Head-to-head: Yamaha YZF-R6 vs Suzuki GSX-R600

Still the 600cc su­per­sports to have

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Contents - WORDS SI­MON HAR­G­REAVES

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

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