Sweet Gixxer, Bro – Suzuki GSX-R600 Review

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01

When Wes told me we were getting a 2012 Suzuki GSX-R600 for an upcoming episode of RideApart TV I immediately called dibs (something I do very rarely). He seemed surprised until I reminded him that, in all of my years of riding and all of my time helping out around here, I have ridden pretty much everything except a real 600.

Now, having spent a month on one, I can say it’s absolutely incredible. So much so, that it’s left me thinking about why it took so long to get on one and the only thing I can come up with is that it’s all your fault.

Before I continue my rant, a bit more about my experience on the bike. I’m far from being the most qualified person on the team for a real review on a motorcycles with this kind of capability, but here are some thoughts as to how it compares to other things I’ve ridden:

- It’s incredibly light and feels very nimble with the steering as sharp as anything else I’ve ever ridden, only now with a weight that I feel I can actually put where I want it.

- The brakes are incredible and give me the confidence to ride, knowing I can stop on that proverbial dime when someone decides to cross the double yellow into the HOV lane unexpectedly. In fact, it was riding bikes like this with incredible ability that made me want to sell my Bonneville because I never felt safe on it afterwards. With its reduced size and weight, the GSX-R stops as fast and confidently as anything I’ve ridden.

- The power, while not liter-bike strong, greatly surpasses the Street Triple-esq performance I was expecting after all of the things I had heard about how you had to really work hard to keep the revs up compared to liter bikes. The power (though less) also seems to be more immediate because you’re in the power band more than when you’re on a liter-bike that will do 96 mph in 1st gear.

- Oh, and another thing, you get to shift on a 600.

- The headlights, “downgraded” from projector to reflectors in 2011, are actually the brightest I’ve used on any sportbike. Wes rode up behind me on the freeway at dusk the other day and his high beam was literally blinding.

The only down sides come in the form of being a giant sissy-pants who doesn’t like to look like a power ranger. I’ll spare the boring details but my back isn’t great and most motorcycles leave me pretty uncomfortable, each bike just increasing or decreasing how long before I’m in pain (I know, I know, I picked a great job).

The GSX-R 600 is really, really, uncomfortable, but this is to be expected from a bike this compact and light. My legs are too high and cramped, my hands too low and my wrists hurt, my neck and back are sore after 20-30 minutes. This bike was built to go fast and to put your body in the best position to control a bike moving at a very high rate of speed, quite the opposite of the position you want to be in riding up and down the 405.

The GSX-R is also a red, white, and blue sportbike and I feel like the only eye it catches is that of Johnny Law and dudes in tuner cars who want to race and I just don’t connect with that culture.

Now, where was I?

A quick Google search shows hundreds of “debating 600cc vs 1000cc” forum threads and 90 percent of them are started by people who think they will grow out of a 600cc bike or that a 600cc supersport is a girl’s bike and are filled with comments like “600s just get in my way at trackdays.” Now, unless I’m the worst rider on the road and most of you guys are pros, this is just a completely ridiculous thing to say. I knew after my first ride on the GSX-R 600 that I preferred it to the RSV4 or S1000RR or any of the other beasts we’ve had, not because it is a faster bike, but because it is a better bike for public roads (and a better bike for going fast on public roads if you’re so inclined).

Now, the reason we don’t get many of these to ride is that the companies keep making these bikes every year without updating them. The current R6, for example, was debuted way back in 2005 and this GSX-R is largely unchanged from 2006. Sure, some years get a different paint scheme or slightly updated brake calipers, but besides that nothing changes and when nothing changes, there really isn’t a story.

So it must be the bike manufacturers’ fault for not updating these bikes right? Nope, you don’t want them. John Smith just watched Biker Boyz and wandered into his local motorcycle shop and has two options, the $10k-12k 600cc super sport or the $14k-18k 1000cc super sport. The conversations are all talking about 190hp vs 186hp and all of these crazy electronic dewdads and the forum he was on said he might grow out of that girly little 600 and of course he signs up for a slightly higher monthly payment and the stats he can brag to his buddies about. With so many people choosing to buy liter bikes they can’t hope to actually put to full use, it’s no wonder motorcycle manufacturers have adjusted their efforts. It’s not as if a 600 costs any less to develop or manufacture than that 1,000, either.

