Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: On 600cc Sportbikes: Some experience required...


On 600cc Sportbikes: Some experience required...

Today I'm going to talk about the 600cc sportbikes. Colloquially referred to as the "crotch rocket," these quick, lightweight, and nimble motorcycles have achieved fame through many a music video, movie, and of course, the professional sportbike racing circuit. They're cool looking and already look fast when just standing still in a parking lot. However they've also achieved an extremely negative reputation, earning some labels like "the young man's bike," "squid machine," and "suicide rocket" thanks to many riders that have gone down while riding, been severely injured, or even killed due to inexperience or excessive speed while riding these performance machines.

And there's the riders that dream of owning their very first bike?!

I thought about this the other day while I was on I-270 test riding a stock 2007 Suzuki GSX-R 600 sportbike in preparation for putting it on the sales floor. With the exception of an aftermarket exhaust pipe and a red windshield it was identical to a model that would be delivered brand new from the factory. I rode the bike from the shop, traveled down the road to get the feel of the bike, and then entered the freeway in second gear, accelerating through the on-ramp. Feeling that I was still getting power from the bike, I continued in 2nd gear until I merged onto the main road.

I looked down at my gauges: 85MPH @ 12,000RPM. The bike's red-line is 14,000RPM, and I still had four gears to go!

As I shifted to third, I let off the throttle to slow down to a more acceptable 70MPH and then proceeded to shift up to 6th gear and coast four more miles before exiting, reentering the freeway in the opposite direction, and returning to the shop.

Here's that 2007 Suzuki GSX-R 600. 85MPH in 2nd gear? You betcha.
Over and over again it still boggles me when I get the young buck (this also applies to women riders too) into the dealership that's never ridden before, never touched a bike, still hasn't picked up the BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) manual to take the test to get the learner's permit, and is filling out the credit app to get financed for a crotch rocket, solely basing that decision on the appearance of the motorcycle and in some cases, the fact that the friends have one or that "he/she doesn't want a cruiser." This is about the same as purchasing a Ferrari when you still need to learn how to drive the 4-cylinder Toyota.

Don't let the engine size fool you! At the hands of an experienced and trained professional, the 600cc sportbike can zip through the sharp curves of a racetrack with exact precision. In fact, racebikes contain the same engine and frame as their stock counterparts with the exception of lighter bodywork, customizable controls, and upgraded suspension among other modifications. Most riders, including myself, will never take these bikes to their limit in any normal street situation. So when I hear someone deciding to trade in their bike for "something faster," I really would like to ask them if they've taken their bike to its maximum speed. (Eleanor has reached a GPS-measured 137MPH riding straight on I-15 toward Las Vegas with me on the saddle in 5th gear and she wasn't even finished yet!)

For a beginning rider that hasn't had much experience with two wheels, there are many entry-level bikes that are designed to offer versatility while making power available yet manageable. Most of those bikes fall in the "standard" and "dual-sport" categories. Click here for a list of a "just a few" well known models.

There are quite a few potential riders out there that don't prefer those "slower" bikes and want to look cool down the road, but believe me, nothing shows more foolishness (and stupidity) than watching a sportbike rider barely able to creep through a right turn and then crank it over 100+MPH down a street in a straight line doing a wheelie.

I do understand that there is an image issue when it comes to the sportbikes. They're sexy and fast. You won't see "Biker Boyz" on Vespa scooters (lots of that stuff was fake anyway). And for the major motorcycle brands, releasing a new sportbike model every 2-3 years helps them stay up with the latest trends and technological innovations in motorcycling and for some companies, keep them surviving. The 600cc sportbike is an enjoyable ride when its rider is experienced enough to appreciate its sheer power and agility. However, that experience is best learned on smaller displacement motorcycles that will not overwhelm a new rider.

And another thought...sportbikes rank among the highest in insurance rates among motorcycles because of the frequency of claims on this type of bike, the main demographic of the riders that operate them (usually young males 18 and up), and their high rate of theft (of course YOU want one, and so does everyone else!). Try this: find an insurance company online, request an insurance quote online for a sportbike, and then get one for a dual-sport or standard bike of the same or similar engine size. You'll be amazed at the difference in rates. Through my insurance company, my 2007 Yamaha FJR1300A is cheaper to cover in a year than a 2007 Kawasaki ZX-6R.

If you're one of those people who will acquire one of these fast bikes, I urge you to respect your right hand (the throttle), do what is necessary to educate yourself of advanced riding techniques, and practice your cornering and control on a regular basis. This goes for anyone who rides a motorcycle. Continue learning your bike every time you ride it. You'll realize very quickly that it is faster than you think.

Click here for the sequel to this write-up, "600cc Sportbikes: Idiots Not Recommended."