2004 Open Class Shootout

Aprilia RSV R; Ducati 999; RC51; CBR 1000RR; ZX 10R; GSXR 1000; 955i Daytona; YZF R1

story by MO Staff, Photograph by Fonzie, Sean Alexander and Robert Pandya, Created Apr. 24, 2004
Eight count em (Ahem! more on this later…) EIGHT! 1000cc Superbikes. After much wrangling, butt kissing and assorted favors, MO managed to assemble the most complete lineup of Liter Bikes you're likely to find in a US test. What you have here, is an 8,000cc shootout (give or take). Ain't it grand?

We in the MO family are nothing if not unconventional. We're buccaneers, matey! The flag of piracy flies from our mast. Our sails are set wing-to-wing. We take no prisoners, yield no slack and expect no quarter from you, the MO faithful. So even if every other literbike magazine test in the world comes out with big horsepower on top, you are probably not going to see that here. Bollocks to those lackeys anyway. We evaluated these bikes pretty thoroughly with a variety of riders who logged a bunch of miles in all sorts of riding situations. We had everyman types mixed in with fast street guys and bona fide racers and for good measure, even a squidly nitwit (at least until we canned him).

R1 CBR RSV-R 955i
RC51 999 ZX-10R GSX-R

"Effortless fourth gear power wheelies barely begin to describe the nature of the thrust generated by these personal cruise missiles."

Even though there is broad agreement among the testers that the ZedX-10 is the most powerful production motorcycle on the planet, it's probably not going to come out on top here. All eight of these bikes have some serious juice. Ha! Effortless fourth gear power wheelies barely begin to describe the nature of the thrust generated by these personal cruise missiles. We're talking unadulterated, atom-bomb-up-the-poop-chute, Come to Jesus! power. With such a surfeit of horsepower across the spectrum, it really becomes a smaller factor in considering the respective merits of these bikes.

By way of analogy, if you were told that you were going to be spending the rest of you life on an island with your choice of any one of the ten most beautiful women on the planet, would you waste a nanosecond of your time worrying about their respective looks? Not if you were smart. Since they are all stupefyingly beautiful, you'd most likely be more concerned about their personalities and long-term prospects for getting along. So there you have it, horsepower is a given. We're ready for the flames. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

This test was laid-out to include: Same-day-same-dyno testing, a meandering 400+ mile street ride from Torrance, CA through PCH to Mulholland Drive, Latigo Canyon, Decker Canyon, More Mulholland, to the 101Fwy north to Ventura, followed by Hwy 33 inland through Ojai, then over the mountains to the central valley, where we would meander through the farmer's fields to sunny Buttonwillow Raceway. After a night in a posh $40 per night hotel, we would wake bright and early, cruise the 10 miles over to Buttonwillow, then swap the OEM tires for Pirelli's awesome new Diablo Corsas, after the tire-swap we'd do a full day of racetrack evaluations, make our notes and then drone south on I-5 back to MO fat, dumb, tired and happy.

This is the calm before the storm...

"Two of the absolute finest racetrack motorcycles in this test, never actually made it to the racetrack portion of the shootout."

That was the plan. However, in the spirit of full-disclosure, we must sadly report that two of the absolute finest racetrack motorcycles in this test, never actually made it to the racetrack portion of the shootout. You see, during a photo session in the middle of our 400+ mile street ride, Sean gave strict orders that we were to slowly proceed past Photo Point X at 30 second intervals then continue to Bike-Swap point Y at normal speed, then wait at the bike-swap for the last bike to arrive. The problem was, that instead of waiting at the Bike-Swap, the first rider got bored and decided to re-trace his route back up the winding canyon road. This confused the second rider in line, who made a U-turn and proceeded to follow the first.

After seeing the first and second riders heading the other direction, the third rider (Dale on the GSXR 1000) figured he was going the wrong-way and not wanting to get lost, decided to make a U-Turn on a short straight, between two tight corners. As Dale was starting his U-Turn, the fourth rider (Sean on the 999) came around the previous corner and found his older brother blocking the road.

"The 999 did a flat-spin over the edge and down the gully."

...and this is where it started to get ugly.

This is where it gets ugly. Not wanting to kill a family member, Sean decided to aggressively counter-steer left, heading for the hole in front of his brother's bike (hoping to do a 90° left-90° right "chicane" maneuver, to miss Dale) he would then counter-steer hard-right and try to stay on the pavement and away from the narrow gravel-lined shoulder and 60' drop that awaited him immediately outside the oncoming lane. This plan was working well, except for the fact that Dale didn't see Sean coming and continued his U-Turn at about 5mph. Sean's Ducati hit Dale's GSX-R with a glancing blow to the left front of the fairing, knocking the big Suzuki out from under Dale, who was left standing in the road wondering what that bright yellow flash was. On Sean's side of the equation, things were not so simple.

You see, it was Sean's right hand that had just knocked the GSXR out from under his brother and he was now traveling nearly 60mph towards a steep drop, with a freshly broken right hand trailing behind him. Riding off-balance and one-handed, Sean pulled the left clip-on with all his might and got the big Duc turned nearly 90° back to the right. If there had been another 6" of asphalt, this could have been the greatest "save" ever. Unfortunately, as he completed his corrective turn, Sean ran out of road and entered the gravel at a high lean angle. Since the throttle was completely closed, because Sean was now riding one-handed, the big twin's engine braking caused the rear tire to skid on the gravel and the bike low-sided dumping Sean on to the roadside as the 999 did a flat-spin over the edge and down the gully.

With two damaged test bikes and our fastest rider injured, it was initially decided to scrap the rest of the shootout and return to MO to lick our wounds. Once we got to MO, we shot a few photos of Sean's injuries and then decided it was time for some mood-elevating wings-n-things over at Hooters. After sampling the rejuvenating powers of hot wings and beer, our Executive Editor figured he could probably still ride with 800mg of ibuprofen and a thorough taping together of the outer fingers on a super-jumbo sized pair of gloves.

"As a final note it must be emphasized that aside from being way fast, all of these bikes are also astonishingly competent."

When we coupled this with the realization that our readers, would be less than pleased if MO didn't at least try to bring you a track test of the 6 remaining bikes, we decided to un-scrap our cancelled track test. We arrived at this decision some time after 11:00pm Thursday night and since we were over 200 miles away from our Track Daz event scheduled for Friday morning at Buttonwillow Raceway. All beer drinking immediately ceased. We then made a few hasty "cancel that cancel-order"phone calls, then rushed home to sleep. At 4:30am Friday morning we met back at MO for the long slog up to the racetrack. It was time for MO to snatch mediocrity from the jaws of defeat!

Once we arrived at the track, we quickly made our way through registration, then proceeded to get in each others way as we scrambled to get six sets of Diablo Corsas mounted. It would be nice to tell you that the rest of the day went smoothly, but with a general shortness of time, an unusually high number of red flags (thankfully none were for us) and a large number of lapped riders, we found ourselves scrambling to get enough clean laps on each of the bikes. Dustin and the rest of the Track Daz staff did an excellent job trying to accommodate us. However, in the end, a flat tire on the R1 meant Will Tate (one of our fast guys) didn't get a shot at the Yamaha. Even with all this adversity, each bike experienced the same handicaps, so we feel that the laptimes and test results are relevant.

As a final note it must be emphasized that aside from being way fast, all of these bikes are also astonishingly competent. There is truly not a bad motorcycle in the entire lot and ranking them from first to last is largely a matter of splitting hairs. Only a dolt would be anything other than deliriously happy with any of these incredible motorcycles. All eight are eminently worthy flagships of their respective factories. That having been said, at the end of this comparo there will be a ranking. We've had our fun and made-up our minds. Now it's your turn.

