2017 Japanese Literbike Comparison | Sport Rider
Kevin Wing

2017 Japanese Literbike Comparison

The Big Four in one battle.

It’s been a while since there was this much excitement brewing in the literbike supersport class. Both Honda and Suzuki have finally released their latest-generation 1,000cc machines, Honda with the newest iteration of its CBR1000RR, and Suzuki with its long-awaited revamp of the venerable GSX-R1000. Associate Editor Michael Gilbert covered his initial riding experience on the Honda back in the April/May issue (“Forever in Total Control”) while yours truly sampled the standard GSX-R1000 at the Circuit of The Americas in the June/July issue (“Beautifully Balanced Part Two”).

With both the Honda and Suzuki undergoing major changes, it only made sense to gather the rest of the “Big Four” Japanese makes together. Yamaha’s awesome YZF-R1 needs no introduction, with its combination of new-generation crossplane-crank engine, superb chassis, and class-leading electronics package putting it at the top of wish lists and racing podiums everywhere. And speaking of racing, Kawasaki’s latest ZX-10R has reaped the benefits of the company’s racing efforts in the World Superbike Championship, getting numerous engine and chassis updates derived directly from its factory racing team.

yamaha, honda, kawasaki, suzuki

For this track test, we segued to the repaved confines of Buttonwillow Raceway Park in central California, running the 1.7-mile West Loop configuration. All four bikes were outfitted with Bridgestone’s excellent R10 EVO DOT racing rubber to even out the playing field.

Kevin Wing

Track:

For this track test, we segued to the repaved confines of Buttonwillow Raceway Park in central California, running the 1.7-mile West Loop configuration. All four bikes were outfitted with Bridgestone’s excellent R10 EVO DOT racing rubber to even out the playing field.

Unfortunately, Associate Editor Gilbert was sidelined from this portion of the testing due to a crash at the Road America round of the MotoAmerica Superstock 600 series, so we enlisted the superb skills of World Endurance/two-time AMA champion Jason Pridmore for the timed hot laps. Also assisting with our track testing was current MotoAmerica Superstock 600 contender Jason Aguilar and former AMA Pro racer Chad Lewin.

Like the objective datalogging results we obtained at the track (see “AiM Solo Data Analysis,” below the story), the subjective opinions of our testers mostly followed along the same lines. The preferences evolved into two groups: the R1 and CBR in one, and the GSX-R and ZX-10R in the other. Less than half a second separates all four bikes, showing how closely matched these machines really are.

GSX-R’s LCD dash

Right: The new GSX-R’s LCD dash is beginning to look dated in this day and age of TFT designs.
Below Right: The Showa BPF and Brembo components on the new GSX-R aren’t as top-shelf as the Honda’s, but they’re more than adequate for the job.

Kevin Wing

Test Notes: 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000
+Stronger top-end power -No quickshifter
+More-nimble chassis -LCD dash looks dated
+Hasn’t lost comfy feel -Brakes could be better
R model looks to be the better deal

 

The new GSX-R impressed all with its excellent performance while retaining the familiar chassis and handling manners that have made the Suzuki a household name in racing. “I just instantly felt comfortable on it,” was a phrase repeated by every single one of our testers, and the same opinion was expressed about the GSX-R’s excellent feel on turn entry. Add to that more agility and much stronger top-end, and the result was smiles each time our testers got off the Suzuki.

Where the GSX-R came up short was the lack of a quickshifter and in brake/front-end feel toward the limit. “I never thought I’d say that it would be something that held me back,” Pridmore said about the Suzuki’s absence of a quickshifter, “but there are places here at Buttonwillow where you have to shift from third to fourth while leaned over to the left, and not having one is a significant disadvantage.” Feel and feedback from the brakes and fork when pushed hard was another area that a few testers felt was just a smidgen behind the others.

ZX-10R’s LCD dash

Right: The ZX-10R’s LCD dash panel looks a little dated, but the LED bar-graph tachometer is one of the easier ones to read at a glance.
Below Right: Kawasaki pulled out the stops by fitting the ZX-10R with a Showa BFF (Balance Free Fork) and Brembo M50 calipers. Performance from all components was excellent.

