Along with cruisers, sportbikes are nearest and dearest to the hearts of manufacturers. 600s, in particular, are hugely important. The 600 sportbike, in terms of sales volume and profits, can really make or break a manufacturer’s year.
It wasn’t that long ago that 600s received low-end components. Steel frames, cheap brakes, mediocre suspension, etc. Gradually, things changed, and today the 600cc sportbike category has as much, or more, technology thrown at it as any motorcycle category represented in the United States. One of the reasons that the 600cc class of sportbike gets so much attention from manufacturers here in the U.S. is AMA racing. AMA 600 Supersport racing is high profile, “win on Sunday sell on Monday” racing, and the modifications allowed to the stock bikes are minimal. In order to be competitive on the track, the stock bikes have to be darn good to begin with. As a consequence, they are.
This has also become another category where a constant game of “leap frog” is played by the manufacturers. Gone are the days when modifying your bike once every four years was deemed satisfactory. Indeed, significant changes every two years are a must, and the industry is moving toward complete replacement of these motorcycles every two years (witness what Kawasaki has done with its ZX-6R between the 2003 model year and the 2005 model year, for instance). Talk about cut throat competition.
So when you read a “600 shoot-out”, and the author concludes that every single bike in the test is an excellent machine, don’t automatically conclude this is a cop-out designed to avoid offending one or more manufacturers (including advertisers). It is not. It is a fact. Plain and simple. These bikes are all excellent, and represent the best efforts of their capable manufacturers.
In the end, of course, it is our job to determine which bikes are more excellent than the others, and rank them. This is not easy.
While our average reader here at MD does not ride as well as at least two of our testers Willy Ivins and Jeff Whitmer (each an expert level roadracer with many thousands of street miles to boot), he may very well ride as well as the editor, and others who took part in this comparison testing. The faster/more experienced riders really help bring out the fine points of each motorcycle. Their experience and ability to push the bikes near their limits uncover faults that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Nevertheless, the focus has to be on meaningful feedback for the average rider, as well as the experienced, faster rider. The focus also has to be on the street, where these bikes will be ridden by their owners 99% of the time.