The Best of the Best: Part One


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LOS ANGELES, January, 1998 -- Screw the real world. Forget about gas mileage, weather protection, operating expenses, "real world power delivery," and comfortable ergonomics. Screw the bureaucratic nannies who harp about public safety and demand horsepower limits, and cuff the next twit who whines 'we don't get the really cool bikes in America' in the back of the head. This is the US of A, and on our long, wide, civilized and government-subsidized roads, brute power rules the day. So, we recently prompted the major manufacturers of three- and four-cylinder motorcycles: "give us the quickest, lightest asphalt-annihilator around." Give us Yamaha's YZF-R1, Honda's CBR900RR, Kawasaki's ZX-9R, Suzuki's GSX-R750 and Triumph's T595. 
Assembled before you are five of the gnarliest multis ever made, each of them a marriage of horsepower, handling, and weight. Our goal: To separate the men from the boys; to take the fastest and best-handling bike from each of these manufacturers, regardless of displacement, put them on the same track together and let them tear each other apart. You might notice that there are no twins in this shootout, but don't despair, they will be covered in Part II. Best of the Best, Part III, will follow with the two victors dukin' it out for the title of Supreme Sportbike.
In the past we've received complaints from many readers who don't care about price, ergonomics, or streetability: Well, our squidly friends, this shootout is for you. No freeway testing, no touring, and no damned urban cruising. Just the track, some canyons, and the dragstrip. Nothin' but good old-fashioned scratching.

While it was really no big surprise that Yamaha's tour-de-force YZF-R1 was the winner in all objective categories -- it was the fastest at the drag strip, turned the quickest racetrack lap time, and kicked ass on the dyno -- and gathered first-place votes from four of our five testers, there were some surprises a little further down the food chain.

Honda's CBR900RR (Fireblade in some markets) returned for 1998 with what seemed like redesigns too minor to hang with this buffed out crowd. Ah, but all is not as it seems, and this year the 'RR matches up to the marketing hype that sold so many of the (ex-) wobbly machines in years past. Notably, a stiffer chassis, 5mm more trail (trail, not steering head angle, is what provides front-end "stability"), 10mm more fork span to enhance handling and torsional rigidity, improved suspension valving and selected weight savings added up to a quantum leap forward from the previous model. In fact, it was argued that with more power the RR might have won this test: That is, despite its 114 horsepower motor being a little under par in this group, the RR proved to be a such a flickable, stable mount with predictable power delivery, it afforded all riders instant confidence to go fast in the twisties. Bottom line: the 'RR is the easiest bike to jump on and go fast.

One of the surprises of this test is that most of these mongo dong-swingin' hyper-bikes are also great street bikes with tractable power and livable ergonomics. Not so with the GSX-R750. As resident Willow Springs Motorcycle Club king-pin big-fish Chuck Graves -- who won seven out of seven classes this past season at Willow -- pointed out, "the GSX-R750 sure likes to be ridden hard, but it's a miserable street bike." Point the GSX-R750 at a track or a set of curves that you've scouted for dirt and cop officers and hang on for one awesome ride: The Gixxer captured the only other first place vote in the test, from AMA Dirt Tracker Brett Landes: "The harder I rode, the better it handled. I was very impressed with its racetrack prowess."

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