The Best of the Best: Part One


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Despite the Gixxer's impressive racetrack performance, the brutal power of Kawasaki's redesigned ZX-9R relegated it to fourth place. Despite taking the final podium spot in our test, the new Ninja didn't fare well in our racetrack testing. Hard compound Bridgestone radials, abrupt throttle transitions and unsorted suspension conspired to make the ZX a marginal track bike as set up from the factory. AMA 250 GP'er Roland Sands commented, "You could feel the bike start to come around when you got back on the gas -- there's little traction out there -- but the gear box was good and the motor was smack-you-in-the-face powerful."

In the end, the savior of the odd-handling Ninja was its awesome motor and excellent -- dare we mention it! -- ergonomics. It's a toss-up between the Kawasaki and Triumph as to which is most comfortable, suffice it to say that both make top-notch sport tourers with all-day comfort and amble wind protection.


A general rule of thumb if comfort is important: If you're over 180 pounds, go for the firmly sprung ZX-9R, if you're a midget, get the ultra-soft Triumph. Despite spotting the shootout-winning R1 100cc's displacement, the ZX-9R pulled 10.26 seconds in the 1/4 mile at 133.81 mph, only .01 seconds and 2.32 mph behind the Yamaha. In the canyons, the ZX's torquey motor also excelled, put plan on shelling out an extra 500 or so dollars on a set of race-spec tires if you don't want to land on your head: "I did a half a lap on the ZX-9R," quipped Editor-in-Chief Plummer, "and pulled in to wipe all the oil off the rear tire -- it came almost all the way around on me twice, and I was sure it was leaking fluids. Sure enough, it wasn't, so I checked tire pressure, which was fine, too. The forward weight bias and stiff rear spring, coupled with the hard tire prevent weight from transferring back, so there's little traction available for sporting situations." If you get a 9R, be careful on the stock tires! It is also possible that Kawasaki needs further development on their K-TRIK throttle position sensor -- we noticed the same on-off throttle jumps on a similarly equipped Vulcan 1500 Classic.

Which brings us to the Triumph T595. Most of us had a great deal of affection for the pretty red Brit, but in this slugfest it simply received a hammering. The gearbox, while smooth around town or in the hands of our lead-footed non-racers, was overwhelmed when hammered by the racers. It also turned in the least impressive dyno performance with 112 ponies at the rear. But the triple was a blast on the streets, with a healthy growl from the exhaust and solid handling. A little less weight and a little more power would have brought the attractive T595 into the league that the Japanese established and still own. In all, though, we were extremely impressed with the Triumph -- that they're even considered in the same league with Yamaha's R1 is impressive, and it's nice to see the Brits willing to kick some ass after 30 years or so of relative inactivity.

Suffering none of these difficulties is Yamaha's mighty YZF-R1. We would like to point out, that this is "The Best of the Best" for a reason: All of these bikes kicked ass, but not one of them could touch the total package of the R1. It had the most horsepower (130.7), least weight (448 pounds full of gas), dang near the best handling (the CBR900RR was the most precise), and with its long-travel suspension, the best at soaking pavement irregularities. The awe-inspiring engine makes no less than 60 ft-lbs of torque from 4200 rpm to 10700 rpm, peaking at 74 ft-lbs @ 8500 rpm. The R1 also features an all new compact six-speed tranny, replacing the old YZF1000R's very un-racer-boy five-speed unit. 
Not content with just having the most advanced inline-four ever, Yamaha set its design department loose on the new 998cc monster. What they created is one of the most creative and well finished bikes to ever come from Japan. Even the Friends of MO's staffers who only rode it on the mean streets of LA thought it one of their favorite bikes ever, bar none. Riding this bike is simply amazing -- it's just like a dirt bike; long-travel, well valved and sprung suspension soaks up bumps, while cracking the throttle in first gear anywhere above 4000 rpm lofts the front wheel in the air. Needless to say, the meek need not apply.

With all these credentials and a sticker of only $10,199, Yamaha's YZF-R1 is the Best of the Best.

Impressions: 1. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief

If you want the best sportbike made today, go get an R1. But you'll have to get in line behind me, 'cause I'm pulling industry strings to get one ASAP. Ha ha!




2.Chuck Graves, Contributing Editor Racer

The R1 is incredible, state-of-the-art through and through. The neatest thing about it was that while it still had suspension plush enough to give a smooth ride on the highway, the chassis still gave the razor-sharp feeling of a racebike when ridden at its limits. It's as stable as a rock. The other thing that made it leaps and bounds beyond everyone else's motorcycle is the smoothness of the throttle control -- the exact same thing that I was raving about on the old YZF1000. Rolling on the throttle was always smooth, always predictable, and that goes a long way towards instilling confidence when driving off a turn.

