Aprilia RSV4 Factory
BMW S 1000RR
MV Agusta F4
Bike of the Year Comparison
What a difference a year or two makes.
In past Bike of the Year comparisons, the European manufacturers were often more of a sideshow to the established Japanese brands. The incredibly rapid two-year development pace of the Japanese sportbikes resulted in a performance curve that was difficult to meet for the smaller European companies.
The economic downturn of the past two years has changed that landscape. While the Japanese have pulled back their horns due to large overhead costs to ride out the economic storm, the European manufacturers have been moving ahead with new-model plans already in place - and those bikes have proven to be game changers.
For this '10 edition of our Bike of the Year comparison, only one Japanese bike is on the roll call: Kawasaki's ZX-6R, winner of our middleweight comparison in '09, and fending off the scant few updated challengers (as in one: the Yamaha R6) this year. The rest are all from the Continent: BMW's S 1000 RR, winner of our '10 literbike comparison ("Europe Invades", June '10); Aprilia's RSV4 Factory, tested in the April '10 issue ("Mama Mia!"); Ducati's 1198S, winner of our V-twin shootout in the May '10 issue ("Tale of Two Cities"); and the new MV Agusta F4, tested in the previous issue ("The Art of Speed", September '10).
We followed our usual modus operandi of having each tester grade each bike's performance separately on the street (urban and canyon miles) and racetrack. For our racetrack testing, we fitted each bike with Michelin's superb Power One DOT race tires (see sidebar page 32) and segued to Buttonwillow Raceway Park's West Loop in central California to test their limits in a safe environment.
Kawasaki ZX-6R: 85 points
Armed with the middleweight-class-leading 599cc engine and superb Showa BPF (Big Piston Fork), the Kawasaki is easily the friendliest of these five bikes to ride on the street. Ergonomics are the most hospitable of the group while still remaining on the aggressive side, with a well-padded seat, an easy-to-read instrument panel, and functional mirrors. The Kawasaki's powerplant is responsive but smooth, with a throttle response that won't bite you if you get a little too exuberant getting back on the gas in a turn.
Don't mistake that pleasant demeanor for a dog of a bike, however. Ridden to its strengths, the little ZX can more than hold its own despite being down an average of 48 horsepower to the other bikes in this comparison. Corner entry and midcorner speed are the Kawasaki's trump cards, and that plays right into the Showa BPF's ability to provide excellent feedback and control as you tip the ZX-6R into the corner, trail braking to scrub off some speed as you scythe towards the apex. Speaking of brakes, all our testers raved about the Kawasaki's binders enough to rate them tops in the test.
Nonetheless, most of our testers felt it was more work to hustle through the twisty bits quickly compared to the relatively lazy effort needed with the top literbikes in this group. Where the Kawasaki often required two gearshifts, the others could be left in a single gear; and the concentration necessary to keep corner speed high became tiresome for a few testers. And anytime the road started opening up, being short almost 50 horsepower was a disadvantage that required even more riding skill to make up the difference.