Home»BMW S 1000 RR vs. Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. Ducati 1198 - The Empire Strikes Back | 2011 Literbike Comparison Test
BMW S 1000 RR vs. Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. Ducati 1198 - The Empire Strikes Back | 2011 Literbike Comparison Test
The all-new Kawasaki ZX-10R attempts to take the literbike crown from the BMW S 1000 RR and back to Japanese soil, while the updated Ducati 1198 may end up surprising them both
From the July, 2011 issue of Sport Rider
By Andrew Trevitt
Photography: Brian J. Nelson
Last year, the BMW S 1000 RR turned the sportbike world on its ear, handily winning our four-cylinder literbike comparison test (“Europe Invades”, June ‘10) and almost taking Bike of the Year honors (“A Tough Crowd”, Oct. ‘10), losing out only to the upscale Aprilia RSV4 Factory model. It was clear that any new model for 2011 would have to be pretty special to unseat the Bavarian brawler, which combines power, handling and comfort in a tidy package nicely managed by accessory electronics. Just two new models presented themselves as successors to the literbike throne for 2011: The updated Ducati 1198 and all-new Kawasaki ZX-10R. Rather than attempt a full-scale literbike comparison with every applicable model (now numbering nine; see the “What about the others?” sidebar page 46), we chose to conduct an in-depth test to fully see how the two new models stack up against the current king.
The Ducati 1198 is not radically changed for 2011, but now features more of the company’s electronic aids and is the dark (red) horse in this comparison test. Ducati Data Analysis and Traction Control are now standard equipment, and the bike is also fitted with a quickshifter. MSRP remains unchanged, however. The Kawasaki ZX-10R also boasts traction control as standard equipment for ‘11, along with a host of refinements. We’ve already extensively covered the Kawasaki in Kento’s first-ride article (“New Generation Ninja”, March ‘11), and we also had a chance to spend some time on an ABS model (see sidebar page 44).
The burning question is, then, can either the Ducati or Kawasaki topple the BMW in a combined street and track evaluation? We spent a day at Buttonwillow Raceway and logged some canyon time to find out; each of our three test riders (staffers Kent Kunitsugu and Bradley Adams, along with hanger-on Eric Nugent) evaluated each bike in 10 categories of performance at each venue, with those scores averaged for a street, track and overall rating.
Ducati 1198: 80.5 points
Posting the slowest lap time at Buttonwillow, the Ducati also scored lowest in the track portion of the test. It’s not one glaring issue that holds the 1198 back when compared with the BMW and Kawasaki, but rather a number of small issues that combine to make the Ducati less fun and more work to ride quickly on the track. Too-tall Bradley found the seating position on the 1198 had him uncomfortable, stuck in one position and loading up the front wheel too much. But what really held him back when turning his timed laps was the Ducati’s widely spaced gearbox and the L-twin engine’s lack of overrev, leaving him bouncing off the rev limiter or too low in the powerband exiting many of Buttonwillow’s corners. This situation was not helped by the Ducati’s slightly clunky gearbox, which left Bradley in false neutrals a few times on the track. Kento agreed on the bike’s overrev and ergonomics, pointing out that the wide clip-ons are necessarily so to clear the tank at full lock; El Jefe also noted that the suspension is best suited for “billiard-table-smooth” tracks, with too-stiff spring rates and a rear suspension linkage that feels too progressive. Eric, on the other hand, found the ergonomics and wide bars fit him well, and noted what we discovered in the data files: “The bike is deceptive with the power it makes; you don’t feel like your hauling the mail when in fact you are!”
While not as buttery smooth as the BMW’s quickshifter, the 1198’s unit, new for this year, worked well and definitely helped with lap times. We left the Ducati’s traction control on level two for most of the track day, and whereas the BMW’s and Kawasaki’s systems were much-discussed, the 1198’s drew few comments, being nicely transparent and not overly unsettling the chassis when activating. Combined with the 1198’s smooth off/on throttle response — again, generating little fanfare — the Ducati was rated highest for engine power delivery. In the fast and (admittedly few) smooth sections at Buttonwillow, the 1198 held its line well and was quite stable; on a fast, smooth European-style track the lap times and ratings would have undoubtedly been much closer.
