2000 Openbike Shootout
Thank you, may I have another?
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We have the Kawi taking up the rear, and that's really a shame. It's a great do-it-all bike that's stable as a tank, but partly because it weighs the same. Still, as a road bike it's the top choice here with a motor that rips off the bottom and chugs along the highway with unparalleled smoothness. The sounds the motor makes are pure music, though not quite the raspy symphony of the Suzuki. A good package overall but it lacks the crispness and emotional high felt from the other contenders.
Another case of different strokes for different folks. There's not a bike here that a rider would dislike mounting on any given Sunday morning. Some are just better at different tasks than another. So just enjoy! Hey, some people like fat chicks, too.
Brent Avis, Managing Editor:
Oh dear. I fear I've soiled myself again. Whose idea was this anyway? Oh, yeah. Don't remind me. Some toilet papers are in order, then.
I was lapping the Streets course (going pretty darn quick, I might add) dragging various bits of a beautiful CBR929 when here comes Roland, shocking me to life with a shower of sparks and the odd wail of a ZX-9R with its three remaining cylinders at full song. Like Pavarotti with a chest cold, it made you cringe but you had to respect the guy for trying; and respect him even more for passing you. Gimp.
Scared me pretty bad as I was focused on chasing down sir Nigel at the time. But it was a fun scare. The kind that pumps an unusually large amount of adrenaline into your system, gives you the tingles, a brief pause for thought, then leaves you invigorated. These bikes will do this to you all day long, no external stimuli needed. Take one open class bike, add tarmac and enjoy. Aaahhh.
Of all the bikes here I'd have to say the Suzuki should get my vote for top bike. It's kind of a bitch to ride fast; it makes you work pretty hard and, as everyone knows, I pretty much try to avoid work at all costs - especially the hard kind. Still, when I'm on the track, put laziness aside and string together a few corners in an appropriately timed manner, no other bike here had me feeling as sure of myself as the screamin' GSX-R did. Sure, the Yamaha is a better all-around bike that gets my vote for best in the test, but we have a stable full of bikes that I prefer to ride on the road anyway. But not everyone's as fortunate.
The Kawi was a bit of a track day disapointment, but after riding it on the street, I kind of expected that. Heavy and solid is great for a streetbike or a cruise ship, but not so good for pushing your personal limits on the track. Add (or subtract) losing one cylinder and the deck is stacked against you even further. Maybe we can have that W650 back now. That'd be fun.
Honda's 929 was great on a smooth track like 'Vegas (at the press intro) but when it came time to face a real pile of a track like Willow, the RR responded with a few more twitches and other displays of nervousness than I cared for. As light and easy to steer as some 600s, the thing was a blast to ride on the tightest portions of the track and the motor allowed you to loft the front wheel over the nastiest bumpies. The twitchiness actually became amusing after a while. Don't ask why. I guess I'm just weird like that. I like the feeling of impending doom. That's why I'm still with my girlfriend of two years.
Oh. I'm just kidding, honey.
Calvin Kim, Associate Editor:
I don't need any of these bikes to go fast, because, frankly, I'm slow. So what if I'm not the fast-lap-setter, or that you could measure my lap times with a sundial, I still get to ride these bikes don't I?
The R1 was my favorite. I rode it on the street and I found it comfortable and forgiving. Yet, when I felt like having some fun, the big blue bike excelled in the twisties. When I rode the Yamaha on the track, I was not surprised. This is a good thing. The same docile mannerisms and forgiving powerband allowed me to concentrate on my line, instead of flailing about trying to get comfortable. Speaking of comfort, I even threw some saddle bags over the seat and road it to the World Superbike race at Laguna Seca. During the trip, however, I discovered our R1 burned a fair amount of oil. I had to add a half-quart on my trip. If you're considering using it as a sport-tourer, you've been warned. Aside from that, the R1 did not disappoint in any way, and in fact, riding it became a non-affair. I'll miss it.
The GSX-R750 was very similar to the R1 in a few regards. It possessed a strong motor and a stable chassis. Unfortunately, I found two problems with the bike. 1) this thing needs to be ridden hard. 2) this thing needs to be revved hard. Needless to say, both traits contribute to a better track machine, and I think that's what Suzuki was going for.