Page2THE BIKES (in alphabetical order)

5th Place - Aprilia RSV R

Sean -- What do you get when you cross a Ducati with a Honda? You guessed it, you get an Aprilia RSV. Aside from a suspension that is too soft for me and a sidestand that touches-down a bit too early in left-hand corners, the RSV R is a model citizen on the racetrack.

It neatly blends Italian passion and styling flair with Japanese levels of reliability and user friendliness.

The RSV is an easy bike to go fast on, as witnessed by the average laptimes it turned-in at the track (Will T skews the average a bit by being an Aprilia specialist, but it is still quite rapid and easy to live with on a racetrack.)

"The RSV R is no doubt an absolute gas to ride on the track."

On the street, the Aprilia has the usual V-twin temperament, which makes it ideal for tight, low-traction situations like those commonly found on canyon roads. Once out of the canyons though, the Aprilia struggles with a few heat management issues that can lead to rider discomfort. Though it has a trick hydraulic clutch, the RSV's heavy lever pull and odd lever pulsing when the throttle is blipped are something that really should have been engineered-out, during last year's complete re-design. The Aprilia ties the Triumph Triple for best intake honk at full throttle and with a set of "offroad use only" pipes it can give you goose bumps. Overall, it's a stellar bike but it is outshined by the new CBR and revised RC-51.

The RSV is an easy bike to go fast on.

Martin -- With a luscious, rev-happy 60-degree V-twin producing oodles of power and torque everywhere between 4k and the 11K rev limiter (with some serious oomph between 7 and 9k), what's not to like? Wonderful bass notes emanate from dual exhausts tucked in beneath the rear sub-frame accompanied by a breathy engine soundtrack that whispers "Ride me hard, big boy." I'll be interested to see if MO's dyno verifies the 120+ bhp I've heard about, but that feels about right from the seat. The ram-air intake (similar to the RC-51's) has fancy internal gizmos that control airflow depending on the engine's ECU computer.

However it works, huge sucking sounds accompany an open throttle. Wide clip-on's provide excellent leverage though they are mounted a bit low and place a lot of weight on your wrists. The handling is razor sharp with suspension aimed at the racetrack connecting you to the road. The pegs are medium high and place your boots just fore of a set of plates mounted to the lead in pipes on the exhausts designed to keep your heels from melting. The RSV R is no doubt an absolute gas to ride on the track, but its racy ergos and the heat that billows out from under the seat and tank areas, mean it's somewhat less of a joy on the street. The frame spars on the RSV actually got quite hot to the touch, even though we were riding it on relatively cool days. In summertime traffic, this would be a problem.

Fonzie really liked the RSV R, especially the way it made women stop their screaming flight from him, just long enough to say "Hey, nice bike!"

"The instruments have some very cool digital functions built in"

For normal street riding, the suspension on the RSV R feels seriously taut and weirdly damped. On our blitz up and down the 405, the Aprilia had two modes of suspension response to concrete freeway slabs depending upon speed: hobbyhorse or jackhammer (I haven't had my ass spanked as hard since the time I turned a black snake loose in the girl's bathroom in the 6th grade). Some of the controls were a bit counterintuitive and it took me a long time learning not to honk the horn, when I actually wanted to cancel a turn signal. The tachometer is a large needle and dial unit, which is accompanied by a well-placed and easy to read LCD speedometer. The instruments have some very cool digital functions built in, all of the gauges are very bright at night and the headlights are great, so no problems there. I couldn't figure out the purpose of the weird R2D2 reflector stalk in the rear, but I'm probably just too much of a hillbilly to appreciate upscale Italian styling. While I'm playing art critic, the RSV looks like the Millennium Falcon going away from the rear. Unlike the Ducati, the RSV has mirrors that while oddly shaped, actually work quite well. Clutch-pull is stiff, but compared to the 999 its almost low-effort. The brake levers are trick and provide a good power and feel. The triple clamp has a cool cutout that is a nice, distinctive touch. Overall, I give the cockpit two thumbs-up.

"The bike looks up-to-the-minute fresh, and fit and finish was easily on par with the Japanese bikes."

Reservations about the heat and taunt suspension aside, the RSV R is a sleek V-twin rocket with enough accelerative and handling thrills to please most anyone. It's a hoot to ride and it simply inhales canyon roads. It's not a great commuter bike, but I'm betting that's not the audience Aprilia was aiming for anyway. The RSV R handled tight turns better than just about any other bike in this shootout. It turns on a dime and its tight turn, low-speed comportment is aided by a crisp but smooth throttle response, low drive lash, low vibration, and excellent brakes. The four-pot Brembos are actually an exceptional feature of this bike: easy to modulate with powerful one finger operation and a crisp initial bite. Furthermore, the RSV R has almost no tendency to stand-up, even under hard braking. This is one of the bikes I felt most comfortable on, while trail-braking deep into corners.

The combination of tremendous brakes and a slipper clutch work well to control speed and wheel hop during downshifts. When all is said and done, the RSV R looks cool, sounds cool, stops when you want it to and goes like a bat out of hell. I think this Aprilia is a couple rolls of heat tape and some suspension tweaking away from sportbike nirvana.

Mike E. -- For me, the Aprilia almost nipped out the Kawasaki in track manners, as it was so darned easy to ride. The injection was silky smooth with no lash on low speed corners. I felt very comfortable on this bike, and felt very composed in the canyons. What held it back at the track, was a little sloppy wallowing and if I had more time, I'm sure I could of dialed-out that softness and improved the RSV's track ranking. The bike looks up-to-the-minute fresh, and fit and finish was easily on par with the Japanese bikes. The biggest downer on this ride was the amount of heat generated from the motor. My forearms and thighs were quickly toasted and during the photo shoots, I had to dismount in the downtime for thermal relief. It's a shame that I didn't get to back-to-back this against the Ducati, I would have like a definitive comparison on race track mannerisms between the two. I could easily see this bike in my garage, it's got that Italian style without the quirkiness, and has the same qualities of the Japanese bikes, i.e. gas and oil it, then ride the pee out of it and repeat.

Ducati 999 ~ 7th Place

Sean -- Few bikes inspire passion and controversy like a Ducati (or Harley). Rendered in magnesium, plastic, aluminum and steel, the Ducati 999 is a roaring testament to this fact. Love it or hate it, there is no denying the 999s stellar lineage or the overwhelmingly positive manner in which the public at-large reacts to this bike. There is a lot to like here. The big Duck makes cool noises, is quite fast in a straight line and aside from the CBR 1000RR, it inspires a higher level of confidence in the twisties than the other bikes in this test.

A chassis refined by 15+ years of World Superbike Championships, top-notch suspension components, and a lusty motor coupled with girl-grabbing styling, go a long way towards convincing a 999's well-heeled owner to forgive its quirks.

It is planted like the GSXR, but its wasp-waisted design helps it feel significantly more nimble. Sure, funky Italian quirkiness abounds, like the useless mirrors, He Man clutch pull and the seat/tail cooling ducts that are completely masked by anyone wider than Marge Simpson. However, a chassis refined by 15+ years of World Superbike Championships, top-notch suspension components, and a lusty motor coupled with girl-grabbing styling, go a long way towards convincing a 999's well-heeled owner to forgive these quirks.

Had it made it to the racetrack, Buttonwillow's twin-friendly layout coupled with the prevailing track conditions, lap traffic and my injured hand might well have allowed it to be the fastest bike of the day. Hopefully we'll get a chance to do a "Best of the Best" Open Class racetrack comparo, where we can pit the winner from this test, against a healthy GSXR 1K and 999. Oh yeah, contrary to what Martin says, I found the side-stand to be both beautiful AND perfectly functional.

