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Old 01-06-2016, 11:50 AM   #1
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Top 10 used 600cc supersports bikes

These are the most popular used 600cc sportsbikes

THROUGHOUT the 1990s and much of the 2000s the supersports 600 market was the hardest-fought arena in motorcycling. In the UK alone customers came by their thousands every year for each of the top-sellers and there seemed no end to the demand for these increasingly-capable middleweights.

And then it stopped. Almost overnight a combination of changing economic conditions which saw Japanese bike prices jump massively, taking a new 600 from around £7000 in 2007 to more than £9000 a couple of years later, and shifting fashions that took riders away from race-replicas meant that the market for new 600cc supersports bikes nosedived.

The reaction from manufacturers was understandable, but served simply to compound the problem; by and large, the Japanese market-leaders simply stopped updating their supersports machines. Seriously, brand new 600s in today’s showrooms aren’t massively improved over the ones we were being sold a decade ago, and in some cases have barely even had cosmetic changes.

While other machines, whether superbikes, adventure bikes or nakeds, have become technological tour-de-forces with semi-active suspension, gear shift assistants, traction control, multiple riding modes and enough acronyms to fill a sizeable reference book, supersports bikes are, in the main, anachronisms that hark back to the days when your right wrist was the traction control and the only ABS was in your fingers.

Despite all this, 600s remain something of a rite of passage. There are huge numbers of them on the road and for many their combination of middling power and weight remains a perfect compromise. They’re more than fast enough 99 percent of the time, at least on the road, can take in track days with ease and there are machines out there to suit every pocket.

New sales might be dismal, but that’s largely because there’s little point in spending something approaching five figures on a machine that’s mechanically and visually little changed from a low-mileage second-hand version a few years old at a fraction of the price.

It looks like 2016 will be the last year of the status quo for 600s, at least those that have dodged upgrades for many years. By 1 January 2017 new bikes (over 125cc) sold in Europe must be fitted with ABS and will need to meet Euro4 emissions regulations, and that means that several of the current 600-class machines will need to be updated or dropped altogether.

Building a definitive list of the ‘best’ 600cc supersports bikes is virtually impossible such is the range of prices, specs and ages available. The best advice overall is to establish a budget and then look at (and where possible test) as many different options as you can; small differences in riding position and feel mean that what suits you might be quite different to the bike that’s best for the next chap, and many of these bikes are so closely matched that even proximity and reputation of your local dealers for each manufacturer is worth taking into account when making a decision.

Even so, here’s our take on the 10 best used supersports machines out there.

10. Ducati 748/749

While its V-twins have always been bigger-capacity than rival four-cylinder machines, with the advent of the 848, Ducati really left the supersports market for good, confirming that decision with 899 Panigale and the new 959, which now has performance more in line with 1000cc superbikes. So we’re sticking to the last of its 750cc (or thereabouts) machines, the 748 and 749. Both are easily found in the £3,000-£5,000 range, and the choice of which you prefer will come down largely to personal preference. The 748’s classic styling is impossible to ignore, and it’s a sure future classic, while the 749 is divisive in appearance but offers notable improvements in terms of its chassis, as well as being newer. Neither will have the performance of a more modern machine, and you’ve got to factor in higher running costs than a Japanese 600, but depreciation should be minimal now and there’s an intangible feel-good factor to riding something ‘exotic’ for half the price of a new Japanese 600.

9. MV Agusta F3 675

That ‘Italian exotic’ feeling is amplified another notch on an MV Agusta and if we allowed ourselves to include the F3 800 in this list it might rise a position or two. As it is we’re sticking to the 675cc version and that brings some problems. Early bikes were plagued with throttle response problems, although updated maps can help sort that, and the price of entry is still high – around £7k is the lowest an F3 goes at the moment, leaving scope for more depreciation. There are some massive pros to the MV, though; the lovely three-cylinder engine, the fabulous styling and – perhaps most importantly – the technology. Here’s one of the few bikes in this class that’s really worthy of this decade, including traction control and multiple engine modes. More recent versions also get ABS and a quickshifter. In some respects, buying new makes more sense; faults have been ironed out, you get ABS brakes, prices aren’t that much higher than Japanese 600s (around £9.5k with some haggling), and the warranty will add peace of mind. But then again, if you’re going that far, why not splash out and opt for the brawnier 800cc version?