The Honda moved around a lot, but never gave you the feeling of getting out of control, even though it didn't have great control and wasn't smooth over the bumps, there was always confidence that the bike was going to stick when you turned it in. Suzuki's GSXR750 -- which got my vote for third place -- is better than last year's 750, which was an awesome bike. It's a great machine.

I was alone in liking the Triumph at the racetrack. While we agreed it looks great and that its tractable motor made for excellent streetability, I felt that its superior throttle response made it easy to achieve smoothness when ridden hard.

I thought the ZX-9R felt too vague. You couldn't tell what it was going to do when you tried to change direction quickly, and you couldn't turn it in really fast because you weren't sure what the front end was going to do because it was too soft and moved around so much. It had good brakes and a really comfortable riding position, but the off-to-on throttle transition was so abrupt that you really couldn't control the bike coming off the corners.

3. Billy Bartels, Associate Editor

I really wanted to pick the CBR900RR to win: Sure, it wasn't fastest, but it was so much fun to ride. I suppose it all depends on how much testosterone is in your riding diet. If you want to live to a ripe old age and have plenty of fun sweeping through the countryside at speeds double the legal limit get the CBR, if not then there's the R1.

In fact, if you belong to the Anthony Gobert win-or-wad school of racing, you will probably want to get the R1, but I hear you'll be waiting until next year, as they are already selling out in most locales.

The ZX-9R was a distant third, yet still an excellent bike, after all this is the Best of the Best. That motor is awesome. Give the Triumph the benefit of the doubt, it's a killer street bike, but in this company its only fourth. I don't get the GSX-R, its racing credentials are second to none, but on the street it's almost impossible to ride that bike the way it is designed.

4. Brett Landes

AMA Grand National #41 The Honda was the first bike I rode. I was very impressed with everything about the bike. The bike felt real stable through the middle of the corner. The power was good and it stopped real well. The CBR really lets you build confidence in yourself. Going from the CBR to the Triumph is a let-down ... it's a fun bike to ride but does not compare to the other bikes in the test. I was impressed with the way the bike handled, but the transmission does not have a close enough gear ratio to be a race bike ... Also, I have a hard time riding a bike that leaks oil.

I was not very impressed with the Kawasaki. It felt like the bike moved around a lot in the corners and did not stop as well as the other bikes. I think the tires had a lot to do with that. The bike wanted to break loose exiting the corners. I spent a lot more time riding the GSX-R. At first I had to fight it in the middle of the corner in order to be where I wanted to be on the race track, but the harder I rode, the better the GSX-R handled. This bike has great brakes, accelerates well, steers well. And the Yamaha is an absolute ball to ride. It's very smooth doesn't do anything radical at all. I had a little trouble steering it in the middle of the corner, but I don't think it would take much to fix than perhaps a little stiffer spring in the back. In my opinion, I think it is the best looking bike at the test. The R1 is one great street bike!

I don't feel that there are any losers in this test. The bottom line is simple. If you want to go racing, the GSX-R is definitely the best bike to buy. If you want a great street bike that is extremely fast and comfortable, I would go with the R1 followed by the CBR.

5. Roland Sands

AMA 250 GP #10 I love motorcycles more than most things and riding the Yamaha R1 made me realize that. Fast as all git out, the kind of fast that leaves you thinking about what would happen if it got away from you, but it never did. It greeted full-throttle slides with a smile. The only problem was a slight lag when getting back on the throttle, but most people wouldn't notice it. Good gear box, and good suspension, though a bit soft for me, but that's fixed easily enough.

The RR was the friendliest bike, I was immediately comfortable on it and ran like stink. (In Roland-speak, "like stink" translates into "very good" or "great.") The CBR is the best complete package if I were going to get a street bike, but I'm a little biased by the sheer, undeniable power of the R1. The very racy Suzuki was the closest thing of the bunch to my TZ, I ran it the hardest in the corners and it always felt like it wanted more. You have to rev the snot out of it to get it to do anything, but if you get it where it wants to be, it'll scream like a chick in a Hitchcock flick. Not so great if you want to run to the pub for some suds, but great if you want to win races.

I loved the ZX-9R, more so than anyone else here. It's lighter and faster than the old one. Smokey rear tire fast. Good brakes and sharp steering made it easy to pitch in, but there was a noticeable lack of mid-corner grip once there. The lack of traction might just have been the year-old lay-away rubber on the thing, and as we all know if you ain't got rubber, you ain't gonna get none. The Triumph is beautiful, I was in love. But on the track, I was always looking for more revs past the 10k red-line. It missed gears and leaked oil. Well, the chassis felt strong and the steering was good, and it sounded cool as hell, but its just a little out of league with this group.

Riding all these bikes is fun and anybody could ride one fast.

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