Literbike Comparison Test - Europe Invades
Aprilia The RSV4 R dash is identical to the Factory model we tested in the October '09 issue, with the analog tachometer near center above the LCD panel, which has an easily read layout. The R model lacks the adjustable steering head angle of the Factory, as well as its Öhlins suspension, a definite factor in performance.
We were definitely missing the Öhlins fork from the Factory version of the RSV4, as the Showa unit just wasn't up to snuff.
Yamaha Basically the same as last year, the R1's dashboard is one of the best designs, with a shift light positioned above the tachometer and an easy-to-read LCD panel (although again, the YCC-T progressive graph is hokey; that space could be better used). Mirrors are probably the best of the bunch.
Interestingly, reviews were mixed on the R1's six-piston caliper setup, with some feeling they worked well, and others still hating the brake pad compound (yeah, that's you, Olsen...).
Kawasaki The ZX-10R instrument panel is another basically status quo design from last year, sporting a tachometer-integrated LCD panel that is easily read with good contrast. The Öhlins steering damper has much stiffer valving, a much needed improvement over last year. Front fairing has been subtly reworked.
As in previous comparisons, the Kawasaki brakes drew rave reviews with the highest ratings on everyone's sheets for power, feel, and progressiveness.
Honda Basically unchanged since the big CBR's '08 inception, we still feel that the Honda's LCD panel displays too much information in too small of a space, making it confusing to discern at a glance. Mirrors work surprisingly well. Plastic fuel tank cover means a tank bag will require straps.
The CBR's brakes were a definite improvement over last year, with much better feel at the lever.
BMW The S 1000 RR's dash is well designed, with easily read white-face tachometer and twin LCD panels. All functions can be switched via the mode buttons on the handlebar controls without having to take your hands off the grips. Sachs fork has clearly defined, simple adjustment gradations, easing suspension changes.
We preferred the BMW's brakes when the Race ABS/DTC was set in the Race or Slick mode, otherwise the ABS was a little too intrusive.
The BMW basically kills the others in the 60-80 mph top gear roll-on, but interestingly the Honda manages to repay the favor once both bikes approach 90 mph. The CBR's top-end acceleration was stunning, particularly in light of the fact that our '10 model was actually down on peak horsepower to the '09 model. Hmm...
The Honda, Kawasaki, and even the Yamaha open up a slight gap on the BMW on the launch at the dragstrip (due to the S 1000 RR's comparative lack of midrange torque), but once everyone approaches the back half of the quarter-mile, it's good night Irene. Of note, however, is the Honda's improvement over last year.
With the world economy in a tailspin, much of the motorcycle industry is still in bunker mode. The previous heady days of ramped-up development cycles resulting in new models every two years in the sportbike market will now probably be a fond memory, as manufacturers have taken on defensive positions to ride out the financial storm and stay intact when it clears. This is especially true for the Japanese Big Four factories, who have been hit hard by the declining sales resulting from the economic downturn. Most of their sportbikes have remained mostly status quo for '10, and Suzuki has gone as far as deciding not to import any '10 streetbike models into the U.S.
European manufacturers, however, don't seem to be in much of a retrenchment. In fact, they've introduced many all-new models, and seem to have timed their new offensive perfectly. BMW's new S 1000 RR has taken the world by storm as the company's first real all-out literbike, with Aprilia not far behind with its superb RSV4 models. A clash with the established Japanese powers was inevitable.
So we gathered three of the latest Japanese literbike tackle-Honda's CBR1000RR, Kawasaki's ZX-10R, and Yamaha's YZF-R1-to face off with the BMW and the standard R version of Aprilia's RSV4 over nearly two days of circulating Northern California's fabulous 2.52-mile, 12-turn Infineon Raceway and several days of canyon carving and urban commuting in Southern California (we decided to exclude the Suzuki GSX-R1000 because of no existing '10 model, and the Factory version of the Aprilia because of its special homologation status and pricing). It was a grueling yet worthy and satisfying test with some surprising results.
Street Aprilia 83 pts.
Hmm. We were obviously enamored with the RSV4 Factory in our April issue test. So when we took delivery of the less expensive R version ($15,999 versus the Factory's MSRP of $20,999), we weren't expecting much of a performance deficit, if any. After all, the only differences between the two are the R version's Showa fork and Sachs shock in place of the Factory edition's Öhlins componentry, the Factory's lighter forged aluminum wheels, and its variable length intake system.
And for the most part, the R edition delivers on matching the Factory's superb performance. The Aprilia feels so light on its feet that it even puts the previous class gazelle, the Honda CBR1000RR, down a notch. The RSV4 R has the same small, compact feel as the Factory, making the rider feel as if he can effortlessly put it anywhere in a corner. And most of that same midrange lunge accompanied by a screaming 152.3-horsepower top-end (even higher than the Factory we tested) means the RSV4 is not lacking in the engine department.
