Stock 1000cc su­per­bikes are plenty fast enough for the road and start at £13k, but which is king? Con­tin­ued over

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature - By Adam Child SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER @MCNNEWS mo­tor­cy­cle­news

Su­per­bikes are the very pin­na­cle of a man­u­fac­turer’s tal­ents, a show­case for their ge­nius abil­ity to force power and con­trol to co-ex­ist in some of the small­est and tight­est pack­ages ever to have rolled on two wheels. But very few of us have the lux­ury of be­ing able to spare £20,000 to drop on the lat­est range-top­ping equiv­a­lent of a tar­ma­chug­ging jet fighter. Nor do many of us have the time – or spares bud­get – to in­dulge a track­day ad­dic­tion that sees us spend­ing the win­ter months in Alme­ria, and sum­mers back in Blighty dodg­ing the rain clouds.

What most of us se­cretly want from a sports­bike now is a sub­limely ef­fort­less road-go­ing scalpel that com­bines 200bhp and a be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of elec­tronic rider aids with lust­ful good looks and more than a mod­icum of com­fort and prac­ti­cal­ity.in the real world our su­per­bikes need to be more ver­sa­tile and more cost ef­fec­tive than ever.

En­ter the 2017 con­gre­ga­tion of stock op­tions – base mod­els that ac­tu­ally share al­most all of their per­for­mance abil­ity with their more ex­pen­sive sta­ble­mates, only skimp­ing on ex­otic cy­cle parts and trin­kets. Does any of that econ­omy make them worse bikes – or are they just cheaper? Rolling on a stock op­tion has never been so at­trac­tive – so which one is best?

The er­rant Ninja

There are many rea­sons to love Kawasaki’s ZX-10R KRT edi­tion. It’s one of the cheap­est bikes on test even with an Akrapovic ex­haust and KRT graph­ics; it’s got more mumbo packed into its en­gine than any­one is ever likely to ex­haust on the road; its race record is the mo­tor­cy­cling equiv­a­lent of a dic­ta­tor­ship, and one that doesn’t look like re­lin­quish­ing its grip any­time soon.

But on the road it’s sadly lack­ing the same prow­ess. Tester Hargeaves said: “It’s a re­mark­able thing to say, but the Kawasaki feels old. There’s no mid-to bot­tom-end, and its steer­ing feels slow. Three years ago it was at the cut­ting edge – and rid­den in iso­la­tion it’s still a fan­tas­tic bike – but it’s a step be­hind in this com­pany.”

And he’s right – there’s no bot­tomend to speak of. It feels oddly gut­less when you’re in sin­gle fig­ures, then as the tacho climbs into dou­ble dig­its it goes barmy and is al­most too ag­gres­sive. But if you try short-shift­ing to calm the top-end power de­liv­ery you end up just drop­ping back into the dead zone. As Ru­pert ob­served: “Above 8000rpm it starts to get go­ing, then at 12,000rpm it’s do­ing bad things – and you can’t use that level of ag­gres­sion on the road.”

But it’s not all bad news. The chas­sis

‘Our su­per­bikes need to be more ver­sa­tile and cost ef­fec­tive’

is out­stand­ing, and while there’s the odd twitch from the bars when the sur­face and power de­liv­ery con­spire – the gen­eral road set-up is im­pres­sive. The dig­i­tal clocks do ap­pear dated in this com­pany, as do its rider aids and elec­tron­ics, which lack the oth­ers’ seam­lessly in­vis­i­ble in­ter­fer­ence.

Four out of six of our test team rated the ZX-10R their least favourite on test. There is no deny­ing that it works on track – and road – at high speeds, but it’s out­classed in this com­pany.

