Odd and unlikely pairings have been the premise for everything from TV shows to comic books, and in this instance a wild SSB cover story that you probably never saw coming. Throw out what you think you know about the term “600” because there is more out there than everyone’s favorite supersport. Of course the quintessential four-cylinder sportbike was included in our rigorous street testing but along with it came a trio of capable contenders that each excelled and fell short differently. Out of the garage rolled a CBR600RR, followed by the three-cylinder naked Triumph Street Triple R, a twin-cylinder standard Ninja 650 and finally an adventurous single-cylinder wild card known as the BMW G650GS Sertão. To up the ante, four professional freestyle rideaholics (Nick Apex, Ernie “Edub” Vigil, Tony Carbajal and the wiry Shin Kinoshita) were brought in as our balls-to-the-wall “Stigs” for ridiculous photos. The purpose of the comparo was not to congratulate a dedicated winner, but to instead flush out what makes each of these bikes the most enjoyable. We each ignored our mom’s better judgement and got an M1 license. Why? Becasue we love to ride. So with that in mind, we set out to prove there isn’t just one way to have fun on the street—come hell or blown tire.
Flogging each of the four selected bikes through the desert into city centers and across Los Angeles highways wasn’t enough. We took it a step further and let the shaking throttle hands of four pro-stunters loose on a closed airstrip within the confines of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway to really see how each bike reacted under stress. Watching an adventure bike soar through the air or the mudflap of a stock Ninja 650 scrape pavement confirmed there is fun to be had on every type of motorcycle.
The fact is terrains vary. Some of us face flat rural roads while others never leave the city grid. Over multiple days, SSB covered hundreds of miles across Southern California in an attempt to recreate the gamut of what’s out there. The diverse terrain landed our rides in the dirt, on open freeways, through desolate corners, down straights and into gridlock that opened up into neighborhood offshoots. Wheelies ridden, corners carved and backsides sore from hours of seat time we parked each bike confident in their individual strengths and weaknesses.
If looks could kill, this...
If looks could kill, this 600 would have quite the rap sheet. Paint perfection.
2012 Honda CBR600RR
The fastest and most powerful of the bunch. Ruling track days to corner carving, it is still a sensible enough choice for commuting or afternoons out two-up with your girl.
Liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline four-cylinder, 599cc
98.2 HP and 43.3 lb-ft of torque
Fastest, agile, track-ready, killer looks, reliable, strong brakes, smooth power curve, tried and true design
Cramped on long rides (especially for tall riders), lacking low-end power
It rides like a Honda. Somehow after all of these years I still consider that a strength.
2012 Triumph Street Triple R
Streaking through the city...
Streaking through the city may be frowned on by cops but boy is it fun.
The best all-arounder. Not the fastest or lightest, it combines the fun of a supermoto with the capability of a naked sportbike.
Liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline three-cylinder, 675cc
Curb Weight: 416 lbs.*
Peak Power: 92.2 HP and 44 lb-ft of torque
Strengths: Surprisingly fun, comfortable upright ergos, smooth wheelie machine, light into corners, solid city commuter, low-RPM torque, strong brakes, sweet motor sound
Weakness: High chance of hooligan-induced ticket, no wind protection, unphotogenic headlights
*curb weights provided by manufacturer
2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650
Combines economical value with friendly sportbike characteristics. It’s subdued enough for new riders and capable for seasoned vets willing to buy upgrades.
Liquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel twin, 649cc
63.1 HP and 42.9 lb-ft of torque
Most affordable, solid MPG, low maintenance, capable commuter or touring option, cheap to insure, great wind protection, easy to wheelie at slow speeds, stable at freeway speeds
Vibration in pegs and bars noticeable over long rides, lacking the excitement of more aggressive options, sluggish off line but track-capable with modest suspension upgrades, lacks a superficial cool factor
*curb weights provided by manufacturer
Times are tight, so why not...
Times are tight, so why not look for a single bike that can take multiple spots in the same garage?
2012 BMW G650GS SertÃo
Ready for apocalyptic road conditions at a speed under 105 MPH. It rips on and off-road for adventures in city into the great outdoors.
Dirt drifting to low speed...
Dirt drifting to low speed wheelies on road all while the heated grips keep your hands toasty, Bimmers do it all.
Engine: Water-cooled, single-cylinder, DOHC, 652cc
Curb Weight: 426 lbs.*
MSRP: $8,650 (incl. ABS) Peak Power: 42.4 HP and 36.8 lb-ft of torque
Strengths: End of the world ready, fantastic MPG, upright ergos and big bars aid in comfort, takes a beating and keeps on ticking, asphalt conditions are unimportant, solid crash protection, versatile, BMW creature comforts, agile in traffic
Weakness: Slowest and weakest motor, lacks any resemblance to a sportbike, can’t high-speed cruise, debatable looks for those new to the adventure side, tall seating position (only issue for shorter riders)