KTM 1190 RC8 R: 82.0 points
That the KTM finished last in our overall street evaluation is hardly a reflection of its capability to offer a seriously fun and satisfying ride. It’s just that the incredible competency of the bikes in this class mean that small disadvantages are magnified just as greatly as any advantage.
The RC8 R’s quick-revving V-twin offers gobs of responsive torque practically from idle, and the nimble handling and abundant tire feedback garnered raves from our testers. Overall performance from both the WP suspension and Brembo brakes scored good marks as well, and the Dunlop SportSmart tires (a European variant along the lines of North America’s Sportmax Q2) provide good grip and bump absorption at lean. And when it comes to day-to-day life, the KTM has the most legroom of the bunch, along with the least aggressive seat-to-bar relationship.
While the RC8 R offers the best torque of this bunch, it does so at the expense of top-end power; the KTM pulls off the corner well, but soon peters out while the most of the others continue pulling. This translates to more shifting to keep that acceleration going, and the RC8 R’s gearbox definitely isn’t the smoothest of the bunch (ditto the engine, despite the counterbalancer). The LCD dash is way too busy and hard to navigate, and the seat’s stiff padding and wide midsection became annoying in non-aggressive riding environs.
Yamaha YZF-R1: 83.0 points
There’s no doubt that the R1’s crossplane-crank engine offers a flexibility and tactile traction feedback that the previous generation lacked, and the addition of its superb traction control adds even more to its generous performance envelope. Adjustable riding modes can give you aggressive or mellower throttle response choices. The R1’s chassis steers with precision, and its Soqi suspension components provide excellent handling control along with a smooth ride. And it’s hard not to love the R1 at full song, with visions of YZR-M1 MotoGP bikes dancing in your head.
Unfortunately, the R1 in stock form is lacking in top-end power, and we’ve already seen what an ECU reflash can do for both that and its midrange. The Yamaha requires the most effort to flick back and forth quickly between switchback turns, and it certainly needs to lose some weight. As noted on the track, the R1’s brakes have good power, but it requires a lot of lever effort, and feel could be better; a change in brake pads are in order here. We also weren’t enamored with the stock OEM-spec Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II rubber because of their quick wear rates and somewhat sluggish steering. And the ultra-tall first gear quickly becomes annoying on the street or in the tighter canyons.
Ducati 1199 Panigale: 83.5 points
If you read our full test on the 1199 Panigale S model in the August issue, then you basically know what the verdict is with the standard model on the street. Surprisingly, we preferred the spring/damping rates of the standard model’s Marzocchi suspension to the electronically adjustable Öhlins of the S version, especially on imperfect public pavement; the Marzocchi components offer just enough adjustment latitude to keep the ride from being rock-hard stiff while keeping the chassis under control. The Ducati’s Brembos are the best brakes of the bunch bar none, and the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC rubber grips the road like flypaper. And the engine’s electronic adjustability allows unrivaled tailoring for the rider’s wants and needs.
But just like at the track, the Ducati demands you ride at a 10/10ths pace, otherwise you’re in for a harsh, unforgiving experience. The 1199’s top-end-oriented powerband means you need to pay a lot more attention to all facets of cornering, and unless the pavement you’re riding on is billiard-table-smooth, the Panigale can get very busy over bumps. And besides the hard seat, riding the Ducati on the street requires you either purchase heat-resistant underwear or burn ointment, as the heat emanating from the rear exhaust will cook your backside medium-well in any traffic encounter longer than 10 minutes.
Aprilia RSV4 R: 86.0 points (TIE)
As with the Ducati, don’t think that just because the standard RSV4 R lacks the flashy Öhlins suspension and other trick bits of the Factory version that it’s unworthy of consideration. The Aprilia definitely gets with the program in the twisty pavement bits, with stout acceleration, a stable yet nimble chassis, and an engine electronics package that rivals the Ducati’s for sophistication and adjustability. And regardless of those rider aids, it’s hard to argue with the flexibility of the V-4 engine that provides the midrange of a V-twin with the screaming top-end of an inline-four. The Sachs suspension is more than capable of handling anything you can throw at it on the street, and the Brembo brakes provide excellent stopping power.
Those brakes, however, require quite of bit of lever effort to get that stopping power, an aspect that didn’t agree with most of our testers. And despite its nimble and small chassis feel, it’s hard not to notice the Aprilia’s excessive heft when tossing it around through the tighter canyons that have plenty of elevation changes. Also difficult to ignore are the hard plank of a seat, the tall first gear, and the thirsty nature of the V-4 engine that relegates the Aprilia to about 120 miles per tankful when riding hard; definitely plan your rides around gas stops.
Honda CBR1000RR: 86.0 points (TIE)
We must admit that we were expecting the CBR to score higher in the street portion of this test, given Honda’s past penchant for refinement. There’s definitely plenty to like about the big CBR, including a responsive engine with a solid midrange punch that launches off corners, and an agile-feeling chassis that lets you put it anywhere in a corner. The Showa Big Piston Fork and Balance-Free rear shock are easily the most compliant in this group, making short work of the nastiest pavement; and the brakes provide crisp and immediate stopping power, an interesting change from the brakes we experienced at the Infineon launch that were a bit dull at initial application. The CBR’s ergos are also one of the more hospitable in this group as well.
