2012 European Literbike Shootout - Video

Europe's best are upping the ante in the literbike wars

story by Troy Siahaan, Photograph by Dito Milan and Mike Maez, Created May. 22, 2012
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Recently, we teased you with a sneak peak of our track impressions after riding the 2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC, BMW S1000RR and Ducati 1199 Panigale S at the fast and undulating Thunderhill Raceway with our friends at Keigwins at the Track. We were genuinely impressed with all three machines, and our purely subjective ratings continually changed during the course of the day. Now, however, we’ve had a chance to ride our protagonists on the streets and highways, get dyno numbers, collect our thoughts and tabulate scores on the trusty MO scorecard.

As mentioned in our track teaser, we’re missing a couple of bikes for a full-sledged Euro literbike shootout. We thought we had secured an F4 1000 R from MV Agusta, but then, mysteriously, they stopped returning our emails – coincidentally after their Brutale R 1090 lost our Litertbike Streetfighter Shootout. And it would’ve been interesting to see how KTM’s V-Twin RC8 could compete with the Panigale, but they were unable to get us a bike during our testing window. We should also take a moment to explain why we’re using a Panigale S instead of the standard 1199. Simply put, Ducati couldn’t supply non-S Panigales until next month, and we couldn’t wait!

After wringing out our trio on the track, it didn’t take a dyno to figure out which machine made the most power. Our seat-of-the-pants dyno quickly registered the S1000RR as the horsepower king in this lot, followed by the Ducati and Aprilia. The BMW spun the DynoJet dyno operated by Hypercycle owner and former Nicky Hayden crew chief, Carry Andrew, to the tune of 172.5 hp. The highly-oversquare Superquadro engine of the 1199 made 162.1 hp, and the Aprilia brings up the rear with “just” 156.9 ponies.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC, BMW S1000RR and Ducati 1199 Panigale S

Impressive, but we expected the BMW and Ducati to pump out more. Our 2011 S1000RR made a ridiculous 185.8 horses, and Ducati’s press materials tout the Panigale’s peak output as 195 hp rated at the crank, with company officials claiming mid-170s at the wheel. Nonetheless, these are still strong numbers taken on the same day, on the same dyno, even following Ducati’s detailed instructions for dynoing the Panigale.

Ducati’s four-page instruction guide on proper dyno preparation and procedure involves various steps, most important of which is disconnecting the rear wheel-speed sensor. The 1199’s ECU uses this sensor to “estimate the boost effect present in the air ducts at high speed” via ram air. With the sensor connected and the rear wheel spinning at a high rate, the ECU thinks the ram-air effect is high and reacts by sending an overly rich fuel mixture to the cylinders to compensate, thus giving a false reading. Disconnecting the sensor delivers an appropriate air/fuel ratio while the bike is stationary on the dyno. Handy tip for those looking to dyno their own Panigale: obtain (or have your dealer provide) these instructions when buying.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC, BMW S1000RR and Ducati 1199 Panigale S horsepower dyno chart

Still, 156 horsepower on the Aprilia is more than enough to spin the rear tire, which is why the RSV4, like the S1000RR and 1199, is equipped with a sophisticated electronics package encompassing traction control among its many features. Some scoff at the idea of rider aids on performance motorcycles, but having a safety net to help save you could be the difference between finishing a track day (or canyon ride) or coming back on the crash truck. Or worse. And if you don’t like TC, simply turn it off.

These three contenders represent vastly different methods for achieving the same goal: carving canyons and ripping up racetracks. BMW, our reigning Euro literbike champ, sticks to Japanese convention with its inline-Four powerplant, while Aprilia utilizes mass-centralization and a unique V-Four. Ducati throws the rulebook out the window and is attempting to rewrite it with a semi-monocoque chassis and a thumping, 1200cc V-Twin engine.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC, BMW S1000RR and Ducati 1199 Panigale S torque dyno chart

We’ve already teased you with our track impressions, but now we’ll dig into them further. Later, we’ll rank each bike’s street manners.