Or is it? Nearly all of our testers surprisingly complained that the Aprilia seemed to drive off the corners well, but then acceleration felt like it petered out on top. A look at the dyno chart shows why; unlike the Factory's fairly smooth dyno graph, the R model's is racked with numerous dips and flat-spots, including one right at 10,000 rpm that blunts acceleration until it recovers at 11,000 rpm for only a short time before running out of steam 1500 rpm later (it seems the Factory's variable length intake system is crucial to its performance). The R model's downgraded suspension also drew some complaints, with harsher and less compliant action (coupled with the absolute plank of a saddle) leading many testers to feel beat down after a spirited ride on a rough canyon road.
Make no mistake, the RSV4 R is a very capable sportbike. It just wasn't as enjoyable overall as the others in this group on the street.
|APRILIA RSV4 R|
|+||Incredibly agile chassis|
|-||Top end flat-spot, coarse suspension|
|x||A definite letdown from the Factory model|
**Suggested Suspension Settings **
|FRONT||Spring preload—5 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping—1.75 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—0.75 turns out from full stiff|
|**REAR **||Spring preload—7mm thread showing; rebound damping—12 clicks from full stiff; compression damping—1 turn out from full stiff; ride height—6 threads showing on adjuster|
Street Yamaha :: 85 Pts. There's no doubt that the Yamaha R1 is the trickest of the Japanese literbikes. With its now-signature exhaust note and superb throttle/rear tire connection, the R1 has changed the original perception of what an inline four-cylinder is capable of (it surely didn't hurt that Ben Spies laid waste to the World Superbike field on one-in his rookie year no less-and that the same type of crankshaft is in the YZR-M1 MotoGP bike that Rossi and Co. ride). Despite being the heaviest of the group at a somewhat portly 477 pounds with a full tank, the R1 carries that weight well, with precise steering from the OEM-spec Dunlop D210 Sportmax rubber. The crossplane-crank engine is crisp and responsive at partial throttle in "standard" mode ("A" mode is too aggressive for street use, requiring extreme care when getting on the throttle), and the suspension damping rates seem a bit relaxed this year, with less of the harsh ride that we experienced with the '09 model.
What hasn't changed, unfortunately, is that the two issues plaguing the R1-excessive weight and lack of top-end power-are glaring disadvantages in this league. "While I can listen to that exhaust note all day, it's time for Yamaha to put the power behind the bark," remarked John Olsen about the R1's lack of outright steam. Complicating matters on the street are an extremely tall first gear that makes the Yamaha a chore to hustle through tight canyons, and when you're navigating switchbacks at speed where you must flick the bike from one side to the other, the R1's excessive weight shows in the high effort required compared to the other bikes. Some testers were still complaining about numb feel with the Yamaha's brake pads, and when the pace was really ramped up, the D210 Sportmax tires' limitations came to the fore. Conversely, when the pace slackened, the heat from the underseat exhaust roasting your thighs did not.
||| |---|---| | Yamaha YZF-R1| | TEST NOTES| | +| Awesome throttle/rear tire connection| | +| Excellent brakes, good suspension| | -| Heaviest of the group| | -| Least powerful of the group| | x| The minuses are big minuses, especially in this group| Suggested Suspension Settings
|FRONT||Spring preload—2 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping—10 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—15 clicks out from full stiff|
|REAR||Spring preload—5 turns out from full stiff (hydraulic adjuster); rebound damping—20 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—3 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping— 3 turns out from full stiff|
Street Honda :: 88.9 Pts.
The only real mechanical change to the '10 model CBR1000RR is that crankshaft inertia was increased by about seven percent in order to smooth out throttle response, and while that may seem like an inconsequential modification, the results were dramatic on both street and track. In short, the smoothed-out powerband not only retains the Honda's strong midrange punch, but complements it with a stronger top-end charge that the CBR seemed to be missing last year (even though peak horsepower was down from last year). All the rest of the Honda's superlatives return unchanged; lithe, agile handling, superbly damped/sprung suspension, precise steering, crisp and strong brakes-there's a lot to like, and not very much to hate. Ergos were considered one of the top two in the group, and two out of the five testers picked it as their favorite street bike overall of the bunch.
So why did it get upstaged on the street ratings by the Kawasaki (albeit by a hair) and the BMW? One is that the CBR still had some niggling gripes: while the brakes' power and response were excellent, the feel through the lever was still a little soft to some, and a couple of testers were still wishing for a bit more top-end acceleration despite the '10 model's improvement. But it's not so much that the Honda had any negatives; it's more that the ZX-10R and S 1000 RR's positives were just that much greater. For instance, the Kawasaki's Bridgestone BT-016 and the BMW's Metzeler Racetec K3 rubber were superior in grip and overall handling to the Honda's older-generation Bridgestone BT-015 tires. And while the CBR's top-end acceleration is better, 148.7 horsepower just doesn't have the pull of the ZX-10R's 157.9 horsepower or the BMW's incredible 177 horsepower when the throttles get pinned.
||| |---|---| | Honda CBR1000RR| | TEST NOTES| | +| Midrange now supplemented by top-end| | +| Still the lightest literbike| | -| Down a bit on peak power| | -| Brakes a bit soft| | x| Upholding the Japanese honor well| Suggested Suspension Settings
|FRONT||Spring preload—3 turns in from full soft; rebound damping—1.25 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—1.75 turns out from full stiff|
|REAR||Spring preload—Position 7 of 10 (10 is full stiff); rebound damping—0.75 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—1.0 turn out from full stiff|
Street Kawasaki :: 89 Pts.