Martin -- No motorcycle, outside of a Harley, generates as much of a look from spectators as a 130 horsepower Chernobyl Yellow Ducati weaving through traffic at a brisk clip. Beyond the wow factor, however, all similarities end. The Ducati is Hog antimatter -- a sporting motorcycle in its primal essence stripped of all pretense and all things vestigial. Anything that doesn't make the Duc go down the road faster or handle better didn't get hung on the frame. That includes a comfortable seat, functional mirrors (what laughingly passes for mirrors are good for nothing other than an unchanging view of your leather jacket in the vicinity of your elbows) and little beyond a rudimentary nod to comfortable ergos.

Once you get over the uncompromising nature of this bike, which actually makes sense from the function over form point of view, you start getting into things that are a bit tougher to figure. Like a clutch mechanism so stiff, that it takes two men and a boy to actuate. Like heat emanating from the rear cylinder head and under-seat exhaust, that roasts your grollies. Like a sidestand designed by engineers who evidently spent years thinking about how it ought to look and about 5 minutes thinking about how it ought to work. Like a notchy transmission exacerbated by a shifter that's tough to get a toe under. Yet, I am assured that all of these things are much better than previous iterations of the flagship Ducati.

The 999 and ZX-10R rejoice in the overwhelming superiority of their monochromatic paint schemes.

"Fit and finish are excellent."

Get past all of this, and you are rewarded with the coolest soundtrack in all of bikedom. Are you listening out there? The coolest! There is absolutely nothing like the sumptuous Desmodromic aural feast that occurs when you thumb the big 90-degree Testastretta twin to life. This sound is to motorcycles, what Elliot Randall's opening lick in Reeling in the Years was to Telecaster guitars. Electric, unmistakable and unforgettable. As for the controversial styling, whether you like it or not you'll forget all about it once you get going down the road. Ohhhhh baby! does this thing ever get down the road. Liquid smooth power delivery from a rev-happy mill that just keeps on coming. About the only way to get a twin to motivate any harder, would be to jam a couple of JATO bottles in its exhaust. Handling is sharp too -- though, to my palette, not as refined as the best of the Japanese bikes.

However, it's stable as all get out in the corners. You sit lower in the bike on the 999 than on the 916/996 and it 's an improvement. The bike feels very small and light and has a low tank height that makes it easy to get everything tucked in behind the screen. There is a lot of adjustability in the frame and suspension (the seat/tank position and the steering rake are adjustable) and I am assured that the quirks I felt in steering response could undoubtedly be addressed by fiddling with the geometry of the bike a little bit. The tachometer and speedometer are easy to read under a variety of lighting conditions and aside from the heavy clutch-pull, the controls all make sense. Fit and finish are excellent.

Page3All in all, the big Ducati is a no compromise sportbike that, while requiring some commitment to own, is just about everything that it's cracked up to be. It wasn't one of my favorites in this group, but this is some stiff company. If I were forced to own one of these, I suppose I could accustom myself to being deliriously happy without sulking and you could too.

Mike E. -- The Ducati had a real split personality. The 999 is terrible on the freeways and in the city, but quite brilliant in the canyons. This new bike offers infinite adjustability and with more time, I bet it could be made to fit my height a bit better. The gearing on this bike was superb and with its not-too-long first gear, second and third were perfect for strafing the canyons. Unfortunately, the 999 went 666 before it could make it to the track, so a mistrial is in order. I can't help wondering how it would have stacked up to the others on the track, especially with its superb feedback and rock steady stability. Top five or better in the track comparison? If only...

Meet the Testers Rider Notes

Sean Alexander -- MO's voluble executive editor and our fearless leader. This AMA Pro licensed, multi time CCS Championship Winning Racer gives magnificent pre-ride motivational speeches. He took one for the team, in order to viscerally demonstrate the value of his entreaties to the rest of us about riding with great care on the test bikes.

That aside, watching wounded Sean ride the damperless ZX-10R down the front straight at Buttonwillow, front wheel skimming the asphalt with clip-ons wagging so hard that his broken right hand was a foot wide blur, was easily the most impressive thing we've seen in a while. Salute!

Mike Emery -- Charismatic expatriate Brit who is a hooligan extraordinaire. Also a multi time CCS Championship winner, as a kid he looped his first moped within a half-hour of ownership trying to learn how to get it to wheelie. This barely begins to explain Mike E. Blindingly fast, highly competent, quick with a quip, and born troublemaker. Yin to Sean's Yang. Editor of some minor motorcycle ezine called 2WF.com or something like that.

Eric Bass -- Laid back surfer dude who sells some Ads at MO and does a few other things, though no one seems to be able to figure out exactly what they are. Eric likes sportbikes because they give him an excuse to accessorize leather.

After the test, he put a serious dent in his karma by taking off on the ZX-10R after the track portion of the test and forcing the rest of us to ride a long way back to MO very late at night on some not so comfortable freeway bikes. Ebass is widely rumored to be popular with ladies though the rest of us saw no immediate evidence of this. A particularly scurrilous rumor has Ebass dating Sean's mother, which, if true, explains....

Dale Alexander -- Sean's jack-of-all trades, chain smoking, fast-talking, adrenaline crazed, truck driving older brother. John Candy with serious speed, though not quite as funny. Dale grew-up working in his father's race shop, hanging out with guys like Yvon Duhamel, Pops Yoshimura, Fujio Yoshimura nad the rest of the Yoshimura Racing Crew. He's the guy to have around when you feel like you need some heavy-weight protection. Goes by the nom-de-guerre uturnus-interruptus.

Alfonse Palaima -- Fonzie is MO's excellent photographer, ace phone screener and all around ambassador of good will. He rides better than some of MO's editorial staff, yet Fonzie keeps right on smiling and working, while EBass complains and Sean puts-out any one of MO's frequent fires.

Pete Brissette -- a motorcycle courier and genuine nice guy. An experienced rider with tons of real world motorcycling under his belt. He's a wise, sane, mature, funny, polite, well-mannered, energetic and eager to help. This makes him out of place with the rest of this rabble, except for...

Will Tate -- A very good-natured fellow. He has reason to be. He's very fast, owns a successful motorcycle shop and spends his days talking and riding motorcycles. He undoubtedly has a beautiful wife and well-adjusted children at home as well. Normally we hate guys like this, but WT is the exception. Still we'd like to see how real that omnipresent smile is. Perhaps a small incident with a crane, bulldozer and Will's showroom should be arranged -- then we'll find out the truth.

Martin Hackworth -- Set off on the ZX-10 cruise missile an atheist and came back a Christian thus earning, albeit not as intended, his MO moniker of sportbike_pilot.

Currently cloistered somewhere in Idaho undergoing regression therapy and sucking his thumb. Martin is considering which Jesus cult to join, while biding his time, working his day job as a Physics Professor at Idaho State University. Hackworth also spends time racing his CBR 954RR and FZR 400 in WSMC events at Willow Springs Raceway.

Sean's Notes: I'd like to thank Fonzie's friend Jack, my buddy Dave and MO reader Matt Cuddy for their assistance during the street portion of this test, as well as reader Steven Verschoor who was so patient and polite after he landed in the middle of our "Charlie Foxtrot" at Buttonwillow.

I feel sick to my stomach, every time I think about the accident, the damaged test bikes, the bruised manufacturer relations, my aching hand, arm and of course the checks that I'm about to write with them. Worse than all of this, I feel bad that I am unable to give the readers the full-Monte 8-way shootout, which I so desperately wanted to deliver. The good news is that the manufacturers involved seem to charitably understand my situation and are showing remarkable patience (Thank You). If all goes well, we'll be able to track-test a Ducati and GSXR against the victor from this shootout, so we can finally rank them in their proper places.