Next Page ... Track Shoes

 

Track Shoes

Our track session began by fitting sticky racetrack rubber to each bike to put them on equal footing. Since all three bikes can be outfitted with rubber from the Pirelli/Metzeler conglomerate, we selected Pirelli’s ultra-sticky Supercorsa SC tires in the SC2 compound for each bike. This is the same rubber developed from use in the World Supersport and Superstock classes. As you can imagine, grip from these tires was superb whether hard on the brakes, at extreme lean angles, or under acceleration. While we did use warmers most the day, the SC2's still came up to temp quickly when we forgot the blankets.

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Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC corneringThe $16,999 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC delivers a unique blend of excitement on the track unmatched by any other machine. Its confidence-inspiring chassis helped us navigate our way around Thunderhill quickly. When speaking of intangibles, the RSV incites emotions that spec charts and dyno readings can’t register.

Although it has the least amount of peak power, the Aprilia doesn’t give up much in acceleration. “I was impressed with how it kept up with the Panigale-mounted Trizzle down Thunderhill’s long front straight, only losing a bit of ground at the far end,” Duke notes.

Roderick was especially enthused with the Aprilia’s sure-footedness, noting “The front end of the RSV reads the tarmac as if it were braille and transmits the communication between asphalt and tire directly to the rider. The result is a feeling of un-crashable confidence.” While we can’t guarantee you won’t crash riding the RSV, we’re confident it will inspire you to explore your limits.

Despite being the heaviest motorcycle here at 464 lbs. (13 lbs more than the BMW and a whopping 50 lbs over the Ducati), Aprilia’s exercise in mass-centralization has paid dividends. “The RSV4 responds in corners like a finely honed scalpel, feeling compact and mass-centralized to cooperate with its rider,” Ed-in-Chief Duke says.

Brakes, too, are plenty strong with great feel at the lever. Ergonomically, one gets a strong suspicion the RSV4 was designed to fit around Max Biaggi. A compact cockpit makes for a tight rider triangle, though resident tall guy Tom had no complaints about feeling cramped. Shorter riders may be intimidated by the Aprilia’s 33.3-inch seat height; tallest in class.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

Of course no discussion about the RSV4 on track would be complete without mentioning the APRC package. Short for Aprilia Performance Ride Control, the package encompasses four different technologies: traction control, wheelie control, launch control and quick shifter.

We’ve touted the virtues of this system before and how its intervention during traction/wheelie/launch control is virtually seamless. TC is adjustable to eight different settings (nine including off), while launch and wheelie control have three. The quick shifter is a well refined piece of kit, allowing full-throttle upshifts with smooth engagement between each toe flick.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC traction control

All told, if you’re looking to make the jump from 600s to 1000s but are feeling apprehensive about the power difference, the RSV4 may be the confidence booster you need. The V-Four engine “may be the least powerful of the three,” notes Tom, “but the RSV delivers its power in more usable doses than the all-up-top Panigale.” It also emits a bark I like to call an “eargasm.”

BMW S1000RR

German engineering at its finest, the $15,050 S1000RR is a monster motorcycle on the track and is not for the faint of heart. “Ferocious” was the word used in the teaser when describing the power steaming from the Inline-Four and it bears repeating. With almost 20 more horses than the Aprilia, it’s a difference definitely noticeable from the saddle.

2012 BMW S1000RR cornering

With such a strong engine, its chassis arguably struggles to harness that power in a harmonious blend fitting for a racetrack. “[The BMW] Is comfy and sensible like a really fast sportbike,” notes Content Editor Tom Roderick, “where the others feel more like racebikes reverse-engineered as streetbikes.”

2012 BMW S1000RR
2012 BMW S1000RR rear suspension

He’s got a point. All three machines are sharp-steering motorcycles, yet compared to the Aprilia and Ducati, the BMW feels ever-so-slightly less agile when trying to navigate a precise line through a corner. The S1K is stable once leaned over, but struggles in comparison during transitions. Fortunately, whatever time is lost mid-corner is seemingly recovered with a simple twist of the wrist once the BMW is able to stretch its legs.

