This article was originally published in the July 2006 issue of Cycle World magazine.

While we owe ultra-competitive 600cc Supersport racing for propagating today's highly evolved middleweight sportbikes, working within race rules doesn't necessarily result in the best bike for the street rider. A year ago we rounded up the 2005 middleweight supersports and trained our focus on outright racetrack performance. The overall winner was closely wedded to lap times, dragstrip ETs, peak power and the Wow! factor. This year, we vowed to flesh out the best sportbike for real-world riders.

Last year’s hardcore performance focus stemmed from spending two days at a race circuit, the first on track-day-spec tires at the tight and technical Streets of Willow Springs road course. Ultra-soft, high-grip race rubber and aftermarket performance exhaust systems were fitted for the following day’s hot laps around the high-speed, 2.5-mile Willow Springs International Raceway. After we’d worn our knee sliders thin, multi-time drag-racing champion Rickey Gadson joined us at Los Angeles County Raceway, where he scorched the strip at a record pace. (The Gadson Factor must be considered if comparing last year’s times with the quarter-mile performance of the current machines–the bikes haven’t slowed as the numbers might suggest.)

This time we set out to assess the class in a manner more suited to mere mortal sportbike enthusiasts. We limited our track activities to a single day at the Streets of Willow and a morning at the LACR quarter-mile, and spent more time riding highways, byways and backroads. Our goal: Name a winner based on most usable performance, competence and convenience.

600cc middleweight bikes on the road action
Middleweight 600cc sportbikes comparison testBrian Blades

While all the street miles were logged on stock tires, we mounted Pirelli Diablo Corsa radials on each bike for the road-course portion. Positioned as a track-day tire, the Diablo Corsa is available in both 120/70 and 120/65 front sizes, the latter of which allowed Kawasaki’s ZX-6R to retain its standard tire size throughout the test. Before switching tires at the track, each bike was first lapped on its stock rubber so we could quickly identify any handling-related issues that a tire swap can potentially induce. We need not have worried, as each and every bike took to the Diablos like hell on wheels, with excellent steering feel, stability and lasting grip.

Straws were drawn to determine the order in which the bikes were ridden during the comparative timed-lap sessions. MyChron Light TG lap timers fitted to each bike assured accurate times were recorded. Associate Editor Mark Cernicky led off, putting in five-lap stints aboard each bike­ before handing over to Executive Editor Mark Hoyer and then me in turn. After a few minor chassis adjustments, Cernicky ran through the rotation a second time, establishing each bike’s quickest time in the process. Following the “official” timed sessions, our new Associate Editor Blake Conner and Brienne Thomson–the latter a competitive club roadracer borrowed from CW’s marketing department­–were introduced into the mix for open testing throughout the afternoon.

I handled the riding chores at LACR, keeping the number of clutch-torturing launches to a minimum, while the entire group played musical chairs, swapping bikes repeatedly throughout the two-day street ride that followed. Now for our observations in the order the straws were drawn:

honda cbr600rr on track action
Honda CBR600RRBrian Blades

Honda CBR600RR

As luck had it, Honda drew the shortest straw and was first in the rotation, the significance being that the CBR offers a “jump on and go,” rider-friendly demeanor with solid and predictable handling that instills immediate confidence.

“Of the five bikes, the Honda tracked over bumps the best, and although it didn’t have the top-end zing of the others, the torque available from 7000 rpm was a welcome friend on corner exits,” remarked Hoyer. “Throttle response both rolling on and off the power upset the chassis least in the group (as in not at all), and the connection between the right grip and the rear contact patch felt the most direct, predictable and natural.”

This was a common sentiment shared by others. “The CBR makes the most out of what it has,” offered Conner. “It obviously has the least power of any bike in the test, but the engine is a flexible performer.”

honda cbr600rr dragstrip action
Honda CBR600RR at the dragstripBrian Blades

The Honda chassis drew praise for having a light-feeling front end–though Conner thought it was maybe bordering on being too light. "It can feel momentarily vague when you first flick it in," he said, "but it turns quick."

This fine balance of agility and stability lends a trustworthy feeling that translates very well to the street where you don’t always know what’s around the next bend. Relative comfort is also one of the CBR’s strong suits, with a natural riding position and a shorter reach to the bars than the others. It was a good bike to find yourself aboard when covering the freeway stages between favorite backroads.

"If the Honda had a 636cc engine, it might be the choice," suggested Hoyer.

suzuki gsx r600 on track action
Suzuki GSX-R600Brian Blades

Suzuki GSX-R600

“Black and blue, with some white from years of experience in the racetrack fight,” was our resident poet Sir’nicky’s Suzuki surmise. With development ongoing since its introduction back in 1993, the 600 Gixxer has stocked its fair share of trophy cases over the years, and the new model continues that track-ready tradition. Which makes it all the more remarkable just how good this latest bike works on the street.