Once again the ZX-10R ekes out a slim margin over the CBR on the street ratings sheets in a near repeat of last year's tally. The Honda's improved top-end performance tended to take a little shine off the Kawasaki's armor this year, and many remarked that they just weren't as satisfied with the ZX-10R as they were previously. Nonetheless, its attributes were enough to keep it well in the hunt.
While the Honda is more agile than the Kawasaki, the latter's planted and more confidence-inspiring feel when cranked over on rough pavement can't be ignored. The ZX-10R is still the smoothest of the inline fours, and its throttle response off idle also remains the class benchmark-which allows you to make use of its hard-charging upper midrange and top-end power to good effect. Bleeding off the speed generated by that engine is ably handled by the best brakes in the class (on everyone's ratings sheets, no less); the Kawasaki's radial-mount four-piston Tokicos simply had the best combination of power, feel, initial response, and progressivity of what is an obviously high-end group of brake systems.
As we noted in last year's test, the ZX-10R's suspension strikes a very good compromise between street compliance and sporting firmness. And the aforementioned superior performance of its OEM-fitment Bridgestone BT-016 rubber adds significantly to both the handling and ride aspects.
On the downside, the Kawasaki still could stand to lose a little heft, with a fully fueled weight that spots the Honda 20 pounds-not something to be ignored when trying to hustle down a tight canyon road. This is especially noticeable when flicking the Kawasaki from one side to the other; a good amount of muscle is required to accomplish this, much more so than the others. The ergos are also some of the raciest of the bunch, which puts more strain on your wrists and back.
||| |---|---| | KAWASAKI ZX-10R| | TEST NOTES| | +| Most powerful of the Japanese literbikes| | +| Superb brakes, confidence-inspiring chassis| | -| Could lose some pounds| | -| Least flickable of group| | +| Tons of potential, needs refinement| Suggested Suspension Settings
|FRONT||Spring preload—4 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping—8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—10 clicks out from full stiff|
|REAR||Spring preload—25mm thread showing on shock; rebound damping—1.75 turns out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—2.75 turns out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping—2.5 turns out from full stiff|
Street BMW :: 92 Pts
The S 1000 RR took the top spot on nearly everyone's ratings sheets, and definitely was the clear winner when it came to subjective comments. The majority of our testers couldn't think of any real gripes they had with the BMW, and the ones that were listed were admittedly inconsequential nitpicks. And the bike's big features (traction control, ABS, quick-shifter, etc.) that you'd think would greatly influence their comments were not as much of a factor in each of the ratings sheets as you'd think; it was just the S 1000 RR's overall competence on the street that was its main strong point.
The BMW's engine is a joy to use on the street, with plenty of midrange torque despite the dominance of its high-rpm power. Letting the revs drop to 6000 rpm isn't a death knell to acceleration; the engine's quick-revving character swiftly pulls from those depths with unbridled haste, and once it hits 9000 rpm, you'd best know where you're going. Although not as agile as the Aprilia or as easy to flick as the Honda, the BMW is close enough to be right behind either with little effort. Suspension action combined both excellent chassis/wheel control at speed with good compliance and decent front-end feedback, and overall grip and handling from the OEM-fitment Metzeler Racetec K3 tires was superb. Braking performance was likewise very good, with little intervention from the ABS as long as you were in the higher settings (Race or Slick); feel and feedback before the onset of ABS was surprisingly good.
Even everyday street aspects were nailed by the BMW. Ergos were ranked at or near the top by all testers, and everyone liked the control and instrumentation layout. The S 1000 RR even has the fairly accurate fuel reserve mileage countdown (showing approximately how many miles you have left), a nice touch.
||| |---|---| | BMW S 1000 RR| | TEST NOTES| | +| Most powerful literbike ever| | +| Excellent chassis, suspension| | -| DTC needs a little more adaptability| | -| Could lose a little weight| | x| In the right hands, a new standard| Suggested Suspension Settings
|FRONT||Spring preload-5 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping-position 8 of 10; compression damping-position 7 of 10|
|REAR||Spring preload-9mm of thread showing; rebound damping-position 8 of 10; high-speed compression damping-position 7 of 10; low-speed compression damping-position 7 of 10|
Track Aprilia :: 84 pts.
