Head-to-head: Yamaha YZF-R6 vs Suzuki GSX-R600
Still the 600cc supersports to have
NECK CRAMMED behind the tinted screen like a giraffe wedged in a bean can, chin-bar docked in the dished recess on the top of the tank, eyes peering between the black fairing stays at the strip of tarmac unfolding ahead. To one side, Jimmy on the R6 has inched ahead – it’s hard to see him, glancing sideways through the screen – but a corner is approaching and the Suzuki should be able to nip back inside him on the brakes.ah, hang on, GSX-R600S have a reputation for iffy stoppers, don’t they?
Because this one hardly has any. Two fingers generate a mild sensation of slowing, but not much more than rolling off the throttle in the first place.the bend looms with the implacable obstinacy of a tax bill deadline, so the brake lever gets the full Kit-kat and a gorilla squeeze. Much more than this would need both hands.
Finally the GSX-R’S four-pot Tokicos wake up and the glazed pads start to pinch their discs with enough force to dull the forward momentum of the hurtling Hamamatsu mass.the Suzuki’s rwu forks dip and the bike steers steadily, floating into the corner with that classic GSX-R response, neither overly keen nor an effort to turn. It’s a very neutral way to go around a corner, but you wouldn’t call it a razor-handling bike until you’d added a stack of shims to the top of the rear shock.
Before I set off I gave the aftermarket Sprint steering damper a twizzle – it’s on its lowest setting for minimal effect – so while the GSX-R600’S steering geometry is designed to go racing, its front-to-rear weight balance is tuned at the factory for stability. I’ve ridden Suzuki’s test track in Japan, so I know why: it’s bumpy as hell (it’s also easier to tailor ride height for the track than hacksaw radical new geometry).
By now the nimble R6 has nicked the Suzuki’s planned line and is already at the apex. Jimmy jumps on the gas but he’s misjudged the R6’s revvy top-end and has to drop a gear to find acceleration. Sensing an opportunity, the GSX-R surges forward, airbox groaning andakrapovic can howling wildly. The bike picks up so quickly and keenly it reels in the few metres the R6 has pulled and noses alongside again. On the road, there’s not much between these two.
Which was pretty much the story of the supersports 600 class as the new millennium approached nearly 20 years ago. Convergent evolution led Suzuki’s GSX-R and Yamaha’s R6 to end up, in 1999, with identical bore
and stroke dimensions, and such similar chassis and performance specs it wouldn’t be easy to tell them apart with a casual glance at the bare specifications.
The GSX-R600 SRAD was released in 1997 and ran unchanged for the next four years, the acronym for its pressurised induction (Suzuki Ram Air Direct) becoming the name it’s still known by. It was developed alongside the GSX-R750 but launched a year later for marketing reasons, according to Suzuki. Maybe it was to differentiate the bikes; the 600 shares much with the 750 – same frame, tank, fairing, seat, tail unit, clocks, lights, ’bars and airbox. Externally the crankcases are the same dimensions but inside the pistons, rods, crank and clutch are lighter.the 600’s exhaust, carbs, chain and starter also weigh less, shedding a total of 3.5kg over the 750’s motor. The 600’s chassis loses another 1.5kg from down-spec’d forks (cartridge teles instead of usd), calipers (four-pot instead of the 750’s six-pots), and a shorter, unbraced swingarm – meaning the 600 ends up with a claimed 174kg dry weight against the 750’s 179kg. It’s also less powerful; around 95bhp against the 750’s 112bhp or so.
Still, the GSX-R600 signifies a giant leap from the company’s previous effort, the solidly road-based RF600, and gave Suzuki the racing success they craved, taking the British and World Supersport titles two years in a row in 1998 and ’99.
And on the road the GSX-R moved sports 600s on another step, showing Honda’s CBR600 and Yamaha’s Thundercat how to be a proper, wild-revving, middleweight race replica, and challenging the heavier Kawasaki’s ZX-6R for class honours.
This Suzuki is a 20,000-mile-old GSXR600W from 1999, up for £1800. It’s a private sale and the owner, Jon, a 40-year-old web designer, has agreed to let PS ride it.
“The GSX-R moved sports 600s on, showing the CBR600 and Thundercat how to be a proper, wild-revving race-rep”
He’s selling it because he’s got his eye on a Fireblade: “The first big bike I ever rode, so now I can afford one, I can get one,” he says.
The GSX-R is tidy, with a few mods; many bikes of this age are by now festooned with all manner of accessories – some good, most bad, some criminal.all the items on Jon’s GSX-R were there when he bought it: the Akrapovic can and Goodridge hoses (good choice), the Sprint damper and carbon hugger (harmless) and the mini indicators (bad).and the bike looks clean – though slightly dated compared to the svelte next-generation R6 – with broader lowers and that vast SRAD tail unit.
But the important thing is how it goes – and it goes so well.the riding position is relatively roomy for a sports 600. It’s the same size as the 750 and besides, GSX-RS are always spacious.there’s enough room for everything man-sized, without the sometimes scrumpled feel you get fromyam race reps.
The GSX-R’S fairing stay is a proper 1990s sportsbike touch, as is the choke lever. The engine fires up into a surprisingly deep, mechanical chatter, racing on tickover before settling down to a steady thrashing. First gear, a few revs, and the Suzuki pulls from low down with clean carburation – but a harsh, growling undercurrent of latent ferocity reminds you of the Suzuki’s potency. Get the inline-four up to around 6000rpm and it starts to develop significant horsepower, rocketing off across the landscape with a controlled, low-flying steadiness.the white needle sweeps past the ton at just gone 12 o’clock (probably, officer), and there’s plenty more where that came from.
