2009 Literbike Shootout

Honda CBR1000RR vs Kawi ZX-10R vs Suzuki GSX-R1000 vs Yamaha YZF-R1, with a side of Ducati 1198S

story by Kevin Duke and Pete Brissette, Photograph by Alfonse “Fonzie” Palaima, Created Apr. 24, 2009
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The Pursuit of Perfection

It’s been nearly 12 years since I began working as a full-time motojournalist, and I get wistful for those simpler days. Back then, the literbikes (CBR900RR, ZX-9R, GSX-R1100 and YZF1000) were separated by nearly 100 pounds of weight and huge power disparities, and ergonomics ranged from racetrack refugee to something we now call sport-tour-y. Even a neophyte motojourno could pick a clear winner.

But today, we’re stuck in a world of finely honed and fully featured literbikes whose level of diversity is amazingly insignificant. They all haul ass around a racetrack, chassis geometry distinctions are measured in fractions, and peak horsepower differs only by about 5%. Unless you’re a nationally ranked Superbike racer, each of these bikes is way better than you are, and saying one is significantly better than another is mere hair-splitting.

If a person could ride a bike blindfolded (maybe next shootout…), they’d be hard-pressed to discern which literbike they were on. Jumping from one model to another at the racetrack, it was astounding to be fully comfortable running quick laps immediately on another brand’s bike, as they all have remarkably high performance envelopes yet are amazingly user-friendly for what are essentially road-bound missiles.

It’s that time of year again…

Stellar radial-mount brakes with monoblock calipers? Check. Race-derived slipper clutches? Check. About 150 tire-shredding horsepower? Check. Same for high-tech fuel-injection systems, stiff inverted forks, comprehensive electronic instruments and calming steering dampers.

Last year, Honda delivered a finely engineered sport tool in its then-new CBR1000RR, and we liked it so much that we awarded it the victory in our literbike shootout. Though unchanged for ’09, the RR retains its punchy, midrange-heavy powerplant inside a package that weighs less than any of its natural rivals.

Threatening the Honda’s class king status are two new-from-the-ground-up competitors. Arriving with a splash is Yamaha’s R1, endowed with a revolutionary cross-plane crankshaft like Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP machine. We loved its tractable power when we rode it at Australia’s Eastern Creek circuit late last year, and we were anxious to see how this fresh design would stack up against the usual suspects.

Also fresh to the literbike equation is Suzuki’s all-new GSX-R1000. Pete recently came back from its racetrack intro gushing praise over the latest, greatest Gixxer. Composed handling and major-league power is assured, aided by the addition of Showa’s new Big Piston Fork first seen on the new ZX-6R

Suzuki brings an all-new Gixxer Thou to the liter game this year.

And lurking in the shadows is the unchanged Kawasaki ZX-10R. But let’s not underestimate last year’s shootout runner-up, as its burly motor still challenges for class honors, and its 2008 redesign handles much livelier than its previous iteration. And the big Ninja has an ace up its sleeve by the fact that it retails for $1200 less than the most expensive bike in the class.

And speaking of the class, we happened to have a Ducati 1198S hanging around while our shootout was going on, so we brought it along on our street ride and our day spent lapping Willow Springs International Raceway with our friends at Track Daz. However, at least 50% of the Japanese OEMs objected to comparing their sub-$13,000 machines with the lusty $21,795 Ducati, especially since their bikes don’t yet have a traction-control system to compete with Ducati’s. And then there’s the fact that the sexy Duc isn’t technically a literbike, it’s a 1.2-liter-bike. So, in the interest of playing nice, we’re including the 1198S mainly as a sidebar story.

So, with all this new blood in the mix, one might expect a drastic reshuffling of last year’s finishing order. Well, without giving our conclusion away early, let’s just say that we were amazed at how well matched this crop of literbikes are. In fact, even after we finished all our testing, no one could say for certain which bike was best. Our winner would be determined purely by the results on scorecards. Read on!

Does this guy have all the answers to this year’s liter battle royale? Doubt it.

The Spoiler
By Pete Brissette

Mixing the Ducati 1198S in with a group of inline-Fours that share unprecedented similarities can be a touchy issue.