Martin's Notes: The "Martin, call Sean ASAP, you'll be glad you did." email arrived shortly after noon on Tuesday. Since I already knew what was next on the testing docket after the Middleweight Standards comparo, my fingers were a blur as I dialed up MO to confirm the good news. Yeee Haaaa! Thirty-six sleepless hours later, I was on a sunrise flight from SLC to LAX. After less than an hour on the ground, I found myself splitting lanes up the 405, on the Ducati 999, during morning rush hour, as we made our way north to Latigo Canyon. I'm really getting into this whole lane-splitting deal and I now find it to be one of the most entertaining parts of a MO bike test. I hope they ask me back again, so I can continue to improve my skills on the great rolling slalom course which is the LA freeway system.

Before riding these incredible bikes, I was worried that I'd end up back in Idaho listing my CBR954RR on eBay, as soon as I could get my computer turned on. All of these motorcycles are such a quantum leap forward that I was convinced that I'd have to have one after sampling them. Funny enough, that didn't happen. You see, as much as I liked all of these motorcycles, I realize that they are designed to produce performance light years ahead of what my meager skills can tap (actually, so is my 954). So, I came back to Pocatello, wheeled my 954RR out of the shop and went for a ride. I wheelied a little going down the road from my house and did a big stoppie at the bottom of the hill. I may have been to the Playboy mansion of sportbikes, but it sure felt good to be back with my steady.

Will Tate's notes: Of the bikes that I've been exposed to in the Open Class motorcycle segment, I'd have to award Honda with the award for best product invention, for its HESD steering Damper. HESD Flat Works! I'd like to award Kawasaki the award for "Closest Miss of Motorcycle of the Decade" If Kawasaki had invented HESD and equipped the ZX-10R with it, it would win bike of the decade hands-down. As it is, I still call it the #1 bike for 2004.

Mike E. : I feel a little bit of a fraud making a call, especially as I didn't get to cover enough miles on each machine in the same environment. As far as the Track was concerned, laps were hand timed and very sporadic due to traffic and sessions that were cut-short by crashers. However, I can speak about what I saw, rode and felt on that day (factoring out the crashed Suzuki and Ducati) so your mileage may vary. The fact is, the differences between these bikes are subtle. There's obviously not a bad bike amongst them and they each have there little nuances. I voted the Yamaha as first for track and third for street, the Honda was the reverse scoring a third on the track and a first on the street.

I picked the Kawasaki second for both street and track. Does that make the ZX-10R best overall? Not quite, the Kawi is barking mad and really only suited for expert riders, I really dug this bike and I can hang on for dear life with the best of them. To be honest, I'd be happy owning any (or all four, including the GSX-R) of the four banger bikes. On both street and track, the Honda and Yamaha offer varying (but calmer) degrees of the big K. My vote is even-Steven between the Honda and Yamaha, but personally, my first pick goes to the Yamaha because it's just so darn nice to look at, and ride.

Honda CBR1000RR ~ 1st Place

Sean -- The un-deniable rightness of the CBR 1000RR was further clarified when I rode it at Buttonwillow. Its brilliant HESD steering damper and neutral handling allowed me to set the fastest lap of the day on it, while feeling the most relaxed and transferring the smallest amount of stress to my newly broken hand. Sure, it's an unusual way to evaluate a motorcycle, but it is hard to argue with the results. I had no idea that I was going that fast on the Honda. Several bikes felt faster at the racetrack, but in hindsight that must have just been a function of the Honda's superb engineering.

I'd bet my next two paychecks, that the average street rider would be faster at a track day on the big CBR, than on any other bike in this class.

Where the un-dampered Kawasaki would wag-away and the well-dampered Yamaha would do two cycles of the bars, the HESD equipped Honda would merely do 1/2 of a cycle, then return-to-center, as if nothing ever happened. It was an uncanny experience, seeming more like a video game, than an actual 100+ mph trip over uneven asphalt. I'd bet my next two paychecks, that the average street rider would be faster at a track day on the big CBR, than on any other bike in this class. I also suspect that the R1 and especially the ZX-10R, would be faster for expert racers riding on custom-tuned suspensions, (due to their lighter weight and higher horsepower). However, we are not testing tuned racers here, we're testing bikes that YOU can go to your local dealer and buy today. The same things that make the CBR so friendly on the racetrack, transfer directly over to the street, where the outstanding brakes, brilliant steering damper and solid chassis keep things drama-free, well at least as drama-free as you can get on a 150+hp motorcycle. Therefore, it is without reservation that I give my vote to the Honda CBR 1000RR as best Open Class Superbike of 2004. Did I mention that it does magnificent 80mph, 2nd gear roll-on, power wheelies?

Martin -- Even though it's close between my top three votes, there is little doubt in my mind as to which is the winner. The CBR1000RR is simply the best sportbike I have ever ridden. It is an amazing machine that does everything well. It was also, by a wide margin, the easiest bike for me to ride fast, straight out of the gate. The CBR1000RR is trick, fast, stable, silky-smooth, comfortable, confidence inspiring in the extreme and just oozes sophistication. There isn't a part on this bike that doesn't feel solidly connected to something else. There is not a bit of slop anywhere. The RR feels amazingly lithe and is deceptively fast. All of this, mind you, from a bike that the spec sheet tells us is down on power and way heavy. There is a lesson in this my friends and it is that you don't ride a spec sheet down the road. Actually, there are two lessons, the second being that people on motorcycle websites who hammer bikes they haven't ridden are usually full of poopie.

I can feel the spec sheet weenies out there racing to their keyboards, to give me the business. How can a bike that ranks fourth in both horsepower and weight come out on top? I've noticed that there is seemingly no dearth of magazine wielding citizens out there eager to rip this bike because of its perceived pork and lack of horsepower (as if a 150+ bhp bike can be thought of as " lacking" power). Well I'm here to tell you that unless you've thrown a leg over this bike you have no idea what you are talking about. I have not only thrown a leg over it but also ridden it, hard, back-to-back with the other bikes in this test on the street and on the track and the unmistakable conclusion is that the Honda simply kicks ass.

Even with this big hole in its swingarm, the big Honda was the most composed bike in the test.

"These are the best brakes I've ever used, hands down."

It's apparent right off the bat, that the CBR1000RR borrows heavily from RC211V tech: frame, tank, exhaust, Unit Pro Link suspension, and swingarm all bear a strong resemblance to Honda's all-conquering GP bike. However, the 1000RR is much more than a bunch of tech slapped together for tech's sake. Being the owner of a CBR954RR, I can confirm that the new CBR is a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary upgrade. Thumb the 1000RR motor to life and you'll also notice that the noisy HTEV clatter of the 954 has been replaced by a mechanical symphony even sweeter than that of the Triumph. (No streetbike sounds as sweet as the 955i's triple -- Sean) is slightly more radical and a little more cramped, but in every other way the bike is superior to its predecessor. Especially in the area of stability, where the 954RR was known for nervous manners inspired by T1 like feedback from the road, the 1000RR just plants itself in corners and goes where you will it to. The trick HESD absolutely puts the clamps on any antics this bike might be prone to at speed. Even though the 1000RR is a good deal heavier than the 954RR, you'd never know it from the saddle and it feels much more compact. I didn't think that it was possible put together a brake system better than the 954's but the radial Tokico four-pot binders controlled by a race-spec master cylinder clamp the 310mm rotors with total authority. These are the best brakes I've ever used, hands down. They are crisp, modulate incredibly well, don't fade and will easily stand the bike on its nose if you want to with one finger. Brakes just don't get any better.

The weight of the 1000RR is a complete non-issue thanks to low, compact dimensions and mass centralization that is more than mere PR hype. It is very easy to ride, because nearly all the power that the big CBR makes is quite usable, thanks to a supremely stable chassis, a long swingarm, confidence inspiring suspension and righteous brakes. My laps on the track were not timed (thank goodness) but the fast guys: Sean A., Will T. and Mike E. turned-in some very fast laps on the CBR, verifying my feelings about the fast-out-of-the-gate nature of this bike, So there you go, in my book, the CBR1000RR is the literbike of 2004. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Let the flames begin!

