Aprilia RSV4 Factory
BMW S 1000RR
MV Agusta F4
Bike of the Year Comparison
What a difference a year or two makes.
In past Bike of the Year comparisons, the European manufacturers were often more of a sideshow to the established Japanese brands. The incredibly rapid two-year development pace of the Japanese sportbikes resulted in a performance curve that was difficult to meet for the smaller European companies.
The economic downturn of the past two years has changed that landscape. While the Japanese have pulled back their horns due to large overhead costs to ride out the economic storm, the European manufacturers have been moving ahead with new-model plans already in place - and those bikes have proven to be game changers.
For this '10 edition of our Bike of the Year comparison, only one Japanese bike is on the roll call: Kawasaki's ZX-6R, winner of our middleweight comparison in '09, and fending off the scant few updated challengers (as in one: the Yamaha R6) this year. The rest are all from the Continent: BMW's S 1000 RR, winner of our '10 literbike comparison ("Europe Invades", June '10); Aprilia's RSV4 Factory, tested in the April '10 issue ("Mama Mia!"); Ducati's 1198S, winner of our V-twin shootout in the May '10 issue ("Tale of Two Cities"); and the new MV Agusta F4, tested in the previous issue ("The Art of Speed", September '10).
We followed our usual modus operandi of having each tester grade each bike's performance separately on the street (urban and canyon miles) and racetrack. For our racetrack testing, we fitted each bike with Michelin's superb Power One DOT race tires (see sidebar page 32) and segued to Buttonwillow Raceway Park's West Loop in central California to test their limits in a safe environment.
Kawasaki ZX-6R: 85 points
Armed with the middleweight-class-leading 599cc engine and superb Showa BPF (Big Piston Fork), the Kawasaki is easily the friendliest of these five bikes to ride on the street. Ergonomics are the most hospitable of the group while still remaining on the aggressive side, with a well-padded seat, an easy-to-read instrument panel, and functional mirrors. The Kawasaki's powerplant is responsive but smooth, with a throttle response that won't bite you if you get a little too exuberant getting back on the gas in a turn.
Don't mistake that pleasant demeanor for a dog of a bike, however. Ridden to its strengths, the little ZX can more than hold its own despite being down an average of 48 horsepower to the other bikes in this comparison. Corner entry and midcorner speed are the Kawasaki's trump cards, and that plays right into the Showa BPF's ability to provide excellent feedback and control as you tip the ZX-6R into the corner, trail braking to scrub off some speed as you scythe towards the apex. Speaking of brakes, all our testers raved about the Kawasaki's binders enough to rate them tops in the test.
Nonetheless, most of our testers felt it was more work to hustle through the twisty bits quickly compared to the relatively lazy effort needed with the top literbikes in this group. Where the Kawasaki often required two gearshifts, the others could be left in a single gear; and the concentration necessary to keep corner speed high became tiresome for a few testers. And anytime the road started opening up, being short almost 50 horsepower was a disadvantage that required even more riding skill to make up the difference.
MV Agusta F4: 88 points
As we noted in our test of the MV Agusta last issue, the new F4 is a completely changed machine. Besides all the updates to the engine and chassis, probably the most important upgrade as far as street riding is concerned is the elimination of the previous generations' abrupt throttle response. Instead of being forced to exercise the care of a brain surgeon when getting back on the throttle in a corner to avoid upsetting the chassis, the new F4 now has a much smoother response that allows you to concentrate on other aspects of riding.
And you'll probably need that concentration, as not only is the new 998cc engine just as/if not more powerful than its 1078cc predecessor, it has lost little of the signature quick-revving acceleration of previous MV powerplants. Granted, the new F4's powerband is more linear than any inline-four of recent memory, but when you combine a lively engine character with 157.1 horsepower (in addition to the MV's Mk II traction control), it means you'll be approaching the next corner rather quickly. Thankfully the F4's chassis is more than up to that cornering task, with strong brakes, excellent suspension and a chassis with agility that rivals the benchmarks in the class.
