Seven Liter Bikes That Left Me Weak In The Knee Pucks: A Sicilian Love Affair
Head-to-head on the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory, BMW S1000RR M, Ducati V4 S Corse, Honda CBR1000RR SP, Kawasaki ZX-10RR, Suzuki GSX-R1000R, and Yamaha R1M
When MO received a last minute invitation to ride all of the liter bikes in one day at a track in Sicily, we initially thought that we’d have to decline this superbike comparison since MO Hot Shoe, Troy Siahaan, was committed elsewhere. Then Burns reminded us of the great story that Mark Miller wrote for us a while back. Given Mark’s racing history (former AMA class champion, 50 Isle of Man starts and current fast-lap-by-an-American record holder, 17 Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix entries, etc.), we knew that he had exactly what we were looking for in a hired MOron. Read on and enjoy. It’s a long one. —Evans
So, there I am sitting at my computer, minding my own business, when a notification pops up on my screen. It’s Evans Brasfield from Motorcycle.com, asking if I’d be interested in grabbing a flight to Sicily in the next few days to go out and test the latest flagship liter-bikes from all the major manufacturers, then write up my impressions for the publication.
I peered over Evans’ sentence a few times very carefully to make sure I was reading it correctly, then pulled my pants up and called my wife at work to ask If I had her permission to go outside and play. In Sicily.
“I am , interested,” I replied back to Evans. A few days later I’m sitting on an airplane bound for Italy.
The setup was this: Moto.it had organized this multi-bike shootout for their own journalists. I was to be the lone outsider invited to piggy-back or ‘crash’ their party. “But let’s not crash, and be that guy, shall we?”
Pirelli co-hosted the gala while also providing the many tires, specifically a brand new compound for the popular Supercorsa, needed to keep all nine (9) test bikes equipped with fresh sticky rubber.
The 2019 bikes present to ride included: Ducati‘s newest suped-up Panigale 1100cc V4 S Corse model, Aprilia‘s revised RSV4 1100 Factory version w/ carbon fiber winglets. BMW‘s completely new-from-the-ground-up S1000RR M model, Honda‘s limited-release CBR1000RR SP proposal, Kawasaki‘s ZX-10RR, Suzuki‘s super-special GSX-R1000R variant, and Yamaha‘s tried but true R1M model w/ it’s carbon fiber bodywork and many top-shelf bits and bobs derived from MotoGP exploits. All of these machines are basically the best offerings from each manufacturer, full stop.
But wait, I said there would be nine bikes tested and there are only seven listed above.
The two remaining “bonus play” machines will be revealed in my next Sicilian article, this being the first installment of three.
Okay, I’m crap at keeping secrets – the two bonus bikes being compared at a later date are an HRC-kitted 1989 Honda RC30 (which has a V4 engine, of course), vs. a $40,000. 2019 Ducati V4 R replica-racer w/ winglets (also a V4, but 30 years further in technological developments). Fun!
Upon arriving to the Catania airport I was met by a young man from Pirelli who drove us an hour west of the Ionian Sea to the small town of Pergusa, where our hotel / racetrack awaited us. The testing facility for the next three days, called the Autodromo di Pergusa, is a circuit that uniquely and dutifully surrounds a beautiful blue lake, while the hotel we were staying at actually bordered the circuit’s front straightaway (which I could see when sitting up in my bed). How cool is that?
“Good morning, race track.”
The Autodromo di Pergusa has been around for decades, but it’s no longer used for any major championships. So, Pirelli recently negotiated a deal with the local government, who owns the circuit, to use it anytime Pirelli pleases to help design and develop their road-going tires, even for the likes of scooters and Harley Davidsons. Pirelli paid over a million euro to have the track resurfaced, and bam!, instant playground.
Pirelli has a secret warehouse down the road from the circuit which houses an incredible one-hundred different kinds of motorbikes which the company itself owns. This storeroom looks like the inside of an international bike show. I forget sometimes just how wealthy a globally successful corporation appears when standing there in person in front of a good example, as viewed through real-world eyes.
The individual employees and independent contractors associated with the development wing of Pirelli Tyres were thirty men strong and managed by a terrific young man of 62 years named Salvatore Pennisi. “Salvo”, an ex-racer himself, still rides the circuits and roads every day to help tweak and perfect the next new model, and it’s my understanding that nothing goes into production without first getting Salvo’s final nod of approval. Quite remarkably, a singular individual is the first and the last person that every new Pirelli tire has to impress, before we all get a crack at buying one for our Tuonos and R6s. I was impressed to learn this.