Mike E. -- The Honda was a gem in most situations. You say you're worried about its weight? Don't be, it's really not an issue. Street or track, those extra 20-odd pounds always seem to disappear. I must admit, I was left with a so-so taste after the press intro in Arizona. Sure, the bike was good, but it didn't light a fire under my arse. A month or so ago after a street ride with Honda's urban terrorist, Doug Toland, my mind set was changed. I really think this is the most perfect streetbike that I have ever ridden. The weight is low and the mass centralized. Turn-in is pinpoint precise and I could adjust my line at will, regardless of speed. This will scoop you (and me) out of trouble should you have any mid-corner problems.

The front-end feel on this bike was absolutely superb and I felt as though I could run it in deep and still have reserves left. The street ride endorsed just how good this bike was in real world situations. I felt so at home on the seat of this bike, with its adjustable levers (clutch and brake) I never felt taxed in any way. At the track however, it just didn't really inspire me, although the bike was just as composed as the street ride. The steering damper is really, really remarkable and totally unobtrusive in fast or slow maneuvers. HESD should be compulsory on all open-classers.

Page4Honda RC-51 ~ 4th Place

Sean -- Surprised and Impressed are the two words that best describe my feelings about the RC-51. My only previous experience with an RC-51, was actually my very first riding assignment for MO. That test was a comparison of a lightly modified Aprilia Mille R vs. a heavily modified RC-51 that was set-up by Dan Kyle racing for a guy about ? my weight. I wasn't a fan of the RC-51 after that test. I left thinking the bike was twitchy and poorly suspended. It turns out that I got a false impression of the big Honda twin. Now that my eyes are opened, I am sad to note that I've missed a good portion of the RC-51's life.

This is a really great motorcycle folks. I'm serious about this. I was immediately comfortable on the RC and it only took about a 1/2 lap for me to get fully up to speed on it. When the flag flew at the end of that session, I was reluctant to get off. Not only are its track manners impeccable, the bike also oozes trickness when you take a closer look. It has a very cool dash layout and though it seems a little wide at first, when you ride it, you can't see any bike in front of you... it is like you are flying over the road at the tip of a spear. This is a really neat effect and I highly recommend that you take a ride on an RC-51 if you get a chance. Its price is the only thing that's keeping me from voting it higher. Though its engineering and tooling must be fully paid-off by now, at $11,599 it seems Honda is trying to price the RC-51 as a boutique bike. Even at that inflated price, it is still a screaming bargain compared to it's Italian cousins. I think I need to make an excuse to spend more track time on this RC-51. Anybody care to see an Open-Twins shootout? I'll make some calls.

Wait! Come Back! It's MY turn!

Martin -- This bike rocks! By the narrowest of margins, the RC is my third choice overall. It makes more horsepower than the other two twins, and it pulls like a tractor. The thing about the RC, is that every bit of power that it makes is totally tractable. The RC-51 never gives even the slightest hint of doing anything untoward, no matter how ham-fisted you are with the throttle or how badly you miss a brake marker. It's got the easiest to use motor of any of the twins and some of the best brakes on any of the bikes we rode. I've ridden an RC extensively on back roads up in Idaho, so I am very familiar with it. The only things that prevent the Honda twin from being a great all-rounder are its short fuel range, taut race-spec suspension, and hard seat, which limit comfort for street use. That aside, the RC-51 is a hero maker on a closed circuit and it may well be the ultimate track tool for us mortals (In Superbike trim, it worked pretty well for Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards too).

The RC-51 feels small, compact, tightly put together, and very dense. It's relatively heavy but it doesn't feel so. Ergos are a little cramped for tall guys but not overly. The controls and gauges are intuitive and easy to read. Fit and finish are typical Honda, which is to say, excellent. The mirrors work. The soundtrack, while perhaps lacking the soul-stirring groove of the Mille or the Ducati, is still rock and roll. Handling is predictable and very stable. However, the RC-51 is much greater than the sum of its parts and that is by virtue of balance. It simply does everything: accelerate, turn, shift, brake, andrespond to the road, very well. It's the most confidence-inspiring twin of the lot to ride. The motor is so easy to use that above first it almost doesn't matter what gear you are in much of the time. Those widely spaced twin pulses give a lot of thrust out of corners without as much of a risk of tire-spin. This is not a nearly as much of a high-side waiting to happen as, say, the ZX-10R or the R1. The steering is quick to the point that you'd swear that the RC was reading your mind. It corners as if it is on a rail and will make a U-turn in a parking space.

"The RC-51 feels small, compact, tightly put together, and very dense. It's relatively heavy but it doesn't feel so."

I really dig the RC-51. It may not have the pizzazz of the other twins in this test, it doesn't arouse any particular lust or primal passion sitting still, and it lacks the spec chart panache of the bikes here that are closer to the edge of the envelope, but it is a completely good natured and confidence inspiring ride. It is very practical with good controls, mirrors that work and the best comfort of any of the twins. It's a little vibey but that is to be expected. This was the bike I was able to ride with the most confidence on a track that I was totally unfamiliar with. All of the performance in the world doesn't do me any good if I can't access it and the RC-51 makes me feel as if I can. In my book that is just the ticket for a good time.

Mike E. -- Streetwise, the RC51 was a little harsh. I suspect it was one of the least favorite bikes for the straight sections of the journey to the track. Once on that track though, it was pretty spectacular. The front-end feel was superb and mid-corner stability brilliant. The bike felt composed under brakes and I got nary a shake over some of the bumpier sections of the track. The bike is so typically Honda, enabling you to get up-to-speed quickly. I went surprisingly fast on this bike at the track. This is mostly due to its very flat feeling power curve, with no spikes to upset your cornering lines or your traction whilst powering out. It was like revisiting an old friend - I've enjoyed rides on the RC in the past and this latest SP2 rendition makes an already great bike even better. I have no idea where I was hiding when this second version was released, because I didn't realize the depth of improvements that have been made since its initial introduction in 2000. The only complaints were a little hesitation out of slow speed corners whilst sniffing out grip at the track and on the same type of slow corners on the street and the small tank always saw the fuel light on first. Funny enough though, I got my second best recorded laptime on this bike.

Kawasaki ZX-10R ~ 3rd Place

"If you have the skill and the restraint, you will be mighty impressed with what Kawasaki has created. As an added bonus, if you decide to commute on it, you will be surprised to find that the monster motor also gives the best fuel mileage of any bike in this test."

Sean -- This bike is not your father's Oldsmobile. Kawasaki wisely decided to introduce the ZX-10R on a large and very smooth racetrack. In that environment and equipped with some "cheater" hand-cut Dunlop superbike slicks the bike felt like a calm and well-mannered rocket ship. While at that intro, I reported that several of the test units were balking on the 3-4 upshift. I'm now pleased to report that Kawasaki seems to have fixed whatever the issue was and as far as I know, nobody missed a shift on the ZX-10R through both days of this test. What's the most well-endowed liter bike like in the real world? you ask. Outside of the racetrack, the ZX-10R is a wild-eyed stallion, waiting to trample your daisies, rape your livestock, and, if you're lucky, land you in jail. If you're not lucky... well I don't even want to think about it.

The ZX-10R is capable of being perfectly docile and tractable, but few men are capable of resisting its ever-present voice urging them to just twist it and see what happens. This bike looks the part too. It is quite small and though it looks long and low like a drag bike, it actually has the shortest wheelbase of the bunch. At the track, it's capable of turning inside most 600s, which is nice. However, that same short wheelbase and easy turning nature lend themselves to headshake. Back in December, a couple journos asked the Kawasaki tech team why there was no steering damper on the bike.