The Duc is pure racetrack sex. And for that it suffers and excels.

“When I first saw the Ducati in the flesh, I must admit to being a little wowed by the beauty of her,” commented Speed Kelly. “Like some runway supermodel dressed in high-couture fashion, it’s for sure the looker of the bunch. As my mates would say back home in Olde Blighty; "It's the dog's bollocks, innit mate!"

On the subject of the delectable 90-degree V-Twin… the power, oh baby, the power! Even the CBR’s mighty midrange is no match for the 1198 and its omnipotent 86.7 ft-lbs of torque. “If you’ve always wanted a bike that would perform effortless second-gear wheelies, this is your steed,” said Duke.

Words fail...

This huge amount of torque stretches out to a very healthy 150.4 hp at 9700 rpm, slightly more than a couple of our four-cylinder literbikes which were often left behind at corner exits! Of course, DTC (Ducati Traction Control) played a big part in this, and it’s one more reason the S model is out of place in this group.

The 1198S comes equipped with the high-end Ohlins suspension, well-sorted traction control and lightweight forged-aluminum Marchesini wheels that lessen steering effort, but even the base 1198 models have some of the best bike brakes on Earth. The radial-mount monoblock Brembos are frighteningly proficient at their task; only the Honda came within a stone’s throw of Brembo performance. Toss in some carbon treats to complete the pricey S package.

The 1198S in its natural habitat, and most comfortable position.

Developed from the World Championship-winning 1098R, it’s no surprise the stunning Ducati can find its way around a racetrack with few issues. But this titan of the track can lose much of its appeal when ridden on the street, save for its awesome noises and its sultry appearance.

Its seating position puts the rider in a very aggressive stance with lots of stress on hands and wrists. Speaking of hands, attempting a turn at full-lock results in hands being squeezed against the upper portion of the windscreen-supporting bodywork. Not good. Furthermore, the clutch is a little grabby, the tranny is rather notchy compared to the Japanese entrants, the fueling can feel abrupt from closed-to-open throttle, its mirrors are nearly useless, and its instruments are difficult to read.

Our 1198S test unit arrived with the springs in its race-bred Ohlins suspension set for someone resembling John Goodman. Instead of wrenching on preload adjusters to set the proper sag for our lighter weights, a lack of time forced us to just jump on the thing and ride it on the street as is. A similar story was seen at Willow – we were so focused on adequately evaluating the literbikes that the Duc sadly was largely neglected, including its suspension.

When Kevin and Steve were able to take it out for a few laps, they found the Ducati difficult to ride with its little to no rear suspension sag. However, I wasn’t as bothered by this issue, and my time aboard the Duc at Willow Springs instantly reminded me of how unflinchingly stable and responsive it was during my time at the bike’s world press launch in Portimao, Portugal.

The bike worked fairly well for me, but I couldn’t deny some of the harshness the guys lamented. Still, I find this a neat example of how set-up between riders yields such varied experiences.

I’m convinced that with equal resources of time and expertise for set-up, the Duc would’ve left the Four from Japan crying in their Asahi beer. But, with several thousand dollars worth of extra goodies, it damn well better be the best!

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Engine
Power, tractability, response, user friendliness
(Given the importance of this category, it’s double-weighted)

GSX-R1000 –  95%
ZX-10R – 91.25
CBR1000RR – 90
YZF-R1 – 87.5 

We were expecting Yamaha’s new cross-plane crankshaft design to offer significant benefits in this critical category, but not all our testers were blown away by it. “I can’t say I really felt any difference from the cross-plane crank on the street, although I can hear what people like about the exhaust note,” said journalist/author Mark Gardiner after a ride. (Check out RidingMan.com to see his exploits at the Isle of Man.)

On the other hand, Steve “Speed” Kelly believes the cross-plane engine enhances corner-exit speeds on the track. “All that hype about there being a connection between the throttle and the rear tire is true. If you want to able to spin up the rear tire exiting a corner, having the bike sliding around while you keep the gas pinned, no other literbike I've ridden before made this so easy. The grip and drive the R1 gives somehow allows you to just keep opening the throttle when on other bikes you'd be backing off for fear of highsiding yourself.”