On topic, haven’t high-performance tires always seemed to come from some hidden eccentric mad scientist chef that no one’s ever seen? I remember years ago, while racing professionally in the states, it was not an uncommon occurrence for one of the tire manufacturers to bake up just a few last-minute, one-off race tires – punched out sometimes literally overnight, then flown to the circuit – to meet the demands of a top team in the hunt for a championship or if a particular race track was experiencing unexpected cold or extreme heat. Ah, the good old days of factory privilege and open tire wars!
Salvo might be considered the Chef de Cuisine of Pirelli’s development in Sicily. “He’s a full cup with knowledge flowing over the brim,” says one of his 30-year old underlings through an Italian accent. “I’m very lucky to be working with him, learning so much so early in my career, and just after university. This has given me a better path to my future.”
The rest of Salvo’s elite troupe also seem to work well together, like a professional racing team – full of energy and full of beans. Most in the group are highly educated, some even closet mechanical engineers wearing custom racing leathers.
Speaking on the educated surrounding motorbikes, a friend of mine associated with the Ducati MotoGP team said that both of the team’s hospitality cooks had PHDs in the culinary arts, or whatever it’s called. PHDs! If you’ve ever been lucky enough to join the Ducati MotoGP team for lunch in their own private hospitality area, you’d believe it. It’s like eating at a “Michelin Star” restaurant, it’s ridiculous.
Ducati, the company, also often test their newest bikes at the Autodromo di Pergusa, in Sicily. Five consecutive days every month, in fact.
And why have the Italians chosen this particular and little-known facility to test many of their new toys?
I got my first impression of the circuit when allowed to throw a leg over one of Pirelli’s resident test mules; a naked BMW S1000R. The bike was all wired up externally with sensors and accelerometers exposed to the world. Loads of little contraptions were duct taped over and around the bike, not within pre-formed cases with a pristine finish. These guys work for a living. Which means thousands and thousands of laps, over and over again. Hundreds and hundreds of hours riding at a brisk pace, or slow pace, or trying things a different way. And I’m sure meticulously documenting every parameter along the way. The end results of their hard work may be a tidy and functional tread pattern or well-handling EVO chassis – all so beautifully capable of tugging on our emotions and appreciation or even love – the process these engineering crusaders take on is a laborious and gritty one. Not always sexy.
But holy shit is this circuit awesome.
Two times per lap you’re scraping your knee in sixth gear, 1000cc, flat out, at full lean – only to be g-forced out of your recurring daydream of being a MotoGP star and thrust back into a state of pure terror as you brake for your life from terminal velocity and into the next wondrously tight chicane – of which there are five per lap. The track layout is the very definition of extremes – but dead smooth.
“Now that the track is dry do you think you could, like, um, roll out those most expensive, fastest, insanely exclusive modern technologically advanced sport bikes ever sculpted by human hands, um, please?” Heh heh.
“You got it!”
Yamaha R1M $22,999 – as tested
Introduced in 1998, the Yamaha R1 was the first time I recall any manufacturer touting that they’d stuffed a 1000cc motor into a 600 chassis. It was lightweight, nimble, small physically, and fast as snot. Back then it came with 40mm carburetors, of course, and about 140 claimed horsepower. I raced one in its maiden year for Graves Yamaha as their first ever AMA/Pro rider. For the first round in Phoenix, Arizona, and in near stock trim (stock bodywork and a stainless pipe), we got 3rd in the AMA/Pro Formula Xtreme series first time out – bested only by Erion Honda’s formidable riders Eric Bostrom and Tripp Nobles. On the podium (baby).
So much has changed in the R1 from 1998 to 2019, but one thing remains the same. To speak to the idea that each manufacturer has its own kind of DNA throughout their entire line of high-performers, Yamaha’s reputation is to consistently offer its pilots the best-handling, easiest-to-ride overall package. The likes of Franco Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo, and before them, Johann Zarco, were all able to come up from Moto2 and almost instantly get on with their Yamaha M1s. Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales can also attest to the fact that, when there’s more flowing corners at a particular track, they excel.
The street bike R1, and especially in the most-advanced M trim we were given in Sicily – straight out of the pits, the bike was just a joy to flog hard; the best feeling front end of all the bikes, earliest twist on the throttle allowing that sweet-sounding cross plane engine to whirl up. It is not the fastest motorcycle in this group of crème de la crèmes with regard to outright acceleration and top speed, but it’s still bloody powerful. What else do you really need if out for a good time?
The large TFT display was easy to read; whether set to black letters on a white background, or white letters on a black background, or set to race mode (large tach, lap time, and shift indicator), or road mode (larger speedometer and temperature gauges). When riding all of these marvelously fast inventions back to back to back, you really start to appreciate how helpful a good display can be and how unhelpful a lame one is.
