The Suzuki GSX-R made a splash all the way back in 1985, and quickly became a motorcycle-household name, complete with a smooth nickname that just rolls right off the tongue. Since then, the Gixxer has been in continuous production over a wide range of engine sizes, and has even been supplemented by the similar, but more street-friendly, GSX-S range.
Introduced in 1992, the GSX-R600 has been in almostcontinuous production with a brief hiatus from ’94 through ’96, and it continues its legacy into the 2016 model year (so far). Today I want to take a look at what Suzuki has done to keep this long-running family viable and competitive against its many adversaries on both track and street.
Naturally, the Gixxer 600 looks like it would be perfectly comfortable at your local racetrack. The molded front fairing forms a one-piece entry from the jet canopy-like wind deflector, down the gaping maw of the cowling to the chin fairing that extends all the way back to the swingarm pivot.
Short handlebars pull the rider forward into the full-on, forward-leaning racing position, and the three-way adjustable footpegs allow for some control over the final shape of the rider triangle. The upper lines flow back from there to drop off precipitously down to the 31.9-inch tall, high-grip butt bucket before rising again to the p-pad platform on the minimal subframe. The pillion seat, passenger footpegs, license-plate bracket and turn signals molded into the mirrors give it away as a unit meant for the streets, but all else looks like a pure-D race machine.
Viewed in profile, the Gixxer 600 carries a nose-down/tail-high stance that kind of makes it look like it’s going fast even when standing still, and leaves it with an eager air that seems to almost beg for some abuse. Unlike some of the other members of the Gixxer family, the body panels on today’s subject come with some large vents and cutouts that let a hint of “ankle” peek out from under the skirt as a bit of a teaser that makes one wonder what else remains hidden under there. But don’t worry your head, dear reader, we are going to make our journey of discovery together directly.
The skeleton is comprised of five separate sections made from cast aluminum that are then welded together to form a light and strong, twin-spar assembly with a cast-aluminum swingarm to help keep the unsprung weight low in back. An electronically-adjusted, automatic steering damper reacts to bike speed to stiffen up at higher speeds to resist kickback at the bars, and loosen up again at low speed for ease of maneuvering. It’s a good system that beats the Hell out of the old fixed-value dampers, and is miles better than relying on steering-head bearing adjustment alone.
The tripletree clamps a pair of Showa’s Big Piston Forks (BPF) that benefit from racing technology to provide adjustable rebound and compression damping as well as spring preload for absolute control over the ride quality at the front end. Showa supports the rear end as well with a central monoshock that also comes with adjustable compression and rebound damping, plus a ride-height adjuster.
I would point out that while this suspension isn’t quite as top-shelf as an electronically-controlled dynamic system might be, it’s a whole lot cheaper and is absolutely sufficient for street use, no matter how aggressive your riding style. After all, hauling ass around town is a self-limiting activity, and if traffic and terrain doesn’t limit you, the folks down at the police department will certainly put you in check.
Wheel mass is a critical factor that affects how enthusiastically a bike will dive into the corners and reverse direction in “S” curves, to say nothing of unsprung-weight factors, so keeping things light is fairly important on high-performance machines. Toward that end, Suzuki runs a set of 17-inch, cast-aluminum rims with only three spokes to suspend it off the hub for the bare minimum in the way of weight and structure. A set of race-rated, tubeless hoops cap the rims, with a 120/70 up front and a 180/55 in back. Dual front brakes come with four-pot, Brembo monobloc calipers binding floating, 310 mm discs with nothing in the way of ABS interference — which is as it should be.
Not content to just make a streetbike that looks like it has race DNA, the factory borrows from its own not-inconsiderable MotoGP track experience to build in a number of race-proven features. Using its 599 cc, inline-four mill for the foundation, the engineers built it up with such delightfulness, such as their shot-peen-hardened con’rods; as well as lightweight, Finite Element Method (FEM) forged pistons with coated rings and ventilation to help combat mechanical losses.
The valvetrain comes tuned for minimal losses as well, with titanium-blended valve metallurgy and a single spring to work with the most radical cams Suzuki has ever installed in a production bike. Oversquare, the engine runs a 67 mm bore with a 42.5 mm stroke that produces around 104 horsepower and 44 pound-feet of torque (depending on whose dyno it is), for a top speed around 155 mph (depending on whose butt is on the bike).
Now for some electronic wizardry. Suzuki uses an Engine Control Module (ECM) with ride-by-wire throttle input to control induction. The Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve (SDTV) technology in the fuel-injected throttle body moderates power delivery with a secondary butterfly to reach a compromise between requested power at the grip and what the engine can smoothly deliver.
Additionally, the Suzuki Drive Mode Selector (S-DMS) provides a pair of rider modes to choose from for even more control over power delivery. Finally, the Suzuki Exhaust Tuning system incorporates a valve in the exhaust system to provide variable and dynamic backpressure control. A back-torque limiting clutch couples engine power to the six-speed transmission that comes with a tall first gear ratio that gets shorter on up the range for solid starts and corner exits.