The BMW also benefits from an impressive suspension package. Its simple adjustment range and changes to its damping circuits mean a single turn of a clicker nets a noticeable difference over their 10 steps. Braking power from the two-piece Brembo calipers was strong with great modulation throughout our trackday, though I noticed lever pull would consistently start strong and fade slightly at the end of each session. Our other test pilots didn’t notice braking degradation.

Ergonomically, the BMW feels the most substantial in this lot. From the saddle, the tank-to-bar distance feels farther and the knees are spread out more. Add the cushy seat that cradles the bum “like a bag of marshmallows,” according to Tom, and the RR could almost be mistaken for a sport-tourer, at least in relative terms to its racier rivals.

Electronically, BMW’s traction control system has little faults. So much so, it was seldom talked about. When set to Slick mode, TC intervention is very minimal and intrudes gently. I initially noticed a bit of harshness from the quickshifter, but we’re told the system studies the rider’s shift habits and adjusts the ignition kill time accordingly. Later in the day I did notice less-abrupt shifting.

Genuine faults with the RR are hard to find, but our testers noted a very subjective one that’s worth mentioning: The S1000RR just doesn’t excite us to the extreme levels its competitors do. The noise and character from its Inline-Four engine could be rebadged as any of the Big Four Japanese brands and we wouldn’t know the difference. Sure the gobs of power is a thrill, but it’s not often we have an open racetrack in front of us.

2012 BMW S1000RR

Still, if we were looking to set a quick lap time, the smooth brutality of the S1000RR would be our first choice. Its power advantage is abundantly clear, but its handling deficiencies are barely worth noting.

Ducati 1199 Panigale S

“Way different than any Ducati I’ve ever ridden, by far.” - Scott Russell

When the 1992 AMA Superbike and 1993 WSBK champion speaks, we listen. Russell succinctly summed up the Panigale with the above comment after taking our test bike for a spin at Thunderhill. Ducati has turned convention upside down with the 1199 Panigale S. The semi-monocoque chassis, highly oversquare Superquadro engine and plethora of electronic wizardry came surrounded with question marks as to whether it would actually work.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S beauty shot

When it comes to track duties, the simple answer is yes, the Ducati 1199 Panigale absolutely works. Forget the nightmare season Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden had last year in MotoGP with a monocoque chassis. The GP team had strict rules to follow that don’t apply to production machines, primarily the use of super-stiff Bridgestone spec tires, and they used a monocoque “frame” built of carbon fiber instead of the Panigale’s aluminum.

Right from the off, Ducati’s intentions are clear with the Panigale. Its hard seat, narrow “chassis” and stiff suspension all point to a machine built for the racetrack. The exclamation mark is the Superquadro engine Tom lovingly refers to as the “rev-happy sumbitch.” As you can see in the dyno charts, the 1199 truly comes alive above 7500 rpm and keeps pulling until just shy of its 11,000 rpm redline. “It has tons of stonk up top,” raves Duke. “This is the most frantic V-Twin ever!”

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S

Keep it in this 3500 rpm window and the Ducati responds with authority. However, to do this the 1199 “demands more shifting than the other two,” says Tom. Duke noted jerky throttle response at pit-lane speeds, but he didn’t have any such issues at speed on the track.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S rear suspensionClicking through the gears is effortless with the Ducati Quick Shifter (DQS), and the power delivery resembles that of a four-cylinder. It’s a different sensation than we’re used to (unless we remember the peaky 848 EVO we reviewed last year – Ed.), requiring a brain adjustment to let the engine sing before shifting, unlike the midrange-mad 1198 before it.

The 1199 proved to be remarkably agile, with some credit going to the lightweight, forged-aluminum wheels on our S version of the Panigale. Standard Panigale’s receive heavier cast wheels, which will slow steering responses. Anyway, its willingness to charge corners and change direction is ultra impressive, and Duke said he enjoyed the generous amount of front-end feel exhibited on the racetrack.

