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
Suzuki GSX-R1000: 87.0 points
It may have originally seemed like Suzuki took the easy way out with its modest update of the 2012 GSX-R1000, but when you have a bike that continuously performs as well as the big Gixxer, extensive changes aren’t necessarily needed. Yes, the Suzuki is a bit boring and outdated in terms of its looks and design, but as a package, the ’12 model performs as a front-runner should. The bike’s Showa suspension feels much more refined than the Honda’s (Suzuki has had a few more years to get the BPF fork dialed in, mind you), and the Gixxer feels more composed through the entrance and middle of a corner.
Small changes have led to...
Small changes have led to a GSX-R gauge cluster that’s different, but very much the same. While outdated, the GSX-R’s instrumentation is well laid out and easy to read.
Power isn’t anything to write home about, but the Suzuki has just enough of it through the middle of the rev range to allow decent drives off the corner, with enough top-end steam to provide respectable straight-line speeds. In addition, accessing that power is easier than on the Honda thanks to the Suzuki’s near-seamless off/on throttle transition. Where the Suzuki does suffer is in the brake department; Brembo or not, the GSX-R1000’s calipers simply don’t make the grade. Not only do these binders require more effort, they also provide an underwhelming initial bite and very little feedback through the lever. While we’d still appreciate a cosmetic redesign, we simply can’t argue with the Suzuki’s overall performance.
+ Well-developed suspension
+ Great ergos for street
– Bottom-end and midrange power lacking
– High-effort brakes
x Typical Suzuki, need we say more?
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 4 turns in from full soft; rebound damping — 4 turns out from full stiff; compression damping — 5 turns out from full stiff; ride height — 0mm showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload — 5mm thread showing; rebound damping — 2.75 turns out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping — 3 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping — 2.25 turns out from full stiff
Aprilia RSV4 R: 90.5 points
When we last tested the RSV4 R in our literbike comparison (“Europe Invades”, June 2010), the Aprilia was let down by a flat-spot-ridden powerband and somewhat coarse-feeling suspension. It was a bit of surprise that neither of those two complaints surfaced with the 2012 APRC version.
The Aprilia’s surplus of character is what bumped it to a solid third place finish in our subjective scoring, but that’s not to discredit other aspects about the bike. The engine is a standout, plain and simple, with great torque and plenty of midrange power to drive off the exit of a corner. Wide clip-ons help negate the bike’s 462-pound heft (the Aprilia is the second-heaviest bike of the group, outdone only by the Yamaha) and allow you to flick the R through a transition with relative ease, all things considered. Flawless electronics enable you to put the power down in a controllable manner without all the excitement of the brute BMW, and the Aprilia’s well-damped front end promotes quicker corner entries — although not all testers were enamored with the bike’s relatively high-effort brakes.
A black tachometer background...
A black tachometer background and unintuitive digital display combine to make the Aprilia instruments a bit frustrating. The mirrors’ short stalks make it difficult to see what’s behind you as well.
The RSV4 R’s admittedly cramped ergonomics were never bothersome for too-tall Bradley, who actually felt the package promoted an aggressive riding style through transitions. Kento was almost equally convinced, adding, “Lose about 25-30 pounds, add a little more top-end, and you’ve got a winner.” Until then, Aprilia will have to settle with a respectable third-place finish in our track testing.
Aprilia RSV4 R
+ Great midrange power
+ Flawless electronics
– Ultra-tall first gear
– Needs to lose weight
x Has the most character of any bike in this test
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 6 turns in from full soft; rebound damping — 9 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 5 clicks out from full stiff; ride height — 4mm showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload — 10mm thread showing; rebound damping — 9 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 1 turn out from full stiff
BMW S 1000 RR: 94.0 points
With so many small revisions made to the BMW this year, it was presumed the mighty S 1000 RR would once again rule the literbike class in 2012. But while the 9.3mm-shorter wheelbase and 2.5mm-shorter offset helped the BMW tip into the corner quicker, the Bavarian beast feels like more work through transitions. As expected, the RR’s engine out-performed the competition come time to stand the bike up, but at a track like Chuckwalla, where straights are few and far between, the BMW’s upper hand is significantly reduced.
