2006 Open Superbike Shootout
Honda CBR 1000RR : Kawasaki ZX-10R : Suzuki GSX-R1000 : Yamaha YZF R1
Get the Flash Player to see this player.With a Shoeshine and a Haircut, You'll Feel Like a New Man: 2006 Yamaha YZF-R1
How the mighty have fallen. In 2004, the YZF-R1 was eagerly awaited, ready to receive the torch from its R1 ancestors, which had already won four MO shootouts in eight years. It was indeed highly regarded when new, setting new standards in power, weight, handling and build quality for Yamaha, but the excellence of the other two new models introduced for 2004 -- the friendly yet furious CBR1000RR and the mind-bending ZX-10R -- made it seem a bit behind the times.
Yamaha must be planning something new for 2007, because three years without a revision is an eon in the mayfly-like world of 1000 cc sportbikes. For 2006 there were few changes; Brad Banister, Yamaha's Media Relations Manager said "there's some tweaks" that make two more horsepower and add to the rigidity of the frame and chassis. In addition, we get a slick new "50th Anniversary Edition" in a very nice yellow and black racing livery. The price also receives an improvement (for Yamaha), up to $11,299 for the basic color, $11,399 for the sinister-looking Raven edition, and $11,599 for the aforementioned Anniversary.
We've covered the R1 in detail in previous articles, but we can go over it one more time. The frame is Yamaha's tried-and-true Deltabox design of extruded and cast aluminum, designed to be as rigid and compact as possible, that takes advantage of controlled-fill casting to save weight and manufacture expense. For 2006, Yamaha's GP program engineers loaned a hand, tuning the motor mounts, steering head and lower triple clamp for a bit more rigidity and stretching the swingarm out another 20 mm for added traction. Wheelbase measures in at 55.7 inches: 0.8 inch longer than last year's model.
That frame rolls on 190/50-17 radials in back and a 120/70-17 in front located by Kayaba upside-down 43 mm forks, gold-anodized for a little extra bling or to assist those who want to pretend they own a big-bucks LE with Ohlins suspension. 320 mm floating brake rotors are gripped by those familiar four-piston monobloc calipers, radial-mounted for optimum rigidity and feel. The master cylinder is by Brembo and is a radial-pumper like the other machines in the test.
The motor's tweaks include shorter valve guides in that familiar five-valve per cylinder head. That change, plus better flowing heads and an extra tenth of compression ratio (up to 12.4:1 from 12.3:1) should result in a couple of extra horsepower and easier-to-access power from the over-square 998 cc motor with a 77 mm bore and 53.6 mm stroke. It's fed fuel by dual-stage fuel injection and sends exhaust out through an EXUP valve for better midrange response and a catalytic converter to keep emissions down.
It's all wrapped up in a sexy and curvaceous fairing that looks good enough for the Guggenheim and weighs in at a claimed dry weight of just 381 pounds. Going by raw specs alone, it seems the Yamaha has what it takes to keep up with the youngsters; will it finally get the respect it deserves from us ingrates here at MO?
|MO Dyno Results|
Who Ordered Snow? The Test
For our test this year, Publisher Alexander needed to line up several elements; the bikes, track time, grippy race-compound tires, and an extra rider to help us move everything around. A series of phone calls, followed by much begging, cajoling and calling in of favors owed resulted in everything lining up just in time.
Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha all made with the bikes in a timely fashion, Michelin generously pledged five sets of their most excellent and forgiving Pilot Power Race tires, Mark at The Track Club track days arranged a great deal on one of his professionally-run events, and a few CB transmissions conjured Dirty's fast-talkin', chain-smokin', truck-drivin' and shuck-and-jivin' older brother Dale "Long-Haul" Alexander from the depths of the Florida everglades, ready to lend his mechanical and philosophical expertise to our effort.
Bikes fueled, prepped and mounted with fresh racetrack rubber, we embarked on our street ride. Our route took us about 200 miles through stop-and-go LA freeway and surface street traffic, winding coastal roads, and then up and over snow-capped Pine Mountain in the Los Padres National Forest via snakey Highway 33. Climbing up over 4,000 feet, we had to keep the speeds down because of snow and ice pelting us at the summit.