Kawasaki ZX-10R: 86.1 points
Just a tick behind the BMW for fastest-lap honors at the track, the ZX-10R is likewise just shy of the BMW in the ratings department. See the G2X Racepak data sidebar for more details and actual data, but in a nutshell there is very little between the two bikes in objective performance at the track — and each bike achieves that performance in its own individual manner. While the BMW seems to practically beat the track into submission, the Kawasaki is more refined and subtle in practically every aspect, making its speed on the track very deceptive. Bradley: “The Kawi is probably the most fun to ride, because everything it does is so fluid. All the corners seemed to be tied together by one smooth flowing motion.” Yes, the BMW makes more horsepower and feels way quicker on the straights, but the data shows the Kawasaki keeping almost the exact pace on every straight. Credit the ZX-10R’s more advanced traction control for this; the system does not upset the chassis at all, and puts just as much horsepower to the ground as the BMW on corner exits. While the BMW’s traction control system slows the bike down and hurts lap times, Bradley posted his best lap time on the Kawasaski with its TC on level two of four.
On the chassis side, the Kawasaki has the softest suspension of our trio and steers into corners slightly slower than the BMW. “I prefer the Kawaski’s feel once heeled over in a corner,” wrote Kento in his notes. “The ZX-10R gives me better feedback without all the excess info like the ultra-stiff S 1000 RR chassis.” It all adds up to making the Kawasaki quite deceptively quick, and all our riders were surprised to see their lap times when coming off the track. “The Kawi was a fun bike to ride, and even though the lap times from the Kawi and the BMW were fairly close, you wouldn’t know by riding them,” noted Eric. “The Kawi felt like you were going at a good clip, but the BMW felt like you were setting the world on fire. It was pretty surprising.” Finally, it’s worth noting that the ZX-10R is the only bike in the test without a quickshifter, an addition that would easily erase the lap-time deficit and still leave money in your pocket compared with the BMW.
BMW S 1000 RR: 87.4 points
Scoring top marks in six of 10 categories and the quickest lap time in the test, the BMW is best summed up in Eric’s comment sheets: “The BMW is such a great all-around package; it is faster than most will ever need, handles great, its stopping power is amazing and the ergos are decent for a larger rider. The bike has a great feel that inspires confidence when riding.” The outstanding feature is, of course, its 177-horsepower engine, which is more than 15 horsepower stronger than the Kawasaki. Our test unit felt stronger than last year’s, but was within one horsepower and one foot-pound of torque on the dyno; part of the difference may be due to a different crankshaft used since midway through the ‘10 model year, which was homologated for World Superbike use. Still, with that much power comes more difficulty putting it to the ground, and the BMW’s traction control system is a step inferior to the Kawasaki’s more refined setup, unsettling the chassis in corners and only slightly smoothing the bike’s abrupt off/on throttle response. Bradley went successively quicker — but visibly having more difficulty — with each step less traction control, as less traction control made the throttle response more abrupt and the bike more prone to sudden wheelies. He eventually went fastest in Slick mode (the least intervention), but did not even want to ride the bike with the system turned off — and we don’t blame him.
“The Beemer could literally do no wrong on the track,” wrote Kento of the S 1000 RR’s chassis. “Light, agile handling, precise steering and good stability, both under acceleration and on the brakes.” The BMW has the quickest steering of our trio and suspension midway on the stiffness scale between the Kawasaki and Ducati — although Kento and Bradley felt the Kawasaki’s chassis offered a bit more feedback when leaned over. The S model did score lowest in the braking department (as well as in the engine power delivery category, it’s only other low score). Whereas the Kawasaki’s binders rated the highest on the track, with outstanding power, feel and feedback, the BMW’s faded over the course of the day and were weak and mushy by the end of the test. Our test unit was equipped with ABS, which may have something to do with the fading due to its extra hardware and plumbing, even though we rode most of the day with the ABS deactivated.
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.
||BMW S 1000 RR
|Fun to Ride
|Instruments and controls
|Chassis and handling
|Engine power delivery
The Final Countdown
Add it all up and the BMW comes out on top as the best literbike for 2011, besting the Kawasaki in the final scores by a mere 1.4 points (out of a possible 100). If you simply must have the best performing literbike available on the showroom floor, there is no question the BMW is for you. There are a couple of things to note here, however. First is the Kawasaki’s $2100 savings compared to the BMW’s MSRP with race ABS, traction control and Gear Shift Assist. You can do a lot to better the ZX-10R with that kind of money, if you are so inclined. And second, the BMW does require more work to access that level of performance, whereas the Kawasaki is deceptively quick and requires less effort. Our man Eric summed it up best in his notes at the end of the test: “The BMW feels like it is taking you for a ride at times because of its speed. But for now I think it’s the best bike for the money you’re spending.”
