Rejoice, sportbike fans, as 2015 is bound to go down as the year of the liter-class superbike. After riding this latest crop of superbikes at their individual intros, your respective MO editors all came back gushing, proclaiming the bike they just finished riding is a viable contender for top honors in the class. Of course, with statements like that, pitting them all together and settling the score was the natural thing to do. And here for you now, we bring you the epic showdown you’ve long been waiting for, pitting five all-new or significantly revised superbikes on the racetrack against the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, winner of our 2012 Japanese Literbike Shootout. Stay tuned next week for our street impressions.

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For this test, we’ve got three heavily revised European models in the Aprilia RSV4 RF (technically an early-release 2016 model), BMW S1000RR (with a second opinion from Sean Alexander here), and Ducati 1299 Panigale S. Not to be outdone, Japan is also represented in the major revisions category with the all-new, MotoGP-inspired Yamaha YZF-R1. Also representing Japan, though with slightly less revisions, is the Honda CBR1000RR SP edition, the CBR graced with Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes, and what is essentially a blueprinted engine. For complete rundowns of each bike, refer to the hyperlinks above. Here, we’re focusing on overall impressions from the track.

Leading the way on the horsepower scale is the BMW with the Aprilia and Ducati not too far behind. Below 10,500 rpm, the beefed-up Ducati is stronger than the rest. Considerably so in certain areas. The Honda is very competitive in power until around 10k rpm, while the Ninja is relatively weak until its top end.

Leading the way on the horsepower scale is the BMW with the Aprilia and Ducati not too far behind. Below 10,500 rpm, the beefed-up Ducati is stronger than the rest. Considerably so in certain areas. The Honda is very competitive in power until around 10k rpm, while the Ninja is relatively weak until its top end.

Despite having six bikes in store, you might notice some omissions. There’s no Suzuki GSX-R1000 or KTM RC8. Both are fine motorcycles in their own right, but without any revisions for 2015 – and having failed to win our previous shootouts – there was no purpose in bringing them back. We invited MV Agusta to the party, hoping to be among the first to spin laps aboard the new F4 RC, but unfortunately MV couldn’t provide a unit for us to test. We also handed an invite to Erik Buell Racing to see if a 1190RX could be thrown in the mix, but with the untimely closing of the company’s doors, that request, sadly, could not be filled.

No matter, as the six parties we have represent the cream of the crop in the highly contested superbike wars. Combined, we have over 1000 horsepower (1007 horses, to be exact), 471 lb.-ft. of torque and a total of $115,327 worth of motorcycles. With numbers like that, we couldn’t take these bikes to just any racetrack. Oh no. A special test deserves a special venue, and what better a place than the iconic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. We joined our friends at Keigwins at the Track to ride with them for another one of their well-run and -organized trackdays at the historic Monterey track.

Not surprisingly, with its displacement advantage, the Ducati makes considerably more peak torque than the rest. Of the four cylinders, the BMW and Honda show strong mid-range punch. Meanwhile, the Yamaha’s performance is a bit disappointing.

Not surprisingly, with its displacement advantage, the Ducati makes considerably more peak torque than the rest. Of the four cylinders, the BMW and Honda show strong mid-range punch. Meanwhile, the Yamaha’s performance is a bit disappointing.

Riding duties were filled by your usual MOrons including Sean Alexander, Kevin Duke, Evans Brasfield, John Burns and Yours Truly, but adding a bit of professional insight to the cast of wannabe heroes is an actual hero to all on staff: Three-time AMA Superbike champion, two-time World Superbike race winner, and former 500cc Grand Prix rider for Yamaha, Suzuki and Cagiva, Doug Chandler. Known for being fast, smooth and analytical, DC10 provided great feedback on all the bikes that we’re excited to share with you.

First and foremost, a major thank-you is in order. At the 11th hour, Ducati informed us the 1299 Panigale promised for the track portion of our testing couldn’t be made available for our scheduled date. With panic mode firmly set in place, a call went out far and wide for dealers who would let us test one of their demo bikes. None ultimately committed. As a final act of desperation, we reached out to private owners willing to let us MOrons test their personal 1299 Panigale. Nor Cal Ducati Desmo Owners Club member Jacob Tolley stepped up big time, allowing us to thrash test his own 1299 Panigale S around Laguna. The standard model might’ve been a better match here, but desperate times called for desperate measures, and for Tolley’s graciousness, we are forever grateful.

Judging by this collection of top-class machinery, 2015 is possibly the best time to be a sportbike enthusiast.

Judging by this collection of top-class machinery, 2015 is possibly the best time to be a sportbike enthusiast.

Lastly, another thank you goes to Pirelli, which supplied us with Diablo Supercorsa SC tires for all six bikes in their stock sizes (except the Honda, whose standard 190/50-17 rear isn’t available in the Supercorsa SC, so we used a 190/55-17 instead). As we’ve come to expect from the Italian rubber, their performance ticked all the right boxes: they warmed up quickly and stuck like glue the entire day, providing great traction especially at extreme lean angles. It was only in the late afternoon, after many laps had been completed, that we noticed even a hint of deterioration in grip levels. This test would not have been possible without the help of all the parties listed above and plenty others behind the scenes. Many thanks to all involved!

The Test

While Evans, Sean and Kevin weigh each bike, Burns is busy staring at something shiny off in the distance.

While Evans, Sean and Kevin weigh each bike, Burns is busy staring at something shiny off in the distance.

Because Laguna Seca imposes a strict 90db sound restriction during most events it holds during the year, measured between turns 5 and 6, riders are forced to go to extreme measures in order not to get punished by the sound police. Keigwins actually modified the course slightly, using cones to push riders away from the sound booth at the exit of turn 5. Still, of our six bikes – all with stock exhausts – only the Honda and Kawasaki were able to whiz past the booth at full throttle without tripping the meter.

As such, we were forced to either roll off the throttle or pass through the area a gear or two higher than normal. This pleased the noise enforcers but also killed our lap times. Hence, times weren’t recorded. Here’s what Duke registered on each bike past the sound booth, the one time he was allowed to rip past at full speed:

Aprilia RSV4 RF 96.6 dB BMW S1000RR 95.5 dB
Ducati 1299 Panigale S 92.5 dB Honda CBR1000RR SP 88.7 dB
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R 89.1 dB Yamaha YZF-R1 92.7 dB

Instead, what follows are track impressions for all six bikes. Despite having to hold back near the sound booth, we were free to pin it everywhere else, allowing us all to form a pretty good idea of what each bike could do around a track. Make no mistake, all six bikes here would make potent track weapons for all but the most discerning of track riders. However, the chips have to fall somewhere, and here’s how each stacked up.

Sixth Place: Honda CBR1000RR SP 80.3%

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A day late and a penny short is an appropriate saying for Honda’s aging literbike. Honda may have turned to Öhlins for suspension bits, Brembo for braking components, and only the finest pieces from its engine parts bin, but it still made the least horsepower of the group – 150 – which trails the BMW by more than 30 ponies. Its bones are the oldest here, too, as the current generation Fireblade was released in 2008, with a minor revision in 2012. Maybe the biggest indicator the Honda is a dated machine is its utter lack of electronics, as even ABS is omitted from the options sheet on the Honda (though you can still get ABS on non-SP models).

But is old and analog necessarily bad? Doug Chandler didn’t think so. “This bike was the closest to what I remember of race bikes,” he said. “Really good suspension and brakes, no power assist in the engine, just a fun bike to go around a racetrack on. You could feel the rear end spin up, and it was up to you and your wrist on how far you wanted to go with it.”

Evans, taming the analog CBR1000RR SP the old fashioned way – with his right wrist.

Evans, taming the analog CBR1000RR SP the old fashioned way – with his right wrist.

As for the rest of us mere mortals, the Honda reminded us that it still has some very favorable characteristics. At its intro, the CBR earned praise for its quick and neutral handling, and those attributes are only enhanced in the SP model. E-i-C Duke says he’s fond of the CBR for its “nimble, almost 600cc-like chassis and its engine’s robust midrange power. The addition of Öhlins and Brembos to the SP version elevates the CBR to a higher level.”

All our testers remarked how easy the Honda is to ride quickly. Its chassis is very willing to change direction, and the Öhlins suspension helps the bike feel planted at extreme lean angles. And in case one wishes to adjust a damper, Senior Discount Editor Burns reminds us that the “great [Öhlins] analog suspension means there’s no need to navigate menus. Just twist the knobs.”

The Honda has long been praised for its agility, but the Öhlins dampers help bring the confidence level up a few notches at full lean.

The Honda has long been praised for its agility, but the Öhlins dampers help bring the confidence level up a few notches at full lean.