The brakes required a fair amount of pull on the lever to get things slowed down from hyperspace to walking pace, but an incredible amount of feel was there. If I owned this bike for track use, I’d experiment with a few race pads to get some additional initial bite.
The ergos just screamed “ride me hard” but might not be the best for everyday street use. Not long ago, I borrowed an R1 from Yamaha’s press pool for a week with an aim to buy it when I was done. Where I live and most often ride to keep my sanity – the canyons of Malibu, California – the normal amount of wavy or aggressive bumps made the R1 nearly leap off the ground when you’d least want it to. The chassis is stiff and best suited for billiard-smooth race tracks and less so for the big scary real world out there on the public roads. Faster, more flowing mountains like Angeles Crest Highway might do the trick. I didn’t buy the R1 as my street bike in the end.
Finally, the electronics on the R1 were among the best for the Class of 2019. The bank-sensitive traction control, its wheelie control, and unified ABS worked so well, in fact, if given a day or two to really carve up this thing backwards and forwards and sideways, learn all the electronic settings inside and out, it may be a tough package to beat in lap time. For example, the first time I really got down hard on the binders late and aggressively, the linked braking along with its natural amount of engine-braking and mechanical slipper clutch, stepped the rear wheel out on me quite unexpectedly. After a couple more laps, however, I learned that yes, the back steps out nearly every time the bike is decelerated so abruptly, but the overall chassis remains in complete control.
The R1’s electric shifter – both on upshifts and on auto-blipped downshifts – worked flawlessly. Not everyone reading this has yet experienced a full-tilt electric shifter system. Once you leave the pits, you never touch the clutch again. It feels like MotoGP kit, it really does. So awesome.
Regarding the R1’s looks? I love her looks. I love how curvy her swing-arm is, her welds, the glossy clear-coat paint over her carbon fiber bodywork. Sexy magnesium wheels, hand-polished aluminum tank that fits so nicely under your chest and between your arms. Beautiful titanium exhaust headers. I even like her coke-bottled bug-eyed headlights. Smart motorcycles are always fun to play with.
Overall impression of the R1? It’s a fantastic ride, through-and-through, especially for the race track or smooth canyon roads.
Now if you’d allow me to insert something here before I continue?
Please remember that with these ultra-modern bikes, you’re effectively flying a video game simulator. Your inputs into the throttle have largely become suggestions, not genuine control inputs. Gone are the days when you feather the clutch into a corner, blip the throttle on downshifts, modulate the rear brake to keep things in line, then throttle out as hard as you dare while trying to save the tire. It’s a totally different ballgame now, kids, but you already knew this. Still, I think it should be mentioned here that it’s a bit difficult for me to give a most accurate opinion on these very sophisticated machines without first spending more than a handful of laps on top of each. Several days spent with each would be great, even a full season of racing with each would be most revealing.
Every judgement here comes from an at-a-glance perspective and not from highly adjustable vehicles that have been set up for me and my 5’10” 160-lb stature. I’m sharing the fleet with eight different riders with differing body types and experience levels, and happy to do so.
We were not encouraged to change any of the electronic settings i.e. Race Mode, Sport Mode, TC3, WC2, etc. We instead rode the presets offered to us by each representative of each manufacturer to mind after each of their own bikes. Everything was set to, erm, Average Mode, ha ha. [Read, Typical Journalist mode —Ed.]
There, I said it. Phew! Now back to riding!
Ducati Panigale V4 S Corse $29,995 – as tested
Introduced in 2018, Ducati’s newest Panigale, with its V4 power plant, was the first successor to a long line of primarily V-Twins used since the 1960s.
The motors in the Panigale V4 (1103cc) and the V4 R (998cc) are direct descendants from Ducati’s Desmosedici MotoGP engine. They share a counter-rotating crankshaft, a large bore diameter, and desmodromic valve system.
I was very much looking forward to riding this bike, but also a little nervous. Nervous, because I didn’t want to scratch it (it’s mouth-wateringly gorgeous). But eager because it could be said that Ducati’s V4 contains some of the newest and most technologically advanced hard-parts in the industry, period.
Having a counter-rotating crankshaft, in this instance, does not mean it has two crankshafts within the crankcase which rotate counter to one another (didn’t some 500cc grand prix engines adopt that along the way?). Here it means a single crankshaft rotates in the opposite direction to the wheels.
The two primary ways, it is said, that this helps a motorbike perform better dynamically is by lowering some unwanted gyroscopic effects produced by the wheels when in motion and by putting certain inertial effects made by the crankshaft, to good use.
The gyroscopic forces by the crank and wheels acting to nullify each other can result in a motorcycle with improved handling and one that is more agile when changing direction. Got it.