G2X Data Acquisition
Poor Bradley attends his first Sport Rider comparison test track day and we throw him in the deep end, leaving him to do timed laps while Kento lounged in the shade. We added to Bradley’s stress by strapping our Racepak G2X GPS-based data acquisition system to each bike as he rode, monitoring speed along with braking, acceleration and cornering G forces. On the large map below we listed segment times for various corners as well as the top speed for each bike on the fastest part of the track. Our data acquisition is capable of showing the gap in time between the bikes at any point on the track, and the small icons at each segment marker give a representation of each bike’s relative location, showing progress over the course of a lap.
BMW: 4.77 sec.
Ducati: 4.85 sec.
Kawasaki: 4.85 sec.
Turn 2 & 3
BMW: 11.46 sec.
Ducati: 11.73 sec.
Kawasaki: 11.48 sec.
BMW: 6.83 sec.
Ducati: 6.87 sec.
Kawasaki: 6.83 sec.
BMW: 6.21 sec.
Ducati: 6.44 sec.
Kawasaki: 6.24 sec.
BMW: 9.49 sec.
Ducati: 9.77 sec.
Kawasaki: 9.65 sec.
Turn 7 (Chicane)
BMW: 7.73 sec.
Ducati: 7.68 sec.
Kawasaki: 7.56 sec.
BMW: 5.30 sec.
Ducati: 5.28 sec.
Kawasaki: 5.16 sec.
Even though just .13 seconds separate the BMW’s and the Kawasaki’s fastest lap times, the GPS data from the track shows the two bikes are practically dead even over the entire lap, with almost identical segment times in all but three corners. The difference came down to turn 1, where the BMW makes a much more aggressive entry and pulls out a .2-second gap right away in the lap. It’s not until sweeping turn 6 that there is any appreciable difference in the data, with the BMW arcing through the turn quicker but the Kawasaki making up the deficit almost to the millisecond on the exit and through the chicane. A slightly tighter line on the Kawasaki through the final turn helps it claw back another small part of time, but not enough to offset that lost in turn 1.
Surprisingly, even though all our test riders raved about the BMW’s power compared with the Kawasaki’s, the ZX-10R loses only small slices of time on each of the track’s straights, and makes up that slight difference on the brakes into the following corner. It’s interesting to note that the BMW’s quickshifter does give it a slight advantage on each straight, and maybe enough that the finishing order at the track would be reversed were the Kawasaki so equipped. As we pointed out in our Bike of the Year test last year (Oct. ‘10), the BMW’s ABS system does limit braking performance in Slick mode to the point that it’s noticeable on the data, and this year Bradley rode with the ABS turned off at the track.
What is noticeable from the lateral G data (not shown here) is that the Kawasaki is somewhat more adept at trail braking into turns, posting higher combinations of lateral and braking G in most corners. The Ducati and BMW show similar trail-braking data over the lap, and no bike shows any appreciable advantage or disadvantage in combinations of lateral and acceleration G (accelerating out of a corner while still leaned over).
The Ducati loses ground steadily to both bikes over the entire lap, ending up a second behind the Kawasaki on its fastest lap. Even though the 1198’s speed trace is noticeably lower than the Kawasaki’s and BMW’s on most of the straights, the Ducati doesn’t lose much time in those areas. That said, you can see a couple of spots (the exits of turn 1, turn 8 and the chicane) where the speed trace goes flat, indicating the 1198’s engine is up against its rev limiter. Under braking and on corner entry is where the Ducati loses the bulk of the time compared with the BMW and Kawasaki, the strong bite of the 1198’s Brembo monobloc calipers and the bike’s nose-heavy attitude combining to make aggressive braking somewhat difficult. Of note is that the Ducati is just as fast as the other two in the transition areas of Buttonwillow, through fast turns 2 and 3 as well as through the chicane.
For our track day at Buttonwillow we mounted a set of Pirelli’s latest Diablo Supercorsa DOT race tires to each bike. New for 2011 is a 200/55 rear tire in an SC1 compound that is said to provide more feedback and work better at a higher and wider track temperature range. The SC2 compound has also been changed, offering more grip and longer life, while the SC3 and SC4 compounds have been dropped from the range. The 200-sized DOT race tire is offered alongside a 180/60 DOT race tire and 200/60 slick, and all three tires feature new carcass materials and sizing, with increased diameters to improve turn-in and stiffer carcasses to increase feedback and stability.
