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The best 600s you can buy for close to £4000

Published: 09 December 2001

Updated: 19 November 2014

1999 600s from the four Japanese manufacturers can now be bought in dealers advertising in MCN for £4500, give or take a few hundred. Shop privately and you can get a mint R6, CBR600, ZX-6R or GSX-R600 for below £4000.

Here we’ve tested four examples pulled out of dealer On Yer Bike’s showroom. All four are typical of the bikes that are sitting in front of plate glass all around the country and filling the private ads in MCN BikeMart and MCN BikeMart Fortnightly.

There’s more on this feature in MCN published on December 19.

1999 YAMAHA R6: Our late 1999 V-plate bike has done 2156 miles and except for a bit of road grime picked up on the ride to the twisty B660, it looks as good as new.

At its launch it was the fastest, best-handling, most loony 600 there was, but the engine is so strong and feels so tight on this 2000-miler, you don’t have to be a nutter to enjoy what it offers. It’s so torquey compared to the competition of its day that though it blows you away spinning it up to max revs, it will drive cleanly from anywhere, like a much bigger-capacity bike. The gearbox isn’t as smooth as the motor and makes a bit of a bang when it engages the next gear up. It goes in without much effort, but the noise is a bit disconcerting.

The brakes feel more than up to it but you can’t use them properly because the suspension has been set really soft with barely any compression damping. A quick flick with the screwdriver sorts it out. Once that’s sorted, this handles as well as any R6.

It also comes comes on the Dunlop D207 tyres fitted as standard – well, at 2000 miles, you’d expect it to still have the original tyres, though it looks like it could do with a new rear.

There’s little to look out for when it comes to splashing out on an R6. The indent plunger spring on the gearbox can break, making it impossible to change gear, but this is a half-an-hour job to fix. The spring itself costs about a quid.

Also, early bikes like this one had a recall on a gearbox oil feed pipe. A punch mark in the headstock VIN plate indicates the modification has been carried out.

There have been one or two reports of camchain tensioners breaking. If that happens, you’re looking at a total top end rebuild, but you’ll hear a rattle on the overrun long before things get that far. If the problem is caught early the fix is easy and cheap – and the firm is likely to do it free of charge.


It’s often said Hondas are the best built bikes in the world. And you’ll know that statement is true if you ride a CBR600 with 9270 miles on the clock. On the back road we’re using to test these bikes, the Honda speeds up and down all day, still feeling as strong on its way to 10,000 miles as it did on day one.

It’s no surprise that the CBR600 is the easiest to find secondhand –it was 1999’s best selling bike, with 4350 sold.

The engine feels strong, but the clutch cable has stretched and is almost out of adjustment. The clutch itself is strong and the engine revs cleanly with plenty of power all the way up to the red line. In sheer strength terms it sits somewhere between the R6 and is more on a par with the Kawasaki than the awesome Yamaha. So it has more than enough grunt.

This bike also suffers from a bit of bar waggling when ridden hard over a fairly bumpy back road. The reason? The suspension settings are well out, again probably due to the previous owner fiddling with the knobs and dials. The fact it has a Michelin Pilot Sport tyre on the back and a Dunlop D207 on the front doesn’t help.

Warped discs are about the only problem you’ll encounter. According to users of this site who have posted their comments in our Talk Bikes section at, warped fronts are common – though it can plague the rear, too. You’re looking at £300 to change the fronts, if they can’t be skimmed flat again.

A rumble from the clutch frequently accompanies the bike. This is usual (it should go away when the lever is pulled in) and isn’t a problem.


The ZX-6R has always been the CBR600’s biggest rival as the kind of bike you can use for anything, and do everything on. It’s a bike that needs to be revved pretty hard to make it go fast, makes arguably the best sound when it’s revving hard and is one of the best choices if you want comfort with good handling and performance in a sports 600.

This bike, a G2 model in red and black complete with the neat rainbow sticker which changes colour in the sunlight, came with 6854 miles on the clock on a T-plate. And again, the 600 tyre of choice after speaking to our readers via and looking at what’s on sale in dealers throughout the UK, is the Dunlop D207s it comes on.