After the town of Taft, we proceeded along long, straight open roads for some high-speed stability testing, and then arrived in Buttonwillow hungry and tired. After loading up on barbequed ribs, tri-tip and many pitchers of Dale Alexander-supplied beer, we got some rest at an ultra-skanky (even by MO standards) motel before heading over to Buttonwillow Raceway Park the next morning.
Buttonwillow is a flexible and balanced motorsports facility just 150 miles from downtown LA. Its three-mile, 15-turn circuit can be run in a myriad of configurations and is used by many racing organizations, both car and motorcycle. We were all familiar with Buttonwillow's standard, clockwise layout, but Mark enjoys mixing things up; we were to run the course backwards. He claimed it was more fun and would result in shorter laptimes; (True for cars, but on a bike, Buttonwillow's usual increasing-radius turns magically become decreasing-radius when run in reverse, which makes the bike laptimes a bit longer than running the normal direction. -Sean) we just thought it would add an extra dimension of learning a new track while wringing everything we could out of a quartet of the fastest sportbikes on planet Earth. Poor us.
The trackday went without incident, with help setting up the bikes provided by the very gracious crews from American Honda and Kawasaki USA. For the Yamaha and the Suzuki, we tapped the suspension expertise of Dave Moss, proprietor of Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning, who provides expert trackside assistance to riders and racers as well as performing full service on suspension components. His knowledge of motorcycle suspension is both encyclopedic and accurate; we're confident we were getting the most out of the suspensions on all the bikes.
After a long, cold ride home from the trackday, we continued with more street riding and evaluations of the bikes for the rest of the week. We decided to forego dragstrip testing this time, because our race compound Michelins were roached from the trackday and the temperatures were forcast in the high 20s for the Wednesday night LACR drags (never a good combination). Besides, we figured you'd want this article as fast as possible.
So here it is. After 200 track miles, 500 street miles, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth over details and specifications, we present our 2006 Open-Class Sportbike Shootout. Enjoy!
Honda CBR: Not Bad, but Not the Best
You know the Honda isn't the winner, but you probably want to know about it anyway. Here's the bottom line; it's a great motorcycle. It's fast, flickable, great-handling, and has a wicked edge to it that most consumer products in our baby-proofed world lack. What makes it so good, and with all this going for it, why isn't it the best?
It makes a wicked howl through the intakes at high rpm and has a top-end rush that will jolt your head back and loft the front wheel in every gear if you're not careful.Hopping on the Honda, the first thing you notice is the high seat and low bars. Sean noted the "reach to the clip-ons was nice on the racetrack, but awkward on the freeway". The footpegs feel further forward and higher than the other bikes, reinforcing the CBR's racetrack intentions. After that, you can take note of the nice feeling you get from the build quality and level of finish of the bike. Everything fits together beautifully, in typical Honda fashion. The instrument panel is one of the best in this test; well thought-out and easy to read.
After you fire the bike up, you notice an exceptionally smooth motor. From idle to over 12,000 rpm, the vibration level is noticeably less than the other bikes, although the Kawasaki rivals it for smoothness. The gearbox is also very nice, with a short throw and an almost liquid feel to the shifting action, no doubt aided by the smooth and light-feeling hydraulic clutch. If you're expecting refinement from the Honda, you won't be disappointed.
What will surprise you is how the bike squirts forward under hard acceleration, with the front wheel clawing at the air. Dale said he "couldn't keep the front wheel down" and Sean was all to happy to tease his big brother by doing a basketball dribble imitation with the front tire at 80 mph on the freeway. The altered chassis, lighter weight and extra power have turned the mildest of the 1000s into a tounge-pierced hooligan's tool. However, the low bars, higher pegs and what managing editor Pete Brissette called a "plank of a seat" keep the bike from being too much fun around town.