The su­per­model pin-up

We all wanted to love the 1299 Pani­gale. Ev­ery­one on test agreed it was the most de­sir­able bike – and the one we wanted to open our garage door to. If we were choos­ing a bike just for the week­end with­out tak­ing price or prac­ti­cal­i­ties into con­sid­er­a­tion, then the Duke would have been the clear win­ner. But

as much as we drooled over its sexy su­per­model curves, no­body ac­tu­ally warmed to the idea of own­ing one. Ru­pert Paul, a Du­cati owner him­self, was one of the most con­flicted: “It looks a hun­dred times bet­ter than the rest, but it’s tor­ture to ride. It just can’t deal with road im­per­fec­tions. It’s al­ready caused me to crush my left tes­ti­cle, and the right one has been cooked by the heat ris­ing from the mo­tor. At low speeds it’s just hor­ri­ble.”

Of course, the Du­cati was never de­signed for low speeds, but away from utopian de­sign briefs they do hap­pen in the real world, and if they’re a com­mon fea­ture of your favourite route, the 1299 will not be your best friend.

The fu­elling and de­liv­ery aren’t as snatchy as you might ex­pect for a mas­sively-pi­s­toned V-twin though, and there’s no heavy lever or clat­ter­ing clutch plates to ac­com­pany the su­perb ex­haust mu­sic. But the Du­cati is at its best when it’s off the leash, the wide bars al­low­ing you to at­tack cor­ners with pure ag­gres­sion. “It feels like it’s on rails in cor­ners,” says Do­herty. “You can carry so much cor­ner speed, with com­plete con­fi­dence.”

Ob­vi­ously the 1285cc V-twin pro­duces the most torque of any bike here, but you still have to tickle a few revs out of the en­gine to re­ally make it sing. By 6000rpm it’s start­ing to get into the groove, but at 8000rpm it prop­erly wants to party.

De­spite its rac­ing blood­line the Pani­gale is ac­tu­ally ver­sa­tile and roomy, too. The screen is just about large enough, the pegs low and the bars wide. The rider aids dra­mat­i­cally trans­form the Duke’s per­son­al­ity, and it can be tamed with a touch of a few but­tons. It has its faults on the road – all cen­ter­ing around ride qual­ity and heat man­age­ment – but it isn’t as racy as you’d ex­pect. If all your rides are on sin­u­ous smooth A-roads, it’s harder to ig­nore.

Wild Ger­manic ef­fi­ciency

The RR has en­joyed a com­mand­ing grip on the su­per­bike sec­tor, win­ning ev­ery MCN su­per­bike test from 2010 to 2014, and rarely miss­ing the podium since. Its stonk­ing en­gine has al­ways been the high­light, and the fact that it was so far ahead of its time back in 2010 gave it a crit­i­cal ad­van­tage that’s barely ebbed away since. There’s power ev­ery­where. It can nearly match the top-end power surge of the ZX-10R, the full-fat mid-range of the Suzuki, and grunts off the bot­tom end like a Rus­sian ten­nis player. But it’s a lit­tle vibey, lack­ing the smooth­ness of the Yamaha, while also fail­ing to add what is of­ten kindly de­scribed as char­ac­ter from its im­per­fec­tions. But it’s still bloody im­pres­sive.

Its er­gonomics also scored highly, with 6ft 1in Har­g­reaves say­ing: “I feel at home on it, it matches me phys­i­cally, and I don’t have to get used to any­thing. It’s gen­uinely roomy.” Urry also gelled with the Ger­manic sim­plic- ity of the BMW: “I don’t have to read the man­ual be­fore rid­ing it. There are clear but­tons and nav­i­ga­tion for each func­tion, and I don’t have to scroll through an ipad screen to find each set­ting. I even pre­fer the old ana­logue rev counter, too.”

There was a lot of praise for the BM’S crea­ture com­forts as well – mean­ing that it was of­ten the first key to be grabbed when se­ri­ous miles were on the agenda. The heated grips, cruise con­trol, semi-ac­tive sus­pen­sion all work­ing to­gether to de­liver pre­cise con­trol with a level of re­fine­ment and com­fort that’s shock­ing from a su­per­bike. It was also the only bike on test with semi-ac­tive sus­pen­sion, gift­ing it an un­fair ad­van­tage over its ana­logue com­pe­ti­tion – but the stock RR doesn’t have such bi­nary fin­ery, and it was dis­ap­point­ing that BMW didn’t pro­vide us with a test bike with the stan­dard sus­pen­sion fit­ted.

