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Prime numbers - Triumph 675 v Suzuki GSX-R750 v Ducati 848

Operating outside the established 600cc and 1000cc classes, the Ducati 848, Suzuki GSX-R750 and Triumph 675 refuse to be pigeon-holed. But are they alternative oddities or right answers?

Once upon a time, engine configurations and capacities were pretty much a given. If you wanted a sportsbike you either plumped for a large, unwieldy 1000cc across-the-frame-four or, if you wanted handling, you went for a lighter, more agile 750.

If you were loaded then an exotic 1000cc twin fitted the bill nicely, while also reassuring everyone you were a classy guy with bags of taste and a bank balance to suit. Conversely, if you were that bit younger and couldn’t afford the ultimate, you’d go for a 600cc four.

It was so easy back then and, while 1000cc four-cylinder bikes have since slimmed down and powered up, there’s still a big debate over what makes a great sportsbike. Of course some maintain that horsepower rules, while the purists will always choose sublime handling and minimal weight.

These days things aren’t so black and white. 170bhp can be a bit much for many of us and for a variety of reasons, from riding experience through to running costs, bigger isn’t always better.

Suzuki is the sole survivor in the 750cc class with the brilliant GSX-R750, a four-cylinder bike that offers an exquisite balance of power and handling, essentially giving us a 600cc chassis with more midrange torque and 20% more horsepower.

Ducati has done away with its supersport-legal 750cc twin and plumped for an 849cc machine to run alongside the more expensive 1198. Cheaper to buy and insure, Bologna bills the 848 as an ideal entry into the world of Ducati exotica; same great looks as its bigger sibling, a similar chassis and that trademark V-twin boom from the dual underseat pipes all adding to the appeal.

And then of course we’ve got the Triumph Daytona 675. The only bike here eligible for top-class racing, the 675cc triple was a revelation when it was launched back in 2006.

Not much has changed since then and, to be fair, there wasn’t a lot that needed changing. With brilliant handling and a near-perfect blend of four-cylinder revs and V-twin torque, the three-cylinder Daytona has since proved more than a match for the Japanese competition, winning the British Supersport championship last year and, just recently, finally getting onto the podium at world championship level. The 675 really is a superb package, one with character and raw pace.

If that’s not proof enough that sometimes less is more, we took the bikes for a day on the bumpy and tight twists and turns of Mallory Park, followed by a road thrash and a dyno shootout.

Perfectly at Home...

Perfectly at Home...

Born less than three miles up the road, the Triumph is right at home at Mallory Park. Maybe it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise then that into the fast, balls-out, flat-in-fourth-right-hander that is the legendary Gerards, the Daytona feels awesome, like it belongs on this very British racetrack.

The firm but compliant suspension gives this beautiful bike a direct feel that delivers a mass of information to the rider. It’s as though you’ve been hardwired into the chassis, feeling every bump and lump as it’s swiftly dealt with, leaving no question that the 675 was destined to succeed on the racetrack. Accuracy is the key to a fast lap time round the tight and twisty Mallory Park and it’s in following your planned line to wthin milimetres that the 675 excels.

As fast-steering as you’ll ever need a bike to be, the Triumph changes direction through Edwina’s left/right chicane effortlessly – only the lightest of inputs are required to go from hard trail-braking into the left to flicking over to full-lean right. It’s almost too easy to ride fast.

Ground clearance on the svelte Triumph is absolutely massive, too. The riding position isn’t anywhere near as cramped as you’d imagine it to be either because while the footrests are fairly high, so is the seat. This isn’t a complete blessing however as the lofty perch does mean a rider and machine combination with a high centre of gravity – and apart from helping with a quick drop into corners, that’s not always ideal.

