You probably know that most of the Japanese manufacturers sell more 600cc
sportbikes than any other model in their lineup. A few years ago these were
the “budget bikes”. The bikes that had to “do it all” – be good commuters during the
workweek and canyon carvers on the weekends. They had to be affordable, too (the main
reason for the high volume sales). Hence, they came with cheap frames and components. What the hell happened to this class?
It’s very interesting, and I’m going to tell you what happened. The 600 market got
so huge that manufacturers began to throw more R&D dollars at these bikes, and add more
features. Remember the 600s with steel frames and non-adjustable suspension? Forget about it. The
new 600s have more features than just about any other class of motorcycle, including, but not
limited to, state-of-the-art aluminum frames and fully adjustable suspension. Not to mention
magnesium parts as the latest weapon in the all-out war to produce the lightest 600.
Triumph’s new TT600 just raised the bar, again. For god’s sake, it has fuel injection, an
aluminum gas tank, and specially designed alloy wheels that are among the lightest ever to come
standard on a production motorcycle.
What prompted this article was my recent ride on a 1999 CBR600F4. I’ll tell you more about this
bike later, but suffice to say it shocked me in several ways. Not only did it handle extremely well
(I rode it on the street and on the racetrack – Willow Springs, California), but it had TORQUE! This
thing pulled cleanly and with authority from 4000 rpm – unheard of from a bike of this displacement several
years ago (the last time I rode a bike of this size).
So, is the “budget bike” class now the primary focus of technology and refinement? In many ways, yes. While
trying to keep prices in this class reasonable, manufacturers are continuing to outdo one another with each new
600. Furthermore, they are doing their best to create the “perfect” motorcycle – one that can win a Supersport
race on Sunday (and gain the invaluable publicity racing victories deliver) and take you to work on Monday (while
pulling you through traffic at 4000 rpm). It’s a tightrope they’re walking, but they’re doing one hell of a good
job. The beneficiary is the motorcycle consumer.