In the sport of boxing, Muhammad Ali is widely regarded as the greatest of all time. His upsets against Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Joe Frazier easily cemented his place among boxing greats. Using charm, showmanship and a confidence bordering on arrogance, he was expected to win each time he strapped on his gloves-which he usually did. However, when athletes are at the top of their game they can become complacent and fail to train with necessary gusto or correctly evaluate their opponent. This is when upsets usually occur. For example, 1975: Muhammad Ali was slated to fight Chuck Wepner, a definite underdog in the sport. During the fight Ali was up to his usual antics, taunting his challenger and dancing around the ring-that is, until Wepner landed a punch that sent Ali to the mat. Ali quickly came to his senses and knocked Wepner down for the count.
What does any of this have to do with motorcycles, you ask? Well, in many circles Suzuki's GSX-R750 is a favored son, the Muhammad Ali of sportbikes, if you will. Although it doesn't really have much competition, we're glad Suzuki has stuck to its heritage and is keeping the bike alive. Many critics (ourselves included) have praised previous versions of the bike as being the best compromise between a 600 and 1000. Its light and nimble chassis acts like a 600, and the 750 engine is just shy of reaching warp speed-unlike its literbike brethren. We like that.
Being alone in a class of one is rather boring, so we decided to test the venerable Ducati 848 alongside the Suzuki. If you've been reading SR for a while, dig into your stash of old magazines and see if you can find the last time we pitted the GSX-R750 against the 848's predecessor, the 749. It hasn't been done. The old model was best suited to run against 600cc machinery, but now that Ducati has upped the ante with the 848 we wanted to see if this new challenger could top our favorite. On paper this looks like an easy win for the 'Zook, but numbers only tell half the story. Thus the fight is on. In the blue corner we have the Suzuki. In the red corner sits the Ducati. Our venue for this evening is our home track: Buttonwillow Raceway. The gloves worn by both of our contenders are the Avon Viper Xtremes (see sidebar on page 64 for more information).
We've already covered the details of both bikes in previous issues, so we won't bore you with that this time around. El Jefe Kunitsugu was all smiles during his first ride on the Suzuki at Willow Springs ("Lone Wolf," Jul. '08), while friend of the magazine Lance Holst was beaming after riding the 848 at the intro in Almeria, Spain ("Sweet Forgiveness," Apr. '08). Furthermore, FNG Siahaan had plenty of time to get acquainted with the Ducati during his combined street and track test in the Jul. '08 issue ("Stepping out of the Shadows"). So without further ado-let us begin!
Suzuki GSX-R750 Test Notes...
Comfortable and familiar ergos+
Great midrange power+
Confidence-inspiring chassis and suspension-
Brakes a little too progressive for some-
Lacks a little top-end steamx
We sure wish the other OEMs would bring back their 750sSUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGSFRONT
Spring preload: 9 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping: 0.5 turns out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping: 2 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; ride height: 10mm fork tube showing above triple clampREAR
Spring preload: 8mm thread showing from top of spring collar; rebound damping: 1.5 turns out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping: 3 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping: 4 turns out from full stiff
Tale of the Tape
The obvious differences between the two are the engines-an inline-four versus a V-twin. The GSX-R's 749cc inline-four features Suzuki's dual throttle-valve system (SDTV) and dual injectors per cylinder. These injectors now feature eight holes instead of four for improved fuel atomization and more efficient combustion. Other updates for 2008 include the addition of S-DMS, a more powerful ECU and a larger exhaust system.
The 848 actually has 100 more cubic centimeters than its Japanese counterpart, and the Testastretta Evoluzione L-twin layout is the most advanced design to date. Like its 1098 older brother, the 848 feeds air through elliptical throttle bodies. But unlike the Suzuki (and 1098R), fuel is only fed through a single injector.
Both bikes feature radial brakes and fully adjustable suspensions fore and aft, though the Ducati's rear linkage is not adjustable for ride height; we noted this as unusual and an obvious cost-cutting method in our full test.