Several issues conspired to drop the MV down in the street rankings, however. Besides the usual very aggressive ergos that put a lot of weight on your arms, nearly all testers complained that the F4 vibrated much more than the other fours on both the street and track, an issue that became tiresome even on short rides. Many also complained about the footpegs, which are very short and have little grip.
Ducati 1198S: 90 points
Although Ducati isn't claiming any internal changes to the engine from the standard 1198 (other than the new Marelli ECU to enable the usage of the Ducati Traction Control system), we found the S model to have a substantial torque advantage (87 ft-lb, nearly 3 ft-lb more) despite being down a bit on peak horsepower. Considering that the standard 1198 wasn't exactly a slouch in the torque department, this translates to a V-twin with some serious steam. Accentuating that increase is gearing significantly shortened from the previous 998/999 generations. When we use the term "leaps off the corners", we really mean it when it comes to this booming desmo. Because of the ultra-responsive torque and wide gear spacing, you end up deceptively building up some serious speed with a lot less fanfare than the others in this group.
As one of the two bikes here that come equipped with Öhlins suspension, the 1198S obviously has the goods to maintain that speed through the corners with ease. Steering and front-end feedback through the signature chromoly steel trellis frame are sharp and clear, and although the Öhlins fork and shock are sprung a bit stiffly for street use, stability is rock solid through anything public pavement can throw at the Ducati.
While the 1198S's committed riding position didn't draw as many complaints as the MV's, its underseat exhaust heat drew more. Transitioning from full lean on one side to the other required more effort than the others, and like the MV, the digital LCD dashboard with bar-graph tachometer is difficult to discern at a glance.
Aprilia RSV4 Factory: 92 points
After being surprisingly disappointed with the performance of the standard RSV4 R in our literbike shootout, we were anxious to see how the Factory version would stack up in this direct comparison. And it didn't let us down.
One telling characteristic of the RSV4 Factory was the fact that every single person who rode the Aprilia came back raving about it. The Aprilia is hands down the most agile of the liter-size bikes here, able to carve rings around the others and feeling like a tight and compact 250GP racebike in the presence of literbikes. And yet that small size apparently doesn't compromise fit for larger riders - several of our testers are six feet or more, and only one mentioned anything about a cramped cockpit. Öhlins suspension components ensure superb roadholding and chassis stability, and Brembo monobloc calipers biting on 320mm discs provide brick-wall stopping power.
Being able to revel in the Factory model's variable-intake-enhanced V-four engine confirmed our complaints regarding the standard R model's lumpy powerband. Instead of a flat-spot-ridden acceleration curve that blunted drives off corners, the Factory model just continues pulling hard, allowing you to maintain that momentum you built up from getting on the throttle earlier and harder. And it's hard not to love the exhaust note of a V-four screaming at 12,000 rpm.
So why did the Aprilia finish behind the BMW on the street? Interestingly, despite the raving subjective comments, many testers' evaluation sheet numbers had the S 1000 RR on top. Nitpicks included a plank of a seat that was small and hard, barely functional mirrors, and an engine bay that radiated a lot of heat anytime you weren't pinning the throttle and going fast.
BMW S 1000 RR: 93 points
The winner of our literbike comparison test acquitted itself well on the street portion of BOTY, with the BMW scoring high marks across the board despite lacking the many raving eval sheet subjective notes of the Aprilia. The S 1000 RR apparently gets the job done quietly (well, if you can classify any bike with 176.5 rear-wheel horsepower as quiet) and efficiently with little fanfare.
As we've stated before, the BMW is an incredibly well-sorted and refined literbike for a first-time effort. Ergos are aggressive enough for track use while still retaining just enough real-world practicality to keep you from making constant appointments with your chiropractor/orthopedist. The seat has enough padding to keep you from going numb yet still gives you some feedback, the mirrors are functional, the instrument panel is nicely laid out and easy to read at a glance, and all modes and information are accessible without taking your hands off the bars.
