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WE WERE HEROES

Ancient, out of date, long in the tooth, past it. Use any derogatory term you like about Yamaha's YZF-R6 and Suzuki's GSX-R600 ­ the truth is they both still have a lot to offer...
Two supersport heroes, and two has-beens, where real heroes were born ­ St. Nazaire

What will become of the supersport class? That's a question we've asked ourselves time and again while we wait to see what's coming for 2017. Honda is ditching the CBR600RR, Triumph is rumoured to be dropping the Daytona 675, and MV's F3 and Kawasaki's ZX-6R haven't changed much in nearly four years.

Then we have Suzuki's GSX-R600, which had its last refresh in 2011 and Yamaha's YZF-R6, updated back in 2010 (but essentially the same bike from 2006). You'll have read about the new Yamaha for 2017, but for those of you expecting a new Suzuki supersport machine to meet Euro4 regulations, you'd best get comfortable...

Did you know that after a couple of poor sales years in a row for both Yamaha and Suzuki's supersport hacks, the last couple of seasons have actually been quietly impressive for them both in the showrooms? Sales have numbered in the multiple hundreds, yet even now there are still some left over waiting for new owners. The problem both bikes have, however, is perception, in that neither have changed much for the best part of a decade. That's truer for the Yamaha than the Suzuki as the R6 has only had one significant refresh in its lifetime, and even then it was pretty hard to tell it apart from the 2006 version.

The GSX-R600, meanwhile, despite the 2011 iteration being apparently all-new, has basically remained the same since the same period as the Yamaha. Bits changed on both, ancillaries here, some components there, and technology has been added in appropriate areas, but literally nothing has happened since 2010/11 ­ bar new paint and the odd free bit thrown in. The only thing that's really changed is their pricing fluctuating.

With the approaching Euro4 laws meaning an end of these bikes' existence as new models, now is the time to go grab one if they still take your fancy. And why wouldn't they? No ABS, no traction control, no nanny-state safety aids ­ just razor sharp handling and laser-focused commitment. But is riding at ten tenths still all they're capable of, years after their initial release? To find out we neglected their natural habitat, the race track, and took them instead on a tour of Southern England and Northern France. So, what can they offer now, toward the end of 2016, that's still relevant? Read on...

YAMAHAYZF-R6

Head down, tucked in, throttle pinned ­ the R6 life...

We've not ridden an R6 for quite some time now, which is quite peculiar if you actually think about it. Yes, it's been overtaken quite comprehensively in terms of tech by other more modern supersport machines, but does this mean it's no longer relevant? Not one bit. It's still a viable option ­ and it's about to become a future classic, too.

No, the reason we've not ridden one is because we haven't done a full-on supersport group test for some time. Seeing as nothing has changed since 2013 (when the ZX-6R and Daytona changed), the finishing order wasn't going to change either. So we tended to find different things to do with them instead. So aside from the reader longterm bike we ran for a year, it's been a long old time since we caned an R6.

That time away hits you when you ride one again, because the first thing that strikes home is how old school it feels in many ways. Aside from the riding position, of course, which remains wonderfully committed. It just edges on the right side of acceptability for comfort, but is firmly in the ballpark for fully focussed, ten-tenths, flat out corner scything ­ the job it was built to do.

Sharp in looks, sharp in ability

Yet it's at the actions of throttle, clutch and levers that the bike at first feels slightly old fashioned, and the same goes for the Suzuki in this respect.

In the modern age where nearly every sportsbike comes with a quickshifter, encountering resistance at the lever is decidedly odd. You go back to how we all used to shift, knocking off the gas a bit, flicking a foot and getting right back on it. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing, and soon you get back into the groove, it becoming one fluid motion. The same is true of downshifting, too. Slipper-clutches have moved on a great deal, and while the R6's is a decent unit for an older machine, a little bit of old-fashioned lever slip, in combination with the clutch's mechanical action, goes a long way. Meanwhile the gearbox itself is actually really good, changes are slick regardless of no shifter.

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