In the realm of motorcycling, liter-class Superbikes
are the pride and joy of every manufacturers’ line-up. These high-performance motorcycles are the apex of production sportbike design showcasing the latest race-bred technologies trickled down from both Superbike and MotoGP racing. Each brand funnels untold sums of cash into its engineering departments in a quest to deliver the lightest, fastest, most technologically advanced sportbikes for motorcyclists to ride, play on and race. Still the question remains: Which bike is the best?
Since 2004, Motorcycle USA has corralled each brand’s machine and pitted it head-to-head against its class rivals. We determine where the latest crop of Superbikes rank at the track, where sportbikes are truly meant to be ridden, as well as the street, for those who wish to enjoy the fruits of closed circuit development on the way to work. As we’ve done in the past, we divide the comparison into separate track and street reviews so everything you need to know about these bikes on the road will follow this test in a couple weeks. Right now, its all about the track.
Seven motorcycle manufactures stepped up to the plate this year including BMW, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki and Yamaha. Unfortunately, Aprilia opted out, since it didn’t have ’11 RSV4 machinery available. MV Agusta, as usual, also chose not to compete.
BMW’s spectacular S1000RR returns as the reigning champ after wowing us last year with the borderline psychotic performance from its Inline-Four engine, adaptive electronics and well-engineered chassis. The big Beemer was our pick for 2010 Motorcycle of the Year
and that, along with the results of last year's Smackdown makes 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.
Though it’s been four-plus years since last major overhaul (a lifetime in the sportbike world), Honda’s CBR1000RR is a more than capable adversary having collected consecutive Superbike Smackdown wins in ’08 and ’09. Like the S1000RR, the CBR is virtually unchanged except for graphics and annual bump in price ($13,399 for the non-ABS version).
In the 2010 Superbike Smackdown VII Track
shootout, Ducati had a fantastic platform with the up-spec 1198S Corse Special Edition Superbike. This L-Twin-powered machine mesmerized us with its superb trellis-frame, Ohlins-equipped chassis and torque-rich powerband. This time around, we’re testing the base 1198, which for 2011, features standard traction control as well as a quickshifter for $16,495.
Despite Suzuki competing with a three-year old machine due to the company choosing not to import any 2010-model sportbikes into the U.S. last year because of an unfavorable economic balance sheet, the GSX-R1000 performed well. If nothing else, the GSX-R1000 showed us why it has won more Superbike Smackdown shootouts than any other model. For 2011 it wears new colors at an MSRP of $13,599.
Perhaps the most anticipated machine in this contest is Kawasaki’s new from the wheels up ZX-10R ($13,799 non-ABS version) as tested in the 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R First Ride
. In a time where redesign cycles are getting longer, Kawi is swinging for the fences in hope of taking the crown and creating a platform for a successful World Superbike effort. The pieces are all in place and the new Ninja looks great on paper. But does it have what it takes to beat the BMW?
Although KTM’s Twin-powered RC8 has been around for a few years the Austrians continue to make subtle refinements each year in hopes of perfecting the formula. So far it seems to be working as we came away impressed with the updated and much less expensive RC8R ($16,499) during the 2011 KTM RC8R First Ride
. Could this finally be KTM’s year to become the top Twin?
Last but not least is Yamaha and its crossplane-equipped YZF-R1. Similar to the GSX-R, the R1 is now in its third year since a major overhaul in ‘09 and hasn’t seen any updates aside from colors and the annual increase in price ($13,590). Although it’s had considerable success in the form of World Superbike title and AMA Superbike titles the R1 has always struggled in our tests. Will Yamaha prove its might in stock trim and turn things around this time? Climb on and lets see how it all shakes down.
Having utilized northern California’s fabulous Thunderhill Raceway for the last two years we wanted to shake things up so we headed to Southern California’s newest road course, Chuckwalla Valley Raceway
. As opposed to other circuits Chuckwalla is all about cornering and momentum. Here you won’t find any long straight-aways or funky chicanes. Just a near constant mix of flowing mixed speed corners that maximize time spent on the edge of the tires. And a big shake-up in the running order is just what we got!
Speaking of tires, while the standard street rubber nowadays is better than ever, we needed to push these bikes near the limit of outright performance. So to reduce the likelihood of shiny plastic sliding against tarmac, Michelin stepped in as the Official Tire of Superbike Smackdown VIII Track with its latest Michelin Power One
DOT-labeled treaded race tire as tested in the Michelin Power One Race Tire Review
. Introduced in ’09 and updated continually, the Power One’s feature a multi-compound design that allowed us to achieve consistent footpeg grinding lean angle.
Flying around the track at the helm of motorcycles that pump out upwards of 150 horsepower to the back tire is no walk in the park. Accordingly, a high-caliber test crew was assembled highlighted by veteran AMA racer Steve Rapp
. Having ridden everything from the full-on, real deal AMA Superbikes of the past to Harley-Davidsons in the newly formed Vance & Hines XR1200 Series, Rapp’s experience is invaluable. Also lending a throttle hand were AFM racers Michael Earnest, Corey Neuer, Chris Siglin, as well as do-it-all test rider Frankie Garcia and Contributing Editor Steve Atlas. Lastly, boss-man Ken Hutchison, and I represented the in-house MotoUSA crew. Welcome to the eighth annual 2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Track shootout!