Although lacking the midrange of some other literbikes, the BMW has sufficient quantities to keep pace until it can access its unrivaled top end power (although admittedly you will seldom find the opportunity to use that much horsepower on the street). Running in Race (or Slick mode, for those with sufficient skill) offered the best throttle response while keeping the DTC from interfering too much with corner drives. Some testers felt the throttle response was too sensitive though, causing the bike to react to minute throttle movements over bumps.
The Sachs suspension offered a nice compromise between street plush and racetrack firm, and the safety net of ABS is a definite plus on the street. And while the BMW isn't the most agile literbike, its handling manners ranked second only to the Aprilia.
Kawasaki ZX-6R: 85 points
Don't get the wrong impression from the Kawasaki's rankings; one look at the lap times is adequate evidence of the ZX-6R's potential, and its ability to keep pace with this group even on a track with fast corners.
As long as you're willing and able, the Kawasaki's engine can help you generate good drives off the corners that can keep the others well within reach. Granted, you need to keep the tachometer needle floating above 9000 rpm at all times (and preferably at 11,000-plus rpm) to maintain that speed, but it's all in a day's work for a 600, right? One of the advantages of a 600 is that throttle control isn't quite as critical as with the literbikes, so you're often able to carry higher corner speed due to minute throttle movements having less of an effect on the chassis.
Corner entry is aided by the Kawasaki's excellent slipper clutch that prevents engine braking from intruding on bike control, while the superb front brakes allow you to move your braking markers that much deeper due to their power, responsiveness, and feel. Being the lone 600, the ZX-6R was easiest of the group to flick from side to side in the esses, or carve into the ultra-fast Riverside turn, making up some time on the literbikes.
That said, the Aprilia wasn't that far off the Kawasaki as far as agility; "Chassis never was the best of the 600s, and in this company [the Kawasaki's] flaws were that much more pronounced," wrote Trizzle in his notes. Used to be that 600s had a marked advantage over literbikes when it came to quick handling; that gap is shrinking ever smaller.
MV Agusta F4: 88 Points
"I could sit and look it for hours without ever even starting it," wrote tester Eric "Pepsi" Nugent about the MV, "but [eventually] we put the beauty glasses aside and ride." Although the F4's real advancement was made with the F4 1000 R version back in '06, this latest incarnation of the MV Agusta flagship is a quantum leap forward in terms of racetrack performance over past versions that had attractive styling but not much else compared to other sportbikes at the time.
With 157 horsepower on tap, the MV is certainly not lacking for steam, and its linear powerband and much smoother throttle response means that accessing that power in a corner is easier than ever. And with the addition of the Mk II traction control system (using a rate-of-change algorithm instead of wheel speed sensors), the snappy nature of the engine is less of a liability when driving off a corner. The system is very transparent in the lower (less intervention) settings, with none of the "throttle lag" feel that you get with some of the other systems.
Steering habits are sharp and precise, with good stability through the fast stuff, although some of the nastier bumps at Buttonwillow would sometimes feed back into the chassis and upset things a bit. Brakes were very powerful, but lacking a little on feel toward the limit, and the short, slippery footpegs became more of an annoyance on the track. The MV also noticeably lost speed quicker than the others anytime you rolled out of the throttle the slightest bit. Still, the MV is no doormat at the track as evidenced by its lap time; but the aforementioned issues dragged down its ranking in this tough crowd.
