When MD assembled the four 2007 600cc supersport machines produced by Japan, we again chose to focus on “real world”, i.e., street as opposed to track, evaluation. There are other publications that will tell you which bike gets around the race track a few tenths of a second quicker than the others. If that is your focus, by all means read those tests.
If your 600cc sport bike of choice will be used primarily (perhaps even exclusively) on the street, we have here some nutritious food for thought . . . sprinkled with some spicy opinions and conclusions.
Our prior articles on the all-new Kawasaki ZX-6R (here; Part One; and Part Two) and Honda CBR600RR (here; Part One and Part Two) give you gear heads all the technical tidbits you can handle. Same goes for our earlier reports on the essentially unchanged-for-2007 Suzuki GSX-R600 (our tech analysis concerns the near-twin GSX-R750) and Yamaha YZFR6. Here we focus on living with these machines.
To put things in context, we must remind you that the 600cc supersport class features perhaps the most thoroughly refined, state-of-the-art motorcycles produced. Why? A large part of it is production based racing of these bikes on both the national (AMA Supersport) and international (World Supersport) stages — where results can significantly bolster, and sometimes deflate, corporate image and pride. Think about it. Unlike MotoGP where the return on investment in one-off, exotic prototypes is purely promotional, the 600s offer the manufacturers the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Those dead birds are showroom superiority in one of the most popular motorcycling segments (and the unit sales that flow from it) and race track success.
This is why the supersport segment has moved very quickly from a tradition of mild updates every two years and model replacement/significant upgrades every four years, to the present norm which involves development of a entirely new bike every two years. Remarkable.
This is a lengthy way of saying this . . . all of these bikes are excellent, but you can fall behind your competitors quickly.
First Place – Honda CBR600RR
The 2007 Honda CBR600RR really is an all-new machine. The weight savings, coupled with more aggressive steering geometry, result in a bike that flicks through corners as easily as any of the competition, and backs it up with an incredible motor. In fact, it is really the engine that makes this bike the winner of the comparison test. The Honda has smooth but punchy power, and it is delivered in spades down low — an area of the tach where 600s normally feel anemic. That strong low end is followed by a ripping mid-range and top-end.
Is this the best street motor ever found in a 600cc supersport machine? We think it is, and riding the Honda back-to-back with the competition underscores this fact. Looking at the history of the class, all of these bikes feature excellent engines, but the Honda still stands out.
The CBR600RR backs up the awesome motor and fly weight feel with typical Honda ergonomics — comfortable and friendly. Instrumentation is top notch, as well, with a logical layout and excellent contrast that make information highly legible. Honda even found a comfortable seat for its 600 this year!
The new CBR600RR isn’t perfect, however, and Honda left itself room for improvement in a few areas. First, its decision to use a high-tech solution to engine braking (in the form of its intake-air control valve or IACV). Even though Alex liked this feature at his track test, it was almost universally disliked during street testing (particularly, by our more experienced riders). Indeed, our most experienced tester (who has several hundred thousand street miles and has won expert class roadracing series here in California) thought the IACV had minimal effect on engine braking, and complicated throttle control mid-corner (where the computer may be providing a small amount of throttle, whether you like it or not). Perhaps, this system can be refined for next year, but we think a traditional slipper clutch might be the answer.
Honda’s other high-tech solution to a traditionally low-tech problem, i.e., headshake, also has some detractors. The CBR600RR does not have the best front-end feedback, and some of our testers blamed this, at least in part, on the HESD (electronic, computer-controlled steering damper). HESD undoubtedly does its job in taming the aggressive geometry of the new CBR600RR chassis when necessary, but the computer decisions about steering damping levels can leave the rider guessing how much steering resistence will be met in any given circumstance. Again, would a traditional, simple, linear, oil damped system be better?
One other annoyance with the new Honda was our inability to adjust rear shock preload (even after being sent a spanner wrench by Honda — a wrench that didn’t work on the Honda, but worked on the Yamaha!)
Do we care about its faults? Hardly. The Honda is nimble, easy to use, comfortable and its engine rips like no 600 should.
Second Place (Tie) – Yamaha YZF-R6
As the winner of last year’s shootout, we were expecting big things from Yamaha’s essentially unchanged 2007 YZF-R6, and we were not disappointed. While the Honda has the engine category sewn up, Yamaha’s middle weight is still the standard against which all sportbike chassis and suspension should be measured. The handling of this bike floored us last year, and it is still the best available straight from the showroom.
The R6 still combines quick, confident steering with rock steady stability — to the point where we wonder whether another manufacturer will be able to match it any time soon (although the Kawasaki comes close this year).
