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2001 Suzuki GSX-R600: MD Ride Review – Part Two

This review should be read in conjunction with Part One published by MD on November 7, 2000.

I have spent quite some time, and many miles, on Suzuki’s totally new 2001 GSX-R600. Street miles and Willow Springs Raceway track miles have allowed me to understand and appreciate this machine in more subtle ways than I did when I wrote my first impressions on November 7, 2000.

The discussion of the 2001 GSX-R600 should begin with a discussion of the year 2000 GSX-R750, because the 600 is based largely on that design. There are numerous differences (in addition to the obvious one, engine displacement) and even refinements, but the 2000 GSX-R750’s proven performance is a benchmark for judging the 600.

I wrote an extensive technical analysis of the 2000 GSX-R750 on December 21, 1999. The 750, as well as the 600, has a chassis design based largely on Suzuki’s RGV500 GP race bike. With a longer swingarm, and slightly longer wheelbase than their predecessors, the new GSX-Rs have successfully combined extremely light weight with high-speed stability and excellent feedback from both front and rear tires. The 600 shares these characteristics with the 750.

The 750 is an interesting case study because we now have evidence of just how good this chassis design is. Reports from privateers racing various supersport series on the 2000 GSX-R750 were very positive, as were press reviews. More importantly, AMA Superbike champion Mat Mladin, and World Superbike contender Pier-Francesco Chili have begun testing the superbike versions of the 2000 GSX-R750 with tremendous success.

In testing that is still very early, and on a bike that is far from optimally set-up, both Mladin and Chili have surpassed their performance on the older superbike platform provided by Suzuki. Mladin, for example, went quicker at Daytona than he ever did on his old bike, despite years of set-up data aiding his performance on the older machine. Quite impressive.

Also directly relevant to the 600 is the proven aerodynamic efficiency of the 750. When I tested the 750 in April, it felt very quick at higher speeds — indicating an excellent fairing design. Mladin’s Daytona performance, as well as Chili’s performances in early testing, indicate that the GSX-R750 fairing is extremely efficient aerodynamically. Since the 600 shares the identical fairing, the 600 shares this same aerodynamic efficiency and advantage. Although I have not tested the top speed of the 600, it should be more than competitive with the other 600s. You may recall that the 2000 GSX-R750, in some tests, posted a higher top speed than the open class sportbikes, including Yamaha’s R1 and Honda’s CBR929RR.

The fundamental soundness of Suzuki’s chassis design, as well as its aerodynamics, makes sense for a number of reasons. First of all, having virtually dropped development of the TL1000R as a superbike platform, Suzuki has for several years devoted substantial research and development towards optimization of the GSX-R750 platform. Moreover, Suzuki very quickly understood the importance of the 500 GP rule changes — allowing four-strokes displacing 990cc from 2002 onward.

Indeed, the trio of “brothers” developed by Suzuki, the 2000 GSX-R750 and the 2001 GSX-R600 and GSX-R1000, according to some sources, began primarily with the development of the 1000 (displacing 988cc) even though it will be released last of the three. The 1000 is now clearly the “flagship” model in Suzuki’s sportbike line-up, displacing the GSX-R750 in this regard.

Suzuki’s theme for the 2001 GSX-R600 is “own the racetrack”. Simply stated, Suzuki’s desire is to dominate 600cc supersport racing as effectively as it has dominated 750cc supersport racing. A lofty goal, indeed, given the fact that Suzuki has virtually no competition in the 750cc supersport class now that Kawasaki has arrested development of the ZX-7R.

With the 2000 GSX-R750 being lighter than any 2000 model 600cc machine, it was clear that the 2001 GSX-R600 would debut with substantial weight savings over the previous model. Roughly thirty pounds lighter than its predecessor, no component was ignored by Suzuki in its quest for weight reduction.

Highlights in the weight reduction program include an engine that is four kilograms lighter, and a chassis that is a total of seven kilograms lighter. Roughly three and one-half pounds have been removed from the important unsprung, reciprocating wheels and brake rotors. Along with the overall weight reduction, weight loss in these critical areas contribute tremendously to acceleration and deceleration forces. Combined with significant reductions in weight of the reciprocating engine components, including but not limited to crankshaft and camshafts, the GSX-R600 feels even lighter than its weight reduction would indicate.

The engine is physically smaller, as well, allowing Suzuki to optimize center of gravity and weight balance. The Suzuki GSX-Rs, long known for somewhat “twitchy”, nervous handling, have undergone a transformation towards stable and predictable handling. The 600, like its brothers, has the lengthened wheelbase, lengthened swingarm, and increased weight bias towards the front end of the machine. 51.4 percent of the machine’s weight is carried on the front wheel versus 50 percent on the prior model. Suzuki was seeking an optimal balance between a stable, planted feeling and quick directional changes. As I will discuss below, Suzuki has largely been successful in this regard.

As in the past, the 600 receives conventional forks versus the 750’s upside-down units. The 45mm Showa cartridge units are fully adjustable (preload, compression and rebound), are lighter, and feature longer travel (by 5mm). The Showa shock is lighter than last year’s unit, as well, and is also fully adjustable for preload, compression and rebound. Additionally, although not mentioned in Suzuki’s literature (and I have not discussed it with Suzuki), the rear shock seems to offer a limited ability to adjust ride height by shimming the upper shock mount. Ride height adjustment has not been available in this class, except in Kawasaki’s ZX-6R. Rear ride height adjustment is a critical feature in any supersport racing machine, and can be a critical factor in deciding whether to replace the stock shock absorber.

