Sportbikes are the gateway vehicle to an adrenaline-filled life on two wheels. Born and bred for the track, these Superbikes
are production racers whose true potential can only be unleashed by pinning them on a closed course circuit. For 2012 that track would be the venerable Thunderhill Raceway Park where it’s 15 turns, numerous elevation changes, wide tarmac and long straightaway proves to be the perfect playground for Motorcycle USA’s most anticipated annual shootout – the Superbike Smackdown Track comparison.
The ninth annual Superbike Smackdown proved to be our most adventurous undertaking to date, with nine motorcycles pitted against each other in a winner-take-all style shootout. In fact, the only bike we failed to obtain was Erik Buell’s American-made, V-twin-powered EBR 1190RS (starting at $37,499). To further up the ante, we took a cue from our 2010 Modified Supersport Shootout
– allowing each bike this year to be fitted with an aftermarket exhaust system, fuel-injection tuning module and quick-shifter. After all, those are the most popular upgrades track junkies do to their machines. Just because we opened the door to play by these rules, to our surprise, there were a few OEM’s who chose not to make these changes. Would it hurt their chances?
Once again, the BMW S1000RR ($15,050) was the benchmark going into the test with the German bike having won the last two Superbike Smackdown tests (both street and track). And for 2012 it was in an even better position to defend its crown after having received a host of chassis and electronic updates (see the 2012 BMW S1000RR First Ride
from Valencia, Spain). Originally eager to showcase its accessory racing exhaust, at the last minute BMW elected to leave its machine stock for this track test. BMW chose to rely on its proven high-horsepower engine, sophisticated electronics package and the momentum of back-to-back Smackdown wins as it views for a Three-Peat. It already took the win in our 2012 Superbike Smackdown IX Street
and is looking to make a clean sweep.
Honda’s CBR1000RR ($13,800) has been a perennial favorite in our Superbike Smackdown tests. Like the BMW, it also received very select chassis and aesthetic upgrades but to our surprise, nothing significant to the engine. Despite keeping the upgrades simple, it was well received during the 2012 Honda CBR1000RR First Ride
at Sonoma Raceway. Honda has always had its bikes well sorted for these tests so it was no surprise when our CBR showed up fitted with every upgrade we allowed in the test. A Yoshimura R-77 Slip-On Exhaust
, Power Commander V
and Dynojet Quick Shifter Expansion Module combined to wake-up this passive-aggressive superbike and give it a significant performance boost on track. Every year that we have conducted the controlled Superpole parameters for our track test, the CBR1000RR has earned the fastest lap of the test and the coveted Superpole trophy. With everyone gunning for it, could Honda etch its name in the cup for a fourth consecutive year?
Having just received a wheel-to-wheel revamp last season, Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10R ($13,999 non-ABS version) is one of three motorcycles that entered this contest as a carry-over model. Kawasaki chose to add a Leo Vince GP Pro Evo II Slip-On Exhaust
, Dynojet Power Commander V
tuning module and Dynojet Quick Shifter Expansion Module to help in its efforts to dethrone the Beemer or at least steal the Superpole award.
The ’12 season also saw Yamaha’s crossplane engine-equipped YZF-R1 ($13,990) receive a round of updates, highlighted by the fitment of traction control as we detailed in the 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 First Ride
. For our showdown, the Tuning Fork company teamed with long-time racing powerhouse Graves Motorsports. If any company knows how to get the most from the R1 it’s the Graves crew. Like Honda, the boys in blue spared no effort in getting the R1set up with every available option on our list: A Graves Motorsports Titanium Exhaust System was paired with a Power Commander V and Dynojet Quick Shifter Expansion Module
. The result was an even sweeter sounding superbike than the one we rode in stock trim during our street test.
Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 ($13,799) has won more Superbike Smackdown tests than any other brand. Although it’s been a while since it last collected a win (2007), Suzuki came to the test anxious to build on that record with the introduction of a new and improved GSX-R. Earlier this year we tested it at Miami-Homestead Speedway during the 2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000 First Ride
and came away impressed with the effort. For our Smackdown, Suzuki enlisted the tuning wizards at Yoshimura who fitted its Yoshimura TRC-D Full System paired with the Bazzaz Performance Z-FI QS Quick Shift System
which is a fuel module and quick shifter all in one.
