Fontana, California, August 20, 2002 --
When the dog bites. When the bee stings. When we're feeling sad. Etcetera etc. These are a few of our favorite things: Big ol' bikes--some bigger than others--with handlebars that don't make us assume the position, bikes that are happy under any circumstance, bikes that are nice to our tender little bottoms.
We love them dearly, but we gots ta know: Will we be embarrassed when it comes time for a track day?
Now that our friends at Fastrack (fastrackriders.com) have broken the code to Mr. Penske's lovely facility right down the road in Fontana, California, we're there more than we're home, seems like--a win/win for ourselves and our loved ones. And so we gathered together friends and motorcycles to see how things shake out.
What fun would it be, though, without something thrown in to make our attempt at scientific method, fairly unscientific?
We actually went to Fontana twice--one Friday using the big, AMA circuit--ie, the infield and part of the big superspeedway. Then, about a week later, we rode the smaller, tighter infield course. That's because, due to circumstances beyond our control, the Ducati couldn't make the first day. On day two, also due to circumstances within our control sort of but not really, a bunch of the other bikes couldn't make it due to it being a Monday and people having jobs and stuff--and us having but the one clapped-out van. The bike that did make it, to duke it out with the Ducati, was the Kawasaki ZRX, for the simple reason that our fastest tester (that would be me) went fastest on it on day one. Does this make any sense at all?
Dang, guess I already gave it away. The Kawasaki ZRX ain't exactly sophisticated, but the fact it's got 165cc more than the next biggest bike makes up for a lot of that; 80 foot-pounds of torque at under 7000 rpm overcomes the fact that the Kawasaki is the heaviest bike in the group too. Also, the big circuit is pretty dang smooth, which seems to de-penalize the big Kawasaki's old-fashioned steel tube frame/dual shock chassis. Not that it's not an exciting ride just the same.
Lively is a good word when speaking of the Kawasaki at speed. Too lively for many tastes, in fact.
The bars feel a tad light blazing down Fontana's long front straight at 150-whatever, but if you go limp and trust in Allah, nothing nasty ever comes of it. Down off the banking there's a tight left followed by a slow kink that leads into a big, fast left.
In it, I don't think Kawasaki's people did the bike any favors by fitting cheater D208GP Dunlops, as the bike gets into a big dirtbike clawing-for-traction mode while the rider attempts to keep the throttle wide open whilst sawing at the wide handlebar.
Stimulating if you're accustomed to that type of thing. Offputting if you've grown used to modern bikes. (Wes Cooley sometimes liked street tires on his old Yosh superbike, he told me, `cause they'd slide instead of tying up the chassis. Now I understand.)
Six-piston Tokico calipers have no trouble slowing the bike, even if their feel isn't the absolute best, and the long, low Kawasaki fully uses the grip of the D208s once in the corner, where it has more ground clearance than any other bike here. It's a big beast, but with excellent weight distribution; the rider sits up close to the not-too-wide bar, and that big crankshaft is low and close to the front wheel.
"Corner exits, though, are its stock in trade; hang on when the tach gets past about 4000."
Next quickest for yours truly would be the Yamaha FZ-1 --indeed my fastest low-1:47 lap on it is right there with the ZRX. We left the standard tires on all the other bikes--standard on the Yamaha being Bridgestone BT020s--but even with sport-touring rubber the limiting factor on the FZ was ground clearance: the series of fast lefts that dumps onto the long front straight is critical to a good time at Fontana, and every time I had a good one going, the FZ's left peg would dig in, bounce me off-line a tad, and there a tenth or five would go.
Aside from that, the FZ really does no wrong. If it doesn't have quite the Kawasaki's punch out of slow sections, it makes up for it with greater revvability and a slick six-speed gearbox (instead of the Kawasaki's five-speed). Its R1-style monoblock-caliper brakes are the finest in the field, and while the FZ's suspension is on the soft side for track work (hence the dragging problem), the bike never, ever feels uncomposed, decomposed, or even the least bit loose, in the Kawasaki way.