Of the true 600s, Hoyer picked the GSX-R600 as his overall favorite, pointing out its torquey-feeling engine, excellent stability and killer brakes. “Okay, it didn’t have the top-end of the Yamaha or the bottom-end of the Honda, but rather combined the good qualities of both,” was the Exec. Ed.’s declaration.

“As fine-tuned and specialized as these middleweights are, the GSX-R’s blend of stability and smooth power delivery wins my vote for best all-rounder,” read Brienne’s ballot. “It’s the best-looking too, a smooth contender on track and a confident canyon-carver off.”

Despite the Gixxer being the bulkiest bike of the bunch when rolled onto the CW scale and the heaviest-handling too, working it into and out of turns was far from laborious. While it may require more effort at the bars than the others, that's a relative comparison. Raising rear ride height by inserting a 5mm shim into the shock's top mount helped quicken steering without adverse effects on the bike's super-solid stability. "The GSX-R turns-in nicely, certainly not as quick as the others, but good nonetheless," commented Conner. "What it lacks in quickness it makes up in bite, allowing the rider to trust the front when it gets chucked in on its side."

The Suzuki’s brakes were very strong, offering the most power of any bike here, but could benefit from a more progressive feel. “They seem to give you everything they’ve got right away,” stated Blake.

We all agreed the Suzuki felt reasonably comfortable on the street, had a good seating position and a fairly comfortable saddle, making it nearly but not quite as plush as the Kawi ZX-6R.

kawasaki ninja zx 6r on track action
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6RBrian Blades

Kawasaki ZX-6R

Kawasaki’s 636cc ZX-6R has been the over-bore posterboy of modern middleweights, ignoring class boundaries as drawn by sanctioned racing, leaving the limited-edition 599cc ZX-6RR to mop up on the racetrack. Rules be damned, we’re certainly not going to protest the results, as the ZX has proven a very practical performer and popular choice among non-racer sportbike enthusiasts.

Hoyer’s comments hit the nail on the head: “That 636cc engine is great on the road, with all the torque you want and plenty of top-end, too. The seat is comfortable, as are the overall ergonomics.”

The ZX was the largest-feeling bike of the group, something you sense simply rolling it around the garage. It suits larger riders better than the other bikes, offering a more spacious seating position that makes it an easy choice for longer rides. There is one caveat to consider, however, as the Kawi’s motor vibrates more than the rest, felt as buzziness in the bars and pegs.

“No learning the quirks here,” said Thomson, who sided with Hoyer in choosing the Ninja as a top-two pick. Cernicky’s two cents regarding the bike’s ease of use and high level of refinement lent further credence. “I thought Honda had the corner on that market, but the 636 is right there,” he noted.

But he was referencing the Kawi’s street showing more than its performance on the track, where it offered less cornering clearance than the others, grounding its shift and brake pedals when pushed hard. “During our days on the street, you couldn’t beat the 6R’s balance, all-around suspension, comfort and powerful brakes. A good package,” was Cernicky’s final assessment.

triumph daytona 675 on track action
Triumph Daytona 675Brian Blades

Triumph Daytona 675

Blending in like Prince Charles at a Tokyo train station, this British Triple brings a fresh dimension to the middleweight category. Judged purely by the 675 displayed on its flank, the Triumph appears to hold an unfair advantage in this test. Considering that it evenly straddles the gap between the 600cc Fours and 750cc Twins that have co-occupied the category for years, Triumph’s entry offers logically legit engine performance parity.

There's no mistaking the Daytona for one of its classmates once you're under way. "The Triple powerplant has a neat growling sound that gives the impression of lower revs than it is actually spinning," noted Hoyer. "I hit the rev-limiter the first few laps because the aural cue was so different than with the Fours." Thanks to its easy-to-read tachometer and hard-to-miss shift light, this was not a frequent occurrence. Along with having the lowest redline, a "paltry" 13,250 rpm verified by the CW dyno (see Tach Truths sidebar below), the 675 also offers less over-rev than the rest. Still, the 750 rpm the Daytona does provide past its peak power output is a welcome departure from typical Triumph practice of setting the rev-limiter to cut in as power is still on the rise.

Super-slick shift action and a very low level of engine vibration are other elements that impressed us as we rode the Daytona on the street. We found the 675’s on-throttle response a bit abrupt at first, but after removing excess cable slack and spending time in the saddle, we got used to its light throttle spring. Another aspect that stands out is the Daytona’s taller saddle, measuring nearly an inch higher than any of the others here. The seat is narrow at the front, though, allowing firm footing at stops.

