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In spite of protestations from various peanut gallery season-ticket holders who claim disinterest, our mostly annual Superbike Comparison remains MO’s single biggest deal of the year when it comes to clicks and comments. Apparently, many people who don’t have much interest in owning any of these motorcycles are still really interested in riding them vicariously, which is fine by the MO staff; we’re willing to make the sacrifice, for a few weeks anyway. Whether you lust after one or not, it only makes sense to be interested in them, since this is where the new performance stuff turns up first, as motorcycles, like everything else, grow more sophisticated.

Yes, they all have grown ridiculously expensive and specialized from the perspective of the common working stiff, but that’s not the manufacturers’ fault is it? Like the famous bank robber, they have to go where the money is. We will not delve into politics here, but it’s a fact that the rich have gotten quite a bit richer lately. Business is business.

The shark gills are no accident, the BMW S1000RR is predatory. Also nearly foolproof.

How many $14k ZX-10Rs will Kawasaki have to sell to equal the $40 million Honda will generate from slapping together 200 RC213V-Ss at $200k each and selling them online? These Superbikes will be largely snapped up by large-living enthusiasts who already have a sport-tourer and/or an adventure bike and/or an old Versys to ride when they’re heading out for more than a few hours or a few hundred miles. Hate the game, not the players. At the same time, $15k for performance roughly on par with the aforementioned $200K Honda is a steal.

You’ll never take me alive Chandler! Then again maybe you will, in about 50 feet…

AT THE TRACK

An epic test demands an epic track, and so, we journeyed northward to Laguna Seca.

You’re right, lap times would’ve been good. They would’ve also been meaningless: Getting six bikes dialed in for optimum performance for six riders in one day is an impossible task. Heck, just getting six riders one session on each bike in one day isn’t easy. We (including three-time AMA Superbike Champ Doug Chandler) don’t get to ride on racetracks as much as we’d like, so we’re all a bit rusty, and therefore grow faster on whichever bike we hop onto next as the day progresses and we re-learn (or learn for the first time) the track.

We had to do this for a whole day to get to the bottom of things.

The alternative is to pick one guy to do timed laps after he’s warmed up on all six bikes, but that’s also less than scientific. Which guy do you pick? What’s good for a professional like Chandler (the BMW) isn’t necessarily best for an intermediate (like yours truly). I know this for a fact from parsing hundreds of lap times from a giant Motorrad magazine “MasterBike” competition a few years ago, where all the racers and magazine test ringers went fastest on one bike (also the BMW S1000RR), and nearly all the actual motojournalists and non-experts (99% of riders) went quickest on the less-powerful Honda CBR1000RR. Absolute power slows you down if it panics you and has you reaching for the brakes. When it comes to literbikes, I firmly believe there are tons of people out there riding the bike that won “the Shootout,” who’d be far happier and faster on a bunch of the ones that lost it. If you ask a guy like Chandler, he’ll tell you it’s all about smoothness and momentum.

Doug Chandler on his favorite bike. Mr. Smoooth…

Rider Stats
Rider Height Weight
Sean Alexander 6’2″ 260 lb.
Doug Chandler 5’11” 165 lb.
Captain Duke 5’8″ 145 lb.
Fireball Brasfield 5’11” 183 lb.
J. Burns 5’8″ 155 lb.
T. Siahaan 5’8″ 153 lb.
T. Roderick 5’11” 172 lb.

The best solution is to do what we did: Have six experienced riders hot-bunk all six bikes as much as possible in one day, ranging in skill level from Doug Chandler to MO’s slowest (who’s still a perfectly competent “A”- group rider at just about any track day), ranging in size from Sean “der Kompressor” Alexander to E-i-C Duke, who’s about 150 pounds wet, along with one Pacific Islander, a drunken Scotch-Irish, an atheist and a Jew. I kid. Say, why didn’t we invite Gabe, anyway?

Sean A. tries to get his favorite bike to say “uncle” by putting its rear sidewall in a half-Nelson. It never did.

Chandler chandling. He eschews the Grin Factor, but gave the BMW a 9 anyway.

