Lighter, faster, smaller. A decade ago these were the principals of sportbike design. It was the heyday of engineering – an era when three-year product cycles weren’t the average, they were the norm… Or was it? While today’s top Superbike brands aren’t as anxious to unveil full wheel-to-wheel overhauls, they are still keen on showcasing cutting-edge electronics and mechanical innovation, making the exhilarating performance of this class more accessible to a larger riding audience. So after a three-year hiatus MotoUSA presents the 10th edition of our 2015 Superbike Smackdown Shootout from Willow Springs Raceway.
Though invites were sent to each player only Aprilia, BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha opted to compete. Ducati and its 1299 Panigale ($19,295) were a notable absence, having quite literally missed the boat by just a few days due to shipping delays, but as they say, the show must go on…
Having used handling prowess to narrowly outgun the mighty BMW in modified form during Superbike Smackdown IX, Honda enters the contest as the reigning champ. Although the oldest platform (last overhauled in ’08, with a facelift in ’12), Big Red submits its premium CBR1000RR SP variation ($17,299) which swaps out Nissin front brake hardware for Brembo monoblocs and Showa suspension for Ohlins. The engine also gets a new cylinder head and blueprinted pistons and connection rods, but will that be enough to keep the cat-like SP at the top of the heap?
New and improved for ’15, BMW continues to campaign its S1000RR ($18,945 as tested) in the Superbike class. Although it finished runner-up at the last showdown, the Bavarian bike has a solid CV boasting two wins in three Smackdown appearances. Beneath its fresh body panels it wears a new frame (with optimized geometry) and standard semi-active DDC (Dynamic Damping Control) suspension. The engine’s intake and top-end were also improved, along with its electronic controls. Despite a bevy of electronic adjustment, curiously, BMW was the only manufacturer to not support our test with an onsite technician. Still considering its past might, it’s hard to bet against the German machine.
Despite only having one shootout win under its belt, Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10R ($14,599) is an enduring favorite in our tests. Overhauled four years ago, the Ninja has had the most time past since its last re-fresh. Known for its robust powerband and functional electronics package, the green bike is likely to impress at a fast and flowing track like Willow Springs.
With three Smackdown wins to its credit, Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 ($13,899) is a proven winner. Last updated in ’12, the Suzuki always impresses with its workhorse of a chassis and friendly engine character that enable fast laps to come with ease. Over the years the GSX-R has become the weapon of choice for racers worldwide, due to its simple design that’s easy to modify into full race trim. But can the trusty GSX-R still run with the updated weaponry from Aprilia, BMW and Yamaha?
Since arriving on the scene five years ago, Aprilia’s RSV4 has allured us with its compact packaging and the thrilling demeanor of its screaming, one-of-a-kind V-Four. Since we last tested it in 2012, the RSV4R ($15,499) received a few tweaks for 2013 including the fitment of M50 monobloc front brake calipers from Brembo, a new exhaust and reshaped fuel tank. Its electronics suite also received refreshed coding with ABS. For ’16, the RSV4 received even more improvements, however, test units haven’t arrived in America yet, thus leaving us with a 2015 unit for our shootout. (Read our First Ride impressions of the 2016 RSV4 RF.)
Throughout the history of our liter-bike shootouts, Yamaha has yet to finish on the top step of the podium. This year could see it rectify that omission with the introduction of its brand new YZF-R1 ($16,490). Cued heavily off of its YZR-M1 MotoGP prototype, the Tuning Fork company’s latest Superbike is the closest thing to a production MotoGP racer. But after years of coming up short did engineers do enough to finally eclipse the R1’s competition?
MotoUSA presents Superbike Smackdown X, a battle to the checkers featuring the Aprilia RSV4 R, BMW S1000RR, Honda CBR1000RR SP, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Yamaha YZF-R1. Watch MotoUSA put these Superbikes to the test at Willow Springs Raceway in this seven-part 2015 Superbike Shootout Video playlist.
Big bikes with big horsepower need to be tested at a big track. So we spent a nine-hour shift galloping each and every pony at California’s ultra-fast Willow Springs’ 2.5-mile long course. To keep things fair each motorcycle was shoed with Bridgestone’s freshly released Battlax RS-10 street and R-10 racing tires. The Japanese rubber features a versatile profile that complemented the handling character of each liter-bike. And the elevated levels of road holding allowed us to better dissect each bike’s track performance. Durability was outstanding too, with more than 450 laps recorded during this test.
Since the Aprilia, BMW and Yamaha come from the factory with electronic quickshifters, we allowed the others to fit aftermarket set-ups either from Bazzaz or Dynojet. Manufacturers were also permitted to remove mirrors and rear fender, but no other modifications were allowed.
Actual seat time was equalized through a pair of timed rotations by our usual ringers, whose experience ranges from former AMA and World Endurance champ, Jason Pridmore, to club racers Corey Neuer and Jen Dunstan, as well as current AFM No.1 plate holder, Chris Siglin. Also joining us was street freestyle rider and lover of all things that go fast, Aaron Colton. With stop watches in hand, and under the watchful eye of most of the manufacturers, the riding sessions were followed by Superpole.
During Superpole both Pridmore and the author spun two flying laps on each bike. Data acquisition equipment from Kinelogix recorded every movement, revealing tangible metrics, including braking and acceleration force, speed and lean angle. This data augments the objective component of our track scorecard and is complemented by an equal number of rider subjective categories. Points were then assessed giving us a final ranking. At the end there can only be one, so let’s dig in and find out who got it right for 2015.
2015 Honda CBR1000RR SP Track Comparison
Renowned for its svelte chassis, balanced handling and punchy mid-range Honda’s CBR1000RR is one of our favorite Superbikes of all-time. For 2015 Honda aims to sharpen handling prowess via a limited edition SP variation ($17,299).