The Triumph Speed Triple is of course, a long-time favorite. As with nearly every Triumph we've ridden lately, the Speed Nipple's suspension engineers have performed an excellent job; this one's a tad firmer than the FZ-1, but just like the Yamaha, the Triple is absolutely stable and composed all the way around Fontana, and also equipped with powerful, modulable brakes that will get the front BT010 Bridgestone hopping and locking in Fontana's hardest-braking area; no worries, thanks to the wide handlebar. The Triumph steers light and quick but not too--just right, really--has good cornering clearance and, at 480 pounds wet, nearly ties the 919 for skinniest-chick honors.
The Triple feels like it has the widest, most easily deployed powerband, too. Why, given all that, did I go a bit slower on it? Don't know. Must be down to the fact that the engine is a mere 955cc, and while it feels torquey in the midrange, our Dynojet says it sort of isn't compared to the Kawasaki and FZ-1. Matter of fact, the Triple doesn't get past about the 60 foot-pound mark until past 7500 rpm, and if you've been riding fours all day it's easy to smack into the rev limiter shortly thereafter. So what if it's a second slower; the Triumph sends up such a cool howl, and has such a nice chassis it barely matters.
My times upon it were actually marching steadily downward when I, um, got tired and salty of eyeball and parked it. With fresher rubber, a loud-ass exhaust pipe and a little reprogramming, the Speed Triple might be the one.
Alas, the Honda 919 is a pleasant little animal but one which comes up short in our racetrack competition by dint of a measly 919cc engine cranking out a paltry 100 horsepower--not enough of either to hang with this crowd at Fontana. The 919 steers quicker and lighter than the other bikes (not a real advantage at Fontana but a big one in the Street Competition, to come when we get around to it). Also, the Honda is the only bike here which makes no provision for suspension adjustability. The fork is too soft or needs more compression damping or both; it's easy to get the front end plunging/chattering in Fontana's hardest braking zone in an almost alarming fashion, and sometimes quick transitions (if you're used to wrestling the Kawasaki especially) get the Honda into momentary spasms. Of all the streetbikes here assembled, the Honda is most suited to, how shall we say--being ridden at a streetbike pace. Less experienced pilots, riding at a more casual pace, like it fine (which is what we in the biz call "damning with faint praise").
I built myself a naked bike about six years ago--an `83 Suzuki GS1100 all hot-rodded out. The idea was simple brute performance, light, and not cluttered up with needless plastic bodywork.
I've put over 50,000 miles on, and still enjoy it a lot. The bikes we had at California Speedway are all conceived with the same idea I had in 1994. I guess I am partial to their ilk.
I think the 919 Honda is the most "user-friendly" of the bunch: small, light-feeling, comfortable. At street velocities it's near perfect. Very nice brakes! At the track however it's overly soft, lightly sprung suspension makes things hairy during side-to-side transitions, as well as having a lot of front-end dive during braking. It also seems least powerful.
The FZ1 Yamaha is also a great street bike, larger than the 919, so a better choice for traveling. The suspension is also smooth like the 919, but better damped. My issue at the track was ground clearance: The peg feelers hit the deck early and hard, not too scary but you just let them ride on the pavement and feel your foot folding up with the peg. Power was good if not really exciting, lots of torque. Suspension is soft but not overly so--but I didn't get much feel for the front end, so I lacked confidence in the bike's ability to turn under braking. The last two bikes are really quite different from each other, but I rate them very close in terms of fun and usefulness.
Kawasaki's ZRX1200 feels larger and heavier than the Triumph Speed Triple (`cause it is), but in use it's light and very strong. Initially the rear ride height was jacked up, causing the bars to wag at speeds over 130, thereby causing me to roll out of the throttle, which slowed my times considerably.
Scott Buckley of Kawasaki flipped the eccentric axle-adjuster around 180 degrees, lowering the rear--and the problem all but disappeared. I think I was hitting about 140 or so with just a little wag goin' on, so I didn't have to let off the gas. The quarter fairing "breaks wind" nicely, allowing a calm spot to tuck in behind.
The ground clearance was really amazing! I could lean it waaay over, (new D208ZR tires). It is very surprising how good a "Sport Bike" this is, yet you could go touring or city trolling, in great style I might add. This bike is the most similar to my own GS1100, so I like the styling the best--red or Green.
