Comparison test of supersports: Honda CBR 600 F, Kawasaki ZX-6R, Suzuki GSX-R 600, Yamaha YZF 600 R
Let’s twist again
Wake up people. In the 600s it’s going around again. This time Suzuki asks for a dance and promises to create a fuss with the new GSX-R that will bring the competition to their knees.
The same procedure as every year: It belongs to the beginning of the year like Miss Sofie and her "Dinner for one", like gun salutes, champagne, good resolutions and lost tax returns. The tireless competition of the manufacturers has made the 600 series a permanent fixture in the time structure. But – there are worse things: worse than the flying model change in this class, worse than the cyclical pilgrimage to Calafat, worse than winter, under the influence of Spanish sun rays, to track down the talents of super sporty 600s. Just imagine that the year begins without a 600 series comparison test. Unthinkable.
This year Suzuki provides the current occasion for this tournament, which is held partly on public roads, partly under the protection of the racetrack. Word has meanwhile got around that the new GSX-R 600 is clearly conditioned for the second discipline mentioned. With the extravagant RF 600 R launched in 1993, there was no state to be made in this area, and for a second time Suzuki does not want to spoil itself: 199 kilograms total weight with measured 106 horsepower is the serious warning call to the competitors called Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha.
With all due respect for sporting ambitions, however, they do not relieve a production motorcycle from the duties that – and Suzuki can wriggle with disgust – are obviously lying on vulgar roads. Exactly: We are talking here about smooth running, fuel consumption, wind protection, suspension, seating and two-person comfort. Okay, a bit of fascination also belongs to this area. And viewed in this way, the GSX-R scores its first plus point, because in terms of appearance, the high-quality lightweight construction puts the rest of the community in the shade. But as soon as movement comes into play, this magic fades. And the question arises: Does a racetrack type on the country road have to be that bad?
Anyone who switches from a CBR or ZX-6R to the Suzuki thinks they have landed in the wrong cinema. Nothing fits there. Just the seating position: butt up, head down – a completely different film. And then the first bends – huuuch: no trace of the expected handiness of the lightweight. The Suzuki demands physical effort on the open road. There is little going on with a rustic, moral knee-jerk, if only because it is thwarted by this jellyfish tank. At some point, however, even the last hurgler understands how the GSX-R wants to be tilted and is constantly confronted with the next problem: How do you keep this machine within the targeted radius? A difficult task that the attentive observer can solve at the entrance to the curve. You just have to know right from the start where you want to go: choose a line, turn in, follow through. The Suzuki must not be kept on a loose leash for a second, otherwise it can easily go astray.
Of course, the GSX-R has reasons to be so naughty. After all, she too is only a product of her upbringing. And what can the little GSX-R do for having this 180 Pirelli tire pulled over the rear rim? Which, by the way, is not solely to blame. The new ones also play badly with the violent load change reactions when finding the line. And the engine itself? It also has its quirks: suffers from acute lack of draft and sounds somehow sick. You have to get used to the croaking, the lack of thrust demands hard manual work.
Tea Yamaha YZF 600 R lives in a completely different sphere. Compared to the hard-nosed GSX-R, the Thundercat looks like materialized humanism. Everything about it is soft: lines, suspension set-up, engine characteristics. The YZF offers the highest level of comfort and good-naturedness, starting with the comfortable sitting position: in the saddle of the Thunder Cat you are completely human. And it can be – beyond good and bad, as the expansive cladding still fulfills its protective function even at top speed. If it wasn’t always a swear word in this hotly contested supersport class, this motorcycle could unquestionably be described as a super tourer.
Despite its bulk of 221 kilograms, the Yamaha strolls more casually on winding country roads than the Suzuki. No matter how bumpy and crooked the area is – the YZF lacks nothing: handiness, true to line and stability are okay as long as you don’t expect anything 100 percent. The Thundercat has a lot to offer in terms of front brakes. The best effect, paired with the finest degree of metering – this four-piston system is second to none.
Another strength of the YZF lies between the steel profiles of the bridge tube frame: This engine is a poem – a constant source of joy, spoiled with the fullest torque curve and highly refined running characteristics, which the unsavory, loud clacking noises when changing gear do not match. Yamaha’s gross drinking habits are also contrary to morality.
The Honda CBR 600 F emerged as the surprise guest at this event. Certainly, one had heard that she had to undergo various model maintenance measures. Except that no one had expected that a new motorcycle would come out.
As soon as you step on it is clear: a lot has happened here. The seating area has become narrower, the seating position itself, although only changed by nuances, somehow more homogeneous. Man and machine find a closer bond. Nevertheless, the basic concept has remained the same: The CBR is still directed from above. It doesn’t sit on it – as with the Yamaha – but on it. Even an inch higher than before.
