Getting Down To Business
Elsewhere in this issue you'll see our cover story pitting Ducati's thinly masked superbike, the 1098R, opposite a Honda CBR1000RR featuring Ammar Bazzaz's traction control kit. To maximize our track time we brought these two bikes along as well. Again, all of our testers felt immediately comfortable on the GSX-R750--so much so that Holst went on to proclaim that "[The GSX-R750] is as close to ergonomic perfection as I've sampled in a sportbike for the street or track." The 848, on the other hand, didn't turn out as favorably. Most of our testers found the gas tank to be too narrow and difficult to brace during hard braking. Further, the rider triangle of the bars, seat and pegs just didn't feel right. "The 848's bar angle is much too flat and wide, causing you to unintentionally feed steering inputs into the bars while accelerating in many situations," says Boss Man Kunitsugu.
Based on first impressions, early predictions weren't favoring the Ducati-but it wasn't about to give up. Out on track the 848 surprised all the riders. As we noted in our full test last month, the chassis is superb-on par with, if not better than, its Suzuki counterpart. Its agility and flickability inspired confidence in all our riders, which translated into quick lap times right out of the box. In fact, of the four bikes circling the track, the 848 held down the quickest time for much of the morning. But as great a chassis as the Ducati offers, again it is let down by budget suspension. This is where the Suzuki shows its dominance; though it may not be as nimble as the Ducati, it's by no means a slug. Chassis transitions remain quick, but when coupled with a suspension package that keeps in mind bumpy U.S. tracks (as opposed to Europe's silky-smooth asphalt), Suzuki ultimately wins the round. The bike's feedback to the rider is almost a direct connection to the front tire, while the Ducati leaves you wondering what's going on down there. On our street ride we noticed the Ducati rear shock felt stiff for street use-our guess was that it was damped for the track. At the bumpy Buttonwillow test track three of the four testers agreed and felt the rear was planted and never a cause for concern. New Guy Siahaan also felt the same way after his experience with the 848 at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park ("Stepping out of the Shadows"). Conversely, the fourth tester didn't like the way the chassis would "get out of shape" when accelerating hard over bumps.
The Suzuki's engine, retuned to provide better midrange, squirts hard out of the turns at the track, but open her up and she runs out of breath quicker than expected. Not to say that the engine is weak in any way, because it's not; rather the top-end rush we were waiting for never came to fruition. "The GSX-R might be lacking a little top-end steam compared to the previous generation, but the '08 model's stronger and smoother midrange more than makes up for it," says Kunitsugu.
On the flip side, the 848-a bike we expected to be short-winded-surprised us with its wide powerband. We knew the bottom-end torque would be there, but the power didn't start to level off until the upper limits of the rev range-a trait that was completely unexpected. The bike's slow-revving engine (compared with the Suzuki's, anyway) was no indication of how quickly bike and rider were actually going. "[The 848] is so deceptively tame-feeling that many riders might mistakenly feel it's unimpressive," says Holst. "That's their loss." With that said, the suspension on the Ducati still felt vague when pushed to the limits, whereas the Suzuki's surefootedness instilled all kinds of confidence to push harder into the next turn. That little bit is what gives it the nod in this round as well.