However, the sound of the GSX-Rs screaming mill echoing off canyon walls is like honey to this motorcycle fan. Granted, its ergos - the seat in particular - are very demanding, but if you're using this finely crafted machine for the daily traffic commute, you're seriously missing the point.
The 929 could've have been right up there with the R1 if weren't for one fact. Its a 600. Riding on the street, its svelte form and nimble handling were well appreciated during rush hour commutes. Riding the bike conservatively and below the peak powerband, you really can't tell that there's a ferocious dragon lurking just underneath the plastic, that is until you wind up the throttle and give it a go! My only complaints? The annoying fuel injection surging. True, I'm not the fastest or the smoothest, but the GSX-R is also fuel injected, and I didn't notice any surging on that particular machine.
I had plenty of street time on the 9R. As such, I found the 9R to be a tank. But given that all the roads around here are strewn with pot holes, cracks and other road deformities, being a tank isn't all that bad. Kind of reminds me of a muscle car.
Overall, which would I buy? Probably the R1. It's a fantastic track bike, and it handled commuting and touring duty without any problems. Suzuki has got their act together big time. SV650, Hayabusa, Bandit series, and the GSX-R750. I can't wait to see what they do to next year's GSX-R600. Maybe its just my enthusiasm speaking, but words do not do the 750 justice. The 929 could've been my number two bike. Its ergos are superior to the Suzuki's and has quicker slow-speed handling than the R1. But its nervous drag strip and track performance seemed to doom it from the start. The ZX-9R surprised me. Although it is a big bike, when you're out in the mountains, the bike feels right. The stability of its new chassis, and the throaty sounds the exhaust makes really combine to make a fantastic street package. But alas, the whole weight and handling thing detract it from extreme track duty.
Roland Sands, Naked:
The open bike shoot out was and always will be a lesson in excess. Excessive power, speed, wheelies, slides and burnouts were the order for the day. And after the test - as in any good test - we ate an excessive amount of Mexican food and drank an excessive amount of tequila. Thank God I had a designated driver. Minime is a dangerous man with the MO Company Visa in hand; he was throwin out tequila shots like Shaq throws bricks from the free-throw line. It wasn't pretty. (That's where the "naked" part comes in...Minime)
When I received the call to come test these beasts I was like, "well? Work or ride, work or ride? Slave away at my computer permanently burning out my retinas or go thrash four of the baddest new sport bikes on the market?" The decision was not difficult. Hence, we tested and now I must pass judgment on these four fine machines. I will begin with my leastest favoritest.
I like motorcycles period. It became even more apparent to me after riding the Kawasaki. To put it lightly, it's a fat bastard compared to the rest of the competition. I enjoy thrashing about on just about anything with 120 plus horsepower and the ZX-9 was no exception. Sure it's hefty as John Candy on an Oreo Cookie binge, but it was a kick in the ass (In Rolandspeak, that's high praise --Editor). The suspension was a little on the plush side and made it easy to slide the rear at the exit of any corner. The brakes were excellent and had a lot of feedback making it easy to push the beast deep into any corner; but that's where the problems began. The combination of soft suspension and excessive poundage had the Kawi movin and wallowing like Oprah at a backstreet boys concert. It wasn't pretty even if it was fun to watch. Calvin commented on how entertaining it was to watch the ass end wiggle coming on to the front straight. Oh joy. The motor was inspiring. I loved it, and it looks bad ass in all black. Transmission was excellent, no shifting problems. If it lost some blubber it would not be fourth. To be truthful, I had the most fun on this bike; it was easy to ride and tons of fun so it should come first, but it had some weight issues it needs to sort out with itself.
The 929 comes in third. I liked it but it didn't feel nearly as light as the R1 and not as fast. It was good in every respect but it wasn't really impressive in any category. I think I rode it the least and that may have had something to do with my choice. Maybe I just didn't have enough time on it. It was good and that's the one word that comes to mind with the 929er'. Good. Not rad nor dope, not killer and not crappy. It's just good and comfy. Suspension was agile enough but not razor sharp like I wanted it to be and like I felt it could be. Motor was great, very usable and shifting was smooth like butter. Brakes were usable and it looks all business. I thought I would jump on it and be like, "oh God! This thing is bad ass!" But I didn't feel that way. It was like getting a new toy when you were a kid that was supposed talk but when you get it, it doesn't talk and your left there with this stupid ass toy that doesn't do what you thought it would do. And you're sitting there and your like, "talk you stupid (expletive deleted)! Talk!" But it doesn't talk. Then you start whining about it even though it's still a perfectly good toy. It just doesn't do what you thought it would. It's still a hot bike none the less.
