The Rise of the 600

 When it comes to sportbikes, the 600cc is one of the best selling sizes of sportbikes in Canada and the world. The Canadian motorcycle market is dominated by them. Every 600 sportbike on the market today draws its heritage from a much bigger motorcycle, that when introduced, took motorcycle development in a much needed new direction.

In 1980 a team of engineers at Kawasaki set to work developing a motor with the lofty (at that time) goal of 120 bhp. The first motor they built was a behemoth air cooled inline six cylinder beast that could easily punch out the necessary 120 bhp. While this motor could produce close to the required 120bhp, the huge size of it would have made any bike handle like a tank. This massive piece of metal was dropped in favour of an inline four, 16 valve air cooled motor. Unfortunately as the design team were closing in on the 120bhp mark, this new motor had problems with overheating.  While water cooled engines are commonplace on today’s motorcycles, in the early 80’s this was a somewhat radical step, but it was the obvious solution.

After four years of development the motorcycle world was finally introduced to the1984 Kawasaki GPZ 900R. Powered by the revolutionary water cooled 16 valve engine, the bike was basically a 900 cc engine stuffed into a 750 frame. The GPZ 900R had the weight and handling of a 750 with all the power of an 1100 and boasted a top speed over 240 km/hr with a quarter mile time of just over 10 seconds.

 The 900R paved the way for the perimeter framed Ninja 600. “At the time of the Ninja 600 introduction, I remember questioning the thinking behind a 600.” Motorcycle salesman Jim Holmes ponders, “The question running through Jim’s mind at the time, “Why would anyone buy a 600 when they could have a 750?’ “Shows you how much my teenage hormone ravaged mind knew way back then.” Jim says with a smile.

At the time of their first introduction 600cc bikes got a bit lower insurance rate compared to a 750. Today,  generally speaking, we are unable to make that claim, due to skyrocketing insurance rates on not only sportbikes, but all bikes, no matter what their size. 

Even though the Ninja 600 was the beginning of the end for Japanese 750 Superbikes and 750 superbike racing, Suzuki has had continued success and good sales with the GSX R 750. Motorcyclist magazine named the GSX R 750 the best all-around sportbike on the market last year and it is one of the best selling bikes in England. Sadly it may be a dying breed. Today’s 600’s have excellent performance and handling and in the right hands a 600 will give GSX R 750 a run for its money.
New rules for next years Moto GP racing limiting the size of the race bikes to 800cc’s may give the 750 a stay of execution or it may speed up the dying process, time will tell. I have often thought it may be possible to have a sanctioned class of racing similar to the Suzuki SV cup but with the GSX R 750. Although it may just be something to appease the dinosaurs like myself out there who are longing for the long ago days of 750 superbike racing.

Maybe someday.



~ by cdnrider on January 6, 2007.

One Response to “The Rise of the 600”

  1. Good read – Its funny, a buddy and I were just talking the other day about the demise of the 750 class. I think you hit the nail on the head.

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