The inertial effects from the crankshaft, Ducati says, when rotating in the normal direction compared to most every motorcycle engine ever manufactured (the crankshaft spinning in the same direction as the rear wheel), when you accelerate hard, this scheme supports the bike in wanting to stand up on its rear and wheelie. When you brake hard into a corner, the opposite happens; the rear wheel wants to stand up.
Conversely, if the crankshaft is spinning in the opposite direction, the bike will resist wheelies upon acceleration and tend to keep the rear wheel on the ground under hard braking and engine deceleration.
Pretty neat, huh?
So, why hasn’t anyone really done this before in a memorable way? Why isn’t everyone doing this now, besides MV Agusta’s triples and a handful of others? Rotating the crankshaft in the opposite direction to convention comes at a price. There must be an added gear, in the drive system, to turn the “wrong” direction of the crankshaft into the “correct” direction of the rear wheel. This extra gear can rob some of the engine’s horsepower to the final drive system.
Ducati has obviously found a way to minimize the adverse effects from adding this extra gear drag, or made a sufficiently powerful engine not to care about the small loss associated with the added gear, or decided through extensive testing that the dynamic gains in chassis handling negates any losses introduced by the added gear.
The V4 configuration has always been touted as being two engines in one; strong off the bottom like a twin but a true leg-stretcher on the top end. And boy, this was never more true than with the new Duc.
Again, there was no way in hell I was going to be in any position to get the best out of what that Ducati has to offer in the way of its ultimate capabilities, but I got a taste. And most things Italian, in my experience, taste good.
The chassis was so nimble, the change of direction so effortless, the gears in my mind were trying to catch up to the sensations I was feeling, at first. Unlike the Yamaha, my default inclinations were missing. I could tell there was a special machine between my legs capable of performing special feats, but I had to think about what and how I was riding it and not just rely on my instincts. It was that different from any other bike I have ever ridden.
That’s about when I rolled on the throttle more heavily for the first time. It held its line on the exit of the corners so well, and with the state-of-the-art Pirelli’s sticking so beautifully, I couldn’t help but notice the large presence of the electronic aids. Without them, I don’t think the bike would actually work as intended. In fact, when riding the Ducati V4, and for the first time in my life, really, I was convinced that a bike was genuinely designed to operate 100% alongside these seemingly intrusive electronics. Without them, with this much power, and this light of a motorcycle, and at this length of wheelbase, enjoying this much grip from the modern tires, none of it would work properly if this piece of the puzzle were missing.
They’re basically offering to the public now, what just a few years ago, would have been thought of as unobtainable prototype performance. It’s mind-blowing how well the Ducati V4 S Corse worked. I just need a little more seat time to understand how the damn thing wants to be ridden! I felt like I had just moved up from the intermediate class and was testing my first day in the premiere class. The only thing missing was about a dozen dedicated technicians swarming about my bike, wearing goofy bicycle helmets and matching team shirts. Wow.
In short, the brakes were powerful, the ‘double-bubble’ Isle of Man TT-esq (tall) windscreen was a welcomed addition to divert the wind over my helmet at the warped speeds this bike would reach before I could even look down at its bright white TFT display.
The ergos were as good as expected, the quickshifter seemed to have a longer delay than I would have liked, but I’m sure that could be easily adjusted. The motor seemed to prefer to be ridden very hard, but I think the suspension on the day, ideally, could have been a bit stiffer for such a fast circuit with the hard braking and chicanes. Again, all this could be adjusted until the mucche come home. The bike seemed very narrow between the knees, with a hint of being tall (which might have been to some degree an optical illusion).
Regarding her looks, the one brought out for us to ride, the S Corse, was a matte orange, grey, and blue. Insanely sexy. I could see how someone with a little coin, or even someone with only a little coin, might buy this just to look at in his or her garage, then start it up once in awhile for some friends that are standing around holding beers. It’s almost too good looking. I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to race one if someone else didn’t own it and had loads of spares up in the lorry.
Well done Ducati.
I can’t wait to ride the V4 R in the next installment.
BMW S1000RR M $22,100? – as tested
Shifting gears to German goods, I always seem to forget that the same company which produces our badass BMW S1000RR found here (and the seemingly bazillion R1200GS dual-sport motorcycles), is actually the same car company that has won Formula One races over the years and is currently selling a very tidy BMW M4, at a dealer near you.
BMW started out as an aircraft engine-only builder in the early 1900s but began manufacturing motorcycles in 1923 and has since won countless motorbike races including many Isle of Man TTs and Dakar Rallies. Should we have ever doubted that BMW could make a top-shelf competitive 1000cc sport bike, if they so chose?
