STREET SHENANIGANS YAMAHA YZF-R1 87.7
In keeping with the trend of making its R-series bikes more track-oriented, Yamaha has compromised the R1's roadgoing capabilities to the point that it carded the lowest scores in this group for the street portion of the test. While the bike drew favorable comments for its light steering, nimble handling and good top-end power, its flaccid low-end steam and poor throttle response makes city and canyon riding very frustrating. The new four-valve mill has the most oversquare cylinders of the fours, and power is accordingly crammed into the upper reaches of the range. Below 6000 rpm, the R1 feels even weaker than some middleweights, and inconsistent throttle response makes it difficult to ride. The ride-by-wire throttle exhibits some perplexing characteristics, including a several-second lag in power if you roll on the throttle at 5500 rpm in second gear. In any other gear, or at any other rpm, midrange response is much crisper, and power is smooth through that range, leaving us mystified as to the cause.In other respects, the new R1 is quite capable and a definite improvement over the old model. Steering is perhaps the lightest in this group, and the standard Pirelli Diablo Corsas provide ample grip and feedback. The six-pot calipers offer good initial braking bite as well as excellent outright stopping power, and the well-sorted suspension rounds out what is a very good handling package. If it weren't for the EFI glitches, the R1 would have easily been higher up the order.
DUCATI 1098 87.9
It takes but a short ride to realize that the 1098 is an apple to the 999's orange--two bikes could not be more different. Where the 99x series of Ducati Superbikes were stable, a bit slow steering and had stretched-out riding positions, the 1098 has a quick-steering, lively and almost Japanese-like character when flogged down a twisty canyon. And as Kunitsugu commented: "Pope Benedict XVI probably declared the 999's exhaust note a cardinal sin. Thankfully, the 1098's exhaust sounds much better."The thrust chart shows the Ducati to have the most oomph in first gear, due to yet another change from past models: The 1098's gearing is far shorter than the 999's as well as the other bikes' in the test, and combined with the solid torque curve, it lunges aggressively off slower turns. The Ducati also received high marks for its front-end feel, outrageously powerful brakes and the sticky Pirelli Supercorsa Pro DOT race tires fitted as standard.
Unfortunately, all those pluses couldn't keep the 1098 from near the bottom on the tally sheets. While our testers praised the bike's handling and power, an abrupt off/on throttle transition makes it difficult to tame both those traits, and the Ducati takes a lot of mental effort to ride quickly. While the riding position itself is fairly comfortable, the 1098's clip-ons are angled far forward, making it awkward for some riders to steer. That, combined with the narrow seat/tank junction and steeply sloped seat that forces you into the tank with every move, resulted in the 1098 posting the lowest ergo scores. Curiously, when you approach a turn on the 1098 and roll off the throttle, the engine will sometimes catch and give a sudden surge of power, making turn entries a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. Compounding the problem, the tranny on our test unit seemed to sprout several neutrals on downshits. Finally, aggressive riding drains the 4.1-gallon tank quickly enough that the low-fuel light comes on at just 80 miles.
KAWASAKI ZX-10R 88.6
As the big Kawasaki is one of the two returning models in the test, we're well familiar with its strengths and weaknesses. The monster motor scored the highest marks for engine power and power delivery, and offers the least vibration, nicest slipper clutch, smoothest torque curve and the most user-friendly throttle response of this bunch. Where the Yamaha forces you to use a lower gear and higher rpm in a given corner and the Ducati requires a taller gear to minimize the throttle abruptness, the ZX-10R simply doesn't care much what gear you're in; twist the throttle, it goes.
It's the chassis that keeps the Kawi from topping the chart in this crowd. While the 10R flicks side-to-side quickly, the steering is very awkward and requires you to keep constant force on the clip-ons to keep a given lean angle. We were able to minimize the input necessary by adjusting chassis geometry, and while the bike gets down a twisty road just as quickly as the others, it's more work than t needs to be. We eventually traced the habit to the front OEM-spec Dunlop Qualifier specific to the 10R. After our track outing, we slipped a standard Qualifer front on, and steering was hugely improved.
Along with the lowest scores for chassis and handling, the Kawasaki also carded low marks for its suspension and brakes. The tall chassis and what feels like a too-linear rear link cause the bike to pitch under acceleration, and big power gets the front end very light on turn exits. We're also somewhat puzzled by the 10R's brakes: Our test bike's stoppers were quite numb at the beginning of the test--and not nearly as powerful as our '06 unit's--but gradually improved over the course of the street ride, leading us to believe it may have been a problem specific to our bike.