Middleweight bikes have always had a place in our hearts for their perfect balance of power and handling, both on the track and on the street. These two contenders are no exception. The Ducati's racetrack pedigree is evident-the solid chassis is at home in the twisty bits and flicks from side to side with ease. Enginewise the 848 pulls strong out of corners; however, gear selection is important because a gear too low causes the engine to bog considerably on corner exits. Brakes on the Ducati are excellent as well. The Brembo four-piston calipers give great bite, and the steel-braided lines provide a positive feeling at the lever. On the downside, the Ducati's rear suspension is rather stiff on the street, its setup more suited to racetrack use. Also, the 848 seats the rider high with a long reach to the bars. Many of our testers felt this seating position to be unnatural, and sometimes painful, in everyday riding situations. Then there's the trademark Ducati underseat exhaust. Sure, it keeps the classic Italian look, but it roasts a rider's backside in no time.
Ducati 848 Test Notes +...
Much easier than 1098 to ride fast-
Vague front-end feel-
Racer-like ergos are torture on the streetx
Wonder if an 848R would be the magic ticket?SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGSFRONT
Spring preload: 3 lines showing; rebound damping: 7 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping: 1.5 turns out from full stiff; ride height: 10mm fork tube showing above top triple clamp REAR
Spring preload: 10mm thread showing above collar; rebound damping: 5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 4 turns out from full stiff
While we started to form a hate-it-or-love-it relationship with the 848, all of us felt right at home on the GSX-R750 during our street ride. The bike is 600-like in its willingness to turn and rock-solid while on its side. Figuring there was no use in increasing peak horsepower, Suzuki engineers decided to focus their attention on the middle Gixxer's midrange. The result is an engine that's perfect for street use. Crack open the throttle once you round a bend and the power is immediately there-unlike a 600 where you're sometimes waiting for the power to come on. Another trait the 750 shares with the rest of the GSX-R lineup is near-seamless fueling. Throttle lag is all but nil, and that translates into an almost telepathic bond between your throttle hand and the engine. The suspension negotiates the bumps nicely, too. However, our riders were split on the brakes. Some preferred the soft initial bite that became progressively firmer, while others couldn't get comfortable with the lever feeling "spongy" compared with the Ducati's. Unlike the 848, there were no complaints about the ergonomics on the GSX-R750. When riding, the pilot feels like he's sitting in the bike rather than on it. Reach to the bars feels natural, and even our tall guy Holst liked the position of the pegs.
With that, round one goes to the Suzuki. The Ducati has the edge on the brakes and scores points based on its strong chassis, but our judges didn't like the suspension and the uncomfortable seating position on long rides. By contrast, where the 848 is so focused, the GSX-R750 is utilitarian. Its engine is more versatile than the Duc's, the suspension is better calibrated, and the ergonomic package doesn't leave you searching for a chiropractor after each ride.
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.
Before conducting this test our preconceived notions weighed heavily toward the Suzuki. It's a solid package that would take a lot to dethrone. The Ducati proved to be a formidable opponent, with its new engine and stunning chassis taking a few of us by surprise. "The Suzuki was not as good as I thought it would be, while the 848 was better than I expected," scribbled Trevitt in his notes. But when the judges' scorecards were tallied, the narrow margin of victory went to the GSX-R750. The Ducati 848 did put up a good fight. On the racetrack it was an easy bike to ride fast. We were surprised at how well the "budget" Ducati handled itself compared with the Suzuki and its 1098 brothers. But its performance suffers on the street. Here the Suzuki truly is a jack of all trades, and that personality translates into great manners both on the track and on the street.