Ducati 1198S: 89 points
The addition of DTC to the 1198S is a welcome supplement to the Ducati's already formidable performance array, and with the faster turns of the racetrack canceling out its tendency to wheelie in the lower gears, you have the makings of one seriously quick V-twin - provided you ride it to its strengths. With a chassis/suspension combo that offers such superb front-end feedback, maintaining high corner entry and midcorner speeds is relatively easy. Couple that with a monster midrange that puts all the fours to shame (take a look at the dyno graphs), and it's clear the 1198S can make major time in the corners. The Ducati's abundance of quick-revving torque really does require and make use of the DTC, which helps avoid the rear tire slip/windup chassis gyrations that would plague the 1198 if the tire wasn't hooking up that well.
The downside to the Ducati's massive torque reserves is that it runs out of breath up top compared to the four-cylinder machines. With wide gear spacing necessitated by the short rev range (the rev-limiter cuts in at 10,200 rpm) and a powerband that starts tailing off at 9000 rpm, this means that watching your shift points is critical to avoid losing forward momentum. The problem is that the Marelli LCD instrument panel's bar-graph tachometer is extremely difficult to discern at a glance in broad daylight, and the LED shift lights are too small to be of any help, especially on a track like Buttonwillow where the turns come at you in rapid-fire succession.
The Ducati can get around the track quickly - it just takes a lot of work, almost as much as a 600.
BMW S 1000 RR: 92 points
It's easy to surmise that a bike with 176 horsepower and competent chassis/brakes would be the dominant player on the racetrack in this test. Anytime the track opens up and you're able to tap into the S 1000 RR's beast of an engine, the difference in power and acceleration is about as noticeable as a 2x4 to the forehead. But it's not just all about power with the Beemer; the chassis and suspension do a superb job of herding all that speed around the track with surprising aplomb.
The S 1000 RR isn't the most agile literbike around, but it holds it own; and while the Sachs suspension may not be equal to the Öhlins components on the Ducati and Aprilia, they're easily more than adequate for the task. With the DTC/Race ABS set in Race or Slick mode with a rider of appropriate skill aboard, the BMW can generate tremendous drives off corners by harnessing the engine's incredible power just enough to keep the rear tire hooked up and driving forward.
But it's the Race ABS that probably ended up holding it back from its absolute potential in this crowd. Although its intervention threshold in Slick mode is set very high - and its actual intervention very transparent when activated - it appears to take just enough of an edge off maximum braking to lose time compared to the others. But even if we'd shut off the ABS, that's no guarantee it would have set the quickest time. And had it done so, would that have made a difference in the final rankings? In examining the evaluation sheets, probably not.
Aprilia RSV4 Factory: 94 points
The same raving by everyone who rode the Aprilia on the street occurred at the track. It was interesting to watch practically every rider step off the RSV4 Factory, look back at the bike, and then begin babbling to everyone how much fun it was to ride.
It's easy to see why. The same agility and composure the chassis demonstrated on the street was duplicated on the racetrack - only magnified tenfold due to the increase in pavement it could play with and the increased speeds. That poise in any cornering situation fosters gobs of rider confidence, aided by the smooth and strong V-four engine that supplies easily manageable yet stout acceleration. It certainly isn't the strongest of the bikes in this group, but the Aprilia's lithe handling allows the powerplant to generate speed in cornering situations and areas of the racetrack where the others would find it difficult. The difference in performance between the standard R and Factory engines may not be huge, but the impact of the Factory's smoother powerband on its ability to exploit that power is unmistakable.
The Öhlins suspension components play their own role as well. While the Showa pieces on the standard R models are far from subpar, the increased competence of the Öhlins fork and shock when the pace is really ramped up contributes to the Factory's unflappable handling. The lighter forged aluminum wheels surely play a role here as well.
The Brembo monobloc calipers and 320mm discs provide excellent stopping power, although they definitely weren't the top-rated brakes in the test. Some testers complained of slight fading during hard use, while others wished for a little more feel at the limit. But these were minor blemishes on what ended up being glowing reviews on nearly every evaluation sheet.
