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2014 Light-Heavyweight Supersport Shootout

Monday, January 27, 2014

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2014 Kawasaki ZX-6R - Light-Heavyweight Supersport Shootout
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Kawasaki has its work cut out this time as it faces off against larger displacement equipment from Europe and Japan. Watch the 2014 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Comparison Video to see how it does.
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2014 Suzuki GSX-R750 - Light-Heavyweight Supersport Shootout
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MotoUSA is at it again, this time putting Suzuki’s GSX-R750 against its heavyweight competition from Italy. Watch the 2014 Suzuki GSX-R750 Comparison Video to see where it stacks up.
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2014 MV Agusta F3 800- Light-Heavyweight Supersport Shootout Video
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After a disappointing first-year MV Agusta offers an improved 800cc powered F3. But can it get the job done? Watch the 2014 MV Agusta F3 800 Comparison Video and find out.
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2014 Ducati 899 Panigale - Light-Heavyweight Supersport Shootout
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Watch Ducati’s 899 Panigale go head-to-head against its Italian and Japanese foes in the 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale Comparison Video.
If you can’t tell by looking at them, things move pretty fast in the world of sportbikes. From the technology that propels these bullet bikes through the air, to the ever-evolving engine size and class structure, bigger, lighter, faster rules. And for 2014 this segment is further scrambled by two new entries: Ducat’s 899 Panigale and MV Agusta’s F3 800. Together with the venerable Suzuki GSX-R750 and revamped Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R we’ve got the ingredients for this year’s inaugural Light-Heavyweight Supersport Shootout.


Although it doesn’t necessarily fit this segment, we consider Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-6R ($11,699) the benchmark, having outgunned the larger 750-powered Suzuki along with the other middleweights during last season’s Supersport Shootout IX. This time, however, the Ninja has its work cut out for it as it employs the smallest capacity engine (636cc Inline Four). But don’t count the green bike out yet—since it boasts a highly refined engine and chassis package, along with class-leading traction control that helps the rider flirt more closely with the edge of grip at an all-out race pace. It recorded the fastest outright lap time last season, and after a year of subtle suspension set-up refinement, it’s prepared to do it again.


Suzuki’s GSX-R750 ($12,299) coined the modern sportbike 28 years ago. Today, the Japanese outfit continues to meticulously craft it for riders who want something between a 600cc Supersport and a 1000cc Superbike. Last updated three years ago, the Inline Four-powered GSX-R is the oldest bike in this contest, and the only machine not equipped with traction control from the factory. So to level the playing field we fitted an aftermarket Z-FI TC unit ($849.95) from Bazzaz Performance. Though we didn’t ask for it, Bazzaz enabled its electronic quickshifter functionality—giving the GSX-R an advantage during full throttle acceleration compared to the non-speed shifter equipped Ninja. But will the black box be magical enough to put the Gixxer back on top?


MV Agusta shook up the middleweight scene with the introduction of its original F3 675. Now it builds on the platform with the release of its larger and more powerful F3 800 ($15,798). Equipped with a long-stroke 800cc version of its hard-hitting Inline Triple, along with upgraded chassis hard parts and reprogrammed ride-by-wire coding, it is clear where MV intends on going with the 800—straight to the top step of the podium. During our First Ride, it surprised us with its improved level of ride-ability but have enough gremlins been sorted for it to run with the more experienced brands?


Perhaps the most anticipated motorcycle in this shootout is Ducati’s 899 Panigale ($14,995). Although based off the larger and more premium 1199 Panigale, this junior version features a radically new forward-thinking design that cleverly integrates the engine as part of the main chassis. Yet it was the electronics suite that made an impression on us during a rainy test from Imola, Italy. But we wondered if the same chassis problems that hindered the 1199’s performance on a dry circuit would show up on the 899, too. Now it’s time to find out.
Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa Race Tires

While each motorcycle in this shootout comes with quality, track-capable rubber off the showroom floor, we needed to extort the maximum sport capabilities of each machine. So we had race tire ace, Chris Maquire, of CT Racing, fit each bike with a set of Pirelli’s Diablo Supercorsa race tires (120/70-17 fronts and 180/60-17 rears, SC2 compound). Although similar in appearance to its outstanding SP V2 road and track tire, the SC compound rubber is engineered for competition use via the Italian outfits role as the spec tire supplier in the World Supersport and Supertock road racing series. Participation in those ultra-competitive classes necessitate constant development in terms of compounds and inner construction and these hoops do not disappoint offering ever-increasing levels of road holding and feel that other brands have a hard time matching.


