The Motorcycle World is Moving away from the 600cc Bikes
- February 9, 2021
600cc super sport bikes were once developed on par with their bigger counterparts. There’s a reason for this – supersports are sexy, high-performance machines with aggressive race styling that turns heads, and it’s certainly no mystery as to why so many riders a decade ago were clamoring to have one. With excellent machines like the Honda CBR600RR, Yamaha R6, and the Suzuki GSXR 600, combined with approachable price tags and all-too-easy financing, the supersport market was one of the hottest in the industry. They were the most popular class and outsold the bigger bikes. Lately, the class has been in decline but why?
It had to end…
Suddenly, the 600s were gone. Much of this was due to so many riders moving on to sport-touring and dual-sport motorcycles. The sportbikes, whether 600cc, 750cc or 1000cc were suddenly spurned as riders started seeking out something more practical to fit a whole variety of uses and roads.
For the past three decades, the American Motorcyclist Association has sanctioned a class of professional motorcycle racing that features 600cc sportbikes. The 600 Supersport class debuted in 1987, and the very first race was held on March 6, 1987, at Daytona International Speedway. Doug Polen won the race aboard a Honda Hurricane 600. It was early days for “race-replica” 600cc sportbikes, with the Kawasaki Ninja 600R essentially inventing the new motorcycle category in 1985, and the Honda Hurricane 600 joining the fray in 1987. Soon afterward, the Yamaha FZR600 came along – in 1989, to be precise – and finally, in 1992, the Suzuki GSX-R600 was introduced, giving each of the Big Four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers a dog in the middleweight fight.
Currently, there are only the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R and Suzuki GSX-R600 soldering on as pure 600cc Japanese supersport bikes. However, only Kawasaki and Yamaha are really pushing the development on their bikes.
Honda would do this, of course, if the money were there to do so – but it isn’t. Global demand for the CBR600RR, and for 600cc supersports in general, has plummeted since the Great Recession hit in 2008, and has never fully recovered, so the demand is simply no longer there to support the expense required to keep building it for Europe. The motorcycle could still be sold in its current form in North America and Asia, but with the huge European market off the table, Honda can simply not justify building a replacement. The days are numbered for the CBR600RR.
For more than 20 years, Yamaha’s YZF-R6 has been a standard bearer for the 600cc sports bike class. First launched in 1999, but all that will change in 2021 when it comes off sale as a road bike. Satisfying the demand from motorcycle racers, Yamaha will continue to offer the R6 as a track only model, but such has been the decline in sales of 600cc road bikes in recent years, Yamaha has not deemed it necessary to update one of its most enduring models to be sold as a street bike under the upcoming Euro 5 standards.
Moving beyond the 600cc’s makes sense. The marketplace is always a dance between product planners and customers. It can be hard to tell who’s leading and who’s following, but it has resulted in “middleweight” sport bikes with fewer cylinders and ever-larger displacements. The larger twins and triples are easier to ride and a little more user friendly. It’s also easier to combine performance and emissions compliance in larger packages, which is not particularly important to customers, but it is to OEMS.
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