In most areas of subjective performance the Triumph Speed Triple shines above the others. It is the best "Sport Bike" of the group. It turns, stops, and accelerates with such a crisp feel that it really seems unfair to compare it with the Honda or Yamaha at the track. As a touring mount, its hard seat, lack of wind protection, and stiff suspension hurt it in a similar comparo. For city cruising the bike has attitude in spades. I know it does and so does everyone else including the cops, "Take my license please!" Can anybody ride this and not wheelie away from every stoplight?
The ultimate judgment--which would I spend my money on? I'm a sporty bike guy, I'm 50 years old. I confess I already bought a `99 Speed Trip, and I'd definitely buy another. The new one is mo betta! That said, a project ZRX would be great; there's an excellent owners' club complete with helpful website. Wait, I forgot I've still got that beautiful GS in my garage....
(WT is slightly Triumph-biased, as he happens to be Triumph's [and Aprilia's] west coast fleet service Person.)
(This was Will's first Fontana day; interesting he went best on the 919... And I think he was going faster than these times reflect but Calvin was too busy roosting himself in the afternoon to record every lap for everybody. We call this MO Fuzzy Logic.)
Page2And now, a word from Jim the Fishstick:
Fresh off my Schwantz School of Confidence and ego-building the red light on the Burns phone was blinking once again and Johnny extended an invite to ride the AMA track at Fontana to test the new standard bikes, I was in and leathers were packed pronto. After a night of fresh tri-tip at Chez Johnny, sliced thin, accompanied by my whining, we were off to face the heat and to tackle that banked straight at the California Speedway.
First bike out was the Triumph Speed Triple. Nothing like learning a track like Fontana behind Burns at what he calls moderate speed.
Down the backstraight my mind must have wandered cause in a split second my fearless leader braked, tucked and bombed down headed toward the infield. I panicked for a second and muscled the Triumph down the banking through the chicane. The tidy black mount did well and felt very stable underneath my Sasquatchian silhouette torquing her around. Forging my way through the infield was strange with few direction indicators other than the black streaks on the pavement. For a moment I thought I was in the Wal-Mart parking lot after hours. The Triumph motor had plenty of poo as I bounced off redline trying to get all it had for me feeling my way around the intermediate Fasttrack session, gradually picking up what I consider speed. The brakes were fine and the handling crisp with a great sound coming from the triple.
Next machine out was the Yamaha FZ-1. Headed out of the pits I felt like I was on my favorite easy chair with an R1 motor and Brakes attached. The front end didn't convey as much about the road as the Triumph but the power and brakes more than made up for it.
This bike stopped like no other. I found the handling to be an acquired taste on the track; as the session wore on I got more comfortable with the feel of this machine.
This was the only bike that allowed me to drag my knee consistently around the infield. I pulled in to show off my puck to all who would listen. After wringing the sweat out of my eyes in the pits I mounted up the Kawasaki ZRX-1200.
This machine looks way cool and feels like a big beast of a bike. Initial impressions were that it felt alive underneath me, squirming and moving about not unlike my WR big bore dirt machine and to a lesser degree, Mrs. Hatch.
The power was amazing and had enough ready at any point of the track to make it a point and shoot affair for me. I felt a bit of a high-speed wobble down the straight so I took her in to ask the Kawasaki men stationed in their well-appointed rig.
They told me it may just be my overly large Torso bones weighing down the bike and causing the problem. After a confirmation by a normally sized human and a few adjustments later-- she was performing flawlessly down the back straight over the indicated 132 mph problem area. This is a very entertaining bike and I had a blast every time I rode it.
The matte black Honda 919 was next. My first impression was how machinelike and crisp this bike felt while performing all of its duties. Handling was fast and sharp and the brakes were appropriate. The motor lacked the Tyson punch of the FZ-1 and ZRX but was very linear and predictable, gently trailing off as the red approached. All in all a very well put-together ride.