This wasn’t the only spec boost on our test bike, it seem­ingly hav­ing been dipped in glue then rid­den through the ac­ces­sories depart­ment. It’s all ef­fec­tive stuff, but not in the spirit of this test, and takes the price tag to a salty £16,775, and into the realms of the S,R, M, SP or RR ver­sions of its com­peti­tors. The stan­dard bike is a far more tempt­ing £14,150 and boasts the same power and er­gonomics as our test bike – but that is where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end.

The big bang the­ory

Yamaha’s R1 feels the clos­est of the crop to a race bike that’s been dressed up

‘The Du­cati is at its best when let off the leash – at 8000rpm it wants to party’ ‘ The Suzuki de­liv­ers a su­perb wave of torque and mid-range drive’

as a road bike for our en­ter­tain­ment. The wafer-thin seat, ag­gres­sive rid­ing po­si­tion and fast-revving cross­plane mo­tor give it a real edgi­ness that’s miss­ing in the oth­ers. “You need to be go­ing fast to make the most of it,” adds Urry. “It’s much more like a race bike than the oth­ers – and looks and sounds mint, too.”

There’s no doubt that the en­gine is R1’s unique sell­ing point. It is su­per­smooth once you’ve rum­bled through to the swell of mid-range, and break through into the in­tox­i­cat­ing topend. The de­liv­ery is su­perb all the way through, giv­ing you the best of both words at the end of its imag­i­nary throt­tle cables. “What a won­drous ma­chine,” gushed Paul. “I’m gob­s­macked by its smooth­ness, what a beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. There is a huge amount of topend power, and it’s like Yamaha have thought about all the prob­lems you might en­counter – and re­solved them.”

But the R1 has to be crit­i­cised for be­ing un­com­fort­able at low speeds. I’ve sat on wooden planks with more com­fort. It’s also the thirsti­est of the bunch, il­lu­mi­nat­ing its fuel light at only 100 miles from brimmed, and it’s even worse when rid­den re­ally hard. It’s a lot of money in this com­pany, too – but that’s where the crit­i­cism ends. We’d put up with the poor MPG fig­ures for the lovely sound­track alone.

The come­back kid

Suzuki’s new-for-2017 GSX-R1000 re­ally di­vided opin­ion. Some loved the looks and styling, oth­ers thought it was more rem­i­nis­cent of a 1980s shell­suit. And that wasn’t a com­pli­ment. Some liked the sim­plic­ity of the clocks, oth­ers al­ready thought they ap­peared dated – even by com­par­i­son to the older bikes on test.

On the move, the rider modes are easy to change, and the TC can be eas­ily de­ac­ti­vated on the fly. Ev­ery­thing is in­tu­itive and un­com­pli­cated, and backed up by one of the strongest road

en­gines on test – thanks to Suzuki’s ‘Broad Power’ ethos and VVT tech­nol­ogy. “Its light-steer­ing and sta­ble, too” adds Paul.

On the road the GSX-R’S ace card is its en­gine, de­liv­er­ing a su­perb wave of torque and mid-range drive, ac­com­pa­nied by that trade­mark Suzuki in­duc­tion roar that un­der­pins ev­ery hard ac­cel­er­a­tion. Suzuki have cer­tainly poured plenty of GSX-R DNA into the new bike’s gene pool.

The rid­ing po­si­tion is nat­u­ral, the screen pro­tec­tive, the seat com­fort­able– all of which mean the Suzuki was pop­u­lar for dis­tance slogs at pace. Our test bike’s only self-in­dul­gence was the ad­di­tion of a Suzuki quick­shifter/ au­to­blip­per (£645), which works beau­ti­fully with the al­ready slick gear­box.

“The GSX-R is a great all-round bike,” says Hargeaves. “It fits me re­ally well and has plenty of power – but it does feel a bit ‘nor­mal’. It just isn’t out­stand­ing at any­thing, so it doesn’t shine. It’s hard to fault, but just not daz­zling.” And that’s the rub. It’s very nearly the best road­bike on test, but ul­ti­mately lacks charisma.