Over the years we’ve cataloged performance data on many Supersports and Superbikes from the past and present at Southern California’s Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. So for consistency, we stuck with the program, returning to the 2.68-mile desert track for a day of testing. We utilized the standard 17-turn clockwise orientation so readers could compare this year’s data to past tests including Supersport Shootout IX and X, as well as Superbike Smackdown VIII.

Riding duties were handled by the author, along with the ultra-smooth and speedy two-time AMA road racing and World Endurance racing champion Jason Pridmore. Also returning is our longstanding throttle hand, racer and former motorcycle magazine editor, Corey Neuer. Lastly we had a special European guest, Road Test Editor Chris Northover from English sportbike magazine Superbike. Together we compiled over 60 laps on each machine with some very surprising results. So let’s get on with it and learn which is the finest Light-Heavyweight for ’14.

Light-Heavyweight Shootout Photos
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Supersport Shootout Track Scoring
Kinelogix fitted its Trackday Data Logger to each motorcycle in order to better quantify motorcycle performance.
Compared to some magazine tests where it sometimes seems a winner is chosen by what color looks the best, the results of our comparison are determined by a comprehensive scoring system. Each machine is scored on unbiased performance-based factors – things like corner speed, side-to-side flick rate, braking and acceleration force. Of course, rider feedback is also valuable, so we have an equal number (10) of subjective categories allowing each motorcycle to earn points for the characteristics it does best. Points are then tallied based on a hybrid Formula One points scale with 10 points for first, eight for second, seven for third, six for fourth, etc., with all 20 categories scored equally. The numbers are then calculated and we come up with the bike’s finishing position and this year’s shootout champ!


Maximum Acceleration / Braking Force:
How hard the motorcycle accelerates and how hard it slows, measured in G's by the front-to-rear (longitudinal) accelerometer in the data logger.

Top Speed: The velocity measured in mph of the motorcycle at its peak before it begins decelerating for the upcoming turn.

Corner Speed: The maximum speed of the motorcycle at the apex of a turn measured in mph.

Max Lean: The lean angle from vertical, in a turn, measured in degrees and calculated from the motorcycle’s velocity and radius of the turn.