Just this week I’ve been asked about the bike twice and gotten the remark, “Oh, you only have the 600.” ONLY?! This thing is way more than I will ever be able to use and, even if that time comes, I don’t see how it could ever not be enough. Find a model in a muted color, throw on some higher bars and maybe lower the pegs a tad and you have the perfect machine for going fast. On the road. Right now Jamie Robinson is looking like the smartest guy on the planet and if you’re in the market for something in this genre, you’d be wise to join him.

  • Streetfighter

    Ugh I hate when guys say “ONLY A 600″ while out on the streets. Happily they are rarely any fast…

  • http://www.facebook.com/gogorosario Rosario Müller

    No mention of the glorious induction note? Suzuki make the 600/750 sound like a Ferrari from the 70′s on song. Also, if you’re inclined to lower those pegs a little, buell stepped begs bolt right in and give you another inch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Sweeney/501437288 Scott Sweeney

    I know so many, many people that need to read this.

  • http://twitter.com/Smoke4ndMears stephen mears

    It’s a bummer your back is no good. Aside from the legs being too high thing, a good back/good core is what keeps the weight off of your wrists.

  • roma258

    The more convincing arguments that I’ve read is that liter bikes are torquier and therefore actually easier to ride in most situations. That’s basically the rationale behind CSS switching from 600s to S1000RR for their school bikes. I had a Triumph Speed Four for a couple years (granted, a few generations behind the GSX-R600) and the engine was pretty annoying to use on the street, because by the time you get to the powerband, you’re going to fast. Fun in the twisties, under the right conditions, but twins and triples seem to be better fit for street riding needs.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      That’s also a complete lie. CSS switched because BMW bought a sponsorship and doesn’t make a 600.

      Yes, a 1,000cc motor produces more torque than a 600. No, they’re not a great deal more flexible or “easy” as a result. A 600 is still a large, powerful motor, not some old, tiny two-stroke.

      • roma258

        And they’ll come back with crash stats showing otherwise. Not saying I agree 100 percent, but the S1000RR in rain mode (which is mandatory first few sessions) was easier to ride than a CBR600 on the same track. 600 cc sportbikes are awesome fun and great value, but they’re still pretty high strung.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Correlation does not equal causation. The notion that more power (over an already extremely fast, flexible engine) = greater ease of use is obvious in its inaccuracy. Anyone that’s spent a good deal of time riding tons of different bikes will absolutely agree that 600s are easier to ride in literally any circumstance.

          • http://www.faster-faster.com/ Marc Fenigstein

            But to Roma’s point, traction control prevents a lot of fuckups, even if the rider is struggling to wrestle the inertia around the bends. To me, a S1kRR with the TC turned up to 11 is the beginner bike of the sportsbike world.

            • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

              And don’t forget the ABS. I’d also wonder if they made changes to their damage waiver amounts, etc etc, there’s a thousand factors that could account for a decrease in crashes, i doubt that more power is one of them.

              • roma258

                Should’ve been clearer. Didn’t mean to imply that more power reduces crashes, just the more linear power delivery of the bigger engines may help. And I’m sure that electronics play into it too. At the end it comes down to personal preference and I really, really liked riding the S1000RR :)

                • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

                  Power and torque are pretty linear across inline-fours. Just more as you increase their size.

        • KevinB

          Pretty sure the crash stats are reduced from ABS and traction control. Putting the computer in charge is always going to reduce wrecks. Doubtful it has anything to do with power.

          • alex

            don’t forget that the css bikes are lighter than stock due to the race bodywork and have pirelli corsa tires. I rode one at there school in may of 2010 and I had a 375lb wet 600rr at that point and was impressed with its overall ability – it actually felt slower because it’s so well developed. They are switching to the hp4′s for 2013 I was told at the PIMS

            Also while I was there christian bale was too and he was on a cbr600rr and he’s a pretty big guy. Yes it was the matte black late model version, I heard it was actually his bike even? He was back recently training for another movie, maybe t6?

      • Heatsoak

        A: Yes, BMW sponsor ship caused the switch, not a desire for a better track bike to “‘learn’ on. And interesting fact B: Star School has consistent data showing that students put down better lap times on a 750 school bike compared to their own 1000, and better times still on a 600. And some (but not all) improved their time yet again on a humble SV650.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mitchel.durnell Mitchel Durnell

      Interesting factoid, late model 600s have two sets of injectors, which really helps the lower and mid ranges.

