‘Once it clicks, boy is the 1299 fast’
1 st Ducati 1299 Panigale S, 1m 29.91s Top speed on straight – 139.6mph
There’s nothing instantly natural about riding the Ducati on track. Compared to its rivals the frame-less superbike seems impossibly thin, tall and ungainly. Unlike most sportsbikes it has more legroom than a touring bike and wide, flat clip-ons that wouldn’t feel out of place on a supermoto.
The lightweight Panigale wobbles and weaves like a wounded animal as it bolts from corner to corner if your inputs are too aggressive, and gears run out so quickly that you’re up and down the ’box like a lunatic.
It takes time to get to know how Ducati’s brash superbike likes to be treated – but once it clicks, boy is it fast. The trick is to barely hang on, ride with a light fingertip touch and gently move your bodyweight around as you bank hard from corner to corner. When you get it right the Panigale S rewards with genuine race-bike precision. It digs hard into the tarmac, finding grip as the booming twin-cylinder motor fires you hard from between apexes.
Traction control and anti-wheelie are there in the background, but never intrude. The quickshifter and autoblipper make all those gear- changes a joy and the speed at which the Ducati scrabbles hungrily from upright to full lean into an apex is devastating.
Brakes are the strongest and most consistent here, it’s the most agile and it accelerates like a maniac. Five timed laps weren’t enough to learn the strange character of the L-twin Ducati after jumping off the fours, but it was still easily the quickest lapping bike on test.
2 nd BMW S1000RR, 1m 30.23s Top speed on straight – 137.9mph
All our testers found the S1000RR to be the easiest bike to ride fast. The chassis is balanced and predictable, the Brembos are choc full of power and the traction control is unobtrusive. It actually feels slightly ungainly compared to the Blade and Panigale, but it does its blistering lap time through sheer brute power. It leaps out of corners cleanly with a perfect throttle response and when you let it off its leash in the higher gears the BMW still accelerates as hard as it does in first. The BMW has its own electronic Sachs version of the Panigale’s semi-active Öhlins, and if the BMW were a little lighter and more agile, it could have the beating of the Ducati. It’s still a class act.
3 rd Honda Fireblade SP, 1m 31.03s Top speed on straight – 136.3mph
The Honda is so light, agile and pointy in the corners and has such easy to manage power that it would be a piece of cake to turn in the same lap times all day. It has more than a hint of RC213V-S about its chassis. It’s not exactly down on acceleration, but the motor isn’t as strong as its rivals exiting corners and even with its traction control set to minimum the electronics hold you back when you want full power. The Abs-equipped Brembos aren’t as strong as the Ducati’s and BMW’S, so you can’t leave your braking until the last minute, which also costs you time. Find a way of disconnecting the unswitchable ABS and the Honda could challenge the Beemer. And it sounds stunning.
‘The 1299 Panigale S rewards with genuine race-bike precision’
4 th Suzuki GSX-R1000R, 1m 31.36s Top speed on straight – 137.4mph
Suzuki’s new GSX-R has re-entered the big league. After falling behind in the superbike arms race, it’s bloodied the noses of the RSV4 RF, R1M and ZX-10RR. It’s every inch the newgeneration superbike.
The new VVT motor is packed with grunt, but its benefit is felt more on the road, not the track where you’re only screaming the inline four at high revs. It doesn’t have the knock-your-headoff pull of the BMW and Ducati out of the turns, but it’s far stronger than the Honda in a straight line.
It’s the first superbike with nonelectronic suspension over the line and although it works very well on a bumpy circuit like this, the GSX-R1000R isn’t as stable or sharp-steering as the top three. On a smoother circuit, or with a day spent find-tuning the fullyadjustable Showa kit you could easily chip away at that lap time.
Brakes aren’t in the same league as the top two bikes here. The ABS chimes in early, especially trail braking and after a few hard laps the lever starts to come back to the bar.
5 = Aprilia RSV4 RF, 1m 31.51s Top speed on straight – 133.9mph
The tall, stiff, purposeful Aprilia has the feel of a stripped-down race bike, like the Ducati. We were surprised it wasn’t closer to the front, but despite having over 190bhp the electronics, even with everything turned down (but not off – this is a test of rider aids as much as chassis, engine and brakes), take too much power away during initial acceleration.
There’s no question the RSV4 RF is quick, but it doesn’t leap out of corners with the venom of the BMW and Ducati with the traction and wheelie control stepping in all the time. It’s this initial cut in power that hurts the Aprilia’s lap time, especially at a track with so many slow corners.
The gear ratios don’t suit Rockingham too well and, like the ZX-10RR, you need a gear somewhere between first and second in the slower corners.
The Aprilia has manually adjustable suspension, but its Öhlins provides a supple ride over the bumps to match the creamy ZX-10RR Showa units. But under hard, half-lean acceleration the RSV4 RF wiggles its hips a little too much and it stops you from pinning the throttle as hard as you’d like.
7 th Kawasaki ZX-10RR, 1m 31.88s Top speed on straight – 134.4mph
Easily the smoothest of all the bikes here, the Showa suspension delivers the plushest ride and the motor’s long-revving power curve is devoid of nasty dips and surprises. It has superb traction control, anti-wheelie and crisp, precise gearbox electronics, too.
In standard trim it’s refined and simple to get on with, but it isn’t as quite sharp as the competition, but we’re talking less than a second off the Blade in third place, so it’s still a superbike to be reckoned with.
The taller riders struggled with the riding position, but where the ZX-10RR loses most of its time is its combination of soft initial power (which is lovely on the road) and tall gearing at this tight circuit. Exiting second gear corners the motor takes too long time to spool up and send you on your way. Like the others with ride-by-wire braking, the brake lack feel and bite, but they fade less than the GSX-R and Blade.
5 = Yamaha YZF-R1M, 1m 31.51s Top speed on straight – 136.5mph
The R1M and RSV4 RF have much in common. Not only are both twowheeled works of art, they have similar engine characters. The Aprilia has a V4 and the Yamaha has a crossplane crank inline-four that thinks it’s a V4. They sound the same and spew huge globs of midrange. So it’s not such a surprise they set identical lap times.
Like the BMW, the howling Yamaha was a firm favourite among the testers. It’s roomy, easy to ride and the traction and wheelie control are right up there. But after using an autoblipper on the other six bikes, it’s strange having to use the clutch. Amazing how rapidly you get used to technology.
At this tight circuit the R1M is missing some agility, which hurts its lap time, but on the flipside highspeed, full lean stability in the faster corners is inspired. Where the Yamaha loses out the most is on the initial touch of throttle at full lean in the slower turns. There’s so much instant torque it unhooks the tyre and sends it slipping.
It’s also tricky to get the Yamaha stopped for very slow corners – second gear is too tall and first makes the rear wheel slew sideways.