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Overlooked and underrated

E-mailadres Afdrukken

LOS ANGELES, January 18, 2000 -- Newer is not always better. In many ways, a tried-and-true two- or three-year-old design is often a better option than the latest cutting-edge machine. There are plenty of "older" designs still offered by manufacturers that cost less than the leading-edge machine of the moment and, with what the aftermarket offers, you can actually build a motorcycle with comparable performance and handling characteristics. So we've rounded up three of our favorites bikes that have, somehow, got lost in the hype and ensuing shuffle of latest, greatest track-scratchers. It just happened that we ended up with a twin, a triple and a four, so we've got a little dash of every flavor represented here.

When they were first introduced, Honda's VTR1000 Superhawk, Triumph's Daytona 955i and Yamaha's YZF-600F each were big news in their own ways. The 955i was the first serious competition machine to come from the resurrected English marque; the VTR was one of the first attempts at a go-fast V-twin by a Japanese manufacturer and the Yamaha YZF-600R completed the evolution of the FZR line that propelled Doug Polen and Jamie James to some of their first race victories as well as being, for a time, the sportbike to own.

We took all three bikes to Jason Pridmore's STAR Racing School at the awesome new track in Pahrump, Nevada for a day of track-worthiness testing followed by some highway and back-road miles. In the end we uncovered a few things that had gone previously unnoticed while other impressions we initially made were reinforced. We've even taken it upon ourselves to make a few suggestions on how to -- relatively inexpensively -- upgrade and update each mount to make it an even better bike. Being so highly touted at first, why have these bikes been overlooked just as quickly? And should they have even been overlooked at all?

Yamaha YZF-600R
From the get-go, this bike faced serious competition from similarly potent race-replicas of the day. Suzuki's GSX-R600, Kawasaki's ZX-6R and Honda's CBR600F3 were serious track weapons to be reckoned with on race tracks coast to coast. Even on the street, where most riders spend the majority of the time, the YZF-600R still got passed over on sales room floors for something more racy. This is unfortunate, really, since the Yamaha is already an all-around great street bike and, with a few simple mods, has potential to become an excellent track bike.

The YZF's trump cards are its excellent ergos, wind protection and super smooth motor that doesn't intimidate novices like the peakier R6 can. The motor has little power below 4,000 rpm but above 6,500 rpm it spools power jet-turbine smooth up to its redline, although power begins to plateau around 10,000 rpm. The handling is predictable with no bad habits. The suspension has a decent range of adjustability and, though it's main mission is the street, it can be stiffened up rather easily for a day at the track. The only real gripe with this bike is that it's a bit portly and the somewhat grabby clutch has a very narrow range of engagement.

Because aftermarket suppliers are focusing on the track-oriented YZF-R6, upgradability is more limited for the YZF-600R but, because of the bike's racing history, if you look, there are plenty of goodies to be found. While we felt that the stock suspension and brakes were fine, we installed a Fox rear shock on a previous test model and it helped to add even more control to an already solid package. The YZF-600 was never a strong competitor at the track, but pipe and jet-kit options are availiable to put some spice in the YZF's life. Yoshimura makes a carbon-fiber slip-on that saves a reported 12 pounds. Also, by installing the pipe and shimming the needles, the 600R picks up about five horsepower. Because the YZF comes with only a 160 rear tire, choices are limited. Fear not, however, since our new favorite street tire -- the Michelin Pilot Sport -- is available in that size.

As a street bike, this stock Yamaha is one of the best 600s on the market. It has a smooth motor, excellent wind protection and suspension flexible enough to handle 600-plus mile days in comfort. It loves twisty back roads where the stable chassis can be put to good use, and it's not averse to a day at the race track, though there are better choices if more than a handful of track days are in your future. The few recommended mods make a noticeable difference, but it's still not the tool with which to go about chasing track records. But, for a novice on the track, this bike proved to be one of the best and on the street nobody complained when they straddled this bike. Also, if you're an advanced rider in the market for a solid 600, one that is reasonably priced and will do everything and do it well, then take a good, long look at the Yamaha YZF-600R.

Honda VTR 1000 Superhawk
The VTR was the first attempt by Honda to introduce a sporty, road-going V-twin to the general public. The Superhawk was designed from the ground up to be a street bike first and foremost. But, unfortunately for Honda, Suzuki released its TL1000S at about the same time and, due to higher power numbers and more "character," the TL became the media darling and the motorcycle of choice for back road and track-scratchers everywhere who wanted a go-fast V-twin experience without the Ducati price tag.

The first thing you notice when riding the Superhawk is that the bike feels very narrow between your legs. The tank is sculpted with large indents and the minimalist windscreen that makes for such windy high-speed cruising contributes to an overall feeling of lightness. The VTR has good power across the rev-range that, when coupled with almost instant throttle response, makes for a motor that has power on demand. The suspension is decent for the street, offering up a cushy, well-damped ride at the moderate speeds common in everyday commuting and back-road strafing. The biggest drawback about the VTR has been well-documented: It has horrendous range. Basically expect to visit a filling station every 100 miles or so. Unfortunately, this puts a serious crimp on longer-distance sport-touring on what could be a pre-eminent sport-touring machine.

