CMG’s question was a valid one: Can you compare the new Honda CBR1000RR to the new Suzuki GSX-R1000? Something that advises potential buyers what to expect from each, and what each does better? And have you ridden the Yamaha and the Kawasaki?
With the exception of the base 2017 GSX-R1000 and the new for 2017 R version of the Kawasaki ZX-10R (a limited-edition race special), I have ridden all these bikes, plus the BMW S1000RR and the Ducati 1299 Panigale S. However, I rode each on a different day and on a different track, so this is by no means a true comparo. Only a direct comparison will do that, and it will be epic. Until then, though, some distinctions do stand out pretty clearly.
The most important thing potential buyers must realize is that, by any stretch of the imagination, there are no losers here. That wasn’t the case last year with both the old-generation Suzuki and Honda still in the picture, but with the all-new GSX-R1000 and CBR1000RR launched for 2017, we’ve now got ourselves a fight. In fact, more like a clash of Titans.
To grasp the calibre of the machines we’re talking about here, a quick anecdote. Former GP World Champ Kevin Schwantz was at the GSX-R1000R launch in Australia. I had the privilege to ride and chat with him, and as a Suzuki ambassador, it’s his job to say the new GSX-R is awesome. So I asked him something else.
Since he apparently has had seat time on all Suzuki MotoGP bikes, I asked him which iteration of race bike he would compare to the new GSX-R1000R. What I really wanted to know was how far back in time he’d have to return to find a MotoGP bike that offers about the same general performance as the new production GSX-R. He didn’t think too long — five years, he said. That’s it? I was astonished. Then he thought some more and said, “well, maybe more like between five and 10 years, for sure.”
So, according to him, in general terms, the current 200 hp production GSX-R1000R’s performance is reminiscent of, say, a seven-year-old MotoGP bike. And the new GSX-R is neither the most powerful nor the most electronically advanced bike in the class. So whether we’re talking about the BMW S1000RR, the Honda CBR1000RR, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, the Suzuki GSX-R1000, the Yamaha YZF-R1 or the Ducati 1299 Panigale, that is the level of machinery buyers can choose from today.
In terms of differences I’m pretty sure about, I’d say the BMW is still the power king, although not by a whole lot. It’s a very competent bike overall, no question. While very fast too, the YZF-R1 is probably the least powerful, but again, not by very much. The Yamaha R1M, however, does have the best electronics. Wheelie Control is a stand-alone function, which should really be the standard for all these bikes. There’s even a Slide Control that lets you drift the rear coming out of corners on a track. And it works. Thanks to its crossplane crank, the Yamaha’s inline four also has a delicious V4-like exhaust note.
The Kawasaki is all business. It’s very fast and its electronics work very efficiently. It’s all about being a serious platform for the World Superbike championship, which it won in 2016 at the hands of Jonathan Rea. For my taste, however, it could be more fun. Exiting corners hard, its front won’t go up more than a few inches to maximize acceleration and lap times, so if you enjoy the occasional wheelie, you’ll have to disengage Traction Control. With close to 200 hp looking to rip the rear tire apart, good luck with that.
I remember both the Kawi and the BMW feeling like big bikes, while both the new Suzuki and Honda that I rode recently felt narrow and nimble, more 600-like. A lot of effort went into reducing weight on the Honda CBR (it’s down an amazing 15 kilos) and, on both, into lightening the steering input and reducing the width and height of the tank. The net result is two bikes that really do get nearer that elusive 600 feel. I’d say that power and torque is similar (meaning ultra-high and very good) on both, that handling is comparably light with maybe a slight advantage to the Honda, and that electronics are far more advanced on the SP version of the Honda.
The Honda’s semi-active suspensions are among the most desirable features in the class. They work well, as do basically all of the other suspensions here, but they also allow tool-less changes: simply get to the corresponding menu and choose the kind of result you want. Preprogrammed changes to preload and damping should get you there. Ironically, the more basic wheelie control of the Suzuki GSX-R (it’s only the result of traction control, not a real wheelie control) works more predictably than Honda’s integrated TC and WC. Finally, the Honda’s exhaust note at full throttle is clearly louder, almost racebike-like.
As for the Ducati, it also has that very pleasant feel of a bike big on power, yet still agile and not too hard nor too draining to toss around a track. The Panigale is often described as surprisingly easy to ride, but that’s only when all the rider aids are turned on. For instance, a strict wheelie control setting will limit power and reduce the skill necessary to ride the 205 hp monster, but adjust settings (you will need the owner’s manual) to let the thing deliver full power and you’d better know what you’re doing before you give ‘er. It will wheelie hard and I’m still in disbelief that a V-Twin can accelerate that hard. It’s a very special motorcycle, and absolutely gorgeous, too.
Handling and brakes are too close to call without riding the bikes back to back. All are really, really good, and that’s about as well as I can describe them. If you need better, you need factory sponsorship.