While the GSX-R750’s pegs and chunky rear brake lever may be taking a pretty thorough beating thanks to the super-sticky Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP race rubber we’ve fitted (the Triumph gets these as standard, while the Ducati gets Supercorsa Pro – hardly fair to test the Suzuki on its more road biased, OE Bridgestones…) and Mallory’s somewhat solid kerbs, the GSX-R’s riding position couldn’t be any better; the old-school, sat-in-the-bike feel putting less weight on the wrists than the Triumph, giving the 750 a natural feeling of balance. This quickly translates into confidence.

Where the Daytona’s high centre of gravity and lack of slipper clutch has the back end wagging around, the rider wrestling the clip-ons around the headstock on the way into the hairpin and Edwina’s, the GSX-R’s poise and balance is, by comparison, phenomenal.

One of several edges the Suzuki has over the other two is on corner entry. The slipper clutch takes the strain, not only off the rear wheel but off your mind, too. Simply bang it down into the right gear for the exit, let the clutch out and just concentrate on where you want to go while the slipper clutch keeps things neat and tidy on the way in. And getting carried away on the GSX-R, sliding in and out of corners, never feels like you’re going to take a step too far. The extra revs afforded by the shorter-stroke, four-cylinder motor work in the GSX-R’s favour too.

Where the Triumph needs to be short-shifted through its slightly notchy gearbox to avoid hitting that brick wall of a rev limiter just shy of 13,750rpm, the Suzuki’s extra revs couldn’t be more useful – rather than having to snick up an extra gear and risk upsetting the bike mid-corner, the GSX-R can carry a ratio that bit longer, screaming when it wants to go faster without ever losing out in terms of sheer bottom-end pull and drive – indeed, the GSX-R is the thinking man’s 600. Let’s face it, if you’re not going racing you’re allowed to cheat.

Direction changes do take a little more effort on the Suzuki but we’re talking tiny amounts here, and the overall poise on the brakes and mid-corner to exit stability is uncanny, strengths the 750’s possessed for as long as I can remember. As an out-of-the-crate package you can just jump on and go fast on without giving it a second thought, the GSX-R is just so polished.

The Showman

The Showman

As polished as the Suzuki undoubtedly is, there’s no getting away from the sheer beauty of the Ducati. Only a blind man could treat the 848’s tantalising form with indifference and, for all the Japanese efficiency and British spirit shown elsewhere on this test, there’s no disputing that the Italians have got style well and truly nailed.

Like Don Johnson’s Ferrari Testarossa in Miami Vice, in white the 848 proves you don’t need to be red to be desirable. The cool, polar finish of the Italian fits the clean, unfussy design perfectly; the single red 848 decal breaking up the black and white theme with typically Latin subtlety. Mallory Park is the kind of place you either love or hate. Personally, after ten years riding round it, it’s finally starting to grow on me. But the Ducati isn’t quite so keen on the tight turns, longing instead for somewhere more open.

Stability was perhaps at the top of the chassis designers’ brief when the 848 was conceived. The cost-cutting absence of a steering damper backs this up and, while complete and utter stability is a virtue certain other bikes can only dream of, the trade-off is a reluctance to hold a line. The weight bias of the Ducati feels too rearward to instill any confidence in what you’d expect to be the best front end of this, or indeed any, bunch of bikes.

The quality suspension works fluidly with controlled damping fore and aft. No, the problem stems from the geometry which, while giving more rear grip than the 123bhp V-twin motor is ever likely to overcome, means that the front wants to push wide everywhere; at a circuit where trail-braking deep into turns is absolutely vital, the overwhelming feeling of a front-end crash looking for a place to happen ruins an otherwise thrilling Ducati experience.

Racing, erm, I mean riding with Whitham round the sinuous Leicestershire circuit, the differences between the bikes are blindingly obvious. On the GSX-R I can take liberties, digging the front tyre into the tarmac hard on the brakes while the chassis deals with the bumps, leaving me to pull the bike tight towards the apex.