With 76.4 lb.-ft. of torque on tap, the CBR makes more than both the Kawasaki and Yamaha (73.6 lb.-ft. and 72.5 lb.-ft., respectively), is almost identical to the Aprilia (76.7 lb.-ft.) and a whisker away from the BMW (79.9 lb.-ft.) in the twist department. In some portions of the track, especially the chutes connecting turns 2, 3 and 4, where there aren’t any long straights, the CBR could hang with the others. But once the revs started to climb and horsepower began to dominate, the Honda fell short.

From there, our testers had other, lesser quibbles about the Fireblade. While I personally was a fan of the Brembos on the Honda, a sentiment shared with both Alexander and Chandler, Brasfield, Burns and Duke ranked the CBR’s binders amongst the lowest in their subjective scores. “The SPs Brembos deliver solid power, but it’s sent via more lever travel than the others in this test,” notes Kevin. Some complained of abrupt on/off throttle response, while others noted a notchy shifter.

For Chandler, the Honda brought back memories of the racebikes he’s more familiar with – the ones without so many buttons.

For Chandler, the Honda brought back memories of the racebikes he’s more familiar with – the ones without so many buttons.

Ergonomically, the pegs are 10mm rearward, clip-ons angled five degrees lower and spread out five degrees more compared to the standard CBR. This prompted 6-foot, 2-inch Sean to note “the seat-to-peg relationship and distance feel more cramped than the competition to me.” Chandler, hovering around the 6-foot mark, was of a different opinion, stating “This bike also has a good fit; shorter or taller riders can fit quite well on this bike.” It’s up to the individual to decide which position feels best for them and their riding style.

Ultimately, though, it would have been a tall order for the Honda to finish anywhere other than sixth in this test. The competition is stacked with high horsepower and/or gobs of electronic goodies. The CBR lacks both (if you can call 150 hp lacking), showing its age in the process, despite being the most expensive Japanese motorcycle here. “No quickshifter or traction-control system also plants the CBR firmly in the pre-2010 era,” says Duke. “And for an older bike with a $17,299 price tag, I think Honda should’ve thrown in a set of forged-aluminum wheels that would’ve improved its steering responses.”

The CBR1000RR SP might be the backmarker in this group, but at least with the SP model, Honda is ensuring it ages gracefully.

The CBR1000RR SP might be the backmarker in this group, but at least with the SP model, Honda is ensuring it ages gracefully.

Still, Honda fans can hold their head high with this nugget from Chandler: “If [the CBR] had some more power without all the electronics, I think it would have been my favorite bike to ride around the track.”

Fifth Place: Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R 83.1%

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It’s slightly odd to see the ZX-10R this far back in the pack, especially considering it’s our reigning Japanese literbike champion, but it just goes to show how the rest of the field has upped the ante in this class. Still, the Ninja is no slouch, as its recent success in World Superbike clearly demonstrates.

At Laguna, it took us a couple sessions to get the ZX-10R sorted, but once it was dialed, it exhibited many of the attributes we liked about the Honda: nice brakes and a sorted chassis. Add 10 more horses over the Honda (160.6 hp), and the Green Machine reminded us why it was king of the Japanese crop. “Very usable motor,” Sean said. “Felt great on corner entry with good turn-in and stability balance.” Kevin echoed those sentiments, noting, “its chassis inspires immediate confidence and feels totally trustworthy even when trail-braking deep into corners.”

Kevin was particularly impressed with the ZX-10R’s stability on corner entry, even when still hard on the brakes.

Kevin was particularly impressed with the ZX-10R’s stability on corner entry, even when still hard on the brakes.

The secret to achieving the handling characteristics we liked was adding rear preload and fitting shims to the shock to add 10mm of ride height. “Now the bike would finish the corners and not drag [pegs] like in the morning,” said Chandler, who, if you’ll remember, won his AMA titles aboard Kawasakis. “I could ride this bike like the others now and not have to hang off any more than the rest.”

As mentioned before, the binders on the Ninja garnered praise from our testers, ranking third on our scorecard, trailing only the Aprilia and Ducati. Making this feat more impressive is the fact the name on the side of the caliper is not Brembo, but Tokico. Also, the lines feeding the calipers fluid are rubber, not steel-braided. Not that we could tell a difference; braking power was strong on the 10R. “The feel and stopping power felt like a race bike should,” said Chandler. Our tester came equipped with optional ABS, bumping the price tag up $1000 compared to the non-ABS version, but even during hard track riding, there were no complaints of the system kicking in when it shouldn’t have. That’s saying something considering how hard one squeezes the brakes at turns 2 and 11.

Chandler showing the proper line through Laguna’s turn 6. He had issues early on with dragging hard parts on the ZX. Adding rear preload and shims to the shock, thereby increasing rear ride height, solved the issue.

Chandler showing the proper line through Laguna’s turn 6. He had issues early on with dragging hard parts on the ZX. Adding rear preload and shims to the shock, thereby increasing rear ride height, solved the issue.

Other than ABS, the Kawi also comes with power modes, but we didn’t bother with anything less than full thrust. Its other main electronic aid is its KTRC traction control system, a version of which has become a must-have for the class. “Despite being a few years old, the traction control still seems to work well,” says Kevin. “And it also makes for a good wheelie-control system that allows for fairly tall wheel lofting before intervening.”

Maybe it’s our familiarity with the Kawasaki that made it so endearing. Having crowned it a past champion, we knew what to expect out of it, but actually hopping aboard after so many years away from it and experiencing its agile chassis, stellar brakes and playful motor was a refresher course in what it can do and why we gave it the nod in 2012. At $15,599 as tested, it’s also the least expensive bike in this group.

Because the ZX-10R isn’t bright enough in its 30th anniversary color scheme, Sean took it upon himself to up the brightness level with his custom Gimoto leathers.

Because the ZX-10R isn’t bright enough in its 30th anniversary color scheme, Sean took it upon himself to up the brightness level with his custom Gimoto leathers.

However, time – and technology – marches on. There’s no quickshifter or launch control, but considering the Ninja is geared incredibly tall, one needn’t worry about looping it off the line, but rather stalling it, as I did when trying to simulate a race start. This tall gearing caused Duke, Chandler and I to note a sluggish bottom end and mid-range at the track, with DC10 writing, “it was the only bike that felt like it had a little bit of a powerband, but this is partly due to being out of the power in the lower revs.” I simply wrote in my notes, “needs shorter gearing!”

Gearing and a quickshifter are easy fixes in the aftermarket, and many privateer racers are having success with the Kawi, but in the context of this test, the competition has simply pushed ahead.

Fourth Place: Yamaha YZF-R1 86.7%

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You know when your friends hype up a movie so much that, when you finally see it, you can’t help but be let down? The new Yamaha R1 might have fallen into that trap, and I’m partially to blame after raving about it during my first ride at the bike’s launch in Sydney, Australia.

“I had very high expectations for the R1, so it was surprising to not fall fully in love with Yamaha’s technological tour de force,” said Duke.

Evans felt similarly. “After attending the media unveiling and reading about Troy’s experiences on the R1, I expected the world of it. Unfortunately, I came away a little disappointed.”

There’s a lot to love about the new R1, but it fell a bit short of expectations.

There’s a lot to love about the new R1, but it fell a bit short of expectations.

So what gives? The disappointment can most easily be explained in one word: refinement. All of our testers complained of snatchy power delivery. Switching power modes helped, but the other competitors simply had better on/off throttle mapping. “Power delivery seems least linear of the bikes tested,” Sean noted, and “On/Off throttle transitions feel unsorted, abrupt and sometimes clumsy.”

Brakes, too, were classic Yamaha: good power, but a vague feel at the lever. “[The Yamaha’s] brakes were my least favorite,” says Duke. “Feeling relatively numb and slightly less powerful than the other stellar binders in this test.” DC10 felt similar: “The brakes did not have a very consistent feel to them. At a slower pace they would work fine, the lever always right there and hard, but when you start going faster and braking harder the lever travel would not change but the power or grip would go away almost like the pads might be a little glazed over.”

Lastly, our testers couldn’t quite come to grips with the R1’s handling traits, and it showed in the scorecard as the R1 ranked last in that category. “Front end provided the least confidence for me,” said Sean. “Probably because the forks seem to be lacking the compliance offered by the other bikes.”

Yamaha’s tagline for the new R1 is “MotoGP for the street.” It would appear Doug Chandler agrees, “The new R1 felt the closest as far as a real race bike out of the box – its seat height and how it would want to turn into the corner for you just reminds me of a race bike.”

Yamaha’s tagline for the new R1 is “MotoGP for the street.” It would appear Doug Chandler agrees,  noting, “The new R1 felt the closest as far as a real race bike out of the box – its seat height and how it would want to turn into the corner for you just reminds me of a race bike.”