Also impressive is the array of electronics. In addition to the DQS mentioned earlier, all Panigales are equipped with Ducati Traction Control (DTC), three riding modes and another innovative feature, Engine Brake Control (EBC). Our Panigale S also benefitted from Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) not available on the standard model, plus optional anti-lock brakes.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S

EBC reduces the amount of engine braking when off throttle and works in conjunction with the slipper clutch by lifting the throttle plates in the ride-by-wire throttle to prevent rear-wheel lockup associated with heavy braking and/or rapid downshifts, an age-old bugaboo with big cylinders on V-Twin-engined sportbikes. We loved it on the track, as even the sloppiest downshifts weren’t enough to upset the 1199’s composure. Indeed, with EBC set to its maximum assist level, the engine’s compression-braking effect is negligible.

On the ergo front, the Panigale’s low-mounted footpegs delivered a surprising amount of legroom and a relaxed knee bend. Yet despite the low pegs, cornering clearance was a non-issue. Kevin notes the flat bar design “accounts for good leveraging power, and thus, quick steering,” but became less enamored of it on the street.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S rear

Braking power is remarkable from the M50 calipers on the 1199. The M50 monobloc calipers, designed specifically for this bike, performed as advertised with plenty of power and precise feedback through the lever. Ducati’s ABS can be programmed only to detect only front-wheel lockup for ultimate braking power under track conditions.

The Ducati 1199 Panigale S is one seriously track-focused machine, such that it makes no apologies or excuses. The Superquadro engine is at home at the racetrack, where it can be kept in its small but thrilling powerband to bellow a familiar Ducati tune.

“Don’t believe the hyperbole you might’ve read about the 1199 sounding unlike a Ducati Twin,” Duke instructs. “It belts out a booming basso profundo bellow like always, but it’s a more frenetic wail near its higher redline.”

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S lean angle

Of course the downside to such an engine is its need to be in the right gear to exploit its power zone up top. The included quickshifter helps, but the extra attention needed to keep the engine in its sweet spot can get mentally taxing. Then again, making an engine wail and having the confidence to attack turns and occasionally drag an elbow is what makes the Panigale exciting. Tom states the Ducati’s intent clearly, “If your primary purpose isn't taking this bike to track days you're missing 95% of what the Panigale has to offer.”

Next Page ... Street Testing

 

Street Testing

While track testing allows us to assess the prodigious performance envelopes of sporting machines such as these, it’s only part of the equation in judging a streetbike’s capabilities. As such, an overall evaluation of both track and street manners is needed to determine an overall winner, with a general emphasis as used on public roads.

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For this, we replaced the Pirelli Supercorsa SC2 tires fitted for the track with each bike’s standard OE tire. We then logged freeway, city and canyon miles to understand what each motorcycle is like to live with.

Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

With the Aprilia, many of its features we loved at the track make it a darling in our eyes on the street as well. Not least of which is its heart.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC engineSmooth, predictable power ranks the V-Four engine as “one of my all-time favorites,” Kevin notes. “Super-precise throttle response enables a rider to dial in an individual mph on the speedo and hold it there.” Of course, the sound it makes begs the rider to twist the throttle just a little more. Combined with the most seamless quickshifter of the trio and its extremely agile chassis, navigating a twisty stretch of road becomes almost as fun as doing a trackday. 

The tight ergos, however, don’t do it any favors when performing street duties. Its seat, while better padded than the Duc’s, is by no means meant for a cross-country tour. Add to that the sharp angles at its edges, and the RSV4 saddle does not make a comfortable companion for long freeway stints. Sitting 33.3 inches off the ground, putting a foot down is a stretch as well.

Other notables: “Power is a little dull off the line,” Kevin notes, adding that it needs some revs to launch reasonably hard. This combined with a clutch that engages at the far end of lever travel can make it difficult to take off smoothly. The Aprilia’s mirrors, while maintaining the bike’s overall slim silhouette, are directly bisected by the rider’s forearms, rendering them almost useless. With an average of 30.0 mpg, it also delivered the worst fuel economy of the bunch. A trait we’ve become accustomed to from this thirsty engine.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC tail

Passenger accommodations are “visually atrocious,” says Tom. One look at the RSV4’s tail section and it’s obvious pillions were simply an afterthought. A passenger “seat” is available, but it appears more a tool for sadomasochism rather than two-up riding. Provisions for attaching luggage are sparse as well, but if you’re looking to sport-tour with the RSV4 you’re missing the point.