When the S1000RR was first introduced in 2009, there seemed an unwritten rule between the major manufacturers to continue to adopt (and release) the newest, most high-performing technological advancement upgrades at incremental paces.
When BMW threw its hat into the 1000cc sportbike ring, that all went out the window. BMW offered any potential customer a quantum leap of features to include factory ABS, optional traction control, an electronic shifter, and the most powerful engine in class, 190hp vs. 160hp from everyone else. Straight out of the gate.
The new S1000RR’s were delivered to dealers at such a heightened state of tune, that consumer models were unceremoniously limited to 9,000 RPM at the day of purchase, by software, for a predetermined number of miles to ensure a proper break-in period. When ready, an authorized dealer would be required to lift the electronic restrictions. The tolerances were that tight.
I remember some years ago, when I was hired to race an S1000RR for a factory-backed BMW team at the Isle of Man and Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix, there was this “lore” floating around the paddock that several of the top engine builders from private BMW teams took apart a stock S1000RR motor with an aim to improve its compression and cylinder-head flow, but came away astonished that there were virtually no additional mods they could do to improve the stock hard parts for superbike use. I’ll never forget hearing this. Basically, the BMW power-plants had been blueprinted at the factory before patrons could even remove the mirrors.
So, in the end, the superbike teams could only lighten the bodywork, change the wheels and suspension, have the ever-elusive BMW technician in the paddock reflash the stock ECU, then hire the best available rider they could afford. The motor internals remained largely untouched. Add tires and fuel.
As an end user, I can report that the S1000RR was so much faster on top speed than anything I had raced at the Isle of Man to that point (circa 2011?), I kept second-guessing whether the bike could, in reality, be held wide open through the most hairy and fastest bits – something all the other 1000cc machines could do if I held my breath, shut off my brain, and kept the throttle pinned. If I’m honest, the top speed of the BMW scared the shit out of me at the TT. At the Macau GP, the package worked great, and no one was blitzing me on the long straights.
I kept asking myself, “Why in the heck doesn’t BMW make a top-shelf competitive S600RR for super sport?” Now, we know they can, if they so choose.
My impressions of the newest S1000RR from the short circuit test in Sicily are all positive, I’m afraid. I hate to be such a fan-boy of perfectly working modern fire-breathing 200-horsepower gadgets. But if you’re wired like us, we can’t help but starve for and appreciate high quality, passionately made, competent and functional super-gizmos – when used as intended, in rapid motion.
Exactly ten years since its inception (and I’m told four years in the making), the from-the-ground-up BMW Superb-Bike is lighter by 24 lbs. total (engine, “Flex Frame”, swingarm, suspension, exhaust, etc.). The bike initially seemed to have the most intrusive six-axis electronics in the group, but once I understood how they worked, and when accompanied by BMW’s optional “Slide Control” on our M test model, a circle of trust began to build which encouraged me to apply much harder roll-ons off of the corners, and be rewarded by a mad-midrange rush of torque under 9000 RPM – due to its lightened crankshaft and double-lobe variable intake cams – followed by a time-warping 207-hp hit at the top end past 13,500 RPM.
The quick-shifter worked the best of all the bikes with a very notable ‘blip’ of the throttle on downshifts (just like my wife’s 2007 twin-turbo charged 335i sport sedan set on manual shift mode). The large 6.5-inch TFT color display was seductive and readable, if not complex due to its many options via the on-the-fly handlebar rotating-thingy.
The revised chassis – now with the engine as part of a stressed member of the frame and longer swingarm – turned on a dime and held its line like a professional race bike. It stuck to the tarmac with great feel on the exits of corners and reminded me of riding a 600 in anger, only somehow carrying an unlimited supply of invisible Nitrous Oxide from an imaginary bottle. God these things are fast.
The brakes were very good for a street bike, but the Hayes made-to-BMW-spec single-piece calipers left me wanting to update them to a level of performance that the rest of the bike exuded, price be damned.
A problem often develops inside your head as soon as given something awesome to ride. By the third lap you get greedy, and you’re screaming inside your inner-voice, “If only this had this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this – expensive after-market race bits from Sweden and Italy and Japan and…”
We will continue to see this BMW victorious around the world for some years to come. I shake my head with disbelief and gratitude to be alive in a time when the creators of these scandalous 1.0L sportbikes continue to one-up each other, but we win.
Suzuki GSX-R1000R $17,499 – as tested
Who hasn’t raced a GSXR some time in their lives? Many of us have.
Suzuki is that family member who you’re always a little embarrassed by when arriving at a restaurant for a birthday party. Only, halfway through the evening, they remind you again just how funny and ridiculous and, well, a lot like you, they are.