Duke said the R1 wasn’t especially nimble, despite having dropped many pounds from the previous R1. I noted how the Yamaha was slow to turn-in to a corner, especially while on the brakes, and Chandler commented that the R1 felt top heavy, which added more pitch under braking, causing the rear to feel “a little loose on entry of a corner.”

We lead off with the bad news on the R1 because, as Duke notes, “there is lots to like, including a broad powerband with sweet crossplane-crank symphony.” Sean backed that feeling, noting, “engine feels strong and sounds great, particularly in the upper midrange.” Chandler agreed, writing, “the power on this bike was very smooth, good pull all the way through with a hint of going flat on the top-end side of it.

Sean wasn’t particularly a fan of the R1’s front end, citing a lack of confidence.

Sean wasn’t particularly a fan of the R1’s front end, citing a general on-track lack of feel and confidence when paired with our Pirelli Supercorsa test rubber.

Interestingly enough, the praise for the Yamaha’s engine goes to show that numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Our R1 tester put down 162.9 hp, hardly more than the Kawi’s 160.6 hp, and made the least amount of torque in this group at 72.5 lb.-ft. In fact, at approximately 6000 rpm, the aging Honda is pumping out 15 more pound-feet than the Yamaha. The reason for the poor showing comes down to sound emissions. “The U.S. ECU is developed to meet U.S. regulations for exhaust and noise emissions which are not the same as Europe,” says Marcus DeMichele, Yamaha’s media relations manager, when asked by Kevin Duke after testing the new R1 on three different dynos. (Read the full story here).

None of that really matters when you’re leaned over, WFO, cresting the blind Turn 1 with the front wheel barely skimming the Earth. All we could tell was the R1 felt fast, and we were fortunate to have a highly sophisticated electronics package with lift control, slide control and traction control, just to name a few, there to save our butts if we needed.

“I particularly loved the lift control that allowed me to carry a slight wheelie for extended periods on Laguna’s front straight,” says Evans. “Quite exciting for a wheelie-deficient rider like myself.” Sean and I both agreed with Evans’ point that the Yamaha’s electronics don’t hamper acceleration much when activated – a sign of a highly calibrated and well-tested system – though wheelie king Duke still felt the intervention was too strong for his tastes. “The quickshifter worked perfect,” says Chandler, “and I like the idea that they give you two mounting points for standard shift or GP on the shift lever.”

Get the crossplane crank spinning on the R1 and the sounds it makes are truly captivating.

Get the crossplane crank spinning on the R1 and the sounds it makes are truly captivating.

At $16,490, the Yamaha is barely more expensive than the Kawasaki, yet comes with advanced electronic rider aids, exotic materials, and a thrilling MotoGP exhaust note the ZX-10R can’t come close to matching. Thanks to its aluminum tank, magnesium wheels and lightweight engine components, our R1 tester tipped the scales at a svelte 438 lbs., ready to ride, second only to the frameless Ducati’s 427-pound wet weight.

Since we’re splitting hairs, here’s Duke again, putting the R1 in its place. “For such a tech-laden bike, it seems like an oversight to do without an auto-blipping downshifter and adjustable engine-braking parameters. And to have nearly identical peak horsepower to a years-old Kawasaki doesn’t impress for an all-new sportbike.”

If you’ve got some stands, a solid set of tools, and a desire to unleash the R1’s full potential, we believe you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.

If you’ve got some stands, a solid set of tools, and a desire to unleash the R1’s full potential, we believe you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.

Personally, I agree with DC10, who noted the R1 “felt very track worthy but still needed some fine tuning – it just wasn’t as finished as some of the others.” I gave a valiant effort trying to get the R1’s settings to a good point but simply ran out of time. If you’re the tinkering type, then don’t write off the Yamaha just yet, as it has mounds of untapped potential waiting to be uncorked. “I think with a day or two you could get the finish of the bike much closer and have a very potent track bike,” says Doug, and I agree.

Third Place: Ducati 1299 Panigale S 88.9%

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The race for the top spot in this shootout is incredibly close and this is where the gloves come off, as the top three machines are separated by a total of 1.2%. Despite the 1299 Panigale S version’s steep $24,995 price tag, the largest here, making a big dent in its objective scoring, the 1299 still recovered well enough to grab the third spot.

With 175 thoroughbreds to its name and a whopping 92.5 lb.-ft. to go with it, Ducati most definitely assured nobody would even hint at the 1299 Panigale lacking midrange, as some had done with its 1199 predecessor.

Duke says, “Unlike the 1199 and its top-heavy powerband, the 1299’s motor delivers gobs of power no matter where the tachometer is sitting.” Sean backed that statement, noting the Ducati “has great midrange and a ton of power,” capped with a “beautiful ‘Ducati’ intake honk when accelerating hard.”

Ducati’s latest superbike impressed with its midrange hit coupled with its top end push.

Ducati’s latest superbike impressed with its midrange hit coupled with its top end push.

Chandler was also impressed with the updated Superquadro engine. “With this bike being a Twin, it would build power up in the higher rpm. It’s also very smooth and strong down in the bottom rpm which made this bike fun to feel the power it had.”

I shared the sentiments of my esteemed colleagues, jotting things like “beefy midrange to go with the top-end rush!” Helping to push that power to the ground is a very slick transmission with quickshift and auto-blip downshift features, similar to the BMW’s – only better. So good, actually, that it won top scores in the Transmission category of the scorecard. “The auto-blipping downshift programming is as good as it gets, and suddenly having to use a clutch lever to downshift seems archaic,” says Duke. It’s true, simply close the throttle, reach for the brakes, tap your foot on the lever and don’t even bother with the clutch, the 1299 will take care of the rest.

Clamping on the Ducati’s M50 Brembos throughout the day, we were continually amazed how well they performed.

Clamping on the Ducati’s M50 Brembos throughout the day, we were continually amazed how well they performed.

And speaking of brakes, the Brembo M50 mounts we’ve loved so much since we first sampled them on the 1199, haven’t lost a bit of its charm this time around, as Chandler gave them some high praise: “The brakes on this one felt very race worthy – good feel, no lever travel, and always right there when you needed them.”

Duke, meanwhile, raised the compliments one further, saying, “There is no bad set of brakes here, but the Duc’s Brembo M50s are my favorite, offering huge power and incredibly precise control – the best in the business.” Sure enough, the M50s are the best in the business, as they won the Brake category of the scorecard, too.

The Duc surprised in other ways as well, with its spacious cockpit, generous seat-to-peg distance and modest reach to the bars not what one would expect from a Ducati superbike. However, that generous legroom means pegs are relatively low to the ground. I found myself scraping my left toe slider – an extremely rare occurrence for me – while Sean encountered a more troubling predicament. “It could use more left-side ground clearance for heavy and/or fast riders,” he said. “It was scraping the sidestand and pegs in turns 2, 6 and 9.”

A generous cockpit area meant even 6-foot, 2-inch Alexander didn’t feel cramped. Chandler was surprised by the roominess, too.

A generous cockpit area meant even 6-foot, 2-inch Alexander didn’t feel cramped. Chandler was surprised by the roominess, too.

Coming in at 427 lbs. ready-to-ride, the 1299 Panigale S is the lightest contender in the field. Couple that with forged wheels, a fine-tuned chassis (no frame, remember) and wide bars providing tons of leverage, and you have the recipe for one thrilling track machine. We were especially impressed with the Duc’s willingness to turn-in and/or change direction. With the traction offered by the Supercorsas and the confidence the semi-active Öhlins NIX30 fork and TTX36 shock inspires, the 1299 Panigale S was seemingly goading me into dragging elbow. Then I remembered this was an actual individual’s motorcycle and my job would be on the line if I tossed it, so cooler heads prevailed.

Still, that level of confidence and control over a motorcycle is a special feeling on a racetrack. One both Alexander and Duke agree with. “Very ‘nice’ to ride at Laguna, nicely balanced chassis/power,” Sean wrote. “It had very smooth suspension response and control-input responses.”

Wide bars give the Ducati rider lots of leverage to turn the bike to-and-fro. The lightest wet weight here also makes that task easier.

Wide bars give the Ducati rider lots of leverage to turn the bike to-and-fro. The lightest wet weight here also makes that task easier.

Kevin adds, “The Panigale steers like a much smaller bike, using its wide bars for good leverage. The lightweight forged-aluminum wheels and sharper steering geometry than the 1199 Panigale aided in the sharp steering feel.”