Despite the BMW engineers’ efforts to refine the RR’s traction control intervention levels, the RR’s electronics can be more of a hindrance than a help. If you get even a small wheelie coming off a corner, the wheelie control aggressively intervenes (now in Slick mode as well), abruptly cutting power and then reapplying it, causing the front end to pogo; hello, whiplash. Also, BMW revised the S 1000 RR’s engine braking characteristics, allowing the bike to freewheel into corners much more aggressively, a trait that many test riders found difficult to get accustomed to. Put simply, the BMW’s electronics are outshined by the Kawasaki’s, Aprilia’s and Ducati’s.
BMW’s new-for-2012 analog...
BMW’s new-for-2012 analog tachometer is easier to read at a glance, and the S 1000 RR’s digital display is well laid out and easy to navigate when switching modes.
The BMW was also knocked for its overly aggressive brakes and German-firm chassis, which provides less feedback mid-corner. With some modulation, it’s possible to keep the BMW in check both on the gas and on the brakes, but you really do have to be on top of the RR to go quick.
BMW S 1000 RR
+ Unimaginable power
+ Well-balanced ergos for track and street
– New electronics and suspension settings
– Overly stiff chassis
x Still a great bike, just we’ve found some chinks in its armor
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 4 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping — position 10 of 10; compression damping — position 3 of 10; ride height — 9mm showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload — 10mm thread showing; rebound damping — position 3 of 10; high-speed compression damping — position 3 of 10; low-speed compression damping — position 2 of 10
Kawasaki ZX-10R: 95.0 points
Each of the seven aforementioned bikes is new in one way or another, yet it was the unchanged, one-year-old Kawasaki ZX-10R that ranked highest on our subjective score sheets and likewise posted the fastest lap times at the track. To put it simply, the ZX-10R is hard to knock in any one category.
Compared to the second-ranked BMW, the Kawasaki is much more manageable in terms of its power delivery. Tall gearing is a bit of a hindrance out of tighter corners, but the Kawi gets with the program once it’s rolling, easily keeping the BMW in check down the straights. The 10R’s traction control system is much more refined than the BMW’s as well, and the brakes require less modulation when grabbed aggressively. The price-point Tokico calipers aren’t Ducati Brembo good, granted, but they provide adequate power through the pull and a high level of feedback, with only a slightly stiffer actuation.
Kawasaki’s LED bar tachometer...
Kawasaki’s LED bar tachometer and clip-on position weren’t revered by all test riders. The ZX-10R’s mirrors are the widest of the bunch and provide an unobtrusive view of the competition.
Like the Honda, the Kawasaki feels like an extremely refined package, but it’s noticeably better-damped front and rear. Suspension action is very linear through the stroke, and grip from the rear tire is superb from the middle of the corner out. The 10R provides like confidence getting into the corner, and quite frankly, sets the bar for how an OE bike should feel at the track in terms of handling and overall performance.
+ Most linear handling
+ Great traction control system, good rear tire grip
– Semi-awkward riding position for street
– Overly tall gearing
x Simply no denying the Kawi’s performance capabilities
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload — 5 turns in from full soft; rebound damping — 4 turns out from full stiff; compression damping — 3.5 turns out from full stiff; ride height — 0mm showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload — 8mm thread showing; rebound damping — 2 turns out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping — .5 turn out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping — .5 turn out from full stiff
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.
G2X DATA ACQUISITION
Midway through the second day of festivities at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, we strapped our Racepak G2X data acquisition system to each bike as Bradley turned a couple of laps in a Superpole-style showdown. Everything was proceeding swimmingly in alphabetical order until we got to the Ks, and Bradley crashed the Kawasaki on his second timed lap. Unfortunately he was a bit too banged up to continue, so we only have lap times and data for five of the eight bikes — the Aprilia, BMW, Ducati, Honda and the Kawasaki.
Chuckwalla is a 2.68-mile, 17-turn track located approximately 50 miles east of Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley, with approximately 25 feet in elevation changes. The track can be ridden in either direction; we ran counterclockwise for both days. The map included here shows our own corner numbers, along with some of the pertinent speeds and segment times. We also included each bike’s relative location at several points on the course. The graph shows speed for each bike over the course of a lap, plotted against distance.
A spread of 1.66 seconds separates the fastest bike (the ZX-10R) and the slowest (the 1199 Panigale), with the other three bikes fairly evenly distributed between those two. A look at the speeds, segment times and lap-time difference data (not shown here) indicates that no one bike stands out as being significantly better than the others in any one particular area - the segment times and speeds all fall in an approximately similar order to the lap times. Still, there are some interesting points to consider.
