The new kid on the block for 2008 has a host of changes, most aimed at increasing engine performance but there are also updates to the fairing and exhaust to keep the looks exciting as well.
Geometry stays the same with forks raked at 23.8 degrees, 97mm of trail and the wheelbase is 1400mm. The Suzuki comes equipped with an electronically controlled steering damper keeping head-shakes to a minimum.
The chassis is composed of five large cast pieces for light weight and rigidity. The wheels are new and designed to be lighter as well as more rigid. Even with weight savings in some of the components the new GSX-R600\'s dry weight is up a claimed 9 pounds over last years model.
Bodywork is completely new for 2008 with turn signals in the mirrors and a centrally located ram air intake. The Suzuki Advanced Exhaust System (SAES) is new and there is the addition of a Suzuki Drive Mode Selector with three modes for power output.
Power comes from a 599cc liquid-cooled, 16 valve motor. Bore and stroke are 67 x 42.5mm and compression ratio is increased to 12.8:1 thanks to new domed pistons and a reshaped combustion chamber. To help increase mid-range performance the head pipe has been made smaller and new fuel injectors and throttle bodies are being used.
Suspension comes in the form of 41mm Showa forks and a 46mm Showa shock with only mild revisions from the 2007 version.
Front brakes are Tokico four-piston calipers radially mounted with 310mm rotors and a new radial mounted master cylinder.
Back again for 2008 unchanged from 2007 but carrying the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best 600 of 2007.
The Honda was completely redesigned from the ground up in 2007 making it lighter, smaller and more powerful. The wheelbase has been reduced by 23mm to 1370mm and it weighs 16 pounds less than the previous generation CBR thanks to a chassis that is 12.5 pounds lighter and a motor that has reduced it\'s weight by 3.7 pounds. Steering-head angle has gone to 23.7 degrees from 24.0 degrees, while steering trail has increased from 95.0mm to 97.7mm. The CBR600RR comes equipped with the Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD) to help keep everything stable on the short, compact Honda.
The Honda incorporates new Fine-Die-Cast technology helping to create a smaller, lighter frame. The new frame is made up of four large castings while the 2006 frame consisted of 11 pieces.
Displacement stays the same at 599cc with a bore and stroke of 67 x 42.5mm and a compression ratio of 12.2:1. The motor is now shorter and more compact by repositioning the transmission shafts within the crankcase. The new engine boasts a smaller and lighter clutch (Honda decided not to fit the new CBR600RR with a slipper clutch), lighter forged pistons, and nut-less connecting rods for quicker acceleration. The Honda features an all-new cylinder head and a DSFI fuel injection system with 40mm throttle bodies with two injectors per cylinder. There is an electronically-controlled Intake-Air Control Valve (IACV) that senses rpm and throttle position, helping with throttle response and top-end horsepower.
Suspension is handled by a 41mm inverted Honda Multi-Action System (HMAS) cartridge-type fork in the front and a Honda Unit Pro-Link suspension in the rear, inspired by the RC211V so you can be just like Nicky.
Brakes are radial-mounted, four-piston Tokico calipers and dual 310mm front rotors. The CBR600RR sports a new radial front-brake master cylinder system first introduced on the CBR1000RR.
The white GSX-R600 received plenty of looks during my time with the bike. Most commenting how much they liked the look of the white paint and especially the white rims. The lines of the GSX-R are very sleek and I am a fan of the fairing re-design especially with the new ram-air intakes.
Sitting on the Suzuki everything feels in the right place. You feel as if you are sitting in the bike rather than on top of it. Pulling away in the parking lot the steering damper can definitely be felt, while not restrictive it does make the steering a bit heavier. Looking at the gauges everything seems very familiar, Suzuki has been using the same gauge cluster for a few years now and it does a terrific job of displaying everything the rider needs to see. I am happy to see the gear indicator which Suzuki includes on all of their GSX-R models.
The seat gives good comfort and has ample padding but my legs did feel a little cramped with the foot peg placement. The mirrors were not completely useless but some head maneuvering was needed to see anything behind your shoulders.
Hitting square edge bumps and irregularities in the pavement the Suzuki felt very solid and planted, never flighty. Once flogging through the canyons the Suzuki had great manners, performance being very balanced and nimble. The steering that felt slightly heavy in the parking lot now felt very stable without feeling sluggish. Transitions were easy and could be done with confidence, as the Suzuki hides it\'s weight well.
The only thing that did feel a little sluggish on the Suzuki was the motor, especially in the bottom end when pulling away from a stop light. I don\'t expect a 600 to rip my arms out of my sockets when I turn the throttle, but I was expecting more of a power hit in the low and midrange on the Suzuki, especially with all of the motor enhancements and high dyno numbers we\'ve seen for the GSX-R. The power delivery is very smooth and fuel injection spot-on so this can sometimes make the power feel deceptively slower. Once the revs were up, especially over 10,000 rpm, and the pace was quickened, the motor pulled strong and the distinctive GSX-R growl could be heard.