Kevin Wing

Test Notes: 2017 Kawasaki ZX-10R
+Ripping top-end power -Slight lack of midrange power
+Excellent fork -Heaviest of the group
+Nice chassis feel -Steering takes a little effort
Stay in the high-speed sections

 

Kawasaki has been laying waste to the WSBK field, and it’s easy to see a lot of that influence in the latest ZX-10R. The green machine’s top-end punch rockets you off the turns and down the straights, and its excellent front-end feel and stupendous brakes continue that momentum into the corners. And we couldn’t stop raving about the Showa BFF’s (Balance Free Fork) compliance and control at speed.

The chink in the Kawasaki’s armor was its lack of midrange power compared to the others. Buttonwillow’s slower corners place a premium on that part of the powerband, and the ZX-10R’s somewhat tall gearing only exacerbated that disadvantage. Had we conducted our test at a faster venue, the Kawasaki surely would’ve been closer to the front.

R1 set the bar for TFT dash

Right: The R1 set the bar for TFT dash displays, and the setup still remains one of our favorites, despite our misgivings about the bar-graph tach.
Below Right: The R1’s KYB fork and Advics calipers do a good job of maintaining chassis control, but some of us weren’t totally happy with their performance near the limit.

Kevin Wing

Test Notes: 2017 Yamaha YZF-R1
+Strong engine -A pain if you’re not going fast
+Racebike-stiff chassis -Tall first gear
+Benchmark electronics -Steering takes effort
A faster racetrack & this test might’ve been different

 

Now that everyone has had a year or two to study the Yamaha R1’s electronics package and come up with an answer, they should be on par now, right? Wrong. The R1 simply has an almost telepathic ability to provide just the right amount of power to the rear tire for maximum drive no matter what lean angle you’re at. Pridmore explains it best: “On the edge of the tire, when I’d be going through the really fast corners, say third gear, rolling fast, and wanting to get that last little bit of acceleration, the Yamaha was solid. It really would drive hard to the next corner without the type of slides like the Kawasaki and even the Suzuki that would sometimes try to slip and catch you out.”

Couple that electronic sophistication with the quick-revving punch of its crossplane-crank engine and a chassis that everyone said “felt like a real racebike” in one way or another, and you have what sounds like an unbeatable combination. And if we were at a faster racetrack, it just might have been.

CBR’s TFT

Right: The new CBR’s TFT (Thin Film Transistor) dash is one of the best we’ve seen, with high contrast that can be seen in daytime and a nice, easy-to-read layout.
Right Below: Showa BPF (Big Piston Fork) and Tokico calipers/320mm discs surprised us with their competent performance on the track and the street.

Kevin Wing

Test Notes: Honda CBR1000RR
+Agile-steering chassis -Down on peak power
+Great front-end feel, brakes -Electronics could be better
+Bi-directional quickshifter -ABS not switchable
No high-speed sections and you’re golden…

Despite having the weakest engine (at least in terms of peak power) of this quartet, the Honda impressed us the most with its ability to get around Buttonwillow’s tighter sections swiftly with little fuss. There’s more than enough power where it’s needed, and while its ability to control wheelies isn’t as good as the R1, the CBR’s electronics were good enough to maintain solid drives off of corners. And that includes the only bi-directional (downshift as well as upshift) quickshifter of the group, which everyone loved for its seamless operation that permitted them to concentrate on moving their brake markers deeper in corners than ever before.

Then there’s the fact that the Honda was easily the most agile handler of the group—but with an underlying stability that allowed you to put the bike anywhere you wanted with confidence, especially while trail-braking. It was easy to sense that the CBR was carrying higher corner speed in the slow corners, a feeling confirmed by the AiM Solo data. While the Yamaha lacked just a little bit of front-end feel in the slower corners with brakes that weren’t as communicative toward the limit, the Honda’s superb front-end feel and outstanding brakes made up for its disadvantage to the R1 in the faster sections.

honda, suzuki, kawasaki, yamaha
Kevin Wing

Street:

The same user-friendly yet potent handling and engine power manners that endeared the Honda to our testers at Buttonwillow also made friends on the curvature of public pavement as well. Add to that an ergonomic layout that provides decent legroom while still offering plenty of ground clearance and a short reach to the bars, and you have a bike that doesn’t punish you riding to your favorite twisty roads. The CBR lets you make time in the canyons without demanding a lot out of you physically.

