Open Superbikes, 1997

Power Trippers!


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2. Gord Mounce, Associate Editor

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.

Motorcycle Online goes to great lengths to bring you shootouts. Here's our crew of riders and assistants that came to the Streets of Willow test. Editor-in-Chief Brent Plummer explaining to our other testers he's about to "open up a can of whup-ass!"
Associate Editors Billy Bartels and Mounce examine lap times. Some of the photos of Chuck Graves on the XX were taken at Honda's super-secret test track in the Mojave desert. It even has helpful road signs.
Taking the XX and ZX to the track is scary. Riding them this close together is really scary. Both Higbee and Graves turned 10.2 second quarter-mile times on the XX, a new MO record.
Managing Editor 'Big Tom' Fortune instructs Gord Mounce and John Slezak to follow Graves and Higbee and try and learn the fast way around Willow. Equaling the GSXR at 10.42 was Kawasaki's ZX-11.
Gee, aren't we fast? Actually, some of us are: Three days before this story posted, Chuck Graves set a new lap record at Willow Springs. And Team MO racer Shawn Higbee is leading the national Buell Lightning series. Disconnecting the GSXR's first gear rev-limiter allowed it to fire off a 10.42 second pass.

The Other Liter-Class Sportbikes

During our test sessions for the Open Sportbike comparo, we brought along Japan's newest sportbikes, Suzuki's TL1000S and Honda's VTR1000F, for their own dogfight. Having these six bikes together gave us insight into the possible future of motorcycling's ultimate category. Will big horsepower inline-fours be powering the open-class bikes of the future, or will lighter and more nimble twin-cylinder machines edge them out?  
Suzuki's TL1000 most closely imitates the antics of its four-cylinder competitors. It wheelies on demand, eagerly lays down dark strips of rubber on corner exits and pulls like a train - even at higher speeds. During dragstrip testing it trailed the ZX-11 and GSXR1100 by just 11-hundredths of a second with a pass of 10.53 seconds. Although its E.T. was just a tick slower, the TL's terminal speed was faster than both of those machines. Its slower quarter-mile time can be attributed to the problems our testers had in getting it off the line. With its short wheelbase, high center of gravity, torquey motor and light weight, launching the TL is a delicate balance between good drive and rider-squashing wheelie. Once underway, its 115 horsepower eats up the strip with authority.

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.

On the other hand, Honda's VTR1000 feels much less like an open class sportbike. Sure, it will wheelie when asked, but it just doesn't have the brute horsepower of the TL. It trailed at the dragstrip with a pass of 10.83 seconds and 127.32 mph. While still a quick bike, those times don't put it in the upper echelons of fast sportbikes. At the racetrack, its 10 fewer ponies and limited ground clearance had it trailing the TL by almost a second a lap.

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?

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