What kept Yamaha off the top step of the podium this year? The engine lets the Yamaha down on the street, particularly when ridden back-to-back against Honda’s phenominal new CBR600RR. You really need 8,000 rpm showing on the R6 before things happen with any sort of urgency. That’s fine on the race track, but it can be somewhat annoying on the street where rpm levels are typically much lower. Although power placement is an issue, fuel injection is not. Yamaha has nailed the fly-by-wire throttle set-up by providing smooth, well controlled throttle transitions and seemingly excellent air/fuel ratios over much of the rpm range. First gear can be a little bit tall when pulling away from a stop — a sensation contributed to by the fluffy power down low.
The Yamaha’s brakes also suffer by comparison to the other 600s in this test. Lacking some power and feel when ridden against the competition, Yamaha seemingly has some work to do here.
When the Yamaha is in its element, however, everything else fades to black. This thing was designed to carve corners, and everything about it, including its aggressive rider ergonomics, make that a great pleasure. If you are really looking for a “race bike with lights”, the R6 might be your choice.
Second Place (Tie) – Kawasaki ZX-6R
In some ways, the 2007 Kawasaki ZX-6R combines the best of the Honda and Yamaha. The ZX-6R was also very close to winning this comparison test. It has a chassis nearly as good as the R6 (with handling to match), and a motor that is deceptively fast (but still not quite on the engine performance level that Honda has reached).
Kawasaki did a fantastic job with the handling of the new 6R. This bike has a very balanced feel, and (like the R6) combines razor sharp steering with reasonable stability. Unlike the R6, the Kawasaki does not combine this stellar chassis balance with outstanding stock suspension settings. The stock Kawasaki suspension is a bit harsh on the street, (particularly for lighter riders). The bike is very controlled when pushed, but lacks the supple bump absorbtion at real world speeds offered by the competition.
The Kawasaki out-performs every other bike here with its braking. Awesome power and excellent feel are unmatched by the competitors, and are probably as good as we have seen on any production motorcycle sold for street use.
The ZX-6R, although more comfortable than the R6, offers pretty aggressive ergonomics. Like the competitors (with the exception of the Suzuki), the bike is fairly narrow at the tank/seat junction, but has fairly low bars that can place a lot of weight on riders’ wrists during commuting or freeway droning.
Kawasaki addressed the legibility of its instrumentation this year, particularly with a new analog tachometer, but many riders will be looking through the top of the windscreen to see the instruments (not the best circumstance).
The bottom line with the Kawasaki is this. The bike has gained some weight (and is now the heaviest bike in this class), but handles far better than last year’s machine (and nearly as good as the best in this class). That handling is combined with deceptively strong engine power spread over a relatively broad range (not quite as broad or strong as the Honda), and class-leading brakes. For the street, you will have to deal with aggressive ergonomics and slightly harsh suspension action.
Fourth Place – Suzuki GSX-R600
Like the Yamaha R6, the Suzuki GSX-R600 is essentially unchanged for 2007. The Suzuki did not fare badly in this comparison, and did not finish far behind either the Kawasaki or the Yamaha (one tester ranked it ahead of both).
What the Suzuki does best is provide a comfortable mount for street riding, with ergonomics almost as good as the Honda, reasonably good wind protection, smooth fuel injection, and an easy-to-use motor with a broad spread of power.
Although its chassis, handling and engine are surely competent, it doesn’t stand out in any one area as it lacks the outright power of the Honda, and the handling capabilities of both the Kawasaki and the Yamaha. The Suzuki handles very well, but the Yamaha and the Kawasaki put handling at a different level this year (and the Honda is close).
Adding to the Suzuki’s comfort is the three-position adjustable footpegs, which allow meaningful adjustment for everything from street use to race track ground clearance. Although the Suzuki has the widest gas tank/seat junction, this does not significantly detract from the comfort of the machine, which probably has the best seat for long-range duty in this test.
The Suzuki GSX-R600 also has excellent instrumentation (including a gear position indicator), and outstanding brakes. Indeed, the Suzuki GSX-R600 has brakes that offer power and feel close to those of the class-leading Kawasaki, and superior to the brakes found on both the Honda and the Yamaha.
The Suzuki is a very good bike, but the competition has moved forward. Expect a redesigned GSX-R600 to be introduced this Fall.
Aftermarket tweaks could put any one of these bikes at the top of our list, but stone stock from the showroom floor, the Honda can’t be beat for 2007. A solid package is topped off with the almost-perfect street engine. It doesn’t handle quite as well as the Yamaha or the Kawasaki, and in some instances might be a bit less comfortable than the Suzuki. Nevertheless, it doesn’t fall far behind the competition in any single category, and as a complete package it takes top honors for 2007.
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