2011 Road Sport Shootout

MotorcycleUSA Staff | September 26, 2011

Modern sportbikes are engineering marvels. Flagship Superbike and Supersport models represent the apogee of racing development, producing obscene levels of horsepower and showcasing the latest in motorcycle technology. Purpose-built to win racing championships, this uncompromising drive for performance equates to bliss on the track, but overshoots the real-world requirements of public roads. As such, demand has surged for more forgiving, versatile mounts – bikes which deliver a satisfying sportbike experience without tortured ergonomics.

Enter the growing Road Sport class. These bikes don’t hew to strict displacement limits imposed by racing regulations, and they don’t get churned out of factories with cookie cutter-like similarity. Call them road sports, or gentlemen sportbikes, or sport standards… Call them whatever you want, but the expanding options of these street-friendly rides are a key trend of motorcycling these past few years.

Driving demand is another critical industry trend, America’s aging riding population. Recent decades have seen the average motorcycle purchaser’s age climb from the mid 30s to now pushing 50. What was once a young man’s game has morphed into a middle-aged past-time. And it’s funny how time changes perception. Age brings aching joints and grey hair (if it stays at all), but it also brings experience and, maybe, a bit of wisdom. Dragging knees inches from the double yellow sounds fine and dandy for the young bucks, whose knees don’t creek getting out of office chairs. But there’s plenty of old stags who’d give up a couple tenths on the backroads for a riding position that doesn’t require chiropractic intervention the next morning.

While older, I mean, distinguished sportbike riders make up the key demographic for this emerging segment, so are bargain hunters. Superbike MSRP elevate along with the performance, and many of these Road Sport offerings soften the blow – shaving a couple thousand off the asking price with cost-saving components that still prove more than competent for the street.

Another attraction of the Road Sport class is versatility. As market segments get more and more specialized, a do-it-all mount becomes more alluring than ever – particularly in the dire economy. Motorcycle sales have been slashed across the board since the recession, and one big factor is the elimination of multiple bike purchases. Few people can afford the indulgence of a track bike, a touring bike, and a dual-sport… Instead they’re hunting for a jack-of-all-trades, and the Road Sport class can fit the bill. These bikes must excel in canyon carving, be capable commuters and also comfortably deliver when pressed into touring duties. And while they won’t bring home any racing cups, if required they should acquit themselves at the odd track day too.

Motorcycle USA assembles five bikes that best fit these Road Sport designations. First up are luxury mounts from BMW and Honda with the K1300S and VFR1200F. Both the Bavarian and Nipponese bikes stand out in this comparison with un-sportbike-like shaft final drives. They also feature high-end fit and finish, along with an accompanying high-end performance and MSRP.

More affordable entries from Japan make up the remaining trio. The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 is an all-new model for 2011, essentially a faired version of Kawi’s Z1000 streetfighter. Suzuki takes a similar tack with its GSX1250FA. This fully-faired version of the naked Bandit standard marks one of Suzuki’s few 2011 model year additions. Yamaha’s FZ1 arrives as the outlier in this group, having been a staple of the Tuning Fork brand’s lineup for many years now. In the past MotoUSA has tossed the FZ1 in with the naked streetfighters for comparison duty, where it half fit in with its half-fairing. We want to revisit the familiar Fazer to see if it better meshes with these Road Sport competitors.

Our comparison testing regimen follows the usual MotoUSA protocols. First a trip onto the Intercomp scales for fully-fueled curb weights, and then a visit to our Dynojet 200i to measure rear-wheel horsepower and torque production. Road testing on our favorite backroads surrounding MotoUSA’s Medford, Oregon headquarters is then followed by performance testing at southern California’s Barona Drag Strip.

Test rider input comes courtesy of myself and fellow 30-something, MCUSA graphic designer Robin Haldane. But our test garners maybe its most relevant insight from two prime candidates for the Road Sport genre. MotoUSA head honcho Ken Hutchison brings a love of sportbikes stretching back to his mulleted late teens. Hutch’s mentor and accomplice in squid-dom, Scot Gibson, also joined the testing crew. The two revisited the old roads from their ‘80s high school days, and pontificated on the highs and lows of these new gentlemanly rides. For pillion impressions we drafted Ken’s long-suffering two-up partner, Laura Lee, who has been dragged around on the back of way too many sportbikes over the years but still keeps climbing on for more.

So, gentlemen, and ladies, here’s how we stack these mounts up on the road.

MotorcycleUSA Staff