Though Kawasaki has a reputation for not finishing bikes as well as the likes of Honda, this example is very clean. It has obviously been well looked after and feels like it has done fewer miles than the speedo would have you believe. The suspension is on standard settings, but things start to get a bit lively over bumps, probably because the springing has gone off the boil a bit. But it’s not a problem and is typical for bikes of this mileage with, let’s face it, fairly cheap suspension.

The brakes feel fine under normal use, but start to judder ever so slightly when you squeeze hard. A new set of discs would sort that out. But generally the ZX-6R feels like it has survived its first two years better than all the bikes here apart from the Honda.

Pre-2000 ZX-6Rs have tapered roller bearings, which are soft to begin with anyway. Compound that with ham-fisted, hard landings and you’re looking at fitting new headrace bearings by 10,000 miles. In fact, John Gaillie, workshop foreman for Wheelpower, London, reckons it’s nearer 8000 miles. Replacing them costs around £40 for the parts, plus two hours labour. Reckon on about £130, including VAT.

The camchain tensioner on G1s can fall apart. This was cured for the G2 model. The spring itself breaks, leading to loud and lumpy running. You’ll need to fork out £50 for the tensioner, plus about £100 in labour.

Reckon on giving a dealer about £50 to cure another common problem at around 8000 miles – the front calipers often seize, requiring a clean up of the pistons, new seals and copious amounts of copper slip.

According to MCN’s ZX-6R G1 and G2 owners, who have posted their comments in the Talk Bikes section of, you might find yourself forking out for new exhaust header pipes at about 15,000 miles if the bike is ridden in all conditions. These can cost as little as £200 aftermarket, or as much as £500 for genuine Kawasaki parts.

ZX-6RG frames bend easily in a head-on crash. This isn’t easy to spot as the frame tends to bow out on both sides in a uniform manner and it’s rare to find damage to the metalwork or pain at the headstock. Instead, you’ll need to check the wheelbase – the bike can lose a few millimetres in the impact. And have a look at the gap between the back of the front wheel and the bellypan. You should be able to fit two or three fingers between them. Smashed bikes usually have a smaller gap.

1999 SUZUKI GSX-R600

Meet a GSX-R600 owner and you’d swear Suzuki was paying him to tell everyone how much he loves his bike.

GSX-R owners exhibit brand loyalty that would embarrass a conference of American salesman and though the old model GSX-R feels the most dated – a completely new fuel-injected model arrived in 2001 – it’s easy to see why people love them.

This GSX-R, like every other I’ve ridden, sounds harsh at first, but once it gets going it starts to come alive and that harsh noise is replaced by the ram-air and the sound from the surprisingly loud standard pipe.

Driving from the bottom is not a GSX-R600’s strong point, but once it gets revving it has the most exciting engine here. It’s actually the slowest, but Few things are as inspiring as punching hard on the gas when you’re coming out of a turn on a GSX-R. The other three bikes would kill it on acceleration, but it doesn’t matter – it picks up at 6000rpm and carries on until the rev-counter needle finally trails off at 13,500rpm, all accompanied by a glorious racket.

For 1998 it got a major overhaul, with a bigger airbox, more valve lift, longer carburettor inlet stacks and revised exhaust system to improve driveability, but top end, not torque, is what the GSX-R600 is all about.

This one is fitted with Dunlop D208s, the new version of the D207 and a more track day-based tyre, so it’s not surprising they quicken up the GSX-R’s fairly lazy steering and make it a bit of a waggler on bumpy back roads. But on smoother stuff the tyres are a big improvement over the standard Pirelli Dragons and help the suspension work better than normal. It feels like the W-reg GSX-R’s 6939 miles have put very little wear on the forks and shock.

However, the brakes, which in 1999 were starting to feel a bit behind the game, aren’t really up to the job. The lever travel is spongy, which probably means the system needs bleeding.

There’s no visible sign of corrosion or major wear and tear here – if you thought little went wrong with the Yamaha R6, check out the GSX-R’s bill of health. This is so squeaky clean, it will probably outlive the Queen Mum.

According to dealers contacted by MCN, the only problem has already been ironed out – there was an official recall on the 1999 model GSX-R600X to fit a modified camchain tensioner.

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