It's hard to rank these bikes since I didn't ride them on the street, where they belong, but for my money I would go with the Triumph or Kawasaki--a tie for first on the Hatch card--then the Yamaha and finally the Honda. I would look for scary power if shopping in this category, and the FZ-1 and ZRX have that to offer. The Triumph does everything so well it makes up for its power deficiency in my book.
|919||No time, dangit... computer snafu.|
(Hatch's torsal bones may have been producing a cross-channel Doppler effect with the official MO Hackfu Longines timing apparatus.)
AT THE END OF DAY ONE...
Back to you, Johnny
Yours truly turned blazing times in the low minute-47's on the big track on both the ZRX and the FZ-1, low 48's on the Speed Triple, and high 48's on the 919. For comparison, look no further than our Openbike Shootout of a few months ago, in which I ran 1:41.9 on the overdog GSX-R1000, 1:44.3 on the 954 Honda, and 1:44.9 on the splendiferous R1--all of them riding on spanking new race rubber. (And I truly think the tires all these bikes come with are perfectly fine for typical track-day use; the real sticky stuff is most useful when making whipcrack transitions/turn-ins on very firmly suspended sportbikes--and these naked bikes don't encourage super-aggressive riding.)
The ZRX and FZ-1, then, are but a few seconds off the pace--at a fast race track that was built for serious sportbikes. Three seconds is a lot if you're racing people, but it's not much at all when you're playing racer at a track day with your friends.
The point of all this, then, is as clear as an Arthur Andersen spreadsheet: these naked bikes are plenty competent--way moreso, frankly, than we expected--when it comes to holding their own at the typical track day; throw on your leathers and a tank bag, ride out, roost `til the cows come home, slay and eat the cows, ride comfortably home. Rinse. Repeat.
INFIELD INFIDEL MONDAY:
In which the Ducati makes its appearance...
In which the Ducati makes its appearance...
The infield track is shorter, but more work than the main course. No place to rest. Constant direction changes and butt movements required and it's hot out here too... did I already mention we brought only the Ducati S4 Monster and the Kawasaki ZRX due to labor shortages?
The ZRX was in fact, just as much fun as on the big track with one wobbly exception: when riding the big track at Fontana, there's one section of track that requires a sort of swoopy left/right transition which you come to after a big long left, which means you go through it at maybe 70 or 80 mph. When riding the infield course, you encounter the same swoopy left/right combo but now it comes at the end of a longish straight--like, top of fourth gear on the Kawasaki. Turns out there's a few bumps in there we bypassed before.
"If you're stupid and have the gas pinned through there like yours truly a couple of times, you'll be suddenly wishing you had one of Muzzy's cool ZRX steering dampers and a change of shorts; the whole bike seems to leave the ground, burning up any sense of directional control upon re-entry."
Actually it's not that bad, but it's the only time the Kawasaki reveals its, ahhh, old-school construction in a scary way. By the end of the day, we found a smoother line, a neutral throttle in fifth gear, clenched thighs, weight on the footpegs, a loose grip on the bars and a dab of Preparation H made things better. In the Kawasaki's defense, its adjustable suspension actually adjusts it--even the dual shocks offer both-way damping and preload (and I think the bike worked better before the nattering nellies of negativism flipped the eccentric rear axle to the rear-end-lower setting). With more time to play with things, you might make the Kawasaki work fine.
Aside from that one scary spot, the old girl again acquitted herself surprisingly well. We got passed by R1s and GSX-Rs (riding with Fastrack's fast group), but they usually had to wait 'til the ends of the long straights to pull it off; the Kawasaki's bigger and heavier than those bikes, but its wide bar and low pegs (and still sticky D208GP's) let you throw it hard into corners without worrying. And it must look scary enough from behind that guys don't want to get too close. I don't blame them.
Thence onto the wild-card unknown Ducati S4 Monster. I don't care much for this one as a streetbike. Where other Monsters always had a regular handlebar, this one is a denuded ST4, with that bike's cast bars and risers affixed in a non-adjustable way to the top clamp. It's a weird angle, to me. Plus, the Monsters are wide between the feet and splay your ankles out in an unnatural way. I was all set for the ZRX to whip it good. Didn't happen that way.
