Motorcyclists seeking the highest-level of road performance need look no further than the Superbikes. These open-class sport bikes offer exhilarating acceleration and pin point handling wrapped in flamboyant street-legal packages. State-of-the-art multi-cylinder engines displacing at least 1000cc are controlled by highly advanced engine management systems, some of which include traction control, all of which are fuel-injected. The signature high-horsepower engines are integrated with the latest race-bred chassis designs which combine to offer nigh on absurd levels of performance. All of this is what makes the liter bikes so entertaining on the streets.
The same seven brands that battled for supremacy in our 2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Track shootout continue to go at it once again. Only this time the battlefield is the street where lap times are forgone for quarter mile times and rider comfort, and miles per gallon are even more critical than corner speed and maximum lean angles. This is Superbike Smackdown Street and we are here to tell you which bikes stand out and which ones came up a bit short. Included in the roster are the defending class champion BMW S1000R, Ducati 1198, Honda CBR1000R, the all new Kawasaki ZX-10R, updated KTM RC8R, venerable Suzuki GSX-R1000 the always popular Yamaha YZF-R1. Absent from this year’s test are Aprilia RSV4 and MV Agusta F4. Unfortunately, both manufactures decided to sit this one out.
BMW’s spectacular S1000RR returns as the reigning champ after astonishing us with the explosive performance from its Inline-Four engine, high-end electronics package, steady handling and day-to-day comfort. The Beemer was our pick for 2010 Motorcycle of the Year and that, along with the results of last year’s Smackdown, make it the benchmark. Aside from colors, price ($16,630 as tested) and an updated crankshaft engineered to meet World Superbike homologation, it’s identical to the ’10 model.
Although it’s been more than four years since its last major model update, Honda’s CBR1000RR is still a proven contender with consecutive Superbike Smackdown wins in ’08 and ’09 on its resume. Like the BMW, the CBR is unchanged except for colorways, which includes the red/black version we tested here, a solid black and a Repsol edition that pays homage to Honda’s MotoGP team. Even the price hasn’t budged from $13,399 (for the non-ABS version) which may be an indication of Big Red’s desire to move units in anticipation of the next generation Double-R. Come on Honda, make it a V4 so we can bring back the glory days of the RC30 and RC45!
The GSX-R1000 performed well in last year’s comparison test, in spite of competing with a one-year old machine. You might recall that Suzuki did not import any 2010 sport bikes to the U.S. due to the hard financial times and excessive existing inventory. With its high level of comfort and wicked-fun engine, the GSX-R reminded us why it has won more Superbike Smackdown shootouts than any other model. For ‘11 the GSX-R wears new colors and an MSRP of $13,599, but we cannot wait to see what Suzuki has in the works for the next generation Gixxer Thou.
Ducati’s up-spec 2010 1198S Corse Special Edition Superbike wowed us with the brutal power delivery of its L-Twin engine, slim Ohlins-equipped chassis and devilish silhouette. This time around, we’re testing the $16,495 1198 base model which now comes equipped with traction control and quick-shifter as standard equipment. The 1198 has been the wild card in so many shootouts before and we expected nothing less from the Italian company’s flagship superbike this time around.
The Yamaha YZF-R1 offers an interesting take on the Inline-Four cylinder engine configuration. With its cross plane crankshaft design and unique engine firing order it offers a distinct howl from its twin underseat exhaust and a unique power delivery that is best described as a cross between a Twin and an Inline engine. Since being released in ’09 the R1 hasn’t seen any significant updates aside from colors and the annual increase in price which has it sitting at $13,590 for 2011.
Kawasaki is the only brand-spanking new motorcycle for 2011. The $13,799 (non-ABS version) Ninja ZX-10R came up a bit short on the track but it’s aiming for the top-spot on the street with its use of an advanced traction and wheelie control system, sporty engine and rider-friendly ergonomics. Could this be the year Kawasaki finally gets it right on the street and earns the coveted Street portion of Superbike Smackdown?
KTM brings the other V-Twin powered motorcycle to the show. The RC8R has been around for a few years now and the Austrians have made subtle refinements each year in hopes of perfecting their superbike formula. The RC8 was good last year but this time around the RC8R is not only a better motorcycle, but MSRP has been reduced by nearly 20% to a more palatable $16,499. It looks to us like someone is intent on invading Italian territory with a motorcycle that looks insanely sexy and a heart that beats to a different drum.
To find out how these bikes perform on the streets we assembled an eclectic crew that ranged in experience from mild to wild and hit the streets of Southern California for a weekend of danger and debauchery all in the name of superbike science. During our adventure we pounded all sorts of pavement surfaces, from the football-field wide freeways of Los Angeles to the twists and turns of local SoCal riding hotspot Palomar Mountain and everywhere in between. Our staff also volunteered to spend a few days commuting on each bike to experience how each and every one of these machines operate as daily drivers too.
Superbike Smackdown Street scoring is based on objective performance criteria including: Horsepower, Torque, Curb Weight, Quarter-Mile, Zero-to-60, Braking Performance, MPG, Fuel Range, Sound and MSRP. Bikes were also ranked via rider’s subjective opinions which included Engine Performance and Character, Drivetrain, Handling/Suspension, Brakes, Ergonomics, Instrumentation/Electronics, Overall Comfort, Appearance, and Personal Preference. Points were then tallied in accordance with our customary Formula One scale with ten points for first place, eight for second, seven for third, six for fourth, etc. All categories scores are then compiled and the sum of the parts is used to determine a winner. But enough with the introduction, let’s get on with Superbike Smackdown Street.
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2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Street
2011 Ducati 1198 Street Comparison
2011 Yamaha YZF-R1 Street Comparison
2011 KTM RC8R Street Comparison
2011 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Street Comparison