Racepak G2X Data Analysis
For each of Kent's sessions at Buttonwillow, we mounted our Racepak GPS-based data acquisition system on the passenger seat to keep tabs on his and the bike's progress. In our Bike Meets Car story (Aug. '10) we introduced the lap-time difference channel, which gives us the gap in time between the bikes at any point on the racetrack. In that story, we plotted the channel along with the speed traces. Here, the speed traces versus distance for each bike are plotted on the traditional graph but we used the lap-time difference data to show the relative positions of the bikes on the track at several points. Additionally, the segment times for each bike in each corner are shown on the track map.
MV Agusta: 1.09.428
** Considering the disparity of equipment in this test, from the Kawasaki ZX-6R to the almost twice as expensive Aprilia RSV4 Factory, the lap times are remarkably close. Less than a second covers the five bikes, with the Aprilia leading the way by more than a quarter-second. Unfortunately, the surface at Buttonwillow has deteriorated significantly since our last test at that track in 2009, and the times are correspondingly slower.
From the speed data, it's clear the bikes are quite evenly matched over the course of the lap. Each straight section shows the Kawasaki at a clear disadvantage to the other bikes, while the BMW shows moderate gains. Over the first half of the lap, it's almost a draw between the five contenders. Because we use only the West Loop at Buttonwillow, the first turn doesn't see much activity and is usually quite slippery. Here, the BMW immediately opens up a gap on the other bikes, perhaps thanks to its traction control system. In the all-important fast and bumpy Riverside turns (sections 2 and 3), the MV Agusta is quickest while the slowest Aprilia loses just a quarter-second in segment time. The BMW actually leads the way through the first half of the lap, with the Kawasaki and Ducati trailing.
The field bunches up on the run up to Turn 4, with the BMW losing a chunk of time under braking and just .16 seconds separating the five bikes at the entrance of the turn. With its apex at the crest of the hill, this turn rewards front-end feel, and here the Aprilia and its confident chassis starts to draw out an advantage with a sector time more than .1 seconds quicker than the next fastest bike, the Ducati. The next segments sort things out significantly. The relatively underpowered Kawasaki loses time on the run down the hill, but both it and the Aprilia scythe through the Riverside turn much quicker than the other bikes. The segment times show the Aprilia and Kawasaki .3 seconds faster than the MV Agusta and BMW, and almost a half-second quicker than the Ducati in this turn. Here is where the Aprilia makes a large part of its lap-time advantage on the BMW, Ducati and MV Agusta.
Surprisingly, the lightweight and quick-steering Kawasaki cards the slowest segment time through the Chicane while the BMW makes it through marginally quickest. The Kawasaki may have made it through the previous turn plenty fast enough, but the big bikes have more entry speed and gain more on the exit, making up time overall. The next straight, between the Chicane and the final turn, sees the maximum speeds for the lap; here the BMW shows its power advantage, but the MV Agusta is less than 1 mph behind while the Kawasaki lags by almost 10 mph.
The final turn, a moderately tight, 90-degree bend, may seem simple enough but actually decides the BMW's fate in overall lap time. Heading into the turn, the BMW is behind only the Aprilia according to the lap-time difference channel, but falls behind the MV Agusta and the Ducati through the turn. Just as on the run up to Turn 4, the BMW loses out under hard braking; here, however, there is not enough of a straight following for it to make up the difference. The BMW's ABS system is the probable culprit here; although it works extremely well in Slick mode with a very high threshold before intervention (and when it does intervene, it does so very transparently), the BMW builds up so much speed down the straight that the braking effort is high enough to cause ABS actuation, causing a loss of braking power compared to the others.
