Motorcycle.com

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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%

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.

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.

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.

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.

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%

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.

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.

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.

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%

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.

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,  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 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.

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.

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%

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 0.8% 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.

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!”

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.

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.

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.

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

Free Insurance Quote

Enter your ZIP code below to get a free insurance quote.

Aprilia Dealer Price Quote

Get price quotes for Aprilia from local motorcycle dealers.

Aprilia Communities

BMW Communities

Ducati Communities

Honda Communities

Kawasaki Communities

Yamaha Communities