Short Change – 2014 600cc Supersport shoot-out, with a twist. Part 1/3

2014 Kawasaki ZX-6R 636 vs Suzuki GSX-R600 vs Yamaha YZF-R6 vs Honda CBR600RR vs Triumph Daytona 675

Nothing has changed in the six-hundred supersport class for 2014, so we did the job ourselves: five sixes, each with a tweak.

Two from the top and three from the bottom. The only way Countdown will ever be exciting.

Two from the top and three from the bottom. The only way Countdown will ever be exciting.

So the supersport 600 class is having a tough old time of it at the moment. Sales are down, the new breed of 750cc-900cc bikes is stealing customers and naked middleweights are catching up in terms of spec and performance. For this year there’s been a stall in development across the brands; every 600-class bike here is the same as last year. The Yamaha R6 hasn’t changed since god was a boy and last year, it smashed everything but the Triumph on lap times around a track. The only bike with a viable excuse was the Kawasaki, which has a road setup out of the crate, making it king of the highway. And, as we found out in the US (Turn your ZX-6R into a track weapon), with the right settings thrown in, it’s razor sharp on track. All the 600s are still good bikes, but good can always be better. So we looked at each one to find a chink in its armour and then set about the accessories suppliers to polish it out. With every bike tweaked, we hit the road to answer two questions – which modified 600 was best and is there still a place for screaming supersports bikes between the hedges of Britain?

The changes we made:

Kawasaki ZX-6R 636

Mods: Dunlop Sportsmart II tyres

Why? The standard hoops on the Kawasaki are adequate, but like the other Jap bikes not the best. When the rest of the 636 is so good, only the tyres let it down on the road, so we fitted our favourite sporty road tyres, the Dunlop Sportsmarts.

Thanks to: Dunlop

Triumph Daytona 675

Mods: Triumph accessory quickshifter

Why? Because not having a quickshifter is a crime. And because there wasn’t anything about the standard bike we didn’t like, no really. Yes it could be more comfortable, but this is a supersports test, not a spa weekend…

Thanks to: Triumph

Yamaha YZF-R6

Mods: Lower gearing

Why? On track the peaky R6 is stunning, but away from big straights and open turns the absence of mid range power is hard work. So to avoid getting dusted by grannies every time we forgot to downshift, we fitted a 1-tooth-smaller front sprocket.

Thanks to: B&C Express

Honda CBR600RR

Mods: Race fuel

Why? The Honda is a brilliant all-round package, but just lacks a bit of excitement. Ideally we’d have fitted a full exhaust system, but £800-worth of mods wasn’t really fair on the other bikes. So we poured in VP Fuels’ special sauce race fuel (MR12) for more power and a nice smell.

Thanks to: VP Racing fuels

Suzuki GSX-R600

Mods: Hel brake lines

Why: The GSX-R brakes, with their swanky Brembo calipers, are better than on the previous model, but still not as good as the others in this class. Inconsistent lever feel when warm and a lack of power which we’ve addressed by junking the standard rubber hoses and fitting Hel braided lines.

Thanks to: Hel Performance




On with the testing…

Five sixes. For the numerically minded, that makes thirty, but for us at SuperBike, five sixes makes four big happy smiley faces on a road test. The beauty of a six hundred cc sports bike remains as relevant now as it was when Honda first made the CBR600F back in the dark ages. Enough power to have fun, coupled with low weight and sharp handling – they’ve always been bikes for those who cherish an apex more than the horizon. Though the Kawasaki has compliant, road-friendly suspension and the Suzuki a comfy seat, we’re still talking relative to the other bikes in this focused class. A comfortable, road friendly 600 is still a torture device on a long motorway trip when compared with, say, a big adventure bike. But that’s not the point, a six hundred sports bike isn’t meant to cosset your ample behind on the E17 down through France, it’s meant to leave you buzzing on the A264 through Sussex. On the right day, on the right road, with the right traffic conditions there is nothing better than a sharp, focused and nimble supersports bike. Period. We actually started off our day at Brands Hatch on a trackday with No Limits, but with the weather rolling in and the call of the Kent countryside, we disappeared off into the back lanes to scrape sliders and brush hedges.

“On the right day, on the right road, with the right traffic conditions there is nothing better than a sharp, focused and nimble supersports bike. Period.”

Before we rode anywhere, the Honda had already won the test. Not through looks (although who doesn’t love a red/white/blue Honda?) or a strong spec sheet, but through an unexpected byproduct of the race fuel we’d filled it with. By god it smelled good. They say that smell is the strongest sense for provoking memories and, you know what, I’d agree. One lungful of the nasal ecstasy wafting from the Honda’s can had me stood back in the middle of a mid 1990s club racing paddock, dodging Yamaha OW01s in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle hi-tops. I don’t care that pouring that VP Racing juice in gives another 3bhp; it’s worth the extra cost for the smell alone. A sentiment echoed by everyone else on the test, all breathing it up and drifting off into boyhood racing fantasies.

VP Racing Fuels - Please enjoy responsibly

VP Racing Fuels – Please enjoy responsibly

Solvent abuse over, our own mainland TT began and the first bike to put in a lap was the Honda. It’s been said time and time again; the Honda is a very good bike; it handles well, the engine has decent midrange and everything is brilliantly finished. But I always get off thinking there’s something missing, some extra little bit that would make me love it. The fact that it’s not outstanding in any one area could be its curse as much as its blessing. The Yamaha is faster, the Triumph has more mid range, the Kawasaki has better suspension on the road and the Suzuki is more comfortable. Yet on the flipside, the Honda’s mid range beats the Yamaha on the road, it has a sharper chassis than the Suzuki or Kawasaki on track and is more comfortable than the Triumph. The CBR600RR we had on test this time had the linked brakes and ABS, which split opinions – some liked the idiot-proof braking, while others lamented the lack of lever feel and cursed the interference. It’s an option, so you can take it or leave it – on track I’d definitely recommend the non C-ABS bike, on the road it’s up to you. A question to ask yourself before making the choice – how many times have you crashed because you’ve locked the front wheel on the brakes? Like the Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha, the Honda is not blessed with the best rubber out the crate. It’s a point made all the more obvious when we fitted the Dunlops to the ZX-6R and could ride with confidence and feel from the first bend. With the OE-spec Dunlops on the Honda, we were tippy toeing round trying to generate some heat in the hard compound rubber before we were happy. Once the tyres were up to temperature, the CBR’s reassuring, planted chassis shone through as always. Whether trickling into a bend for the first time, or going for a lap record on the 14th pass, it always has your back and never sucks you in to more lean than you wanted.

Tune in tomorrow for part II…

Pics: Phil Steinhardt