The response was "it doesn't need one". That may have been true at a smooth track like Homestead, but on lesser pavement, the ZX-10R sure could use a damper. A good damper would have moved the Ninja right up these charts. Aside from that, I firmly believe that the Ninja has the best brakes around and that's a good thing, because it uses them to reign-in the strongest motor in the land. The ZX-10's brakes are quite linear, but they do require a firm-squeeze for maximum braking. This isn't a problem when your right hand is healthy, but with my hand in its current state, the Honda offered easier stopping due to its lower lever effort. When coupled with a rough track like Buttonwillow and a nervous front-end, I found the ZX-10R to be a handful to hustle around.

If you have the skill and the restraint, you will be mighty impressed with what Kawasaki has created. As an added bonus, if you decide to commute on it, you will be surprised to find that the monster motor also gives the best fuel mileage of any bike in this test. The ZX-10R almost seems to be "too fast" on public roads. Most of the time, you end up feeling as if you're idling a Top Fuel Dragster through a church parking lot.

The SR-71 enters its hangar after a high-speed mission.

Martin -- Malo. Muy malo! This thing is evil. It is every malevolent night terror you ever had, it is whoever invented women's self-help magazines, it is credit cards on ebay, it is the most intoxicating thing you can do with your right hand without going blind. The ZX-10R epitomizes ridiculous excess in big bore sportbikes with more engine than a Saturn V booster. The big Zed is a bat out of hell complete with horns and a forked tail.

Did I mention that the ZX-10R is fast?

The first impression of the Zed X from the saddle was of how tiny it is. It's smaller that the ZX-6R and ultra compact, not as much so as the CBR1000RR, but close. The frame spars pass over the engine rather than around the sides and it feels very narrow. It's very light (allegedly 433 lbs. wet) which is lighter than the GSXR-1000 and much lighter than the CBR100RR. If the claimed 162 bhp figure holds up on MO's dyno, it possesses the greatest thrust to weight ratio of any of these bikes. The six spoke wheels add to a sleek and stealthy appearance. Styling-wise the ZX-10R looks totally like the badass that it is. The gaping maw of the ram air duct on the front, in fact, reminds me of a diorama I saw in a museum once featuring a huge primitive Paleozoic shark. Throw a leg over the comfortable seat; thumb the big motor to life and the engine lopes with a docility that belies the beast waiting to be unleashed.

At low speeds and low rpm the big Zed is a relative pussycat to ride around. It's really agile and would be as much fun as any bike in this test for canyon strafing were it not for the strangely clunky transmission which you must desperately fight to keep the revs below 8k if you know what's good for you. Tokico 4 pot calipers grip "petal" disks similar to wave rotors and the setup works just fine (a good thing). It's also got a back torque limiting, slipper clutch, which, given the rev-happy nature of this bike, seems a strange feature unless they actually meant to put it in the other way. About the only other knock on the big Zed is the useless, poorly lit, LCD tach/speedo combo that must have been designed by the same nimrods who dreamed up the similar FZ6 unit after they got fired from Yamaha. You need to pay attention to the tach too because real drama begins as the indicator bars inch past 8000 rpm. From this point all the way to 13,000 rpm redline this bike is the closest thing any of us will ever experience to making a hyperspace jump. It'll rip the hair right out of your nose.

Intoxicated by the ZX-10R's power, Martin decided to make a run for the border. Unfortunately, Taco Bell was sued for using that particular AD slogan and we'll have to print a retraction of this caption next week.

"It is hands-down currently the most powerful motorcycle on Earth."

My first session with the Zed began in tight canyons where it took a few miles to get to enough of a straight stretch to roll on the throttle. Having been warned about the sudden onset of big thrust I was opening ‘er up gradually (I thought) in 4th gear when I accidentally tagged the closed circuit portion of the engine's output. Sweet Jesus Palomino! Once the engine begins to honk triple digit power wheelies follow with ludicrous ease. The bad feature of all this is that on any type of ruffled surface your hero pose is likely accompanied by some righteous headshake totally unchecked by a steering damper because there isn't one. What's up with that Kawasaki? You cheap bastards. I saw Jesus, Mohammed, and the entire Bhagavad-Gita flash before my eyes 10 seconds into my first straightaway.

The moral to the story here is that if big horsepower is your end all and be all criterion for literbike OTY then you can stop reading now because the ZX-10R has it in spades. I thought that I was no stranger to big time get down the road but this bike taught me religion. It is hands-down currently the most powerful motorcycle on Earth. It is like the Borg in that regard, even completely mature guys like Fonzie and Pete would absolutely check-out within a millisecond of encountering a straightaway. On the downside, it makes a poor wheelbarrow if you ignore the low fuel light long enough.

Bike Avg. MPG
Kawasaki ZX-10R 45.8
Triumph 955i Daytona 42.1
Suzuki GSX-R1000 40.8
Honda CBR 1000RR 39.2
Yamaha YZF-R1 37.9
Aprilia RSV R 36.2
Ducati 999 34.1
Honda RC-51 32.3

That being said the ZX-10R does not receive my vote for best bike in this comparo. While it's a tremendous leap forward with great handling, superior brakes, exceptional (for Kawasaki) fit and finish, good mirrors, comfy ergos and more motor than any sane human could possibly want, it's just not my favorite. When riding this bike with the engine north of eight grand you are consumed with managing the prodigious power and that was enough to distract me from everything else. The big Zed simply seems out of balance when the afterburners kick in. There are other bikes in this group with nearly as much horsepower, that are much easier to ride hard and do a better job of pegging my fun meter.

Mike E. -- The Kawasaki was, as I suspected, fun but flighty. The initial press intro was held on a billiard table track (Homestead) and it was only in the real world and on a real track that we got to experience the stability of the big Kwack. The problem (mostly on the track) was head swapping over the bumpy stuff, you had to ride super smooth to get max drive and a couple of times I found myself rolling off the throttle to calm things down - obviously not good for fast times at Ridgemont High. TrackDaz organizer, Dustin Coyner did mention that I looked really comfortable on the ZX, I sure this look was more attributable to me having to be so smooth and precise with my inputs to maintain fast forward velocity.

Dustin was riding an 04' GSX-R600 and I shouldn't of had so much trouble dicing with him, especially with an extra 40-odd horsepower in my pocket. Chatting with Aprilia and Moto-Guzzi's Fleet manager and fast old guy, Will Tate, we agreed that the Kawi would be almost unbeatable if it had a steering damper as good as the Honda. Fast and furious is good, but fast and controlled could see this motorcycle labeled, bike of the decade. As it happens, it's relegated - mostly due to the excellent manners of both the Yamaha and Honda. By the way, the gearshift felt a little shorter in throw than any of the pre-production ZX10's that I've ridden before. I never missed a shift on the street or the track.

Page5Suzuki GSXR-1000 ~ 6th Place

Sean -- Much like the Honda RC-51, the Suzuki GSXR 1000 seems somehow better than I remember it. In the past, GSXR 1000s have seemed a little ponderous and their motors have over-shadowed the rest of the bike on the street. This time however, the GSXR felt almost as nimble as the newbies and though it makes one more horsepower, it also feels slightly less intimidating than the GSXR I tested in 2003. Like most GSXRs before it, the 2004 model is blessed with excellent suspension (for a stock bike) and some of the best brakes in the business.

Though it is freight train stability boosts confidence when the pavement is rough, that same stability makes the bike a little heavy feeling in quick transitions and demands firm and direct steering inputs. These traits can be best exploited by an experienced racer and it is a crying shame that the GSXR was robbed of a chance to defend its honor during the racetrack portion of this shootout. However, as we've recently witnessed in AMA Superbike and Superstock competition, the biggest Gixxer is still more than capable of taking-on all racetrack challengers.

This brutally effective GSXR 1000 was robbed of a chance to defend its racetrack crown, after its mirrors went un-used at a crucial moment.