From the speeds on the straights, it’s clear that the BMW and the Kawasaki are the fastest bikes in a straight line, and this is partly explains how the two bikes logged the two quickest lap times. However, those speeds are the result of very different characteristics. The S 1000 RR is fast through brute horsepower and typically has higher acceleration numbers on each straight, whereas segment data shows the ZX-10R has better exit speed from each corner. Even though the BMW is more powerful, the straights at Chuckwalla are not long enough for it to overcome the corner-exit deficit. Notably, the Honda matches and even exceeds the Kawasaki’s corner and corner exit speeds in many instances, yet lacks the top-end power to keep pace with either the ZX-10R or the S 1000 RR on the following straights.
In the braking zones at the end of the two main straights, the Aprilia shows the most deceleration, logging a peak of 1.1 g at the end of the back straight. Looking at combinations of deceleration and lateral g (trail-braking), it’s the Aprilia again that logs the highest peak number, with Bradley braking at .75 g while cornering at .75 g arcing into turn 2 — that is braking at about 70 percent of maximum while leaned over to at least 40 degrees). While these numbers reflect the RSV’s excellent brakes and front-end feel, braking data later in the lap does not show a clear advantage in these characteristics for the Aprilia.
The two chicanes at Chuckwalla, labeled here as turns 5 and 6, are both uphill in the counterclockwise direction. The BMW has the quickest segment time through the first, yet is almost the slowest through the second. Bradley felt that he went through the chicanes equally quickly on each bike, yet there were significant differences in performance. For example, the Ducati’s light weight helped it steer quickly, but it was unstable in the transitions. The Aprilia felt heavier through the transitions, yet that was offset by better front-end feel. And the BMW steered heavy but its stiff chassis allowed Bradley to be aggressive with little consequence.
Two sections of the track stress accelerating and braking while leaned over. The first is turns 2 and 3, two high-speed right-hand corners fairly close together. Between the two, the bike is lifted from maximum lean to approximately 25 degrees for a brief spell of acceleration and braking before being leaned into turn 3. Likewise, turn 9 is actually two left-hand corners quite close. The Honda and Kawasaki logged the quickest segment times in these sections; the ZX-10R’s stable chassis and excellent traction control help it log the fastest speed in the short straight between turns 2 and 3 — and the most exit speed — while the Honda was not far behind thanks to its strong midrange. In turn 9 alone, the ZX-10R gains a tenth of a second on the BMW; with its traction control turned off for the timed laps, these small bursts of power proved difficult on the S 1000 RR.
Turn 8 on our track map is actually two turns close together, with a decreasing-radius, downhill line that requires a long period of time at partial throttle. The BMW’s solid chassis excels here, and it gains a full tenth of a second on the Kawasaki. The Aprilia is also quicker than the ZX-10R, due to solid front-end feel and composure. Bradley did note that this corner in particular caused trouble for the Honda, as the soft rear suspension unloaded the front end excessively; the CBR loses a quarter second to the BMW here.
Bridgestone R10 DOT Racing Tires
For the track portion of this year’s literbike testing, seven of the eight bikes were shod with Bridgestone’s relatively new R10 DOT race tire. The eighth bike, Ducati’s 1199 Panigale, rolled on its OE Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP rubber for both the track and street testing, the Italian manufacturer noting that its DTC (Ducati Traction Control) system would work more effectively with the bike sporting the OE 200/55-size tire.
Introduced just a year ago, Bridgestone’s R10 race tire features a reworked tread pattern in addition to a more heavily crowned profile that’s aimed to improve turn-in characteristics. 3D grooves near the midsection of the tire are intended to provide better braking performance up front and improved grip out back, while vertical grooves further inward are designed to enhance steering traits at small lean angles.
We personally were introduced to the R10 during the 2011 600cc comparison at the Streets of Willow. With each of our 2012 literbike contestants having anywhere from 40-70 horsepower more than even the strongest 600, we presumed the Bridgestone’s would react much differently this time around. But much to our surprise, the same traits we found accommodating in last year’s test trickled over to this year’s. What impressed us most about the R10 is its steering characteristics into the corner; pick a line and the tire really helps you get there. Grip from both the front and rear is impressive, as are the wear characteristics. Multiple bikes went a full day without a tire change, for instance, and the R10s provided a high level of grip even as the laps continued to click off; this all despite temperatures that ranged from 100-107 degrees.
When the tires did heat up and break loose, they did so in a very predictable manner, without letting go immediately and spitting us out of the saddle. And as a whole, the R10 feels very composed at a brisk pace, with zero squirm on the brakes and little tire flex out of the corner. We were wishing for a little more front tire feedback at times, but nothing alarming.