Ed. Note: Technology hiccups happen, and just like your smartphone, it can quit working when needed most. That’s what happened with our data acquisition equipment during the SP’s Superpole runs. Since the equipment didn’t register any readings in six of 10 Objective Performance categories, we’re unable to effectively score the Honda, thus it’s not subject to an official rank.
Over the years we’ve logged thousands of track miles aboard Honda’s current-generation CBR, and, as always, it is one of the most cooperative platforms to tuck in behind. It still feels the lightest in class, more so than its scant one or two pound difference measured against the all-new Yamaha and Kawasaki would lead you to believe.
“It’s one of these bikes – and Honda’s known for it – bikes that are super user-friendly,” says Jen about the CBR. “It’s easy to push around the corners and it’s easy to correct when you make mistakes. So it’s a really forgiving bike and for those reasons I like it.”
“I understand in this shootout it is a little underpowered compared to the other 1000s. But as a 600 rider looking to transition and come up, it’s actually in my favor,” she explains.
Aside from the ultra-nimble Yamaha and Aprilia, the Honda ranked the third-best in steering. Its fresh Ohlins suspension behaved well at lean, with excellent action and road holding. The one complaint? Balance was a bit off (tall in the front, low in the rear) which made it not as apt to turn as well as we recall with the standard model. Still, Pridmore didn’t seem to mind:
“It was the easiest bike of all of them to ride,” he confesses. “But we just struggled a little bit with top speed on that bike. Again with the wind today (our test day was subject to 20-30 mph wind gusts), that bike got hurt more than any of them. But braking and overall stability of the bike itself is incredible. And that’s why guys like Johnny Rea and [Michael] van der Mark have been capable of keeping that Honda up front like they have been in World Superbike.”
As Pridmore mentions, speed, or lack thereof, is the most prevalent factor holding the Honda back from a better showing. Dyno testing demonstrates the power disparity with the CBR churning out the least horsepower – just shy of 149 ponies galloping at 10,700 revs. For reference, that’s over 40 horsepower fewer than the BMW and between 12 and 25 ponies less than the rest… and that’s with the SP’s upgraded engine hardware. However, the CBR gets away with it, to a certain extent, due in part to its healthy mid-range and competitive peak torque (76.26 lb-ft) that arrives early in the powerband at 10,700 revs (second earliest aside from the R1).
“It can still run a lap time,” says Neuer. “I think where the difference is, for the guys going racing, it’s harder to get the Honda to the next level. That’s why it may not be so appealing for some people anymore because these other bikes – the ZX-10, the Yamaha – they have a lot more to offer in race trim.”
In spite of its weak top-end muscle the CBR still posted competitive lap times – not something easy to do at a big horsepower-friendly track like Willow. For both Pridmore and the author, the SP was fourth-fastest at 1’25.44 (Pridmore) and 1’29.04 (Waheed).
Coming off corners the Honda’s friendly powerband, well-sorted rear suspension and drivetrain allow it to accelerate off corners surprisingly well. In fact, its modest power, combined with the dynamic of its powertrain/rear suspension is basically traction control in itself. Still, considering its price, and the players it’s running with, it’s clear that the Honda needs a significant overhaul to be truly competitive in this class.
“It’s kind of a bummer,” says Siglin. “Every year we are hoping Honda comes out and updates their bike with electronics. To ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ I guess you could say, with the rest of the manufacturers that are doing the same. And it’s a bike that does everything pretty good. Easy to ride, really good ergos on it, comfortable, but just missing the electronics side, and maybe just a little bit of motor, too.”
Less speed equals less brakes, so it’s obvious the Honda’s setup was taxed the least around Willow’s 9-turn course. And although wearing premium Brembo jewelry, the bling didn’t play a significant role in the Honda’s performance. In fact, initial bite was soft compared to the ultra-sharp BMW and even Yamaha and Aprilia setups, costing it some more precious points on the scorecard.
“I really want to confidently say that this motorcycle was one of the most stable and well handling machines here, but that would be kind of misleading to anyone who is actually planning on purchasing the standard CBR10000RR.” says Colton – a backhanded compliment in reference to the $3300 more expensive SP versus the standard RR. “The bike handled really well overall, but it’s hard to make an honest comparison to the other bikes as it was a much more expensive model with the fork, shock and other pieces.”
Despite our data snafu, the Honda continues to make an impression with its intelligent cockpit and above-average handling. Although lacking modern electronics it is surprising how effective it puts power to pavement, as evidenced by its mid-pack Superpole times. But a weak top-end and its respectable – but no longer class-leading – handling keep it from being a top contender.
2015 Honda CBR1000RR SP Specs
Engine: 999cc Liquid-cooled Inline Four, DOHC, 16-valve
Bore and Stroke: 76.0 x 55.1mm
Compression Ratio: 12.3:1
Fuel Delivery: Dual Stage Fuel Injection
Clutch: Wet multi-plate slipper clutch; Cable actuation
Final Drive: Chain, 16/42 gearing
Frame: Twin spar aluminum
Front Suspension: 43mm Ohlins NIX30 inverted fork; three-way adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound; 4.3 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link equipped Ohlins TTX36 gas-charged shock; three-way adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound; 5.4 in. travel
Front Brakes: 320mm discs with radial-mount Brembo monobloc calipers
Rear Brake: 220mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Tires: Bridgestone Battlax RS-10; 120/70R17, 190/55R17
Curb Weight: 441 lbs
Wheelbase: 55.5 inches
Rake / Trail: 23.3° / 3.7 inches
Seat Height: 32.2 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.6 gallons
Warranty: One year unlimited mileage