In direct comparison with Suzuki and Yamaha, the Honda looks active and fresh like an effervescent tablet. Now the CBR was not sluggish in the past, but we have never seen it as agile as it is today. Definitely a merit of the new Bridgestone series tires, type BT 56. A tire that is trimmed for ease of use, but offers a little less self-damping than the BT 50 previously used. The new Bridgestone also has slight losses in straight-line stability But by no means come under the heading of stability problems, but rather as a slight nervousness about the steering axis.
The word stability problems has had its day in connection with the CBR. Yes, even in two-person operation – so far not necessarily the top discipline of the Honda: Under double loads, the rear shock absorber quickly reached its limits. That has now been done: ten millimeters more spring travel, a new damper and the always excellent space on the back seat make the CBR the best taxi among the 600s.
But Honda is also at the top of this comparison field in completely different areas. Keyword: engine. Not that the rather rough journeyman emerged from his care treatment as a boy wonder. When it comes to running culture, he continues to make rough, tingling comments. The revised gearbox has also remained true to its bony, gristly nature, without sacrificing precise shiftability. But – and now it comes – the draft. So this draft – really: a storm. On paper (see measured values, page 10) it is even more convincing than in real life, where the Yamaha repeatedly pretends to be the better. In fact, she would have what it takes, if only she wasn’t so obese.
That Honda did not want to leave anything to chance this time is demonstrated by the improvement measures on the front brake, which has become lighter despite 4.5 instead of four millimeters thick discs. By using new sintered metal linings, the four-piston system has become significantly more effective. Frightened minds flinch again and again at careless stopping processes, however, because it is difficult for them to get used to the slightly aggressive response behavior.
You can get used to the remodeled design of the rear section. The CBR has finally come to an appropriate optical conclusion. It’s just a shame that the side panels of the test machine in the area of the well-designed taillight have contact problems with their breakpoints: It looks kind of strange when the plastic jacket gapes around the ass.
The Kawasaki is also unusually funny. In her red robe, she looks as exciting as great-aunt Amalie in one of her gabardine costumes. Even the playful start flags on the disguise don’t help. Only one thing helps here: the spray can. Fortunately, the nature of the ZX-6R has remained as it was. That means: a real sports cannon – not unlike the Honda.
Handy, comfortable, stable in all positions, except when turning into tight turns – that’s how we know the ZX-6R and that’s how we love it. Because you get used to the unconventional tilting at low cornering speed in no time, and it has less to do with the Kawasaki than with Bridgestone. The BT 50, special specification E, is not necessarily one of the tires that harmonize best with the ZX-6R (see ZX-6R tire recommendation, MOTORRAD 2/1996).
What the Kawasaki does on the engine side arouses so much joie de vivre, even with the most tranquil, that our dear Mr. Seehofer would be well advised to approve two ZX-6R appointments per year for all fellow citizens on a sick note. "I’m so free," the four-cylinder roars with every throttle. Almost snot-nosed, as if it were nothing, he storms the red speed range and – by the way – also plays in the front in the pull-through rating. The acoustic background to the hot, rattling intake system does the rest that you feel really fast on the Kawasaki.
OAlthough the ZX engine just missed the maximum number of points in the category of smoothness, it has the most well-groomed manners overall, as it shows almost no load change reactions and does not do any antics on the part of the transmission. Tea practices of the ninja in the areas of cold start behavior and fuel consumption seem unreasonable. We warmly welcome the fact that Kawasaki has increased the inspection intervals from 5000 to 6000 kilometers and say goodbye at this point – because it just fits so nicely.
4th place race track – Yamaha
Yamaha YZF 600 R
Good-naturedness is their strength, but good-naturedness alone is not of much use in sport. The overweight of the YZF comes into play on the slopes, as does the soft tuning of the chassis, the braking system goes under after ten hard laps, and the ground clearance is not good either.
3rd place race track
Suzuki GSX-R 600
The GSX-R is definitely the first choice for ambitious athletes, as it offers the best basis for a real racing motorcycle. But because speeding should also be fun and the Suzuki shows a stubborn manner in the series trim, it only deserves third place, despite respectable lap times.
