Stock 1000cc superbikes are plenty fast enough for the road and start at £13k, but which is king? Continued over
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 characteristics197bhp 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