Yeah, we admit it: We like how the middleweight category has grown larger and more diverse with its mix of Twins, Triples and Fours. And it takes only a slight bit of creative accounting to see these four bikes as competition for the 600s that have traditionally ruled the class.
It would take a very strong argument to convince us that these machines are anything but the most balanced sportbikes made today. They might not pack the brutal knockout punch of the current Open-class superbikes, but their engine performance remains impressive, and their handling is sublime. Their lack of bulk translates to a balance and accessibility not found in their bigger brothers.
The Ducati Evo is powered by a 124-horsepower, 849cc V-Twin; the 6R by a 112-hp, 636cc inline-Four; the Suzuki, a 128-hp, 749cc inline-Four and the Triumph by a 117-hp, 675cc inline-Triple. While engine configurations and displacements are all over the map, the bikes’ dry weights only vary by 19 pounds, from the 399-pound Kawi on the low end to the 418-pound Ducati.
Chuckwalla Valley Raceway near Indio, California, was an ideal place or us to evaluate the bikes’ handling, placing more emphasis on corner-exit drives than top-end engine performance. We also rode for days in the real world, on freeways, two-lanes and tight mountain roads, to see how these bikes—all on Pirelli Supercorsa SPs—would stack up.
2013 Ducati 848 EVO Corse SE
Having won our “Italian Odd Couple” comparison test over the MV Agusta F3 675, the Ducati carried high expectations. The 848 had impressed us with its superior refinement, great engine, handling and braking. But how would the Twin fare against the Japanese Fours and British Triple?
We thought Chuckwalla would allow the 848 to strut its stuff, as the track is more flowing than The Streets of Willow Springs where we last tested an EVO SE. Unfortunately, a couple of things conspired against the 848 during track testing. We had a difficult time getting the bike to behave properly with the tire-pressure recommendations provided to us by Pirelli. On a 100-plus-degree day, we set cold pressures as instructed and then did flying laps to see if the tires heated up to the suggested hot psi readings (31 psi front, 32 rear). They consistently ran higher than that, forcing us to lower pressures a few times. But in hindsight, we’re convinced the pressures got too low and caused some mid-corner instability. The other lap-time killer was the EVO’s powerband; the engine lies down through the midrange before waking up again approaching 8000 rpm. At Chuckwalla, that hurt the corner-exit drives off the track’s slower 90- and 180-degree bends.
With tires pumped up to street-appropriate pressures, the 848 felt significantly better. Whether you’re just droning along on the freeway or ripping on a tight road, the ride quality delivered from the Öhlins shock and Showa fork is quite good, but in the twisties the Ducati is more work due to its heavier steering. This bike puts a lot more weight on your wrists and arms.
2013 Triumph Daytona 675R
Ask anyone on our staff to list their favorite sportbikes, and most will include a 675cc Triple-powered Triumph. For 2013, the Daytona 675, and 675R version tested here, received significant updates.
The Daytona’s engine has been completely redesigned. It now has a 2mm-larger bore, a shorter stroke and higher, 14,400-rpm redline, while the compression ratio has been bumped from 12.6 to 13.1:1. A new gear-selector mechanism provides lighter and more precise shift action. Chassis changes include a steeper, 23-degree rake angle, shorter wheelbase and a more-front-biased weight distribution.
At Chuckwalla, the 675 was a blast; its strong corner exits, excellent quickshifter, slick transmission, slipper clutch and wonderful sound from the under-engine exhaust make you feel like a GP star. Top-shelf Öhlins suspension gives the bike a racebike-stiff feel, with laser accuracy, good stability and excellent feedback. Braking is hard to fault, as well, thanks to powerful Brembos and Triumph’s excellent ABS strategy; you get Circuit and Street modes, the former being all but invisible on track.
If you want to describe the Daytona R’s engine in one word, it’s “fun.” Very flexible with strong top-end power and good torque off the bottom, the Triple’s real forte is its midrange delivery. In roll-on testing the Triumph is king, besting the others convincingly despite a tiny dip around 7500 rpm. Its new slipper clutch with assist function gives the bike a superlight clutch pull, but this proved to be troublesome at the dragstrip. Consistently smooth launches were very difficult for test guru Canet on the Triumph, which hurt acceleration times and trap speeds.
