2012 Japanese Superbike Shootout - Video

New upgrades shuffle the rankings and bring up the question: To TC or not TC?

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For this test we’ve re-implemented the MO scorecard, rating each motorcycle in 12 categories to come up with our winner. The scores reflect our overall feelings of each machine both on the street and at the track. The results of this test were grouped into two halves, with each duo separated by less than a percentage point. So, without further ado, here are the results.

Fourth place: Yamaha YZF-R1: 80.9%

What do you call a doctor who graduated bottom of his class? A doctor. In the R1’s case, it may have ranked last in our combined scores, but by no means should that discredit its abilities as a capable literbike. If you don’t fall in love with its engine in full song then you might be dead. Likewise, its traction control system is every bit as good as the Kawasaki’s. Coupled with a solid chassis, the R1 is a missile in the right conditions.

2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 wheelie

But to win this test, a machine has to perform under all conditions, and that’s where the R1 falls short.

“I really want the Yamaha to win because I absolutely love the awesome sound it emits,” Tom says, “but it’s lack of low-end power, tall first gear and clutch engagement at the furthest throw of the clutch lever conspire to make the Yamaha the most difficult to ride.” To add insult to injury it averaged 32 mpg, worst in the group. In the end, the other contenders were just better. Except in the emotional appeal from its exotic engine.

Third place: Honda CBR1000RR: 81.4%

Considering the engine in the CBR has been roughly the same for four years running, the fact it still beat out the Yamaha is impressive, albeit by the slimmest of margins. It’s no fluke though – usable power trumps peak power if the latter requires a concentrated effort. And if the Honda is known for anything, it’s power down low and in the midrange where you need it. Added bonus: it averaged the best mileage of the lot at 41 mpg.

2012 Honda CBR1000RR wheelie

All four testers appreciated the Honda’s compact feel, comfy ergos, capable chassis and willing engine. But it does make the least horsepower in this group and above all, it lacks rider aids. True, ABS is available for an extra grand, but when calculating the cost/benefit analysis, in our eyes, the Honda simply comes up short. Kevin sums it best, “Simply put, it needs TC to keep up with the times.”

Second place: Suzuki GSX-R1000: 89.0%

“If only the Suzuki had TC,” I wrote in my notes, “this would be a completely different ballgame.” There’s not much else to criticize about the Suzuki. In fact, every tester gave it a perfect score in the engine category. We all loved its chassis, brakes and the familiarity it provides from the saddle. It’s also the least expensive bike here at $13,799 and got just a smidge less fuel economy than the Honda, averaging 40 mpg.

2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000

Ultimately, in a race this close, we focus once again on value, and the Suzuki’s lack of TC is what brought it down. “The Gixxer Thou is the perfect literbike for anyone who dislikes the whole idea of traction control or who’d prefer to use an aftermarket TC system,” Duke says.

First place: Kawasaki ZX-10R 90.9%

The only one of the four to earn an A grade, the ZX-10R shines on the strength of its engine, astounding brakes and most of all, its well-sorted electronics package. Yes, the Kawasaki suffers a little in the midrange, but it hides this flaw well with a well-timed downshift. It also takes slightly more time to acclimate to its chassis, but once you do “the ZX feels trustworthy and solid,” according to Kevin.

2012 Kawasaki ZX-10R wheelie

It is an easy motorcycle to ride fast, and yet it will catch you if you make a mistake. The TC works brilliantly, it gets 39 mpg and the gauges are tops in the class. With all that going for it, what’s not to like?

*Note: take a peek in our photo gallery for the nearly 200 pictures we took during this test.

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