It’s almost too easy and flicking Whitham the bird mid-corner while he fights to keep the 848 in the same county is something I won’t forget in a hurry. But then the Ducati has other strengths. Chuffed with myself for getting past one of my childhood heroes, Whit arrives from way out wide at Gerrards, the torquey V-twin motor booming on the downshifts, the rear tyre squealing for mercy as he shoves me aside and outbrakes me into Edwina’s. Sometimes you’re reminded why these guys did what they did for so long.

The difference here though, if you needed it spelling out, is the rider. Watching James use every inch of track, every degree of lean angle and every last drop of power from the Ducati is something pretty special. But what’s really been proved special here is the astonishing ease with which the Suzuki can be made to go properly fast, whether you’re a former world-level racer or not. With only mild effort I can keep up and even pass in places, something that I can only dream of doing on the Triumph and can’t even contemplate on the Ducati.

More ride height would definitely improve the Italian’s somewhat wayward behaviour, but still I can’t help but be a little disappointed with the 848. It may well share the £2500 more expensive 1198’s stunning good looks, but I can’t help feeling that the 848 is a little too entry-level-basic for the not insignificant £10,495 asking price. Next to the GSX-R’s on the road price of £8700 and the talented Brit’s comparably meagre tag of just £7589, the Ducati looks like poor value.

Nail on the Head

Nail on the Head

Track tests are great. They let us ride as close to 100% as our bravery allows and give us the big picture on how well the bikes work when ridden close to the limit. This is all well and good but banging around Mallory Park for twenty minutes at a time is one thing – what they’re like to live with on a typical weekend road blast is something entirely different.

The Triumph impressed us on our trip to Assen a few issues ago with its flexibility. But then that was compared to its supersport rivals, a bunch of focussed, firmly sprung, 600cc high-revving screamers. In this company, its usability isn’t quite so obvious.

The Triumph’s slender body is a massive asset on the racetrack, with towering ground clearance and flickability being the most obvious benefits. But on the road the lack of plastic and tall riding position combine to ensure that anyone over 5’7” needs to either get well tucked in at speed or develop strong neck muscles. Add to that a firm seat pad and you’re never too unhappy when the fuel light flicks on after any length of time spent on the motorway. Cosseting the Triumph ain’t.

Road handling is a big Triumph plus point though, and just as the entry to the infamous Gerards corner was ironed out by the suspension, A and B road bumps are dealt with equally capably. Much as the chassis loved Mallory, it would seem the Daytona is pretty fond of hammering British back roads, too.

Away from the hard braking and tight turns that caused it so many problems, the Ducati comes alive. Flowing through the sweeping bends, counter-steering with the torquey V-twin motor throbbing away, it feels like a completely different motorcycle.

Entry-level exotica the 848 may be, but the same unique and almost ethereal feeling that only the Bolognese firm can infuse in a motorcycle hasn’t been lost on the 1198’s kid brother. That resolute stability and utter refusal to headshake on even the bumpiest of roads make up for the almost painfully slow steering on one of Britain’s tightest racetracks.

But then there’s the Suzuki. When it comes to getting on with the job in hand with the minimum of fuss, the GSX-R is the absolute daddy. While it’s been said a million times before by a million different road testers, the simple fact that this is as close as you’re ever likely to get to the perfect blend of handling and power is something that can’t be reiterated enough.

Everything about this bike just works. The suspension manages to be suitably plush for the road and firm enough for the racetrack and the engine has more than enough poke without stressing the rider out.

Getting Hogan to give me the keys back so I could return it to Suzuki proved very difficult, his parting shot summing the bike up beautifully: “If I wasn’t lucky enough to do this job and had to ride one bike for the rest of my life, this would be it. It works on the road, flatters me on the track and doesn’t even mind ducking and diving through a Central London rush hour. I bloody love it”.

Ride this bike for even a short period of time and I defy anyone in the market for a new sportsbike to come up with a genuine reason not to buy one. In fact, I’d bet my house that just like John, you’d bloody love it, too.

James Whitham on...

James Whitham on...