But with that real-world power at your disposal, the 675R is an excellent everyday bike. Zapping past cars in traffic rarely requires a downshift because torque is always right there. And when we hit the mountains, the steering and excellent suspension made short work of curves. Street or track, this bike is just plain fun to ride no matter where you are.
2013 Kawasaki ZX-6R
Over the past four years, nothing else in the 600cc supersport class could dethrone the ZX-6R, at least until Kawasaki decided to bring back its own 636 and kick the old bike to the curb. That extra 37cc gives the bike a surprising amount of extra midrange power.
With the least displacement and lowest peak-power ratings of this group, the 6R might seem to be seriously outgunned. But it wasn’t, because what the Kawasaki lacks in pure grunt it makes up for in delivery. Three-level traction control, ultra-refined mapping and sweet, linear power delivery allow you to extract the absolute maximum performance from the engine quite easily. Add to that a slick-shifting transmission that’s about as good as it gets without adding a quickshifter, and you have no excuse for not carrying all that momentum you just earned.
That last part came pretty easy at Chuckwalla, as the chassis worked wonders around the winding circuit. Steering, stability and suspension compliance all received very high marks. With an additional 10mm of ride-height shims used on the shock and no steering damper, the 636 would occasionally headshake when accelerating onto the front straight but quickly settled down. From corner entrance through the apex, the Kawasaki was very stable, while also allowing mid-corner corrections that weren’t possible on the others.
The same refinement that makes the 6R so user-friendly on the track transfers to the road, too. Testers praised its smooth engine, ride quality and excellent ergonomics on the highway, but it was back on SoCal’s ultra-tight Palomar Mountain Road that the ZX-6R really impressed us. Its handling was perhaps the best of the bunch, and its electronics allowed the rider to keep the bike in the hunt.
2013 Suzuki GSX-R750
As the sole survivor of the 750cc-Four brigade, the GSX-R750 has a well-deserved soft spot in our hearts. It’s really a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as Suzuki put an engine with 150cc of additional displacement into a chassis virtually identical to the GSX-R600’s. As a matter of fact, the 3/4-liter machine is only 7 pounds heavier than the little GSX-R.
Boasting beautiful horsepower and torque curves that are virtually dip-free, the gixxer packs the most peak hp, making it the monster of the mids. On the track, the broad spread of power gives you the choice to carry third gear through sections where second may have seemed ideal, allowing you to save a few shifts. Nice mapping and a sweet-shifting transmission helped during hot laps, where TC would have been a welcome feature.
Despite having borderline-soft suspension, the GSX-R’s chassis provided light and neutral steering with a ton of mid-corner stability. Stiffening the front end a bit more would likely have allowed the Suzuki to turn an even faster lap time by improving braking stability, but it snatched the pole anyway.
On our street ride, the Suzuki provided power levels that were reserved for Open-classers not so long ago, and refinement that is as good as it gets for a bike with minimal electronic management beyond its multi-power-mode EFI system. Like the Kawasaki, the GSX-R is refined to the point of almost lacking character—until you crack open those throttle butterflies and allow the engine to wake up. The Ducati and Triumph bombard your senses with a plethora of visually intoxicating sounds and visuals, but when the Suzuki gets on song and starts munching up asphalt, good luck staying in its draft.
|2013 Ducati 848 EVO Corse SE||
|2013 Kawasaki ZX-6R||
|2013 Suzuki GSX-R750||
|Triumph Daytona 675R||
Middleweight Comparison Winner
All four of these bikes are amazing, so choosing a winner is difficult. We all agree the Ducati 848 EVO SE was outgunned at the racetrack and is a lot of work on the street, but it’s a beautiful machine that may be the most streetable Ducati superbike ever.
If smiles per mile were a part of our testing criteria, the Triumph would have buried the competition. The 675R is just plain fun to ride, and it performed well on the track.
Despite spotting the other bikes in this test a considerable power advantage, the Kawasaki held its own. In a test that preaches more is more, the 6R did more with less and came very close to winning the whole thing.
All considered, we’d be fools to not choose the Suzuki. It out-performed the others on the track and street, it’s reasonably priced, and it’s one of the best-balanced all-around high-performance sportbikes ever made. It never left the Superbike class; the Superbike class left it.