2001 Open Class Shootout

Four Big Devils in the City of Angels

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Even when you're on the tighter portions of a race track or canyon road, the GSX-R feels a larger than the R1, and like it's toting around a chunk more heft than the 929RR. There is a common refrain among pilots that refers to how you should treat the machine you're flying: "stay ahead of your plane." Nothing could be more true of the Suzuki. It's not only physically demanding to ride this bike near the level it deserves to be taken to, but it also requires every bit of mental alacrity you can muster. Things happen faster perched in this seat than any other available over-the-counter.

As for the handling of the GSX-R, it was one of the most solid bikes once you got to mid-corner. But getting the bike turned in, trailing the brakes, there was some occasional doubt as to exactly what was going on where the front tire met the tarmac. And as Jeff Haney noticed during one of our mid-day gum-flapping sessions, "the GSX-R has really good suspension, but less effective travel than the R1. Compared to the GSX-R, the R1 is like a dirt bike, really soft and cushy." Jeff paused, then continued, "but the R1 can really be dialed in for the track."

Believe us, a vague front end will likely by your downfall if you own one of these awesome machines: The engine is so torquey and powerful, speed sneaks up on you. Just when you need a planted, confident front end, the GSX-R's vague front end can throw you down to the ground. Just ask the guys from Cycle News. Fortunately, they're okay, and will live to be niggled by MO another day.

As some Suzuki engineers confirmed at the Road Atlanta press intro, some derivation of this bike is what you will see competing in the 2002 4-Stroke GP wars. Given that, it's no surprise the GSX-R1000 is as fast, or demanding, as it is. Our hats are off to Suzuki for building the biggest, baddest, oh-my-God bike we've yet to ride. Unfortunately, it turns out that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

First Place: Yamaha YZF-R1

Minime spent a good portion of the day railing on Yamaha's R1. It was universally the bike that most test riders felt comfortable pushing their limits on.

Surely you'll recommend that we go back and look at our helmets for the rest of the marbles we've lost. The Yamaha, giving away some 11 horses and 10 pounds to the Suzuki comes out on top? Let's just say we didn't expect this either. But then we rode all the bikes back-to-back-to-back and convinced ourselves that we, too, can be wrong.

No one disputes that the R1 is the bike that we all choose to ride: Faced with a stable of the latest, greatest bikes, all free, the R1 is the one we haggle over for the keys whenever we're going anyplace. What was truly surprising was the racetrack: At the start of the day, the Yamaha was feeling pretty good right out of the box. It had a good motor that fell just behind the Suzuki, but well ahead of the 929 or ZX-9R. Similar things were happening with the chassis, too. As the speeds came up it was as communicative as anything, though a bit wallowy and riding a touch low in the rear.

"You've been warned: If you're a mere mortal, Yamaha's R1 is the bike for you."

Two notches of pre-load in the rear with a few clicks more rebound and compression damping in both ends got things settled to the point that every tester felt the most comfortable pushing to their respective limit on the R1. While the outright lap times were a tick behind the fastest riders' best tries on the Suzuki, the R1 enabled the rider to run lap after lap at or near maximum pace and have the most fun while doing it.

While the outright lap times were a tick behind the fastest riders' best tries on the Suzuki, the R1 enabled the rider to run lap after lap at or near maximum pace and have the most fun while doing it.

The only thing that holds the R1 back from perfection are a few small annoyances that only show up in light of excellent entries from the likes of Suzuki and Honda. You see, the R1 may feel lighter than the big momma GSX-R, but it's quite porky next to the ultra-light-feeling 929RR (we'll not even mention the ZX-9R here). Also, the brakes on the Yamaha work well, but they are eclipsed by the binders on both the Honda and Suzuki as far as absolute power is concerned.

You see, the Yamaha may not be the best bike for the like of Kevin Schwantz or Valentino Rossi, nor is it the luxo-tourer the Kawi is. But it is more things to more people than any other bike we can think of. It's as nurturing as your mother or as viscous as your neighbor's pit bull. It's all up to you and your right hand, really.


How we voted
Rank Minime Nigel Calvin Total
YZF-R1 2(3) 1(5) 1(5) 13
GSX-R1000 1(5) 2(3) 2(3) 11
CBR 929RR 3(2) 3(2) 3(2) 6
ZX-9R 4(1) 4(1) 4(1) 4

Conclusion:

When the pace escalates, the other bikes -- like Honda's super-svelte 929RR -- rapidly displace the ZX-9R.