The brakes had very good feel and bite on the street with plenty of stopping power. For me, brake feel and progressive power on the street is almost more important than outright stopping power since you never know what conditions are going to be like on the road so good feel at the lever is important especially while trail braking or braking on dirty surfaces.
The CBR600RR has a very classic Honda look, everything looks in the right place and nothing is too flashy. Fine for a simple guy like me but it didn\'t quite get the comments for sex appeal that the Suzuki did. I was surprised how similar the cockpits on the Suzuki and Honda were in feel. It did not feel awkward going from one bike to the other. The Honda has you sitting slightly more on top of the bike with a slighter taller seat height. The Honda is very small, tidy and easy to move around on. I could feel no effects of the steering damper while in parking lots or at slow speeds, as the steering remained very light.
The gauges are nicely laid out and I really like the way Honda uses an actual fuel gauge instead of just a low fuel light. The numbers are a little on the small side but the speedometer and tach are still easily readable. Gear indicator? I know . . . I know . . . . I always complain about this, but I figure if I complain enough the manufacturers will just make it standard issue.
The mirrors on the Honda are well placed and give some quality views which is a rare thing on most modern sportbikes. The side stand did seem a little cheesy though and had me doing double takes and shake tests to make sure the bike was stable when parked.
Heading out on the open road the Honda felt very smooth on the long freeway rides and down rough side streets. Steering is light and the CBR600RR is plenty nimble in the canyons. The suspension that worked great for every day commuting was equally at home when the road gets twisty. Nicely damped suspension coupled with the light weight of the Honda make it seem like you could ride all day and never get tired.
Something you will surely never get tired of is the CBR600RR motor. This is where the Honda really separates itself from the other 600\'s on the street. While most middleweight motors tend to feel somewhat bland on the street the Honda delivers a midrange that will have you snickering in your helmet. The midrange on the Honda feels more like a 750 than a 600. The power comes on hard and it accelerates well, the torque of the motor letting you pull out of a corner in the wrong gear without paying the price, the extra grunt propelling the Honda no matter what gear you are in.
Brakes on the street did the job, while not as strong as the Suzuki\'s they were adequate at street speeds.
The track portion of the test took place at Southern California\'s favorite testing facility, Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond California. Willow Springs is know for it\'s oven-like heat and insanely gusty winds. The track did not disappoint and the conditions had me panting like I was in labor and sweating harder than Kenn Stamp (editor at 2WF.com) after crashing the Buell at Homestead. (I don\'t remember sweating after crashing the Buell.....alright maybe a little. ~ Ed.)
Much of Suzuki\'s new changes for 2008 were focused on the motor, specifically increasing midrange horsepower. The Dyno proves the GSX-R does make more power than last year but it doesn\'t translate to the track quite as much as I had hoped. The motor felt much better on the track than it did on the street however. I was able to keep the Suzuki in it\'s sweet spot on the track much more easily and it works well once wound up. It is still a bit slow to build up the revs but a definite improvement over the old motor, if only it had just a touch more pull.
Suspension on the Suzuki was plush but the chassis seemed to move around more than the Honda and have more trouble settling over larger bumps, never really feeling 100% planted mid-corner. Turn-in on the Suzuki was very precise and quick, the GSX-R has no problem picking a line when being tossed into an apex and seemed to flick in every bit as easy as the lighter Honda. Corner exit was not as spot-on and I found the Suzuki had some trouble finishing the turn. It took a good amount of effort to get off some of the corners at Willow Springs with it\'s tendency to run wide.
The GSX-R\'s have always had solid slipper clutches and the new 600 does not disappoint. I was able to go into each corner hot as I like, butcher a few down-shifts and let the Suzuki make me look like a seasoned pro. Making my job even easier on corner entry were the fantastic brakes. No fade during my day in 100 degree heat and lever power felt as strong on lap 15 as it did on lap one. If you are looking to make up for a lack of speed on the GSX-R, the brakes will be a good place to do it.
The transmission on the Suzuki was extremely slick and gave me loads of confidence. How does a transmission make a rider extremely confident you ask? Turn nine at Willow Springs has the rider entering at well over 100 mph while banging down two down-shifts just as you are starting to tip it in. This is not a place you want to encounter a botched shift, it could get very ugly in a hurry. It is places like this that had the Suzuki making me a much more confident rider.
