Honda The CBR's gauge package...
The CBR's gauge package lacks a gear indicator but includes a fuel gauge-rare on a sportbike and a welcome addition. Clip-ons are the highest of this bunch, mirrors are the best.
At The Track
Honda CBR600RR: 88.2
Surprise, surprise, the CBR turned the second quickest time at our track day, just three-quarters of a second off the ZX-10R's pace. As a true underdog in this battle of titans, the Honda upheld middleweight honors in lap times but again brings up the rear on the score sheets. "I like the Honda because it's so easy and familiar to ride," commented Troy, echoing practically all our staffers' thoughts. "It feels so light and nimble, when I'm on the track I feel I can do no wrong with it." The CBR posted low scores for power but its power delivery rated higher than the GSX-R's, with crisp response and potent midrange helping it get around the track a smidgen quicker. While the CBR's transmission worked the best of our trio on the track, a slipper clutch would be greatly appreciated, especially in Buttonwillow's long, decreasing-radius sweeper turn.
As we've written in countless tests about the tiny CBR, its stellar chassis offers rock-solid stability combined with laser-quick steering. Kunitsugu: "The Honda's agility was easy to see at the track, and you could put it in spots you wouldn't think of with the ZX-10R and would have difficulty doing with the GSX-R." Several small details conspired to keep the Honda off the top of the scorecards at Buttonwillow, however. Its brakes lack the solid feel of the other bikes' on the track and faded after a few laps of hard use, and some of our testers felt suspension rates were a bit soft. The high clip-ons are not as well suited to the track as they are to canyon work, and our quicker riders complained the pegs are too low. No one detail stood out as being a major issue, but combined they keep the CBR to third place at the track.
Suzuki The Suzuki's seating...
The Suzuki's seating position is almost identical to the Honda's but with lower clip-ons and a lower seat. The instruments are on par with the Kawasaki's, but the mirrors are the worst here.
Suzuki GSX-R750: 90.5
Although the GSX-R posted the slowest lap time (by about five flaps of a hummingbird's wings) it scored a practical tie for first with the Kawasaki and was the subjective pick of half our staffers for track work. "I always try to think about which motorcycle would make me a better rider," said O'Connor between mouthfuls of Lucky Charms. "The Suzuki has enough power to stay fun as your skills improve but not so much that cornering speed and precision aren't important, and it's my pick for the track." The GSX-R's SDTV offers the smoothest off/on throttle transition of the three bikes, and the more potent midrange definitely helps in most situations. That said, top-end steam is noticeably down from previous iterations, and combined with too-tall gearing (the GSX-R is geared for a very optimistic theoretical 186 mph) leaves the bike short of breath in faster corners. Buttonwillow certainly plays to this weakness, and the results show in the lap times.
Some of our riders were less than impressed with the Suzuki's mill even in the company of the CBR, but the chassis is a star in this show. Stability is on-par with the Honda and suspension is plush enough to soak up small bumps while stiff enough to absorb Buttonwillow's ever-increasing number of big hits. "The chassis is well-sorted and balanced everywhere on the track," wrote Siahaan. "The brakes just get better the harder you're on them and it feels like what a perfect 600 should feel like." Our guess is that some shorter gearing would add the necessary pep to bring the Suzuki's lap times more in-line with its scores, but even with that drawback the GSX-R nearly snagged top honors for the track.
Kawasaki With low clip-ons...
With low clip-ons and a high seat, the Kawasaki's ergos are the raciest in the test. The tachometer is a complete about-face from previous ZX-10R tachs and easy to read at a glance.
Kawasaki ZX-10R: 90.6
It says volumes about the ZX-10R that all three of our timed riders-covering a range of abilities-posted their quickest lap times while aboard the Kawasaki even though all three found it difficult to get the most out of the green machine because of its endless reserves of power. "I'm not sure whether this is a good or bad thing," commented Boy Toy, "but the ZX-10R makes a ton of power. It was a complete handful getting it around the track. The brakes are really powerful with good feel and strong bite. Ergonomically the ZX-10R is the most track-focused; low bars and a high seat make its intentions clear. I like the way the gas tank is shaped compared to the other two bikes. I find it gives me natural points to dig my legs into when braking hard."
The bike's chassis copes with the power as well on the track as it does on the street, although steering is not as quick as the other bikes' and decidedly more muscle is necessary to bend the ZX-10R into a corner. Aside from the effort required, our testers raised no red flags for the chassis, and just as on the street the bike simply works well as a package, with crisp brakes, excellent suspension and good stability. "Even though it can get tiring wrestling the big Kawi around," wrote the Boss, "the chassis and suspension really make me feel at ease while hurtling around the track at warp speed. For a literbike, the Kawasaki inspires excellent confidence." Back the pace down a notch, and the Kawasaki is even more obliging: "That said, the big ZX will putter along at slower speeds with less hassle and complaint than most other literbikes."
In The Conference Room
Sum the scores and our testers' subjective picks at each venue, and it's a veritable tie between the GSX-R750 and ZX-10R. Just a quarter-point separates the two in the final standings, and our crew was equally split for an overall winner. As well, consider that the feisty CBR600RR is just another tick behind in scores and quicker than the GSX-R at the track. Any one of these three bikes would make a worthy champion. The ZX-10R, however, is the cream that kept rising to the top during our testing. It continues to amaze us how Kawasaki engineers have harnessed that Herculean engine in so amiable a chassis that riders across a range of skill levels, on both street and track, can mesh with the finished product in a way that increases confidence while lowering lap times. Some call that synergy. We call it bike of the year.
This chart shows graphically...
This chart shows graphically how the Suzuki's tall gearing (note that its theoretical top speed is an unrealistic 186 mph) hurts performance in the real world-at some speeds in each gear the CBR has more thrust than the Suzuki. That said, the GSX-R's individual curves intersect smoothly at redline in each cog, with consistent thrust from gear to gear and no gaps in delivery.
The Honda's beefy midrange...
The Honda's beefy midrange and short gearing allow it to post a better 80-100mph time than the GSX-R, but neither can compete with the ZX-10R when it comes to top-gear roll-ons.
The monster ZX-10R is a hair...
The monster ZX-10R is a hair slower off the line than the other bikes thanks to a balky clutch, and it's not until the others shift into second-while the Kawasaki carries on in first to 90mph-that it pulls out any significant advantage at the dragstrip.