We used the 200/55 rear tire in SC1 compound for our literbikes, and were impressed with the new tire’s performance. All three bikes took to the new sizing well, requiring little in the way of setup changes to account for the tire’s increased diameter and profile. And even with the softer SC1 compound on a sunny day with a high of 70 degrees, we were able to log more than 50 laps on the bikes with only slight degradation at the end of the day.
Visit www.us.pirelli.com for more information about the new tires, or contact your local trackside vendor. We had Corey Neuer at CT Racing (www.ctracetires.com) hook us up with some of the first 200s in the country and provide trackside service for us at Buttonwillow.
Kawasaki ZX-10R ABS — The KIBS Alternative
The 2011 ZX-10R marks the first supersport machine from Kawasaki that is offered with ABS as an option. The KIBS (Kawasaki Intelligent Braking System) adds another $1000 to the $13,799 sticker price of the liter-size Ninja. Claimed to be nearly 50 percent smaller and 800 grams lighter than current motorcycle ABS units, the Bosch-designed system is certainly very small, with the main unit tucked in below the left frame spar. Kawasaki claims that the total weight of the system adds only seven pounds to the standard ZX-10R, which we confirmed on our scales, with the ABS model coming in at 447 pounds wet.
Unlike a standard ABS that only monitors wheel speed, the KIBS has its own ECU that monitors a wide range of data points, including (besides front and rear wheel speeds) caliper pressure, throttle position, engine rpm, clutch actuation, and gear position. By monitoring all these parameters, Kawasaki says the KIBS is able to better sense when a potential wheel lockup situation will occur, and react with much greater precision and speed.
We found the KIBS to work very well, with a fairly high intervention point in the braking envelope as long as you didn’t do a panic grab on the lever. There’s plenty of feedback and modulation available, with no mushiness or numb feeling at the lever when the system kicks in, and only a slightly perceptible pulsing can be felt. Grab the brakes in a full-blown panic stop however, and you can definitely feel the system reduce brake pressure and pulsate as it struggles to balance grip with stopping power. This is more readily apparent at slower speeds and/or over wet or rough pavement where the tire is more likely to lose traction in a severe manner.
Is it worth the extra $1000? That depends on your skill level and how you plan on riding, because unfortunately you cannot turn off the KIBS. Thus, if you’re an expert rider (be honest with yourself) planning on doing any track days, we’d recommend sticking with the standard ZX-10R. Everyone else will more than benefit from the added safety net provided by the KIBS.
What About The Others?
Over the last few years, the literbike class has grown almost exponentially to include big-bore twins and resurgent Euro-spec models that are closer than ever in terms of both price and performance. To properly test the full lineup of 2011 “literbikes” would be a huge undertaking, with nine models now falling into the category. Along with the three bikes in the main part of this story, the Aprilia RSV4R, Honda CBR1000RR, KTM RC8, MV Agusta F4, Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Yamaha YZF-R1 are all current models. Toss the variant models into the mix, such as the KTM RC8R, Aprilia RSV4 Factory and APRC SE models, and a comparison test soon becomes a logistical and practical nightmare.
The models listed above return unchanged for the 2011 model year with very few exceptions, and we are well familiar with their respective — and respected — performance levels. Limited space would allow us to only touch on each bike’s capabilities in a single comparison test, and rather than do that, or split the class into two parts as we did last year, we chose to concentrate on just the new models — the Ducati and Kawasaki — and see how they stack up against the class benchmark, the BMW. To read more about the other literbikes, and see how they fared in our previous comparison tests, visit www.sportrider.com/magazine/1107. Additionally, stay tuned for future installments in our “Literbike Mods” series that will be featuring some of the models not tested here.
||BMW S 1000 RR
||$13,950 (16,630 as tested with Race ABS, DTC, Gear Shift Assistant and Motorsports Paint Scheme)
||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four
||Liquid-cooled, 90-degree DOHC V-twin
||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four
|Bore x Stroke
||80.0 x 49.7mm
||106.0 x 67.9mm
||76.0 x 55.0mm
||BMS-KP EFI, single-valve 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
||Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equal to 63.9mm diameter, single injector/cyl.