The R10 DOT race tire is currently available in a 120/70ZR-17 size and Type 3 (medium) compound. There are a few more options out back; the R10 rears are offered in a 180/55ZR-17 and 190/55ZR-17 size, in both a Type 2 (hard) and Type 3 (medium) compounds. For more info, and to find your local race tire vendor, log onto www.bridgestonemotorcycletires.com.
Chicken Hawk Racing Tire Warmers
Chicken Hawk Racing’s new-for-2012 tire warmers kept our Bridgestone R10 race tires company for the duration of our two days at Chuckwalla Raceway — as if the 100-plus degree temperatures weren’t enough to keep things hot. Designed to bring tire temps up fast and effectively, CHR’s latest bun warmers feature neoprene side panels that better insulate the tire and block the wind from blowing across the wheel.
Similar to its predecessor, the updated tire warmer uses a red/green operating light to indicate whether the warmer is heating or at a proper operating temperature. Kevlar insulation helps the warmers retain heat, and a melt-proof inner liner ensures you won’t return to your pits with a smoking surprise. Added features like the high-impact temperature controllers and full-coverage heating elements further enhance durability and safety.
Installing and removing the CHR tire warmers proved to be a cinch at the racetrack, and we found the overall construction of the product to be top-notch. With the tires pre-heated to 175 degrees, we also felt more confident rolling out onto the track, with more grip and less tire squirm during the warm-up lap. For more info regarding Chicken Hawk Racing’s new $425 tire warmer, or to place an order, visit www.chickenhawkracing.com.
|FINAL RATINGS|| || || || || || || || |
|Fun to Ride||8.5||10||8||8.75||9.5||8.5||8.5||8|
|Chassis and handling||9||9||7.5||9||9.5||9||9||8|
|Engine power delivery||9.5||10||8||8.5||10||8||9||8|
|SPECS|| || || || |
| ||2012 Aprilia RSV4 R||2012 BMW S 1000 RR||2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale||2012 Honda CBR1000RR|
|MSRP||$16,999 ||$15,050 ||$17,995 ||$13,800 |
|Engine|| || || || |
|Type||Liquid-cooled, 65-degree DOHC V-four||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four||Liquid-cooled, DOHC 90-degree V-twin||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four|
|Bore x stroke||78.0 x 52.3mm||80.0 x 49.7mm||112 x 60.8mm||76.0 x 55.1mm|
|Induction||Weber Marelli EFI, 48MM throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.||BMS-KP EFI, single-valve 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.||Mitsubishi EFI, elliptical throttle bodies with 67.5mm equivalent dia., dual injectors/cyl.||DSFI, single-valve 46mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.|
|Chassis|| || || || |
|Front suspension||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||46mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.9 in. travel||50mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel|
|Rear suspension||Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 5.4 in. travel|
|Front tire||120/70ZR-17 Metzler Racetec K3||120/70ZR-17 Metzler Racetec K3||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Hypersport S20F F|
|Rear tire||190/55ZR-17 Metzler Racetec K3||190/55ZR-17 Metzler Racetec K3||200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone Hypersport S20R F|
|Rake/trail||24.5 deg./4.1 in. (105mm)||24.0 deg./3.9 in. (98.5mm)||24.5 deg./3.9 in. (100mm)||23.3 deg./3.8 in. (96mm)|
|Wheelbase||55.9 in. (1420mm)||56 in. (1423mm)||56.6 in. (1437mm)||55.5 in. (1410mm)|
|Seat height||33.3 in. (845mm)||32.3 in. (820mm)||32.5 in. (825mm)||32.3 in. (820mm)|
|Weight||462 lb. (210kg) wet; 435 lb. (197kg) dry||459 lb. (208kg) wet; 431 lb. (196kg) dry||423 lb. (192kg) wet; 396 lb. (180kg) dry||445 lb. (202kg) wet; 417 lb. (189kg) dry|
|Fuel consumption||27 – 34 mpg, 30 mpg avg.||29 – 36 mpg, 33 mpg avg.||27 – 32 mpg, 30 mpg avg.||36 – 42 mpg, 39 mpg avg.|
|Specs|| || || || |
| ||2012 Kawasaki ZX-10R||2012 KTM 1190 RC8 R||2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000||2012 Yamaha YZF-R1|
|MSRP||$13,999 ||$16,499 ||$13,799 ||$13,990 ($14,490 as tested with 50th anniversary paint)|
|Engine|| || || || |
|Type||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four||Liquid-cooled, 75-degree DOHC V-twin||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four|
|Bore x stroke||76.0 x 55.0mm||105 x 69mm||74.5 x 57.3mm||78.0 x 52.2mm|
|Induction||DFI, dual-valve 47mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.||Keihin EFI, 52mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.||SDTV, 44mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.||EFI w/ YCC-I, YCC-T, 45mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.|
