So, to nurture our horsepower habit we stabled four of the fastest production bikes available today. Criteria? Simple -- 1000cc and over, equipped with full fairings. Who qualified? Honda's CBR1100XX, Kawasaki's ZX1100R, Suzuki's GSXR1100 and Yamaha's YZF1000. We had hoped to lasso Triumph's new T595 Daytona as well, but a machine wasn't available.
They say power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We can attest to this firsthand, because soon after our all-conquering sportbikes assembled, we were feeling pretty damn omnipotent. Tales of power-fueled antics were being swapped around the office. Managing Editor Tom Fortune came into work smiling as he proclaimed, "The Double-X rules! We did 155 mph two-up, with luggage -- and it was still pulling!" Editor-in-Chief Brent Plummer countered with: "No way! The YZF's awesome! I did a crossed up second-gear wheelie on the way to work!" The stories went on and on. . . .
Clearly, a shootout was in order so that we could pick one deity to stand above the rest. Only by putting these bikes through a series of performance contests would we be able to pick a winner. First, to the dyno room to measure horsepower, followed by racetrack testing at the Streets of Willow and quarter-mile runs at Los Angeles County Raceway. Next, miles of street riding were scheduled to measure real-world performance. To make sure all our contestants were on a level playing field, we outfitted each with sticky Metzeler MEZ1 radials. Finally, we brought in current Willow Springs lap record holder and defending Formula One Champion Chuck Graves, along with ex-Fast by Ferracci and current Motorcycle Online lead racer Shawn Higbee to help us find where the absolute limits of these machines lay.
Let's get ready to rumble!1997 Kawasaki ZX-11
Kawasaki's mighty ZX-11 stunned the motorcycling world in 1990 when its revolutionary ram-air assisted engine propelled it to an amazing 172 mph. But Kawasaki's design philosophy behind the big Ninja is more than just a search for outright speed. ZX-11 owners have always enjoyed this model's attention to comfort and civility, as well as its performance. With such amenities as dual helmet locks, passenger grab rail, centerstand, pop-up bungee hooks, lockable fairing compartments, digital clock and dual tripmeters, the ZX-11 offers a real-world alternative to the uncompromising repli-racers. Its riding position, both for rider and passenger, is comfortable for long days in the saddle, and wind protection at all speeds is excellent.
In addition to being a comfortable mount for a sport-tour, Kawasaki's ZX-11 is also one of the quickest bikes ever made. Ours tore up the quarter mile with a 10.42 second pass at 133.02 mph. Dyno testing showed a peak of 129 hp at 10,000 rpm, and an impressive 78.4 ft-lbs of torque at 8200. That kind of grunt gives ZX-11 riders impressive authority when passing power is the issue. But our dyno charts also reveal one of the ZX's flaws; a big flat spot just below 4,000 rpm. (This is easily corrected by turning the air screws out four turns and shimming the needles 0.025" with washers -- Ed.) Poor ground clearance, soft suspension and hefty weight hurt the ZX on the racetrack.Like the original Z1, sometimes all that horsepower overwhelms the chassis. While the ZX-11 is fine in a sport-touring role, when the pace elevates it becomes unsettled. The problem is simple -- weight. Despite its aluminum frame, the big Kawasaki is on the hefty side of the scale. Hard charging at the track or in the canyons will quickly overwhelm its brakes. Ground clearance also gets in the way of seriously quick forward motion, as the Ninja will scrape its pegs and exhaust canister fairly easily.
And that's just fine with Kawasaki. If you're looking for something more track-worthy they'll be happy to show you their ZX-9. The ZX-11 has always been, and remains today, a fast and comfortable sport-tourer. It is far more plush than either the GSXR or YZF. If your own personal criteria in an open-class motorcycle leans towards a bike that can cruise two-up comfortably with luggage at triple digit speeds -- all day long -- then consider Kawasaki's mighty ZX-11 as having finished second in this shootout.
Model: 1997 Ninja ZX-11
Engine: Four-stroke liquid-cooled DOHC inline four
Bore and Stroke: 76 by 58mm
Carburetion: Four Keihin CVKD40
Wheelbase: 58.9 in.
Seat Height: 30.7 in.
Fuel Capacity: 6.3 gal.
