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Triumph Daytona 600 versus CBR600 & ZX-6R

England experts every British sportsbike to do its duty. But can the Daytona beat the awesome CBR600RR and Kawasaki ZX-6R?

I've had a bit of an uneasy feeling ever since I stepped off the plane from the launch of the Triumph Daytona. Now I know I'm getting on a bit, and unlike a fine Scottish Malt my old noodle up top doesn't get much better with age, but was the Daytona really that good? I mean, look at it this way. Honda is a massive company with huge resources and a virtual ocean of racing experience to dive into. If it wants something then it invariably gets it. Take MotoGP. Honda wanted to win it, so it built the RCV and walked the title. Honda wanted the WSB title, so it built the SP-2 and developed it into a world beater. And now big H wants the best supersports 600 bike, so it built the CBR600RR. Job done, almost.

In our group test earlier this year the CBR did just enough to beat off the challenge from the excellent  Kawasaki, but then the Triumph Daytona appeared. Could a small British firm from Hinckley really challenge the might of Honda? It's a bit like David and Goliath all over again, except without the slingshots, or the loin cloths. Which is a shame. I love 'em.

So in the interests of research, and topping up my tan a bit, we packed the three best 600s into the back of a van and headed down to sunny Spain to circuit Almeria to really put them through their paces. And to ensure a totally level playing field for a pukka scientific test, each bike was equipped with the same Pirelli Diablo Corsa tyres.

Almeria is one of those circuits that is perfectly suited to a 600. It's very tight and twisty and has a back section that can be done almost entirely in third gear. When it comes to assessing handling I can't really think of a better track, which is why so many GP, WSB and BSB teams come here for testing.

First out of the van was the Honda, well you may as well start with the benchmark. After a few laps I remembered what it was about the CBR I liked so much, just about everything. It's just so bloody good. The whole bike feels tiny and you kind of sit on top of it, which is perfect when it comes to track riding. Show it a corner and the baby RCV just dives towards the apex. No fuss, no messing. If you want to tighten a line, adjust position or just see how far you can lean it over then go ahead, it takes it all in its stride. It really is that easy to ride and tremendously confidence inspiring.

That old feeling of unease was creeping back, was the Triumph really that good? Best try the Kawasaki. When we did the group test earlier this year the Kawasaki was my least favourite of the 600s. I never felt 100 per-cent confident in the front end and the suspension definitely wasn't right. But the bike I rode at Almeria was a completely different beast. Now I'm not sure if this was because the temperature was higher in Spain than Britain in January but the ZX-6R felt a million times better, maybe the Pirelli tyres just suit it well.

Hopping on the Kawasaki from the Honda the first thing that strikes you is the clocks as they leap up and try and hit you in the face. The extra mid-range boost the 36cc advantage it has over the Honda really is awesome. In the chicane where you are changing between first and second gear the ZX leaps up and wheelies under power and with the aid of the forks bouncing up, it feels much more like a mini 750 than a 600. Fantastic. It also sounds ace on full-chat and reminds me of a screaming two-stroke more than a four, which is no bad thing.

Cornering hard the Kawasaki still doesn't quite have that planted feel of the Honda and mid-corner the front can feel a little vague but is still very impressive. I reckon a bit of the lack of feeling could be attributed to the riding position which is much more sit-in than sit-on the bike as with the Honda. For road riding it makes the bike feel bigger and comfier but when it comes to track work the Honda's feeling of sitting virtually straddling the top yoke gives ultimate feel.

Which is probably why the indicated speeds of the two bikes were so similar. Yes the Kawasaki has the extra grunt getting out of corners but you can use the extra feeling the Honda's chassis gives you to start laying down the power first and accelerating harder out of the corner.

But by now there was no putting it off any further, it was time to face my demons and take out the Triumph. After a few laps I could almost feel my heart sinking, as well as my reputation in the paddock. The Triumph felt horrible. In a corner it felt just good, not fantastic as the Honda or excellent like the Kawasaki. The forks felt too soft and the rear wallowed as well combining to make it feel nothing like the sweet handling machine I rode last month. But then I remembered what the Triumph technician had told me. For the launch at Cartagena Triumph had firmed up the standard road setting for track use. Back to the pits and I added a few clicks of compression, rebound and preload and headed out again.

What a transformation. In half a lap my reputation was restored and I could sleep again at night. The Triumph really is a fantastic handling bike. I would say it is a very, very close second behind the Honda and the only real thing splitting them is the size of the bike, like the Kawasaki the Triumph feels slightly bigger and is fractionally harder to turn in because of it. But there really is little in it.

Mid-corner the Triumph is totally solid and like the Honda just encourages you to try even harder. You really have to hand it to the boys at Triumph R&D because they have turned out a cracking chassis that is super easy to use and almost a match for the best that Japan and Honda can offer. Good on ya!

The only thing that really separates the Triumph from the others is it's motor, which is the weakest of the three. Obviously it can't match the huge mid-range of the 636cc ZX but it holds the Honda until the last few rpm where the Honda just edges an advantage. Again it's marginal but the CBR definitely has the legs, and the Daytona's gearbox lets it down. I found a few false neutrals and it just isn't as slick at the Japanese bike's.

But a word about the brakes now. The Kawasaki is the only one here with radial brakes and despite most people gobbing off about them being no more than a fashion accessory, they're in fact a lot more - and they're definitely from the class of 'why didn't anyone think of that before?'

In short, the radial mount makes for much more rigid calipers, giving you more effective braking for less swept area. This means smaller discs, less weight and moving the weight inwards towards the spindal, minimising gyroscopic effect, and the result is more powerful brakes - and quicker turning!

Indeed, as far as stopping performance goes the Kwak is streets ahead of the other two: The brakes are so good they're  almost overkill so mind you don't grab too much of a handful on the road, especially in wet conditions. But on track they're superb.

Triumph and Honda are on a par brakewise - the Triumph's six-pot set-up may look old-fashioned but they're effective enough for the BSB Supersport team ValMoto to leave them as standard, the brake pad compound being the only thing they change.

Another trick-looking gadget that sets the Kawasaki apart from the competition is the rev counter/speedometre combination - shame it's little more than useless! The 'digibar' lights look like something out of Star Trek which is cool if you are a Trekky, but it's impossible to read so you'll end up paying attention to the brilliant shift light only.

Thankfully, the Honda and Triumph have standard dials and although the Honda gets a shift light, the Triumph doesn't - if you've never had one you won't miss it, but we'd got used to using one by now with the other two so we did end up wondering where it was.

Alright, time to put my money where my mouth is and pick a winner. Well I'm sorry but I can't really. These three bikes really are that good that it would entirely depend on what kind of mood you are in and what kind of a rider you are to which is the best. If you are in the mood to be a complete hooligan and enjoy screaming the nuts of a bike while you listen to one of the best sounds in the world then go for the Kawasaki and leave your ear-plugs at home. If you want to knock a few tenths of a second of your best lap time and practice hitting every apex to within ten centimetres then the Honda is for you.

But if you want a nice relaxed trackday with a bike that handles fantastically and is very easy to get on with then the Triumph is for you. I know I'm not being very decisive but I would be more than happy to part with my cash (and I'm a Scotsman) for anyone of these bikes. If one of them really stands out to you them go for it, because there is bugger all separating them for me. Ain't life grand.