TEARING UP THE TRACK
Ducati 1098 86.3
Another result contrary to past Ducatis' performances, the 1098 received the lowest track mark and posted the slowest lap time, although even that was only a second off the fastest of the day. While the oversized engine is decidedly more steamy than the 999's, the twin is still down on ponies compared with the inline-fours. In addition, the widely spaced gearbox that paid dividends on the street became a detriment on the track, requiring more shifts per lap and leaving the 1098 between gears in many of Buttonwillow's turns. The Ducati's chassis is easily more nimble than the 999's, and feels short and stubby when compared with those of the four-cylinders--the 1098 is the lightest of this bunch and feels it. Despite that nimbleness, stability is excellent--giving the sensation that you could lean the bike over forever--and the chassis is further strengthened by easily the most powerful brakes.
Just as on the street ride, however, the bike's sensitive throttle response makes it difficult to utilize that chassis to its full effect, and the engine alternately dies and catches on closing throttle. As well, some riders noted the forward placement of the clip-ons affected handling and comfort. It's impossible to adjust their location, however, as there's already minimal clearance to the tank and fairing at full lock.
Yamaha YZF-R1 90.2
While the Yamaha came within a gnat's eyelash of posting the quickest lap time, it still fared poorly in the subjective ratings, with some contradictory reports from our testers. If you can keep the Yamaha spinning, it pays off with quick-revving, ultrastrong acceleration; become lazy, however, and the poochy midrange is difficult to deal with. Luckily, the R1's close-ratio gearbox fits almost perfectly with Buttonwillow's west loop, allowing Kento to get the most from the Yamaha's engine for that quick lap. El Jefe awarded the R1 high marks and wrote that it was "the surprise of the test. The engine revved quickly and was super-strong."
The R1's steering is among the lightest in this group, front-end feedback is excellent, and the suspension carded excellent scores, leading one rider to comment that the Yamaha feels almost as light and compact as the Ducati. So, fast lap time, great engine, great chassis...why the low ranking? If we look down the experience ladder a couple of rungs, it becomes clear that it takes quite a bit of skill to keep the R1's engine happy. The weak upper-midrange and notchy throttle response were still big problems on the track for some of our testers.
We'll point out here that in very skilled hands the Yamaha is fantastic on the track. And by skilled hands, we don't mean advanced track-day riders; we mean top expert-level club racers who can keep the R1's finicky mill on the boil at all times. Back down the commitment meter, even just a smidge, and it becomes exponentially more difficult to wrangle performance from the Yamaha.
HONDA CBR1000RR 90.9
If road tests were government surveys, the CBR would rate "satisfactory." All our testers noted that the Honda was the easiest to ride quickly, with crisp brakes, light steering, good stability and a peppy motor all adding to its user-friendliness. Holst wrote that the CBR felt "immediately familiar and intuitive. It might not have the most speed, but it's easy to access everything it does have, and it's got more than most can use."
Push things beyond "riding quickly," however, and the Honda becomes a lot of work. Stable, neutral handling turns into more effort at higher speeds, and the midrange steam doesn't transition into a potent top-end capable of challenging the Kawasaki or Suzuki. More than one of our testers commented that engine braking was excessive compared with that of the other bikes, and the throttle required a careful touch to be smooth. The Honda is the only four-cylinder in this group without a slipper clutch, and while none of our riders noted it as a problem, that may have hurt its performance on turn entries.