2012 European Literbike Shootout - Video
Europe's best are upping the ante in the literbike wars
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
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.
Smooth, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Our 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.”