8. Honda CBR650F

At its peak the UK 600cc market was dominated by bikes that were true all-rounders; the old steel-framed CBR600F, for instance, along with machines like the ZZR600 and Yamaha Thundercat. These were the hot hatchbacks of motorcycling, offering practicality as well as performance, all with a low price. By the mid ’00s, though, the shift towards more track-focused 600s, like the CBR600RR and the 06-on R6, meant that riders wanting middleweight jacks of all trades were left with a decreasing number of choices. The 2011-on CBR600F and 2014-on CBR650F aimed to bring back a bit of that all-rounder appeal, with cheaper parts, lower costs and reduced performance compared to a ‘proper’ 600, but significantly more practicality. New sales have been pretty strong – outselling most of the sportier bikes in the class – even if it now feels like we’re pushing the definition to include these offerings in a ‘supersports’ listing. If you pine for an old CBR600 from the steel-framed, pre-RR days, but don’t want something of pensionable age, they’re a good choice. Not the fastest, best-handling or most stylish bike out there, it’s got ABS and even brand new the price, at under £7k, means that most of its rivals are second-hand. Opt for a three-year-old 600cc version and you’ll be paying nearer £4k.

7. Honda CBR600RR (2003-6)

Why are we sticking the first-gen CBR600RR in here? Well, it was arguably the first bike that really laid the template for the modern, track-focused, race-replica 600, taking its style and some of its technology from the then-dominant RC211V GP bike and creating the most hardcore 600 that we’d seen at the time of its introduction. Some have slipped below the £3k mark now in the classifieds, bringing them into the same part of the market that’s usually occupied by an earlier generation of bikes entirely. The 2005-6 versions gained worthwhile updates including USD forks and radial calipers, and don’t cost a lot more.

6. Honda CBR600F

Given that we’re aiming to encompass the entire gamut of used 600s on the market here, we had to have something at the very bottom of the price pool, and for that we’re opting for the bike that’s still the definitive 600 in many people’s minds, the CBR600F. Whether the original steel-framed machine dating back to 1987 or the last of the pre-RR models in 2002, complete with fuel injection and aluminium frames, all shared the same all-round mix of abilities that meant they could commute, tour or race with equal ease (the steel-chassis CBRs kept on winning supersports titles against aluminium-framed rivals). Prices start in the hundreds rather than the thousands, with injected, alloy-framed F4i versions from 2001 sitting at around the £2k mark. Yes, they’re old now so a close inspection is vital, but they date from the days when Honda build quality really earned its reputation, and a well-looked-after one will still be just as versatile as it was when it was new.

5. Suzuki GSX-R600 (2006-on)

It was a decade ago now, but when the 2006 model 600cc machines were introduced it was something of a last hurrah for the class - the last time that they were truly the most important bikes on the market and really the last time that we saw really significant, completely new machines from multiple manufacturers in the class arriving at the same time. It was also the moment that 600s finally gave up their ‘all-rounder’ tag to become out-and-out track bikes, so while the supersports machines launched in the mid-00s were the best yet, they were also partially authors of their own demise. The financial crash two years later helped seal the deal. Of the new-for-06 bikes, the GSX-R600 was notable; new engine, new frame and new styling that still stands as probably best-looking of all the GSX-R generations thanks to its titchy exhaust and tight packaging. Massive spec included radial brakes, a slipper clutch (back when they were still rare) and a screamer of an engine. Put it next to the 2016 version and many people will still struggle to tell which is the newer machine. These days, £4k will get a low-mileage 2006 one, no problem.

