2011 Gentlemen Sportbike Shootout - Motorcycle.com

Tom Roderick
by Tom Roderick

Here are three ways to satisfy a thirst for a powerful sportbike without the pretzel-ed legs and sore wrists.

What started as a duel between the 2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 and 2011 Yamaha FZ1 morphed into a Mexican stand-off with the last-minute appearance of the 2011 Suzuki GSX1250FA. The Suzuki’s arrival broadened the scope of what a gentlemen’s sportbike can be by counterweighting some of the shortcomings of the other two bikes.

Introduced this year, the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 and Suzuki GSX1250FA are the freshest models in this three-bike comparison. The Suzuki is a refreshed Bandit, now with a full fairing and standard antilock brakes bringing a heavier sport-touring aspect to the class.

Liter-sized sportbikes without torture-rack ergos can ably shift from commuter to sport-tourer to canyon-carver.

The Ninja counters with a greater sport focus and a raging four-cylinder engine from the Z1000 but doesn't necessarily assure conquest of the other two. In fact, each of our 40-plus-year-old group of testers presents convincing reasons why either bike could win this shootout, depending on the potential rider. The rebadged Bandit (aka, GSX) and long-in-the-tooth (well, since 2006…) Yamaha FZ1 retain some superior qualities Ninja engineers dismissed, forgot or didn’t realize they should incorporate on their new liter-sized sportbike.

What the Ninja has on its Yamaha competitor is motor — gobs and gobs of mid-range motor. An impromptu six-gear roll-on with Editor Duke on the Kawasaki left me on the Yamaha counting seconds while the FZ1’s inline four-cylinder spun up revs. Once in the meat of the R1-derived engine’s powerband the forward surge was invigorating, but by this time Duke was an off-ramp down the freeway. By itself the FZ1 is plenty fast, but when up against the new Ninja the Yamaha feels downright anemic until spun up.

Gentlemen sportbikes strike a balance between race-replica performance and sport-touring comfort.

“A motorcycle’s engine is a key ingredient in riding dynamics, and in this respect, the Ninja’s motor delivers a superior experience,” says Editor Duke. “Its low-end hit easily outmuscles the Yamaha, and its shorter gearing always has the engine in its expansive sweet spot. Any race across an intersection will be won by the Kawi.”

The GSX1250FA, with its 72.3 ft-lb of torque at 3,500 rpm, is a better match for the Ninja’s 71.6 ft-lb at 7,800 rpm. But with a curb weight of 567 lbs., the portly Suzuki is 64 lbs. heavier than the Kawasaki (503 lbs.) and 80 lbs. more than the FZ1 (487 lbs.). With 68 ft-lb or more of torque from an rpm as low as 2,700 rpm to a high of 6,800 rpm the GSX has, in fact, the broadest spread of torque of the three bikes by a big margin. Where the GSX falls short is in the horsepower department, producing a paltry 92.6 hp at 8,800 rpm compared to the Ninja’s 121.1 at 10,100 rpm and the FZ’s 125.1 horses all the way up at 11,300 rpm.

To say that Kawasaki got it right with this engine is an understatement. The new Ninja 1000 has the perfect blend of sportbike performance packaged to be delivered in usable quantities during street riding conditions. According to “Resident Boomer,” Glenn Giardinelli, “The Ninja 1000 pushes the envelope of what a gentleman's sportbike can be. Kawasaki made a potent motor for everyday street use. This bike has more low- and mid-range torque than any stock sportbike I've ridden.”

Considering the Suzuki’s displacement of 1255cc (79.0 mm x 64.0 mm bore and stroke), not producing a triple-digit horsepower figure is somewhat disappointing but is generally masked by its phenomenal torque output – it cranks out low-rev power like a V-Twin.

The Suzuki's big-cube engine can't be touched down low, but it's choked up after 6500 rpm when the smaller engines start wailing. The FZ1 produces the most peak power, but its advantage only makes itself known in quintuple-rpm digits. Everywhere else, the Ninja feels quite a bit stronger. (A torque chart can be found in our photo gallery.)

The Ninja and the FZ1 share an identical 77.0mm bore, but the Kawi’s engine carries more displacement than the FZ1 (1043cc vs. 998cc) by virtue of a marginally longer stroke (56.0mm vs. 53.6mm), and it also possesses a slightly greater compression ratio (11.8:1 vs. 11.5:1). These combine with distinct camshaft profiles to deliver quite different power characteristics. If you have a thing for the top-end pop synonymous with track-oriented sportbikes, you may prefer the FZ1. But where it matters in real-world riding scenarios, we preferred the Ninja or the GSX.

With seating position, reach to handlebars and the distance from seat to footpeg hardly discernible between them, all three bikes earn gold stars for comfort. But in terms of long-haul comfort, the Suzuki is the new class standard.

“The Suzuki 1250FA is a great sport-tourer,” notes Boomer Giardinelli. “It is easily the most comfortable bike in the test and I would say one of the best anywhere, outside full-on, two-wheel land yachts. Part of the reason the bike is so comfortable is its ability to smooth out the bumps and potholes on the road.”

“The Suzuki 1250 really reminds me of a lighter, sportier, 7/8-scale FJR1300,” says the day-glo Kevin Smith. “Which is no bad thing.”

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Tom Roderick
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