What didn’t impress was imprecise fueling both off the bottom and coming off closed throttle into corners. The engine’s response tended to be a little soggy if you tried to be aggressive with the throttle below 5000 rpm, and it was still abrupt when getting back on the gas in the transition between brakes and throttle unless you had the touch of a brain surgeon. Some of our heavier riders would prefer slightly stiffer spring rates, and for some reason the OEM-spec Bridgestone S20 tires were a little short on grip when pushed. Not many liked the new LCD dash, either.
Suzuki GSX-R1000: 87.0 points
Our surprise at the Honda coming in fourth was matched by the Suzuki ranking above the CBR on the street, considering the seemingly minor upgrades to the GSX-R. Suzuki wisely kept the strong points of its sportbike flagship intact, while trying to shore up its weaknesses.
Those strengths include a familiar overall feel that didn’t dominate the class for years just by dumb luck. The GSX-R’s chassis just feels planted and predictable in every aspect of a corner, which helps foster the confidence to exploit the majority of the Suzuki’s performance envelope. Dialed-in Showa suspension (including the BPF, now used by every Japanese literbike except the R1) provides outstanding front-end feedback and puts the engine’s prodigious upper midrange power to the ground, getting you in and out of the corners and down the straights quicker. The ergos and dashboard layout set the standard back in 2001, and that hasn’t changed much; literally every tester commented how the Suzuki “felt comfortable right away, like an old favorite shoe.”
Unfortunately that old shoe is maybe getting a little too old. The GSX-R isn’t the quickest-steering bike around nor the lightest, and unlike the past, the powerplant’s low-end and midrange are now lacking compared to the competition. The brakes also were wooden in feel and response, not the greatest thing when you have a bike that could stand to lose some weight.
Kawasaki ZX-10R: 91.0 points
After its stellar showing at the track, we were expecting similar performance from the ZX-10R on the street, and we weren’t disappointed. “I dunno…there’s not much I can complain about with this bike,” said Nugent in between gulps of donuts and Pepsi. A stout engine with a stomping upper-midrange literally launches the Kawasaki off turns (and wheelies aren’t punished like they are with the Beemer), and its steering is lighter and more precise than the BMW’s. The ZX-10R’s suspension is more compliant than the S 1000 RR components as well, not only offering a smoother ride but also better traction in the bumps. Braking was more linear as well, with excellent power and feel that doesn’t ramp up as quickly as the BMW. For street use, the OEM-spec Bridgestone BT-016s are more than adequate, with agile steering characteristics and decent grip.
But there were a few gripes that allowed the Beemer to edge out the Kawasaki in our street evaluations. The most obvious was the lack of top-end power compared to the S 1000 RR (although to be fair, none of the other bikes can compare either); the ZX-10R can hang with the Bavarian speedster off the corners, but any long straights and it’s auf wiedersehen. The Kawasaki’s ergos were deemed awkward by some who disliked the bar angle and footpeg/seat relationship, and not everyone was enamored with the digital LCD dashboard with LED bar-graph tachometer.
BMW S 1000 RR: 93.0 points
Despite undergoing some extensive refinements for 2012, it was still a close call for the BMW, with the S 1000 RR just squeaking past the ZX-10R in our street evaluations. Granted, it’s a tall order to top the Beemer; every single time we stopped, the person riding the S 1000 RR would exclaim something akin to, “Man, I can’t believe how fast/powerful that bike is.” There’s simply no denying that the BMW is the powerhouse of the class, with an astonishing ability to inhale distances at an alarming rate. Its ground-breaking electronics help keep that thoroughbred reined in, and the recalibrated chassis and suspension allow you to hustle the S 1000 RR through the twisty bits in complete control. And its ABS-equipped brakes do a good job off bleeding off the tremendous speed generated by its prodigious powerplant.
All that said, the Beemer was not without its flaws. We dislike the new suspension calibration, which required near-max settings at the track to keep the chassis under control, yet wouldn’t allow a reasonably softer setting on the street without wallowing when pushed. The brake’s progression ramps up very quickly, demanding care with brake modulation, and the electronics’ wheelie control is too intrusive, crashing the party at the slightest hint of excessive fun. Make no mistake, the BMW is capable of class-leading speed, but it demands maximum physical and mental effort to do it.
Ergonomics look nearly identical...
Ergonomics look nearly identical at a glance, although a closer look shows the KTM's less aggressive seat-to-bar relationship. Notice also the slightly more cramped position of the Kawasaki and the rearward position of the Ducati's foortrests.
And the survey says…
Like two evenly matched boxers going toe-to-toe in the final round of a title bout, the BMW and the Kawasaki seemingly exchanged the top spot in this comparison right down to the wire. But when every aspect of performance was tabulated, the S 1000 RR once again eked out a narrow victory over the ZX-10R (just as it did in our last literbike comparison in July 2011, “The Empire Strikes Back”). The big Beemer’s outright speed often swayed the tester’s opinions when they were teetering on the fence — and with a lower MSRP of $15,050, there’s less of a price difference between the two (now only $1050 instead of $2100 last year) to influence the decision.
Sometimes power really does corrupt.