Suzuki is awesome. They offer the best price point in this shootout at about $17,500 fully equipped with all their special bits to include a bi-directional quickshift system, Showa balance free fork system, balance free rear cushion system, two-position swingarm pivot, Brembo T-drive front brake discs, steel-braided lines, variable valve timing, titanium valves, cornering ABS, and more.
Suzuki’s flagship orbits in the same stratosphere as the assembled companies, but costs much less.
This was the Hamamatsu Factory doing their part to encourage up-and-coming club racers to make the difficult leap from club racing to the nation’s pro series. Their aim, clearly, was to help secure a future in motorcycle road racing for the United States.
I managed several AMA/Pro podiums that year, riding those GSX-Rs. Many years after that era ended, I set the fastest ever lap-time by an American at the Isle of Man TT riding a Suzuki GSX-R1000.
Suzuki, as a company, has always felt to me like they cared more deeply about the human aspect of professional racing, than most.
Among my most humbling of memories, I was once privileged to get drunk with Mr. Suzuki himself – 500cc Grand Prix Champion, Kevin Schwantz. He’s a good example of the kind of riders that Suzuki wanted representing their brand at the highest level for so many years – all heart, down to earth, fast as fook, and full of beers, I mean, beans.
The representative that Suzuki sent to Sicily was also cool people. The GSX-R1000R he was looking after, worked surprisingly well.
Like the Yamaha R1, you jump on a GSX-R1000 and you instantly feel like you can push its limits by the third corner. It just works, really really well.
The torquey inline-Four can be called upon to start accelerating very early in the apex. There’s no, “I better hesitate a couple microseconds to see what the chassis and rear tire is going to do when I crack the throttle.” Ya just ride the damn thing.
The top-end rush at redline is less hysterical than the rest of the bikes, which I missed a little. And the handlebars continue to seem, in their stock position, and after what feels like 40 years on now, too close together and too far swept back.
The front Brembo brakes worked as expected at this price point – good bite and feel – but required a strong two-finger pull on the lever when slowing to the max from 6th gear, into the tight chicanes. The calipers faded only a little when very hot but stayed consistent for the remainder of the stints. I encountered no ABS anomalies when pushing for a best lap-time, even when leaned over.
The black-background LCD instrument panel was not my favorite and among the most difficult to glance at quickly when hauling ass in 6th gear scraping my knee. You could, however, change TC settings on the fly quite easily from the handlebars.
The sound of the 2019 GSX-R1000 engine is very deep and sultry, like an American muscle car at idle. From there it comes alive, big-style, with ever-increasing RPM.
On looks, I’m not the biggest fan of the candy-blue and day-glow yellow highlights, even on Suzuki’s MotoGP team. But, some people like it. To each their own. If Suzuki ever offered a dark matte charcoal grey version of this bike, it’d honestly pique my interest for the public roads.
Although we didn’t get a chance to ride any of these 1000s on the streets of Sicily, I believe this Suzuki would make an awesome street bike. It’s comfortable with good ergos (even with the current handlebar placement), you sit more in the bike rather than on the bike. It carries more than adequate brakes, has quick steering, usable bottom-end torque, and decent wind protection.
Sure, the Suzuki’s kickstand might be made up of a simple welded tube with paint over it, and the Ducati has a formed billet aluminum unit, but the Ducati costs $10,000 more!
And sure, if you owned one of these for the streets of Southern California, you’d be sharing this model with many young men wearing t-shirts and back protectors, and tennis shoes. Bless them. Good value is good value, and this is a great value.
Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory $24,499 – as tested
With the exception of the trick-looking carbon-fiber winglets (lifted straight off of Aprilia’s MotoGP RS-GP), the carbon air-scoops over the newfangled Brembo Stylema calipers, and the latest OEM titanium exhaust from Akrapovic – the 2019 Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory shares very similar lines to the first RSV4 introduced in 2008.
Looking deeper into its soul, however, the latest V4 from Aprilia is their fastest, lightest, most powerful, and best handling arrangement yet.
Up from a WSBK-legal 999cc, to an unrestricted 1078cc, the newest RSV4 engine size has increased to over 1000cc for the first time. The RSV4’s crazy brother-in-law, the Tuono, totes an engine size of 1077cc, one cubic centimeter less, interestingly enough.
Having raced Aprilia RSV4s professionally for three years, when I heard that the factory added almost 80cc to their existing engine, I thought to myself, “What the hell for? The previous engine was bloody brilliant, had mega power, was proven reliable, now they’re just showing off. What are they over-compensating for, anyway?”
Then I rode the new bike in Sicily.