The new R1 has a unique new engine that sounds friggin’ awesome! It goes pretty good, too.

Indeed, this is a much more pleasing engine than its former peaky powerplant, and its V4-like growl entices even elderly kids to twist the throttle to hear it rev. It’s an audio treat for ears that have grown accustomed to the familiar shriek of a typical four-cylinder motor. The cross-plane crank design results in odd vibrations for an inline-Four, delivering rough vibes at lower revs before magically smoothing out at higher rpm via a counterbalancer. It’s another sensation unique to the R1.

But, as we suspected at the Yamaha’s intro, this new motor is lacking a bit of the old bike’s revvy surge up top, peaking with just 146.1 hp at 11,800 rpm. This is the lowest output of all the literbikes, even less that the Ducati’s 150.4 hp, and it’s down from 2008’s 153.5 hp. Max torque is down incrementally to 73.1 ft-lbs at a relatively low 9000 rpm.

Overall, this is a very interesting and satisfying engine, but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s down about 10 ponies from the most powerful engines in this group. The R1’s missing top-end pull became evident when the bike was unable to make up ground on the V-Twin Duc down Willow’s front straight. While this speaks volumes about the 1198’s bodacious V-Twin, it also writes a less impressive chapter in the R1’s story.

We were surprised to see the R1’s new motor lag behind its rivals, and we were blown away to see the CBR’s significant midrange advantage over its newer competition. Once past 11,000 rpm, the Gixxer and Ninja race for the biggest numbers.

At the other end of the spectrum is the mega-motored Kawasaki ZX-10R. It rules the roost with 155.9 hp, vigorously inhaling any straightaway in its trajectory. When twisting the Ninja’s throttle hard, you’d best be pointed in the direction you want to go, as you’ll be there in a nanosecond, especially if you keep the heavy-hitting mill spun up to exploit its 12,200-rpm horsepower peak.

As with all these bikes, electronic fuel injection assures prompt cold starts and mostly seamless acceleration. Throttle response from the ZX is immediate and incredible – newbs beware! – but power production is surprisingly soft in the midrange zone. The 10R’s mill has a stimulating rumpity vibration at low rpm, but it smoothes out nicely at cruising speeds.

The Big Ninja cranks out the most power this year, just like it did in 2008, but just by the hair of its chinny chin chin.

Challenging the Ninja for the biggest dyno numbers is the all-new engine in the Gixxer Thou. It spat out 155.2 hp at its 11,700-rpm peak, and it pulls though the powerband in an impressively linear fashion. Torque production is second (third if you count the Duc) only to the amazingly strong CBR, and a GSX-R rider always has a deep reserve of power on tap.

On the track, the Gixxer feels noticeably stronger than all but the potent Ninja, and its throttle response also proves to be very manageable on the street. As usual, we barely experimented with Suzuki’s Drive Mode Selector, preferring to keep it in its full-power A setting. The Gixxer mill’s only shortcoming is some rough vibes coming through the frame at various revs, becoming obtrusive above 85 mph when the motor is spinning around 6000 rpm in top gear. Keep the speeds down to a more reasonable 75 mph and it’s smooth enough for a day-long sport-tour ride.

The CBR’s engine doesn’t post the biggest horsepower numbers, and it’s missing some fancy technology (engine-mapping adjustability, cross-plane crank, variable-length intakes) fitted to some others, but this is perhaps the best street engine of the group. Its midrange pull is simply outstanding, with major-league grunt available earlier than any other literbike. Its torque peak of 76.6 ft-lbs is not only the highest of the Fours, it also boasts a twist advantage over a 5000-rpm range.

It may not make the most power, but the CBR makes the most of the power it has.

The double-R engine's only hiccup is a leisurely response at low revs, perhaps tuned that way to minimize harsh throttle reaction when tooling around town. Power peters out above 11,000 rpm, so there’s little sense in wringing it out to its 13,300-rpm redline, but this powerplant is nevertheless extraordinarily effective.