Middleweight 600cc sportbikes static group
Middleweight 600cc sportbikes comparison testBrian Blades

The tall saddle and slim overall nature of this Triple give an impression of limitless cornering clearance. "For me, the theme running through the 675 is highfalutin," observed Cernicky. "High footrests, high seat height, high torque, high pipe and the highest amount of cornering clearance."

While each bike here has stellar front stoppers, the Triumph’s Nissins were perhaps the best. “They have the same power as the Suzuki’s, but offer a bit more feel,” said Conner. “Not as progressive as the Yamaha brakes but impressive to say the least.”

Quick steering geometry, reactive suspension and a feathery dry weight that only the Yamaha YZF-R6 could match made the Daytona chassis feel like a race platform–even if Triumph isn’t marketing it as such. Add to this a broad torque spread that simply makes the bike hook up and go, and you have the Daytona setting fast time at the technical Streets of Willow circuit. Maybe Hinckley should reconsider its “no racing” policy?

“Overall this is by far the best engine for me,” said Conner. “On the track it pulls out of corners with lots of torque and still has a decent top-end. The way it performs both on the track and on the street makes it the best overall compromise for a middleweight bike.”

Perhaps the most telling testament is that unlike the race-focused R6, this bike has an engine that riders of any ability will be able to easily tap. “That big low-end torque advantage made it much easier to go fast for those of us who are less precise with our shift points,” Hoyer confessed.

yamaha yzf r6 on track action
Yamaha YZF-R6Brian Blades

Yamaha YZF-R6

A Ten Best Bike winner with its 600 last year, Yamaha has unleashed a whole different animal with the 2006 YZF-R6. Why mess with success? Simply stated, Supersport titles are not won by those who stand still.

The engine powering this new R6 takes on a race-oriented focus that’s a step beyond any other bike here, but as a result, lower-end performance was sacrificed for gains on top. The good news is the R6 has matched the peak horsepower of the larger-displacement Kawasaki 636. It’s a bold step for Yamaha, sure, but not a blind leap of faith­­–as last year’s bike remains in the lineup for ’06, offering buyers a more practical machine for everyday use.

If you’re revved up on Red Bull you’ll likely love this bike in any situation. “I had a lot of fun riding this R6,” said a twitchy Cernicky. “Even though it has virtually no power down low, who cares? It’s a 600 and you’re supposed to wring its neck!”

That’s exactly what’s required to achieve a decent launch at the dragstrip. After a few bogged starts, a solid pass happened only after staging with revs held at 12,000 rpm and slipping the clutch throughout first gear with the tach needle hovering above 15,000 rpm. It sounded rather painful, not unlike a power saw slicing through a 2x4!

We found the R6 exhilarating to ride on the road course, although it was a bit more work than the others. "The racetrack-refugee engine is sooooo alive above 12,000 rpm, and the taut, controlled suspension means killer composure on the track," enthused Hoyer, adding this addendum following our street outing: "That engine is barely alive below 12,000 rpm. It runs fine and carburets cleanly below this rpm, but it just doesn't have the torque to make a street ride fun at less than nine-tenths. If I zinged the motor between 12,000 and 15,000 rpm, I could carry a great pace but felt like I was making a scene, and it was pretty frantic feeling."

Blessed with the most race-oriented chassis in the group, the YZF makes hitting your marks and holding or adjusting your line easy. “The R6 carves into turns with almost reckless abandon,” was Blake’s take. “It borders on the edge of being unstable without ever really getting there. Once the rider learns to trust the feel and feedback, this bike pays big dividends.”

middleweight 600cc sportbikes on track action
Middleweight 600cc sportbikes comparison testBrian Blades


If you’re a racer chasing after Yamaha contingency money at the track, then the new R6 is the cat’s meow. But doggy delivery under 10K leaves the average street rider chasing his tail with this one, or as Hoyer put it, “Livable as a streetbike, yes, but not that much fun.”

If you bleed blue and white, the Suzuki could be the bike for you. Tractable power delivery, rock-solid stability and a high degree of streetable comfort and convenience make the GSX-R600 a bike that will complement any pit box or garage.

Honda hits the same mark it has for several seasons, and remains a familiar friend that can always be counted on. No slouch, either, as the CBR was the basis of Team Honda's Daytona 200 dominance this year (see This Honda CBR600RR Daytona 200 Winner Would Smoke 750s, take that, high-revving blue-bomber Yamahas.

Kawasaki nearly won this shootout last year, but the ZX-6R we tested had stability issues on the track, shaking its head and ours as well. No such symptoms surfaced this time out, a credit to the Pirelli Diablo tires, we think. A closer second place this year then for the 636.