In a nutshell... Yamaha - As easy to ride at a moderate pace as it is to haul ass on the track. Suzuki - Street-based shortcomings offset by incredible track-prowess. Honda - Easiest-to-ride bike here but can't make up for horsepower deficit on track. Kawasaki - Great street bike that's simply outclassed when the pace escalates. It's Fat City if you're a sportbike enthusiast these days. Just think about what happened here: a bike came in second place because it makes too much power and is too sharp-edged. Oh, and if you think we're a bunch of sissies, don't let us sway you with stories of how many of these GSX-Rs test units have been tossed away already. Yes, the GSX-R is an amazing bike, but even people who are professionals and ride every day have their hands more than full with this bike. Whether or not they want to admit that to you or not is another story, though.

That said, the Kawasaki takes up the rear of this rapidly moving pack. It just isn't as well-sorted as the other bikes here. Kawasaki had better get a move on because they're losing market share by not being aggressive enough (like Yamaha and Suzuki). And this is no time to be resting on your laurels.

"The Honda is a great bike and, in fact, makes a top choice for a street bike."

With its unrivaled flickability, smooth power and great suspension, it makes short work of just about any back road. But in the class where it's all about power, we're left yearning for more from Honda's latest.

Again, it's pretty amazing that a bike like Suzuki's GSX-R1000 comes in second because it's too powerful and sharp unless you're an absolute wizard at the controls of a modern sportbike. Wait, check that, in addition to skill, you have to know two things: Self-restraint (or this thing'll get you in way too hot in nearly every corner) and that this bike easily overpowers even Metzeler's awesome Rennsports, let alone the stock-and-not-too-sticky Bridgestones. You've been warned: If you're a mere mortal, Yamaha's R1 is the bike for you. Thus, Yamaha rests in the winner's circle, nervously looking over its shoulder at the bikes just behind it. Could next year be time for the tables to turn?

Things are just not as easy as they used to be, but damn they're fun!

Rider Opinions

Brent "Minime" Avis

Being the hooligan of the bunch, you'd think I'd be happiest perched upon whatever has the most power (wheelies), best brakes (stoppies) or sex-appeal (hey, I have this thing for women) -- and you'd be correct in that assumption. Sure, the Suzuki can be a handful and a bit overkill, like using a Panzer to crush a beer can. But anybody who knows me knows that I am not into subtlety. The Suzuki is like my girlfriend who requires constant input and only rewards you if you do things perfectly, which happens rarely, if ever. But, for good or bad, I'm still with that same cranky, demanding girlfriend -- and the Overlord of Overkill GSX-R still holds my heart. Will I ever learn? I hope not, I'm having too much fun.

Calvin "Hackfu" Kim

My off the record thing... which is actually on the record.

I wanted to like the Honda. A lot of people like it and, maybe I'm crazy, but it just didn't appeal to me. It's a well-performing bike. You can turn it in really well and it's responsive, but I liked the R1 and GSX-R more.

"The ZX-9R is big, and it feels even bigger on the track."

It's a lot of fun to crank it over and carry tons of lean angle, however that carburetion glitch ruins everything. The GSX-R is an awesome sportbike. It handles great and has killer power, but it's like buying a Top-Fuel dragster as your daily driver. Even if it provides a thrill like no other, it takes a lot of effort to use, and the sort of skill that few on this earth are in possession of. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm not one of those people.

That leaves the R1. It handles great, has a great motor, and is actually livable -- that is, I could see it as being my only bike. That's why I like the R1.

Nigel "Popeye" Gale

The other day, I was pontificating on my "jubbly theory" and how it pertains to motorcycles. It goes something like this: When at the local mall, checking out the fairer sex, the ones with the biggest jubblies get the biggest smile. Same with motorcycles -- the one with the most ponies gets the nod. This is human nature and is normally very flawed. And in the case of the GSX-R1000 it is very flawed, but for a different reason. The GSXR is a wolf in wolf's attire. It is probably better than you are.

Most of us like to jump on a bike, give it a good flogging, jump off and say, "yeah it could use more mid range, better brakes, a bit of this, a bit of that," and that makes us feel in control. When you jump off this GSX-R, though, you feel humbled. It is better than you. When you jump on the Yamaha R1, you go through a similar defeat. It does everything so well you start thinking of the aftermarket suppliers not being able to feed their families as the bike needs nothing but tires. The Honda 929 worked like a dream and was maybe more fun than the others. I could use it harder and feel more manly.

Glory to the Victor!

Now the Kawasaki ZX-9R: Seven or eight years ago I borrowed a 9R long-term test bike for two weeks. I handed it back with a bald rear tire and a big grin on my face. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that bike.

It had horsepower, handling and brakes that, at the time, nothing was better. Times have changed, the ZX-9R still has a monster engine but is long in the tooth compared to the other three bikes.


 

"The bottom line is this, though: Any one of these bikes will put a big smile on your face and get you into plenty of trouble."

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