Out on the open road, the Honda has a refined and smooth feel from the motor, and the wide, relatively tall windscreen offers good wind protection at higher (read: illegal) speeds, but long-distance comfort leaves something to be desired. Your wrists, butt, and lower back will probably be aching long before the low-fuel light comes on, which won't take long, since our test unit turned in 32.9 mpg on our street ride, which included a climb over 4,000 feet as well as plenty of WFO shenanigans. Mild freeway droning at 75 or 80 mph will doubtlessly result in much better fuel economy, as the gearing is pretty tall: 80 mph translates as about 5,000 rpm on the tachometer.
On winding canyon roads, the CBR's quick, responsive feel and ample power means it will appeal to riders who want an edgier, more focused ride. Like all the bikes here, the suspension, chassis and motor capabilities are world-class and have limits far in excess of any sane person's comfort zone for street riding. The brakes are a perfect example of this excess; they feel a bit dull and unresponsive at first, and then come on, almost without warning, with incredible power. A single finger is sufficient for street speeds; two fingers will lift the back tire and screech the front. Like the motor, the brakes' power is sharp, strong, and a little harder to control than the other bikes.
The motor is really a departure from many Honda motors. It is silky-smooth and perfectly fuel-injected, but it makes a wicked howl through the intakes at high rpm and has a top-end rush that will jolt your head back and loft the front wheel in every gear if you're not careful. A motor like this is endlessly entertaining, and we at MO predict these bikes will be the darling of the Stunt Brigade as soon as enough of them hit the salvage yards. They will doubtlessly find the cassette-style transmission a handy feature. MO predicts chrome-plated second gear medallions will be the fashion statement of 2007.
On the track, the Honda felt the most unique. The altered chassis, extra oomph and lighter weight made the bike a different animal from last year. Gabe noticed it instantly, with the wider, forward-swept (but slightly adjustable) bars putting him in a very aggressive riding position that made the bike turn with lighting response. Sean noticed the Honda went from being the "heaviest steering to lightest steering. On the CBR you can just fling the thing in there...it's not unstable, just much easier to steer."
The bike has a real road-racer feel to it that harkens back to the original 900RR/Fireblade days of 1993. It rewards highly-skilled riders, as the laptime differences between the CBR and other bikes when Sean was riding are smaller than when the other riders rode the Honda. Sean says: "The CBR is so responsive that riding it for the first time is like the first time you rode a fuel-injected bike after switching from carburetors;" says Sean "all of your inputs are amplified and reacted-to immediately, forcing you to be smoother and surer of those inputs that you're giving. In the CBR's case, it's not just the throttle, but the whole bike."
Gabe also noticed the way the CBR seems to anticipate your every move. The very first time he went to turn the bike at Buttonwillow, at a low warm-up speed going into the "esses" after entering the track, the bike surprised him by turning noticeably quicker and harder than the bike he'd been riding the session before. After warming the tires, he was able to get on the gas harder, and the front wheel wanted to snap up into the air, matching the way the bike flopped onto its side in its immediacy.
After experiencing fantastic acceleration, thanks to a new, top-weighted powerband a noticeable drop in weight, it's time to get on the brakes. Although they have almost identical specifications to the other bikes in the test -- four-piston, radial-mounted calipers, huge floating rotors and radial-actuated master cylinder -- the rider still needed to pull the lever closer to the bar and squeeze just a bit harder to get the same power from the brakes, which come on all at once to match the bike's powerband. Because of this chassis and brake sensitivity, trail-braking into corners, especially tight, decreasing-radius ones is a tricky affair that requires skill and concentration to pull off smoothly.
But a less-confident rider might be overwhelmed with the bike's responsiveness and less-forgiving nature.We all agreed the CBR was a good choice for an expert rider on the racetrack, rewarding skill with laptimes matching the other bikes. Roadrace champ Doug Toland was very proud of the way he influenced the redeveloped bike's character, so it's no accident a racetrack hotshot like Dirty would appreciate it; "...thanks to the quick and direct responsiveness of its chassis, it was by far the easiest bike to thread through the esses because of its willingness to change direction at high speeds." All that wheelie-ing and quick turning was fun, sure, but for overall balance, feel and ease-of-use, we all felt the Honda didn't quite have what it took to be the best.