To say that we were surprised at the RSV4 R's showing at a circuit like Infineon is an understatement. The undulating, twisty layout should play right into the hands of an agile, small, and relatively powerful bike like the Aprilia, but some factors ended up throwing a wrench in the works. Make no mistake, the RSV4 R has most of the ingredients to make a superb track tool-it's just that those elements didn't quite coalesce as hoped.
The same 250-like size and agility displayed on the street was even more of an advantage in some areas of the track-take a look at the apex speeds for the Turn 6 downhill Carousel turn for proof. The RSV4 R feels so small and compact that some of the turns seem larger than before, as if you had more room to play with; and the chassis's razor-sharp steering seemingly allows you to put the Aprilia anywhere you want with little effort. The V-4 engine's strong midrange permits you to carry tremendous corner speed, and even set in the more aggressive Track mode, the smooth off-idle throttle response means you can get on the throttle early to generate good exit speed. The Brembo brakes are plenty strong with decent feel, and the Aprilia's slipper clutch eases corner entry significantly.
Unfortunately, the same inconsistent powerband that we noticed on the street was even more of a hindrance on a track like Infineon. The RSV4 R would positively leap off the corners, only to have its acceleration taper off early as it hit the aforementioned flat spot at 10,000 rpm, and waiting for the engine to get over that dip cost time and speed; a look at the GPS track speed graph shows the Aprilia to have the lowest mph at the end of many straights. Also holding the RSV4 R back was the suspension's rather coarse action that made for a sketchy ride in all but the smoothest sections of the track, as well as its excessive heft-at 473 pounds fully fueled, the Aprilia is only outweighed by the four-pound-heavier Yamaha.
Track Yamaha :: 92.5 Pts.
Our past track experience with the R1 showed us that there's plenty of potential there for a bike that can shake up convention on inline-fours, but two key issues conspire to blunt that promise: the Yamaha's excessive heft (spotting the Honda CBR more than 35 pounds!) and its lack of top-end power. And while those two issues become an annoyance on the street, they are positively frustrating on the track.
On the sections that don't emphasize outright horsepower, the R1 can more than hold its own. In any partial-throttle acceleration situations through slow-to-medium speed corners, the Yamaha's midrange throttle response and superb throttle-to-rear-tire connection excels at allowing the rider to feed in just the right amount of power and gain the best drive possible. "This is one area where the Yamaha shines," said "Trizzle" Siahaan. "Its crossplane crankshaft delivers power in such a predictable manner, making it really easy to ride." Suspension rates seemed well suited for the track, with the separate-damping Soqi fork (one leg controls compression damping and the other rebound damping) and rear shock offering good wheel and chassis control.
Unfortunately, as speeds rose, so did the Yamaha's disadvantages. "Even on a track with short straights like Infineon," wrote Olsen in his notes, "the Yamaha clearly runs out of steam." Add the double-whammy of a 477-pound wet weight, and you have a bike that starts to become hard work to hustle around a roller-coaster of a track like Infineon. The R1's ultra-tall first gear would usually be an advantage at a racetrack, but not this time; it was too tall for Infineon's slower hairpins, killing the drive out, and we also ran into an issue with missed downshifts into first gear until the cause (proper linkage arm angle on the shift shaft after moving the footpeg brackets to their higher position) was discovered late in the test. Interestingly, Olsen still hated the front brake pads, while the others had no complaints.
Track Kawasaki :: 90.1 Pts.
In a reversal from the previous literbike comparison test, the ZX-10R was just edged out by the Honda. The same addicting upper-midrange and top-end rush earned the Kawasaki high marks in the engine department, and one of its changes for '10 (a revised shifter mechanism) was noticed by many testers; "It was already my favorite transmission," said Triz, while El Jefe concurred, "Never really thought I'd notice it, but this gearbox is like buttah compared to the others." The Kawasaki's slipper clutch also earned plaudits.
Infineon's numerous chicanes and turn combinations that force the rider to quickly lift the bike from full lean on one side to the other brought out the ZX-10R's biggest handling deficiency: its high effort required to accomplish such transitions. The Kawasaki was easily the toughest to work with in this regard, which is a shame because of all the other areas where the bike's chassis excels. The revalved (read: much stiffer) Öhlins steering damper definitely helped keep things calm up front over Infineon's numerous full-throttle hill crests, and the bike's planted feel when railing past the corner apexes encouraged higher entry speeds. Slowing the serious velocity generated by the ZX-10R's beefy engine was ably handled by the stellar performance of its radial-mount/four-piston Tokico calipers and 310mm discs; all riders unanimously labeled them as the best of the group on the track, with excellent power, feel, and progressiveness.
The abundant elevation changes at Infineon also revealed the Kawasaki's other Achilles' Heel: its weight. While not quite on level with the Aprilia's or Yamaha's porkiness, the ZX-10R nonetheless still outweighs the Honda by some 20 pounds, and that heft can be felt as you work at flinging the bike around Infineon's challenging layout.
Track Honda :: 91 Pts.