Maximum Flick Rate: How quickly the bike is leaned from side to side during a transition, measured in degrees per second.
Superpole 101
As usual we instituted our proven Superpole methodology in which both myself and Pridmore put a flying lap on each of the motorcycles to see how it reacts “near the limit” under the watchful eye of each brand’s press manager. Keen readers will note that some of the data differs from that of our previous test, which is attributed to the vastly different riding styles of ‘11 Superpole test rider Steve Rapp, whose style can be defined as more modern, point- and- shoot style versus Pridmore’s more fluid momentum-based form.
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OutOfTheBox   February 27, 2014 07:04 PM
seriously I can't wait for the heavy-middleweight supersport shootout involving the 6R and the 899 Panigale
Turbo329   February 14, 2014 11:31 AM
Man that F3 rips. As an owner of an F4 (2005) I totally dig MV and am impressed with what they did. It's just that the price of the F3 puts it in ZX-10R and S1000RR territory and I've seen ZX-10Rs get blown out for $10,000 brand spankin' new. It's hard to justify the price. With that said, it's nice to see the 800 in the mix and getting it in! GET SOME!!!!
motousa_adam   February 4, 2014 11:23 PM
I am glad you guys are paying attention and analyzing the numbers. But it’s important to remember that dyno testing is merely one piece of the puzzle (actually, per our score sheet it is 10% of the puzzle—horsepower and torque each scored separately). True, the 899’s Twin stomps everything in measured torque at all rpms. Its also got plenty of muscle up top, too—which is great. But behind the windscreen it feels much different than what the dyno data leads you to believe (that is why we supplement our test with other data like acceleration force and top speed). The dynamic of the engine (fast revving, narrow powerband, short rev ceiling) along with the drivetrain (close ratio transmission/final drive gearing) force the rider to keep the Panigale revved to the moon. You don’t ride the 899 at 3000 rpm. You ride it between 9000 and 11000 revs, and if you’re not—you’re doing it wrong. It’s that simple. Another thing working in the Panigale’s disadvantage is that it has the shortest powerband. You can see this visually by looking at how short (from left-to-right) its HP and torque curve is compared to the others. Specifically, the powerband is some 15% less than the next lowest bike (MV) and greater than 24% under the GSX-R and Ninja. I hope that helps explain things and it’s important to remember that we love the 899 and that this has been Ducati’s best showing in our sportbike comparisons in quite some time now. If we conducted the test at a faster track like Thunderhill the final result may have been very different…. Adam
OutOfTheBox   January 29, 2014 09:12 PM
Peak HP only matters when otherwise the engine power characteristics are the same, and only at the RPM at which peak HP is made. What matters is that it can't exploit the extra torque (and HP) on this track. Both Pridemore and Waheed were faster on the 6R which has what, 2/3rds of the torque but weighs only 10 lbs less. The telemetry data that says that the Panigale had the worst braking, corner-speed and acceleration in a number of areas. If you go back and look at the two 2011 tests the CBR1000RR won the test. The hot rider had a time just SLIGHTLY faster on the CBR1000RR, just .08sec faster than the 675 Daytona on the same track, same year, in the other test. But Waheed was almost 2 sec faster on the CBR1000RR than the 675 Daytona and was 2.5sec faster than on the Panigale 1200 (both riders were 0.8sec faster on the CBR1000RR than they were on the S1000RR). And the CBR1000RR makes just 10ft-lbs more torque peak than the Panigale 899 but at least 65ft-lbs between 6k and 12k. It's not a flat curve but much flatter than either of the Panigales. Now, Chuckwalla may be a relatively slow track but it seems about equal for 600s and literbikes when ridden by accomplished pro riders. So it becomes less of a test of power and handling-speed, and more of a test of ride quality and rider-skill.
OutOfTheBox   January 29, 2014 07:54 PM
@FSB: To get the absolute most out of a bike when leaned over you can't have dramatic changes in the power-delivery so that valley in the torque-curve hurts it (if you go into corners a gear high) as much as the rev-limiter shutting the engine down on overrun hurts it (if you come out a gear low). If you go back and look at the two tests they mention on the first page you see the same problem with the 1200 Panigale which has a similar powerband. A ton of torque numerically, it clearly dominates all the other superbikes in terms of torque when its in its power band, but that big gap in the midrange really hurts it. Also the redline of the Ducatis is somewhat lower than the others so the bike has to be geared longer to make up for that. Not a super problem on a short track like Chuckwalla, but as they said in the article the gearing just wasn't right for that bike on the track. The question is whether it could have been better without replacing the transmission gears as well. I'd have to say that this question is one that they could have actually considered in a trackday, it's not that hard to change the rear sprocket, re-tension and run some laps to test the concept. If you're going to do that testing in the first place. Of course you would have to have the sprockets to do it. But this problem either extends to street riding or it doesn't. And let's face it this bike is a Ducati either way.
raber   January 29, 2014 07:30 PM
I agree with FastBikeGear. From your own dyno results, it looks like the Ducati is strongest from 3000 rpm all the way up to 11,000rpm.
FastBikeGear   January 29, 2014 06:26 PM
I don't get it? Your testers say that the 899 had no bottom end or mid range and that they had to rev it hard and use it in the upper rev range. These comments were particularly emphasized by the reviewers in the video clip of the Ducati. Yet according to your dyno charts the Ducati makes more torque EVERYWHERE in the rev range than the other bikes and this is particularly so at lower revs. It also makes similar peak horsepower to the F3 but it does this at lowe revs than the F3. What am I missing?
motousa_adam   January 29, 2014 12:22 PM
@ dmfd123 We actually LOVE riding the Ducati this year. It really surprised us and personally, I think it could be an even better bike than the 1199 at some tracks as crazy as that sounds. But the 899 absolutely rips and at a super fast sixth-gear track with lots of hard braking and acceleration the 899 would probably do a lot better.
motousa_adam   January 29, 2014 12:19 PM
We always enjoyed riding the F3 due to the visceral riding experience it offers. But problem is it was just too sketchy to ride when you’re an all-out Blitzkrieg pace. Well, thankfully they've addressed many of the problems and are working diligently to refine things like the throttle and electronics even more.
motousa_adam   January 29, 2014 12:16 PM
The Daytona 675 was not included because it did not win last year's middleweight test (it finished runner-up).
honda1   January 28, 2014 01:39 PM
Why no Daytona 675?
Superlight   January 28, 2014 12:54 PM
Up until this test, why did the testers hate the MV F3? I love mine.
dmfd123   January 28, 2014 05:41 AM
Well, my predictions were dead wrong. Why does everyone hate Ducati?