Triumph 675

Although from ten feet away the new 675 looks almost identical to the original model, lots of subtle changes to an already excellent bike keep the Daytona in the game. Suspension, brakes and aerodynamics get the main tweaks.

The engine is as good as ever, probably not quite as strong as any of the Japanese 600s right at the top, but that’s more than made up for by the chunk of torque you get right through the middle of the rev-range. It makes the 675 loads more relaxing to ride on the road or the track. Even the engine note is less urgent than a four-cylinder bike. You can think about where you’re going a bit instead of worrying about which gear you’re in.

The steering is quick and accurate and you always feel confident that you can stick it into a turn and put it just where you want it. It’s also a very narrow machine, which I reckon makes it feel even more nimble, but without any nervousness – the steering damper always keeps it stable over any road surface.

The biggest problem for me was the riding position. You’re perched way up high and pushed forward onto your arms. It’s not that it’s uncomfortable, but it means the centre of gravity of bike and rider are high up – not such a problem in the turns, but you do get a lot of weight transfer under heavy braking. Braking hard for Mallory’s hairpin the bike was pivoting around the front tyre and lifting the rear wheel off the ground all too easily.

Dropping the rear ride-height would help this but then you’d lose some of the sweet feeling from the front in the turns.

Ducati 848

Considering they’re both sportsbikes the Ducati feels very different to the Triumph. You sit in the 848, cosseted by a big seat and a tall tank.

Like all Dukes (and most V-twins), the motor is deceptively powerful. Where the old 749 never quite had the power to trouble the Japanese 600s in a straight line, the 848 certainly has thanks to those extra cubes.

The Ducati is the most stable of the three bikes and it has a steady, safe feeling to it, especially on faster, flowing sections of road. But on a twisty track like Mallory Park its stability works against it. It was really hard work trying to hustle the 848 through both flick-flack chicanes. Chasing Rob on the GSX-R it was frustrating to have to muscle the bike through a section and lose twenty yards in the process.

When I really started pushing on I found the 848 had a tendency to run wide on the faster corners as well. It took concentration to hold a tight line. My feeling is that there’s not enough weight on the front tyre. In stark contrast to the Trumpet, I reckon the Ducati would be transformed into a different bike with some rear ride height added or the front end lowered by dropping the forks through a bit.

All that said, for most riders in most conditions, on faster, more open tracks like Donington Park or Silverstone the 848 is still a very good introduction to Ducati sports exotica.

Suzuki GSX-R750

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t know why all manufacturers (well the Japanese at least) don’t build a 750cc four. The GSX-R really is that good.

For me the GSX-R has just the right balance of power and handling. It’s one of those bikes that you feel at home with and confident on as soon as you’ve thrown your leg over it. Most of the 600 sportsters feel agile but a bit short of grunt, and the one litre race-reps are so fast they can be intimidating for a lot of riders – with the GSX-R750 you get the best of both worlds.

Despite the fact that the suspension feels reasonably soft for a sportsbike when you first get going, the steering is sharp and precise, the bike’s quick to change direction without being scary and it’ll hold a tight line without you having to force it to keep turning. Riding any bike properly is about getting a feel for what it’s doing underneath you; I think they call it feedback. This bike gives you loads. You feel like you can take liberties with it and it’ll give you a warning before it all goes wrong.

In short the GSX-R750 is a really easy bike to ride, fast or otherwise. You could ride it to work, go for a blast with your mates and do a trackday or two, and enjoy the lot without having to change a thing other than the tyres.

I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone who owns, or has owned, a GSX-R750 in the last five or six years who’s been disappointed with it. A clear winner.

Verdict

Different strokes

With three different configurations and capacities, the power curves tell very different stories yet don’t always translate directly to how they feel on the racetrack.

If you were to compare the GSX-R’s curve to that of a privateer supersport 600 race bike, there wouldn’t be much in it. Considering the only modification we made to this £8700 machine was a decent set of tyres, having a bike that’s as close as most of us are ever likely to get to a well-sorted £20K race bike is within easy reach. The GSX-R is by far the best track bike here.