With the quickest lap time at Infineon, the CBR1000RR once again demonstrated its sporting prowess at the upper limits of riding. It's hard to argue with a package like the Honda, combining light weight with sure-footed agility and a responsive, midrange-strong engine that now has been complemented with an improved top-end charge. It was very close between the Honda and BMW on several tester's evaluation sheets at the track, with two picking the CBR even though one's numerical ratings ended up favoring the S 1000 RR.
The basic architecture of the CBR1000RR hasn't changed much since its '08 introduction, mostly because it didn't have to; with the most flickable chassis accompanied by razor-sharp steering rivaled only by the Aprilia, the Honda allows you to carry a ton of entrance and midcorner speed that would require much more concentration on most of the other bikes. With its newfound top-end rush, the CBR becomes even more fun to ride. "What's not to love?" remarked Siahaan. "It was easily the bike I had the most fun on." Olsen reinforced that judgment, writing, "it's no joke-this bike really gives the rider the feedback to hustle in every phase of the corner," with a clarifying addendum, "Did I mention fun?" The CBR's brakes had been criticized in the past by some of our testers for sponginess and fade, but that appears to have been dealt with for '10, with Siahaan declaring that, "finally, the Honda's binders performed as well as the rest of the bike."
It wasn't completely all wine and roses with the CBR, though. One issue that reared its head at Infineon was the slipper clutch that wasn't able to prevent the rear end from stepping out on the entrance to several turns. "The sideways entries to turns 7 and 9a were surely spectacular," wrote Olsen, " but I know they cost time in the corners."
For the '10 model CBR1000RR, Honda increased the diameter of the crankshaft end and flywheel, increasing overall crankshaft inertia by seven percent. This helps smooth out the throttle response, but interestingly, everyone noted that our '10 model also had increased top-end acceleration (a definite issue with the previous CBR models), an observation that was proven in our acceleration tests (compare the roll-on numbers to last year), even though its peak horsepower levels were lower than last year.
Track BMW :: 92 Pts.
You're surely wondering how a bike that only turned the fourth-quickest lap time (albeit by a fraction of a second) could be ranked above the bike that did turn the quickest lap. As we've stated many times before, our final rankings are determined not by lap times, but in conjunction with the accumulated data from all our testers' evaluation sheets. It's a motorcycle's collective score in all categories that makes the difference, and the BMW simply headed almost all of them.
Like the Honda's light and quick attributes, it's simply impossible to ignore an engine that cranks out 177 horsepower in stock trim. Granted, it could be discounted if the powerband was like a lightswitch, making the bike intimidating to ride-but the S 1000 RR's power curve is the complete opposite. There are no dips or flatspots in the BMW's delivery, just a rapidly building crescendo of acceleration that flattens your eyeballs like no sportbike in history. For the average rider, the DTC/ABS set in Sport or even Race mode is fine, but the expert rider will want Slick mode, mostly because the lower modes' wheelie limiter can be very annoying at times. Thankfully, the S 1000 RR's chassis is well-equipped to handle that power, with rock-solid stability and handling that-while not as agile as the Aprilia or Honda-is more than adequate to keep pace with the class gazelles. Suspension worked very well at both ends, and braking power and feel was superb up to the point of ABS intervention.
In fact, the ABS intervention was partly responsible for the disparity in lap times. Several of Infineon's straights have pavement irregularities in the braking areas, and because the BMW picks up a serious head of steam, even in Slick mode the ABS would activate as the front tire broke traction over bumps, resulting in a disconcerting momentary decrease in braking power on the entrance to the turn. We would've preferred to try shutting off the ABS, but ran out of time and tire life.
|SR RATINGS||APRILIA RSV4 R||BMW S 1000 RR||HONDA CBR1000RR||KAWASAKI ZX-10R||YAMAHA YZF-R1|
|Fun to ride||8.0||9.5||9.0||9.0||8.5|
|Instruments and controls||8.5||9.0||9.0||9.0||9.0|
|Chassis and handling||9.0||9.0||9.0||8.5||8.5|
_**It's pretty obvious which bike is packing the most punch overall, with the BMW's graph literally towering over the others. Note also how smooth the gears' thrust lines are compared to the others. For example, while the Aprilia actually exceeds the S 1000 RR's thrust for a moment in the middle portion of the first three gears, the dips in its lumpy powerband quickly kills off any momentum built up. The Kawasaki's lack of lower midrange compared to the others shows in its gear graph lines that don't exceed the others (except the BMW) until well into the top-end.
The BMW's absolutely stunning top-end power advantage is graphically displayed on both the horsepower and torque charts. To put the S 1000 RR's dyno chart in perspective, it would take some major modifications to the others' engines in order to match the BMW's top-end power output. The Honda's increased flywheel effect can be seen in how smooth the top portion of its powerband is; what we're having a hard time figuring out is how the top-end acceleration improved so dramatically yet peak power is down from last year.