4. Yamaha R6 (2006-on)

The other machine that made 2006 a special year for 600s was Yamaha’s R6. It grabbed headlines with its 17,500rpm redline twice – first when the bike was unveiled and again when it proved to be a false claim (actually, the rev limit was a true 15,800) – but controversy aside it was still the best 600 of that year and one of the best we’ve ever seen. Remember that back then 600s were updated every two years? Well if you sit a 2006 R6 next to a 2016 one, you’ll notice that apart from a few minor bodywork changes, the two are almost identical – the 06 model was so advanced that it remains competitive a decade on. It’s pretty clear that one of the reasons sales of new supersports 600s bikes are low is that there’s really very little reason to choose new over an old one, and the 2006 R6 is the perfect example of that. Having said that, they hold their value well, too – it’s hard to find one for much under £4,500.

3. Triumph Daytona 675

Back when the Daytona 675 was launched in 2006, Triumph had a lot to prove. Its previous supersports efforts – the TT600, Daytona 600 and Daytona 650 – weren’t completely useless, but seemed to prove that any attempt to take on the Japanese in this part of the market was an impossible task. By thinking outside the box and reducing the cylinder count by a quarter while upping the capacity by an eighth, Triumph hit upon a winning recipe that was truly surprising; suddenly, a Triumph was a viable alternative to a mainstream Japanese sportsbike, and there wasn’t even a premium to pay. In fact, it wasn’t just a rival; in many situations the extra torque means that the Daytona 675 is simply a better bike to ride than a screaming four-cylinder 600. Despite being bigger in capacity, it actually feels physically smaller than some fours, and regular updates since its launch mean that while the current bike is still clearly related to the original, it’s a notably better machine, gaining kit like ABS as well as styling changes and other technical tweaks. Used prices start at under £4,000 and rise to more than twice that for late ‘R’ versions.

2. Honda CBR600RR (2007-on)

On the face of it the changes to the 2007 CBR600RR over the previous model weren’t huge, but they were enough to significantly raise its game, and Honda has kept making small tweaks over the following years including the notable addition of optional Combined ABS in 2009 – the first on a sports bike. These days the CBR looks quite different, but the chassis and engine are largely the same as the 2007 model. In terms of buying used, that means there’s a big range of prices out there and plenty of choice – early ABS versions are now in the sub-£5k range, and offer a level of safety that many riders stepping up to a 600 will surely appreciate (particularly now that ABS is standard on so many smaller, less powerful bikes, and may even be a technology that some new riders have never gone without).

1. Kawasaki ZX-6R (2013-on)

Kawasakis have been notable by their absence from this list – the firm has had a seemingly uncanny ability to make 600s that aren’t quite market-leading in the past. But of the current crop, the ZX-6R is arguably the best and that extends to recent used machines too. Its advantages are simple. While others have carried over their bikes with minor tweaks, the 2013-on ZX-6R was largely new, with new styling, and new chassis and a revamped engine that has been (again) up-sized to 636cc. That 37cc advantage over its rivals is important, adding a touch of torque and flexibility that others lack. On the tech front the Kawasaki is a leader, too, with Showa BPF forks, multi-mode traction control (the only one of the Japanese rivals to have it), multiple engine maps and ABS. Basically, it’s got all the kit we’re expecting to see on the next generation of Japanese 600s, but four years ahead of its most obvious rivals. There are those who will tell you that a 600 doesn’t need traction control or ABS, but they’re wrong – this is kit that pays for itself the moment it saves you from one accident, whether brought on by idiocy, absent-mindedness, over-enthusiasm or an external factor (dozy drivers and diesel spills spring to mind.) On the used market, 2013 models are dropping to the £6k mark (with damaged or repaired ones cheaper still) and ABS doesn’t appear to hold on to the £1,000 premium that Kawasaki charges for it (new ABS ZX-6Rs are £9,999, vs £8,999 without ABS), so is worth hunting out. Right now, it’s the best 600 on the used market.

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