The Ducati's riding position...
The Ducati's riding position (red) is much more aggressive than the inline-fours, and the bars interfere with the tank at full steering lock. The BMW (yellow) and Kawasaki (green) are equally comfortable on street or track, with the ZX-10R being just slightly more aggressive—it does have adjustable rearsets, however.
Ducati 1198: 80.3 points
The 1198 lags behind the four-cylinder bikes on the street, mainly because of its racy ergos and ultra-stiff suspension. “If the Ducati’s suspension was better sorted, it would be a much harder decision against the fours, even with its ultra-aggressive ergos,” wrote Kent on his evaluation sheet. “The engine’s abundance of torque gives it qualities in many sport riding situations the other two can’t match.” While the 1198’s engine was a strong point on the street, our testers still noted the transmission was a bit balky and the quickshifter not quite as sorted as the BMW’s. The Ducati’s long reach to the clip-ons is not a problem for taller riders, although most will find the sharp angle of the seat the limiting factor on a long ride. Of the three bikes tested here, the Ducati is decidedly the most racetrack-oriented and sacrifices the most streetability. “The mirrors are almost useless for street riding,” said Eric. “The bars pinch your hands against the frame, the tach and instrument panel are super hard to read during the day, and the suspension was pretty brutal on the street. The bike is clearly a race bike that just so happens to be street legal.” Just as on the track portion of the test, if we were riding on smooth and flowing roads the story would be somewhat different. But the reality is that the BMW and Kawasaki don’t sacrifice near as much comfort and usability for their performance; and the Ducati rider must deal with more frustration for the relatively fewer opportunities that the bike can be rewarding to ride on the street.
Kawasaki ZX-10R: 84.0 points
Again just missing out on top honors in scoring, the Kawasaki was the subjective favorite of two of our three testers for street work. The ZX-10R’s relative lack of power is just as noticeable on the street, as is the slightly abrupt throttle. However, the key again is how the Kawasaki get’s what power it does have to the ground. “The Kawasaki is the most comfortable, its power is the most manageable and its electronics are the least intrusive on the street in comparison to the BMW,” wrote Bradley. And while the ZX-10R’s suspension is well-suited to street use (and adds to the comfort level compared with the two European bikes), “It still doesn’t have the agility of the BMW,” noted Kento. “It requires a bit more effort at the bars to initiate a turn.” It’s worth noting the price difference between the Kawasaki and the European models: “I think it’s somewhat unfair to compare the Kawi to the big Euro boys,” noted Eric. “It’s really not in the same league. Sure it’s a 1000cc bike, but the differences you pay for with the BMW and Ducati are what seem to be missing from the Kawi: the slightly unrefined chassis compared to the Euro bikes, as well as the power.” Nitpicks, really, but that’s what it takes to determine a ranking when the bikes are so close in performance.
This thrust chart, showing...
This thrust chart, showing driving force at the rear wheel, clearly shows the gaps between the Ducati's lower gears. The 1198 makes by far the most thrust in the lower gears (thanks to its widely spaced gearbox), while the BMW takes over in the higher gears. Note the difference between the BMW's and Kawasaki's transmission ratios, and how that affects thrust in the lower gears.
Pretty much no contest when...
Pretty much no contest when it comes to top-gear roll-on performance; the BMW's power clearly gives it the advantage here, while the Ducati's torque and slightly shorter overall gearing keep it just ahead of the Kawasaki over the 60-100 mph run.
Even on the Ducati's best...
Even on the Ducati's best dragstrip run it was difficult to launch off the line, but kept pace with the BMW until about half-track. The Kawasaki gets the best start, but note how the lack of a quickshifter hurts straight-line performance—you can clearly see each shift in the ZX-10R's traces, whereas the BMW's curve is almost uninterrupted.
BMW S 1000 RR: 85.2 points
Topping the street rankings by just as close a margin as it did at the track, the BMW scored highest in six categories after the street ride and does little wrong. “While it’s not the king in all categories, it does well enough in most of them to put it on top — albeit just barely — in my opinion,” summed Kento in his notes. While the boss-man rated the BMW’s ergos highest in his street notes, Bradley felt that they put a lot of weight on his arms for a long ride, and that “The stiff suspension has your insides hoping the next stop is sooner rather than later.” It’s the details that put the BMW at the top for everyday street use as well as strafing the canyons: comfortable ergos, adequate mirrors, the best instrument panel in the group, a nimble, quick-steering chassis, and — of course — that incredible engine coupled with the nicest transmission and quickshifter. “The BMW just offers such an amazing all-around package that it’s going to be hard to put anything up against it,” wrote Eric. Simply put, there were fewer nits to pick with the BMW, and that was enough for it to edge the Kawasaki in the street rankings.
The BMW is stouter than the Kawasaki across the range, and its curve is slightly smoother as well. We’ve already made arrangements to derestrict our test unit and see how that uncorks the top-end power. Our BMW test bike felt significantly stronger than our unit from last year; power and torque are just slightly higher, with the difference in feel most likely due to its different crankshaft.
The BMW’s analog tach and large, clear instruments were our testers’ favorite, as were the switches and controls. As we’ve long found with the 848/1098/1198 series, none of our riders were happy with the Ducati’s GP-style instrument panel, finding it hard to read and the small shift lights difficult to see. The Kawasaki’s LED tachometer is plenty bright, and the instrument panel nicely laid out, but it’s still easier to read a needle on a dial.
The ABS brakes on our BMW’s test unit faded over the course of the track day and even on the street ride. The ZX-10R’s brakes were rated the best on both street and track, with outstanding feel and feedback. The Ducati’s monobloc Brembos are every bit as powerful but initial bite is just a bit too powerful. In terms of suspension, the Kawasaki rated highest, again on both street and track, with the Big Piston Fork and horizontally mounted shock giving a great compromise between comfort and performance.