The 2017 GSX-R600 rolls for a base MSRP of $11,199, same as it has for a few years now, plus a destination charge of another $350. It comes in Metallic Triton Blue, Glass Sparkle Black and Marble Daytona Yellow, or Metallic Matte Black No. 2 and Glass Sparkle Black livery.
As one of the “Big Four,” Suzuki has no shortage of fierce rivals close aboard, so I decided to keep it in the neighborhood and go with one of Suzuki’s domestic threats — the CBR600RR from Honda.
Visually, our two competitors are very similar, with partially cut-away fairings and a race-tastic, nose down/tail up stance that is typical of current breed standards. The entry is a little different on the Honda with a side-by-side headlight arrangement as opposed to the over/under beams on the Suzuki. Honda cleans up the exhaust system nicely by tucking the muffler up under the subframe, but then clutters up the look with standoff-mount turn signals — the exact opposite of the arrangement on the GSX-R with its external exhaust components and faired-off blinkers.
Both the CBR and the GSX-R run inverted, Big Piston Forks up front and a tucked-away monoshock on radical-looking swingarms in back, with fully adjustable ride quality parameters all-around. Brake-disc diameter and caliper considerations seem as they’re taken from the same playbook, but the Red Riders take it a step further with the combined anti-lock brake system (C-ABS) as an available option that applies variable and blended brake pressure depending upon the situation, but only at speeds above 4 mph so there is no hinkey behavior during dead-slow maneuvers.
While I do not feel that any sort of ABS is appropriate for track work, I also recognize that the vast majority of units from either family are unlikely to get any closer to a track than the parking lot, and so a little buffer for street (read: non-professional, no matter how good you think you are) riders is always a good thing given the CBR’s capabilities.
The powerplants could almost be brothers-from-another-mother. Same displacement, same bore and stroke and nearly the same power output. Both rides churn out 44 pound-feet of torque, but the 104-pony Gixxer squeaks out a minor win over the CBR with its 98.8 horses. Yeah, in other words, it comes down to rider skill and not machine advantages, again, as it should be.
To further demonstrate how razor thin advantages can be in this hotly contested “arms race,” the checkout prices are within a hair of one another. Suzuki manages another minor victory with its $11,199 sticker, with Honda’s breath hot on its neck at $11,490. With bikes so close in every important category, I feel like it’s going to come down to brand loyalty, and failing that, heinie-dyno feedback during the test ride.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for the Gixxers ever since I scared the crap out of myself on a GSX-R1100 back in ’94, and it seems Suzuki hasn’t missed a step in the interim. I would like to point out that in spite of the mid-size displacement, this is not, repeat not an entry-level ride. Seriously, if you think you want to get into sportbikes, look at one of the smaller-displacement Gixxers or even a GSX-S model rather than the R600, because this bike will chew you up and spit you out if you aren’t careful.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “Really? Why do you ask me about the stupidfast bikes? I’m not a speed demon. I tend to not like the look of the Japanese supersport bikes — too angular for my tastes, but that’s very subjective, isn’t it? It’s nice to see rider modes on a middleweight sport bike, though I’d still shy away from recommending this as a beginner bike — a supersport trainer, maybe — but even that might be a stretch.”
|Engine||4-stroke, 4-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC|
|Bore x Stroke||67.0 mm x 42.5 mm (2.638 in x 1.673 in)|
|Compression Ratio||12.9 : 1|
|Fuel System||Suzuki Fuel Injection|
|Transmission||6-speed, constant mesh|
|Final Drive||RK525SMOZ8, 114 links, Chain|
|Suspension Front||Inverted Telescopic, coil spring, oil damped|
|Suspension Rear||Link type, coil spring, oil damped|
|Brakes Front||Brembo, Disc, Twin|
|Tires Front||120/70ZR17M/C (58W), tubeless|
|Tires Rear||180/55ZR17M/C (73W), tubeless|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||4.5 US|
|Ignition||Electronic ignition (Transistorized)|
|Overall Length||2030 mm (79.9 in)|
|Overall Width||710 mm (28.0 in)|
|Wheelbase||1385 mm (54.5 in)|
|Ground Clearance||130 mm ( 5.1 in)|
|Seat Height||810 mm (31.9 in)|
|Curb Weight||187 kg (412 lbs)|
|Warranty||12 month unlimited mileage limited warranty.|
|2015:||Metallic Triton Blue / Pearl Glacier White, Pearl Bracing White / Glass Sparkle Black|
|2016:||Metallic Triton Blue, Pearl Mira Red / Metallic Matte Black No. 2|
|2017:||Metallic Triton Blue, Glass Sparkle Black / Marble Daytona Yellow, Metallic Matte Black No. 2 / Glass Sparkle Black|