If you’re looking for an easy time or the best fuel economy, don’t bother coming here. Sharing frames and styling with its bigger 750 and 1,000cc brothers, the GSX-R was the first of the 600s to get fuel injection and continues to be utterly single-minded and a deep joy to ride on the road or racetrack.
“What’s to be said about the GSX-R600 that hasn’t been said already?” said Niall. Saying stuff that had already been said. “Just so capable, we knew it was going to be somewhere up the front. Loads of midrange power, with a fuel injection system that works really well, as much top-end power as the rest and a stunning chassis. You hardly even notice how quickly it powers out of a corner until you look back and see how far your mates have fallen behind. The engine was definitely my favourite here, and the midrange is certainly a match for the 636 Kawasaki.”
Indeed it is, and without resorting to sneaky tricks like extra cee-cees. Most of the engine’s manic manners are down to the fuel injection system, which works a treat. With a light crank the Suzuki spins up like a banshee with no hesitation off the throttle, getting indecent drive for a 600, and all the while shrieking through its barely road-legal exhaust. Do Suzuki actually get their bikes noise tested? Because all their sportsbikes sound about 10db noisier and healthier than the competition. When you’ve got the clock pointing at 14,000rpm, chin flat on the tank and firing out the exit of your favourite corner, the GSX-R is a very good place to be.
At Cadwell the GSX-R600 was an absolute weapon. By far the fastest around the circuit, you felt like you could take any number of liberties with lean angles and late braking, and the chassis would just let you get away with it. On the road, this translates to equally lunatic riding. Where you’re happy to perhaps just potter about on the 636 and CBR, with the GSX-R – and the R6 – you just have to ride like a bloody mentalist everywhere. However, unlike the R6, the GSX-R’s tight suspension package and steering damper will let you blast hard down roads that would be tying the Yamaha into knots. Not to say the Suzuki won’t tankslap, ’cos she will, but you’ll be able to feel it coming. It’s one of those chassis packages that rewards good riding, but’ll bite people who get cheeky with it.
“The chassis allows you to corner quicker than the others, definitely.” Back to Niall. “Makes going fast easy. It’s a more rigid chassis than the others, but with the suspension to match. I’ve ridden Karl Harris’s GSX-R600 from last year, and it is just a missile. You can ride that bike so hard for a racing bike and it just doesn’t move. And the base chassis on the roadbike is pretty much the same.”
The racing pedigree of the GSX-R does mean that you’re all over the front end, and rider comfort is a second-base issue. The footpegs are high, there’s pressure on your wrists, and you’d be mad to accept a pillion ride. So if covering big miles in big comfort is where your priorities lie, go for the 636 or CBR. But if you’re into extracting the most performance-per-pound out of your motorcycle, the GSX-R is certainly a tool.
It’s worth noting that our adman Mark Shippey couldn’t get on with the GSX-R at all and hated it to bits. “Felt like it was going to do something unexpected at every moment, the chassis felt nervous and the motor spun-up too quick for me. The whole bike was just too... quick for me” And that’s the Suzuki GSX-R600 all over for you.
It's got a style and desireability all of its own. With the other 600s, you get the impression that their owners are only riding them because they can't get the insurance or can't afford their larger, faster kin. With the GSX-R600, it's such a wicked little bike that I could happily ride it all day instead of the GSX-R750 or 1,000. It looks great, it's got stunning midrange and top-end rush, the handling is impeccable, and with fuel injection and alloy everything, it's right at the very front of the technical surf. Two things it isn't is 1) particularly comfortable, especially not for a pillion, and 2) as easy to ride on the road as either the CBR or ZX-6R. But it performs its role of supersports (with the accent on sports) 600 so supremely well that it rules this roost. On the track it was in a league of its own.
2002 Suzuki GSX-R600 Specs
Production date: 2002
Price new: £6899
Engine capacity: 599cc
Power: 101bhp @ 13,200rpm
Torque: 45lb/ft @ 10,500rpm
Seat height: 830mm
Top speed: 159mph