Claimed Dry Weight: 514 lbs
Measured Wet Weight: 604 lbs
Measured Peak Horsepower: 129.3 at 10000 rpm
Measured Peak Torque: 78.4 ft-lbs at 8250 rpm
1997 Suzuki GSXR1100
Suzuki has learned not to mess with success. GSXRs have always been strong sellers and popular choices for racers, so why fix what isn't broken? Thus the GSXR arrives on U.S. shores once again with few changes save for Suzuki's usual BNG (bold new graphics) for 1997.Suzuki's GSXR line has always been at home on the racetrack, so we weren't surprised when ours posted the quickest lap time of the day, narrowly edging the YZF1000 by just a few hundredths of a second. Its excellent ground clearance is its strong point, as is great feedback from the front end. These same qualities also made it a top choice for sport riding. Although it gives away as much as 14 peak horsepower to the competition, Suzuki's GSXR still posted a quick quarter-mile time of 10.42 at 130.11 mph.
Manufacturer: Suzuki Model: 1997 GSX-R1100WV Price: $10,399 Engine: Four-stroke liquid cooled DOHC inline four Bore and Stroke: 75.5 by 60mm Displacement: 1074cc Carburetion: Four BST36 Mikuni Transmission: Five-speed Wheelbase: 58.5 in. Seat Height: 32.1 in. Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gal., CA - 4.9 gal. Claimed Dry Weight: 489 lbs Measured Wet Weight: 551 lbs Measured Peak Horsepower: 122.6 at 9250 rpm Measured Peak Torque: 75.0 ft-lbs at 7000 rpm
While both dyno and dragstrip will tell you that the XX makes boatloads of power, they can't tell you how smoothly it makes it. At any rpm from idle to redline, this engine is completely devoid of any form of vibration. Period. How smooth is it? One of our testers, a rider with more than 10 year's experience, rode almost 15 miles at 65 mph down the freeway at a leisurely 4,250 rpm - before he realized he was in third gear!
This silky engine combines with one of the most unique fairing designs ever fitted to a sportbike to make the Double-X a high-speed sport-touring dream. At 80 mph, wind noise is barely more than a whistle, and there's no sign of buffeting or turbulence. Passenger comfort is also excellent, with stints of several hundred miles passing without complaint.
Page2As you might expect, this level of comfort doesn't lend itself to racetrack performance. At the Streets of Willow our XX struggled with the same handicaps that plague the ZX-11 - too much weight and too little ground clearance. Instead of scraping its pipes like the ZX, the CBR drags its fairing. We ruined the bodywork with two palm-sized scrape marks on either side of its fairing before we realized that plastic was hitting pavement. Sorry Honda.
Another racetrack handicap is Honda's linked braking system. Our faster testers found that turning into a corner while hard on the front brakes would cause the back end to step out. We also weren't crazy about the linked braking while riding in the rain, as applying the rear brake causes the front to dive as one piston in each front caliper is activated. We prefer to have complete control over braking.
Like Kawasaki's ZX-11, Honda's CBR-XX wasn't built to go racing. It was intended for sport-touring in comfort, a task that it is very capable of. It is much smoother than the Kawasaki, and its carburetion is cleaner as well. With its aggressive styling and powerhouse mill, Honda's Double-X is an impressive package, doubly so considering it's an all-new model. Do we have a winner? Wait -- there's one bike remaining in this shootout. . . .
Manufacturer: Honda Model: CBR1100XX Price: $11,499 Engine: Liquid-cooled DOHC inline four Bore and Stroke: 79 x 58mm Displacement: 1137cc Carburetion: (4) 42mm flat slide CV Transmission: Six-speed Wheelbase: 58.7 in. Seat Height: 31.9 in. Fuel Capacity: 5.8 gallons (1.1 gallon reserve) Claimed Dry Weight: 491.6 lbs Measured Wet Weight: 557 lbs Measured Peak Horsepower: 135.8 at 9750 rpm Measured Peak Torque: 81.6 ft-lbs at 7250 rpm
Although the YZF enters this competition with a 100cc deficit in engine capacity, it doesn't give away an inch at the track or strip to its competitors. The big YZF battled the GSXR for best lap time at the Streets, and only missed the top spot by a fraction of a second, mostly because the Streets of Willow is a right-handed track, and the big Yamaha's single exhaust pipe exists on that side -- thus it drags its huge muffler fairly easily. Suzuki solved this problem by beveling the front corner of their dual mufflers, a trick Yamaha should pick up. In the canyons it was the same story, as the Yamaha and Suzuki diced corner after corner while leaving the ZX and XX trailing far behind. At the dragstrip its 125 bhp powered it to a 10.38 second pass at 134.62 mph. Impressive stuff indeed.
