Fresh off Suzuki’s Hamamatsu, Japan production line, the GSXR600 is the only all-new bike in this comparison, well, aside from its punched-out 750cc sibling. In short, the revamped Gixxer is an evolutionary update with more refined handling and engine performance. We came away impressed after pinning it around Barber Motorsports Park during our 2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 First Ride
and the motorcycle took top honors in our Supersport Street Comparison
so there is no doubt this bike is good. Despite that the new Gixxer 600 made such an impact on us on the road, compared to the other Supersports on the track it came up a bit short.
Given the astronomically high level of competitiveness that defines this middleweight sportbike sector it’s critical in our racetrack shootouts that a bike’s chassis get set-up optimally so the test rider can put in clean, fast laps. And that’s what ultimately held the Gixxer-Six from a better result, as the Dunlop AMA-spec race tires have a unique profile which requires a very specific set-up.
(Above) AMA Superbike racer and Daytona 200 winner Steve Rapp hustles the 2011 Suzuki GSXR600 around the tight and twisty tarmac of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. Our smaller test rider, Jen Ross, likes the ergonomics of the GSX-R600.
We’re confident that we could have achieved a better set-up, however, Suzuki’s technical services crew restricted from making the changes to the bike's suspension because our recommendations were “out of spec”. (Like all motorcycle manufactures, when Suzuki engineers its sportbikes it makes note of the suspension settings for optimum performance with a given brand of tires.) Considering the testing was done in Japan, apparently Suzuki didn’t test the U.S.-spec Dunlop
AMA racing tire when developing its textbook specifications. As a result, we couldn’t get handling set-up to the level required to press the Suzuki to its true performance limits.
The chassis geometry wasn’t right with the rear of the bike, sitting way too low which made it steer sluggishly and handle awkwardly mid-corner. Adding preload to the shock helped alleviate these conditions somewhat, but technicians we couldn't add enough ride height to the rear of the motorcycle to make it handle the way our fastest test riders wanted. This really hindered the bike during our timed Superpole session.
“It felt way too low in the rear,” notes road racer Steve Rapp. “It didn’t handle very well at all. To get the thing to turn you had to hold the front brake in order for it to make the corner because there just wasn’t enough weight on the front of the bike.”
“What held the Suzuki back was the chassis setup,” reaffirms our Contributing Editor Steve Atlas. “As a result the bike continually struggled when it came to initial corner-exit drive-grip, as well as rear end feel and grip on corner entry, an area where you don't want to be taking chances.”
Since we continuously ran into handling issues during cornering maneuvers is was impossible to get an accurate read on the Suzuki’s chassis hence the low marks in all five of the rider subjective handling scores (Fork, Shock, Turn-In, Mid-Corner, Corner Exit). Though it’s important to note based on our experience during our First Ride report we know the sum of the components is excellent and at a level on par with the competition. Spend the time to get the little Gixxer set up to fit your needs and we are sure you will have better results than we did here.
The top ranked motorcycle in our street test didn't fare too well on the track. That is why we make it a point to conduct two different tests. Street riders will be happy while track riders have some work to do to get this bike just right.
The lack of trust between rider and machine is quite apparent after looking at some of the data. Between Turn 4 and 5 the Gixxer held the third lowest corner speed (65.3 mph), and in the banked right-hand Turn 13 it was second from last with a speed of 71.1 mph that was superior to only the Ducati 848 EVO (71.0 mph). With a full tank of fuel the Suzuki weighed in at 415 pounds (only four pounds heavier than the class-leading Honda). This paid dividends through Turns 8/9/10 with the Suzuki registering the highest side-to-side lean angle range, which proves both how maneuverable it is as well as how much steering range it required to navigate through those corners due to its less than optimum set-up. It also registered the fastest side-to-side flick rate measurement of 66.0 (deg/sec.) which can be interpreted one of two ways: First the bike could just move from side-to-side that quickly. Or the rider had to steer the bike with added muscle because the bike resisted turning. And since all of our testers felt the sluggishness, we’re positive it was the latter.
Despite finishing fifth on the track, the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R600
scored high in our Maximum Flick Rate and Maximum Flick
categories. The Suzuki has a better result lurking deep inside.
Where the Gixxer struggled through turns it was a complete different story with a handful of throttle down straight-aways as all of our testers were very impressed with the Suzuki’s updated engine. Of the Inline-Fours the Suzuki 600 offers the strongest bottom-to-mid engine performance cranking out the highest peak torque figure (44.6 lb-ft) at 11,600 revs. It’s a fast revver too, piling on rpms quickly just like the Kawi and Yamaha. Top-end was also strong but not quite up to the same tune as the Green Machine with only 104.17 ponies available at 13,700 rpm. Over-rev is fantastic with power tapering off gradually for an additional 1600 rpm available before the rev limiter cuts in at 15,300 revs.
“The changes are very noticeable and the bike really feels like it has more under the hood,” comments expert-level test rider Corey Neuer. “For me bottom-end power was still on the soft side but man oh man does the GSX-R have some mid-range power. This makes it shoot off the corners really well.”
We all loved the Suzuki’s engine and well proportioned rider interface that was second to only the Honda. Due to the awkward chassis set-up it was hard to really put the engine to use hence poor acceleration forces (0.60 and 0.58g) and low top speeds coming out of Turns 10 and 13 (122.2 mph / 105.9 mph).
“The biggest disappointment of the test was the Suzuki GSX-R600,” continues Atlas. “Because the bike has the potential to be a front-runner, as the new engine makes awesome power, coming in right on par with the Kawasaki in terms of seat-of-the-pants feel.”
Typically we’ve always been big fans of Suzuki’s drivetrain. And while it employs one of the best slipper clutches in the business the bike sometimes didn’t want to up-shift into the next gear at very high rpm. Accordingly sometimes the rider had to let off the throttle a split second longer than some of the other bikes.
The GSX-R’s new Brembo braking componentry was well received by our testers though due to the set-up issues we never had the confidence (or conversely the need) to get on the brakes hard and really exploit their potential. Even still the GSX-R600 registered decent brake force numbers of -0.94g into Turn 1 and -1.05g in Turn 8 which makes us wonder how much higher it might have performed with a better set-up…
- Excellent brakes
- Powerful 600cc engine; great powerband
- Well calibrated slipper clutch
- Missed chassis set-up
- Could have more top-end power
In spite of what transpired during our test we truly believe that the GSX-R600 has what it takes to run up front. It’s got a strong, great-running engine, excellent ergonomics and top notch suspension and brakes. Now if we could have only gotten all of those elements to work in unison we’re confident that we could have achieved a much better result all around—especially in Superpole. This time, however, the Suzuki 600 slots in last place.