Aprilia RSV4 R vs. BMW S 1000 RR vs. Ducati 1199 Panigale vs. Honda CBR1000RR vs. Kawasaki ZX-10R vs. KTM 1190 RC8 R vs. Suzuki GSX-R1000 vs. Yamaha YZF-R1
The AMA Pro Racing Superbike class has shown signs of brilliance in 2012, with stars like Josh Hayes, Blake Young and Josh Herrin all battling for position. The World Superbike Championship has shown like signs of genius, with more variety amongst the winners and better last-lap battles than the AMA could ever muster up. But behind the success of both series is a cold, hard lack of participation from the manufacturers. Yamaha is currently missing from the WSBK paddock, for instance, while Honda, Ducati and Aprilia are all glaringly absent from the AMA’s race results.
Fortunately for us, OEM participation in the aforementioned race series does not reflect how things are going on the production side of the motorcycle industry. With seven-plus new or updated 1000cc models offered for 2012, and one returning unchanged, things are actually looking up for the superbike class, and even more so for our annual literbike comparison.
Ducati’s impressive 1199 Panigale has garnered the most attention over the past twelve months, and seemingly poses the greatest threat to our literbike champ two-years running, the BMW S 1000 RR. With its frameless chassis design, Superquadro engine and updated electronics, the Panigale is a far cry from the 1198 we put through the ringer last year. BMW is ready for the challenge, of course; it’s spent the last year updating the S 1000 RR with geometry figures necessitated by the factory WSBK team and rider-aid parameters intended to make the bike more manageable for the everyday rider.
Honda has taken a slightly different approach than BMW or Ducati, updating its CBR1000RR with a new Showa Big Piston Fork and Balance-Free shock but no traction control. And while Yamaha has entered the world of TC with its new YZF-R1, Suzuki has also chosen the less-is-more approach, retooling its GSX-R1000 with engine and chassis revisions only.
But wait, there’s more; alongside these already-tested models, we’ve added to our annual literbike comparison Aprilia’s new APRC-equipped RSV4 R, KTM’s 1190 RC8 R, and Kawasaki’s one-year-old ZX-10R. Yes, MV Agusta’s F4 R is noticeably missing, as is the EBR 1190RS (both of which we were unable to procure before the green flag dropped on our comparo), but this is going to be a busy test nevertheless.
Some of you may be noting that we chose to compare the standard versions of the Ducati 1199 Panigale and Aprilia RSV4, instead of the up-spec editions that all of the other comparisons you may have read by now have done. Although this helps keep a level playing field in terms of performance, it was mostly because we feel that those with the financial means for the up-spec models won’t really be considering the rest of the machines in this test (with the possible exception of the BMW). We’ll be comparing those up-spec models along with several others in another comparison coming very soon.
Our 2012 literbike comparison got its wheels spinning at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, CA, where the bikes were fitted with our Racepak G2X data acquisition system and shod with Bridgestone R10 race rubber (see sidebar page 40). Two long days at the track were followed by two days in the canyons, then by multiple weeks of commuting to and from the office. After logging hundreds of miles on each bike in myriad environments, a winner was eventually chosen.
Choosing a victor amongst these eight standouts was no easy feat, and Kento definitely has a few more grey hairs than before. Fortunately, our usual motley crew of test riders was willing to lend a hand — and their opinions, of course — where need be. Each of the riders (Eric Nugent, Steve Mikolas, Adam Cabral, Jeff Stern, John Young, Marc Cook, Kent and Bradley) evaluated each bike in 10 categories of performance, with the average of those scores ultimately deciding the winner. Without further ado, here’s what we found.
Yamaha YZF-R1: 83.0 Points
Yamaha’s 2012 R1 runs one of the more sophisticated original-equipment TC systems of the group, but even that wasn’t enough to keep Big Blue from falling to the bottom of our subjective score sheets at the track. It’s not one particular characteristic that hurts the Yamaha either, rather a handful of issues that combine to make the bike more work when lapping a track like Chuckwalla, which requires good mid-corner feel. An imbalanced chassis is among the chief complaints, and the R1’s front end doesn’t feel as composed as those of the competition — Japanese or European. The Yamaha’s brakes are the poorest of the bunch as well, with very little power through the pull and a wooden feel at the lever that requires some resilience when getting the R1 stopped. The Yamaha’s 475-pound heft doesn’t help matters; the R1 is the heaviest of the bunch, and it consequently requires more work getting into the corner and through a transition.
Yamaha’s analog tachometer...
Yamaha’s analog tachometer and digital readout are much like the Suzuki’s: simple but easy to read. Traction control adjustments are shown clearly in the upper right- hand corner of the display.
Corner exits are a bit less work from the saddle of the throaty R1, and Yamaha’s new TC system is noticeably smoother in its application than the competition. But with only 147 horsepower and an abrupt off/on throttle transition, the Yamaha simply falls behind the group in every other category. There’s no doubt the R1 has potential (just ask Josh Hayes), but in stock trim it’s a few shortcomings away from a podium spot in this comparison.
+ Seamless traction control
+ Grea tengine character/sound
– Beyond heavy
– Poorest brakes of thegroup
x Great potential(just ask Josh Hayes),but too heavy and slow in stock trim
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 2 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping — 8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 10 clicks out from full stiff; ride height — 0mm showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload — 9 turns in from full soft (remote hydraulic adj.); rebound damping — 20 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping — 3 clicks out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping — 7 clicks out from full stiff
KTM 1190 RC8 R: 84.0 points
KTM’s RC8 R was a late edition to this year’s literbike comparison and also one of the few bikes we hadn’t sampled prior to our track testing. While some may refer to it as a “work in progress,” the KTM is actually quite an impressive machine. For 2012, it receives a heavier flywheel and burlier crankshaft, in addition to revised fuel mapping and a reengineered shift drum.