Suzooki has got their crap together. This new machine is bad ass and it is my second choice. It's the closest thing to a race bike since the R6. It's as fast as Heidi Fleiss at a presidential fund raiser and light to boot. It's all it's cracked up to be and it looks sweet. Its suspension is deceptively good. I never felt like I was pushing the Suzuki but the lap times told a different story. This bike is easy to go fast on and I don't think I was even close to where it can really be pushed. The motor takes some getting used to as it revs to the moon, not unlike the R6. I'd be shifting and there was still 1,500 rpm left 'till it hit red line. I don't feel like I rode it as aggressively as I should have. This bike wants to be thrashed. It wants you to ride the piss out of it and then give it some more. It would make an awful street bike as you'd have to dump the clutch at like eight grand off a stop light, but once you got into the canyons it would make all that city scum seem light years away. If you want one go buy one and take it directly to your local racetrack, learn how to ride and be prepared to feel like a pussy. The Suzuki will do that to you.
It was not a tough choice to chose my favorite: The R1 Yamaha. What hasn't been said about this machine? I don't know what those guys at Yamaha have been smoking but I hope they don't stop. This is one fast and well-balanced machine. It's my favorite, hands down. All the other machines took a little getting used to, but when I jumped on the R1 I was immediately comfy. Super good brakes will have you wishing you'd done your morning push ups. The motor is just, well, for lack of better words, (expletive deleted) great. Remember the first time you rode a two-stroke 250 motocross bike? Remember how radical the powerband was? Well, the R1 is like that all the through the rev range. Tons of usable power will make any speed freak happy for years to come. It made me smile. The chassis set up was, well, like Catherine Zeta Jones: Smooth, precise and just perfect for thrashing about. I was impressed. The front tire feedback was second to none in this test and I was able to push harder and harder without much drama. The transmission needs some help and this is perhaps it's main flaw - the clunky and sometimes chunky gear box. Fix it and it's, well, it would be better although it's already my favorite. I can deal with a clunky gear box for the rest of the package.
Nigel Gale, British Guy Extraordinaire:
Short notice is one thing, but getting a message at 10:00AM in Venice, CA saying you need to be at Willow Springs (100 miles away) by noon is cutting it a bit fine - even by my tardy standards. But considering the source, Motorcycle Online, I guess some things never change...
The mission we were to undertake was the flogging and grading of three open class sport bikes and the GSX-R750. The track selected for this was the newly extended Streets of Willow Springs which has a couple of new fast turns. In my opinion, an outstanding course. The only downside to this is it is a somewhat tight track which doesn't favor big open class bikes. If, like myself, you have crashed on every one of the nine turns on the big track you might appreciate the slower speeds on the small track. The bikes, as often is the case, were very evenly matched with the advantage going to the Suzuki with it's smaller size, lighter weight and yes - less horsepower.
First, I have to pick the R1. It just seemed like a very refined package, everything worked well, good brakes and dammit - it looked good.
Second, I had to pick the Suzuki. Although it is like trying to compare a whippet to a greyhound, the whippet is going to rule in a carrot patch. Get out in a field and it will be different.
Third, the Honda. It was a strong running bike but just a bit to tightly focused for my liking. A bike so specialized you would think it would come with a steering damper but, as on all the others except the Suzuki, no damper.
Fourth, and for no good reason, is the ZX-9R. About four or five years ago I was recovering from a broken ankle (among other things) and trying to get ready for an upcoming race when I borrowed a long-term test bike from a magazine I worked for. It was a 9R with a fresh rear tire. When I returned the bike three weeks later the tire was toast and I had lost MY HEART TO that bike. Coming off a fast turn at, say, 110 miles per hour and grabbing a handful of throttle, it would produce an adrenaline rush that was quite pleasing. The bike is still all of that. Between all of the bikes ridden, I would have to say I would be more than happy to take any one of them on a Sunday morning ride to Newcomb's Ranch for breakfast.