_The MV Agusta loses time off the start at the dragstrip thanks to a balky clutch but comes on strong enough at the far end to post a faster trap speed than the 1198S and RSV4. The S 1000 RR's Gear Shift Assist helps it to a quarter-mile time almost a half-second quicker than any of the other bikes. In top-gear roll-ons the 1198S gets an initial jump on the others, but the BMW soon takes over with times even better than the Suzuki Hayabusa. _
This chart shows actual thrust at the rear wheel in each gear for each bike and takes into account engine torque and total gear reduction. The 1198S, with the most torque and a widely spaced gearbox, makes the most thrust in first gear; note, however, the gaps between the lower gears that result. The MV Agusta, BMW and Aprilia make more thrust in the higher gears. The bar chart shows calculated top speed in each gear; here you can see the relative spacing in the bikes' gearboxes.
The three literbikes have similar horsepower and torque until the top-end of the powerband, where the BMW carries on to an almost 20 horsepower advantage over the MV and even more over the Aprilia. The BMW revs 1000 rpm higher than the MV or Aprilia, yet makes more torque as well as horsepower - an unusual combination.
|APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY||BMW S 1000 RR||DUCATI 1198S||KAWASAKI ZX-6R||MV AGUSTA F4|
|MSRP||$20,990||$13,800 ($15,730 as tested with DTC/Race ABS, GSA)||$21,795||$10,499||$18,500|
|ENGINE TYPE||Liquid-cooled, 65-deg. DOHC V-four||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline-four||Liquid-cooled, 90-degree, DOHC V-twin||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline-four||Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline-four|
|BORE X STROKE||78.0 x 52.3mm||80.0 x 49.7mm||106.0 x 67.9mm||67.0 x 42.5mm||76.0 x 55.0mm|
|INDUCTION||Magnetti Marelli EFI, single-valve 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cylinder||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.||Keihin EFI, 38mm dual-valve throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.||Mikuni single-valve 49mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||43mm Öhlins inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||46mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.9 in. travel||43mm inverted Öhlins cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||41mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||50mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Single Öhlins shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel||Single Öhlins shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 5.2 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 4.7 in. travel|
|FRONT TIRE||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-016F||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP|
|REAR TIRE||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||190/55ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-016R||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP|
|RAKE/TRAIL||24.5 deg./4.13 in. (105mm)||23.9 deg./3.8 in. (96mm)||24.5 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)||24.0 deg./4.0 in. (103mm)||23.5/24.5 deg. (adjustable)/3.9 in. (100mm)|
|WHEELBASE||55.9 in. (1420mm)||56.4 in. (1432mm)||56.3 in. (1430mm)||55.1 in. (1400mm)||56.3 in. (1430mm)|
|WEIGHT||462 lb. (210kg) wet; 435 lb. (197kg) dry (wet minus fuel)||461 lb. (209kg) wet; 433 lb. (196kg) dry (wet minus fuel)||433 lb. (196kg) wet; 408 lb. (185kg) dry (wet minus fuel)||421 lb. (191kg) wet; 394 lb. (179kg) dry (wet minus fuel)||468 lb. (212kg) wet; 441 lb. (200kg) dry (wet minus fuel)|
|Fuel consumption||29 to 33 mpg, 31 mpg avg.||36 to 42 mpg, 40 mpg avg.||29 to 37 mpg, 33 mpg avg.||37 to 42 mpg, 39 mpg avg.||29 to 34 mpg, 31 mpg avg.|
This year's BOTY class has been a complete eye-opener on how the other half (aka: the European brands) operates. I've been so used to the refinement of Japanese bikes and how they simply work and work well - Kawasaki's ZX-6R is a perfect example. While we're talking about the ZX-6R, it was obviously outclassed in this year's test, but by no means is it a bad motorcycle. The 600s we always include in BOTY make it to the dance because of their merits within the middleweight class and in that regard the Kawi is top notch. But back to the other half. I'll just say it now: the BMW S 1000 RR is not my favorite literbike this year. Yes it's fast, yes it comes loaded with electronics, and yes it's the bike to have if you're serious about shredding lap times. But it lacks one intangible thing: character. It's so refined that it feels, well, Japanese. I'm sure I'll catch a lot of flak for not jumping on the BMW bandwagon, but for me - someone who doesn't race full-time - there was a bike in this test that did have character and got my heart racing with its razor-like precision and raw attitude. For me it's the Aprilia RSV4 Factory.