We expected this bike to be the Prince of Pahrump but, in the end, it wasn't to be. The VTR needs suspension work and more top-end power to be an capable track bike. The front end is underdamped, the brakes aren't superb and the motor needs more hit to give it some personality. Still, the things that hold the bike back on the track are what make it one of the best street bikes available. The suspension can soak up super-slab nastiness with the best of them, the motor has power everywhere and the ergos are comfortable. If you crave track days or the need for a heaping helping of personality, we heartily recommend Erion Racing's exhaust system (mufflers and jet kit), which retails for $599.00. It adds seven horsepower across the board and sheds eight pounds in the process. Also, consider a suspension re-valve from Race Tech, who will install their excellent Gold Valves in the forks and re-valve the rear shock for a very reasonable $185.00 ($100 forks, $85 shock).

The Superhawk is perplexing in that with a few more race-inspired factory tweaks to ergos, suspension and the motor, the VTR would be a great track bike and nobody would have noticed the TL1000S at all. Was the VTR was a stop-gap until the RC51 came along? With more range and wind protection, this motorcycle could even give Honda's own VFR800 a run for its sport-touring money, and do so with a V-twin flair. Still, unless you ride primarily on track days or enjoy serious, long-distance sport-touring, the VTR is one of the most enjoyable street machines available. It has V-twin personality mated with the usual Honda build-quality, creating a machine with a smiles/mile ratio that far outweighs its few shortcomings.

Triumph 955i Daytona
When the first Triumph Daytonas came out in 1997, the jingoistic British press had it picked, sight unseen, to be the bike of the decade. Triumphant Triumph was back from the dead, ready to pick a fight with Japan, they said. However, while we felt it was a fine machine, it wasn't a better motorcycle than the GSX-R750, ZX-9R, CBR900RR or YZF-R1. Many other consumers agreed and this cost the Triumph in initial sales as the Daytona sat on American showroom floors a bit longer than anticipated.

As a whole, the bike is beautiful, the frame is strong and the motor makes wonderful sounds while it pulls as smoothly as any large displacement motor can. It was a surprise on the smooth track at Pahrump, where the bike's stiction-plagued fork action wasn't as noticeable as we'd initially feared, and soon we fought among ourselves to ride it since the chassis was planted and stable and the smooth motor offered power everywhere. The only thing we'd change performance-wise is to install an aftermarket pipe. Since Triumph's optional Hi-Level pipe costs $469 and they couldn't -- or wouldn't -- give us any performance or weight-savings figures, we'd probably look to an aftermarket supplier first. Still, the transmission was the only real motor-related complaint since downshifts had to be extremely deliberate and up-shifts were occasionally missed. When everything was executed just as the Brit-bike asked of us, it responded favorably, posting some very impressive lap times; it just took a bit more work than on the other bikes.

The motor that was so smooth on the track proved to be a mixed blessing on the road. It didn't have the same grunt as the VTR, but it has ample power in the mid-to-upper rev range to move you along without requiring a handful of downshifts. Over the bumps and expansion joints of day-to-day street riding, the suspension is a bit ill-sorted, especially with that enormous amount of stiction in the forks. Combined with the most race-oriented riding position of the three, the Triumph caused quite a bit of discomfort when we weren't hell-bent on setting new personal speed records. Then, just as we were getting used to the bike's inadequacies and focusing more on its positive aspects, suddenly the Triumph decided that it just didn't need compression anymore. The motor died and one staffer was left stranded on the side of the highway as the yellow bike drooled greenish, brown fluid. We were starting to really like this bike.

Overlooked overview
Not one of the bikes we chose as overlooked and underrated really deserved to be. In stock form they are all extremely capable of making any owner smile, and if folks would just stop reading these damned editors babble on about the latest and greatest, prospective owners might find a motorcycle that they actually enjoy riding instead of owning one that fulfills an empty need to be socially accepted on the basis of one's accouterments.

The Triumph had us starting our days off with tea and crumpets instead of coffee and Spudnuts until it puked and became MO's third Triumph in a row that had fatal engine problems. It was looking like it had a strong second-place finish in its cards up until that point. The VTR is almost the bike to have because of its wonderful motor, excellent street manners, comfortable ergos and typical Honda quality. It would have been the first-place finisher in this trio if not for the lack of wind protection and a lousy touring range can be a drawback since every ride has to be planned around frequent fuel stops.

The Superhawk is overshadowed by the YZF600F, which in turn is sure to be often overlooked by customers instead looking at the YZF-R6 . The little Yamaha has a wonderful, flexible motor, excellent wind protection, comfortable ergos, great fuel range and with stickier tires it can become a decent track-day scraper. You can't go wrong with any of these bikes, though. None of them should be overlooked but, of these three, the one that deserves the most apologies for its recent neglect is the YZF600F.

It's only when you look at the bikes in post-mod condition that the finishing order gets shuffled. With the handful of recommended mods mentioned, the VTR surpasses the YZF for top billing. The Erion Racing exhaust system makes a difference and, along with the Race Tech re-valve, the bike becomes a well-balanced, unflappable machine ready for anything. Yet even thought the mods allow the Honda surpasses the YZF, it isn't by much. The Yoshimura pipe does a good job of opening up the Yamaha, even if not to the extent that we found with the VTR. Still, the pipe and rear shock make the YZF a livelier, tighter road scratcher all around. As for the Triumph, well, even though Triumph's pipe adds a few ponies, the suspension is still harsh and is costly to fix or replace. The overall package is heavy as well.

Stock? Make ours a YZF. There aren't many better all-around motorcycles sold in the States. This bike has peg-scratching sportiness mixed with just the right amount of civility to make for a mount that, whatever your passion, will please. Add a few mods to the mix? A VTR, please, but, make ours black so we can sneak up on the local Ducatisti.

Motorcycle Online, January 18, 2000