Being asked to pick one of these five amazing bikes as the winner is like asking me whether I'd like a pack of Hostess Cupcakes or Ding Dongs or a nice refrigerated Kit Kat! You just can't go wrong with any one of them!
Unfortunately there has to be a winner, as well as a, well, "not so winner" (sorry, no bike in this test deserves to be called a loser). When all was said and done, the two bikes I was having such a tough time deciding on were really not the two I would have expected to be torn over. And while I had a great time on the Kawasaki ZX-10R, Yamaha R1, and Aprilia RSV4 R, having to choose between the Honda CBR and the BMW was not as easy a task as one might think. While I had a great time riding the Honda, I just had this nagging feeling like I was never being challenged-as if everything was being handed to you on a platter. The BMW demands your attention because everything happens so fast, making it a more satisfying ride afterward. And the good chunk of change that you spend for the extra features like traction control, ABS, and the quickshifter are just like extra icing on a fresh Randy's donut!
Remember Rocky? The first one? This test was a major slugfest between three giants in the ring. Who knew that a first year bike from BMW would be, frankly, so bad ass? Basically, a race engine in a composed chassis, with some seriously good electronics. The newfound top-end of the Honda has given it what it needed to go head-to-head with the mighty ZX-10R. Oh, if you're wondering, the R1 dropped out in the early rounds due to a lack of top-end steam, and definitely didn't show up in fighting weight. The RSV4, in this version, never even made it to the ring. It's an undercard fighter for sure in this crowd.
These three bikes slugged each other relentlessly on the streets and around Infineon. Any of these three could have won the bout, and it literally went to the score cards for me. While Apollo won on the cards, Rocky was our winner-turning a victory from defeat. This year, the ZX-10R is my Apollo Creed, the champ does it again on the cards, but my heart really lies with the BMW, my Rocky. Who won Rocky II? Oh that's right...I can't wait for the rematch.
It's nice to see the addition of the BMW S 1000 RR to this year's lineup of literbikes. Just adding a different manufacturer to the mix was exciting. As it turns out, BMW has done wonders with the S 1000 RR. BMW has always had a different sense of styling that was hit-or-miss with me but I definitely like what they have done with the S.
I haven't liked all the gizmos that BMW adds to their motorcycles but the gearshift assist on our test model worked really well. The different Race ABS/DTC modes are a nice bonus, but I kept it in Race mode on the street and it was fine.
The power delivery was smooth and consistent, and felt to be the most powerful of the bunch. The suspension and the brakes were great too, and while I don't feel like it was the quickest turning motorcycle in the test, it was right up there close to the top. The S 1000 RR was comfortable to ride as well and I could very easily ride it all day long and not be screaming at the end of the day. As tested, the BMW will cost you a pretty penny-but that's the only downside I could find.
It really boiled down to three bikes when all the notes were tallied. The Aprilia's and Yamaha's lack of top-end speed are deal-breakers within this group, and leaves them as odd men out. My opinion reads like this: If I was on the Forbes 500 list, it would be the fully loaded, super-strong Beemer. Unfortunately I didn't make that list this year. The BMW proudly displays what focus is all about. It's quite impressive how the S 1000 RR has surprised all of the sport bike world in a relatively short period of research and development. Considering the long road that the other manufacturers have endured makes the Bavarian entry a true standout.
Sears Point/Infineon Raceway is a challenging, no-rest circuit, and the Honda somehow masked this intimidating environment in a subtle yet aggressive way. The CBR1000RR is true to Honda's legendary reputation as a complete package no matter the task at hand. The Honda edges the Kawasaki by a hair based on my track-only experience as I missed the street portion of the test. The CBR makes for a rider-friendly platform on an extremely demanding course and it edges the other machines that were nipping at its heels. Looking back, I just wish we had a Gixxer in the mix to make things a bit more interesting.
I'm torn. I keep flip-flopping back and forth between the BMW and the Honda as my favorite for this year. Hell, I had the two separated on my scoresheet by less than a point! Forget all the "it's good for a first effort" drab, the S 1000 RR is a damn good motorcycle. Period. It's a lot of work to push around a racetrack at 100 percent, but it definitely rewards those who succeed. Without a doubt the CBR1000RR is the bike I had the most fun on. The engine's plentiful torque just came to life instantly whenever I twisted the throttle and this year it felt like it had some steam upstairs, too.
It's hard for me to choose a winner this year, so I'm going to take the easy way out and call this one a tie between the Honda and the BMW. The Beemer's $17K lands you a motorcycle with a stellar engine, great chassis, and electronic aids like traction control, ABS and a quickshifter. At the same time the relative simplicity of the Honda, combined with its intoxicating engine and chassis combination, can't be ignored. Besides, the aftermarket can bring the Honda to a level playing field with the BMW-if that's your thing.
It's way too easy to get caught up in just judging everything by lap times, or dyno graphs, or any other spec chart number. While they're good comparative tools, using any one of them as the ultimate deciding factor is an exercise in blindness. It's when a manufacturer puts them all together in a cohesive, well-functioning unit that puts a smile on your face every time you ride it that makes the difference.
You could say the Honda has those attributes. An all-around performer with light weight, flickable handling, strong engine, superb brakes...and it reigns atop many of those spec charts. But I guess what continually nags me when I ride it, is that it only has just enough to get the job done. Other than its light weight, there's no real surplus of performance that not only challenges you to master it, but also provides a usable serving of the performance until you do.
And that's where the BMW's appeal strikes me. Forget about the Race ABS/DTC and other aids (although I admit they're nice to have)-the S 1000 RR has the all-around qualities that make it user-friendly and fun to ride...but with the underlying feel of a thoroughbred that continually asks, "Come on...let's see what you've got."