|MSRP ||Ducati 848 ||Suzuki GSX-R750 |
|$13,495 ||$10,599 |
|Type ||Liquid-cooled, 90-degree, 4-stroke L-twin ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four |
|Displacement ||849cc ||749cc |
|Bore x stroke ||94.0 x 61.2mm ||70.0 x 48.7mm |
|Induction ||Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 56mm dia., 1 injector/cyl. ||SDTV EFI 42mm throttle bodies, 2 injectors/cyl. |
|Front suspension ||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 5.0 in. travel ||41mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel |
|Rear suspension ||Single shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel ||Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel |
|Front tire ||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa Pro ||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016F E |
|Rear tire ||190/50ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa Pro ||180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016R E |
|Rake/trail ||24.5 deg./3.8 in. (97mm) ||23.5 deg./3.8 in. (97mm) |
|Wheelbase ||56.3 in. (1430mm) ||55.3 in. (1404mm) |
|Weight ||435 lb. wet (197kg); |
410 lb. dry (186kg) dry
|447 lb. wet (203kg); |
420 lb. dry (191kg)
|Fuel consumption ||30–40 mpg, 37 mpg avg. ||38–47 mpg, 42 mpg avg. |
Racepak G2X Data Analysis
Our data acquisition recorded speed and segment time data for the 848 and GSX-R750 on their fastest laps on Buttonwillow's west loop with Editor Kunitsugu aboard. While conditions were definitely poorer compared with our '08 literbike and middleweight comparison test days, the Suzuki's lap time slots in around midpack of the 600s-although slower than the GSX-R600. The segments listed here are identical to those used in this year's literbike ("Turn It Up to 11," June '08) and middleweight ("Balancing Act," Jul. '08) tests; check back to those issues to see where these bikes alternately gain and lose time over the course of a lap compared with the bigger and smaller models.
|LAP TIME |
|DUCATI ||1:09.390 |
|SUZUKI ||1:08.280 |
|TURN 2-3 SEGMENT TIME |
|DUCATI ||14.34 SEC. |
|SUZUKI ||13.97 SEC. |
The GSX-R is significantly quicker than the 848 through this fast section, carrying more-and more consistent- speed through the right/left sweepers. In the first three turns alone the Suzuki pulls out a nearly three-quarter-second advantage, a huge chunk of time.
|TURN 4 SEGMENT TIME AND MINIMUM SPEED |
|DUCATI ||6.50 SEC., 60.3 MPH |
|SUZUKI ||6.54 SEC., 60.7 MPH |
While the segment time and apex speed are almost equal between the two bikes through this turn, which apexes over the crest of a hill, the 848 makes up time on the entry while the GSX-R carries more speed on the exit. The more powerful Suzuki gains time on every turn exit and down every straight for the remainder of the lap; the GSX-R's trace also shows it braking harder and from a higher speed at the end of each straight. In some cases the Ducati can make up the difference with more entry and apex speed; in other cases it cannot.
|TURN 6 ENTRANCE SPEED, SEGMENT TIME AND EXIT SPEED |
|DUCATI ||79.0 MPH, 10.33 SEC., 78.9 MPH |
|SUZUKI || 79.5 MPH, 10.08 SEC., 76.7 MPH |
Kento puts the spurs to the GSX-R a bit early in the middle of long, sweeping turn 6 and must back off momentarily, hurting his drive but still carding a quicker segment time than on the 848. Note also that the Suzuki pulls its usual advantage almost immediately after the corner exit mark, with more speed between turn 6 and the first part of the chicane.
|CHICANE SEGMENT TIME AND EXIT SPEED |
|DUCATI || 7.21 SEC., 109.3 MPH |
|SUZUKI ||7.26 SEC., 108.4 MPH |
One of the few sections where the 848 is quicker than the GSX-R: The lighter Ducati carries way more speed through the final, fast transition of the chicane to edge the GSX-R on segment time and exit speed.
|TURN 8 SEGMENT TIME |
|DUCATI ||4.98 SEC |
|SUZUKI ||4.98 SEC. |
It's a match for the two bikes on segment time through the last 90-degree left-hander, with the 848 carrying a higher average corner speed to offset the GSX-R's faster entry and exit speeds. -AT
Avon Viper Xtreme
The gloves both our contenders were wearing for this test were the latest track-day tire in Avon's Viper range: the Avon Viper Xtreme. The Xtreme's tread pattern is more minimalistic than the rest of the Viper line, delivering more contact patch of the tire during extreme lean angles. The rear Xtreme utilizes a mono-ply casing construction rather than the standard two-ply, which makes for a lighter and more compliant tire. Avon's Advanced Variable Belt Density (A-VBD) construction for the rear tire encircles it with a jointless belt. Avon claims these closely wound fibers at the center of the tread provide maximum stability at higher lean angles. The company also claims this belt "optimizes the way in which the carcass and tread distort under load, leading to cooler operating temperatures and allowing the use of softer compounds." The front is a standard two-ply construction with belts.
