Today marks the three month “anniversary” of my bike ownership! Which is strange as I have not yet reached the three month milestone of holding a full Cat A licence.. but as I alluded to in an earlier post, I fell in love with Suzy and bought her before I had even commenced my Direct Access training. Some might call that stupid, others might call it fate. For a pragmatist like myself, I call her a bargain not to be missed.
The three months have seen two long distance trips to Devon, a visit to Corfe Castle in Dorset and several local runs out, totalling just over two thousand miles; which is more than some Sunday bikers amass in a year! It’s a good job I have come to the conclusion that its a good job that I do not wish to part with Suzy if at all possible – I doubt she’d hold her value with a mileage rate like that. Nevertheless, the intense riding has given me a valuable insight into her and the process of developing my riding skills along with seeing the abilities of the bike “grow”, as I mentioned in my last post. The result of all this is I feel in a position to give the GSX600F a bit of a “long term test” type of review.
The GSX600F, or the Katana as they are called overseas, has had a bit of a mixed press. The model I refer to here is the 98-02 W version, and this has, by now, been superseded by the 650cc variant. To the sports bike aficionados the bike is hideous! Derogatory names like “teapot” and “baboon’s arse” are two common comments and it is this attitude that prevailed when the model was in production, certainly here in the UK as the bike press was somewhat obsessed with sports bikes at the time, much like the current trend for “adventure” bikes now. The end result of this, of course, has been a negative stigma that has never really left the bike, and so fortunately for the buyer, has driven used prices right down. Beneath all the negative noises however, a quiet undercurrent of favour has always been running. Talk to any Kat owner and they will sing its praises (but then show me a bike owner who DOESN’T think their bike is the best thing on two wheels!). Indeed, if you look up a review of the Bike by (the now defunct TV channel) Men & Motors you will hear a reviewer sing its praises.
Firstly, lets get the tech specs out of the way – I have unashamedly ctrl+c these from the internet! Credit should go to the author… only they didn’t bother on the website I got these details from so I can’t!
||Suzuki GSX 600F Katana
||Four stroke, transverse four cylinders, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder.
||599 cc / 36.6 cu.in
|Bore x Stroke
||62.6 x 48.7 mm
||4,7 Litres / 1.24 gal
||4x Mikuni BSR32SS Carburettor
||13° B.T.D.C. below 1500 rpm
||12V 39.6 kC (10Ah)/10HR
||Three phase A.C. generator
||77 hp / 56 kW @ 10350rpm
||53 Nm / 5.61 kg-m @ 7950rpm
||Wet, multiple discs, cable operated
||Chain, 118 links
|Primary reduction Ratio
|Final reduction Ratio
||Double-cradle steel pipe
||41mm Conventional telescopic, coil spring, oil damped. 41 mm inner tube, fully adjustable rebound damping, 4-step rebound damping
|Front Wheel Travel
||130 mm / 5.1 in
||Swingarm, progressive linkage, 4-step rebound dampened, 7-step spring preload
|Rear Wheel Travel
||142 mm / 5.6 in
||2x 290mm discs 2 piston calliper
||Single 240mm disc 2 piston calliper
||3.50 x17 inches, cast aluminium-alloy
||4.50 x17 inches, cast aluminium-alloy
||99,5mm / 3,9 in
||Length 2135 mm / 84.1 in
Width 745 mm / 29.3 in
Height 1195 mm / 47.0 in
||1470 mm / 57.9 in
||785mm / 30.9 in
||208 kg / 458.6 lbs
||229 kg / 504.8 lbs
||20Litres / 5.2 gal
So there are the tech specs for the bike. I’ve deliberately left out things like fuel consumption as that is so heavily influenced by the individual rider, conditions and type of fuel used, that it would be almost irrelevant here. Suffice to say I can get from home to Devon (about 180 miles) on one tank.
The first thing to note about the Katana is that although the original design was for a sports bike, by the time the W model had come on the market, the design was for a Sports-Tourer not an out and out sports bike. And you can see why. With a weight of 229kg, nimble and flighty they are not! However, whilst its never going to be a track busting bike it does its job exceedingly well – touring at pace. I can’t comment on it’s capability as a two up tourer fully laden, but I can speak about it’s abilities as a tourer for one when fully laden. Despite weighing 229kg on its own, when coupled with myself and my luggage you can add another 120kg or so and yet despite this the 599cc engine will happily sit on the motorway at 80, and perhaps more importantly will still easily accelerate away from traffic, getting up to 50/60 in second gear. Despite its weight, once moving the bike actually feels quite light, and more importantly feels stable; probably due to it’s low centre of gravity. Fully loaded it will still corner as well as it does when it’s just rider and bike. The big seat allows the rider to sit “in” rather than “on” the bike and the pillion seat if unoccupied allows a large 50 litre dry bag to be mounted with ease, and will still accommodate soft panniers as well if required. I would estimate with a tank bag, soft panniers and dry bag, one could easily carry 130 litres of luggage quite easily without any detriment to the handling of the bike. The seat is also extremely comfortable – not hard like a track bike but still firm enough to give it a sporty feel; it’s a great combination and will allow the rider to stay aboard for several hours.