But there’s a new Britbike on the block, and pound for pound, Triumph’s Daytona 675 offers the best all-around performance, versatility and visual flare in the middleweight sportbike class. See, you don’t always need to race to win.

honda cbr600rr studio side view
Honda CBR600RRCourtesy of Honda
Price $8999
Dry weight 401 lb.
Wheelbase 54.6 in.
Seat height 32.2 in.
Fuel mileage 34.4 mpg
0-60 mph 3.0 sec.
1/4-mile 10.70 sec. @ 128.55 mph
Horsepower 101.53 bhp @ 13,640 rpm
Torque 43.10 ft.-lbs. @ 10,930 rpm
Top speed 156 mph
suzuki gsx r600 studio side view
Suzuki GSX-R600Courtesy of Suzuki
Price $8799
Dry weight 410 lb.
Wheelbase 55.1 in.
Seat height 32.2 in.
Fuel mileage 36.1 mpg
0-60 mph 3.1 sec.
1/4-mile 10.75 sec. @ 129.41 mph
Horsepower 106.09 bhp @ 13,330 rpm
Torque 43.61 ft.-lbs. @ 11,140 rpm
Top speed 157 mph
kawasaki ninja zx 6r studio side view
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6RCourtesy of Kawasaki
Price $8699
Dry weight 399 lb.
Wheelbase 54.9 in.
Seat height 32.2 in.
Fuel mileage 36.1 mpg
0-60 mph 3.0 sec.
1/4-mile 10.58 sec. @ 132.36 mph
Horsepower 109.43 bhp @ 13,210 rpm
Torque 46.46 ft.-lbs. @ 11,540 rpm
Top speed 160 mph
triumph daytona 675 studio side view
Triumph Daytona 675Courtesy of Triumph
Price $8999
Dry weight 394 lb.
Wheelbase 54.9 in.
Seat height 33.4 in.
Fuel mileage 33.7 mpg
0-60 mph 3.2 sec.
1/4-mile 10.76 sec. @ 129.31 mph
Horsepower 106.99 bhp @ 12,500 rpm
Torque 47.49 ft.-lbs. @ 9900 rpm
Top speed 155 mph
yamaha yzf r6 studio 3/4 view
Yamaha YZF-R6Courtesy of Yamaha
Price $9199
Dry weight 394 lb.
Wheelbase 54.8 in.
Seat height 32.6 in.
Fuel mileage 33.4 mpg
0-60 mph 3.0 sec.
1/4-mile 10.67 sec. @ 130.79 mph
Horsepower 109.40 bhp @ 14,420 rpm
Torque 42.65 ft.-lbs. @ 11,800 rpm
Top speed 160 mph
sportbike tachometer details
Tachometer detailsBrian Blades

Tach Truths

Tall tales of the tachometer By Don Canet

Sportbike enthusiasts the world over got revved up when Yamaha unveiled its new YZF-R6 last fall, a bike featuring a tachometer scaled to 20,000 rpm with a whopping 17,500-rpm indicated redline. No streetbike had come this close to producing Formula One engine revs, something Yamaha ballyhooed loudly in the YZF’s ad campaign. The industry was abuzz.

Independent dyno tests following the bike’s release, though, revealed that the R6’s rev-limiter actually cut in around 16,000 rpm. Oops! News of this quickly spread, and Yamaha found itself under fire from consumers who believed they had been misled. To Yamaha’s credit, it has admitted the screwup and offered full refunds to R6 owners dissatisfied with the bike’s true rev limit, even covering finance costs for those who took out loans to get their bikes.

middleweight sportbike dyno chart
Dyno ChartCycle World

The simple truth is that optimistic tachometers are quite common on today's bikes. To illustrate this fact we checked the tach accuracy on each of these middleweights, comparing indicated rpm with readings acquired on CW's Dynojet Model 150 rear-wheel dynamometer. Of the five bikes, only Honda's tachometer provided dead-nuts accuracy all the way to redline. Of the offenders, the Yamaha was found guilty on not one, but two counts.

While the Kawasaki, Suzuki and Triumph all display a certain error (about 8 percent) that remains largely consistent throughout the rev range, the Yamaha’s tachometer error increases in magnitude as revs rise. The error is 2 percent at 5000 rpm, increasing quickly to 5 percent at 10,000 rpm and nearly 12 percent at redline. This, along with the flat nature of the R6’s power delivery below 10,000 rpm, produces an effect that makes it appear as though the engine accelerates more quickly than it really does in the upper rev range. Mistake, marketing ploy or outright deception?

Before we take tachometers totally to task, consider the fact that speedos have been chronic liars for years. Goes to show, there really is something in the company one keeps.