Transmission/Clutch
Clutch actuation, slipper, shift ease, precision

1. YZF-R1 – 95%
2. CBR1000RR – 92.5
3. ZX-10R – 92.5
4. GSX-R1000 – 87.5

Like so many of the categories in this contest of highly competent contemporaries, we’re basically splitting hairs here. All four bikes run 6-speed trannies and all four transmit power to the rear wheel via some proprietary form of a slipper clutch.

“The R1 gearbox and clutch were perfect,” said returning bike reviewer and Riding Man, Mark Gardiner. The CBR also offers great feel at the clutch lever, and the Ninja’s transmission is easy to use, however, the R1’s back torque-limiting clutch performed with even more transparency than the other two. About 2.5% better performing, to be exact.

We voted the R1 top spot in this category thanks to its excellent clutch/transmission combo.

Surprised that an all-new engine in all-new bike would rank so low in this category? In final voting we were a little surprised too, but this is one of many examples of how a couple seemingly minor issues can eat into scores, scores that could otherwise be almost identical.

The Gixxer’s last place is primarily a result of “a slightly sticky gearbox that didn’t always like accepting a clutchless upshift,” Kevin noted, having a near carbon-copy experience that Pete made mention of in the GSX-R’s U.S. press intro report. The Suzuki’s clutch is now cable-actuated rather than the hydraulic system from before, and therefore provides a little more feel, yet a couple of us weren’t super-excited by the narrow range of engagement. See, not a big deal, but with bikes so evenly matched…


Handling
Quickness, feedback, stability, confidence

1. CBR1000RR -- 97.5%
2. ZX-10R – 90
3. GSX-R1000 – 86.25
4. YZF-R1 – 85

When setting out to recreate the new Gixxer Thou, Suzuki reversed usual priorities in that engine design would follow the chassis, so-to-speak, complementing and enhancing “close-to-ideal” chassis dimensions. Suzuki worked diligently to ensure that the new chassis would allow the rider to capitalize on all that legendary GSX-R power. That’s good evidence that handling is of paramount concern, not just for Suzuki, but also for the other three.

Each bike comes with a steering damper, and all but one (ZX uses an adjustable damper) are electronically controlled and speed sensitive. None, however, are quite as advanced as the CBR’s HESD. Its action is imperceptible during slow-speed street situations, allowing natural, easy steering, and at ludicrous track-lapping paces it keeps virtually all inclinations of headshake at bay.

The Honda RR chassis platform was the most appealing on the street as well as on the track.

Though it doesn’t boast the latest, greatest or fanciest suspension, the reality is the Honda’s springy bits work exceptionally well. On the Super Slab or canyon carving, ride quality is supple yet doesn’t sacrifice front-end feel. Out on Willow’s demanding high-speed sweepers the CBR is unflappable while at the same time its raciest-of-the-group steering geometry allows easy and quick left-right transitions. On the street, steering is light and sharp: Performing tight-radius U-turns in the middle of the road for photo passes was as easy as looking in the direction you wanted to go, the Honda following like an obedient puppy.

Despite best efforts, the Zook’s improved stability via a longer swingarm courtesy of a more compact engine and twin-spar frame failed to ultimately de-throne the Honda from its top-spot in this category.

Of the Suzuki’s trick new Showa BPF front-end, Kevin said it performed very well, as it “holds the suspension up high in its stroke to absorb ripples,” however, he theorized this trait was more beneficial on the street than on the smooth track at Willow. Though the Suzuki isn’t as light as the wispy CBR, it rolls into racetrack turns or canyon road corners, from upright to your chosen lean angle, in a smooth, linear fashion.

Light steering effort and stability keep the ZX nipping at the Honda’s heels.
The new Yami’s handling isn’t as snappy as the others in the test, and it weighs considerably more than the CBR.

The big Ninja has the laziest geometry – specifically with a 25.5-degree rake – and is second heaviest with a 459 lbs measured wet weight, yet it feels nearly as feathery and agile as the CBR. The adjustable Ohlins damper keeps headshake to a manageable level but never impedes quick steering inputs. Perhaps Steve “Speed” Kelly says it most plainly: “The Zed-10R is easy to ride, turns in great and holds a line perfectly.”