  • http://www.faster-faster.com/ Marc Fenigstein

    Motorcycles in the US will never be about what you need, and customers will always buy the “biggest and baddest” option, especially when it’s only a 15%-20% price difference separating the two. The only thing that would turn the tides of sales is if the 600 garners more respect than the 1000. Which it should. Start giving more respect to passing in the corners than passing on the straight. Laugh at the liter bike riders that get smoked from early braking and missing their apex. Drag racing should be ridiculed and worn knee pucks celebrated. The 600 is a technician’s tool, not a brute’s. Wear it like a badge of honor (and skill), not one of self-restraint.

    • Matt

      Yup. People constantly assume I’m a new rider just for riding a 250 even though it’s a blast in the city and the VERY technical track I take it on (Summit Point Shenandoah). People on the street say “only a 250?”, people at track days say “good for you for doing it right”. Some of the fastest people I’ve seen in the turns are on Aprilia 125s and not litre bikes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.prichinello.7 Michael Prichinello

      I’m praying at the church of Fenigstein! Well said Marc

    • nightscout13

      I don’t know why you’re ripping on 1K bikes, they also require skill to ride. Both types of configurations are advanced machinery. To take away from the glory of the 1K bikes is asinine.

      • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

        I don’t think he is ripping liter bikes, so much as he is saying most people that give you grief for “only having a 600″ are usually squids.

      • KevinB

        While very true, the percentage of the riding population that has the skill to truly take advantage of a liter bike is very, very small and the majority of people on liter bikes would be better served, in terms of comfort, safety, and advancing their own skill set, by a smaller bike. I think his point, more generally and two steps derived, is that we should promote developing rider skill.

      • http://www.faster-faster.com/ Marc Fenigstein

        Not ripping on literbikes. Ripping on riders that think a superbike gives them more street cred, and especially on folks that give more cred to a rider just because he/she’s straddling 1000cc.

        • nightscout13

          Like this one guy I knew LOL during a wedding, he asked to jump on a buddies 1K. Ends up putting it through a fence 100 feet away from “accidentally” opening full throttle first gear LOL

  • Rick Snyder

    Having ridden a ZX6 as a daily commute (Melbourne Aus – ride year round) and changed up to a ZX14 and commuted on that for a couple of years I’m seriously considering the new 636. The 14 is fast but heavy and the 6 was fun. I found I could use more of it’s capabilities on the street. The 600s work for me.

  • TonyNyc

    I love eating up 1000′s on my 675 at the track…Corner speed ladies, corner speed.

  • FastPanda

    I remember reading somewhere that Valentino Rossi’s everyday ride while he was with Honda was a CBR600RR. If that’s not an endorsement, nothing is.

    Also, is any motorcycle more uncomfortable than riding a normal bent-over-and-huffing road/track bicycle? Leg cramping I can understand, but at least the bars are higher than your crotch (if you’re not on a 916).

    Not this year, but soon. That 636 looks especially evil (in a good way).

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      I got to ride the new 636 last week and I was really impressed.

      • T Diver

        I ride a vintage 2006 636. I absolutely love it. I’m so lame that part of me wants buy another. Same year. I stare at it when it’s parked and think of how cool it looks. It’s incredibly fun. I’m not Skank-fat so I fit perfect. I rode from LA to SF in a day and felt great. So anyways. I have no point. I have no need for a liter bike. They are great but I’m not Rossi. I don’t ever find myself saying, “Man, I wish this thing had more speed.” Go figure. Boats and Ho’s.

  • http://twitter.com/houleskis Jon Houle

    The sentiment in this article is what makes the KTM 390 Duke and forthcoming Moto3 350 intriguing to me.

    I ride a CBR600 and while it’s a fantastic bike I sometimes think to myself, “Man, I miss my ninja 250. Better gas mileage, flickable, doesn’t cook me hot day in traffic. What if I could have something that’s light like the 250 with 2-3x the power and better brakes and suspension? I only ride on the road after all…..hmmmm…..”

    • KevinB

      Yeah, but get the 690. It only 10lbs more and you get an additional 20hp which is a pretty good deal in my book. I have the 690 and I definitely want for power at times so I could easily see the 390 lacking in that department.

      • KevinB

        I don’t see 65hp being intimidating at all, but the 690 does have select-able maps so you could tone it done if you wanted.

      • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

        how does that single do on the freeway?

        • KevinB

          I went down 1 in the front, and you definitely shift a lot, but I commute in DC traffic with it and it’s fine, relatively speaking. It’s not a Goldwing, but it’s noticeably better than a DRZ SM. In terms of power, it’s pretty closely matched to an SV650 up to about 90, then the twin will start to pull. That said, on any track that has more than a short straight, you will get blasted by inline bikes once everybody gets vertical. Pretty much part of the deal with a small bike, but it’s a good reason to get faster in the corners, better on the brakes, and develop strategy for passing.

          • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

            sorry, i meant more in terms of being a single and holding at freeway speeds for any extended amount of time. i know the power it makes is super fun and I would love to ride one, I just don’t know if I would want to own one and depend on itfor daily riding.

            • KevinB

              I wouldn’t call it a comfortable bike by any means, but the fun factor makes up for it to me personally. It’s a single so you do get some vibration, but it’s not bad above 4k compared to other big bore singles. I think the complete lack of wind protection is probably a bigger factor in terms of freeway comfort. Also, the stock seat is terrible. That said, I commute about an hour a day on the freeway and it’s fine. It’s epic in the city and traffic because of the agility and seating position plus you’re getting 60mpg. If I’m going on a longer ride it’s usually elective so I make it a point to avoid freeways. Comfort is a hugely subjective thing though, so the real answer to your question is probably to just go ride one. Maybe you guys will get the new one in for review soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andreas.alm.315 Andreas Alm

    Most of this is so true, but liter bike torque is fun.

    The 2011 gsxr 600/750 got a major revision, the way the 600 engine responds and picks up rev is incredible, I think its feels better than the 750.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Nowhere above did I say liter bikes aren’t fun.

  • http://twitter.com/KeyserBroze JB

    Sean echoed my biggest complaint about 600s in this write up: they’re cramped. Literbikes tend to have slightly longer wheelbases, so the cockpit space is appreciated if you’re past the 6 foot mark. I ride a speed triple but would happily drop down to a 600 sport bike before a 1k sport bike if I could only find one that was comfortable. The ’13 Daytona 675 is supposed to be a little more spacious, so that might offer a comprise.

    While we’re one the subject, what do you guys think makes the Daytona so much more popular than the inline 4 600s? Maybe it’s just my town, but I see the 675 more often than any particular liter bike. People seem to love those.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      It’s vastly less popular, but it is a distinct, eye catching product in a crowded segment. It’s also Triumph’s flagship product where other 600s will always just be seen as a stepping stone to their 1000cc big brothers.

  • http://twitter.com/VagrantCoyote VagrantCoyote

    Have generally had 1000cc sport bikes in my time, which tend to work for my larger frame. If it wasn’t for the ergonomics, would be happy to try out a 600, don’t see them as inferior in any way, just a slightly different focus. A street fightered 600 like Jamie rides would be a blast.

    • Heatsoak

      Odd comment, considering most of the literbikes share overall ergos with the smaller bikes.

  • alex

    I bought my first non honda when I picked up an 012 gixer 600 in September due to the 0% interest deal – the headlights are bright – brighter than a new wrx I put even bright bulbs in and that makes a huge difference coming from the 08 cbr 600 when riding at night. The pegs adjusted nice and the suspension needs another retweak after 4300 miles. I need to readjust the bars a bit since I am tall but so far I havent needed much else. Got some tank pads a lighter battery and crash kit on mine also a corsa sized windscreen but thats it.

    The power band in 1-2 is kinda sucky because of the built in limiters at low speed, but in higher gears like when you are tooling around the rwy at 85 you just twqist the throttle even in 6th and it goes. I’m 230 pounds so thats saying alot.

    My only bitch is filling the gas tank is a pita and I can never get anything north of 3.2 gallons in or so and the sub par version of the bt016′s they put on are good but not as great as the non oem versions. I just switched it to some new s20′s and it made a world of difference and improved it alot.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      I would put the GSX-R headlight on every bike. It makes getting on anything else at night feel like riding in the dark. It’s too bad the headlight is so ugly, but with how well it performs, I dont think I care.

  • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

    if you struggle with traffic on a 600, I don’t know what to tell you.

