2009 Literbike Shootout

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

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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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