As is seemingly mandatory in this field, the Ducati comes with a host of electronics, like traction control, wheelie control, riding modes, power modes, Cornering ABS, the aforementioned quickshifter, and adjustable engine braking just to name a few. We could have spent the entire day simply sampling each one of these features, but instead, we focused on the ones that would help us lap faster. So, as the day went on, traction and wheelie control came down, power modes were set to max, and we simply rode. Judging by the fact nobody mentioned any discernible instance of electronic intervention, either in person or on paper, that leads us to believe they’re calibrated so well its intervention was minimal and we just didn’t notice.

The Ducati 1299 Panigale S is a great bike, no doubt about it. But there’s another Italian we liked even better.

The Ducati 1299 Panigale S is a great bike, no doubt about it. But there’s another Italian we liked even better.

As described earlier, the gauge for measuring the podium finishers to this test ultimately came down to smile sizes. And while the Ducati 1299 Panigale S certainly gave us an ear-to-ear grin, its European competitors, including its cross-town rival, somehow managed to plant one even bigger.

Second Place: BMW S1000RR 89.7%

Where the Ducati is a product built by passionate people and designed to instill emotions, the updated S1000RR is all business, with the sole task of getting around a track as fast as possible. It’s headlined by its engine, which has been the centerpiece of the bike from its initial debut. It made the most power here, with 182.9 hp to the wheel measured on the MotoGP Werks dyno, more than 7 horses ahead of the second-place Aprilia, and was the only bike to break into the 180 hp threshold. Its 79.9 lb.-ft. is second only to the thunderous Ducati, the Italian’s 286cc displacement advantage giving it a leg up on the German, to the tune of 12.6 lb.-ft.

I marked in my notes how the S1000RR simply launches out of Laguna’s final turn “like a bat out of hell,” though the feeling was appropriate anywhere one decided to twist the Beemer’s throttle. Despite this immense acceleration, Kevin notes “it’s incredible how docile it can feel for such a powerhouse. Throttle reapplication is quite smooth.”

Straights are much shorter and ascents hardly exist when you’re riding something as powerful as the BMW S1000RR.

Straights are much shorter, and ascents hardly exist when you’re riding something as powerful as the BMW S1000RR.

However, co-headlining with the BMW’s engine is its sophisticated electronics, which on our tester included Dynamic Traction Control, Ride Modes Pro, Cruise Control, Gear Shift Assist, Dynamic Damping Control, and… heated grips. This is a BMW, after all.

You would think Chandler, who’s rooted in the old school, would be opposed to the BMW and its myriad of electronics. In fact, the opposite is true, noting, “This bike [BMW] had the best feel out of all of them to me. Even with the electronics, it still gave you that push-back-in-the-seat acceleration. It would just get stronger and stronger the higher up in the RPM you would go. I liked the throttle feel on this one the best. Even though it is not a direct cable to butterfly, it gave a very good feel. Opening the throttle to settle the bike into the corner was very smooth, no big hit or heavy feel.”

We were surprised to hear Chandler didn’t mind the ride-by-wire throttle of the BMW. For as stoic as he is, that’s about the highest praise BMW will get about its electronic throttle calibration.

We were surprised to hear Chandler didn’t mind the ride-by-wire throttle of the BMW. For as stoic as he is, that’s about the highest praise BMW will get about its electronic throttle calibration.

Both the BMW and Ducati were equipped with some form of electronic damping, though the BMW’s system was tops among us, taking top spot in the Suspension category on the scorecard. Duke and Chandler were the only ones who noted anything about the Dynamic Damping Control. Kevin saying, “it seems to help squelch front-end dive.” While Chandler said simply, “the suspension was right there for track use.” While it seems counterintuitive to think less notes is a positive sign, another way of interpreting the scarcity of notes is that the system performed its active damping duties so well it became an afterthought for each rider, allowing them to focus on circulating Laguna as quickly as they could.

The S1000RR also took top spot on the scorecard in the Handling category, sharing the number 1 plate with the Aprilia. I noted how the able chassis is a perfect complement to the powerful engine, harnessing both power and control. “Great chassis,” Sean says. “Almost as seamless as the Aprilia at speed.” Dirty Sean and I both agree that the RR feels planted and confidence-inspiring on the side of the tire. The optional forged aluminum wheels our tester came equipped with also made a difference on how quickly we could flick it from side to side.

Brakes are top-notch as well, the two-piece Brembo calipers and steel-braided lines delivering “stellar power and feel,” says Duke.

The S1000RR is very well behaved on the side of the tire, with precise and clear communication coming through the chassis.

The S1000RR is very well behaved on the side of the tire, with precise and clear communication coming through the chassis.

Traction control is also rather sophisticated, though its different levels were confusing at first, since they are delineated with both positive and negative numerals. With perfect conditions for our trackday and new, sticky Supercorsas, activating the TC was a rare occurrence. Still, the quicker testers preferred TC in the lower settings (or switched off completely in Chandler’s case) as it still provided thrust without completely killing drive. Duke expressed his affection for the RR’s so-called Slick mode which keeps electronic intervention to a minimum and allows the wheelies he loves.

As sophisticated as the BMW’s electronics are, Sean, Evans and I weren’t fond of the S1k’s wheelie control, as it intervenes too abruptly for our tastes, killing drive and slamming the front back to tarmac forcefully. “My only real complaint about the BMW is the wheelie control’s abruptness when the TC is set for less intervention,” Evans says. It caught him out twice, as the first instance “wheelie control unceremoniously chopped the throttle,” and the second, “the S1k slammed my wheel down heading up the hill towards the Corkscrew, only this time I was slightly hanging off. The sudden deceleration tossed me forward, leaving me hanging off the left side of the bike with my right foot off the peg and hooked on the seat.”

Put simply: “Wheelie Control needs to go back to the drawing board,” says Sean.

Despite that huge exhaust canister sticking out the side of the BMW, it still emits a ferocious four-cylinder roar when you open it up.

Despite that huge exhaust canister sticking out the side of the BMW, it still emits a ferocious four-cylinder roar when you open it up.

A welcome feature is the Gear Shift Assist, which is essentially a quickshifter that allows for shifts in both directions without the clutch. The Ducati is the only other bike here with such a feature. While there were no complaints about the system’s ability to upshift, some weren’t so keen on the bike’s downshifts.

“I can’t adjust to it’s downshifter,” says Burns. “I feel no detent whatsoever and I never know what gear I’m in for turn 11 or 2. That’s kind of important.” I felt the same way towards the GSA during downshifts, so much so that I reverted back to using the clutch for down changes.

Overall, the S1000RR is simply a track weapon that left us in awe of its capabilities. “A very capable bike for the trackday guys or racers,” says Chandler. “The versatile Beemer was immediately easy to get up to speed and feel comfortable,” says Kevin. Sean’s notes the BMW “feels ready to race with the electronics switched-off,” and I jotted “what an absolute rocket ship.” Burns seemed to have the only dissenting opinion, stating, “Not quite the solid feel of the ZX-10R for me.” To each their own.

Gear Shift Assist is a nice feature, but it could still benefit from better tactile feel on down changes.

Gear Shift Assist is a nice feature, but it could still benefit from better tactile feel on down changes.

Our quibbles are easily solved with a few button presses or with a slight change in riding style, and once that’s figured out, the S1000RR becomes incredibly rewarding on track. In short, here’s Evans on why the BMW is so good.

“This is the Swiss Army Knife of the Superbikes. It has the power to kick the ass of all the other bikes, the technology to make it easier for just about any rider to explore their personal limits, and it has cruise control plus heated grips.”

How close was this shootout? The BMW and Ducati were only separated by 0.2% on the scorecard.

How close was this shootout? The BMW and Ducati were only separated by 0.8% on the scorecard. The margin is even closer for the BMW and Aprilia.

Alas, it’s emotions that slot the S1k only tenths of a percentage point into second place. There’s no doubt the S1000RR is an absolute weapon, but the Aprilia left us enamored.

First Place: Aprilia RSV4 RF 90.1%

In his notes, Duke wrote, “I’ve always rated the RSV4’s chassis highly, but its engine output had been eclipsed by other literbikes.” The rest of the MO staff has felt the same each time we’ve tested the RSV4. We’ve always loved how much the chassis makes us feel like a hero, but could never quite give it the overall nod because its engine, sweet sounding as it is, would be outclassed by the competition. For example, in our 2012 Exotic Superbike Shootout, the RSV4 Factory’s 160.4 hp was a whole 12 hp down on the BMW HP4 and more than 26 horses behind the Ducati 1199 Panigale R!

