2008 GSX-R600 first ride review

The look is similar, but Niall discovers that the 2008 GSX-R600's beauty is more than just skin deep.

With so many new models to digest at the NEC back in November, my opinion of the 2008 GSX-R600 was that apart from a new exhaust, nothing much had changed in the looks or performance department. I’ll pay more attention in future.

After the recent press launch at the Misano circuit in Italy, I found a fair amount of work had gone on over the past two years in an attempt to make this middleweight the best in class.

Suzuki’s development concept of ‘top performer’ in each sports bike displacement segment continues with the latest GSX-R600. As always the focus has been on improved engine performance, handling and braking. However this time round, adjustability has been equally important for the engineers back in Hamamatsu.

Styling hasn’t been left out either as the harsh front-end looks have been replaced by something that is much kinder on the eye. The nose cowl and vertically stacked lights have a softer friendlier look while still retaining the definitive GSX-R identity. Less noticeable are the re-profiled ‘knuckle covers,’ which improve aerodynamics and help protect your digits. Other visual improvements are the lighter, stiffer wheels that now have skinnier, offset spokes replacing the previous versions that were vertically mounted. And then there is that exhaust.

I have to say it does look better in the flesh and is certainly an improvement on the more tacky GSX-R1000 silencers but I still preferred the stubby MotoGP style pipe on the K7 600s and 750s. But think positive, although the bulky new exhaust has added weight, it does help performance and also gives you the perfect excuse to order the extremely sexy Yoshimura GP Evo11. Being a fan of the many white bikes hitting the streets this year I thought the blonde version with matching wheels might be my favourite but the traditional royal blue Suzuki with colour coded seat in my opinion is the best by far. Its particularly pleasing as the side view resembles the Scottish Saltire!

Our launch venue, the Misano circuit near Rimini, holds bittersweet memories for me. I qualified third there after my third ever 500GP on an uncompetitive Suzuki and in the same weekend was offered a two-year factory contract with Honda. I was also in the same Misano race that unfortunately finished Wayne Rainey’s career; a hellish day that truly shocked the GP paddock

That said, I’ve always enjoyed riding this fantastic track and I like it more than ever now that it runs in the opposite direction. With the exception of elevation changes ‘Misano Adriatica’ has every feature any rider could want from a modern track. Three good straights, 10 lefts and five right-handers make up his all new MotoGP facility. My only wish was the misty, chilly conditions had given way to some better weather.

Thermals on, the three way adustable foot pegs in the standard position (forward and down) a quick tweak to my brake and clutch lever height and I was ready to go. For the first session Suzuki fitted tyre warmers which meant we left the pit lane with toasting tyres but after the three slow, sighting laps getting they cooled so getting maximum grip from the normally ace Bridgestone BT016s was never going to happen. I could only really ride at 75% with the front grip being the limiting factor. The track appeared dry but high corner speeds were difficult as the lack of feel limited decent lean angles. Much fun was still to be had though as the latest baby GSX-R reflects its looks being easily the most user friendly 600 I’ve ridden to date.

Although 1kg heavier than before (now 163kg claimed dry weight) there is a light feel from both the chassis and the engine. Starting with the handing I felt really confident through the faster turns, especially tipping into the 4th and 5th gear right-handers on the back section of the track.  I was rolling the throttle at the first 140mph right but good mate and Suzuki test rider John Reynolds assured me it should be flat out, so maybe next time. I have no doubt the high-speed stability is enhanced by the new speed sensitive electronic steering damper mounted on the bottom triple clamp.

The slower corners presented more of a challenge however, as after hammering in on the brakes the low track temperature gave me little confidence to pitch the bike on its side and trust the front to pull me round.  Increasing preload and rebound damping helped marginally but as there is nine, second gear corners on one lap and my momentum and rhythm felt seriously compromised. Incidentally the combination of better brakes, due to smaller caliper pistons and thinner discs, plus a smoother action slipper clutch, means you can be stupidly aggressive while back shifting without ever getting into trouble. The rear end felt well planted on both braking and acceleration so I left the multi adjustable Showa rear shock on the standard out of the box settings.

On the final sessions the mist lifted and so did the temperature so I began to feel more comfortable. Tyre temperatures also increased but were still five degrees short of their optimum working range. One turn of high speed compression damping on the rear shock for my very last run sharpened up the whole package but with my pace increasing I was could feel the front forks were close to their limit on braking. Time permitting more preload here would be my next adjustment. I would pitch my riding level at around 90% so I’ll have to wait for warm sunny day before I can lay everything on the line.

I was pleased to find Suzuki has followed Honda’s lead with the latest CBR600 and lost the lethargic mid-range feeling that for a few years became the norm with this capacity. A higher compression ratio, new eight hole injectors, re-profiled camshafts and that chunky exhaust all help to give a much lighter free revving feel be it sitting in the pit lane or out on the track. There is no real increase in maximum bhp, but the boost in torque is very noticeable with the motor pulling cleanly from 4,000rpm.

Acceleration is now much stronger to 13,000rpm, which means you don’t feel like your thrashing the motor to death in every gear to reach the 16,000rpm redline and shift point. This is, of course, on the track but road rides will also be more enjoyable with this more flexible motor. For the most part the motor felt sweet but there were parts of the track where there seemed to be a slight fueling lag if I happened to roll the throttle for an instant especially in the lower gears. It was more of a fluffy spot as a flat spot and didn’t really present any problems.

The distinctive GSX-R engine note is still very much in evidence but with smoother pitch and less vibration through the handlebars.  Unsurprisingly the K8 GSX-R600 now comes with SDMS or Suzuki Drive Mode Selector, giving three different engine maps to suit your mood. ‘A’ mode is full power; ‘B’ mode gives 80% power while ‘C’ mode gives 60% which when selected feels like being on a CB500. I’m not sure I see the point of this function on a 600 as once you’ve got used to riding on full power the other settings feel quite weird.

If it’s raining and I’m worried about the ride home, I just change up through the gears earlier and the same goes for a wet track day. While messing around I hit the button by mistake, flicking from ‘C’ to ‘A’ mode and scaring the crap out of myself in the process. I’ll be staying firmly ‘A’ mode from now on. The SDMS toggle switch is located on the right handle bar and the corresponding letter illuminates on the dash that has now swapped from a white to grey GSX-R1000 style background.

Should you buy the 2008 Suzuki GSX-R600?

Suzuki has done a good job with the GSX-R600 this time round. Like Yamaha, the staff have a very friendly philosophy and somehow they’ve built this into their latest 600. Although not completely perfect in my eyes, the forks could be better, at least its appealing looks compliment its very rideable nature, so I don’t believe anyone will dislike this bike.

I like the fact it doesn’t feel like it has been solely built to win supersport championships. This means it will make a great road bike but who knows, maybe it can do both? Whatever the outcome, with a brand as strong as the GSX-R’s it will certainly sell well.

2008 GSX-R600 specs

  • Price: £7,200
  • Power: 130bhp@ 12,000rpm
  • Torque: 46lb.ft@ 11,500rpm
  • Front suspension: USD fully adjustable
  • Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adjustable
  • Front brake: 310mm discs, four-piston radial calipers
  • Rear brake: 220mm disc, one-piston caliper
  • Dry weight: 163kg (claimed)
  • Seat height: 810mm
  • Fuel capacity: 17l
  • Top speed: 170mph (est)
  • Colours: Blue/white, white, black