With the added engine displacement, the bike has actually become easier to ride. The motor is less peaky, pulls harder at lower RPM, and complements an overall package that is more planted and stable than what my race bikes were a short few years ago.
The 217-horsepower engine comes on strong in a deceptively linear way – giving you the delusion that your motorbike is powered by soft fluffy clouds which mean you no harm, until they deceive you by catalyzing into a roaring thunderstorm which blissfully jets you through the troposphere like you’re a 187-mph bolt of greased lighting.
On the Aprilia, it felt like I was arriving to the large brake markers lining the circuit carrying more top speed than any other bike in the show. Whether aided by the large winglets on both sides of the fairings, I can’t say. But through whatever combination of factors; loads of power, great feel from the electronics, good ergonomics, spot-on electronic shifter and gearbox, and the fact that I’ve been intimately familiar with a similar RSV4 chassis in the past, I can only say that the bike felt glued to the tarmac exiting the corners, through the fastest bends, and under the hardest braking I dared while ravishing someone else’s loaner bike.
Luckily, thanks to the dual 330mm front Brembo rotors and re-vamped Öhlins NIX front forks, as well as the Öhlins TTX mono-shock out back, there was never an “oh, shit” moment where I thought I might blow through the next chicane.
The RSV4’s TFT display was bright and easy to read when at electrical discharge speeds.
On the Factory’s looks, I love stealth motorcycles for the street; subdued colors, quiet pipes, and narrow in build. With the two-tone matte-black paintwork, EURO 4-spec exhaust, and inherent width of a V4, the Aprilia RSV4 Factory checks a lot of these boxes for me.
Not inexpensive. But, it still costs less than almost any new car I’d be willing to buy today. With its smile/dollar ratio bettering any car available to purchase, a modern liter-bike like this one, even at $25,000, has still got to be considered one of the greatest bargains of all time.
And, they’re street legal!
Honda CBR1000RR SP $19,999 – as tested
When seeing the CBR1000RR SP for the first time, I was taken aback by how it oozed with quality. The paint was glossy, the welds on the frame were typical Honda-good. It had proper Öhlins Smart electronically controlled suspension and large TFT display, Brembo brake calipers, forged aluminum Marchesini wheels, and a stout bright polished swingarm.
When I read up on it further, I was impressed to discover the SP model comes with a titanium tank (4 pounds lighter than the standard counterpart), titanium muffler, and a lithium battery.
When turning it on for the first time, I was amazed to hear just how loud the sounds were coming out of this little gem. After an additional rev or two, I thought to myself, “Oh man, she’s not messing about, let’s do this thing.”
I found the Honda to be nimble in the corners, most happy being leaned over on its side, with power being soft on the bottom but fiery when all revved up.
Easy to ride fast, it instantly inspired my confidence to try things I typically wouldn’t on a first ride. Unlike the Yamaha or Suzuki, who were just a bit more rigid, a bit more reserved, and harder to steer, the Honda was easy to flick, to change its attitude, even its orientation. It seemed most in its element when ridden hard – but always with respect.
Although it was a pleasure to control, sometimes it controlled me, if I got too eager. But she handled it all in good stride. The electronics were great, too. You should have seen the TC setup. I’m so attracted to brains.
The Fireblade’s lines are great, too, but it could also change its lines, mid-drive, seemingly by me just thinking about it. It felt like the CBR could anticipate my next move. And, she loved to hit the apex – corner after corner. It was ridiculous.
I live to ride with something this good, something special enough to never want to leave the side of her fairing, again.
I’ll miss Honda. I never intended to fall during this trip to Sicily. But now I’m afraid I’ll never be able to forget the holiday romance we shared. That shiny, red, Honda.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR $24,899 – as tested
The Kawasaki motor in the ZX-10RR was the most reminiscent of old-school, in-line four-cylinder engines, not unlike my first real race bike, a 1991 Kawasaki ZX-7. They both share similar characteristics, like an eclectic power band with an uber-soft low end, followed by a massive rush of serious “get-out-of-my-way-I’m-coming-through” power over 8000 RPM.
In my experience, this way of delivering power can be helpful in a couple ways. One, for an average jaunt down the street, a more mild bottom delivery from a 1000cc engine is simply easier and a more realistic way to keep things domesticated around the neighborhood, than say, an unbridled Erik Buell Racing 1200cc ROTAX-powered monster-twin, which feels like it lurches three extra feet for every additional rotation of the crankshaft. Then, if you’re unfortunate to merely blip the throttle on that big twin, and God-forbid only holding on by one hand, the ridiculous torque in the thing would try and rip your remaining hand straight off of the handlebar.
On the peaky inline motor, if you ever need to blast yourself to safety, ya just drop a gear swiftly and pin the throttle tube to it’s stop. Boom, no busses squish us today.