However, with “better than expected” wind protection offered by the windscreen, says Kevin, the freeway ride to the local canyons isn’t unbearable. Also, with three power modes we found the Sport setting a nice balance for the slower pace of a street ride. “I preferred Sport mode for its smoother throttle response than the slightly snappier Track mode,” Duke says.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC cornering left

The RSV4 R is focused in the sense it lives to get from one twisty stretch of tarmac to the other. In doing so, it inspires confidence in its rider through user-friendly (not to be mistaken for soft) power and precise handling. It may not be the most comfy machine for freeway slogging, but then again, that’s not what these bikes are about. In its quest for pavement carving precision, it makes its riders feel they can do no wrong. “I feel like a motorcycling god when riding this bike!” shouts Tom. A testament the rest of us share.

BMW S1000RR

Tom noted earlier how he feels the BMW is a dedicated sportbike, whereas the other two players are reverse-engineered racebikes. This point is emphasized on the street, as right away the cushy seat feels much more inviting than either of the planks on the Italian machines.

2012 BMW S1000RR

The abundance of power coming from the Inline-Four also endeared itself to us on the street. Look at the dyno chart and you’ll see the BMW’s curve as one graceful arc with nary a dip. An indication of proper fuel metering and careful tuning of cams and ports, which translates into smooth power delivery.

2012 BMW S1000RR lean right
2012 BMW S1000RR exhaust

“On the freeway in sixth gear the BMW doesn’t care if you’re riding at 60 or 80 mph,” Tom says. “Just twist the grip and you’re passing slower moving traffic instantly.” Something we can’t say about the other two contenders. “In freeway roll-on contests in top gear, the BMW proved to have the performance advantage over its rivals,” Duke notes. “It feels demonic as the tach runs up to a redline higher than anything else in its class.”

What makes this more impressive is the relative absence of vibes coming from the engine bay, despite its lack of counterbalancers. We noticed vibration coming through the bars around 4000 rpm and near redline, but its frequency or amplitude wasn’t nearly as hand-numbing as the vibes from the Duc or Priller.

On track the BMW may have been more lethargic in transitions, but the slower pace of street riding made this a non-issue. What’s more impressive is its “wonderfully compliant” suspension, Duke notes. It absorbs mid-corner bumps and leaves a rider “unperturbed by road imperfections.”

More positives for the RR: its mirrors are clearly the best of the trio, with a decent view of what’s behind. Braking power is sharp, with linear response and modulation. Engine and exhaust heat are channeled away from the rider, making for a comfortable ride. And while our test bike didn’t come equipped, a defining feature of any modern day BMW motorcycle is available for the S1000 — heated grips. Best of all, the S1000RR is the least expensive of the bunch at $15,050.

The list of negatives for the RR’s street manners is rather slim. As the most sensible, practical bike of the group, it doesn’t generate the same kind of excitement as the Aprilia or Ducati.

2012 BMW S1000RR lean left

And that’s about it. For all practical reasons it’s difficult to fault the BMW. If a single do-it-all sportbike is in your cards, this would be the one to have. While we gravitated to the Aprilia when in the canyons, the three of us fought for the BMW keys for the ride home.

Ducati 1199 Panigale S

The 1199 Panigale is a perfect example of a racebike dumbed down for street use, and it didn’t take long to understand where Ducati’s new flagship truly wants to live. Indeed, as Mr. Daytona said earlier, the 1199 really is unlike any Ducati before it.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S cornering right

For starters, the rock-hard seat is a dead giveaway of the bike’s racetrack roots. Riders are hardly in the center of the seat during closed circuit lapping, but when slogging on the freeway to access our favorite backroads, the discomfort of sitting on a plank is difficult to ignore.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S  heat shield“To maximize comfort, the rider is encouraged to snuggle up toward the fuel tank,” notes Duke, “but this places a butt in the narrowest and thinnest section of the seat.” Getting intimate with the trailing edge of the fuel tank also introduces a male’s sensitive parts to, um, considerable discomfort should you hit a sharp bump in the road. Not good. However, the 1199 surprised us with its “generous amount of legroom,” Kevin says. “Significantly more than its rivals.”

