2012 European Literbike Shootout - Video
Europe's best are upping the ante in the literbike wars
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
The $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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Clicking 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.
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.
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.”
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.”