Martin -- During the early street portion of this test, upon getting off the Ducati and onto the Gixxer, I remember thinking what a relief. But, after riding all of the bikes in this test, I'd have to say that while the big Soozook is certainly a very competent bike in this (or any other) company, it just doesn't stand out, except possibly, in the "how the mighty have fallen\ " department. With the 1K, I think that Suzuki may have put too many eggs in the big horsepower basket. It was nothing special in this year's crop of inline fours. When you take away the overwhelming horsepower advantage that the big Gixxer has enjoyed over its rivals the past few years, you begin to eye other things more critically. The steering is excellent, though not particularly sharp. Throttle response can be abrupt and is accompanied buy some drive lash. The suspension seems mid-pack for street use. The GSXR felt larger than all of the bikes in this group, save the Triumph. When compared with to the CBR1000RR and Mille R, the Gixxer seems to turn like an aircraft carrier. The brakes were very good, but not the best. Still, the GSXR-1000 is a hoot to ride and it's easy to see why privateer racers are drawn to these things like moths to a flame. The overall quality of the componentry on this bike is such that you wouldn't have to massage it much, to get it to a starting grid. Do to an un-timely accident, we didn't get to ride this bike on the track, but my impression from the street ride was that it was real close to race ready right out of the box. If I were nutty enough to race a literbike on a privateer's budget, this is the one I'd have a hard look at.

This was EBass' fastest lap.

Even though it's near the bottom of my list, there is absolutely nothing bad or wrong about the GSXR-1000. It's fast, handles great, has reasonable ergonomics, great controls and easy to read gauges. Fit and finish are fine. There is really nothing not to like. It says less about the big Gixxer and more about progress, that this previously all-conquering motorcycle has been relegated to mid-pack status in the current crop of literbikes. So, if you are one of the legions of Gixxer loyalists out there who own one of these, don't start bawling and don't write me dirty letters. Though it's not my favorite bike here, I certainly wouldn't kick it out of bed for eating crackers. I'm quite sure that the hard working folks over at Suzuki are, as we speak, staying up late at night crafting their next Death Star. They have a little work to do, but one shudders at the possibilities.

Mike E. -- The Suzuki got molested in the worst possible way, so I didn't get to experience the class leader from the past year or two on the racetrack. However, I've spent some considerable California road time on this wicked-fast motorcycle, so I feel qualified to comment. The big Gixxer is smack-bang in the middle of the horsepower war and a little ahead of the game, where its wonderful midrange punch is concerned. Due to that giant torque value, the GSXR can be lugged a gear higher to soften its hit, so rapid progress is easily made, without delving into its tire-spinning horsepower reserves. The handling remains awe-inspiring and it has brakes as good, if not better, than a couple of the class newbies. Stylistically speaking, it's lookin a little stale these days, though a bit of a slim-down (shape wise, not weight wise) would likely see this bike repeat as numero uno.

Triumph Daytona 955i ~ 8th Place

Sean -- This is SOO frustrating! You see, I really love this bike and I have to vote it last in this group. For me personally, it's not a racebike or a bragging tool. Instead, the Triumph Daytona 955i is a musical instrument that is best enjoyed on a sweeping road with rock walls to bounce the sonorous intake and exhaust wail off. The 955i is a great engine, wrapped in a very good chassis, coupled with humane ergos and a compliant suspension.

2WF.com Editor Mike Emery tours turn 2, while listening to the Triumph sing.

"It is fast enough to keep up with any bike here in any situation you're likely to encounter..."

...but it is not quite at the same level of performance engineering and overall sporting competence as the rest of these bikes. If you want a good deal on a high performance motorcycle that you can ride to work every day and throw some soft luggage on for a weekend trip, I urge you to give the $9,999 Daytona a closer look. For my money, the Triumph is the only bike here that I'd consider buying as a streetbike. Even though the 955i lags a little behind the other bikes in this test as a track weapon, it is predictable and loads of fun to hustle around with its rear tire spinning and its engine singing. I was still able to go faster on it than 99% of the other riders at the track day, but in a real race, the Daytona would be out of its league. Though it's first in my heart, this is a "Superbike" class and the 955i is really more of a racy GT and because most readers are more interested in bragging rights, I am forced to vote this bike last.

Martin -- For overall goodness, versatility, and user friendliness this bike is the clear standout in this group. The 955i is exceptional in a whole bunch of areas that don't show up on most spec charts. If I were going to throw some luggage on a sporting literbike and hit the road the Triumph would be the clear winner (nothing else would be even close). It has plenty of motor (though down on power in this group) decent suspension, good brakes, very comfy ergos and a groovy industrial rap soundtrack reminiscent of Hoodlum Priest. Styling is standout and it was one of my favorite looking bikes of the group. I dig the unorthodoxy of the bent tube frame, the single-sided swingarm, and the three-banger motor.

The controls are well placed and easy to use and all of the gauges are very easy to see in any lighting condition. The mirrors are the best of the lot (Do you hear that, Ducati?). It is also very smooth going down the road. Even though it's a bit heavy (just shy of 500 lbs wet) it stops, goes and turns with alacrity, it's got tons of tractable power with great fuel injection (at long last). If I were going to purchase any of the bikes in this test for myself this would be the one.

  Sean Alexander Mike Emery Will Tate
Honda CBR 1000RR 02:03.6 02:12.4 02:10.5
Yamaha YZF-R1 02:04.1 02:08.6 No Time
Kawasaki ZX-10R 02:04.4 02:10.1 02:06.3
Aprilia RSV R 02:04.7 02:12.2 02:04.9
Honda RC-51 02:04.9 02:10.7 02:10.6
Triumph  955i Daytona 02:06.1 02:12.1 02:11.5

I rode this bike in a variety of situations and spent at least as much time on it as I did any of the others. While the motor, suspension and handling are not cutting edge they produce results that are plenty good. Had I not stepped directly off other bikes in this test onto the 955i I doubt that I would have noticed any discernable lack of power or handling at any reasonable pace on the road. On the track the relative lack of motor and lagging suspension are more of an issue but the 955i not intended primarily as a racer. The 955i shines as a supremely competent literbike for the rider who intends to confine his/her sorties primarily to the street with perhaps an occasional track day (in other words, 99.9% of the riding public). This bike will keep you smiling in situations where the others will have long worn out their welcome.

I really respect the folks at Triumph for blowing a big old raspberry at the rest of the motorcycle establishment and having the audacity to create this unorthodox bike. Even though it isn't going to come out on top in this comparo it is the best bike in the world for a whole bunch of people. If you value daily comfort and practicality in your personal cruise missile, and can live without the most impressive spec chart bike, then this is the motorcycle for you. Triumph dared to be different. Can you?

Mike E. -- Last but not least, was the Triumph Daytona. This bike surprised the heck out of me and though I'm voting it last, it gets first in a couple of categories. For street duties its comfortable seat and taller (for the group) handlebar position meant an easy time was had than the rest. The motor is very willing but the gearing was a little iffy, most of the time, street or track. I never seemed to be able to find a compromise in gear selection, I was always in too high a gear or too low. Carrying a higher gear and using the ample torque to propel you forward was fine for the street, but not the fastest way on the track. The bike had more than enough beans to overpower its OEM tires and I suspect the chassis may have got wound up in knots on the sticky stuff. (Which we couldn't fit due to a lack of tools) I did however, record some very consistent lap times proving that it wasn't a wrestling match at the track. Great bike though, but in greater company.

Yamaha YZF-R1 ~ 2nd Place

Sean -- After riding Yamaha's new R1 on the street, I knew they would be an contender in every category of this shootout. This bike is everything you always wanted in a bike and more. It is stunning to look at, wicked fast, sounds great, not too expensive, and chicks dig it. So how is it that this bike could come second on my list? That's a tough but fair question. I can only answer by saying it tries too hard to split the difference between the balls-out Kawasaki and the brilliantly refined and engineered CBR. It does a good job of it, but unfortunately that means it isn't quite as well developed as the Honda, yet doesn't feel quite as in-your-face fast as the Kawasaki. This happy medium prevents the R1 from dominating any single category.

