic scales. Even more incredible, Honda understates the loss of mass at only 9 lbs.
Suzuki’s GSX-R600, an all-new machine introduced last year, has to soldier on unchanged while engineers are working on the mid-cycle overhaul for the MY2006 version.
While some U.S. print mags and e-zines have rushed to be the first to release the results of their comparison tests, we can assure you that none that beat us to the punch have taken more time or expended more effort than ours.
Since the vast majority of these bikes never see a racetrack, we’ll begin our shootout with a test of how this quartet of Samurai warriors performs on the street. However, we feel it necessary to go to a racetrack to extract the maximum potential from these racer-ready machines, so we put the wearisome burden on ourselves to spend days at two different tracks for an in-depth look at how they rank under the high-speed, closed-course microscope.
We’ll leave you salivating for the track results for a short while. But first, alphabetically, here’s how they work as streetbikes.