How to the supersports stack up?

Twenty years ago, the Supersport class spawned a revolution in the sportbike world. Racing heroes like Miguel Duhamel and the Hayden brothers had replicas of their race-winning bikes rolling off showrooms as fast as dealers could uncrate ‘em. The classic "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" maxim was as heavy as the trophies these athletes hoisted. It was the heyday of sportbikes. A lot has changed since then, including the engine displacement as the class evolves, and while the popularity has cooled, there are still riders who value apex strafing middleweight performance. It’s for those we present the track edition of our annual Supersport Shootout.


In the motorcycle dictionary, Supersport can mean a lot of things. But for us the explanation is simple: Japanese-built sportbikes that employ high-revving and state-of-the-art, liquid-cooled 599cc Inline Four engines. For 2013 there are three: Honda’s CBR600RR, Yamaha’s YZF-R6 and Suzuki’s GSX-R600. Where’s the Kawasaki? It jumped to the middleweight class, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Honda joins this year’s shootout with its fresh-faced CBR600RR. After a lengthy hiatus from any hardware updates at the factory, the two-time Supersport Shootout champ finally comes to bat with fresh components, including new wheels and suspension from Showa. It also got a facelift and some subtle aerodynamic improvements for greater efficiency. Last time around Honda finished in the runner-up spot despite being one of the oldest platforms in the contest. Will this be the year Big Red reclaims the top spot?

Yamaha returns with its racy little YZF-R6. Last updated five years ago, the R6 still continues to rack up race wins in both the amateur and professional ranks worldwide. Although it’s been a while since the Yamaha last scored a Supersport Shootout victory, it’s always a favorite known for sharp handling and punchy top-end engine power. Joining Yamaha in the unchanged-for-2013 category is Suzuki with its GSX-R600. To date, Suzuki is the only Japanese brand that hasn’t scored a shootout win despite success within the AMA Daytona SportBike class. Could this be the year Suzuki finally lives up to its “Own the Racetrack” mantra?


These are the full-fairing sport motorcycles that fall outside of the traditional segment. They include Ducati’s V-Twin-powered 848 EVO, Triumph’s Daytona 675Rand the MV Agusta F3 – the latter pair powered by 675cc Inline Triples. Then we have Kawasaki’s  636cc-powered Ninja ZX-6R, and the machine that started it all nearly 30 years ago: Suzuki’s GSX-R750.

Ducati’s 848 EVO is still the platform the Italian brand campaigns in the middleweight class. Although it’s been a few years since it last got a refresh, it has the distinction of offering the largest engine in the category. In spite of its obvious horsepower advantage and early adoption of traction control, it hasn’t been enough to propel the Bologna-built bike to the top spot, but it has come close. Will this be the year of the Ducati?

Triumph recorded a decisive win last time with its Daytona 675R. This season it’s in a better position than ever to retain the No.1 spot with an all-new machine that sports a redesigned engine and chassis. The Triumph has always been a favorite, but fully redesigned models always come with risk of first-year teething problems. Will this play a role in the results?

After years of question marks, we finally add MV Agusta’s F3 to the mix. The MV has already proved that it’s a formidable competitor during last fall’s 2012 Middleweight Sportbike Shootout and even proved its might in World Supersport competition by nabbing a podium spot at England’s Donington Park round a few weeks ago. We’re excited to see how it stacks up, stock for stock, against the best of the best.

For the past few years, Kawasaki has adhered to the displacement rules of its fellow Japanese OEMs, but this season it ups the ante with its 636cc Ninja ZX-6R. In addition to the stroked engine, the Ninja gets suspension and braking updates as well as traction control, making it the first Japanese brand to employ this rider aid in the Supersport class. Kawasaki has won more of our big shootout competitions than any other manufacturer and is in an advantageous position to extend its lead.

Last but certainly not least is Suzuki’s GSX-R750. A sportbike classic, the middle GSX-R finds itself in motorcycling no man’s land between the 600 and 1,000 class. Despite not being eligible for competition in the former class, the 750 still competes in this middleweight category based on its price alone. Due to the obvious advantage of its Inline Four, we didn’t include the 750 in the official ranking order, but we did assess its scores separately just to see exactly where it slots in your purchasing decision.


For the test we returned to Southern California’s Chuckwalla Valley Raceway and spun two days’ worth of laps on its 2.68-mile road course. Early summer weather had the mercury hovering near 115 degrees, throwing a curve ball and making for some interesting (and exhausting) results. We utilized Chuckwalla’s more traditional 17-turn clockwise configuration, providing a good mix of slow-to-medium speed turns and moderate braking zones as a gauge for where each of the bikes excel and struggle.