||DFI, dual-valve 47mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
||46mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.9 in. travel
||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 5.0 in. travel
||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel
||Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel
||Single shock absorber, tk in. travel
||Single shock absorber, 4.9 in. travel
||120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3
||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016F CC
||190/55ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3
||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
||190/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016R CC
||23.9 deg./3.8 in. (96mm)
||24.5 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
||25.0 deg./4.3 in. (110mm)
||56.4 in. (1432mm)
||56.3 in. (1430mm)
||56.1 in. (1425mm)
||458 lb. (208 kg) wet; 430 lb. (196 kg) dry
||432 lb. (196 kg) wet; 407 lb. (185 kg) dry
||440 lb. (200 kg) wet; 413 lb. (188 kg) dry
||31 to 40 mpg, 37 mpg avg.
||29 to 36 mpg, 33 mpg avg.
||33 to 44 mpg, 40 mpg avg.
“Where are my Pepsis?”
To hype or not to hype. The new ZX-10R has a lot of buzz around it at the moment as everyone has these great expectations for something new from the Japanese Big Four, who have been almost left standing still since the slowing economy has affected the world. And while the ZX-10R was a fun bike to ride on the track and on the street, with a great chassis, amazing brakes and user friendly electronics, it still is not quite ready to take the title from BMW. A cupcake from your local Quickie Mart is good, but a cupcake from Frosted is unbelievable. It all boils down to getting what you pay for — the ZX-10R is good, but the BMW really is unbelievable! And while the ZX-10R was a little more comfortable to ride around on the street portion of the ride, the power and other options of the BMW for me outweigh the differences in comfort. The Ducati 1198 is probably the most beautiful bike there is, but it’s just not a bike I would like to spend a lot of time on the street with. This is a race bike that just so happens to be street legal, and belongs on the track (or in a glass case to gawk at if you have that type of money). It is nice having the torque of the twin, but not enough to endure the long street ride to get to use it in the canyons.
“Did I do okay? Did I?”
As I said in my notes, “They all leave nice long blackies, what more could you ask for?” In all seriousness though, each of these literbikes are extremely fun to ride and extremely good motorcycles, which is probably why I am so torn when forced to decide which one is the best. If looking cool is your thing, then the Ducati steals the show. The bike turns more heads than any other bike out there and who can argue with the 1198’s bark. On the track though, it is quite a challenge to ride since you are usually hovering over the front of the bike. And on the street, the Ducati is quite abusive on your body.
The Kawasaki ZX-10R is obviously our returning champ’s closest competition. The all-new 2011 model’s traction control beats the BMW’s hands down and it is so good that you very seldom realize it’s even on. And despite feeling rather docile out of the corners, the Kawasaki is right there in terms of top speed on the racetrack, which says a thing or two about its strong engine.
All told, the Kawasaki is probably the most fun to ride around the track, and it’s definitely the most comfortable around town. But there is still something about the BMW that sets it apart from the others. And maybe it’s not just one in particular thing. It’s just the package as a whole is that little bit more refined than the other’s. That in mind, the BMW takes the cake.
“Of course it’s nap time!”
Just as MotoGP has become an electronics playground (or battlefield, depending on your perspective), the literbike category is now beginning to feel the increasing influence on outright performance by electronics — both in rider aids, and in meeting the increasingly stringent emissions and noise tests. The greater sophistication of the latest electronics has allowed manufacturers some latitude in how aggressively they tune the engines, and we’re reaping what is probably just the beginning of a cornucopia of benefits.
A prime example is the ZX-10R’s sophisticated TC program that allows the system to intervene in such a subtle manner that you often forget that it’s actually working; the systems on the BMW and Ducati, meanwhile, remind you every time they arrest a slide. Remaining behind the scenes as a safety net is the best scenario for rider aids, and the Kawasaki does this well.
It’s hard to ignore the top-end performance advantage and competent handling of the BMW, though. The 2011 model’s heavier crank definitely makes a difference in feel and ability to get the power to the ground, making the S 1000 RR feel like a true racebike when it charges off the corners.
But I also prefer the ZX-10R’s more communicative feel to the BMW’s comparatively harsh and stiff chassis. And I could buy numerous aftermarket goodies to get its power back up to spec with the $2000-plus I’d save. It’d be close, but I’d probably go with the Kawasaki.