For those who couldn’t care less about comfort and want a bike that rewards a little more effort with serious speed in return, the R1 is your bike. Yes, the tall first gear is a hassle pulling away from stoplights, and the seat and chassis are pretty unforgiving over the superslab, but the Yamaha is an uncompromising sportbike in all aspects… And once you get into the twisty bits and give it the right commands, the R1 will cover ground faster than the others. And we noticed that the brakes that were numb at the limit on the track were actually nice and responsive on the street.

Keep scrolling for the data analysis, dyno charts, specs and more!!

Suzuki’s changes to the ’17 GSX-R1000 not only paid off on its racetrack performance, but they also make the big Gixxer an even better streetbike. The new engine has lost very little of the strong midrange that made it such a hit a decade ago, and now it has a potent top-end to go with it. Where the GSX-R comes up a little short compared to the CBR and R1 is in steering responsiveness once banked into a corner. Initial tip-in is fine; it’s more that the Suzuki felt just a tad more reluctant to make line changes midcorner.

Speaking of potent top-ends, the Kawasaki simply rockets you off the corners if you’re above 9,500 rpm, and the chassis has a bit more agility than the GSX-R once banked into a corner. But the same lack of midrange that lost it time at the track was also an issue on the street. The ZX-10R just didn’t pull as hard if you came off the corner below 9,500 rpm, meaning you needed to pay attention to gearing choice a bit more than the others. And steering inputs took a bit more muscle than the others to accomplish.

2017 Literbike Comparison

And our pick is?

Kevin Wing

Conclusion:

It was a close one to call in this comparison, but the new Honda CBR1000RR surprised us with its overall competence in all areas despite having the lowest peak horsepower numbers in the group. The Honda may not have the high-speed capabilities nor the electronic sophistication of the R1, but its advantage in front-end feel and braking performance makes up for that and then some (as long as the racetrack or canyon road is tight and twisty with no high-speed sections). For those who are willing to put up with racebike harshness for the added potential in the higher-speed cornering environments, the Yamaha might be the better choice; but for the others who don’t want to deal with that uncompromising attitude and want to go faster easier, you can’t go wrong with the CBR.

AiM Solo Data Analysis

Honda Kawasaki Suzuki Yamaha
Track Top Speed 137.3 mph 138.4 mph 134.3 mph 139.1 mph
Lap Times 1:02.061 1:02.445 1:02.545 1:02.166

 

AiM Solo Data Analysis

With Michael sidelined by a crash at a MotoAmerica race, we enlisted World Endurance and two-time AMA champion Jason Pridmore for lap-time duties at Buttonwillow. Per our usual regimen, we used our AiM Solo GPS lap timer to log Pridmore’s laps on all four bikes, recording segment times in addition to speed and acceleration data. The track map includes each bike’s times and speeds from some of the crucial sections of Buttonwillow’s west loop; icons represent the relative positions of the bikes at certain points.

SportRider

The lap times and data show the four bikes pairing off: the Yamaha and Honda neck and neck for top honors, and the Kawasaki and Suzuki a notch behind but likewise closely matched. Just one-tenth of a second separates the Honda and Yamaha, but the data reveals each bike’s strengths. The R1 posted the quickest times in seven of the track’s 12 segments, which are the faster sections including turns two (apex speed is more than 90 mph), three, five, the esses (exit of which is done at close to 120 mph), and on two of the straights.

Part of the credit here goes to the Yamaha’s strong high-speed acceleration, but the R1 also posted the quickest roll rates in the esses and the transition between turns two and three. The Yamaha makes it through the ultra-fast turn two-to-three section with a huge 8-mph advantage over the Honda (6 mph over the Suzuki and Kawasaki) and 6 mph more than the others in the esses.