A cut above the rest

It’s been a while since Honda have been able to dom­i­nate in the su­per­bike class, but this is their year. While it might be strug­gling in race trim, Honda’s new Fire­blade is a su­perb ev­ery­day su­per­bike. It feels so com­plete. There’s no sense that cor­ners have been cut, or that it was rushed into pro­duc­tion. And let’s not for­get that it’s man­ag­ing to dom­i­nate de­spite kick­ing out the low­est claimed power of this gang. But what it lacks in peak horse­power and torque, it makes up for in near tele­pathic us­abil­ity. You can ac­cess ev­ery sin­gle pony, so noth­ing goes to waste.

It’s bliss­fully easy to use, and feels ef­fort­lessly light and ac­cu­rate. Sim­ply jump on and ride the way you want, while push­ing harder even ap­pears to add calm­ness rather than chaos – al­low­ing you more time to think and plan ahead. Fast or slow the Blade works in all con­di­tions. “It’s been de­vel­oped pre­cisely, they’ve spent time on the set-up and the chas­sis is beau­ti­ful,” added Paul. That sen­ti­ment was echoed by ev­ery­one on test. Un­fa­mil­iar roads can ap­pear daunt­ing on the Pani­gale, while it’s the op­po­site on the Fire­blade.

But as much as ev­ery­one praised the chas­sis, the minis­cule pro­por­tions of the body­work and screen came in for univer­sal crit­i­cism. “The rid­ing po­si­tion is ac­tu­ally com­fort­able, the seat is soft and the po­si­tion of the bars is lovely. It fits me per­fectly,” says Do­herty, “but the screen is way too small, you just can’t es­cape the wind blast.”

The CBR also lacks any real slug of mid-range grunt, like the Pani­gale or GSX-R’S, but you only re­ally feel short­changed rid­ing them back-to-back.

‘What the Honda lacks in power, it makes up for in us­abil­ity’

Six ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers, al­most 1200bhp to play with, one de­fin­i­tive ver­dict...

197bhp 199kg 194.5bhp 190.5kg 195.7bhp 208kg

BMW S1000RR £16,775 (AS TESTED) • • The stan­dard BMW is well priced at £14,150, but BMW up­graded our bike to Sport spec (£15,205), then added light­weight wheels. This is no stock op­tion. DU­CATI 1299 PANI­GALE YAMAHA YZF-R1 £16,549 £17,995 (AS TESTED) • • • • Du­cati took the win in our 2016 su­per­bike test. Even in stock spec the Pani­gale is the light­est bike on test, dis­tinc­tive and stun­ning; but also the most ex­pen­sive bike here. This ver­sion was launched in 2015 and won our MCN com­par­i­son test that year. The dis­tinc­tive en­gine and sound­track (helped by a £750 Akrapovic end can) set it apart.

Each litre bike has its own spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics

197bhp 208kg 199bhp 202kg 189bhp 196kg

KAWASAKI ZX-10R KRT EDI­TION £14,299 • • Launched in 2016, the new ZX-10R was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess on track – but it’s strug­gled on the road. This KRT edi­tion has the best paintjob, and an Akrapovic end can. SUZUKI GSX-R1000 (AS TESTED) £14,244 HONDA CBR1000RR FIRE­BLADE £15,225 • • • • The 2017 GSX-R1000 has al­ready proven its road skills at the TT and South­ern 100 with Michael Dun­lop. Our test bike wears Suzuki’s quick­shifter/blip­per. Honda’s higher spec SP won our top-spec su­per­bike shootout ear­lier this year. This base model costs £3870 less, but shares the SP’S power and torque fig­ures.

This ballsy group gen­er­ates a sub­lime coun­try­side sound­track

There’s no doubt­ing the BMW’S class, but it should shine given the ex­tras it wears

The GSX-R1000 has one of the strongest en­gines known to man ZX-10R is as­ton­ish­ing in iso­la­tion, but l ags be­hind in this com­pany The R1 is the clos­est to a pukka race bike for the road

The S1000RR is sharp but can cope with big miles, too

Small screen is a small price to pay for user-friend­li­ness

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