The front brake design is still a four piston caliper design, with aluminum (rather than steel) calipers for reduced weight. The 320mm brake discs (huge for the 600cc class) are also lighter than last year’s discs.

The rear brakes are similar to last year’s, but also feature reduced weight.

Wheel and tire sizes are unchanged, but the wheels (as discussed earlier) are significantly lighter on the new model and the OEM Dunlop D207 tires are lighter, as well.

Fairing and fender wall thicknesses have been reduced for lower weight, but maintain reasonable strength.

As I indicated in my initial impression published in November, riding the 2001 GSX-R600 is a pleasure for several reasons. The engine performance, at least in peak horsepower, clearly exceeds the performance of other 600s I have ridden, the throttle response is smooth and predictable, and the handling is excellent. Becoming much more familiar with the bike, and putting many more miles on it during the last month and a half, I have reinforced these initial impressions.

Suzuki conservatively claims a five percent increase in peak horsepower versus the old model. Dyno charts consistently show at least a ten percent increase, and a class-leading 103.5 rear wheel horsepower (see the dyno chart in MD’s article dated November 9, 2000). With the healthier members of the 600 class producing roughly 95 rear wheel horsepower last year, Suzuki has taken engine performance to a new level. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, given the performance of the GSX-R750 versus the open-class competition last year.

The 2000 GSX-R750 produced roughly 124 rear wheel horsepower stock, a figure nearly on par with Honda’s new CBR929RR, and just six horsepower down on the open-class horsepower leaders — Yamaha’s R1 and Kawasaki’s ZX-9R. The 750 is an over-achiever, and its little brother is, too.

A new fuel injection system (essentially, the same as that system incorporated on last year’s GSX-R750) is extremely well executed — providing seamless throttle response and crisp performance from very low rpms all the way to redline. The off/on throttle abruptness of many fuel injection systems is virtually absent from the 2001 GSX-R600

Around-town power is more than acceptable. In the city, most riders will stay between 6,000 and 9,000 rpm, and the new GSX-R600 pulls adequately there. It is a fun city bike, largely due to its light weight and tossability.

The motor really starts coming alive, however, above 8,500 rpm. Some 600s don’t pull hard below 10,000 rpm, but the GSX-R makes race track useable, corner-exit power at 8,500 rpm and above. The power builds progressively to about 13,000 rpm, when it starts to flatten out. The power is smooth, and the bike is surprisingly fast for a 600.

One of the benefits of fuel injection is instant engine response to movement of your right hand. With its unique fuel injection system (see our discussion in the GSX-R750 article dated December 21, 1999), Suzuki has successfully dialed-out nearly all of the abruptness associated with fuel injection — leaving you with the best of both worlds, i.e., instant response with smoothness.

The handling of the GSX-R600 is also outstanding. With the added stability created by the chassis changes described earlier, and all of the weight reduction in the reciprocating parts of the motorcycle, the 2001 model combines excellent stability with a light, flickable feeling. The bike bends into corners very easily, but holds a line on long, sweeping turns extremely well. Feedback from both the front and rear tires is very good — you feel confident leaned over on this bike.

We took the bike to Willow Springs Raceway, a high-speed, nine-turn track in Southern California. With the stock suspension settings, the bike felt good — its basic chassis balance was immediately apparent. Nevertheless, slightly stiffer suspension settings were needed to push the bike harder.

Increasing the spring preload, and compression in the fork, and adding some compression in the rear shock, had the bike feeling like it was on rails. Willow has some very high-speed sections, with turn entrances that will provide an excellent test of the limits of your braking power.

Entering turn one and turn three at Willow Springs, the front brake was exceptional. Probably the best front brake I have felt on a stock 600 (although back-to-back comparisons are necessary to say this with any finality). Both feel and power were outstanding. Moreover, the GSX-R 600 felt very stable under hard braking.

Like its big brother, the GSX-R750, the GSX-R600 would benefit from an adjustable steering damper, rather than the single-setting unit provided stock. The stock setting is a pretty good compromise, however, keeping headshake to a minimum on the track without overly inhibiting corner turn-in.

I haven’t yet mentioned the sound this bike emits. It is absolutely intoxicating! Probably the sweetest sounding four-cylinder exhaust note I have heard from a stock pipe. How did this thing pass the decible-limit imposed by government agencies? If you buy this bike, you will not be looking for an after-market exhaust to enhance its sound.

Suzuki is generally known for slick transmissions, and the 2001 GSX-R600 is no exception. Gear changes are easy and disappear from your thoughts quickly. Gear spacing is good, and the broad powerband allows you to hold a single gear in many around-town situations. Not like the peaky 600s of old.

The ergonomics of the GSX-R600 feel virtually identical to the 750. That is, they are biased heavily towards the race track. Somehow, despite relatively high footpegs and low bars, the Suzuki remained comfortable for my 44 year old body on longer trips. Nevertheless, there are clearly better options for commuters, and the low fairing does not provide the best wind protection on the freeway without tucking in.

As I said in Part One of this review, Suzuki apppears to have raised the bar in the 600 class with this bike. We haven’t sampled all of the other 600s, yet, and we will reserve judgment, but you wouldn’t be disappointed purchasing this bike. The engine is excellent, the handling much more than you will ever need on the street (and probably on the race track, too), and the exhaust note adds a soulful element to the whole experience.

Suzuki took their time replacing the old model, but the new GSX-R600 arrives with substantially reduced weight, substantially increased horsepower, and, in my experience, a virtually flawless fuel injection system. The wait was worth it.

2001 Suzuki GSX-R600 U.S. MSRP and Specifications