We’re surprised at the small percentage of sportbike riders who have never set tire on a racetrack. Not only is it the only place the limits of a contemporary sportbike can be approached, but it’s also the most fun a rider can have with his or her leathers on. (Click here to see what you’re missing.)
With this in mind, we reconvened with the truly awesome quartet of new 1000cc sportbikes at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca for some full-throttle action unimpeded by Buicks or Johnny Law.
Four of the five primary MCUSA staff testers have had roadracing experience, so we have the necessary background to provide an accurate context in which to evaluate these missiles on the track. But in order to make sure the stratospherically high limits of these bikes were reached, we hired veteran roadracer Steve Crevier, the 1998 AMA Supersport champion and six-time Canadian Superbike title-winner, to join us for two days of blazing around the famous hills and swoops of Laguna.
You may be the kind of rider who couldn’t care less about tenths of a second around a racetrack, and that’s okay, stick with part one of the Superbike Smackdown. But for those of you who want the full-meal deal, there’s some informative stuff that can be gleaned from a hypersport bike’s behavior on a racetrack.
The rip-snorting ZX-10R won the street category, but its nervous steering when putting down its Thor-sized hammer on a racetrack was still a question mark. Would it rule, or perhaps the scintillating top-end hit of the R1 combined with its buttoned-down cornering manners would put it on top? Or maybe the table-stable CBR could best get the power down. Then there’s the reigning class champ, the GSX-R1000, already finely honed into a proven race winner.
Four titans prepare for a two-day battle at Laguna Seca to determine the winner of Superbike Smackdown 2004.
Our performance testing regimen at MCUSA now consists of acceleration and speed testing, and this quartet proved to have capabilities extremely close to each other. Top speeds were all within just 1.9 mph of each other, with the GSX-R pulling out a surprising win with its scorching 183.9-mph run. More surprising was that the class powerhouse, the 156-horsepower ZX-10R, ran the slowest, though at 182.1 mph it’s far from slow. It should be noted that the speeds listed have been “corrected” to ideal atmospheric conditions in the same way our (and every other publication) acceleration data is. In regard to top speed, it’s likely these bikes would run just a bit faster than the actual 174-mph speeds recorded during our tests. It’s all absurdly academic at this kind of velocity, anyway. It’s worth noting the Kawi will get you past 170 in less time than the rest.
Acceleration testing proved to be nearly as tight as the battle for top-speed honors, with one notable exception. I struggled to get a strong launch with the hydraulic clutch on Honda’s CBR, the only non-cable clutch in the group. The high-rpm starts required for a good run caused an intense lurch as the clutch plates grabbed all of a sudden, foiling several of my limited amount of runs. A corrected time of 10.43 at 146 mph isn’t hanging about, but it is about three-tenths off the pace.
And what a pace it is: three bikes separated by just seven-thousandth of a second! The interesting thing is that each pulled off its run in a manner distinct from the others.
The R1 is hindered by its ultra-tall first gear and a clutch friction zone narrower than a crack addict on Cortislim. But once piling on speed with its top-heavy-but-wide powerband, the Yammie makes up a bit of time, clocking in with a 10.16-second run at 147 mph. And there’s a nine-second run in the R1, if only the clutch on our test unit didn’t pack it in after five brutally hard launches.
The Suzuki’s clutch is the easiest to modulate, and when combined with its more streetable gearing and torquey motor, it was able to post the quickest time of them all, a 10.09 at 148 mph.
And what of the mighty ZX? Well, indeed it is mighty, as its incredible 151-mph trap speed can attest. But it is hindered by a first gear even taller than the R1’s and by its penchant for wheelies, thanks to a wheelbase shorter than the others. It came up just a hummingbird’s blink short of taking the quick-draw award, posting a 10.10-second run. If given enough time and enough clutch packs, the Kawi would undoubtedly be a solid member of the nine-second club.
That heap of rubber consists of eight Diablo Corsas and eight Dragon Supercorsas, all from Pirelli. We came away highly impressed by their grip and endurance over two days of track-thrashing.
As usual, we wanted to fit the same tires to each bike to provide the most level of playing fields. We’ve been impressed with Pirelli’s offerings over the past several years, and they graciously offered up their two sets of buns through its distributor California Race Services that are designed for track use: the Dragon Supercorsas and Diablo Corsas. We have enjoyed the good grip and healthy longevity of the standard Diablos, but this would be our first crack at the Corsa version. We’ll be following this test with an in-depth evaluation of these impressive tires.
We rode the first day with our friends from Club Desmo, which is an all-inclusive organization that has hosted trackdays in California since 1994. Helmed by its fearless leader, Mark Duncan, Club Desmo events are always fun and are a great way to hone your riding skills. Riders are separated into three groups based on relative speed, and we had no problem with the Diablos keeping pace with the fastest group.