For 2015, the early-release 2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF has hit the gym and is no longer the scrawny kid in the back of the class. “With this latest version, the motor is a ripper that competes with anything in the class, boasting a solid midrange and nearly 176 horses at its peak,” says Kevin. That’s second only to the BMW’s 183 horses. The uptick in power is what we’ve been waiting for in the Aprilia, and it was met with obvious approval, as Evans notes, “The force of the RSV4’s acceleration up the hill to turn 1 was intoxicating.”

From nearly all performance-related aspects, the Aprilia is seemingly light years ahead of the old Kawasaki and even older Honda.

From nearly all performance-related aspects, the Aprilia is seemingly light years ahead of the old Kawasaki and even older Honda.

To sweeten the deal even further, as our E-i-C notes, “It’s also the best-sounding literbike my ears have ever enjoyed.” Sean adds to that compliment, noting, “Sounds AMAZING, everywhere, this is a fun and exciting motorcycle at Laguna.” Evans, too, got in on the Aprilia’s melodic circle jerk, writing, “I won’t be alone singing the praises of the Aprilia engine, but I’m gonna do it anyway. The sound of the engine under full-throttle acceleration made me wish that Laguna’s front straight was a bit longer, so that I could enjoy that V-Four sound all the way up to redline in sixth gear.” With excellent power and sound, plus that distinct V-Four character and feel, the Aprilia took the win in the all-important Engine category of our scorecard.

Of course, more power and harmonious exhaust symphonies don’t make a shootout winner. Fortunately, the fantastic chassis we’ve loved before is equally as endearing this time around. In my notes, I wrote, “[The Aprilia] seemingly goes where your eyes are looking, fluidly, confidently.” Evans backed that up with his own scribbles. “The bike turned in quickly, falling to the lean angle I desired immediately while still allowing for mid-corner corrections if necessary,” he said.

You so much as think about changing direction and the Aprilia will put you exactly where you want to go.

Kevin noticed that “it takes only a couple of corners for the RSV4 to again feel like the most mass-centralized literbike on the market. It feels compact and willing to let a rider dominate it. Another set of forged-aluminum wheels help the RF steer relatively easy, and it likes a rider to lean into corners leading with an inside shoulder. There is such a big performance envelope that I barely felt like I was approaching its limits.”

Sean, meanwhile, was enamored by the Aprilia after only his first session. By the end of the day, he had fallen in love. “The RF just wants to go fast and is more rewarding the faster you go. Nothing about the chassis or the electronics intrudes on the fun – rider effort seems to melt-away at speed while the bike just gets on with doing the job of hauling-ass.”

And finally… “I WANT ONE. I LOVE IT. IT COMPLETES ME. DON’T TELL MY WIFE!”

Not only does the Aprilia lead the Ducati and BMW in this photo, it’s also where the three finished on our scorecard.

The Ducati and BMW were worthy competitors on track and in the scorecard, but in the end the Aprilia leads the way.

The Aprilia is not all love and roses, however, as we still found a couple foibles to complain about. Burns noticed an occasional bout of “wonky fueling,” as he called it. “Sometimes there was one last burp of power after closed throttle.” We liked the quickshifter equipped on the RSV, as it moved up the gears with precision, but it doesn’t feature an auto-blip downshift option, which is likely to become the wave of the future. No matter, as this is “somewhat alleviated by an excellent slipper clutch and light clutch action,” says Duke.

Ergonomically, we were generally in favor of the RSV4’s compact seating arrangement, as it is well suited to track duty. However, here’s an interesting perspective regarding ergos from an actual champion, Doug Chandler: “The first thing I noticed was the seat height is kind of on the tall side, not that this a problem, but I was surprised with it. For me at 5-foot, 11-inches it is a nice feel. My years in racing I always had to keep the seat-to-bar distance a bit longer than most for the simple fact that I wanted to have some room with my arms and did not like to feel tight or pushed up over the front of the bike.” That said, vertically challenged riders won’t feel as comfortable on the RF’s 33.6-inch high seat. The Yamaha’s seat is the tallest, at 33.7 inches, but it doesn’t feel nearly that high from the saddle.

Taller riders might feel a little squished on the Aprilia, as here 5-foot, 11-inch Doug Chandler has his elbows above his knees despite being all the way back on the seat.

Taller riders might feel a little squished on the Aprilia, as here 5-foot, 11-inch Doug Chandler has his elbows above his knees despite being all the way back on the seat.

While they’re not Brembo’s spectacular M50s, the Ape’s slightly lower spec Brembo calipers are still every bit the business when it comes to stopping power. Great feel, with strong, consistent power are all you can really ask for. Duke says they’re nearly the equal of the M50s.

On the electronics side, similar to the other bikes here, we kept intervention settings low, but were happy to have the on-the-fly +/- paddles on the left switchgear to adjust TC settings on a whim. That said, we hardly felt any discernible traction control intervention. Interestingly, Chandler notes that, unlike his experience with the BMW, with all the electronic aids, he felt slightly disconnected from the bike as a rider. Take into account his pedigree and his resume with analog motorcycles, and that sentiment is understandable. For the rest of us mere mortals, the Aprilia is a supreme tool for cutting quick laps. Even that DC10 can agree with. “Overall, the Aprilia is very worthy for getting around the a racetrack fast,” he says. “And with all the assistance on it, I am sure with the right setup this could get you some fast laps around the track. I would say it was one of the best with the BMW and Yamaha.”

Siahaan, seen here, is 5-foot, 8-inches, 153 lbs., and even he makes the Aprilia look tiny. Apparently only small Italians named Max Biaggi look proper aboard the RSV4.

Siahaan, seen here, is 5-foot, 8-inches, 153 lbs., and even he makes the Aprilia look tiny. Apparently only small Italians named Max Biaggi look proper aboard the RSV4.

It should be noted that the RF took a sizeable ding for its $21,999 price tag. However, Aprilia is bringing these up-spec models into the U.S. before the RR models, and so this was the only option we had for the test. The standard RR version should arrive in late summer, minus only the forged wheels and Öhlins suspension, for a remarkably low price of $15,649, only $50 more than the Kawasaki. If you’re willing to wait, it’s hard to imagine a better deal in sportbiking.

At the end of the day, four out of the six testers gave their subjective overall victories to the Aprilia, and when it comes to the size of our smiles after each session, the RSV4 took a sizeable win in the Grin Factor category of our scorecard. As noted before, we’ve always been a fan of the RSV4, but could never give it an unequivocal nod as the king of the class.

Meet the new king of the superbike empire: The Aprilia RSV4 RF.

Meet the new king of the superbike empire: The Aprilia RSV4 RF.

Now, Aprilia answered our pleas with its upgraded engine without ruining the supreme chassis, brakes and electronics we liked before. All the pieces finally add up and we’re happy to award the Aprilia RSV4 RF our 2015 Motorcycle.com literbike champion.