The GSX-R’S handling, braking aside, is exemplary.the Bridgestone BT021 sports touring front mixed with a Metzeler Sportec
M3 rear isn’t quite the ideal set-up; as the Suzuki leans over, feedback becomes increasingly nondescript. But it can’t hide the rightness of the GSX-R’S chassis, and there’s plenty of better matched rubber out there.
The GSX-R is still a great looker, and a bargain at the £1200-to-£2000 prices being asked. Find a clean, well-set-up example like Jon’s and you’re getting a fine sports 600 that still impresses as effectively as it did in 1997.
Especially when the yamaha rider is low on fuel; Jimmy pulls alongside and delivers the internationally recognised sign for a bike running onto reserve – he points at the tank. We park up, and I wazz off to fill up the R6.
“Practical Sportbikes?” asks the lady at the counter at the garage a few minutes later.the R6’s 17-litre tank has just swallowed £15 of unleaded, and she wants a chat about the Yamaha. She says she was into bikes in the ’90s and recognises the R6; turns out she nearly bought one. I tell her it’s featuring in the magazine. She studies the yam at the pump. “Practical Sportsbikes?” she says again. “Doesn’t look very practical to me.”
She’s right: the tiny R6 is not very practical, but it’s a lot of sportsbike.and of all the 600s, it was to be the most popular with the ladies. Maybe size doesn’t matter after all.
Ever since Kawasaki laid out the liquidcooled 16v blueprint for sports 600s with the GPZ600R in 1985, successive generations across all four Japanese manufacturers got progressively smaller, lighter, higher-revving and, thus, more powerful and quicker. By the late ’80s the introduction of production based supersport 600 racing helped propel development away from road-based all-rounders like Yamaha’s YZF600 Thundercat and Suzuki’s GSX-600F Teapot, and pushed the class towards tightly focussed track missiles like the GSX-R600 and R6.
The R6 appeared two years after the GSX-R600 and followed in the rather large footsteps of 1998’s R1. where the GSX-R is basically a sleeved-down, short-stroke 750, the R6 features the same uncompromising design philosophy of the R1 but none of its components.as a result it’s a new machine, borrowing nothing from the Thundercat.
Like the R1, the R6 stacks its transmission high behind the block, shortening engine length and contributing to a minimal 1380mm wheelbase (shorter than an FZR400RR). ALSO, like the GSX-R, the R6’s airbox completed its migration from behind a bank of carbs feeding forwards into the cylinders, to a position just behind the headstock and where it could benefit most from incoming cold air ducted from the fairing, feeding directly into down-draught carbs and straight into the cylinder head.
Suzuki mounted their fairing ducts either side of the GSX-R’ S head lights; yamaha had a better design, placing one duct between the two headlights where air pressure is at its highest when the bike is moving.the dyno shows a similar figure to the Suzuki of 91bhp at 12,750rpm – the difference comes in top speed, thanks to the yam’s better breathing. The Suzuki can’t top 160mph; the R6 will trip along at nearly 165mph.
Which is, of course, academic; what matters is how the R6 handles. Superficially similar to the R1, with aluminium twin-spars, the R6’s frame was designed not so much for coping with brute horsepower but for handling finesse. So instead of girders wrapping the motor and supplying the bulk of the chassis’ rigidity, the R6’s frame is a more slender, sculpted affair and uses the engine as an integral stressed member. Like the GSX-R, the R6 forgoes the usd forks of its bigger relative, but it gets better brakes than the Suzuki – blue-spot calipers are as per the R1.
Lack of mass is the other R6 ace card – it’s 5kg lighter than the GSX-R600, and that’s no heavyweight. with a more compact riding
“The R6 is 5kg lighter than the GSX-R, and with a more compact riding position it feels lighter and sharper as well”
position the R6 feels lighter and sharper. If the Suzuki is neutral, the R6 is very positive and dives immediately for the nearest apex.
Styling-wise, there’s no easy way to say it: theyamaha looks fresher, more modern and a generation younger than the slightly rotund Suzuki. If the GSX-R600 was designed at the same time as the GSX-R750 (released in ’96), the 600 would’ve first been mocked-up back in 1992.The R6, though, was first dreamed up around ’95.Those years mark a big difference in sportsbike styling and design evolution.
This bike is a perfect, 12,500-mile example of the first 1999 model, from Steve and Rob at Hughendenm40 (a top community-based bike shop near Thame in Oxfordshire; see News, p.15).the R6, up at £2700, is in less common silver and orange, looks immaculate and appears unmolested, with only a factory double-bubble screen added.
But what an exhilarating riding experience. The engine fires up with a near-silent whisper, and politely but smoothly ruffles off as you let the clutch free. But unless it’s showing more than 7500rpm the motor takes an eternity to pull in the higher gears.this is a bike that works best when being revved hard.
Which can get exhausting on the road. After a few hours of diving around with Jimmy on the GSX-R, the R6’s fun starts to tire because it’s so involved.which of the two is the best? Theyamaha is the dynamically superior bike. If I were heading to a track, it would be R6 every time unless the GSX-R had different tyres, brakes and was set up to attack. But on the road, the Suzuki’s riding position makes it more practical, and no less of a sportsbike. And that, after all, is the name of the game.
Hughenden M40 for the R6 (01844 279701, hughendenm40.com)
Great handling, but stock brakes aren’t the best Those Suzuki Tokicos (top) need a very heavy hand compared to the R6’s strong, sensitive, best-of-thebunch Blue Spot calipers
I won’t shake you hand because I don’t know where it’s been When simple was best and clarity ruled the clocks
“Enough of the bikes... which hanging basket do you prefer?” The R6 is a crisper, more compact proposition (although James called it cramped). In reality it’s never a big bloke’s bike. But as ever: if it’s pretty enough it’ll fit