Relying on not as much power as the Kawasaki, but said power being of the traction-enhancing two-cylinder variety, and the fact that the Ducati weighs ninety pounds less, and the fact that it has really good suspension, let the Ducati lap a tic quicker than the Kawasaki.
Through sphincterclench gulch, you can nearly not roll out of the Ducati at all; its Sachs shock and upside-down fork allow it to roll through like a 16-pound Brunswick, a solid little chunk of a bike, and then you brake into the tight little right still leaned over at a pretty decent angle, all controllably-like, thanks to those nice, braided-hosed Brembos. Matter of fact, the only thing holding the Monster back is the usual complaint with Monsters: limited ground clearance. Hang as far off as you can, the mufflers still grind, and the sidestand too.
HOWEVER, there is built-in ride height adjustability if you have a different sort of wrench than any we've ever seen; the big nut you need to loosen right at the swingarm looks real tough to get to. Not that we made the attempt. (Real Ducatisti will simply have their dealer handle the procedure and bill them for 10 hours.)
Otherwise, the Monster is a fine trackday tool: low, solid, quick-reacting, fast. Wish we had had it for Big Track Friday too... If we had had, though, I think the ZRX would've smoked it like a Hav-a-Tampa.
|Infidel (a.k.a. JohnnyB) Times:|
Remember dear readers, that this is strictly a track test. As such, voting is as follows:
|The MO staff ranks things thusly:|
|Ducati S4||Honda 919||Kawasaki ZRX1200R||Triumph Speed Triple||Yamaha FZ-1|
|Ducati S4||Honda 919||Kawasaki ZRX1200R||Triumph Speed Triple||Yamaha FZ-1|
|Engine||916cc liquid-cooled, 8-valve, 90° DOHC v-twin||919cc liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC inline four||1164cc liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC inline four||955cc liquid-cooled, 12-valve, DOHC inline triple||998cc liquid-cooled, 20-valve, DOHC inline four|
|Bore x Stroke (mm)||94.0x68.0||71.0x58.0||79.0x59.4||79.0x65.0||74.0x58.0|
|Fuel Delivery||EFI||4x 36mm Keihin Carbs, TPS||EFI||4x 37mm Mikuni Carbs, TPS|
|Valve Adjustment (miles)||6,000||16,000||12,000||15,000||26,000|
|Transmission||6-spd, dry, multiplate clutch||6-spd, wet, multiplate clutch||5-spd, wet, multiplate clutch||6-spd, wet, multiplate clutch|
|Chassis||Steel Trellis||Steel Spine||Steel Double-cradle||Aluminum Tube-perimeter||Steel Double-cradle|
|Suspension, Front||43mm inverted, 4.7" (P,C,R)||43mm, 4.7"||43mm, 4.7" (P,C,R)||45mm, 4.7" (P,C,R)||43mm, 5.6" (P,C,R)|
|Suspension, Rear||Mono-shock, 5.7" (P-threaded,C,R,H)||Mono-shock, 4.7" (P-ramp)||Dual-shock, 4.8" (P-ramp,C,R)||Mono-shock, 5.5" (P-threaded,C,R)||Mono-shock, 5.4" (P-ramp,C,R)|
|Brakes, Front||320mm, 4 piston||296mm, 4 piston||310mm, 6 piston||320mm, 4 piston||298mm, 4 piston|
|Brakes, Rear||245mm, 2 piston||240mm, 1 piston||250mm, 2 piston||220mm, 1 piston||267mm, 1 piston|
|Tires, Front||120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D207||120/70ZR-17 Michelin Hi-Sport||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT010*||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT010||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT020|
|Tires, Rear||180/55ZR-17 Dunlop D207||180/55ZR-17 Michelin Hi-Sport||180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT010*||190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone BT010||180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT020|
|Measured Weight (wet)||462lbs/210kg||484lbs/220kg||540lbs/245kg||480lbs/218kg||510lbs/231kg|
|Available Colors||Black, Gray, Red, Yellow||Asphalt||Red, Green (Both w/ cool purple/white stripes)||Blue, Red, Black (as the ace o' spades)||Blue, Silver, Black/Yellow|