Bike of the Year has become quite a Euro-fest this time. A lot of surprises with this bunch, the Aprilia RSV4 Factory being the biggest of them all; while it didn't get my vote for the street (just a bit tight ergo-wise) it wasn't far behind. But it ruled the track as far as I was concerned - well worth the extra $$ over the R model. My buddy Andrew T. once told me, "Ya know, it is possible to have too much of a good thing" - I figured he was just a crazy Canadian, but his words rang true with the BMW at Buttonwillow; it was too much of a handful to ride, more work than pleasure - but it was the most comfortable on the street. The Ducati 1198S is such a beautiful bike, yet I was surprised just how roomy the cockpit was for someone six foot tall. It's kind of like a frozen Snickers bar; it's a little stiff and hard to work in the slower turns, but once it thaws out a bit and you can open her up, she puts a smile on your face! The MV Agusta is another Italian beauty, but the footpegs didn't allow the bike a fair shot in this group - they wouldn't let me get comfortable enough to really push it. And last but not least, the little ZX-6R had some competition to keep up with; it surprisingly kept the big boys in sight, but definitely took a lot of work to be there.
Bike of the Year is always a blast and there's a lot of personality across the board this year. These machines are the class of the sportbike world, and this nearly all-Euro affair brings some close competition. Kawasaki's little 600 showed heart when battling against the bigger and substantially more expensive literbikes. The ZX6R is the second most streetable bike of the bunch and brings simple yet functional qualities to the table. Both the MV and Ducati are two peas in a pod in several categories with styling being the obvious standout quality and sharing the famous Italian flair in a balanced yet original approach. Those Italians sure know how to cook, though...the F4 roasts your backside, while the 1198S complements that with a good baking to the rider's frontal areas.
Though it was close among the big dogs there was definitely a clear cut winner and it was the Aprilia that deserves the title of Bike of the Year. The RSV Factory has the feel and precision of a 600 yet pulls like a pissed off pit bull involved in a tug-of-war. The V-4 dominates the sport category in impressive fashion.
Side note: if I was to choose an all-around bike with the street environment being a critical deciding factor, it would be the BMW. The Beemer's usable electronic functions, big block motor and brilliant ergos are second to none in this gang of five.
It's been a while since the European manufacturers have made an impact on Bike of the Year. When Ducati's iconic 916 took the BOTY crown back in '94, there wasn't much debate about its performance. But the Japanese have progressed by leaps and bounds since that time, and with many European brands hitting a financial rough patch during the early part of the second millennium, the advantage clearly was in the Japanese court for quite some time.
The pendulum has clearly swung the other way this year, much of it due to the economic crisis affecting the higher-volume Japanese corporations that had higher overhead costs to deal with. But I think a big part of the performance shift is the ability (and desire) of the smaller Euro brands to be a little more adventurous on the design front. Ducati ushered in the current electronic revolution with the 1098R's traction control system, BMW took it a step further with its Race ABS setup, and most of the other Euro brands are quickly following suit. The Japanese have been a bit more cautious about adopting this technology, for various reasons.
And while the Aprilia RSV4 Factory isn't exactly dripping with cutting-edge new technology, its superb performance is at the forefront of a major European renaissance. They're not just expensive styling exercises anymore.