It’s fresh, it’s new, it’s fast, but it’s also fat. The new R1 is rather portly, a full 37 lbs more than the CBR’s lightest 439 lbs measured ready-to-ride wet weight. The R1’s extra heft made itself known, as it doesn’t have the immediate response to initial steering input like the CBR or Ninja. Nevertheless, the R1 makes up for this shortcoming.

“It reminds me most of the Ducati in terms of handling: a little effort to initiate the turn but once turned in it’s responsive and quite stable,” Pete noted. This sentiment was shared by Kevin who said the R1’s confidence-inspiring handling was “a boon on Willow’s fast layout.”

Early in the day at the track, Mark and Steve weren’t entirely convinced the new Yamaha’s front-end was in perfect contact with the tarmac, but a reduction in rebound damping and a small amount of rear preload corrected the front’s propensity to skitter over bumps. Regardless, the Yami impressed the least here, not really failing in any sense, but just not offering the breadth of handling performance of the CBR-RR.

In street duty the Bridgestone BT016 meats spooned on the Suzuki and Kawi, the Honda’s Dunlop Qualifiers and the Yamaha’s Dunlop D210s all are excellent tires. At the track their collective performance was quite admirable, but their useful life is, naturally, shorter than, say, a super-grippy DOT race tire. The salient point here is that searching for razor’s edge performance in any of these motorcycles was somewhat limited by OEM rubber, as Mark learned the hard way while still driving home why we put the CBR numero uno in this section.

“It [Honda] felt so planted and confidence-inspiring that I crashed it,” says a red-faced Gardiner. “If you take this bike to the track, you need to run it on real race rubber. That’s a compliment to the brilliant handling; lesser bikes send you a warning as you reach the limits of the tire’s adhesion but the CBR1000RR was completely composed, ready to do much more on demand.”

Thankfully OEMs bring plenty of spares to track days… even whole bikes, Mark!

TrackDaz – Our Latest BFF
By Kevin Duke

TrackDaz rider meetings are typical except for the occasional burst of humor: “Keep the stunt show stuff on the street where it belongs!”

There is no legal way to legally stretch the legs of a literbike on public roads (and I have the CHP documentation to prove it), so we’re grateful for the plethora of trackday companies that have flourished over the past decade.

One of the leading SoCal-based trackday operations is TrackDaz, owned and operated by Dustin Coyner and Rudy Cortez since 2000. Since then, TD has hosted about 200 racetrack adventures, honing their events to ensure maximum track time at a reasonable cost.

Rather than providing elaborate lunches and a strict adherence to a rigid schedule, TD doesn’t bother closing the track for a lunch break and has its clients bring their own grub to eat on their own time. If a crash brings out a red-flag stoppage, Coyner and crew strive to not let that eat in to each group’s session. A day at Willow Springs’ big track like ours costs only $150, while an event at the smaller Streets of Willow is priced at just $120. TD also hosts occasional events at Buttonwillow Raceway, and those cost $160.

Most trackday providers typically separate their riders into three groups, and TD follows suit by dividing guests into A, B and C groups, with the “C” faction being for slower and/or novice track riders. Because TD events often precede race weekends, you’d better not overestimate your speed and select the A group, as it is stacked with really fast racer boys out to cut seconds off their lap times.

Don’t be afraid to take your bike to a trackday. All you need to do is tape up some glass, make sure it’s in good running order and have a set of decent tires.

During our outing with TrackDaz, we were pleased to see about 10 trackday virgins in attendance, as too often we see street-only riders unable to ramp up their skill levels within the confines of public roads. A trackday is free from the distractions of the street like cops and cars and gravel, allowing riders to concentrate on their speed and technique. It comes as no surprise that riders with trackday experience have a greater level of talent and speed, so attending a TrackDaz event is a much better investment in your riding career than something like a set of billet bar-end sliders. If you’ve never ridden on a real racetrack, you have no idea how much fun and excitement you’re missing.