Surprisingly, passenger accommodations on the Panigale are pretty good for such a track-inspired motorcycle. Maria, our semi-official pillion scrutinizer, didn’t complain about seat pad density or the pegs being too high, but did notice that the height of the passenger seat made it difficult to reach the fuel tank and brace her weight during spirited street rides. Unlike the Aprilia, the Panigale still looks styling with passenger seat and footpegs installed.

The rev-happy Superquadro engine that impressed us on the track didn’t make a smooth transition on the street. It truly doesn’t like going slow. Fueling at low engine speeds feels choppy, and trying to maintain a constant rpm while on the freeway is difficult as the bike tends to surge. Duke theorizes it may have something to do with engine mapping not suitable for America’s oxygenated fuel.

“The Multistrada 1200 had similar fueling problems when it was first brought to America,” he says, “but updated mapping to work better with our fuels cured the issue.” We hope Ducati has a similar solution in the works for the Panigale. That said, our Panigale averaged 34.2 mpg, best of the three.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S

We thought with the move to an under-engine exhaust, heat radiating to the rider would be a non-issue with the Panigale. This isn’t the case. The rear cylinder’s exhaust routing lies directly below the rider’s bum, and despite its metal heat shield trying its best to isolate a rider from the heat, we all complained about excess heat at anything less than 80 mph. On an already warm day of testing, the temperature from the cockpit could be described as slightly cooler than hades.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S exhaustOur S model test mule was equipped with Ducati’s Electronic Suspension, allowing front and rear rebound and compression damping to be adjusted conveniently with a push of a button. Preload adjustment, however, requires tools, and even with the rear preload backed entirely out and rear compression at its softest setting, “the spring still felt too stiff,” according to Duke, “making the bike feel nervous over bumpy surfaces.”

This isn’t to say the 1199 didn’t have its bright spots. Clutch pull is light thanks to its wet-type clutch and its hydraulic actuation, and its fantastic slipper design and EBC makes you look like a hero on the brakes, messy downshifts be damned. Also, its gearbox is the smoothest ever fitted to a Ducati superbike. Clarity from the TFT LCD gauge cluster is “striking,” says Tom, and with only three buttons to worry about, “navigating the gauges isn’t difficult to figure out.”

The 1199 Panigale is meant to live on a racetrack, not the street. It’s focused in every way and makes no compromises, leading Tom to note, “if I didn't know this bike was Italian I would have guessed it was built by the Spanish inquisition.”

Next Page ... And The Winner is...

 

And The Winner is...

Deciding on a best overall motorcycle between this trio of European exotica was no easy task. Taking both street and track performances into consideration, each machine built a strong case for itself. This is where the MO scorecard comes into play.

Judged in 13 different categories ranging from engine performance and value to handling and cool factor, our subjective opinions are given an objective score. After calculating all the numbers, this proved to be one of our closest shootouts yet.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC, BMW S1000RR and Ducati 1199 Panigale S

After a poor showing on the street, it shouldn’t come as a surprise the ultra-focused Ducati placed third, scoring 86.1%. It is, without a doubt, a very exciting motorcycle when ridden in the right context. Unfortunately this window of opportunity is very limited. Revs must be high and the road must be smooth and curvaceous to extract all it has to offer.

However, we did give it top billing in the brake, technology, instruments, fit & finish, appearance, and cool factor categories. But factoring the reasons mentioned earlier and its highest price tag of the three$17,995 for the standard version; $22,995 for our S model test bikeand the Ducati’s fate was set in scorecard stone.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S

From here the judging process was much more difficult. All three testers were enamored with the Aprilia’s gentle yet precise and confidence-inspiring engine and chassis, on track and on the street. But we couldn’t ignore the less exciting, but extremely practical and equally capable BMW.

The Aprilia took top honors in the transmission, handling, and grin factor (where we judge the intangibles, like the excitement it generates) categories, while the BMW won for best ergonomics, and received perfect scores in both engine and value categories.