So how does the Honda end up quickest? Basically, the CBR counters the R1 everywhere else on the track, with the quickest times in the remaining segments bar one (where the GSX-R was quickest but with the Honda just a tick behind). These represent the slower sections of Buttonwillow, the data showing the more agile CBR with quicker segment times, higher apex speeds, better roll rates in the transitions, and higher overall maximum braking G than the Yamaha.

Note that our track map icons show the Yamaha (figuratively) leading the Honda for much of the lap. The data suggests that each bike’s strength—the Yamaha at high speed and the Honda at lower speed—is a considerable advantage in the respective segments of the track, despite the overall lap times being so close.

Almost half a second behind the Honda and Yamaha came the Kawasaki. The data shows that the Ninja doesn’t lack in any particular area, but it doesn’t have any particular strength either. In the high-speed sections the ZX-10R matches or even betters the CBR, and likewise in the low-speed sections the Kawasaki matches the R1. But the Ninja doesn’t have enough of an advantage over the course of a full lap.

This leaves the Suzuki just a tenth of a second behind the Kawasaki. Like the ZX-10R, the GSX-R matches the other three bikes in most areas (plus the aforementioned best time in one segment) but doesn’t shine in any one aspect. And the Suzuki is further slowed by less braking performance compared to the other three. The GSX-R data includes the lowest maximum braking G and the lowest maximum trail-braking G; also, the braking data shows Pridmore doesn’t apply the brakes as quickly as he is able to on the other bikes.

Test Rubber: Bridgestone R10/R10 EVO

Bridgestone R10/R10 EVO

Bridgestone R10/R10 EVO

Bridgestone

  • 3D tread grooves provide stability and tire rigidity during braking
  • Profiles designed for quick steering, cornering response, and large footprint
  • Compounds designed to work through a wide range of temperatures
  • Designed to work with tire warmers for optimal performance
  • Available in three compounds for both front and rear tires

The R10 front and R10 EVO rear performed superbly for our track test, providing good, consistent grip during 95-degree ambient temps and continual abuse by professional riders. Steering is quick but neutral, with plenty of feedback due to the stiff carcass. Although Bridgestone recommends tire warmers, we had no issues warming up the tires riding out in near-100-degree temps.

Horsepower Comparison Chart

horsepower literbikes graph

Horsepower Comparison Chart

SportRider

Kent Kunitsugu

Age: 56
Height: 5'7"

Honda has done its usual superb job of upgrading the CBR1000RR to compete with the latest literbike machines. The new CBR has the usual Honda attributes of user-friendly engine and superb chassis and suspension that allow you to go quicker with less effort. And while Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 didn’t quite measure up, I’m sure the R model with its better suspension and full complement of electronics would rank higher.

But when it comes down to it, if I were in the market for a literbike, it would be the R1. Beside its outright performance, none of the others have the Yamaha’s superb MotoGP-inspired electronics that are still head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition.

 

FINAL RATINGS Honda CBR1000RR Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Suzuki GSX-R1000 Yamaha YZF-R1
Fun to ride 9.5 9.0 9.0 9.5
Quality 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0
Instruments & controls 9.0 8.5 8.5 9.0
Ergonomics 9.0 8.5 9.0 8.0
Chassis & handling 9.5 9.0 9.0 9.5
Suspension 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0
Brakes 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0
Transmission 9.5 9.0 8.5 9.0
Engine power 8.5 9.5 9.0 10.0
Engine power delivery 9.5 8.0 8.5 9.0
RATINGS TOTAL 91.5 88.5 88.5 91.0

 