Racepak G2X Data Analysis
We were given the unique opportunity to test at Northern California's Infineon Raceway, a 2.52-mile, 12-turn, rollercoaster of a racetrack that has more than 160 feet of elevation change from its highest to lowest points on the course. Because of its normally high cost for track rental, we haven't tested there before, and it had been quite a while since we last rode on the circuit. Nonetheless, it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. For the first of our two days at Infineon Raceway, we strapped our GPS-based data acquisition system on each bike for Kento's timed laps. The graph shows GPS speed for each bike over the course of a lap. The segments labeled across the top match the track's corners as shown on the accompanying track map, and our data system is capable of generating time, minimum speed, maximum speed and entry and exit speed for each segment.
Among the Japanese literbikes, there is not too much surprise in the lap times; the order of the three bikes is the same as we've seen before, with the Honda edging out the Kawasaki for top honors. The BMW trails just a tick behind, its massive power advantage mostly negated by Infineon's twisty layout that doesn't have too many long straights where it could stretch its legs; a couple of braking zones had bumps that would cause the ABS to intervene, and we would've liked to have shut off the ABS to see how it would work, but ran out of time. The Aprilia brought up the rear, almost two seconds slower than the CBR, with its agile chassis countered by somewhat coarse suspension action and an engine that exhibited a flat-spot up top that killed off many corner exits and straight speeds.
Maximum speed back straight
Aprilia: 123.4 mph
BMW: 131.7 mph
Honda: 130.3 mph
Kawasaki: 127.6 mph
Yamaha: 125.8 mph
Each bike reaches maximum speed on the straight between turns 6 and 7. Here, the powerful BMW leads the way over the Honda. Note on the graph that the Honda has the highest speed on most of the track's other straights, as the BMW doesn't have enough of a chance to stretch its legs. In some cases the CBR carries more corner speed leading onto those straights, in others the Honda just plain accelerates harder. Note the sharp peaks of the trace where the Honda reaches maximum speed; this indicates the rider is confident of the throttle-to-brake transition and quickly moves from full acceleration to full braking. The underpowered (relatively) Aprilia posts the slowest maximum speed, more than 8 mph slower than the BMW.
Turn 6 Carousel apex speed
Aprilia: 66.7 mph
BMW: 63.2 mph
Honda: 62.1 mph
Kawasaki: 60.4 mph
Yamaha: 60.1 mph
Turn 6 is a steeply downhill, 180-degree corner that places a premium on front-end feel and feedback from both the front end and the rear tire. The entrance to the corner is over the crest of a steep hill, so confidence in the front end is paramount. It's here that the Aprilia's compact and agile chassis shows its merit, with the fastest minimum speed in the group and more than 3 mph faster than the second-quickest BMW. The Japanese literbikes trail the Euro models here, with the Kawasaki and Yamaha 3 mph slower than the Aprilia. Note though that once the bikes exit the Carousel, the Aprilia quickly loses ground after the initial jump off the corner.
**Esses segment time and exit speed **
Aprilia: 11.84 sec., 95.7 mph
BMW: 11.60 sec., 98.8 mph
Honda: 11.78 sec., 98.8 mph
Kawasaki: 11.62 sec., 95.7 mph
Yamaha: 11.70 sec., 95.9 mph
Leaving turn 7 and the back section of the track, the bikes face a series of increasingly quicker switchbacks. A good combination of acceleration and light steering under power pays dividends here, and that plays to the BMW's strengths as it carded the quickest segment time and highest exit speed (tied with the Honda) of the group. The other three bikes trail by 3 mph on the exit, although the segment times are more scattered. The ZX-10R's strong engine helps it jump off the exit of Turn 7 and scorch into the esses, but flicking it back and forth at speed was more difficult than the others, eating into its exit speed.
Turn 3-3a segment time
Aprilia: 6.11 sec.
BMW: 6.01 sec.
Honda: 5.98 sec.
Kawasaki: 6.12 sec.
Yamaha: 5.98 sec.
This series of medium-speed turns has some altitude changes-the entrance to Turn 3 is downhill to just before the apex, where it immediately begins climbing uphill to the blind apex of Turn 3a to make it even more difficult. Here we would expect the Aprilia to shine, but its lumpy powerband means that corner speed both into and out of this section suffers. The Kawasaki's heft and high-effort steering in sections that require major directional changes shows in its slowest segment time here, while the R1's tall gearing and flickability actually played into this sections speeds.