2015 Six-Way Superbike Track Shootout
Category Aprilia RSV4 RF BMW S1000RR Ducati 1299 Panigale S Honda CBR1000RR SP Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Yamaha YZF-R1
Price 70.9% 82.3% 62.4% 90.2% 100% 94.6%
Weight 93.6% 94.7% 100% 96.2% 95.7% 97.5%
lb/hp 92.3% 96.0% 100% 80.0% 85.7% 88.9%
lb/lb-ft 78.0% 82.1% 100% 79.3% 75.4% 76.7%
Engine 95.2% 94.0% 87.9% 73.8% 83.8% 89.2%
Transmission/Clutch 89.2% 86.7% 90.8% 73.3% 75.8% 85.8%
Handling 91.7% 91.7% 87.1% 83.3% 82.1% 80.4%
Brakes 92.5% 87.9% 92.9% 87.9% 87.2% 78.8%
Suspension 89.2% 92.5% 87.9% 90.4% 84.6% 78.3%
Technologies 92.1% 92.9% 94.6% 60.8% 73.8% 90.8%
Instruments 86.7% 89.6% 87.5% 76.3% 79.2% 89.6%
Ergonomics/Comfort 89.6% 91.3% 83.8% 80.8% 82.9% 87.9%
Quality 88.3% 83.8% 89.2% 82.5% 81.7% 86.7%
Cool Factor 95.4% 81.7% 94.2% 77.9% 75.4% 85.8%
Grin Factor 96.3% 92.9% 86.7% 77.1% 77.9% 82.5%
Overall Score 90.1% 89.7% 88.9% 80.3% 83.1% 86.7%
2015 Six-Way Superbike Track Shootout Spec Chart
Aprilia RSV4 RF BMW S1000RR Ducati 1299 Panigale S Honda CBR1000RR SP Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS Yamaha YZF-R1
MSRP $21,999 $18,945 (as tested) $24,995.00 $17,299 $15,599 (as tested) $16,490
Type 999.6cc Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-stroke, 65-degree V4, 4 valves per cylinder 999cc Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-stroke, inline-Four, 4 valves per cylinder 1285cc Liquid-cooled, DOHC, L-Twin, four-stroke, Desmodromic valve actuation 999cc Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-stroke, inline-Four, 4 valves per cylinder 998cc Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-stroke, inline-Four, 4 valves per cylinder 998c Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-stroke, Cross-plane inline-Four, 4 valves per cylinder
Bore and Stroke 78.0mm x 52.3mm 80.0mm x 49.7mm 116mm x 60.8mm 76mm x 55.1mm 76.0mm x 55.0mm 79.0mm x 50.9mm
Compression Ratio 13.6:1 13.0:1 12.6:1 12.3:1 13.0:1 13.0:1
Rear Wheel Horsepower 175.8 hp @ 12,400 rpm 182.9 hp @ 13,100 rpm 175.0 hp @ 10,400 rpm 150.4 hp @ 10,500 rpm 160.6 hp @ 11,700 rpm 162.9 hp @ 12,300 rpm
Torque 76.7 lb.-ft. @ 10,800 rpm 79.9 lb.-ft. @ 9600 rpm 92.5 lb.-ft. @ 8900 rpm 76.4 lb.-ft. @ 10,100 rpm 73.6 @ 11,200 rpm 72.5 lb.-ft. @ 8900 rpm
lb/hp 2.6 2.5 2.4 3.0 2.8 2.7
lb/torque 6.1 5.6 4.6 5.8 6.1 6.0
Transmission 6-speed; multi-plate wet clutch w/slipper function 6-speed; multi-plate wet clutch w/slipper function 6-speed; multi-plate wet clutch w/slipper function 6-speed; multi-plate wet clutch w/slipper function 6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch w/slipper function, positive neutral finder 6-speed; multi-plate wet clutch w/slipper function
Final Drive Chain Chain Chain Chain Chain Chain
Front Suspension Öhlins fork with TiN treatment, fully adjustable 46mm fork, fully adjustable, with Dynamic Damping Control Öhlins NIX30 43mm fully adjustable USD fork with TiN treatment. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode 43mm Öhlins inverted fork with spring-preload, rebound and compression damping-adjustability 43mm inverted Big Piston Fork (BPF), adjustable rebound and compression damping, spring preload adjustability 43mm KYB inverted fork; fully adjustable
Rear Suspension Öhlins monoshock with piggyback reservoir, fully adjustable Fully adjustable monoshock with Dynamic Damping Control Fully adjustable Öhlins TTX36 unit. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode. Adjustable linkage: Progressive/flat. Aluminium single-sided swingarm Unit Pro-Link Öhlins Shock with spring-preload, rebound and compression-damping adjustability Horizontal back-link with gas-charged shock, stepless, dual-range (low-/high-speed) compression damping, stepless rebound damping, fully adjustable spring preload KYB Single shock w/piggyback reservoir, hi/low speed compression, rebound and preload adjustibility
Front Brake Dual 320mm rotors. Twin Brembo M430 monoblock radial 4-piston calipers. ABS with switchable Rear Lift-up Mitigation Dual 320mm rotors. Twin radial-mount 4-piston calipers. Switchable ABS Dual 330mm rotors. Twin Brembo M50 monoblock, radial-mount calipers. Cornering ABS standard Dual 320mm rotors. Dual radial-mount 4-piston Brembo calipers Dual 310mm petal rotors, 4-piston radial-mount calipers w/ABS Dual 320mm rotors, 4-piston calipers, UBS, ABS
Rear Brake 220mm rotor. Brembo twin-piston caliper 220mm rotor. Single-piston caliper 245mm rotor. Twin-piston caliper w/Cornering ABS standard 220mm rotor; single-piston caliper 220mm petal rotor, single-piston caliper w/ABS 220mm rotor, UBS, ABS
Front Tire 120/70-17 120/70-17 120/70-17 120/70-17 120/70-17 120/70 ZR-17
Rear Tire 200/55-17 190/55-17 200/55-17 190/50-17 190/55-17 190/55 ZR-17
Rake/Trail 24.5 deg/4.1 in 23.5 deg / 3.9 in. 24.0 deg / 3.8 in. 23.0 deg / 3.7 in. 25 deg / 4.2 in. 24 deg / 4.0 in.
Wheelbase 56.4 in. 56.6 in. 56.6 in. 55.5 in. 56.1 in. 55.3 in.
Seat Height 33.6 in. 32.1 in. 32.7 in. 32.2 in. 32.0 in. 33.7 in.
Curb Weight 456 lbs. 451 lbs. 427 lbs. 444 lbs. 446 lbs. 438 lbs.
Fuel Capacity 4.9 gal. 4.6 gal. 4.5 gal. 4.6 gal. 4.5 gal. 4.5 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy (Average) 34.9 mpg 38.2 mpg 28.0 mpg 40.6 mpg 33.2 mpg 29.7 mpg
ABS X X X X X
Cornering ABS X
Magnesium wheels X
Forged aluminum wheels Yes Optional (included as tested) X
Titanium connecting rods X
Titanium valves X X X (intake only) X (intake only)
Aluminum fuel tank X
Smartphone app X Optional
Electronic suspension Optional (included as tested) X
Quickshifter X Optional (included as tested) X X
Clutchless downshift ability Optional (included as tested) X
Power modes X X X X X
Traction control X X X X X
Slide control X
Launch control X Optional (included as tested) X
Wheelie control X X X X X
Engine brake control X
Inertial Measurement Unit X X
GPS telemetry Via smartphone app Optional Optional Optional

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  • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

    Give me the Aprilia, or give me death.

    • Mad4TheCrest

      Give me a metal tank with that Aprilia, and I would agree with you. Make the tank a half-gallon larger while you are at it.

    • Ducati Kid

      Gentleman,

      Further proof it’s not Noale’s hardware but a troubled regional APRILIA retailer network.

      It disaffected by PIAGGIO Group’s historically abysmal distribution and support.

      ‘Year-after-Year’ APRILIA prevails in comparison’s only to observably fail beneath CUSTOMER eyes – GLOBALLY!

      Wish Phil Read’s boy (Phil Jr.) the ‘Best of Luck’ here in America!

  • Jason Choe

    Where are the lap times? How does a publication do a shootout without lap times? Track supremacy?

    • BDan75

      “…Laguna Seca imposes a strict 90db sound restriction during most events it holds during the year…As such, we were forced to either roll off the throttle or pass through the area a gear or two higher than normal. This pleased the noise enforcers but also killed our lap times. Hence, times weren’t recorded.”

      Sounds like the typical NIMBY situation where people build houses next to a track that’s been there for decades, then throw a hissy fit about the noise. That’s what usually happens with airports…

  • JMDonald

    Aprilia sets the bar. This class is competitive. That is what makes all these bikes so great. We definately are living in the best of times. Burns staring off in the distance at shiny objects is symptomatic of savant genius. Does he count cards in Vegas? Or maybe it was one if the MO umbrella girls.

  • Steve Cole

    Even if the Aprilia did not have the new updates, it’s still the most visceral, exciting and involving bike in any paddock. It really got short shrift in a lot of publications which have struggled in giving the impression of what riding one is like. The Panigale is very much the same story – these are bikes that thrill the heart and the mind and not just the stopwatch. The inline-4s – all of them – by contrast are capable machines which will never provide the same experience…. they’re too smooth and ridden at anything but full pace, are antiseptic. I have owned all kinds of bikes – I race two GSX-Rs with a great deal of engine work, and if it wasn’t for the *FORMER* cost of racing the RSV4, that’s what I would be racing… but just this year the Aprilia parts went down sharply in cost and are now cheaper than a Kawasaki, so my name is on a RF right now…

  • john phyyt

    Brilliant! I have waited months for this shootout and :
    ” You know when your friends hype up a movie so much that, when you finally see it, ” But NO; This was truly excellent. Thanks and thanks again:
    I love Yamahas and will still get the R1; It may be that I will enjoy it with minimal mods for first 12 months and then see how the really quick guys sort things out ; And follow their mods: Leaving the Honda aside ;As it isn’t possible that they won’t quickly introduce a tech model to compete; All other contenders are well beyond mortal man ; and you are simply picking the sweetest of the bunch. Hooray for super bikes!

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      John, I suspect the R1 would have fared better were it on the Bridgestone tires for which it was designed. Our control tires were track compound Pirelli Supercorsas.

  • Branson

    Why would you choose to have a “track” shootout at a track where you couldn’t record lap times because of sound restrictions?

    Why didn’t you either go to a track that didn’t have such restrictions or negotiate some kind of exemption? I mean it’s not like Laguna doesn’t ever allow race motors. And if you couldn’t get the exemption, go someplace else. It’s not like the region is lacking for locations — other publications seemed to have found them.

