2011 Gentlemen Sportbike Shootout
Kawasaki Ninja 1000 vs. Suzuki GSX1250FA vs. Yamaha FZ1
Where the Ninja has both the Suzuki and Yamaha beat is in the width of the fuel tank. The Ninja’s tank is slim, comfortable and conveys a sense of being in control of the motorcycle, whereas the FZ1’s tank is girthy and the GSX exhibits an uncomfortable bulge near the juncture of the tank and frame.
“There's not a lot between the FZ1 and the Ninja in terms of comfort,” observes guest tester, Kevin Smith. “The Yamaha's seat felt a little hard, both bar positions felt too much like a dirt bike's, and vibration control seemed acceptable on both.”
Additional comfort on the Kawasaki is provided by the bike’s clever adjustable windscreen. The three-position, manually-adjustable shield in low position provides better aerodynamics, but, more importantly, on hot days allows increased wind flow. The high position does just the opposite, minimizing the blast of cold air. For my 5’ 11” frame I could feel the wind hitting right about my sternum in the low setting, in the high setting it struck my collarbone. Surprisingly, in the high setting, I didn’t notice any adverse turbulence.
The Yamaha’s windscreen is definitely functional, it’s just a matter of raising and lowering your torso to adjust wind flow. In terms of wind protection, the Fizzer comes to the party underdressed, straddling the line between this class and a naked streetfighter. The Suzuki’s full-fairing is a new look for the previously naked or quarter-faired Bandit. The bodywork does a fine job of providing good lower body protection but won’t win any styling awards.
For motorcyclists who enjoy attending to their bike’s mechanical needs, both the Yamaha and Suzuki come equipped with a centerstand, whereas the Kawasaki does not. And I can’t say there’s any drawback in terms of weight (at 487 lbs. wet the Yamaha actually weighs less than the 503-pound Kawasaki) or in ground clearance. And, if so inclined, a person can remove the centerstand from a bike equipped with one, while a person would be hard-pressed to add one to a bike without.
Also, for the mechanically-inclined, the quarter-faired FZ1 makes for easy engine accessibility, while much plastic bodywork must be removed from the fully-faired Ninja and GSX before performing even rudimentary maintenance. It should be noted, however, that the Ninja’s and GSX’s bodywork does provide better protection from the elements when the going gets cold and rainy. However, as lovers of exposed-engine motorcycles, we admire the look and lines of the FZ1, especially to the aftermarket appearance of the Suzuki’s plastic. The Ninja’s styling is the most aggressive and least gentlemanly of the three.
In terms of handling, all three bikes displayed proficiency at hiding their weight and exhibiting neutral characteristics during cornering transitions. Considering the amount of fuel (approximately five gallons or 30 lbs) carried high in the chassis, I expected a more top-heavy feeling from all three. However, as pipsqueak Duke notes, the GSX clearly feels the heaviest.
“The FA is a bit longer and heavier than the other bikes,” Giardinelli says, “so it won't turn quite as quick, but it is a stable platform that is well sorted out by Suzuki.”
The Ninja responds capably in the curvy bits and can bomb through a canyon road, but we all noted a small understeer problem requiring a constant pressure on the inside bar to maintain the desired arc around a corner. This condition was exacerbated when the stock Bridgestone BT-016s were worn out after 2,500 miles of our abuse, but the situation improved only marginally with new rubber.
The FZ1 was judged as the most flickable and sporty platform, making it our first choice for taking to a trackday. But our testers were annoyed by its abrupt response off-throttle. Yamaha has updated its ECU several times over the years, and it’s better than ever, but some kinks still need to be worked out. “It makes accurate, smooth throttle control very difficult in tight curves,” Giardinelli observes.
No bike seemed to have an advantage in braking power, but the FZ1’s dual 320mm front discs and four-piston calipers provided slightly better feel than the Kawasaki’s 300mm dual front discs with radial-mount four-piston calipers. Considering the additional weight with which the GSX brakes must contend, the Suzuki’s anchors held up well in this group, and it is the only bike of the three to come with ABS.
Compared to the FZ1, the Ninja's 41mm inverted cartridge fork comes pre-set for sporty riding, but both bikes feature fully-adjustable forks, allowing its owner to fine-tune suspension performance. In the back, both the FZ1 and Ninja offer preload and rebound damping on its monoshock.
The weight of the GSX occasionally overwhelms it’s suspension, but the bike’s preload-adjustable 43mm fork and single rear shock (adjustable for preload and rebound) manage to keep the Suzuki composed during moderately-aggressive riding scenarios.
“There was an expectation the 1250 would feel built down to a price, but it really didn't feel like it up on the mountain,” remarks Smith of the Suzuki. “But on the trip home,” he continues, “I did find one place they scrimped. The freeway ride is considerably busier than I expected, based on how compliant the suspension had felt all day, suggesting high-speed compression damping is not so refined.”
Besides the aforementioned ABS and centerstand, the GSX also comes equipped with amenities such as a gear-position indicator, adjustable clutch lever (all three have adjustable front brake levers) and helmet locks. The FZ has a centerstand and side grab handles but no helmet lock and the Ninja 1000 sports only side grab handles.
“The Ninja is a nicely developed machine with nearly everything a rider could want, so it’s odd to notice the lack of a helmet lock or bungee hooks – a glaring omission for a bike well suited to commuting and sport-touring,” says the persnickety Duke.
The best passenger accommodations are found on the robust Suzuki. Its seat is reasonably low and has the best combination of support and comfort to go along with neutral, upright ergos. The Kawasaki, with a slightly more forward lean (and sizeable fuel tank) is more easily reached by a pillion’s hands to provide bracing during aggressive braking when sport riding.
For those looking to travel and need somewhere to stow their gear, Suzuki provides optional hard saddlebags ($456 + $280 Mounting Hardware) and a 37-liter top box ($230 + $350 MH). Yamaha has a variety of top boxes (40, 45 and 50 liters) available for $150, $180 and $320, respectively (+$155 MH). Kawasaki sells a set of 35-liter hard saddlebags for the N1K. Being both quick-release and lockable helps justify the $1,129.90 cost (including mounts). Of course hard and soft cases are available from aftermarket luggage manufacturers.