However, it just might be the bike you should pick if you want a tamer Kawasaki or a Spicier Honda. Lighter and simpler than Honda's electronic HESD damper, the Yamaha's mechanical steering automatically varies damping force via a floating ball check-valve. In practice, it is one of the better steering dampers that I've tried. If Yamaha had introduced it last year, it would have seemed like a revelation. However, Honda just stole their thunder with the HESD.

Mike selected the R1 as his top choice, because he felt that it blended the best traits from the Honda and Kawasaki.

On the racetrack, the Yamaha was nearly as fast as the CBR and was a bit more fun to ride, because it felt like it was actually faster, with just enough drama to keep you excited, but not enough to soil your pants. The R1 also works quite well on the street, with quick but stable transitions, refined chassis, good heat management and more than enough grunt to smoothly pull-away from a stop, even though it's burdened with an ultra-tall (107mph) 1st gear. That tall 1st gear allows Yamaha to install an ultra-close ratio set of gears, though the close ratios mean that the short 6th gear makes for buzzy highway travel. With a few more beans and slightly more refinement, the R1 would have won this shootout with ease. As it stands, Yamaha will have to be content with a close 2nd.

The most immediately striking thing about the R1 is that it is truly beautiful to look at.

Martin -- The venerable Yamaha R1 placed just ahead of the RC-51 in my rankings by virtue of its great versatility as both a wonderful streetbike and a fearsome track tool. Were it not for the CBR1000RR the R1 would be my pick for the greatest literbike on the planet. Even with the new CBR on the prowl it 's pretty darned close.

Though it's a few horsepower down on the ZX-10R, the character of the R1's power delivery is much more controlled, if only slightly less furious. The Yamaha R1 thrills in spades but it just doesn't feel quite as malevolent as the ZX-10R, as it goes about doing so.

"The most immediately striking thing about this bike is that it is truly beautiful to look at."

It's a piece of sculpture in its own right. The bodywork pieces blend well with the blacked-out frame and upside down swingarm. The exhaust flows smoothly up and under the seat and after looking at this arrangement for a couple of days I wondered how I ever thought that conventionally mounted cans looked cool. Everything on the new R1 looks like it's with the program and Yamaha really did a wonderful job with the look of the bike. It's lines are much more rounded and flowing than the current letter-opener sharpness of most Japanese bikes. It's a real standout.

Page6The controls on the R1 are well placed and do what you expect. The mirrors work well and are mostly vibe-free. The gauges are trick and easy to read. The shift light is the best of any of the bikes that were equipped with one and the tachometer in particular, is large and easy to read. The radial-mount Sumitomo four-pot brakes are crisp, fade-free and provide excellent feedback. The Yamaha was one of the bikes least likely to get weird under hard braking. There is absolutely zero drive train lash in the R1 and the throttle response is impeccable throughout the powerband. The suspension on the bike we tested was just a wee bit taunt for my weight, but it would be more of an issue for lighter riders and rough pavement.

"The best feature of the big Yamaha is how it manages to effortlessly segue between relatively plush urban commuter to serious back road scratcher to ultimate track weapon, without the slightest muss or fuss. It really is that good."

It's smooth, stable and sticks to the tarmac like glue. You can really throw the R1 onto its side in corners and it just rails through them with no drama. As much as I liked this bike on the street, I really began to appreciate how stable the chassis was and how well the suspension worked, when I entered a few of Buttonwillow's slow turns with too much steam. Throw the YZF on its side, hang on and it will take care of you. Crisis, What crisis? The R1 will pull you through. Even though it's a little heavier that the GSXR 1000 it feels very light and flickable. It also feels quite stiff but that's a feature I like. With aggressive steering geometry, one might expect that it could be a head shaker, but the speed sensitive mechanical damper keeps everything nicely in check (Do you hear that, Kawasaki?). I have heard rumors of some buzziness in certain parts of the rev range but I only noticed a minimum of unpleasant vibes.

The YZF-R1 is a wonderful bike that does Yamaha proud. I couldn't imagine a better sportbike if I hadn't ridden CBR1000RR in the same test. Nonetheless, I think that the R1 misses, just by nanometers, being my favorite of the lot. It's one of the three standouts in this test and a thoroughly impressive motorcycle.

Mike E. -- The Yamaha is a tale of two bikes, I liked it on the street but I absolutely loved it on the track. The tall first gear, that had me grumbling on the street, made perfect sense on the track. The close ratio gearbox was smooth and precise and the bike worked well over the bumpy sections of the track. Although the steering damper isn't as sophisticated as the Honda's it still worked very well. A couple of shakes of the clip-ons, in slow-mo, informed you that you were riding sloppy, but it never got out of hand or necessitated a roll off of the throttle. The sounds emanating from the airbox and exhaust had the hairs on back of my neck standing, it was intoxicating and very exciting. Handling and braking was exemplary at the track and mid corner manners very composed - consequently I posted my fastest time on this model. I realize that this shouldn't factor into the rideability, err... factor, but this bike looked the pants too. I liked riding and looking at this bike, it had sex appeal and the hardware to back up its looks.

HOW WE VOTED (Lowest Total Wins)
  Sean Mike Martin Total Points
Honda CBR 1000RR 1st 2nd 1st 4pts
Yamaha YZF-R1 2nd 1st 2nd 5pts
Kawasaki ZX-10R 3rd 3rd 4th 10pts
Honda RC51 5th 6th 3rd 14pts
Aprilia RSV R 4th 5th 6th 15pts
Suzuki GSX-R1000 7th 4th 8th 19pts
Ducati 999 6th 7th 7th 20pts
Triumph 955i Daytona 8th 8th 5th 21pts

The Conclusion

As we stated in the beginning, there isn't even an average bike in this bunch, let alone a bad one. The voting only illustrates our individual feelings about these motorcycles and if you disagree with our choices, hey! you're probably right! On the other hand, we've actually ridden all of these bikes and if you're seeking some insight on a buying decision, use this test as a guide, but by all means, follow your own tastes and desires, because with this group everybody wins.

"There isn't even an average bike in this bunch, let alone a bad one."

Aprilia RSV-R
Ducati 999
Honda RC51
Engine V60 Magnesium: 4-stroke longitudinal 60° V-twin; liquid cooling with 3-way pressurized circuit; double overhead camshaft op'd by a mixed gear/chain system; 4 valves per cylinder; patent Anti Vibration Double Countershaft. L twin cylinder, 4 valve per cylinder Desmodromic; liquid cooled 599c Liquid-cooled, DOHC, in-line 4-cylinder
Horsepower  117.68  118.55  122.52
Torque  69.63  71.77  72.09
MSRP  $13,899  $17,695  $11,599


Honda CBR 1000RR
Kawasaki ZX-10R
Suzuki GSX-R1000
Engine All-new liquid-cooled DOHC 16-valve 998cc four-stroke inline four-cylinder engine features bore and stroke dimensions of 75mm x 56.5mm. Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, 998 cm3 engine has a bore and stroke of 76 x 55 mm. 988cc, 4-stroke, four-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, TSCC
Horsepower  150.53  158.76  156.92
Torque  77.72  78.31  82.31
MSRP  $10,999  $10,999  $10,799


Triumph 955i Daytona
Yamaha YZF-R1
Engine Liquid-cooled, DOHC, in-line 3-cylinder. Completely redesigned short-stroke 998cc, DOHC, 20-valve, liquid-cooled, inline 4-cylinder engine
Horsepower 132.52 155.50
Torque 69.70 73.81
MSRP  $9,999  $10,599

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