Another reason it’s cool to have a peaky in-line motor beneath you, is it’s so fun when the later surge of power really kicks in. It’s like jumping up “onto the pipe” of a two-stroke. But, on a seriously powerful 1000cc modern four-stroke, with titanium Pankl connecting rods, and titanium valves like our exclusive RR, it’s more like hitting hyperspace on The Millennium Falcon, “WWWWWHOOSH!”
However, the most brilliant addition to Kawasaki’s in-line package is when they added all their electronic rider aides. On track, and within a short time, I started trusting that I could pretty much WHACK on the throttle pretty early in the corners, and the motor would begin whirling up in softish manner, while the bike was still on it’s side. Then the electronics would unleash the full fury of horsepower once I had picked the bike up and onto the fat part of the rear tire, “WWWWWHOOSH!”
The gearing on this ZX-10RR was quite tall, especially in first gear. I think for the street, dropping one tooth on the front sprocket would be a safe place to start fiddling, “just to get things moving…”
This motorcycle took more of an effort to turn than others, but remained planted throughout a lap with a sensational set of forks that seemed a bit raked-out like a chopper. I was itching to stiffen up this test bike’s mechanical SHOWA suspension so I could push a bit more forcibly into the corners and match how entertaining the motor was on the straights. But, I left things as they were handed to me, trying to be a good guest.
You definitely sit on this bike as opposed to in it. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say it feels like you sit over the front wheel. The pegs are high and the bars are low. This machine is really in its element when it’s carving up a corner, chewing on it, then spitting it out over its wake, like a spent sunflower seed shell. No wonder Jonny Rea has been so successful in WSBK the past couple of years with this street bike as a starting point. Some serious research and development (and experience) has gone into tweaking this chassis geometry to where it is today.
I found the Brembo mono-block brake calipers with their 330mm rotors to work really well. They’ve got some good initial bite, then a healthy amount of feel when trail-braking deep into Pergusa’s tight chicanes.
Gripes may include a somewhat petite front windscreen offering little wind protection for a bike as fast as this is in a straight line. Also, the somewhat antiquated lightbulb/LCD dash assembly will have to be upgraded soon, if Kawasaki plans on continuing to hang out with this elitist crowd of sportbikes. In the meantime, I noticed AIM has a nice-looking 5-inch colored TFT that would plug-and-play into this Kawasaki for about $1,500.
On the ZX-10RR looks, I’ve never been a huge fan of this Darth Vader Helmet styling trend from Kawasaki. I think it makes the front of their bikes appear overly-bulbous or heavy, when compared to the same bike’s more sleek and streamlined tail section. But the forks and the matte black Marchesini forged aluminum race wheels look tough.
I’d say the overall styling of the ZX-10RR leans more to an aggressive, masculine aesthetic when compared to the fine wristwatch resemblance of the Ducati. Just an observation.
Pirelli’s resident test rider and designated fast guy, Alfio Tricomi, who I was told by Salvo half-jokingly must have over 10,000 hot laps around Pergusa, was asked to take each bike out on track for two maximum time-attack “qualifying” laps, to see how the times from each model would stack up against each other in a head-to-head shootout, with all other factors being constant – same rider w/ vast knowledge of the circuit, same time of day, and all bikes shod with the same Pirelli tyres, which our hero is also uniquely familiar with.
I thought the results were compelling and wanted to share his lap times with you.
But first, off came the treaded Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires (set to factory pressures), which we had been running all day. Then, in with the brand new super-sticky latest generation Diablo Superbike Slicks – coming off an hour each with tire-warmers.
Here are Alfio’s best efforts:
Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory = 1:42.03
Ducati Panigale V4 S Corse = 1:42.59
BMW S1000RR M = 1:43.27 (with second flying lap aborted)
Yamaha R1 M = 1:43.73
Kawasaki ZX-10RR = 1:45.40
Suzuki GSX-R1000R = 1:45.46
Honda CBR1000RR SP = 1:45.48
For fun, if someone came along and said, “One each, please.” They’d be looking at roughly $110,000 for all seven bikes, before taxes and whatnot. Still about one-third the price Porsche dealers are getting for a single new GT3.
Which bike would I take home? If I placed a hand on my heart and swore to tell the truth, I’d like to get to know the Panigale V4 S Corse a lot better. It was by far the most distinctive in the group. Sorry my dearest Honda, we’ll always have Sicily. xx
Big thanks to Salvo and his team at Pirelli.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my impressions. It’s not everyday we get to ride all of these terrific machines in one go, then try and write something intelligible about the experience. Sorry so wordy.
More by Mark Miller