Short Change – 600cc Supersport shoot-out, with a twist. Part 2/3

Continued from Part 1

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

I jumped from the Honda straight onto the Triumph because I wanted to reassure myself that I didn’t hate all ABS systems. The Daytona 675 is blessed with one of the best circuit mode ABS systems I’ve tried. In track mode, most modern ABS systems allow you to completely lock the rear tyre, which is great, but the Triumph goes one step better in my mind. The 675 lets you almost, but not quite, lock the rear. That means that, provided you’re smooth, the Triumph’s ABS works as a backing in tool, letting you slide the rear tyre with the rear brake. What it stops you doing is locking the rear wheel completely, stalling the engine and then highsiding yourself into the next braking marker. When we weren’t pratting around trying to be Marc Marquez, the Triumph’s ABS left us well alone, only stepping in to nudge us straight when we stumbled across gravel in the braking zone. I did have one complaint, and that’s that the ABS defaults back to standard, no-backing-in mode each time you switch off. To change modes you have to be stationary with the engine off, but ignition on, which is pretty irritating when you’ve just pulled away.

Nothing beats the Triumph for a cheeky mono.

Nothing beats the Triumph for a cheeky mono.

The Triumph was the best in our eyes last year so to make it even nicer, we got the Hinckley spanner wizards to bung on an accessory quick-shifter. It wasn’t broke, nothing needed fixing, so a toy that makes changing gear exciting was the best option. The milliseconds saved at every gearshift got us to the coffee shop oooh tenths of a second before the other bikes, proving the worth of that mod straight away. As if that wasn’t enough, the shifter made changing gear into a great sounding arcade game, rattling up through the gears at every 30mph sign, downshifting at the derestricted sign only to crack back up again along the straights. Pointless, addictive, fun.

"Yeah, that Yamaha's pretty good, bit lively though"

“Yeah, that Yamaha’s pretty good, bit lively though”

Turn your back for two seconds at any SuperBike road test and the keys for any 675 Triumph or any V4 Aprilia will have vanished. Don’t ask us why, but it’s those bikes that we fight over more than anything else. So after hopping into the bushes for my 17th caffeine-induced piss of the morning, it was no surprise, mid flow, to hear the jug-jug-jug-whirr of a Daytona 675 vanishing from where I’d parked it. When I turned round, it had mysteriously transformed into a green ZX-6R and Alan Dowds was looking all smug back in the layby on the Triumph. Not too big a tragedy; the Kawasaki is a superb road bike and the addition of lovely grippy Dunlop Sportsmarts filled us with confidence from cold. There’s nothing wrong with the Pirelli Supercorsas on the Triumph, but they definitely need a touch more heat in before they give the same level of confidence. As with the Triumph, there really wasn’t much wrong with the capacity-cheating Ninja. Yes, the soft stock suspension settings let it down on track last year, but as we’ve already mentioned – some work with the screwdrivers and a spacer in the shock can completely transform it. No need for that on the road though; as I’m zipping down another singletrack wrong-turn, all I can see behind me are the bouncing unhappy headlights of John on the Triumph and Shaun on the R6. Naturally, being on the most compliant bike here, I pretended to be lost and turned down three more horrible spine breakers, one complete with the sharpest speedhumps I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying it was comfortable on the Kawasaki, but I was definitely a lot happier than Johnny flat plums and Shaun the eunuch. The standard OE-spec Bridgestones were enough for me to choose to tolerate the Triumph’s stiffer chassis and more compact riding position on the road, but with that issue addressed, the Ninja is the road winner for me. Even if it does cheat on engine capacity.

“…it was no surprise, mid flow, to hear the jug-jug-jug-whirr of a Daytona 675 vanishing from where I’d parked it.”

With it’s mid-range boosting 36cc extra and pothole-defying suspension, the ZX6 couldn’t be a bigger contrast to the Yamaha R6. The Yamaha is light, compact, stiff and peaky – all the things you want to hear before a trackday, but not before a 200-mile ride in the rain. The Yam feels the most focused here and, even a year on, we’re still gobsmacked at the laptimes this 6-year-old design pulled off at last year’s track test. To match the all-new, all-conquering Triumph was seriously impressive and shows just how focused the little YZF is. And that doesn’t automatically make it shite on the road, but you do have to pick your asphalt carefully. Tight, nadgery and bumpy roads just frustrate a standard R6, as an engine designed for 11,000-plus rpm wonders what the hell it’s doing at 2,000rpm. It’s not dissimilar to listening to a 45rpm record at 33rpm, with hidden messages from the engine warbling ‘fer chrissake change down man’. There’s not much we can easily do about the engine characteristics and, besides, we wouldn’t want to sacrifice that screaming top end power that makes the R6 so addictive, that’s how you end up with a CBR. So what we did was fit a smaller front sprocket (15-teeth, one less than standard) to lower the gearing. In doing so, we lopped about 10mph off the theoretical top speed, but it will still do 149mph, which is probably just about enough. Lowering the gearing meant that, for a given speed and gear, we were higher up in the rev range, closer to where all the real power is kept. That equates to more shove pulling out of junctions in first gear, better drive off roundabouts in 2nd gear and the revs being 500rpm higher in 6th at motorway cruising speeds. On some bikes that last point would be s stickler, causing extra noise and vibes you might not want, but on the R6 it stops you being out-accelerated by trucks when you roll on to pass something.

In keeping with the contrast theme, I removed the R6 from the butt-crack of my leathers, and slumped down into the sumptuous foam of the GSX-R (remember, it’s all relative). The GSX-R is a bit of a victim of what I’m going to call Honda-itus. It’s a really good bike and, in isolation you’d be delighted with it, but ridden back-to-back with the others, it just lacks that extra refinement, performance or excitement that would make us rave about it. The GSX-R has the excitement, but it never quite has the performance to match the Triumph or Kawasaki on the road, or the composure to keep the R6 in hand on the track. And the standard brakes have been the stand-out complaint on GSX-Rs for a few years now. This latest edition (released in 2012) does have nice Brembo monobloc calipers, which improved things, but consistency and outright power were still down, compared to the competition. The Kawasaki, Yamaha and Triumph all have outstanding brakes, by any standards, so the GSX-R does have a lot asked of it. The obvious choice was to ditch the standard rubber brake hoses and fit some nice stiff, braided ones from Hel Performance. It’s a cost effective swap that improves lever feel massively as less of your braking force is wasted flexing the rubber hoses. So goes the theory anyway. And stone me it worked; with the new lines, the lever feel was much more solid, with less of the spongy feeling that puts us on edge with brakes. After a session on track, the GSX-Rs lever felt just as good as when it went out – a definite improvement over the standard setup. On the road, this gave us more confidence when riding fast, knowing the brake was going to behave and feel the same each time we went for the lever. One thing we didn’t manage to improve significantly was the power and initial bite of the brakes – changing pads would be our next avenue of investigation for that.

The GSX-R was all the better for the brake upgrades

The GSX-R was all the better for the brake upgrades

Tune in tomorrow for the final part of the test.

Pics: Phil Steinhardt