For those who desire instruction with their day at the track, Coyner and Cortez have added TrackDaz Academy schools. This is a stand-alone school separate from a normal TrackDaz event, and there are less than half the number of students than the normal 100 or so at the regular TD track events. And new for ’09 is the TrackDaz New Racer School in which new racers can get certified for the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club race series.

Nearly any sporty bike is welcome at a trackday, and the only modifications required are to tape over any glass items (headlight, mirrors, taillight) and the wheel balancing weights. Just make sure your tires are in decent shape. Race-tire vendors are usually on hand to sell and fit sticky rubber to your wheels, and a local photographer typically shows up to document your speed and style for an additional charge.

Coyner describes the difference between TD and other trackday providers is the passion they have for the job, adding that they have a large group of experienced staff and instructors to assist anyone who asks. And don’t worry about not fitting in, as Coyner says he’s had riders ranging from 12 years old all the way up to 70!

So, if you’re near the Southern California area or plan to travel there, do yourself a favor and see if you can book at day with TrackDaz. They hold roughly 25 events a year, so you’re bound to find one that fits your schedule. There are precious few things that bring the amount of speed and thrills per dollar as a TD trackday.

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Brakes
Power, modulation, initial bite, feedback

1. CBR1000RR – 97.5%
2. ZX-10R – 87.5
3. R1 – 87.5
4. GSX-R1000 – 86.25

The numbers and subsequent rankings in Brakes are an unfortunate by-product of endeavoring to be as objective as possible. Numbers aside, brake systems on all these liter stallions work very well, but the CBR’s binders provide the best feel in the bunch. Match that excellent sensitivity to loads of stopping power, and we come up with enough positive rider feedback to push the Honda into top honors here.

The R1 had too much lever travel for Kevin’s liking, though he couldn’t deny the power provided by the only 6-pot set-up in the collection. The GSX-R’s all-new Tokico mono-block calipers also have heaps of stopping power and are a welcome improvement from the previous model, as in our 2008 Liter test we were mildly underwhelmed by the Gixxer’s brakes, but this year they seemed to lack the ultimate sensitivity of the CBR. The Ninja tied with the R1 for braking performance, but the Green machine still fell short of the Honda in our precious little opinions.

With Duke constantly putting the CBR¹s front end in the air like this, it¹s hard to believe we were able to discern its brakes as best-in-class.

Instruments and controls
Legibility, features, attractiveness, quality, ease-of-use

1. GSX-R1000 – 96.25%
2. YZF-R1 – 90
3. ZX-10R – 86.25
4. CBR1000RR – 85

Finally, we’ve found a chink in the Honda’s armor! The CBR’s last-place result shouldn’t be a big surprise, as the ’09 model is unchanged from last year, and last year we didn’t care for the small-ish LCD and lack of gear-position indicator, something the other three provide.

The new R1’s dash layout is very functional and sensible, and we like the real-time mpg and average mpg read-outs. Its tach is prominently placed, but like the CBR it has a black face which can, at times, be a little difficult to focus on, say, like when railing ‘round a racetrack. The ZX-10 on the other hand has a white-faced tach and also boasts the most compact design with its “floating” LCD centered in the middle.

GSX-R1000’s robust and easily read instrument panel.

So that leaves the new Suzuki’s robust instrument panel as a clear favorite for us. The attractive new-for-’09 design seemed to be the easiest to take in at a glance; figures projected in the widest LCD of the group were clear, and we’re especially keen on the new 4-bulb shift-light system with its wide array of programmable options.

Ergonomics/Comfort
Overall layout

1. GSX-R1000 – 98.75%
2. ZX-10R – 85
3. YZF-R1 – 85
4. CBR1000RR – 81.25

This department showed one of the largest margins of victory between first and second spots, and for good reason: the GSX-R is cozy! The combination of best wind protection and roomiest rider triangle enhanced by a wide, comfortable saddle with plenty of space between the fuel tank and pillion cowl, and footpegs with lots of adjustability mean the Gixxer can accommodate a wide range of rider dimensions. Six-footer Steve characterized the Suzuki’s ergos as “human-sized.” Hey, some of us ‘round here measuring in at five-eight might be a little offended by that, Limey!

