'This 185-mile route has everything from second gear hairpins, to breathtaking, threefigure-speed sweepers'
THREE FIRST TESTS
Yamahaõs new bike blitz continues and MCN managed to get first rides on three of them this week. The all-new naked MT-03, revamped MT-09 and much-improved FJR1300 come under scrutiny but can each bike really rule their respective classes?
MCN, I have come to know the Yamaha’s quirks. It’s an unashamed race bike and that shows on the road. It might have great legroom, but the seat is like a plank of wood and the bars are set as low as they can be. That’s perfect for Valentino on a Sunday afternoon, but a few tankfuls into a big ride and your wrists and rump are soon screaming for mercy.
Just one year after its launch, the R1 has slipped down the order.
Old power generation
Brought to you by the people who make the world’s best tourers, the BMW S1000RR is comfortable. It has a snug seat, decent wind-protection and, if you tick the options boxes, like our test bike here, you get heated grips, cruise control, a quickshifter, autoblipper and a choice of five riding modes. But like the Kawasaki, legroom is best suited to shorter riders.
This Sport model also has semiactive suspension damping control. It furnishes you with a magic carpet ride and delivers complete stability on any road surface. Best of all, the BMW is powered by one of the most insane engines in any motorcycle. Punching out 196bhp at the back wheel, not only is it one of the most powerful here, it sounds like it too, spitting and roaring under hard acceleration while popping and banging on the overrun. Acceleration is electrifying in the German inline four’s sweet spot, and as MCN Performance tester Bruce Dunn proclaims, it simply spews power.
But all of a sudden, the BMW, which first appeared in 2010 and dominated for years after, is beginning to feel its age. It’s an animal and oozes aggression. It’s all point and squirt in the corners, shirt off and spoiling for a fight. It’s not as plush, friendly or refined as the ZX-10R or as quick steering as the 1299 Panigale. It’s not as planted in fast corners as the R1 and doesn’t have the Aprilia’s smooth electronics. You can’t deny its ferocious speed, though.
A different proposition
Ducati’s 1299 Panigale S is the best of all superbike worlds. Brushing the not insignificant £21,050 asking price under the carpet for a minute, it’s electronically fertile, the most powerful machine here ( just pipping the BMW) and boasts the most ground-churning torque. Its ability to waft through fast corners borders on the magical and the confidence it gives you rushing into corners is barely comprehensible. Its Brembos are race grade and braking stability is outstanding. It’s pretty handy on track, too.
With its quirky cast ali airbox chassis, the Ducati has come a long way from the original bucking bronco 1199 Panigale, thanks to chassis mods, more grunt from its bigger engine and most of all from Imu-assisted electronics that smooth off the Panigale’s aggressive edges, like the computers that keep a Eurofighter in the air.
It’s very different to the other superbikes. It’s tall, thin and you feel precariously balanced on top at first. The L-twin engine clatters at low revs, the bars are as wide as a flat tracker’s, there’s more legroom than a tourer and the whole thing bucks and weaves if you put too much input into the controls. It takes time to learn how the Ducati likes to ridden, but it rewards when you click with it.
Like the R1, MCN lived with the Ducati last year. It might be the closest thing to a race bike with lights here, but the 1299 Panigale S is reliable, roomy and comfortable for long distances. The Ducati is the bike you’d choose for the long haul – the complete opposite to the Yamaha - and certainly not what you’d expect or what we thought when we first rode it at the launch last year. It has overtaken the R1 as the better road bike, and that’s before you’ve even talked about its dazzling presence and aggressive styling.
We had high hopes for the Aprilia. Arriving in the summer the RSV4 RF missed our 2015 superbike shoot out, so we never knew exactly where it fitted in the superbike world. Ride it fast on track and its Wsb-winning genes are there to see. The tiny Aprilia is agile through chicanes and stable in fast corners. It plies you with confidence at any speed and is seriously quick. The new 185bhp RF is the most powerful RSV4 we’ve ever tested.
It’s harsh, small and track-focused for the road, but you put up with any discomfort to hear that Motogp-esque V4 yowl at full revs, and its ability to scurry through corners at speed in complete safety and with little effort from the rider. But halfway through the day the Aprilia’s clutch started slipping and it put itself out of contention for the rest of the test. It’s a shame as we were confident it could’ve been one of the fastest bikes here.
The R1 and Panigale were our unanimous favourites on the road, so the only way to split them is to see how they go around the track.