Despite ranking seventh in the subjective scoring, the KTM is more agile and provides more mid-corner feedback than any other bike in the category, making it a less tiresome bike to ride at speed. A lack of power (the KTM only produced 145 horsepower on our SuperFlow dyno) really hurts the RC8 R come time to drive off the corner. And that same lack of power likely plays a role in that superb handling as well. As Kento mentions, “It would be interesting to see how the KTM would be with about 15 more horsepower.”
KTM’s square-shaped digital...
KTM’s square-shaped digital display suffers from a small tachometer reading, smaller type face and busy layout. Mirrors are mounted closely to the fairing and are affected by the V-twin’s buzz. Tall, adjustable clip-ons are a nice touch.
Other hindrances that held the KTM back on the track include a lack of ground clearance and a clunky transmission; by the end of two days we’d manage to drag through a significant amount of the kickstand and miss more shifts than we could count on two hands. While extremely fun, the vibrant (and vibe-happy) KTM is simply not as performance hungry as the six bikes that fall in front of it.
KTM 1190 RC8 R
+ Good front-end feedback
+ Nimble package
– Vibrates… well everywhere
– Noticeably underpowered in this group
x If the winner were chosen by fun-factor alone, the KTM might have won
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 2 turns in from full soft; rebound damping — 7 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 4 clicks out from full stiff; ride height — 5mm showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload — 20mm thread showing; rebound damping — 4 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping — 1.50 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping — 11 clicks out from full stiff
Ducati 1199 Panigale: 84.5 points
Don’t be alarmed, but yes, the bike that was slated to uproot the BMW this year has scored third-to-last in our subjective scoring. The Panigale is “head and shoulders above the 1198,” says Kento, but riding the bike at anything less than 100 percent results in a rough ride, one that Bradley compared to “going over Niagara Falls in a dilapidated wood barrel.”
That’s not to say the standard model’s suspenders are a slouch; the new-technology Marzocchi 50mm fork replacing the “measly” 43mm example found on the 1198 is actually quite advanced. Damping rates are enough to keep the bike controlled at a spirited pace too, but the chassis/suspension combo still allows the Panigale to move around more than we’d like at corner entry.
Ducati’s TFT display is so...
Ducati’s TFT display is so impressive you’ll want to watch movies on it, and it’s extremely easy to navigate when making changes to the electronics. Mirrors are finally functional too!
Ducati’s special 200/55-size OE tire put a kink in our testing plans, and the Italian manufacturer chose to run its street-oriented Pirelli Supercorsa SP tires over the track-specific Bridgestone R10s, noting that the size difference (Bridgestone doesn’t currently offer a 200/55-size R10) would affect the performance of the DTC (Ducati Traction Control). Despite the slight disadvantage, the Ducati recorded rather competitive lap times during the test, its top-end power and Brembo M50 brake package making up for the grip deficit. What ultimately left the Ducati at the bottom of our rankings was a slippery seat, rotating grips and slippery footpegs. If we could have stayed atop the bike, without our feet sliding off every corner exit and entry and our hand rotating on the clip-on, the Ducati would have definitely been a bit easier to hustle around the track. And at $18K, those types of problems are hard to accept. The Panigale certainly has the chassis and power to be competitive nonetheless.
Ducati 1199 Panigale
+ Great top-end power
+ Intuitive electronics that are easy to access
– Slippery seat and footrests
– Very little power down low
x Ride the bike at 110%, and it will reward you
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 2 turns in from full soft; rebound damping — 9 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 10 clicks out from full stiff; ride height — 2mm showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload — 8mm thread showing; rebound damping — 8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 6 clicks out from full stiff
Honda CBR1000RR: 86.5 points
Like the KTM and Suzuki, Honda’s updated CBR1000RR is devoid of traction control. But where the KTM lacks power to spin the tire, the Honda’s rear will move around quite easily. The CBR’s chassis feels much more balanced than the aforementioned bikes however, allowing the rider to get more aggressive with the bike through the middle of the corner and out. Big Red also has a meatier midrange than the Suzuki or KTM, enabling it to drive off the corners like a bat out of hell. Unfortunately, top-end power is really nothing to talk about, and the Honda signs off pretty quickly.
The Honda is refined in every sense of the word, with a composed feeling that immediately instills confidence in inexperienced and experienced riders alike. Like the Yamaha however, the Honda suffers from less than stellar fueling (this despite Honda’s years of working to rid the problem), and its spring rate out back is a touch too soft.
Honda’s new all-digital display...
Honda’s new all-digital display has a high enough level of contrast to make reading the pertinent information less a chore, although many test riders still prefer the more simple analog setup.
The primary reason for the Honda falling behind the Suzuki is a vague feel from the new Showa BPF fork through faster sweepers (a likely result of the bike’s soft rear spring). The Honda’s slipper clutch allows a lot more movement from the rear of the bike as well, adding some excitement at corner entry, and the new digital instrumentation didn’t go down well with our testers. Fortunately, with an MSRP of just $13,800, you’ll have plenty of money to spare on a set of proper springs, meaning the Honda is in no way a bad purchase.
+ Extremely balanced chassis
+ Great midrange power
– Power falls off up top
– Abrupt throttle response
x Just a few suspension changes away from a top three finish
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 5 turns in from full soft; rebound damping — 2.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping — 3.625 turns out from full stiff; ride height — 0mm showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Rebound damping — 2.25 turns out from full stiff; compression damping — 2.5 turns out from full stiff