From 6000rpm the Ducati pulls much harder than the other two and is quite clearly king when it comes to torque. This is most notable exiting tight turns, but still isn’t enough to make up for the lower entry and mid-corner speeds. It’s not the engine that slows the 848 down, it’s the wayward handling. Time spent on suspension set-up would make better use of the torque way earlier in the corner.

The Triumph’s best-of-both-worlds blend of high revs and lowdown drive make it incredibly linear and easy to ride, though after riding the Suzuki, it does lack revs. The rev limiter is pretty abrupt, too.

Verdict

We all have different reasons for choosing whatever bike we end up with. Sometimes it’s purely down to price but more often than not the reasons become a little more blurred. Costs aside, the Ducati’s negatives are all easily remedied. The suspension is fully adjustable as is the geometry,

so making it handle like it should just requires a knowledgeable spanner man and a tool kit. It

does work well on the road though, and if you simply must have an exotic Italian V-twin for Japanese 1000cc four-cylinder money, then all of a sudden the 848 looks like good value. Just don’t expect the same blistering performance poundfor- pound and you might just be able to stave off the disappointment of not being able to stretch to an 1198 long enough to stop caring.

If you’re somewhat patriotic, no one could blame you for opting for the Triumph. Actually, forget that last remark, if you simply like bikes with bags of character then you’re unlikely to be unhappy with the well-priced Daytona 675. It’s a beautifully packaged piece of British engineering that brings a breath of fresh air to the hyper-competitive supersport 600 class.

And so finally, as if you hadn’t already guessed, the unanimous Visordown favourite, the Suzuki GSX-R750. It does everything you could ever ask of a sportsbike except intimidate you. It can scratch, stunt, commute and it’s even comfortable enough to do a bit of touring.

The GSX-R750 really can be all things to all men. In a cost-conscious world, when it comes to pound-for-pound performance, it’s a no brainer.

Specifications

Triumph 675
Price:
£7999
Top speed: 141mph Engine: 675cc, 12-valve, liquid-cooled, in-line triple
Bore x stroke: 74mm x 52.3mm Compression ratio: 12.65:1
Power: 107.99bhp at 12,750rpm Torque: 46.59 lb/ft at 11,500rpm
Front suspension: 41mm inverted forks Adjustment: High and low speed compression, preload and rebound
Rear suspension: Monoshock Adjustment: High and low speed compression, preload and rebound
Front brakes: 2 x 4-piston calipers, 308mm discs
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Dry weight: 162kg (357lbs) Seat height: 825mm Fuel capacity: 17.4 litres
Colour options: Red, black

Ducati 848
Price
: £10,695
Top speed: 167mph Engine: 849.4cc, 8-valve, liquid-cooled V-twin
Bore x stroke: 94mm x 61.2mm Compression ratio: 12:1
Power: 123.39bhp at 10,500rpm Torque: 64.98 lb/ft at 8500rpm
Front suspension: 43mm inverted forks Adjustment: Compression, preload and rebound
Rear suspension: Monoshock Adjustment: Compression, preload, rebound and ride height
Front brakes: 2 x 4-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Twin-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Dry weight: 168kg (370lbs) Seat height: 830mm Fuel capacity: 15.5 litres
Colour options: White, red

Suzuki GSX-R750
Price:
£9399
Top speed: 175mph Engine: 749cc, 16-valve, liquid-cooled in-line four
Bore x stroke: 70mm x 48.7mm Compression ratio: 12.5:1
Power: 132.1bhp at 13,750rpm Torque: 56.13 lb/ft at 11,750rpm
Front suspension: 43mm inverted forks Adjustment: Compression, preload and rebound
Rear suspension: Monoshock Adjustment: Compression, preload and rebound
Front brakes: 2 x 4-piston calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Dry weight: 164kg (362lbs) Seat height: 810mm Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Colour options: Black, blue/white, bronze/black, white/silver