And now, dear sports fans: fingers out of the nose. On these two pages, it’s all about the suitability of our test candidates for the racetrack, about the last tenths of a second. Brand new Metzeler ME Z1 tires in a standard compound, which are used after a handful of compulsory laps with the worn-out series tires, provide equal opportunities. The Yamaha catches almost half a second with the fresh rubber pair, but it is not convincing as an athlete. When braking, the 221 kilogram YZF pushes like a truck towards corners, when accelerating hard the rear part starts to stir, and in right-hand bends the exhaust muffler prevents the tire adhesion limit from being explored. Despite all of this, the Yamaha remains true to its basically good-natured character. And in spite of all this, it achieves respectable lap times, which is largely due to the extra powerful engine in the medium speed range. Coupled with the gear ratio, it seems as if it was designed for the race track in Calafat, but it’s not so nice that the sensational bite and the perfect controllability of the front brake are not forever. After a series of hot laps, the four-piston system begins to lose its effectiveness dramatically. The specialist calls this phenomenon brake fading. So: take a break so the slices and tongs can cool down. Then the YZF brakes divinely again. Kawasaki has some advantages by changing tires from Bridgestone BT 50 to Metzeler. When approaching narrow turns, it reacts less wobbly and nervously. The better self-damping of the ME Z1 provides a secure feeling for the front wheel when it comes to reaching fully into the easy-to-dose iron in the extremely wavy braking zones of the Spanish Winkelwerk and turning with the brake still slightly pulled – a big plus of the ZX-6R is this angry engine that pushes powerfully from 6000 rpm and – in contrast to the Yamaha unit – inspires with its sheer endless revving. In spite of the long serial transmission, the easy-to-shift, tightly stepped gearbox fits almost perfectly to the tight routing of the Catalan circuit. By the way: The mysterious fork flutter, which was unpleasantly noticed in earlier tests, also plagues this 1997 model. Especially when braking hard, the 41 stanchions start to vibrate uncontrollably and extremely uncomfortably. The Honda presents itself in an all-round pleasant way and – although only partially revised – presents itself as transformed. The CBR surprises with unaccustomed lean angle (despite the main stand and side stand), impresses with its very stable handling and shows off the most stable stoppers. Honda has finally understood what sensitive model upgrade means. The modifications to the suspension, brakes and engine – the wide usable speed range of which is only marked by the limiter – make the old star, which has slipped into mediocrity, a real high-flyer. With a time of 1.35.9, the CBR pulverized the lap record set by ex-European champion Stefan Scheschowitsch in 1994 by more than a second Like to accelerate, the forehand lifts without compromising on safety. And what does the GSX-R 600 do? According to Suzuki marketing strategists, the little sister of the GSX-R 750 should win on all racetracks in the world. Only Calafat was probably not on the plan with this forecast. There is no doubt that the new 600 series has enormous potential in terms of sportiness due to its technically excellent conditions (MOTORRAD 1/1997). Unfortunately, it cannot use these reserves in the production version, as the four-cylinder engine is too anemic in the medium and high speed range. Despite its peak performance, which has increased from 102 to 106 hp after almost 2000 kilometers of running-in, the engine lacks the sovereignty of the competition. This impression is reinforced by an extremely long gearbox. Where the CBR and ZX-6R swiftly change two gears when accelerating, the Suzuki only needs one gear change. If you want to be fast with the GSX-R, you have to fight. Only very quick changes of lean angle succeed – thanks to the low weight – with ease. Otherwise the Ultralight has to be angled with a strong hand and held on the targeted line. The wide 180 mm rear tire offers more grip than you need when accelerating out with the low-torque GSX-R motor, but it annoys you with a pronounced pitching moment. Undecided drivers in particular are repeatedly unsettled by the lack of line compliance. If the conventional telescopic fork initially wins a lot of points due to its sensitive response behavior, quite a few of them are canceled during the first hard braking maneuver: Due to insufficient compression damping, the 45 component is a little too tight abruptly and deeply on the knees. You will look in vain for a helpful adjusting screw. And because it has to be, the four-piston brake system also gets its portion of grease at the end of the day: Moving to deceleration values only with enormous manual force leaves a lot to be desired in terms of dosage and stability in a rush.
1st place race track – Honda CBR 600 F
It’s called a successful comeback. Finally, the CBR brings the fun and sovereignty that it has always conveyed in everyday life to the racetrack: stable, manageable chassis, strong, elastic motor, stable, safely controllable brakes – that’s exactly what an athlete should be.
2nd place race track – Kawasaki ZX-6R
This time it is only enough for the place of honor – although the ZX-6R engine advances into the highest regions, the braking system hardly receives any criticism and the playful handling achieves top marks. It’s down to the front end: Too unstable in extreme areas, it makes life unnecessarily difficult for last year’s winner.
Model upgrade on the Honda
Engine: modified intake system. Dual independent ignition (assigns different ignition timing curves to inner and outer cylinders). New single valve springs with oval cross-section (less weight). Larger oil pan with lowered oil level (reduces punch losses). Revised transmission (gear lever ratio and shift drum). Larger exhaust silencer volume. Chassis: modified fork setup. New damper and longer rear suspension travel (120 instead of 110 millimeters). Lighter front brake with thicker brake discs and new sintered metal pads. Changed standard tires (Bridgestone BT 56). Design: aerodynamically shaped front fender. New side panels and rear go. Slim designed seating area.
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