And don't let dyno sheets fool you: The YZF1000 has the strongest roll-on performance of any bike in this test, as well as besting Suzuki's TL1000 and Honda's torquey VTR1000. The reasons are many, but basically boil down to this: In order to out-accelerate the competition, you have to move mass -- preferably less than everyone else has -- and do it faster. The YZF is the lightest, has the lightest flywheel (so the motor "spins up," or accelerates faster) and the best carburetion. In short, acceleration is a function of many factors. Looking at torque curves, while informative, doesn't really dictate what happens in the real world. And out on the streets where you spend 90 percent of your time at low rpms, the YZF rules.Shawn Higbee uses the YZF's 125 horsepower to light up its rear Metzeler. That the YZF would perform well at the strip and track didn't surprise us, given the bike's history. But the comfort level offered by its reshaped ergonomics did. While the YZF isn't quite in the same league as the ZX and XX for sport-touring comfort, the riding position is the most confidence-inspiring of the lot, and can still get you through a ride of several hundred miles without complaints from your wrists, back or butt. Its fairing offers excellent wind protection at all speeds, and does a good job of shielding the rider from engine heat.
Its combination of powerful, torquey motor, precise handling, superior brakes and sane ergonomics are unbeatable in the Open class. This bike is as capable of winning races as it is eating up a 300 mile day tour. Yamaha's lofty YZF1000 is simply awesome.
Manufacturer: Yamaha Model: 1997 YZF1000R Price: $9,799 Engine: Liquid-cooled DOHC 20-valve inline four Bore and Stroke: 75.5 by 56mm Displacement: 1003cc Carburetion: Four 38mm Mikuni Transmission: Five-speed Wheelbase: 56.3 in. Seat Height: 32.1 in. Claimed Dry Weight: 435 lbs Measured Wet Weight: 505 lbs Measured Peak Horsepower: 125.4 at 10250 rpm Measured Peak Torque: 73.4 ft-lbs at 8250 rpm
Kawasaki's ZX-11 used to own the title of best open-class sport-tourer, but this year it takes a back seat to the Double-X. The big Honda is both quicker and smoother, and isn't hampered by the Kawasaki's carburetion glitches. Although the ZX-11 undercuts the XX's price, Honda's new CBR is worth the extra dough.
And that leaves Yamaha's YZF1000. Perhaps the best open-class sportbike ever produced, the YZF is a stunning combination of blinding performance, precise handling and real-world ergonomics. And get this: It's the least expensive motorcycle in this test (at least in America). This machine's as capable of winning races at it is sport-touring for hundreds of miles. For a bike to be competent in such varied environments is rare -- for it to excel is extraordinary. Such words of praise were frequently heaped on the YZF during this shootout by all our staffers. With six out of seven testers picking it first, it lays claim to the title of 1997 Open Sportbike Champion.
1. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief
Life without the YZF1000? That would suck.
Think of the XX as the Space Shuttle with a Lazyboy seat in the cockpit. It goes like hell and is comfortable to boot. Personally, I don't demand ultra-sharp canyon or racetrack performance from an open-sportbike -- if I did I'd buy a 600 instead, which can whup a liter-bike on tight, twisty roads. I want a bike that can cruise at 100 mph in comfort with the occasional blast to 170, as well as good performance in the twisties. For me the XX is it. It will bend its speedo needle to over 175 mph -- at 80 mph the XX is purring along with absolutely zero vibration or buzziness reaching the rider. I could do 1,000 mile days on this bike. Thus, I pick the Honda.
Make no mistake, Yamaha's YZF is another great machine. It was a tough call between it and the XX. It handles beautifully, is smooth, stinking fast, reasonably comfortable and way less money. I prefer the looks, smoothness and comfort (particularly two-up) of the XX though.
3. Chuck Graves, Racer, Graves Motorsports
The GSXR is a great, stable, fun bike to ride. The problem is that the motor is buzzy and aesthetically, it needs a make-over -- anyone who is going to spend 10 grand on a bike should get something that is pleasing to look at. Although its ample ground clearance and excellent handling made it the fastest bike at the racetrack, the Suzuki's uncomfortable-for-touring ergonomics and poor appearance relegated it to third, just a notch below Honda's XX.