The Honda motor breaks the norm for most things Honda builds which, while always refined, can sometimes be boring. This motor is not boring, in fact it\'s the liveliest 600 motor I\'ve ridden on a racetrack. While the motor does pack a big kick, it puts the power to the ground in a way that\'s easy to use and extremely broad. Good torque, excellent midrange and the motor revs quickly all the way to the top-end, I really couldn\'t find a fault.
The chassis on the Honda was also very strong and super stable. The Honda seemed to be less upset by bumps mid corner than the Suzuki with the damping front and back doing a good good soaking up the bumps at big Willow. While the Honda was the lighter of the two 600\'s, surprisingly enough, flickability was only as good as the Suzuki but wasn\'t any better. The Honda\'s strong point seemed to be on corner exit. The Honda seemed to be able to hold it\'s line better when finishing off the corner while the Suzuki would want to run wide. The CBR600RR did seem to be affected more by the wind in the super-fast turn eight at Willow Springs though. I really had to stay tucked in tight and get good and low when turning it into the fast right hander to keep it on line.
Willow Springs is not a notoriously hard braking track, there are really only two spots where you are really hard on the binders. This may have been a good thing for the Honda in this shootout because the brakes definitely don\'t have the bite or stopping power of the Suzuki\'s. Also hurting the Honda slightly is the lack of slipper clutch. Although the Honda is very composed on the brakes I found I wasn\'t charging it quite as hard into the corners for the simple fact I wanted to leave a little room for error should I get sloppy on a down-shift knowing I wouldn\'t have the aid of a slipper clutch to help keep things in line.
The transmission on the Honda CBR600RR felt good and positive and only slightly notchier than the Suzuki. Turn four at Willow Springs is a fairly slow corner where you are slightly modulating the throttle mid- corner, a good test of a bikes fuel injection. The Honda\'s FI was spot-on and felt very smooth with no hiccups.
So the games have ended and there can only be one gold medal awarded in this hotly contested 600 shootout. Just as athletes have strong points, so do these middleweight contenders. On the street the Honda feels like an absolute monster, ripping up the pavement with it\'s killer midrange and carving up the canyons with it\'s slender size and light weight. The Suzuki has great looks and a solid package but it\'s a shade less sharp and a less exhilarating ride. On the track things were much closer but the stop watch doesn\'t lie and I was consistently a second a lap faster all day on the Honda regardless of how hard I tried to match the times on the Suzuki. The Honda\'s mid-corner prowess and remarkable power delivery were able to overcome the Suzuki\'s stellar brakes and slick transmission.
And the Gold Medal goes to the Honda CBR600RR with the Suzuki GSX-R a very close Silver. Japan going a solid one, two. This really was a close match up and I would be seriously happy spending the season behind any of these two middleweight\'s windscreens.
The middleweights in this shootout were not the only top performers to come out of Japan. Bridgestone\'s new BT003\'s were fitted to each of our test bikes to keep them on equal footing while at Willow Springs, a track notoriously hard on rubber. For this test we used a 120/70 ZR 17 soft front and a 180/55 ZR 17 medium rear. Anybody who has been watching MotoGP racing this year has surely noticed that Bridgestone is putting in a pretty dominating season. Some of this MotoGP technology has trickled down to Bridgestone\'s newest DOT race rubber and the result is a very competent track tire. The tires come up to temperature quickly and have great handling characteristics. Steering is very neutral; the front feels great when hard on the brakes. The best thing about the new BT003\'s however has got to be the amount of feedback you get. I was always able to feel exactly what was going on in both the front and rear. I am more accustomed to racing on larger slicks which obviously give a much larger footprint so these DOT tires did move around a bit more mid-corner than a racing slick which is of course to be expected. Grip level was good and predicable and the wear was good even after a full day of riding in 100 degree heat. Bridgestone\'s BT003 tires are available in a variety of compounds and sizes. For more information visit http://www.motorcycle-karttires.com
Trackdaz Track Day
My day on track was compliments of Dustin Coyner and the boys at Trackdaz. Trackdaz offers three groups based on your riding ability with groups for the absolute track novice all the way up to the "A" group being mostly composed of racers and seriously fast track day riders. Trackdaz is well know for being one of the favorite track days for the racer guys because the pace is good and you can get some constructive testing time in.
The sessions ran smooth with little down time and I was able to get clear track for some unimpeded lap times without having to worry about running into too much traffic. This was very helpful in determining the ultimate fastest lap time I was able to do on each bike. Trackdaz has partnered with a few sponsors, one of which is Catalyst Reaction who are on hand to help work on your suspension and get you completely dialed in. I even went over to visit Tige at Catalyst for a few tweaks to get these middleweights tracking smooth, this track-side tuning is a bonus for the complete novice and the racer alike. With this combination of great track time, a quality staff and prices that are very tough to beat it\'s no wonder racers love the Trackdaz events.