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First Ride: 2011 Suzuki GSX-R600

Can Suzuki revitalize the competitive supersport category with the all-new GSX-R600? Mark Forsyth does some laps of Almeria to find out

Well, the fug of excitement has now lifted. The sweaty leathers are packed away in the kit bag and I’m just about to have a shower and grab some grub. I’ve done five, twenty minute sessions on the 2011 GSX-R600 and this is my verdict.

600s aren’t for everyone, that’s for sure. They thrive on revs and have to be caned mercilessly (compared to a 1000cc sports bike) to get the best out of them – to extract that last drop of performance. Personally, for track use, I’d take a 600 anyday; there’s just something immensely satisfying about chasing those extra three, four, five hundred revs and making sure your corner entry speed is every km fast enough. And how nice a feeling is it to feel the throttle cables stretched to the max through every gear as a corner opens up?

Where a 1000 is doing everything it can to flip you like a cheese omelette, 600s are so much more forgiving and on a tight, flowing track like Almeria, every bit as fast. And let’s be honest, with modern 600s putting out the sort of power  that would have humbled a litre bike of fifteen or twenty years ago. Isn’t that fast enough for you?

Let’s forget about the engine for a moment. The bulk of Suzuki’s development work has centred around the chassis side of things and making sure that weight is pared to the bone and what weight there is, is in the right place to achieve  that tricky combination of handling balance. Personally I don’t care if the exhaust system is made from .2mm thinner wall tubing. I don’t care if the headlight is .4grammes lighter than its predecessor. All I want to know is does it all work any better.

2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 Review

The previous model was hardly a lard bucket. It’s main fault on track, as far as I was concerned, was the front end. As soon as the front brake lever even got a sniff of your index finger the forks bottomed out leaving no travel to soak up bumps and therefore leaving the rider with very little feedback or confidence.  With the big piston forks and those awesome monoblock Brembo radial callipers, they’ve got this licked. Haven’t ridden a bike that begs you to brake later and deeper like this does. Amazing front end.

It’s super planted mid-turn too. There are plenty of places to test this round Almeria. Corners that go on an on and on where you crane your neck – Edward’s style – to glimpse the exit. The GSX-R even with your foot and knee on the deck is super planted and you can feel everything the edges of the impressive Bridgestone tyres are doing. The steering and chassis performance is massively influenced by throttle input. In certain sections you can tighten or widen a turn with just a few microscopic degrees of twist grip movement. The fuelling is mint, incidentally. Progressive and predictable - perfect.

Then, when the corner opens out and you start piling the coals on, the next big improvement makes itself known. The motor spins up hungrily and snaps through its super close ratio gears like a crosser with a bald back tyre. For the road rider, the penalty is a much high ratio first gear but we’re not talking RC30/RC45 high, it’s just a bit higher. Better crankcase breathing means less pumping losses. Lighter pistons means less inertia. Result? Super snappy response and a 15,000rpm rev ceiling. People who thought the old GSX-R600 was a bit wheezy low down would be well advised to take a test ride on this new version and ask themselves whether they really need a 750 or 1000.

Clearly racing is high up the design team’s agenda. Suzuki have found it tough going in the white-hot 600 class for some time now and when they’re saying things like ‘for improved, faster starts’ they’re not meaning a starter motor that turns the engine over faster. The race kitted version (tantalisingly only for show purposes on this launch) looks gorgeous and suggest a certain intent from the big S.

Superports 600s are inextricably linked with racing.  It’s been the way for a couple of decades now, since the class began. In this class a tiny defecit in a certain area can feel like a canyon of difference when it’s all so close between the manufacturers’ offerings. I can’t possibly say whether the 2011 is any better or worse than the opposition as we haven’t ridden it back to back yet. However I can say that it’s a big, big improvement over last year’s offering despite most of the changes being seemingly small (in isolation). The whole bike is just easier and more fun to ride on the limit and I’d suggest that on the road this would manifest itself in a more comfortable ride with heaps more feedback and confidence for the rider.

2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 Specifications

Price £8799
Engine
599cc, 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC
Bore x stroke
67 mm × 42.5 mm
Compression ratio
12.9:1
Front suspension
120 mm inverted Showa forks, fully adjustable
Rear suspension 130 mm
Front brakes 310 mm, Brembo four-piston caliper
Rear brake 220 mm, Nissin single-piston caliper
Seat height
810 mm
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Colour options Blue/white, Black/white, Black