|APRILIA RSV4 R||BMW S 1000 RR||HONDA CBR1000RR||KAWASAKI ZX-10R||Yamaha YZF-R1|
|MSRP||$15,999||$13,800 ($15,730 as tested with DTC, Race ABS, GSA)||$13,399||$12,999||$13,290 ($14,500 LE version)|
|Type||Liquid-cooled, 65-degree V-four||Liquid-cooled, transverse, inline-four||Liquid-cooled, transverse, inline-four||Liquid-cooled, transverse, inline-four||Liquid-cooled, transverse, inline-four|
|Bore x stroke||78.0 x 52.3mm||80.0 x 49.7mm||76.0 x 55.1mm||76.0 x 55.0mm||78.0 x 52.2mm|
|Induction||Magnetti Marelli EFI, single-valve 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cylinder||BMS-KP EFI, single-valve 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cylinder||DSFI, single-valve 46mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cylinder||Keihin DFI, dual-valve 43mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cylinder||EFI w/YCC-T, YCC-I, 45mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cylinder|
|Front suspension||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||46mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.9 in. travel||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||43mm 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, 5.4 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 4.9 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 Bridgestone Battlax BT-015F N||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-016F J||120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D210 Sportmax PT M|
|Rear tire||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||190/55ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3||190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-015R N||190/55ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-016R J||190/55ZR-17 Dunlop D210 Sportmax PT M|
|Rake/trail||24.5 deg./4.1 in. (105mm)||23.9 deg/3.8 in. (96mm)||23.3 deg./3.8 in. (96mm)||24.5 deg./4.0 in. (102mm)||24.0 deg./4.0 (102mm)|
|Wheelbase||55.9 in. (1420mm)||56.4 in. (1432mm)||55.4 in. (1407mm)||54.7 in. (1390mm)||55.7 in. (1415mm)|
|Weight||473 lb. (215kg) wet; 446 lb. (202kg) dry (wet minus fuel)||461 lb. (209kg) wet; 433 lb. (196kg) dry (wet minus fuel)||442 lb. (200kg) wet; 414 lb. (188kg) dry (wet minus fuel)||462 lb. (210kg) wet; 435 lb. (197kg) dry (wet minus fuel)||477 lb. (216kg) wet; 448 lb. (203kg) dry (wet minus fuel)|
|Fuel consumption||25 to 35 mpg, 30 mpg avg.||34 to 40 mgg, 35 mpg avg.||30 to 37 mpg, 34 mpg avg.||29 to 35 mpg, 33 mpg avg.||27 to 34 mpg, 30 mpg avg.|
Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa Tires
In our usual modus operandi, in order to keep all the literbike comparison contestants on equal footing, we had Pirelli's West Coast race tire vendor CT Racing (http://shop.coreytaylorracing.com, 805-444-1394) equip each bike with Pirelli's excellent Diablo Supercorsa DOT race tire. A direct result of Pirelli's continuing involvement with the World Superbike and World Supersport Championships as those series' spec tire, the Diablo Supercorsa incorporates numerous features aimed at improving overall grip and handling.
The Diablo Supercorsa features a much taller and more triangulated profile than the old generation Dragon Supercorsa, which enables the Diablo Supercorsa to have more contact patch area when the bike is leaned over. With a flatter profile on the tire's shoulder, contact patch size at moderate lean angles is dramatically increased, providing more traction and better feedback entering-and especially exiting-corners. The front tire's internal construction boasts additional cross-plies compared to the Dragon Supercorsa to help with stability under hard braking, and both front and rear Diablo Supercorsa tires still utilize the zero-degree steel belt design that runs steel threads lengthwise around the circumference of the tire to provide high-speed stability and reduce tire growth at speed. The near-slick design puts the maximum amount of rubber on the road, and there are four different compounds offered; unlike many other DOT race tires, there are no multi-compound designs offered with Pirellis, as the company feels that construction techniques can eliminate the need for separate compounds in the same tire.
We used the SC2 compounds (medium soft) for our track testing at Infineon Raceway. The tires were a little bit taller (especially in the rear) than much of the stock OEM fitment rubber on the literbikes, but that difference was easily compensated for by adjustments to the stock suspension components.
As we've found many times before with the Diablo Supercorsas, all our testers found them to provide superb grip over the course of a day's worth of ground-pounding punishment from the current literbikes. And they even survived quite well into the next morning's handful of sessions at the Northern California track. The front tire offered excellent feedback and allowed easy trail-braking into Infineon's many tricky corners, with the rear giving excellent grip overall with good bump absorption.
Many thanks to the fellows at CT Racing for constantly busting knuckles at the track to get our bikes set up with sticky rubber quickly and efficiently.
Being asked to pick one of these five amazing bikes as the winner is like asking me whether I'd like a pack of Hostess Cupcakes or Ding Dongs or a nice refrigerated Kit Kat! You just can't go wrong with any one of them!
Unfortunately there has to be a winner, as well as a, well, "not so winner" (sorry, no bike in this test deserves to be called a loser). When all was said and done, the two bikes I was having such a tough time deciding on were really not the two I would have expected to be torn over. And while I had a great time on the Kawasaki ZX-10R, Yamaha R1, and Aprilia RSV4 R, having to choose between the Honda CBR and the BMW was not as easy a task as one might think. While I had a great time riding the Honda, I just had this nagging feeling like I was never being challenged-as if everything was being handed to you on a platter. The BMW demands your attention because everything happens so fast, making it a more satisfying ride afterward. And the good chunk of change that you spend for the extra features like traction control, ABS, and the quickshifter are just like extra icing on a fresh Randy's donut!