    • Isambard

      I think he’s talking about track days.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jordan.jones.56481 Jordan Jones

      If the context of my comment regarding track days wasn’t clear to you, I don’t know what to tell you.

      • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

        I meant to say if you don’t like to struggle with traffic, I dont know what to tell you. Sorry, it was way past my bed time when I checked in on the comments last night. Didn’t mean to sound so flippant.

        Regardless, I think you’re still missing the point. I’m saying that struggling with the traffic is kinda the point. You seem to be saying it’s easier to bring a gun to a knife fight and I’m saying you’ll get better (and have more fun in the long run) if you bring a knife. The most fun part of shooting the track RideApart episode was trying to catch Garrett eariler and earlier each lap in the turns after the “big” straight.

  • Ben

    What about the 750 or does that one not count?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      750 is awesome. That’s the biggest I would want though. I think the 600 is plenty.

  • Scott Jameson

    Write-on, Sean!

  • KevinB

    No, no, no. I ride A group on a 65hp bike and when I was coming up through B and I group, people like you were the most annoying thing in the world. It’s a track day, it’s about skill. It’s so annoying having to pass someone 5 times because they keep pulling the squid card on the straights. If you don’t do that, good for you, but I’m telling you that you’re using power as a crutch and you’re not going to get better if you cop out and don’t challenge yourself. Challenging yourself doesn’t mean crashing or pushing too hard, but if you’re not working, you’re not learning and improving.

  • Porter

    I will always prefer the GSX-R750 for street riding. Nearly the same weight, with measurable low end, fat mid-range and still that screaming top end. The 600′s feel gutless in comparison unless you wind them up all the way, which I think is tiresome. On a separate note, GSX-Rs have always had the best stock seat in the business.

  • deckard

    The GSXR750 always strikes me as the perfect sportbike. But could Suzuki possibly do anything to make these bikes more unattractive? Just hire an outside designer/stylist, please. Serious waste of a great motor/chassis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/destijl Des Stapleton

    08 Honda CB600F is my daily ride and it’s perfect for those exact reasons. I commute to and from work and head to the hills (canyons for those in the US) on the weekend. It has the engine from it’s boy-racer brother the CBR600RR in a comfortable street fighter style naked bike. my only gripe is the suspension is non-adjustable forks and pre-load only shock. grab the suspension off the CBR as well and she will literally be perfect!

  • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

    Sean, I really appreciate the “any man” style reviews you guys bring to the table. As a >10,000 mile a year rider I am always more concerned about ergos and “street-ability” of a bike than 195 rear wheel horsepower.

    I am been die hard liter bike man since I sold my 919 Hornet years back and I am honestly sick of riding hyper aggressive track bikes day in, day out. I am most likely grabbing the new Hypermotard and putting down the race bikes for awhile.

    If I ever go back to it, I’ll most likely buy a 600-750cc range middleweight. (Although most don’t fit my 6’2″ 195lb frame.)

  • Miriam Lambert

    I have the 600 CBR and LOVE it! I commute 100 kms/day on it and have the best twisty windy roads to ride it on! the 600 is truly more than enough. You can only do so much here (40 k over before they impound you) so why do you need anything bigger? I get into enough trouble with my 600 and it only takes a flick of the wrist to be over 200k/hr

  • Justin McClintock

    Nothing wrong with a 600. That said, for around town use, I’ll still stick with my SV1K. Same horsepower (roughly) as those 600s, and enough torque that I can be lazy. Because let’s be honest…I’m lazy. And yes, helibars and lower pegs (courtesy of 2003 SV650N) and it’s all-day comfy…except for that damn seat! Race bikes for the road? I’ll pass. I’m happy sticking with riding on the street on something that was meant for….the street. Crazy concept, I know.

  • Slacker

    The last paragraph is sooooo on my mind lately… went riding with a couple of guys a few weeks back. One CBR600, one Kawasaki 636, one R6 and three S1000RR’s. So, I’m on my BMW R1150RS, moving a decent pace but not WFO on the straights (don’t really like doing that no matter what machine I’m on) and the typical Squiddy thing happened: they all passed me on the straights. So we get to the twisty road we were headed to and I started to lead the way again. No surprise then that I start tearing through the corners and I have to check my rear-view mirror every time I hit a straight because they can’t handle their machines through the corners… I thought I’d get to have some more fun with at least some of these guys… Sorely disappointed.