Erik Hove, Guest Tester
Immediately after I learned that I would be weaseling my way into, er, participating in the Open Bike Shootout, I did three things. First, I tried to wipe the huge smile off my face and stop dancing around the room like an idiot. When I regained my senses, I wanted to be skeptical. I didn't want to be a member of the motorcycling press who has lavished heaps of praise on bikes that are just this side of heaven. I vowed that there was no way that the newest generation of sport motorcycles could be that good.
I had not turned a wheel in anger on a racetrack in probably five years. The bike that was at the forefront when I exited the moto-journalist field was the RC-45. And I remember being disappointed when I first rode it. So when the hype is high, I'm sure to be disappointed. I wanted to be skeptical, I vowed to be skeptical, I actually dreamed of being skeptical. Then I rode the bikes. Needless to say, that all was thrown out the window.
When I threw my leg over each of the bikes and went out on the hot and dusty Streets of Willow, that huge smiled reappeared. Then disbelief overcame the skepticism in about two seconds. These bikes are awesome, and I'm still trying to come up with words to describe the R1. I had never experienced a production motorcycle lift the front end while on the throttle at near triple digit speeds. The R1 and the 929 both did this each time I cracked the throttle down the front straight. The only complaint I could muster on either of the bikes was the slight headshake the 929 would get at full throttle down the front straight. This was more because the front wheel was trying to become airborne rather than any instability.
I must admit that I spent much of day trying to get comfortable on a racetrack again, and trying to keep all the bikes in showroom condition. And, in the past, that would be damn difficult on an open bike at a tight track like the Streets of Willow. That was the biggest testament to each of these bikes; they were so ridable, so easy to throw around, brake and apply throttle, that I was never in fear of throwing one down the road.
I couldn't believe that in a full day of riding I only spun the tire on the R1 once and never had any of the bikes do anything particularly evil. At the end of the day, the bikes were handling just as they had with fresh tires, and I was lapping considerably faster (for me). I waited the entire day and a hundred miles to have some moment on the track that require extracating the seat from my backside. But it never happened.
The only downside to the test was the fact that the ZX-9R had an engine miss early in the day. But I don't think its in the class of the R1 and 929 anyway, where the racetrack is concerned. The ZX-9R is a real-world motorcycle that is a bit heavy, bulky and slow steering, with gobs of power. It was never intended to be in the class of the other open production racebikes.
By contrast, the R1 and 929 felt like small 600cc class bikes of the past. They are so compact that they felt even smaller than the GSX-R in many ways. But the stability was retained and the power still manageable for the most part. The complaint I have about all of the bikes was that it was difficult to modulate the gas if I had closed the throttle midcorner and then dialed on the power. But again, attribute that to my inability at the beginning of the day to keep the throttle neutral in the turns.
The biggest surprise was how my opinion changed about the GSX-R from the beginning of the day to the end. I wasn't as impressed right off the bat with the GSX-R. It seemed soft in the turns, and of course the power was no where near the other two open bikes. I also didn't like the typical Suzuki sponginess inherent in the brake lever. I was trying to brake with two fingers and the lever would come back and make contact with the rest of my hand. Those complaints aside, I grew to be very fond of the Suzuki. It didn't show its true colors to me until I could push it. And the more I pushed it, leaned it over and elevated my cornering speed the better it got. It felt planted, went where I wanted it to and I was able to get on the power early in the corner.
I could go on and on all day about what I liked about these bikes. But I guess the bottom line in any shootout is which bike is the best? I cant give the hardcore input that Roland or Nigel can give regarding these bikes, but I do know what I like when I see it. Despite the feel and the all around ability of the GSX-R, there is no substitute for mind-blowing, eye-popping power. Both the R1 and 929 have plenty of it and put it in a package that cannot come close to being exploited on the street. But I just felt a bit more comfortable and in awe of the R1. It inspires confidence in everything you put it to, and no matter how much I tried to push it in the turns, brake later, get on the gas earlier, it responded with a huge yawn.
The bike is so good that an inferiority complex is sure to go with owning this bike. Very few people in the world, on a racetrack, can truly exploit the true potential of the R1. But like an exotic, beautiful supermodel, you'll never be worthy, but the fun is in trying.