Remember Rocky? The first one? This test was a major slugfest between three giants in the ring. Who knew that a first year bike from BMW would be, frankly, so bad ass? Basically, a race engine in a composed chassis, with some seriously good electronics. The newfound top-end of the Honda has given it what it needed to go head-to-head with the mighty ZX-10R. Oh, if you're wondering, the R1 dropped out in the early rounds due to a lack of top-end steam, and definitely didn't show up in fighting weight. The RSV4, in this version, never even made it to the ring. It's an undercard fighter for sure in this crowd.
These three bikes slugged each other relentlessly on the streets and around Infineon. Any of these three could have won the bout, and it literally went to the score cards for me. While Apollo won on the cards, Rocky was our winner-turning a victory from defeat. This year, the ZX-10R is my Apollo Creed, the champ does it again on the cards, but my heart really lies with the BMW, my Rocky. Who won Rocky II? Oh that's right...I can't wait for the rematch.
It's nice to see the addition of the BMW S 1000 RR to this year's lineup of literbikes. Just adding a different manufacturer to the mix was exciting. As it turns out, BMW has done wonders with the S 1000 RR. BMW has always had a different sense of styling that was hit-or-miss with me but I definitely like what they have done with the S.
I haven't liked all the gizmos that BMW adds to their motorcycles but the gearshift assist on our test model worked really well. The different Race ABS/DTC modes are a nice bonus, but I kept it in Race mode on the street and it was fine.
The power delivery was smooth and consistent, and felt to be the most powerful of the bunch. The suspension and the brakes were great too, and while I don't feel like it was the quickest turning motorcycle in the test, it was right up there close to the top. The S 1000 RR was comfortable to ride as well and I could very easily ride it all day long and not be screaming at the end of the day. As tested, the BMW will cost you a pretty penny-but that's the only downside I could find.
It really boiled down to three bikes when all the notes were tallied. The Aprilia's and Yamaha's lack of top-end speed are deal-breakers within this group, and leaves them as odd men out. My opinion reads like this: If I was on the Forbes 500 list, it would be the fully loaded, super-strong Beemer. Unfortunately I didn't make that list this year. The BMW proudly displays what focus is all about. It's quite impressive how the S 1000 RR has surprised all of the sport bike world in a relatively short period of research and development. Considering the long road that the other manufacturers have endured makes the Bavarian entry a true standout.
Sears Point/Infineon Raceway is a challenging, no-rest circuit, and the Honda somehow masked this intimidating environment in a subtle yet aggressive way. The CBR1000RR is true to Honda's legendary reputation as a complete package no matter the task at hand. The Honda edges the Kawasaki by a hair based on my track-only experience as I missed the street portion of the test. The CBR makes for a rider-friendly platform on an extremely demanding course and it edges the other machines that were nipping at its heels. Looking back, I just wish we had a Gixxer in the mix to make things a bit more interesting.
I'm torn. I keep flip-flopping back and forth between the BMW and the Honda as my favorite for this year. Hell, I had the two separated on my scoresheet by less than a point! Forget all the "it's good for a first effort" drab, the S 1000 RR is a damn good motorcycle. Period. It's a lot of work to push around a racetrack at 100 percent, but it definitely rewards those who succeed. Without a doubt the CBR1000RR is the bike I had the most fun on. The engine's plentiful torque just came to life instantly whenever I twisted the throttle and this year it felt like it had some steam upstairs, too.
It's hard for me to choose a winner this year, so I'm going to take the easy way out and call this one a tie between the Honda and the BMW. The Beemer's $17K lands you a motorcycle with a stellar engine, great chassis, and electronic aids like traction control, ABS and a quickshifter. At the same time the relative simplicity of the Honda, combined with its intoxicating engine and chassis combination, can't be ignored. Besides, the aftermarket can bring the Honda to a level playing field with the BMW-if that's your thing.
It's way too easy to get caught up in just judging everything by lap times, or dyno graphs, or any other spec chart number. While they're good comparative tools, using any one of them as the ultimate deciding factor is an exercise in blindness. It's when a manufacturer puts them all together in a cohesive, well-functioning unit that puts a smile on your face every time you ride it that makes the difference.
You could say the Honda has those attributes. An all-around performer with light weight, flickable handling, strong engine, superb brakes...and it reigns atop many of those spec charts. But I guess what continually nags me when I ride it, is that it only has just enough to get the job done. Other than its light weight, there's no real surplus of performance that not only challenges you to master it, but also provides a usable serving of the performance until you do.
And that's where the BMW's appeal strikes me. Forget about the Race ABS/DTC and other aids (although I admit they're nice to have)-the S 1000 RR has the all-around qualities that make it user-friendly and fun to ride...but with the underlying feel of a thoroughbred that continually asks, "Come on...let's see what you've got."