During our morning sessions, scrubbing in the tires was bordering on scary. The extremely soft sidewalls would flex as though they were losing air. After triple-checking that the tires weren't leaking and that pressures were at the recommended settings, we learned to adapt to the odd flexing. Once they are up to temp the side grip is decent. Feel from the front tire is slightly vague and doesn't inspire confidence to push your limits. Getting the rear tire to spin on corner exits was a common occurrence, and by the end of the day both tires looked like they'd seen enough. We wouldn't recommend them for a competent rider on a fire-breathing literbike. The Avon Viper Xtremes are available in a 120/70 front and 180 or 190/55 series rear. For more information, visit www.avonmotorcycle.com.
Sadly, after AMA and World Superbike racing went to open-class machines, performance bikes between 600cc and 1000cc dropped off most manufacturers' and riders' radar screens. Fortunately Suzuki's consistently brilliant GSX-R750 is still with us and better than ever.
In my 13 years of roadracing I competed riding every brand of Japanese bike in every category between 600cc and 1000cc (and a year on a Ducati), but it's no coincidence that I began on an FZ750 and ended on a GSX-R750. I've always thought this class represented the best balance of performance, often besting larger-displacement siblings in terms of lap times. Now, as a track-day rider and riding instructor, I think these bikes are almost impossible to beat. They're significantly more athletic and nimble than open-class bikes and offer far more useful powerbands than the high-strung middleweights. This is the type of bike that allows you to ride your best.
Ducati's 848 is far more forgiving to ride than its 1098 and represents perhaps the most sensible exotic bike ever. Its timelessly beautiful styling and the firsthand experience of watching Ruben Xaus work his magic on one in Spain make it a bike I'd never tire of owning. Suzuki's latest GSX-R750, however, might just be my all-time favorite track bike. Sure, it won't age as well as the Ducati, since Japanese bikes outdate themselves more quickly, but as long as Suzuki keeps making and updating its iconic repli-racer, happiness is still something you can buy.
If I could make one request to the OEMs it would be this: "Please bring back the middleweights!" I've always loved the three-quarter-liter class of sportbikes, especially the Suzuki. We say it all the time, but it really is the perfect size motorcycle for almost any rider. Now that Ducati has joined the fray with the 848, we've got another middleweight to join the party-and it couldn't come soon enough. Both bikes were a hoot to ride, but the Ducati actually surprised me with its performance. After riding it at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada, I knew it had potential for greatness but was held back by its suspension. On the other end of the spectrum, the Suzuki's suspension worked great, but I was hoping for a little more from the engine when the revs were near the top. I don't want to say I was disappointed, because it was an excellent bike to ride, but maybe I set my expectations a bit too high for the Suzuki and a bit too low for the Ducati. However, I'm a sucker for proper suspension, so for my money I'd still buy the GSX-R750 and spend a little extra coin to get the engine where I want it.
Going into this test I thought I had a pretty good idea how things would shake out, as we had ridden both the Ducati and the Suzuki for separate tests beforehand. But at the track the 848 surprised me and was better than I anticipated. And the Suzuki was not the missile I was expecting it would be, leaving me a bit disappointed in its performance. On the street the new GSX-R is simply magical, and even though it's still great fun to ride on the track, I didn't experience that same magic there. For a while the 848 was a tempting favorite, as it really is more than the sum of its parts and every bit as balanced a package as the GSX-R is. But one look at the price convinced me otherwise: the $2900-cheaper GSX-R is an easy winner for me.