2012 Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

The scorecards were so close, with all three testers virtually tied after 12 categories. Our thirteenth and final criterion, value, tipped the scales. Coming in $2000 less than the $16,999 RSV4, the BMW once again wins our Euro literbike shootout with a 90.4% score compared to the Aprilia’s 88.5%.

Granted, if you’re looking at any of our high-end combatants, then price might not be an issue for you. If we were lucky enough to be in that category, our hearts would recommend the Aprilia. However, considering the performance, practicality and technology the BMW offers at a relatively low price, it’s impossible to overlook. Personally, it’s the bike I would choose if I were to ride to a track, do a trackday and ride home.

2012 BMW S1000RR

With minor but cumulatively significant updates for 2012, the BMW S1000RR retains its Euro literbike crown. And with Kawasaki’s ZX-10R already named as our Japanese literbike winner this year, the only thing left to do is pit them together for ultimate literbike supremacy in our third and final portion of this test. Stay tuned.

The Last Word
Tom Roderick, Content Editor: The S1000RR is the most pragmatic choice of these three bikes. More horsepower, greater comfort and user-friendly performance in a package costing thousands less than its Italian competitors. The S1000RR is a two-wheel testament to the precision of German engineering.

But as much as my left brain demands that if I were spending my money I buy the BMW, my right brain is arguing aesthetics. Not that the Beemer is an ugly bike, on the contrary, I find the S1000RR’s styling and asymmetrical headlight configuration appealing. The fact of the matter is, it simply doesn’t turn me on.

I’m addicted to the power delivery of Aprilia’s V4 engine and the sound associated with its acceleration and deceleration. The RSV is also one of the most confidence-inspiring sportbikes on the market. The BMW makes more power and the Panigale is an exotic, sexy beast, but if it were my money the RSV strikes the best balance between the track-bred Duc and all-around mannerisms of the Beemer.

Troy Siahaan, Associate Editor: I was truly torn this time. On track, I’m completely enamored with the Ducati. It’s an exciting motorcycle that begs the rider to try a little harder and ride its wheels off. With all its techno-wizardry that’s also easy to understand, I feel like the Panigale helps make me a better rider at the push of a button.

However, my adoration evaporated during our street ride. Its “no-compromises” attitude is simply torturous: it’s uncomfortable, jumpy down low and incredibly hot. It’s hard to fault the BMW’s 172 horses and least expensive price tag, and by no means am I putting it down, but this category of motorcycle is supposed to incite visceral emotion. Simply put, the Aprilia’s combination of smooth power, remarkable handling and dashing good looks does it for me every time, and would be the bike I’d choose if my garage had a vacancy needing to be filled and my wallet had no bottom.

Kevin Duke, Editor-in-Chief: I take my job as a motorcycle evaluator very seriously, and the S1000RR is definitely at the top of the heap of the European literbikes in our test when judged on the terms of a usable street motorcycle. That’s a relatively easy assertion to make when you’re talking about the most powerful and most versatile bike of the bunch.

However, this shootout doesn’t have as its subject matter scooters or commuter bikes, and this space on these virtual pages gives me the opportunity to speak from my gut. It’s the RSV4 that tugs strongest on my heartstrings. While its V-Four motor is the least powerful, it’s the powerplant I preferred most. I love the way it feels as it builds revs, accompanied by an angry but creamy bark that makes me want to rev it up in every tunnel I passed through. And if I was offered a nice prize for blasting up and down a canyon road the quickest, the willing and cooperative Aprilia would be my choice.

I have to say I’m surprised the wonderful new Panigalle wasn’t at the top of this subjective list, as it thrilled me in countless sensational ways when riding it both at Yas Marina and at Thunderhill. But our street testing revealed jumpy throttle response that annoyed and sapped my confidence. I predict Ducati will release an updated engine-mapping download this summer. Throw in a barely padded seat and enough BTUs from the rear cylinder to roast a small animal, and the scrumptious Panigale loses any overall battle on the street – except at the coffee shop …

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