By the end of the day, it was all reasonably clear. Doug Chandler didn’t beat the best riders in the country (now and then in the world) without being a pretty good judge of bike-flesh, lap times or no, and he picked the BMW. You can see exactly how he broke it down, and all five of the other bikes, in the official MO ScoreCard he filled out post-ride, along with the the rest of us. Chandler was the only guy who rated the BMW #1. Evans rated the BMW #2. All MO’s fastest guys rated the BMW #3, behind the Aprilia and the Ducati (except Sean, who bagged on the Yam but ranked it 3rd anyway and the BMW 4th). Meanwhile, four out of five MOrons rated the Aprilia #1. Duke picked the Duc, and he and Chandler gave the Aprilia #2. Where’s the new Yamaha wonderbike? Troy, Chander and Duke’s cards have it 4th, I rank it 5th, Sean and Evans (our heaviest riders) rank it 3rd.

When we combined the objective scores with our human ones, it was the Aprilia RSV4 that took the victory by just 0.4% over the BMW – followed closely by the Panigale S, the new R1 not far behind – and the Kawasaki and Honda. Between the Italian and the German bikes, it’s almost too close to call. Shall we consult the Grin Factor? There, the winner is far more clear cut: Four MOrons give the Aprilia the maximum 10, one gives it 9.75 – and only Chandler rates it behind the BMW.

ON THE STREET

The standard disclaimer has always been, “but very few of these will ever see a racetrack.” We don’t know how current that conventional wisdom is, but we used it for an excuse to charge quite a few gallons of Premium on the company account, riding around on the street; it’s up to the buyer which set of criteria is more important.

Not that it really matters this time, since the same two bikes that won at the track also dominated the street competition. Power is not a problem for any of these six bikes; even the slowest one (the CBR) has enough juice to make quick work of any other vehicle on the road. Neither is ride quality, since their high-end price tags all get you high-end suspension: The BMW wins here, with a nearly 96% satisfaction rating to the Panigale’s and Aprilia’s 93%s (the BMW and Ducati, you’ll recall, both have electronic suspenders, the Aprilia has analog Öhlins bits). Suspension-wise, the Cruella de Ville Replica Yamaha finishes dead last, with an 81% approval rating.

Bellissima, no? Just like at the track, on the street it’s mostly a two-way battle between Italy and Germany.

Comfort the Afflicted

Truly, with all of them having great engines, gearboxes, chassis and outstanding brakes, what matters most on the street with these bikes is the Ergonomics/Comfort category. Here, the only two bikes to score in the 90s are the Aprilia and the Beemer, with the BMW winning out, four MOrons to two.

When I offered to ride a bike 400 miles from the OC to Laguna Seca, the main reason I did was because the BMW was in my garage, the only one to offer cruise control and heated grips, which made it a not-so selfless decision at all. There’s no TOUR setting in its Electronic Suspension Adjustment menu, but SPORT’s not bad, given the bike’s relatively cush seat, not too-low clip-ons and the ability not to have to hold the throttle on the whole way. The Aprilia’s bars are a bit closer, its seat padding is thinner but on a better-shaped pan, and I’d have been happier on it if only it had the BMW’s magic CC button. Sean, too, all 250-plus pounds of him, prefers the Aprilia, though its seat height might be a problem for short-legged people.

Nobody will be riding the Panigale in shorts. The black thing under the seat is the rear header making a 180.

The loser here is the Panigale, with a dismal 72%. This is mostly a heat issue; not only do you sit atop a George Foreman grill, your inner thighs actually press against the bike’s rear cylinder head. Excellent if you live in a Scandinavian country or want to lower your sperm count. The Yamaha is saved from a next-to-last place finish by Sean and Evans giving it a 9.5 and a 9; the other four of us gave it 7s.

When you add it all up at the end, and average the Track and Street ScoreCards, the BMW’s Grand Total beats the Aprilia by 0.085 percent, a photo finish!

Commerce really is war by other means, and it’s fun to see the characters of the people who build these things come through in their products as they fight for market share. The BMW is technically unimpeachable, relentlessly fast, completely unflappable, space-age convenient and adjustable – even the classically schooled Chandler liked its electronics. Heck, it’s even reasonably practical. You could tour on it with the right mindset. It’s also slightly cold and remote in finest Teutonic tradition, an ice queen. Maybe that goes away when you really get to know it?

The first two or three gears are all you need to get through the ⅛-mile in about 7 seconds and 110 mph or so on all these bikes (a real dragracer would only need about 2.5 seconds more to go another ⅛ mile on them). Reptilian fun.