The new R1 is more hospitable to street riders than the old one, with less of a reach to the bars and the addition of adjustable footpeg positions. It’s a pretty good place to pass the miles, but a couple of our testers preferred the ZX’s ergos to tie it in second place.

The roomy Suzuki makes street riding pleasurable. Many hyper-performance motorcycle’s ergos can make street riding forgettable.

When the final votes came in, Pete was a little surprised by the CBR’s last-place in this section, but he had to admit distance between peg and seat would probably be something of a turn-off to taller riders. Slim-build Mark made the most succinct comment when he said, “Lately Hondas seem small even to me.”

Fit and Finish
How well is it put together, overall quality

1. CBR1000RR – 95%
2. YZF-R1 – 87.5
3. ZX-10R – 82.5
4. GSX-R1000 – 80

Really, we could sum this category up in three words: classic Honda quality. Virtually everything about the CBR says “done right.” From switchgear action to body panel fitment to the electric motor-like smoothness of the engine, the Honda shines through. Decades of refining your products yields a high reputation for quality stuff.

Yamaha always builds a darn fine bike too, and we noticed this again on the heavily revamped R1. Nary a stray wire or rough weld can be seen on the Yami, and plastic-y bits are kept to a bare minimum. The other two bikes, while fine specimens from each brand, didn’t strike us in quite the same way as the Honda or Yammer.

Appearance
Self explanatory

1. CBR1000RR – 87.5%
2. ZX-10R – 75
3. GSX-R1000 – 75
4. YZF-R1 – 67.5

Another sizable win for Honda.  Perhaps it’s the smooth, flowing shapes or its menacing face, but the CBR says sexy to almost all of us. Kevin thinks the vertical ventilation opening in the side cowling clashes too much with the rest of the design, but judging by a 12.5% margin of victory, he might be the only one bothered by that.

On the other end of the spectrum, the poor R1 nearly falls of the Looks radar. Pete wasn’t as put-off by the Yamaha’s way wide tail or the main cowl’s chubbiness (as necessitated by the ram-air ducting) as much as he was by the Kawi’s angular shapes. “It’s just too jagged and doesn’t flow,” said Pete. Clearly, then, there’s no accounting for taste. The Kaw impressed most of us with its special-edition green/white/black color scheme that is a $200 upgrade.

Some folks might find the Honda even more appealing in this special-edition Repsol replica scheme (Thanks, “Riding Man!”)

Cool Factor
Desirability, poser value, extra features

1. YZF-R1 – 90%
2. CBR1000RR – 77.5
3. GSX-R1000 – 77.5
4. ZX-10R – 75

Um, can you say “cross-plane?” Any streetbike that sounds like a MotoGP machine is bound to clean house when it comes to coolness. The R1’s intoxicating exhaust note is rivaled only by a raspy Triple from Triumph for sheer happy-happy-joy-joy fun; the other three don’t come close here.

Kevin clues us in to why the R1 is easy to gravitate toward: “It’s one of the few engines that makes me want to rev it up just to hear its distinct growl.”

Factor in GP tech spinning up the rear tire with confidence, throw in the mode switch that alters the rate of throttle opening but doesn’t cut power, and the R1 is the Burger Barn champ.

Do we need to explain to you why the R1 is the coolest thing going in this class?

Grin Factor
How big a smile does it put on your face, excitement

1. CBR1000RR – 92.5%
2. YZF-R1 – 86.25
3. GSX-R1000 – 82.5
4. ZX-10R – 77.5

It apparently doesn’t require more than 150 rear-wheel horsepower to put a maniacal grin on our faces. The CBR took a handy win in this subjective category on the strength of its class-leading agility, its marvelously accessible powerband and an excellent suspension that combined to inspire full confidence in the nimble machine.

“After having now ridden the Honda on the street and track, I'm in awe of this bike,” said Brit boy Steve, summing up our overall impressions. “Everything about the CBR1000RR instills confidence in a rider, allowing you to just ride the hell out of it.”

Coming in second in this crucial category is the distinctive new R1.  “The R1 has some real strengths,” noted Gardiner. “The gearbox and clutch were perfect. And interestingly it was the bike that showed the highest speed as I exited Turn 9 onto Willow’s front straight. I guess that’s the benefit of the crossplane crank.”

