While the BMW felt to have the strongest brakes and outright stopping distance was within one foot of the Kawasaki’s outright best, making a quick stop on the S 1000 RR is not as simple as grabbing the lever and pulling. “It definitely has a higher threshold in Slick or Race mode,” wrote Kent on his evaluation sheet. “That helps a bunch when you’re riding aggressively, but I was really surprised how much it let the rear end get out of shape at slower speeds in a panic stop. Even when I did the 75mph panic stops, the rear end jumped around quite a bit, both when I was front-only and front/rear brakes. While it’s great that it lets you have that much leeway with front wheel slip, I could easily see it catching a non-expert rider off guard, and possibly get them in trouble if they don’t react quickly enough.” Interestingly, the BMW’s system provided controlled stops on wet surfaces in Rain mode, although “the ABS would cycle rather aggressively and the suspension would begin to pogo,” commented Bradley.
In stark contrast to the BMW, the CBR1000RR provided the smoothest stops with the most control. “Under aggressive braking in water, gravel or whatever I could find, even a full-blown dirt road, I was not able to lock up the brakes,” commented Eric. “There is no trace in the lever that you’re activating the ABS like you have with the BMW and the Kawasaki.” And that may in fact be an issue with the Honda’s system: With no feedback you simply don’t know if you are applying enough lever pressure for the required conditions, and all our riders expressed concern that they were not stopping as quickly as with the other bikes — something that the data in some respects confirms. “During both wet and dry stops, the bike comes to a complete stop without lifting the rear and without so much as letting the rear squirm around,” wrote Bradley in his evaluation. “The bike just stays perfectly in-line. The one thing about the Honda is that the feel at the lever is a little numb, meaning you don’t get much feedback. You really have to trust the system, and know that ample pressure is being applied to come to a stop.”
The Kawasaki perhaps combines the best of both systems, with the shortest stopping distances in the test, all with little drama and only slight cycling felt in the lever or suspension. Kent: “While it doesn’t have the highest activation threshold, it provides enough pressure feedback through the lever that you don’t feel like all control has been taken away from you. In a dry-pavement panic stop, it would just get on the edge of letting the rear tire start to get out of control, but not any farther, and certainly nothing like the BMW. In the wet, it was nearly as smooth as the Honda, while seemingly providing more stopping power.”
Certainly the BMW’s system is the most track-oriented (and is labeled as such) with its higher thresholds of operation. “And you can turn it off, something you can’t do with the other two,” noted Kent. The Honda’s system is decidedly more safety-oriented than the other two, and would definitely hinder lap times on the track. The Kawasaki again provides the best compromise of street safety and performance, but we do have some contradiction from the company: Even though the ZX-10R’s literature talks about track riding, representatives — quick to point out that KIBS is a safety feature first — were reluctant to allow us to test the bike on-track.
BMW S 1000 RR
Spring preload—5 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping—position 9 of 10; compression damping—position 10 of 10; ride height—1 line showing above top triple clamp
Spring preload—7 mm thread showing on shock body; rebound damping—position 7 of 10; high-speed compression damping—position 9 of 10; low-speed compression damping—position 9 of 10; ride height—lower position
And Everything Else?
Turning to other aspects of each bike’s performance, this street-only test enforced much of what we already know. The BMW is characterized by its incredible engine and stiff chassis, and is clearly the most knife-edged of the trio. That makes it both fun and intimidating to ride, and the riding modes, traction control and ABS are almost mandatory to harness its power. The ZX-10R came up a bit short in our literbike comparison test earlier this year. Just as in that test, two of our three testers favored the Kawasaki over the BMW but the scores still favor the BMW. The ZX-10R’s ergos are a bit less comfortable for street use, and its slightly abrupt throttle was even more noticeable in this test as our BMW test unit was smoother than units we’ve sampled in the past. Unfortunately, the Honda — the oldest platform of the group — now lacks the refinement of the Kawasaki and BMW (in aspects other than its ABS, of course). Its stomping midrange now only highlights a lack of top- and bottom-end power, and with 25 pounds of ABS it’s the heaviest bike in the test; its softly sprung chassis is certainly ready for an update. “The Honda just seems to take a bit more work to keep up with the others,” Eric noted in summary.
And where does that leave us? The Kawasaki combines short stopping distances and excellent control for both performance and safety, and has the best ABS of the three bikes tested here. The BMW is still the better overall package according to the scores and subjective comments, but that is in spite of its ABS, not because of it. Perhaps more important is how little the current ABS offerings affect the overall performance of these literbikes. Bradley concludes it best: “Unless my intention was to use the bike solely for racing, I would buy any of the three bikes with ABS rather than the standard model. I have a newfound respect for ABS; it’s not that I would take advantage of it often, but I am now noticing more and more scenarios where it would be advantageous.” sr