Steve "Hollywood" Mikolas
A changing of the guard has turned the literbike class upside down in 2008, and here begins a new era in the world of inline big-bore technology. The reign of mighty Suzuki has finally been toppled! After the first day of testing we were all wondering where the ever-dominant GSX-R was. We knew how good the Gixxer was, but the bike that has killed the competition for the last three years was MIA.
Honda puts a shot across the bow with its current-generation flagship. The major issue here is that the CBR feels like it was rushed into battle lacking the proper weaponry. The monstrous torque of the ultralight CBR puts a stamp on liter-class midrange, but the fact is the Honda was weighed down by its obvious flaws. A bike that smokes on downshifts is not a good thing, and suspension that isn't compliant over the harsher challenges is a real deal-breaker. Kawasaki has done its homework and brings the best overall package to a heated conflict. The usually strong motor is still there, and a surprisingly good suspension sets the green bike apart. The all-new ZX-10R does everything well and leaves the rest in its wake.
Troy "Boy Toy" Siahaan
To me this test really came down to the Honda and Kawasaki. Don't get me wrong, the Yamaha is a very good motorcycle, but if this same bike couldn't take top honors in the past, how would this year be any different? As for the mighty Suzuki, it surprised me. It was destined not to win this year, but it refused to go down without a fight, especially at the track. But for the street portion of our test I found myself gravitating toward the Honda. On the street where midrange is king, the new CBR1000RR clearly takes the cake. The bike is so incredibly light and agile it's easy to mistake it for a 600-until you twist the throttle. On the downside, the suspension damping is a little rough for my taste, and the IICS isn't as seamless as Honda would like to think. Still, it would be my choice on the street because I love the engine, it handles well enough and my back aches the least after a long ride. If only we could do something about that ugly front end
The track is a different story. Some of Buttonwillow's faster turns have bumps that exacerbated the Honda's unsorted suspension and jolted me out of the saddle. That, and the engine would run out of steam where the others seemed to be just coming alive. It was here that the ZX-10 stood out. The engine is an absolute beast, the suspension damping is spot on, the brakes are awesome and the ergos are perfect for the track. Now I have no idea what lap times I was running, but I felt the fastest on the ZX-10. And as this test has shown, winning is about more than just objective scores like lap times-the bike needs to win over our subjective ratings as well. Team Green has done just that.
Andrew "The Geek" Trevitt
We can record as much data as we want and tally as many subjective opinions as we can, but nothing can explain-or put a number on-the feeling you get when you ride down your favorite twisty road and realize the bike you're on is something special. I had that feeling when I was on the Kawasaki, and it's a step above the others here for canyon riding. At the track, though, the Honda is my pick. I didn't have as much trouble with the throttle response as my cohorts, and just as on the street the midrange power and tiny chassis were clear advantages to the point that I didn't need a stopwatch to tell me I was going faster on it.
That leaves me in a bit of a quandary for an overall choice. The R1, unfortunately, is the odd bike out here and the only one that left me a bit disappointed after the test. The Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki all have a lot to offer: The CBR's amazing midrange and light weight are easily noticeable anywhere. The ZX-10R does everything well and fills me with confidence whenever I ride it. And the GSX-R still has the best overall powerband and response of them all. Each of the three bikes has minor faults and annoyances, but I'd be perfectly happy with any of them in my imaginary garage. Well, maybe just a little bit happier on the Kawasaki.
Kent "El Jefe" Kunitsugu
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I still find it hard to believe that just two years ago we were amazed at the Suzuki's sporting prowess and how it was able to withstand a withering assault from several newer machines despite not having any updates for a year. And now it not only gets forced off the top, it literally gets shoved aside by both the Kawasaki and Honda. The pace of development is now so fast that there is absolutely no room for slacking-not even for a year, it seems.
The Honda had the potential to come out on top, but its charge to the front was blunted by too many rough edges. Sure, it turned the quickest lap time, but that time was hard work with the suspension not really soaking up the big bumps very well, overly sensitive response at very small throttle settings causing some unintended movement in the corners, and the engine's very thrashy feel in the higher rpm. And I can see why the ignition interrupt system was necessary; for a modern bike the CBR has a lot of driveline lash that really makes it feel unfinished in my opinion.
Kudos to Kawasaki for constructing a really complete package that feels supremely composed and polished (in addition to the monster motor) no matter what speed you're traveling at.