    Quite frankly, without lap times — for superbikes nonetheless! — this article isn’t very useful.

    And you guys are usually so good…

    • john burns
      • Branson

        Point taken JB. Despite my pickiness, I thought you guys did a great article. Also apreciate that you were one of the few to include the Panigale.

    • john burns

      World Superstock standings. Aprilia on top.

      • Mad4TheCrest

        Always a measure of stock bike goodness. I’ll be even more impressed when it’s in the top 10 in Superstock at the IOMTT.

      • scoobs

        WORLD SUPERBIKE STANDING -KAWASAKI TOP
        WORLD SUPERSPORT STANDING-
        KAWASAKI TOP

  • DickRuble

    Interesting. Another publication came up with the R1 on top, by far. There was mention of “Circuit ECU” in their article, don’t know if they used it or not. Most riders were club racers, with Jason Pridmore thrown in the mix. They all agreed that the R1 was by far the best bike for track and the claim was backed by track laps. They also agreed that Aprilia was the easiest to ride, the most compact (cramped), and best sound. Aprilia ended up 5th in their shootout.

    • Kevin Duke

      Their Aprilia wasn’t the new one…

      • Mad4TheCrest

        Does the new model still have the same plastic tank that’s vulnerable to our ethanol tainted gas?

        • William

          Apparently they haven’t been having the same issues as before. I saw it a lot in the forums up until the 2014 models. I even asked the guys at AF1 and they said they haven’t had hardly any problems with the 14 models.

          • Mad4TheCrest

            A local Aprilia shop told me they’ve had a few issues with the ’14s and tank deformation, but I don’t really know what ‘few’ means in the big picture. All I know is I’d love to own an RSV4 but as a Ducati owner I’ve been down the plastic tank path and have no wish to repeat the experience. John, Troy, Kevin – can any of you guys press Aprilia for a statement on this topic for these 2016s at least?

          • William

            There’s always the option to have the tank Caswell coated before it leaves the lot. I asked AF1 (where I bought the bike) to do it before it was delivered but they told me that it really wasn’t necessary anymore. BUT *should* it happen I’ll opt for a black tank and finish off the color change and have it Caswell coated and forget about it.

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      They conducted their shootout on the exact tires for which the R1 was designed. We used track compound Pirelli Supercorsas.

  • priap1sm

    Laguna’s sound restrictions are getting ridiculous. Even stock exhausts are blowing their sound meters now. Used to be 92db days were the norm, now it’s 90? Come on, SCRAMP.

    Really awesome test, ladies! Tech is moving so quickly, these things are just nutty fast.

  • David Bailey

    How come the 2015 Suzuki GSX-R 1000 is not in the comparison?

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      Because it isn’t new and its generation already lost to the ZX-10R.

      • John B.

        Which sport bike do you find most comfortable? It’s interesting you loved the Aprillia even though other riders described it as cramped.

        • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

          I found the Aprilia most comfortable. It is both extremely compact overall, yet reasonably roomy between seat and pegs, with a reasonably short reach to the bars. It also places its tank cutouts high enough for me to tuck my long legs in and offers the broadest flattest and IMHO most comfortable seat.

          • John B.

            Thank you Sean. That’s useful information.

          • Steve Cole

            It’s like Aprilia made three seats in one, you can sit up and be comfortable on the thick front of the seat, sit back a bit and get your body down for sport riding, or use the very wide rear of the seat to hang off the bike without rubbing all over the paintwork. It’s a really good setup, imho

          • hunkyleepickle

            interesting, given how a common complaint of the Tuono, at least the 2010-2014 model, had very high set pegs, by most accounts. I suppose sportbike comfort is a relative term?

  • B.Hoop

    Who effed up the Aprillia???

    • TroySiahaan

      That was the result of me getting T-Boned by an overzealous R1 rider. I talk about it here: http://www.motorcycle.com/features/trizzles-take-ambition-vs-talent.html

      • B.Hoop

        Ouch! That sucks. That mirror stalk kept drawing my eye during the video and I wondered what happened…

      • John B.

        In my younger days, I did martial arts sparring. The instructor would implore us to protect each other and ourselves. Even so, it was difficult not to tee off on an opponent when the opportunity presented itself. The instinct to capitalize on an opening was very difficult to resist, particularly when fatigued or after taking a couple hard shots.

        I imagine track days arouse similar instincts, and it takes tremendous self-discipline not to outride one’s skills. Everything seems fine until it’s not. I am glad you were not seriously injured.

        • TroySiahaan

          Thanks. I’m glad I only walked away with a bruise on my hip! I’d be lying if I said the red mist has never come over me during a trackday, but this rider simply got in way over his head. Even said as much when he apologized to me in the gravel trap.

  • William Marvin Parker

    you have to get the circuit ECU for the Yamaha R1 that unleashes close to BMW Power numbers. Hell, reflashing the Kawasaki ECU does nearly the same..how seriously you expect people to take this test? Yamaha R1 is winning raves in the press..

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      The thing working against the R1 was the test tires. It got rave reviews when running Bridgestone S10s, because that is the tire around which it was designed. As for ECUs, this was not a test of modified motorcycles.

      • William Marvin Parker

        I understand that, just with Euro spec versions of these bikes being more powerful, that might change results. As far as tires, it makes sense you would put all bikes on same race rubber..can’t fault you there…

        • Gsa013

          I still think.. with no times there are no hard numbers to back up all this stuff. Again its just me and my buddies taking all the new bikes to the track and talking about how we “felt” about them afterwards. With so many tracks all over the USA.. why pick one where you can´t keep track of the numbers….

          Feels a bit of a lost opportunity.. specially being the only magazine now that had in hand an Aprilia RF.

          • DickRuble

            Might it be that MO got the only Aprilia RF with some strings attached? Maybe a little bump in rankings?….Is that what you’re suggesting?

          • Gsa013

            No, not all. Just saying that its the only magazine so far that had an rsv4 rf at hand to test against the rest and they take them all to a track where they can’t keep track of times. Its wasted opportunity.
            Nowadays manufacturers are making superbikes to produce fast lap times… And that is what they use to market and sell them.

  • William Marvin Parker

    That being said, good job guys. C’mon Ducati, release a 1000 V4 already…

  • almazing

    Guess that R1 fanboyism died down and showed its true colors. Great bike, but it’s not going to save the superbike world like everyone seems to think it is.

    I have a 2014 RSV4R and it’s absolutely the most brutal and engaging superbike I’ve ever ridden. The new RR/RF update may not seem like much, but the engine has reworked and is pushing out 20 more HP than the older bike. Plus little tweaks to the chassis makes it a better bike than the old one. It was ahead of its time when it was released. It’s still ahead of its time.

    It was the king back in 2009. I see that things haven’t changed in 2015.

  • Gsa013

    This review is pointless without laptimes. The superbike class nowadays are made to turn out fast laps and be differentiated by that. This is just the subjective review of a couple of riders that went to the track.

  • John B.

    Great work as usual. I wonder what Honda is thinking. Honda has perhaps the most wherewithal of any manufacturer. Inexplicably, its literbike trails the competition in power, technology, and value. Hopefully, Honda is preparing to trump everyone with a crackerjack 2016 model. C’mon Honda… strut your stuff.

    • William Marvin Parker

      But Burns did you forget the Honda RCV 213 vs whatever? 100 HP or so, for Ferrari prices! What more could the average Joe ask for?

      • John B.

        I’m not “john burns.”

        • William Marvin Parker

          My bad. Saw the video and his replies and made an honest mistake..

  • Goose

    Just curious, given the tiny sales these bikes generate how do you justify spending so much of the limited resources of MO on this incredibly long article?

    Superbikes are so 20 years ago…

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      1.) Their sales numbers aren’t so tiny, it isn’t 2009 anymore.
      2.) MO readers have always read these incredibly long articles in large numbers, particularly superbikes and adventure touring motorcycles.
      3.) We don’t sell superbikes, we collect readers.

      • Goose

        I can’t argue with the hits, that is what MO should be going for. If your figures show getting all those staffers together (plus Chandler), renting Laguna and NOT producing the 5 to 10 smaller articles you could have done gets more hits than other projects this article it is the right choice.

        I would be very interested in what “not so tiny” means. Given the numbers I know I find it hard to believe open superbikes represent more than a pretty small percentage of motorcycle sales in the US. Can you give me a rough percentage of sales that go to open superbikes here in the USA? Thanks.

        • DickRuble

          So your point is that they should go for whatever brings more “eyeballs”? Would some motorcycle porn fit the bill?