As in past years, each motorcycle was fitted with a Track Day Data Logger from Kinelogix. The Kinelogix data provides tangible statistics to draw a more accurate conclusion regarding the performance attributes of each machine. In the round sticky donut department, Bridgestone joined us for the first-time ever, outfitting each motorcycle with is racing-grade Battlax R10 and R10 EVO-spec competition tires for Day 1 and its more versatile Battlax S20 tire designed for both street and track-day riders alike. We’ve had mixed results with the R10, but this time the tires blew us away with not only side grip and durability but the friendly profile and how it complemented the handling of each motorcycle.


Returning to the testing roster is the author along with former motocrosser turned pro road racer Corey Neuer. Also making an appearance is amateur club racer and Troy Lee Designs graphic artist, Jen Ross Dunstan. The remaining five seats were filled with some fresh faces that you might recognize.

Veteran AMA Pro and 2008 Formula Xtreme champ Jake Zemke joined the team along with AMA champ and STAR Motorcycle School’s chief instructor/owner Jason Pridmore. Race fans might remember the rivalry between the two with Pridmore’s ’02 FX championship being decided by tiebreaker ... thankfully, their past bar-banging rivalry didn’t spill over on track. We also enlisted stunt rider Aaron Colton. Although the Minnesota kid earns a living smoking Bridgestone tires, he is one of the most well-rounded motorcyclists we roll with. Also joining us was AFM racer, fast guy and club president, Berto Woodridge. Our friend, fellow sportbike aficionado and Utopia Goggles General Manager Bobby Ali also lent us his throttle hand.

Last but not least is Cycle News Editor Paul Carruthers, who has been riding the latest and greatest sportbikes before some of us were even alive. Kidding aside, there are few persons in the world with more experience testing high-performance motorcycles than Carruthers, and we were happy to have him.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the basics, let’s get into it and find out which bike is best for ’13.

Monster Energy Supports the Sport

When it comes to motorcycle road racing, Monster Energy backs the sport at all levels. From its sponsorship of race-winning teams like the AMA’s Monster Energy Graves Yamaha SuperBike team all the way up to the factory and satellite Yamaha MotoGP squads, there are few brands twisting the throttle in motorsports as aggressively as Monster. More than a clever marketing ploy, Monster Energy beverages help athletes, enthusiasts and fans give it their all in whatever they do on the streets, the racetrack and everything in between. Once again, Monster came out to support our testing troupe at Chuckwalla, making sure we were all properly hydrated in scorching 115 degree temperatures and keeping us energized with its special low calorie blend of Rehab drinks.

Supersport Shootout Track Scoring

Compared to some magazine tests, where it sometimes seems a winner is chosen by what color looks the best, the results of our comparison are determined by a comprehensive scoring system. Each machine is scored on unbiased performance-based factors – things like corner speed, side-to-side flick rate, braking and acceleration force. Of course, rider feedback is also valuable, so we have an equal number (10) of subjective categories allowing each motorcycle to earn points for the characteristics it does best. Points are then tallied based on a hybrid Formula One points scale with 10 points for first, eight for second, seven for third, six for fourth, etc., with all 20 categories scored equally. The numbers are then calculated and we come up with the bike’s finishing position and this year’s shootout champ!


Maximum Acceleration / Braking Force: How hard the motorcycle accelerates and how hard it slows, measured in Gs by the front-to-rear (longitudinal) accelerometer in the data logger.

Top Speed: The velocity measured in mph of the motorcycle at its peak before it begins decelerating for the upcoming turn.

Corner Speed: The maximum speed of the motorcycle at the apex of a turn measured in mph.

Max Lean: The lean angle from vertical, in a turn, measured in degrees and calculated from the motorcycle’s velocity and radius of the turn.

Maximum Flick Rate: How quickly the bike is leaned from side to side during a transition, measured in degrees per second.

Superpole 101

As usual we instituted our proven Superpole methodology in which Pridmore and I both put a flying lap on each of the motorcycles to see how it reacts “near the limit” under the watchful eye of each brand’s press manager. Keen readers will note that some of the data differs from that of our previous test, which is attributed to the vastly different riding styles of ‘11 Superpole test rider Steve Rapp, whose style can be defined as more modern, point-and-shoot style versus Pridmore’s more fluid momentum-based form.