The GSX-R is ranked third in this category, which, upon reflection is perhaps because it seems like a practical choice among machines with stronger personalities. Having the best wind protection and comfiest ergos contribute little to this category, at least to our testers.

It’s nothing but one very close race between the Big Four liter sleds.

Price
Least expensive gets full marks

1. ZX-10R – 100%
2. YZF-R1 – 80
3. CBR1000RR – 70
4. GSX-R1000 – 70

This one’s an easy case; we award full points to the least expensive bike. The price gap between the Ninja and Yamaha isn’t huge at a little less then six Benjamins, but the Kawi provides a whopping $1,200 savings over the most expensive Honda. That’s a serious savings, kiddies, and in light of the relative razor-thin line between all four bikes, the ZX-10R’s price could easily justify choosing it over any of the other three.

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The Finish Line

First Place
Honda CBR1000RR – 96%

We liked the CBR so much last year that we knew it was still going to be a contender. But we weren’t sure how it would stack up against its newly minted competition. We need not have worried, as the 1000RR is a stellar performer regardless of what a rider asks of it.

“This bike is just so perfect!” raved Speed Kelly. “It’s so easy to ride – fast or slow – and no other bike has such a complete package. It’s so good that I want one.”

 Highs:     Lows:
  • Best in class agility
  • Stonkin' midrange power
  • Perception of quality
  • Gauges need updating
  • Tight fit for tall riders
  • Most expensive

Second Place
Kawasaki ZX-10R – 94%

We were more than a little surprised at the Ninja’s high overall ranking, so much so that we double- and triple-checked our math. Turns out that we got our sums correct, and the 10R accumulated a score a scant 0.4% higher than the next best. It has an admirable powertrain with the most horsepower, first-rate brakes and the lowest MSRP in the segment. And it looks way cooler in its optional new graphics package.

“The Kawasaki was probably the biggest revelation of the group, between street and track,” said Gardiner. “On the track it felt the ‘raciest.’ It was eager to turn and the motor is a monster, though far more tractable than it was in its two previous iterations.”

 Highs:     Lows:
  • Horsepower king
  • Reasonably priced
  • Feels wicked
  • Not the prettiest girl in school
  • Ergos don't suit all
  • A beast

Third Place
Suzuki GSX-R1000 – 93.6%

Coming in at a virtual tie with the ZX probably wasn’t what Suzuki was expecting when it reinvented its venerable Gixxer Thou. But that shouldn’t detract from what is perhaps the best all-round streetbike in this test, a totally competent handler and a class icon.

“Its plus points are the cool, easy-to-use dash, human-sized ergonomics that fit my six-foot frame, and that killer motor,” said Kelly, an owner of a K7 GSX-R1000. “My main dislikes are the styling. Suzuki seems to have tried too hard and ended up over-styling it with unnecessary angles and lines that just don't flow well.”

 Highs:     Lows:
  • Ergonomics and comfort
  • Tons of power
  • Best instrumentation
  • Mildly balky gearbox
  • Unremarkable styling
  • Untidy exhaust

Fourth Place
Yamaha R1 – 93.5%

If Suzuki won’t be thrilled with our shootout results, it’s a safe bet Yamaha won’t, either. But, really, we’re talking fractions of 1% here. The R1 is full of laudable characteristics, including its interesting new engine design – the sound alone is worth the price of admission. But that new engine has to be made heavy to control the cross-plane’s unique firing order vibrations, and that contributes to its chunky weight.

“What impressed me the most with the Yamaha was how easy it was to ride at a really fast pace on track – great brakes and handling,” said Mr. Speed. “What Yamaha has achieved is to make the R1 into a superbike for the masses.”

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 Highs:     Lows:
  • Sexy engine sounds
  • Stable handling
  • Nice build quality
  • Not its weight!
  • Heavy steering
  • Looks fast

Related Reading
2008 Literbike Shootout
2007 Literbike Shootout
2009 Yamaha R1 Review
2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Review
All Things Sportbike on Motorcycle.com

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