Among sportbikes, the middleweight class is the best-selling category for most manufacturers, making it a key (and profitable) segment. These bikes have all become so competent that it often takes racetrack testing to sort out the performance nuances. A sub-par track performance holds back a bike’s overall rating in magazine comparison tests, and short-sighted consumers sometimes choose one bike over another because it was two- or three-tenths quicker around a road circuit. As a result, manufacturers have evolved once-pleasant middleweight streetbikes into racetrack rippers, often at the expense of streetability.
For these reasons, we’re continuing our tradition of separating our sportbike comparison tests into Street and Track editions. Those who will never see a racetrack (poor bastards.) might not care about ultimate track performance. If you want to know everything about this group of six, please refer to the street-specific comparo we’ve already posted. (And if you ask us a question that’s already been answered in the street test, we’ll make fun of you in print, unless that’s what you want, in which case we’ll just ignore you.) This track-focused portion will hone in solely on how the bikes perform on the racetrack.
This shootout taxed our resources to the max. In addition to our five riders, we also were joined by a huge support staff. Robin and JC were temporarily sprung from their respective graphic design and off-road duties for MCUSA, and we managed to coerce lensman Tom Lavine into capturing our test in pixels yet another time. In addition, each manufacturer (other than Triumph) brought out a crew to tend to the bikes for our two full days of track thrashing courtesy of our friends from Socal Track Days at the 2.2-mile Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch near Pahrump, Nevada.
If that wasn’t enough, Pirelli and Dunlop threw a truckload of tires at us so we’d have fresh buns at the start of each day. Instead of max-stick race-compound rubber, both manufacturers sent us their latest track-day tires: Diablo Corsas from Pirelli and Qualifiers from Dunlop. We ran the crap out of them all day long, yet they came back begging for more (mostly). Ultimate grip might not have been as high as a race tire, but traction was plenty enough that we were regularly passing bikes with number plates throughout the weekend. Jim Cox Racing (702/429-2780) was on hand to spoon on the new rubber, and when proprietor Jim was done, he schooled a few of us on the track. Good bloke.
For some reason, none of our significant others volunteered to stand in the middle of the desert to chart our lap times, so we again pulled out our trusty AiM Sports MyChron TG Light lap timers so we could log times all day long for each rider. The friendly and accommodating enthusiasts at SoCal Trackdays were our hosts at Spring Mountain and, since they don’t separate riders into groups of varying skill levels, we were able to ride until our bodies’ tanks were empty, even if the bikes’ weren’t.
A six-bike shootout taxes the resources of a rag-tag outfit like ours, but we were more than up for the challenge.
Our team of test pilots has varying degrees of track experience. Our prez, Don Becklin, is a former expert-level racer with a top-20 finish in an AMA Supersport race on his C.V. Brian Chamberlain, MCUSA’s Creative Director, is a former club-level expert racer, while Editorial Director Ken Hutchison has club raced at a Junior level. As for myself, my racing “career” was also at the Junior level, but at least I’m the only staffer to ever bag a championship (even if it was on a Honda NSR50 mini!). Becklin’s championship chases were constantly thwarted by fellow Oregon racer Shawn Roberti, who ironically we’ve been using as our fast guy during our sportbike comparison tests. Roberti, a multi-time Oregon and Washington state champ, makes his fourth appearance in our Supersport Shootout.
We put in laps from the time the track opened until it got shut down – it’s tough work, but we do it all for you. Our test riders each put in nearly 300 track miles, wearing out 24 tires, several sets of knee pucks, and a few egos. Thankfully, no bodywork. Some of the manufacturer reps in attendance told us they’d never seen as much riding during any test they’d observed. We’ve again implemented our 10-category track scorecards to rank each bike. While we stand by the overall scores, your mileage may vary. For example, Hutchison scored a certain bike in sixth place while two other riders ranked it third. That’s how close the competition is in this class. We determined our rankings via the cumulative points totals and gave each bike a score out of 100 to come up with our official marks.
As with virtually any comparison test, controversy is bound to erupt. We’ve decided to pour some gas on that fire and include an alternate-but-unofficial way of scoring that marginalizes the effects of excessively high or low scores by a single tester. We’ve added up our five rider’s ranking of each bike (first to sixth) so that the winner is the bike with the lowest number. For example, if Bike X was ranked number one by each rider, it would have a score of 5; if Bike Y was ranked last by all five, its score would be 30. This ranking formula slightly shuffles the finishing order, unofficially, giving us another chance to either please you or piss you off depending on which bike you own.
It takes a motley crew to tackle a project as epic as our six-bike shootout, and as you can see, we take our jobs seriously.
Our street testing already gave us strong impressions of the personalities of each bike, but how they would react in the crucible of a racetrack was still an unknown. Questions looking for answers include:
Will the Ducati’s uncomfortable riding position pay off on the track, and will the 749’s torquey powerband be an asset or a liability?
Can the CBR600RR’s excellent balance overcome its slight deficiency in top-end power?
Is the ZX-6R’s lusty powerplant enough to give it enough of an advantage on a tight course like Spring Mountain?
Will the GSX-R600’s new design stand out on the track the way it did on the street?
Can the R6’s scintillating top-end hit overcome a gutless midrange, and will its excellent chassis offer a clear advantage on the track?
And, finally, can the winner of our street shootout, the Daytona 675, actually keep pace with the well-developed packages of its more experienced rivals?
Answers, and a whole lot more, begin on the next page.