|2010 APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY|
|–||A bit pricey|
|–||Plank for a seat|
|x||If it had a bit more power and traction control…|
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: **Spring preload - 8.5 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping - 10 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping - 12 clicks out from full stiff; ride height - 2 lines showing above top triple clamp
**Rear: Spring preload - 13mm thread showing on shock body; rebound damping - 11 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping - 14 clicks out from full stiff
|2010 BMW S 1000 RR|
|–||ABS holds it back on the track|
|–||Race/Slick mode throttle response very sensitive|
|x||Give it more midrange and agility and it'd be unbeatable|
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload - 5 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping - position 8 of 10; compression damping - position 7 of 10; ride height - 4 lines showing above top triple clamp
**Rear: **Spring preload - 9mm thread showing on shock body; rebound damping - position 8 of 10; high-speed compression damping - position 7 of 10; low-speed compression damping - position 7 of 10; ride height - lower position
|2010 DUCATI 1198S|
|+||Super midrange-strong engine|
|–||A little down on top-end|
|x||Give it a little more rpm capability and it'd be tough to beat|
Suggested Suspension Settings Front: Spring preload - 14 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping - 9 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping - 7 clicks out from full stiff; ride height - 2 lines showing above top triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload - 12mm thread showing on shock body; rebound damping - 14 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping - 12 clicks out from full stiff; ride height - 2mm thread showing on linkage rod
|2010 KAWASAKI ZX-6R|
|+||Best engine in the 600 class|
|–||A little overweight|
|–||Needs quicker handling|
|x||The advantages of a middleweight are getting smaller each year|
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload - 15 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping - 3.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping - 4.5 turns out from full stiff; ride height - 11mm from triple clamp to fork tube cap top
**Rear: **Spring preload - 15mm thread showing; rebound damping - 6 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping - 3.0 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping - 2.5 turns out from full stiff
||| |---|---| | **TEST NOTES| | 2010 MV AGUSTA F4| | +| No more abrupt throttle response| | +| Monster engine, excellent chassis| | –| Footpegs are too small and slippery| | –| Brakes lack feel at the limit| | x| A work of art that goes as good as it looks|
Suggested Suspension Settings
** **Front: Spring preload - 3 turns in from full soft; rebound damping - 10 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping - 10 clicks out from full stiff; ride height - 5 lines showing above lowest point on triple clamp
Rear: Spring preload - 23mm from top of spring to end of threads on shock body; rebound damping - 10 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping - 10 clicks out from full stiff; ride height - 4mm thread showing on linkage rod
|Fun to ride||9.5||9.25||9.0||8.0||8.5|
|Instruments & controls||9.0||9.5||8.5||9.0||8.75|
|Chassis & handling||10.0||9.0||9.0||8.5||8.5|
Michelin Power One DOT Race Tires
As per our usual testing regimen at the track, we outfitted all the contestants with the same sticky DOT tire to keep everyone on equal footing. In this case, that meant Michelin's superb Power One DOT race rubber (note that these are not the Power One "Road/Track" tires that look outwardly identical, but use entirely different construction and compounds). Utilizing the same 2CT multi-compound technology pioneered by the company's Pilot Power series, the Michelin Power One tire features the usual taller profile that not only offers easier directional changes, but also results in a 15 percent larger contact patch at various lean angles for improved cornering grip. In order to handle the increased power and speed of today's sportbikes, the Power One uses five plies in the front and four belts in the rear.
There are three different versions available (A, B, and C for varying weather/track conditions), with all using 100 percent synthetic compounds for quicker warmup and better wear characteristics. You can find the recommended version specific for your bike (although the list does need to be updated to 2010 models) by logging onto www.michelinpowerone.com, where the interactive site allows you to input the type of riding, weather, track type, and pavement condition to select the proper tire.
We used the "Version A" compound in the front and "Version B" compound in the rear, although the weather conditions became warmer than we'd planned, with ambient temps nearing 100 degrees F. Nonetheless, the Michelins performed amazingly well, warming up quickly and providing fantastic grip along with superb handling characteristics. Steering habits were very precise, and stability through Buttonwillow's fast, bumpy turns was exemplary. Even more impressive was the durability; despite being on the outer edge of temperature recommendations for the Version A and B compounds, the wear rates were barely moderate, and overall grip levels remained high for the majority of the day.