The literbike class of sportbikes is one of the most hotly contested genres in motorcycling, even somewhat overshadowing the raging fury of the 600cc supersport category that has traditionally been the most competitive.
All the attention on the literbikes is driven by sales numbers, so the class is obviously appealing to a larger audience. This is partly due to four-cylinder Superbikes having had their displacement increased to 1000cc instead of the former 750cc, as evidenced by the market falling out for 750s except for the venerable GSX-R750 that soldiers on without any competition.
But do any of us really need a bike with more than 150 horsepower at the rear wheel? Probably not, but that’s not gonna stop us from gathering together the four Japanese brands for a no-holds-barred cage match. We rode these bikes on most every type of pavement you can imagine, from local errands to laps at Buttonwillow Raceway, from slogging SoCal’s notorious freeways to tight and twisty mountain roads.
The bulk of our street testing was done on stock tires, switching to identical Mchelin Pilot Race rubber for the demands of the racetrack and to keep our competitors on equal footing. Due to a logistics snafu, we ran 180/55-17 rear tires instead of the 190s fitted as standard equipment, adjusting the bikes to accommodate the differing ride heights. For example, the 120/70-17 Michelin Pilot Race is 7mm shorter than the ZX’s Dunlop Qualifiers.
We were very happy with the grip and endurance of the Michelins at Buttonwillow during our track time courtesy of Zoom Zoom Track Days, and we all agreed the narrower rear tires aided the agility of the bikes, with no apparent attenuation of grip. Three-time AMA Superbike champ, Doug Chandler, ran a 180 rear tire for most of the 2005 season before switching to a newly introduced 190. He says the 190 isn’t any quicker, but its larger contact patch makes it last longer.
In addition, we also were busy gathering empirical data, making dragracing runs down the quarter-mile, dyno pulls with our friends at White Brother Racing, and trips across our electronic scales so you can ignore those highly optimistic dry weight claims by the manufacturers.
Throughout this phalanx of testing, we’ve been able to distill out the best and worst from each bike via the opinions of no less than nine experienced riders of different sizes and abilities. We’ve also rated each bike on two separate score sheets that divide the criteria between the racetrack and street characteristics, so you can make the best decision depending on how you intend to use the literbike of your choice.
The GSX-R1000 is back with a vengeance after it dethroned the 2004 class champion, the Kawasaki ZX-10R, in Superbike Smackdown II. Will it have the moxie to do what the ZX couldn’t do? Can it defend its title against three of the baddest bikes on planet? Read on.
The GSX-R1000 needs no introduction. Not only did it take top honors during Superbike Smackdown 2 (in both the Superbike Smackdown II – Street and our wildy popular Superbike Smackdown II – Track tests), it also rolls into 2006 unchanged. It’s nimble, has few flaws, and has a truly wonderful mega-motor.
In the meantime, engineers from the other OEMs were scrambling to find a way to beat the mighty Gixxer, with three varying degrees of execution.
Garnering the most amount of R&D effort was Kawasaki’s ZX-10R, virtually all-new from top to bottom for ’06. A revised motor is intended to make its intimidating hit of power more tractable, and new frame and swingarm increase rigidity while slightly relaxing the steering rake for greater stability. And, yes, the ZX finally joins the in-crowd by getting a standard steering damper, Ohlins no less. Check out the 2006 ZX-10R – First Ride article if you want to learn more.
The new CBR1000RR appears as if it might only have been slightly tweaked for ’06, but you’re looking at a significantly evolved animal. Honda wanted its sportbike flagship to turn quicker and accelerate harder, and they’ve dramatically accomplished those goals. The old CBR was given a backhanded compliment last year by being awarded the sarcastic title of “Best Open-classer for Newbies” for its moderately exciting power delivery and unflappable stability. Now, with sharper chassis geometry and 15 pounds less to carry around, it’s lost that dubious distinction and become a real weapon. A higher compression ratio, straighter intake ports, revised camshafts and a higher redline make for a more powerful and enjoyable engine. You can get more info about the new Honda in our 2006 CBR1000RR – First Ride article.
Distracted by development of the radical new YZF-R6, Yamaha made only a few tweaks to the sultry R1 for ’06. The biggest change is in its chassis, and mostly due to a 20mm longer swingarm that stretches wheelbase by nearly an inch to 55.7 inches, apparently a revision intended to provide more traction for racers such as Noriyuki Haga who always struggled with grip late in World Superbike events.
Also new to the R1 is a retuned Deltabox frame and a beefed-up lower triple-clamp for the newly gold-anodized fork tubes. Shorter valve guides and other unspecific details that are said to increase flow and reduce internal friction have freed up an extra 3 ponies from the horsepower corral. A revised clutch boss promises more oil flow for better durability, while a new onboard lap timer tracks your ETs to your local hangout.