          • Goose

            Yes, it is a system you may have heard of: Capitalism. As an alternative we could go to Soviet style Communism where the government (instead of advertisers) would provide funding to pay for servers, salaries (small as they may be) and the other costs for keeping MO online for all of us to enjoy.

            However, the Soviets also had pretty strict rules about how the money was used. Anybody up for a Ural Vs. CZ shootout every week? 15 page articles about the new lining in the side car drum brake on the “all new for 2016” Ural Gear-Up?

            I do think your motorcycle/ porn idea site has some merit. Start with Playboy, keep the pictures, jokes and high quality writing and ditch the pseudo intellectual crap for 100% motorcycle content. Call it “Play Bike”? Could be a hit, what do you think Sean?

          • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

            Goose, it would without a doubt become the most popular motorcycle site on the internet. Then again, we’re in a three-way dead heat for that #1 spot at the moment anyway, even without the gratuitous objectification.

          • Goose

            Finally removing tongue from cheek: I’m really pleased to hear MO is tied for #1. Since I rediscovered this site 10 or 12 months ago it has become my favorite MC site on the web. I hope that status means I get to enjoy the MO style with a fairly consistent group of writers for years to come.

            Keep up the good work even if you do spend time on these nonsense superbike shootouts. 😉

          • Craig Hoffman

            I am not really interested in buying a superbike at this point in my life either, but I enjoy reading about them. After all, this segment is where the action is when it comes to pushing the state of the motorcycle art. It certainly is not coming from the cruiser segment.

            It is ironic though, as a younger man, I wanted a superbike, now that I am older and can potentially afford one, a “super standard” works better for me. Would love to see the super standard market get the full quality and features of the superbikes, with retuning of the power curve, but without dumbing them down too much. The Euro manufacturers seem to get this concept. The Japanese, not as much.

          • Juan

            Dude, I read the article and liked it. don’t stop MO

      • Mad4TheCrest

        Superbikes show us the cutting edge of where the industry is at. Whether or not a Superbike is on our shopping list, it’s great to read about what they can do

        • http://norimek.com/blog Robert C. Barth

          If they show us the cutting edge, Honda is in a lot of trouble…

  • Jason Hawkins

    My s1000rr came with 200 tires on the forged wheel. Is they a typo that you used a 190 and if not can you say why you went with that tire? Thanks

    • TroySiahaan

      Not a typo that we used a 190/55. That’s the tire size listed on BMW’s website as standard fitment.

      • Jason Hawkins

        Thank you, they’re definitely shipped with 200s on the forged wheel but when I went to their site that’s all I could find too.

      • MrPanda415

        i was getting conflicting reports that the smaller tires would trip the electronic sensors. I am going down to 190/55 seeing you guys had no problems with it

  • Jermo Lakaykilaw

    Price difference between rsv4 and the mighty zed-x10 is 6400; if I will modify the zx10r, spending 6400, do you think it will match the rsv4?

    • TroySiahaan

      As stated in the story, we tested the RSV4 RF, with forged wheels and Ohlins suspension. If you’re willing to wait until the end of summer, the RSV4 RR will be available for only $50 – Fifty! – dollars more than the Kawasaki. Only difference between the RF and RR is the RR does not have the forged wheels or Ohlins suspension.

  • Vrooom

    I suppose it’s only right, the $19-25K bikes beat the $15-16K bikes. But with $5-9K more to spend on mods, you’d probably blow the others out of the water. Turbo?

  • Jonathan

    Cool Factor rating should be renamed to one of the following 3: “Tool Factor”, “Small Pee-Pee Factor” “No Action In High School Factor”. I mean why cover up what it really means? In all seriousness Cool and Grin Factor are completely subjective and these incredible machines should only be judged for what they are, and not what some posers riding around in flip flops need for their ego. Aside from that thank you for the review on the technical aspects. I enjoyed reading it and hope that Honda and Suzuki will bring their A game next year. Finally.

  • Philip Christian

    the ducati measured highest in 7 of the categories…The Aprilia measured highest in 4. But the Ducati comes in 3rd? Basically because of it’s price… Why is price even considered for a shoot out…? it’s not a buyers guide. It’s a shootout. Performance tests!

  • Mortalc01l

    I have to say that your test should have a disclaimer: The overall winner was the Ducati, but when price is a consideration, the Aprilia won.. When one bike wins 7 of the categories and the “winner” wins 4, then your test needs some explanation. As one of the previous posters said, what you are pretending to test is performance; what you REALLY tested, was Price/Performance.

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      Sure, if you completely trow-out the opinions of the six experts testing the bikes. Five of whom had the Ducati in 3rd place, one in fourth. Not a single one of us would rate the Ducati first or second, regardless of price.

  • TechGuy5489

    So according to the scorecards the Panigale basically lost over its price…

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      Out of the eight different test riders (all experienced racers and journalists) from our track, street and strip testing, not a single one would pick the Ducati as their outright favorite. You are counting categories won without regard to their proper weighting, some categories are worth more points than others.

      • TechGuy5489

        I didn’t count categories. I just assumed that the difference between being nailed with the worst score on price vs something average was worth 1.2%. Maybe it’s not. The weighting info isn’t included so I can’t know for sure.

        The article does start by saying price started the Duc in a hole though.

      • denchung

        Looking at it another way: Jorge Lorenzo has more wins so far this season but when I checked the standings this morning, Rossi’s still leading the MotoGP championship. We have to look at the total picture.

  • Rick Vera

    As always, I love these in-depth reviews and accompanying videos. One big questoin I have though which doesn’t seem to be discussed anywhere in either the article or comments (yet), but I was wondering Sean, how do you feel the Yamaha would have placed if you had tested the R1M ($21,990)? A $9 delta of the Aprilia and ~$3k of the Duc seems more price-appropriate.

  • Barry DuRon

    In the ranking, I eliminated Price (ya gits what ya pays fer), “cool Factor” (meaningless), and “Grin Factor” (both meaningless and subjective), and came up with the following results: Ducati – 91.8%; BMW – 90.2%; Aprilia – 89.8%.

    • John B.

      “Cool Factor” may be “meaningless” to you, but it’s THE critical factor for me because I am all about appearances. Bikes spend a bunch of time on the sidewalk outside chic restaurants, and must look good even when I’m not riding. Moreover, there’s an inverse relationship between “Cool Factor” and number of units on the road. That is to say, if everyone rides one… it ain’t cool. Since there’s a direct relationship between price and exclusivity, price is never irrelevant even for the well-heeled.

      My calculus produces the following results: Ducati 95.3%; Aprilia 94.4%; BMW 82.3%; and who cares after that…. OK… I’M JOKING!!! But I know people who seem to think that way.

      My point is everyone weights these characteristics differently. This article provides the tools we need to pick the bike that suits our taste and budget, and there’s not a bad choice in the bunch. Marketers and poker players know logic alone does not dictate human decision making. So-called subjective factors play a critical role. In fact, I would argue subjective factors related to the rider (e.g., budget, weight, height, skill level) determine which bike is best. From your comments above, it would seem the shootout article enabled you to determine which bike suits you best. Success!!!

      • Barry DuRon

        OK, Cool Factor is not meaningless. But it is highly subjective (I happen to think that the Panigale is plenty cool too, and certainly cooler than the BMW). Grin factor – subjective in the extreme.
        I accept your argument, partially. I accept that these scores ought to be considered. But I do not accept giving them the same weight as the objective scores. OK, handling is also subjective, so I should say “technical points”. How about listing these scores, but weighing them at 50%? The Ducati still wins (I confess my guilt, I own a Ducati. My 5th one, actually. Consecutive, not concurrent).

        • John B.

          We essentially agree. For me, the Ducati has the most compelling style, and it’s easy to understand why you love the brand. No one raves about BMW styling, but its cars and bikes are so close to perfect they sometimes seem to lack character. I’m struck by how much we consumers benefit from competition among manufacturers. The S1000rr leaped to the head of the liter class when it hit the market, and the other manufacturers (except for Honda) responded quickly. Now, we consumers have great bikes to choose from throughout the class, and literbike technology has migrated to other classes. It’s a great time to be a motorcyclist.

    • Kevin Duke

      Then shall we count you as grateful for us supplying full scoring so you can make calculations to suit your desires and needs?

      • Barry DuRon

        You can indeed count me as grateful. However, the purpose of the alternative calculation was definitely not to satisfy my desires and needs; it was to present an alternative framework for scoring. I noticed that several other readers made the same comment regarding the lopsided effect of the price. As one reader commented, one should expect to pay more for a higher level of performance. Other readers also voiced a similar opinion about allotting a lower power (50%?) to less0then-technical factors, such as “Cool Factor”, “Grin Factor”, and price.