Time for the big boys to come and play! (From left) Ducati 1198, Kawasaki ZX-10R, Honda CBR1000RR, Suzuki GSX-R1000, Yamaha YZF-R1.
Battle of the Kings
How much horsepower is really necessary? When is enough, enough? Superbikes have been getting faster and faster each year, making it hard not to ponder this question quite often. But the days of more bhp every year could be changing. We saw it in our supersport shootout. A couple of the machines lost a good deal of power from last year due to complying with new government regulations. Will the same be seen here in the current crop of Superbikes? And is it a bad thing? We sure think so!
Having too much horsepower is like having too much money or too hot of a girlfriend – it may be hard to deal with, but it’s always worth it.
In the automotive world the times they are a changin’, so to speak. Due to reduced carbon footprint mandates and in an aid to improve mpg, horsepower is on the decline nearly as fast as sales are. And it would appear the same may be on the horizon for motorcycles, though in our two-wheeled world the big concern is sound, not smog. Say it ain’t so! But while this has caught a few manufacturers unprepared, luckily for us the ones who were on top of development for their ’09-and-beyond machines have found a way to muffle noise and still make more power.
So, the question remains: How fast are they? And which is fastest? Thus, we assembled the Big-Four Japanese and one wicked Italian for a Shootout at the Thunderhill Corral to find out who the last bike standing would be. All showed up guns-a-blazin’ with full-factory support at the technical and fast T-Hill, which proved to be an ideal circuit for our liter-bike shootout. We call it NorCal’s hidden treasure.
To see, hear and feel all of the liter-class beasts in action be sure to check out the Superbike Smackdown video.
To put all of these extremely capable rockets to the test, we assembled a talented and experienced team of riders, ranging in ability from pro to expert trackday rider. Three-time AMA 250cc GP Champion Chuck Sorenson returned, joining myself and fellow staffers Adam Waheed and Ken Hutchison. Rounding out the crew was local AFM Formula Pacific fast-guy and owner of Pacific Track Time Michael Earnest, who knows Thunderhill like he knows his own bathroom, and is quite quick there.
Due to the size and sheer complexity, for this Mega Shootout we opted to split the track and street shootouts in to separate portions. One of the major reasons being that we once again stepped up our game, fitting each of the machines with the latest and greatest data acquisition systems from Kinelogix for our track test, which brought back more data than NASA could comprehend. But once deciphered, we ended up with loads of awesome and extremely interesting hard facts to back up our claims. We also added a trip back out to HPCC for yet more data, this time in the form of quarter-mile, top speed and acceleration testing. Not to mention weights, dyno numbers and so on. Just try not to let your head explode with all the info…
From the East comes the Big-Four Japanese: Honda CBR1000RR, Kawasaki ZX-10R, Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Yamaha YZF-R1, while from Europe we see Ducati’s 1198. Why no KTM RC8, Aprilia RSV1000 and BMW S1000RR, you might ask? Neither the Aprilia nor BMW will be available in the States until next year (expect them in Superbike Smackdown VII) and KTM, well, it seems they are too scared to come play with the big boys.
As for what’s new in ’09, that would fall in the hands of Suzuki, Yamaha and Ducati. Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 is all-new from the ground up for the first time since its inception in ’01, featuring Showa’s new Big Piston Fork. Yamaha drops on us an R1 which is said to be a direct decedent of Valentino Rossi’s M1 MotoGP steed, with a crossplane crank that makes it sound like nothing else of this world – except Rossi’s M1, that is. As for Ducati, its new machine looks nearly identical to the previous model with the exception of slightly different nomenclature on the bodywork – ‘1098’ now reads ‘1198’. But this simple difference means it gets an additional 100cc, enough to put the horsepower numbers right in the mix with all the rest. As for the Honda and Kawasaki, well, considering they went 1-2 last year, it’s hard to argue they needed much changing. That’s three of the five which are massively updated or totally all-new to go up against the top two contenders from last year. We couldn’t have written a better script if we tried.
With top dog Honda outshining the rest by a good margin last year and coming in this year with its head held high (our street shootout has been out for the past week and once again the trusty CBR1000RR dominated), could the newbie crew step up and take away the crown? It’s time to take off the footpeg feelers, bolt on race tires and let the red mist descend to see who is the King of the racetrack.
Welcome to the 2009 MotoUSA Superbike Smackdown!
To make sure we give love where it’s due, here are a list of the supporters and integral personnel that allowed the biggest and best Liter-class shootout of all-time to happen:
It’s no easy or cheap task to supply tires for our shootout, but the Italian rubber company stepped up with its Diablo SC (Super Corsa) race tire and came through with flying colors . As always, the Pirelli SC rubber was praised across the board and held up to the abuse our 1000s could throw their way without problem.
Providing trackside tire support was the always hard-working Chris Maguire of CT Racing, who worked his butt off to make sure all the bikes had fresh rubber right on time. Also, owner Corey Neuer is a talented motocross and road racer himself, so when the guy gives tire advice, we listen. If you want Pirelli’s on the West Coast there’s only one place we would even think to buy them: CT Racing.
Making sure we had ample on-board footage for this many machines in the time we had was no easy task, but if it were not for GoPro’s wide angle Hero it would have been impossible. They worked flawlessly and produced some awesome footage. Be sure to check out the videos!
Kinelogix Data Acquisition
Owner Kamal Amer fitted our test bikes with his latest data acquisition systems, providing enough information to launch a space ship. The good part is that their new Race Bike Data System is easy to use and proved to be extremely useful for putting hard numbers with the our seat-of-the-pants findings. Be sure to check them out!
T-Hill once again went above and beyond the call of duty to fit us in, making sure our day at the track was smooth and flawless. Not to mention how amazing the track and its surroundings really are. If you haven’t been to the ‘Hill, you must go. It’s the hidden racing treasure of Northern California, no doubt.
Big thanks to Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and Ducati for providing support and doing a great job at it while not getting in the way of our intensive testing schedule.
2009 Superbike Smackdown VI Track
2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 Comparison Track
2009 Ducati 1198 Comparison Track
2009 Kawasaki ZX-10R Comparison Track
2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Comparison Track
2009 Honda CBR1000RR Comparison Track