|Chassis|| || || || |
|Front suspension||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.9 in. travel||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel|
|Rear suspension||Single shock absorber, 5.5 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 4.7 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 4.7 in. travel|
|Front tire||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016F CC||120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Sportsmart||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Hypersport S20F F||120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II|
|Rear tire||190/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016R CC||190/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Sportsmart||190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone Hypersport S20R F||190/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier II|
|Rake/trail||25.0 deg./4.3 in. (110mm)||23.3 deg./3.8 in. (96mm)||23.5 deg./3.9 in. (98mm)||24.0 deg./4.0 in. (102mm)|
|Wheelbase||56.1 in. (1425mm)||56.1 in. (1425mm)||55.3 in. (1405mm)||55.7 in. (1415mm)|
|Seat height||32.0 in. (813mm)||31.7 in. (805mm)||31.9 in. (810mm)||32.9 in. (836mm)|
|Weight||442 lb. (201kg) wet; 415 lb. (188kg) dry||450 lb. (204kg) wet; 424 lb. (192kg) dry||447 lb. (203kg) wet; 419 lb. (190kg) dry||475 lb. (216kg) wet; 446 lb. (202kg) dry|
|Fuel consumption||31 – 39 mpg, 35 mpg avg.||34 – 45 mpg, 39 mpg avg.||36 – 41 mpg, 39 mpg avg.||27 – 35 mpg, 32 mpg avg.|
It’s all up for grabs with these true superbikes. Seriously...eight insane two-wheeled rippers, some equipped with the latest technology available to your average enthusiast. Quick shift, traction control, etc.
I have to give Honda credit for bringing a user-friendly ‘monster’ into the mix. Its ergos put the rider at ease on an otherwise intimidating track environment or an unfamiliar road. If my focus was on track days, I’d have to choose the economical closed-course-oriented Kawi. It’s basic economics and a manageable parts budget.
The hard part of the equation is percentage of time in the saddle at warp speed vs. dollars these days. I’d rather spend the time and money on the BMW. It’s comfortable when asked to be tame and sick fast when the human traction control is turned off. Enjoy some fun roads without breaking the bank at my local racetrack on tires and spares. I go with the Beemer as my first choice, I’ll leave a spot in the garage for the other seven standouts!
While getting a call from Bradley to ride eight of the best open class bikes there are sounded like an awesome idea at the time, eight bikes and four days later, it was still an awesome idea! All these girls were amazing, but in the end it came down to two. It’s like having two of the best cupcakes set in front of you and you are only allowed to pick one, one of the toughest things I ever had to do. And while some bikes are clearly better for the track than others, and others are clearly better for the street, I narrowed it down to the Kawasaki ZX-10R and the BMW S 1000 RR. With the difference in cost just over a $1000, both with traction control, I decided to go for the more powerful, quick-shifted BMW. In my opinion, it’s the best all around bike, along with the love or hate styling, (which I love). It’s an amazing well-rounded street bike, then slap a number plate on it, and its more than competitive at any local club race bone stock, its that good.
With all the new bikes and updates going on in the literbike class this year, I was assuming that the unchanged Kawasaki was going to get left in the dust. In the past, standing still for even a year often meant the difference between contender and has-been. But in the blinding flash of trick new machinery, it’s easy to forget what a solid performer the ZX-10R really is. Yes, it doesn’t have the peak numbers of the astounding BMW, but it’s close enough that the only place you’ll be getting left behind is on fast racetracks (and we’ve already shown what an ECU reflash can do for the Kawasaki).
Granted, it’s not as if the S 1000 RR is not any fun to ride. There are many aspects of the new version I like better — but there are some I don’t. I’m not sure why BMW engineers felt the wheelie control needed to be more intrusive, and while the chassis feel is better, the recalibration of the suspension now makes for adjustments that are too coarse.
The Kawasaki just has that chassis feel in the corners that gives me confidence, and although peak power numbers are great, I care more about what’s under the curve. I’ll take the ZX-10R, use some of the money I save to reflash the ECU, add some tweaks and I’m good.