honda, kawasaki

2017 Honda CBR1000RR & 2017 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

Kevin Wing

2017 Honda CBR1000RR 2017 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
MSRP $16,499 $15,399 non-ABS (as tested); $16,399 ABS; non-KRT $15,099
Engine
Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four, 4 valves/cyl. Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four, 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement 998cc 998cc
Bore x stroke 76.0 x 55.1m 76.0 x 55.0mm
Compression ratio 13.0:1 13.0:1
Induction Induction: DFI, 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl. Mikuni DFI, 47mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
Chassis
Front Suspension Showa 43mm inverted BPF fork, adjustable spring preload, compression, rebound damping, 4.3-in. travel
Rear Suspension Showa monoshock w/ piggyback reservoir, adjustable spring preload, compression, rebound damping, 5.4-in. travel Showa monoshock w/ piggyback reservoir, adjustable spring preload, compression, rebound damping, 4.5-in. travel
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax RS10 L
Rear tire 190/50ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214 190/55ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax RS10 L
Rake/trail 23.3°/3.8 in. (96mm) 25.0°/4.2 in. (107mm)
Wheelbase 55.0 in (1397mm) 56.3 in. (1431mm)
Seat height 33.3 in. (846mm) 33.0 in. (838mm)
Fuel capacity 4.3 gal. (16.0L) 4.5 gal. (17.0L)
Weight 436 lb. (198kg) wet; 410 lb. (186kg) dry (all fluids, no fuel) 451 lb. (205kg) wet; 430 lb. (195kg) dry (all fluids, no fuel)
Suspension Settings
Front Suspension Spring preload—5 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping—2.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—3-5/8 turns out from full stiff Spring preload—full stiff; rebound damping—2.25 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—4.5 turns out from full stiff
Rear Suspension Spring preload—position 7 out of 10; rebound damping—2-1/8 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—2-3/8 turns out from full stiff Spring preload—9mm thread showing on shock; rebound damping—2.25 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—full stiff
Performance
Fuel Consumption 36–42 mpg, 39 mpg avg. 32–38 mpg, 34 mpg avg.
Quarter-Mile 10.37 sec. @ 142 mph 10.31 sec. @ 143 mph
Roll-ons 60–80 mph/2.58 sec.; 80–100 mph/2.52 sec. 60–80 mph/2.77 sec.; 80–100 mph/3.08 sec.
Suzuki, Yamaha

2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 & 2017 Yamaha YZF-R1

Kevin Wing

2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 2017 Yamaha YZF-R1
MSRP $14,699 $16,699
Engine
Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four, 4 valves/cyl. Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four, 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement 999.8cc 998cc
Bore x stroke 76.0 x 55.1mm 79.0 x 50.9mm
Compression ratio 13.2:1 13.0:1
Induction Mikuni DFI, 46mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl. Mikuni EFI, 45mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
Chassis
Front Suspension Showa 43mm inverted BPF fork, adjustable spring preload, compression, rebound damping, 4.7-in. travel KYB 43mm inverted fork, adjustable spring preload, compression, rebound damping, 4.7-in. travel
Rear Suspension Showa monoshock w/ piggyback reservoir, adjustable spring preload, compression, rebound damping, 5.3-in. travel KYB monoshock w/ piggyback reservoir, adjustable spring preload, compression, rebound damping, 4.7-in. travel
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax RS10 E 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax RS10 G
Rear tire 190/55ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax RS10 E 190/55ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax RS10 G
Rake/trail 23.2°/3.7 in. (95mm) 24.0°/4.0 in. (102mm)
Wheelbase 56.0 in. (1422mm) 55.25 in. (1403mm)
Seat height 33.25 (845mm) 33.25 in. (845mm)
Fuel capacity 4.2 gal. (16.0L) 4.5 gal. (17.0L)
Weight 452 lb. (205kg) wet; 427 lb. (194kg) dry (all fluids, no fuel) 443 lb. (201kg) wet; 416 lb. (189kg) dry (all fluids, no fuel)
Suspension Settings
Front Suspension Spring preload—4.75 turns in from full soft; rebound damping—4 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—4.75 turns in from full stiff Spring preload—9 turns in from full soft; rebound damping—5 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—15 clicks out from full stiff
Rear Suspension Spring preload—179mm spring length; rebound damping—2.75 turns out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—2.75 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping—1.75 turns out from full stiff Spring preload—148mm spring length; rebound damping—12 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—2.5 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping— 8 clicks out from full stiff
Performance
Fuel Consumption 34–37 mpg, 35 mpg avg. 27–31 mpg, 30 mpg avg.
Quarter-Mile 10.40 sec. @ 143 mph 10.20 sec. @ 148 mph
Roll-ons 60–80 mph/2.29 sec.; 80–100 mph/2.39 sec. 60–80 mph/2.70 sec.; 80–100 mph/2.49 sec.

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