In the Orange corner we have the KTM RC8R ($16,499) which is also a carry-over model for 2012. It receives a few minor updates, so the real news for our shootout was the installation of a full Akrapovic factory racing exhaust as well as upgraded fuel and ignition mapping to accompany the sweet, hand-crafted Titanium exhaust. The staccato sound pumping out of this Big Twin was a stark contrast to the high-pitch howling from the quartet of Inline Fours it was up against.
Without question, the Ducati 1199 Panigale S ($22,995) was the most anticipated bike of the year. Everyone was eager to see how it would stack up and after an impressive showing on our street shootout where it finished third behind the BMW and CBR, the Ducati was set to shine on the track for which it was bred. Heading into this test the new Italian Superbike had received rave reviews following the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale First Ride
from the Middle East and we were all excited to see if it lives up to the hype. To sweeten the pot even further our test machine was equipped with a full race exhaust from technical partner Termignoni. The stock electronics package of the S-model would not be swapped out for any type of aftermarket system. Like the BMW, the Ducati would go at it with minimal upgrades.
After a year off, Aprilia was back in a big way with its RSV4 Factory APRC ($22,999). This V-Four-powered Italian superbike features some of the most advanced electronics on a production on a modern motorcycle including traction control a myriad of engine maps, quickshifter and a chassis that allows the engine to be moved for-aft –up-and –down, adjustable swingarm pivot point and the list goes on. Although the RSV4 didn’t enjoy any major upgrades for this season, our test unit came equipped with a full Akrapovic
Racing Exhaust System from the Aprilia accessory catalog. The stock electronics are more than enough to hang with this crowd so no aftermarket gadgets were used.
Finally, after years of unanswered invitations, San Diego, California's Moto Forza
, an MV Agusta dealership, stepped up and provided us our first opportunity to toss the 2012 MV Agusta F4R ($19,498) into the mix. This exotic sportbike is half piece of art, half racebike. Its wailing Inline Four powerplant comes with the necessary credentials and reputation to shake up the finishing order. Unfortunately, since it was a last minute addition to our test, it didn’t come with official OEM support and we didn’t have the means to fit up a race pipe, so we tested just as it rolls off the showroom floor.
Test-riding literbikes at the track isn’t all fun and games despite what our ex-wives would tell you - it’s actually one of the most challenging aspects of magazine work. That’s why we enlist a competent group of riders capable of giving accurate feedback at a challenging circuit like northern California’s Thunderhill Raceway. We chose to utilize T-Hill’s 2.86-mile, 15-turn road course, as it offers a tremendous variety of high- and low-speed corners and both heavy acceleration and hard braking zones which allow for a more authentic assessment of the performance capabilities of today’s Superbikes. As for tires, each machine was fitted with Pirelli
Diablo Supercorsa SP (high-performance street tires) on Day 1 and Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa race tires (SC2) for Day 2.
Our assessment squad consisted of some old and new faces. Returning this year were long-time expert-level club racers Michael Earnest and Corey Neuer along with freshly
hired AMA PRO racer Frankie Garcia as well as MotoUSA O.G. Ken Hutchison and yours truly. After a few year hiatus, our design department VP and hardened on/off-road motorcycle racer Brian Chamberlain swapped his mouse for a throttle one more time. New to the roster are trackday rider and Digital Media Producer Justin Dawes and former AMA Pro Thunder Champion Tom Montano of Cycle News. We also had the pleasure of using our Motorcycle-Superstore sponsored AMA SuperSport racer Devon McDonough.
Some of you might be wondering what happened to last year’s celebrity guest tester Steve Rapp
? Well, just days before our test, Rapp broke his wrist while racing at Sonoma Raceway so his role was filled by reigning AFM Champion and Superbike Smackdown veteran, Chris Siglin. As anyone in AFM will attest, you’ll be hard pressed to find another rider with as much raw speed and critical track knowledge at Thunderhill. Siglin and I would pull rider duty during Superpole and the added pressure of turning laps alone on the track while every single OEM, test rider and corner worker soaked in every move with stop-watches in hand.
Now that you know the players, the riders and the rules, let’s find out what the best literclass bike is for ripping around the racetrack.