This brings us nicely to the riding position. The rider is not completely crouched over as one would find on a sports bike, but its hardly a “sit up” position either. The handlebars’ positioning however means that there is no undue stress on the rider’s wrists, and this combined with the fairly neutral positioning of the foot pegs makes for a remarkably comfortable riding position, both on the motorway and along twisty single carriageway roads. I’ve been aboard for five hours and only toward the end of this period have I begun to experience any stiffness; though this could be down to a lack of core strength – I suspect an Ab workout would do wonders for this. Another bonus of the bike’s riding position is the seat height. At just 30.5″ it’s ideal for the shorter rider. One of the reasons I think I loved Suzy so soon was when I sat on her, my feet were firmly planted on the deck, which for a complete novice, inspired a lot of confidence. Another great thing about this machine is the mirrors. Compared to other bikes I’ve ridden they are fantastic – you get an excellent view behind you and despite being on stalks the vibration is minimal; they are still useable at speeds over 80 mph, unlike some bikes’ mirrors I have seen where the wobble makes them useless over about 30.
Running without any luggage, the bike is a fun machine to ride. Now, having never experienced a “proper” sports bike like a GSX-R600 or an R6 for example, I can’t directly compare. I have ridden Bandit 600s however and the Kat is a much more sporty bike than that, despite having virtually identical engines. The engine is basically a detuned GSX-R engine, and despite being detuned has plenty of grunt in it. Mine has a “flat spot” in its power band between 3000 and 4,500 rpm and it took me a while to figure this out. In order to maximise power delivery, I have found that keeping the revs around the 5000 rpm and above mark does the trick. Obviously for town riding this can be dropped down but when out on the open road, the gear box needs to be worked to get those revs up. The gearbox itself is good – no false neutrals, although first gear is very short, once into second and above its very smooth. I’ve experienced no problems with it and my bike now has over thirty thousand miles on the clock. Feedback from the tyres is pretty good, and fitted with a decent set of sports-touring tyres there’s plenty of confidence inspiring grip. I’m certain the bike is capable of more than I have experienced from her thus far, but the stability and feedback gives a new rider confidence that will help their development – it certainly has mine. The brakes are not awe inspiring by any stretch of the imagination, but they do a good job of stopping and they will give you confidence in their abilities – at no point have I engaged the brakes and thought “shit, I’m in trouble here!”
One cannot talk about the Katana without mentioning the styling. It has a very “rounded” style, which given it was designed in the 90s is unsurprising. This is one of the most divisive elements of the bike. They’re a bit like marmite (apologies to non UK readers who will wonder what the hell that means!) – you either love the look or hate it! I’m yet to meet anyone who didn’t have an opinion on the looks, and all have either said it’s hideous (which is when the teapot or baboon’s arse comments come out) or think it really smart. Naturally I am in the “love it” camp; I like the rounded styling – it reminds me of what sports bikes looked like when I was a child growing up, and I have to confess its nice to ride a bike that one doesn’t see many of. Part of being a motorcyclist, for me anyway, is the individuality of it all. I even like the distinctive tail light, but I will concur it has an air of a baboon’s bottom about it!
Thus far I have done what pretty much most bikers will do when talking about their bikes – namely to sing its praises. A review, however, would not be complete without talking about the bad points of a product and this is no different; otherwise I would have titled this post something like “A Love Letter to the GSX600F”!
The bike does have it’s down points. Firstly the suspension. Frankly it’s pants! The front shocks are spongy and do nothing for the bike’s cornering, neither do they do much for dampening the god-awful British roads. The preload is adjustable, but mine is dialled right up to the hardest setting. I’ve found this to have improved the feedback from the steering during cornering, and its not horrendously stiff to make British roads totally uncomfortable. The rear suspension is not much better. With a heavy(ish) rider – I weigh about 86Kgs – I’ve had to really dial up the preload on the rear – I have one notch left for when I take my wife with me. It’s not the easiest to adjust either. Next we come to the horn. The horn can be summed up in one word – pointless! It’s the quietest, tinniest horn I’ve ever heard! I can barely hear it through my helmet so I doubt it would be heard by another driver. The exhaust is pretty uninspiring as well – not loud, not that attractive.
What is interesting about all these bad points however is that they are all easily solved by upgrading components. A decent set of shocks, a better horn and a new end can and all of a sudden the bike’s faults disappear. The priority would have to be the suspension however and is something I am considering. That being said, these faults do not outweigh the plus points of the bike – the suspension can be lived with when adjusted, the horn when supplemented by full beam headlights will announce your presence adequately and as for the exhaust, well, that’s a cosmetic thing really.
So that, in a slightly long winded nutshell, is the GSX600F, certainly from my experience. I’ve often been asked whether I would recommend this bike as a “first big bike”. Its a complicated answer. It depends what you want from your first bike. For me, I wanted something that was sporty (check), looked good (check), cheap to run (check), carried pillions (check) and would nurture my skills (check). So for me the bike is a brilliant first bike. If, however, you want a two wheeled missile that will get you into trouble on the road and thrill (or just might scare) you on the track, then this bike is not for you. Similarly if you’re after something you could go riding round the continent on I wouldn’t say this is for you either. But if you want a fun, fast, stable and forgiving bike then do not write this model off. Similarly if you’re a short arse (I’m just about 5’10”) the low seat height will be a bonus.
I’ll close with saying that at the end of the day all that really matters is that I love MY bike and nothing else really matters….