Brasfield stands by his pick: I meant what I said about the BMW being the best choice. It has everything that I need in an open class bike – and then some. On the street, none of the other bikes can touch it as far as performance and real-world streetability are concerned. Yeah, I’m as susceptible as the rest of the guys to the Aprilia’s sweet engine symphony, and the standard package’s price is shockingly low. However, a sexy exhaust note ain’t gonna make that last 100 miles of a 400-mile day any more enjoyable. So, that’s what it comes down to: what am I going to prioritize on the street, sexiness or usability? Unfortunately, I’m far too practical to go with sexy for anything but the short-term.

All the world’s a stage! Irwindale is no place for Shakespeare.

Meanwhile on the sunny side of the Alps, a small band of Italians just inland from Venice has only been making motorcycles for a few decades; the first ones I remember seeing were little 125s and 250s like the ones a kid named Valentino Rossi won his first world championship on, in 1997. Then they started building booming V-Twins to challenge that other Italian factory. And the V-Four Aprilia’s been steadily refining since 2009, that came this close to beating the BMW here, is the bike a lot of people think a certain big Japanese company that starts with “H” should’ve been building all along. Lucky for us Honda never did, or the Aprilia might never have become so delicious.

Sean A., Commander Duke and myself already picked the Aprilia as our favorite bike here. Troy Siahaan picked the BMW but sometimes struggles with his feminine side: From an emotional standpoint, the Aprilia is my hands-down, go-to bike. It’s just so raw and visceral, you can’t help but love it each time you get your knee down. And with the RR model only costing $50 more than the Kawi, it’s a no-brainer.

True, and if we’d gotten the base model RSV4 instead of the RF, its low price might’ve put it over the top on the ScoreCard to beat the BMW.

2015 Six-Way Superbike Shootout Individual Tester Average Scores
Testers Aprilia
RSV4 RF
BMW
S1000RR
Ducati
1299
Panigale S
Honda
CBR1000RR
SP
Kawasaki
Ninja ZX-10R
Yamaha
YZF-R1
Alexander 96.2% 91.5% 94.2% 83.5% 87.7% 91.9%
Brasfield 94.3% 94.7% 91.1% 82.7% 87.6% 92.2%
Burns 94.5% 89.5% 91.5% 83.7% 87.8% 87.2%
Duke 92.4% 91.4% 93.3% 79.7% 80.6% 87.9%
Siahaan 85.0% 88.8% 78.3% 70.1% 72.4% 75.0%
Roderick
(Street Only)
92.5% 95.8% 88.8% 82.3% 86.0% 87.9%
Chandler
(Track Only)
77.5% 81.7% 67.9% 57.9% 58.8% 62.1%

Tom Roderick can no longer contain himself, he must express his love: In the street shootout I championed the BMW S1000RR, and I stand by everything I’ve said and written. The BMW S1k remains the best all-around sportbike money can buy. Period. But if it were me choosing which bike to buy among these six, the sensible, objective side of me would be screaming and kicking the entire time the impractical side of me was purchasing the Aprilia RSV4 RF.

There’s a “Grin Factor” category on the Street ScoreCard too: Aprilia 97.5%, BMW 93.33%. Oh, dear. Another emotional victory for the Italian stallion.

There it is, then. The BMW wins on paper by the thinnest margin, but there’s far more to it than paper: Nobody needs any of these motorcycles for logical reasons. Between the BMW and the Aprilia, there are no bad choices — but you’ll need deep pockets for either one. You’ll have to decide for yourself between schnapps and chianti, a delicious schnitzel or pizza bolognese?

Ruthless, Greek-squashing efficiency or V-Four dolce vita? If it’s a bargain you’re after, my friendly Honda/Kawasaki store was filled with the sound of crickets when I dropped in last weekend for a spark plug. The ZX-10R and CBR1000RR remain tremendously good motorcycles, and their dealers might be more willing to negotiate.

Here at MO, we champion small bikes. We respect the scooter. We hire the handicapped. We love us some cruisers and admire adventure bikes. But when it comes to having your socks blown completely off, there’s nothing quite like a fine big-bore sportbike. Thanks to all who helped us make Superbike Smackdown 2015 a truly butt-clenching success of excess right down to the wire.

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