The XX is definitely the smoothest bike for touring, but its lack of high-speed stability and poor ground clearance removed it from any hope of beating the Suzuki or Yamaha in sporting applications. It's really good looking and the motor is much smoother than any other bike here. If you're going sport touring -- with a big emphasis on touring -- this is the bike.
All of which leaves my number one vote for the Yamaha: It does everything the best. It's the least expensive, has a semi-aggressive riding position, excellent power, perfect carburetion and great brakes. Clearly, it is a better motorcycle for all-around riding than any of the others here. Its only downfall is a lack of ground clearance, especially on the right where the single-sided exhaust pipe exits.
4. Billy Bartels, Associate Editor
My personal number-one criteria for any bike is an ability to be fun in an urban environment. Liter bikes, despite their weight, are usually great fun in the city, due to their amazing mid-range power. That's why I pick the Suzuki as a big loser. Comparatively bad ergonomics and zero bottom end combine for the GSXR's demise. Just half a notch above Gixer is the ZX-11. Actually very good in my natural environment, I might not have noticed its (serious) shortcomings had I not gone for a loop of the twisties. Well, luckily Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is covered in our insurance plan, and I get out of the cushioned white room any day now: Scary is not quite a strong enough word for the ZX in tight coastal canyons.
In another world completely are our other two bikes in this test. Picking a winner from these two is like trying to decide whether to save your puppy or the iguana when the house is burning down. The Honda XX smashes everything else at the dragstrip, and as an added bonus is the best tourer of the bunch, arguably the best streetbike to boot. However, the YZF gives up very little to the Honda in all these areas. In addition, its superior, aggressive handling, light weight and light price tag all combine to hand victory to the Yamaha. Even more important than its uncanny ability to lift the front wheel controllably and on command is its ability to lift the corners of your mouth in exactly the same way.
5. John Slezak, Guest Tester
In my average-rider-like opinion, Yamaha takes the win for best all-around big bike. Its ultra-smooth powerband and ultra-strong brakes made it ultra-easy to ride. It was stable in every part of every corner and its softer suspension made bumps disappear. Granted, for really hard-core riding, the suspension is too soft and results in diminished ground clearance. But if you want a commuter as well as a weekend carver, the YZF will carry you in confidence and style. Just as stable and extremely flickable was the Suzuki. If I had to pick a bike purely for track use, this would be it. Its limited powerband and aggressive riding style don't warrant its use for much else -- I had a hard time just scrunching my legs up enough to get my feet on the footpegs. If you ride the GSXR on a daily basis, you must be masochistic.
Pretty much in a separate class were the Honda and the Kawasaki. Both had Cadillac-like suspension, which was kind of unsettling through some of the bumpier corners. But the Honda's powerband was smooth all the way from the bottom, while the Kawi had some irritating burbles down low. The Honda also seemed to offer more protection from the wind, and though both were big and rather unwieldy for the track, the Honda was more stable through the corners. The only thing I liked better on the ZX-11 were the brakes. They offered a lot more feel than those on the XX, which was probably due to Honda's linked braking system. But if all you want to do is go really fast in a relatively straight line, you now have a better alternative to the once-famed ZX-11.
'97 Open Sportbike Dyno Charts
The Venues Four of the meanest open-class sportbikes ever produced were gathered in the Motorcycle Online garage, just waiting for our horsepower-rattled testers to twist their throttles. First, to the dyno room, where the bikes showed off their impressive horsepower levels. Next, we fitted Metzeler ME-Z1 radials to ensure we would be testing bikes and not tires. Following this we rented the Streets of Willow to analyze each bike's racetrack prowess. Being a slow, twisty track, it closely mimics street conditions. This was followed by a street ride to gauge how each machine's performance and ergonomics faired in the real world. Finally, we rented Los Angeles County Raceway and smoked off what was left of the tires, wringing every iota of speed from our bikes to see which was quickest in the quarter mile. This barrage of tests left us with a great deal of respect for the capabilities of each of these machines, and showed us which model we would pick if it was our money.
The Other Liter-Class Sportbikes
At the racetrack, our TL trailed just behind the GSXR and YZF, and well ahead of the XX and ZX-11. With its good ground clearance and tractable power delivery, mid-corner and exit speeds were excellent. In fact, it may have edged out the four-cylinder bikes, given the benefit of a fresh rear tire.
If you're looking for a twin-cylinder bike to feed your horsepower habit, give Suzuki's TL a try. It wheelies, it slides, hey - it just plain hauls! And isn't that what riding an open-class sportbike is all about?