When it comes to motorcycling Suzuki’s GSX-R line is synonymous with performance. Since 1985, over 360,000 Gixxers have been sold making it one of the most popular sportbike brands. This year the GSX-R pedigree continues its advancement with the release of the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R600. This new Supersport is an evolution designed to sharpen all performance facets, and we evaluated the updates at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park. For information on the technical details peruse the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 and GSX-R750 First Look, as this review focuses on our riding impression at the racetrack.
Hop into the seat and it’s surprising how small of a motorcycle it is. Over the years engineers have managed to shrink its dimensions to almost excessive proportions especially if you’re taller than most. Even still, when seated in the cockpit, the GSX-R Six remains a remarkably friendly sportbike to command not requiring the same degree of constricted contortions common to other sportbike models. The low 31.9 in. seat height (unchanged) continues to be accommodating for just about any sized rider, especially during parking lot speed maneuvers.
The control layout feels similar to previous generations and is a good balance between aggressive track and relaxed street use. The clip-ons aren’t positioned abnormally low and the handlebar sweep is spaced nicely. Not only does this make it more comfortable when you’re riding upright or tucked behind the windscreen it allows for added leverage when initiating a turn. The height of the footpegs continues to be adjustable, which allows for additional ground clearance and/or the rider to better tailor the fit of the motorcycle. Another nice touch is the height of the windscreen, which lets even taller riders tuck in with minimal wind blast effect.
Pin the throttle and the GSX-R feels like it spools up faster than before due to the engine’s reduced reciprocating mass and the closer internal gear ratios (final drive gearing remains the same). Low rpm engine performance isn’t anything special and feels about the same as its predecessor, but it gets singing around 10,000 revs and features a surprisingly strong mid-range pull. This allows the rider greater flexibility by short-shifting the engine through certain segments of the racetrack. GSX-Rs have always been known for their charismatic induction howl and this is no different which just plain makes it more fun to ride. Throttle response is immediate without feeling twitchy and the engine fueling is incredibly well calibrated.
The Inline Four keeps churning out power as it nears redline but doesn’t deliver a sudden top-end power blast typical of most 600s. Over-rev, however, is excellent which gives the rider options when deciding whether to hold a gear rather than up-shifting. Furthermore, a more visible shift light lets riders know exactly when to shift and can be adjusted based on a rider-selectable rpm. The drivetrain continues to employ a mechanical slipper clutch that provides a near perfect blend of back torque (engine braking) and freewheeling effect when lunged into a corner.
(Above) It was difficult to determine if the new ’11 GSX-R600 is any more flickable than its predecessor without riding them back-to-back. (Center) Stability at lean has long been an attribute of the GSX-R600 and it continues to be impressive trait on the new ’11 machine. (Bottom) The GSX-R600 continues to offer excellent riding ergonomics that are sure to work well on the street too.
Dip into a turn and the bike changes direction with little effort. Although it weighs 20 pounds less than its replacement (412 pounds fully fueled) and has a slightly shorter wheelbase it was hard to discern a difference not being able to ride it back-to-back with the ’09 model. At full lean the chassis is as planted as an M1 Abrams tank and delivers a high level of stability on corner exit resisting the urge to wiggle the handlebars even over bumpy pavement with the throttle pinned.
Chassis balance is also impressive. With the addition of the Showa’s BPF (big-piston fork) the attitude of the motorcycle remains more balanced when the front end is loaded heavily with the brakes. Road feel was also improved, though that may be attributed to the redesigned compound configuration of the OE-spec Bridgestone Battlax BT-016s (purchase the Bridgestone Battlax BT-016 Front Tire and Bridgestone Battlax BT-016 Rear Tire at Motorcycle-Superstore.com). The updated rear shock complements the fork well and it was impressive how well the Suzuki drives off the corner even on street tires. However, that may be attributed to Barber’s ultra-grippy surface.
Braking performance is an area in which the 600 has always struggled but that all ends with the new bike. The additions of the Brembo monobloc calipers is a tremendous improvement delivering a consistent fade-free level of power and braking feel whether you’re on the first or last lap of a 30-minute riding session even with rubber brake lines.
After spending the day at the controls of the new GSX-R it’s clear that the new machine is an evolution rather than a revolution. Although the basic character of the bike remains the same (good thing), the engine does rev quicker and pumps out more mid-range performance. In terms of handling the balance of the suspension is improved which works in unison with the higher-spec braking components. It also serves up an elevated of agility without compromising stability. Will these improvements be enough for it to challenge for the crown of best middleweight-class Supersport? We smell a shootout brewing…