A Supersport as a practical street bike doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on paper. For hardcore performance junkies, Superbikes remain the pinnacle of motorcycle production. As a sensible commuter, a race replica 600 is way down on the practicality list. And a Supersport as long-distance tourer? No, thank you! However, scuff a toe-slider mid-apex, and then hear the desperate engine wail and crash off the rev limiter. Frantic upshifts follow as the roadside blurs into the periphery, the ribbons of asphalt ahead demanding complete focus… In action, a Supersport makes total sense.
Celebrating its tenth year running, the MotoUSA Supersport Shootout ushers in another summer riding season – with eight bikes and seven manufacturers answering the shootout challenge. This year esteemed Road Test Editor, Adam Waheed, published the 2013 Supersport Track Shootout. Now it’s my turn to deliver the Street evaluation.
After a decade of Supersport Shootouts, we’ve witnessed the class boom and bust. Annual motorcycle sales in the US market have more than halved since 2008 (from 1,087,000 to 452,000 in 2012). More than half a million annual unit sales are simply gone – evaporated. The post-mortem of the market crash shows the sportbike segment bled most during these lean times – and the chalk outline on the sidewalk looks an awful lot like a 600 Supersport.
Rewind the clock back to 2006, and the Supersport class was a driving force in the American marketplace. In the domestic AMA series, while Ben Spies and Mat Mladin paraded up front in the premier Superbike class, the fiercest competition was in the Formula Xtreme and Supersport support series. The Japanese Big Four routinely backed top-shelf riders for the highly-coveted 600 titles. The Win-on-Sunday mantra powered rapid two-year development cycles for the Supersports, with lavish ground-up redesigns every four years. The Supersport market was red hot.
That was then. Now the Supersport class is a wisp of its former glory. More attention gets paid to development of entry-level bikes. And in recent years the OEMs seem to have focused any high-performance R&D budget on their flagship Superbikes. The Supersport platforms have limped along without a whole lot of hoopla during the Great Recession.
But not all news is so dire – and the Supersport is far from dead. Deflated sales numbers provide an opportunity for rebound. And for cash-strapped adrenaline addicts, Supersports – still about three grand less than their Superbike kin – remain a tempting, affordable option. The trend of more entry-level mounts could also help, as a class of intermediate riders look to graduate up to more thrilling platforms upon which to test their skills. And a bone stock Supersport delivers more than enough performance to challenge riders of any skill level.
EVOLVING CLASS OF CONTENDERS
The Supersport ranks remain closely associated with the Japanese 600s, but this year’s class of contenders shows how far conventions have muddled. The 599cc cookie-cutter conformity of yore has been ignored entirely by the European manufacturers, with Kawasaki breaking ranks amongst the Big Four with its 636 engine. In fact, the true 600s are in the minority now.
Kawasaki injects fresh blood into the Japanese Inline Four lineup with its ground-up redesign of its ZX-6R. The Ninja’s 636cc displacement snares all the headlines, but the cheater engine is mated to a new chassis and harnessed by electronic aids like traction control and selectable engine maps. Honda’s CBR600RR benefits from a more modest refresh, with new wheels and up-spec Showa BPF suspension – as well as tweaks to the bodywork and engine mapping.
The remaining Inline Fours are unchanged for the 2013 model year. Yamaha’s racey R6 hasn’t seen a full redesign since the 2008 model year. Suzuki’s GSX-R600 hasn’t gone quite so long between updates, getting a complete rework in 2011. That update, which featured the BPF fork and Brembo monoblocs, powered the little Gixxer to its first-ever Supersport Street win. Nothing has changed since – including its $11,599 MSRP.
Suzuki also contributes its GSX-R750 again, a true middleweight that blurs the line between Supersport and Superbike. As in past tests, the 750 runs against the rest of the field, but is scored separately. It may not match up head-to-head with any one bike in this shootout, but it certainly competes for sales. Like its little Gixxer sibling, nothing has changed on the 750 except the price premium between the two models – doubling from $300 to $600.
The European shootout offerings are revitalized. Triumph refurbished its three-time Supersport Shootout winner, the Daytona 675. While the British marque has periodically splashed up the Daytona since its 2006 debut, this year marks the first real overhaul of its Inline Triple – the bonny Brit’s signature component. We tested the R-spec of the Daytona, with up-spec Ohlins suspension and Brembo monoblocs. The R also showcases new electronics assists like a quickshifter and switchable ABS.
MV Agusta’s F3 supersport also runs a 675cc Inline Triple, and even mimics the Daytona’s white bodywork with red accents. But the MV sports sleek Italian lines, and its Triple barks out a distinctive sound signature all its own. The compact MV is a new package as a 2013 model debut, but it’s not untested and first campaigned a MotoUSA shootout at the end of last year in the 2012 Middleweight Sportbike Shootout.
Finally, there’s the second Italian mount, Ducati’s 848 EVO SE. Ducati debuted the 848 in the 2008 model year, with a reboot to the higher-spec EVO in 2011. This year we get the SE model, which upgrades to an Ohlins shock and larger fuel tank – as well as electronic aids, and a $15K price tag.
Those familiar with MotoUSA’s testing regimen know the routine. First we collect our miscreant gaggle of test riders to hoon about on our favorite backroads – a testing loop which includes a run up Palomar Mountain, one of the best sportbike roads in the nation. The MotoUSA in-house riders include this author and the peerless Mr. Waheed, who penned the 2013 Supersport Track Shootout. Regular test riders showed up too, like Professor Wheelie, Brian Steeves, and Cycle News dirt bike ringer Jason Abbott. Industry friends like Troy Lee Designs’ Nathon Verdugo and Two Brothers Racing’s Josh Powers also tagged along, as did some new folks like SoCal fast guy and YouTube personality, Adey Bennett, and Massimo Bruzzi, a local contractor who also serves as Secretary for the Orange County Ducati Club.
Test riders report their impressions, and bikes are ranked in 10 categories. MotoUSA editors also independently measure bike data during the Shootout process. Each one is topped off with fuel and rolled onto the scales for real-world curb weights, then run on MotoUSA’s in-house dyno for rear-wheel horsepower and torque. Burning through a couple tanks of gas, we report observed miles per gallon and estimate range. And during the track testing at Chuckwalla Raceway, Adam ran all eight bikes down the track’s airstrip to gather quarter-mile and 0-60 times. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the 60-0 braking scores are not included this year. We also dropped the dB sound ratings from the scorecard.
These eight objective categories are combined with the 10 subjective categories based off test rider impressions. Bikes earn points on a descending scale by ranking, with a one-point bonus for the top-placed bike (10,8,7,6,5,4,3). Tabulating the scores, we sort the bikes accordingly for our final rankings.
2013 Supersport Shootout X Street
2013 Yamaha YZF-R6 Street Comparison
2013 MV Agusta F3 675 Street Comparison
2013 Ducati 848 EVO SE Street Comparison
2013 Suzuki GSX-R600 Street Comparison
2013 Honda CBR600RR Street Comparison
2013 Suzuki GSX-R750 Street Comparison
2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Street Comparison
2013 Triumph Daytona 675R Street Comparison
2013 Middleweight Supersport Shootout X Street Conclusion