Which superbike is the best?

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.

Suzuki GSX-R1000R.

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.

BMW S1000RR

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.

Yamaha YZF-R1M.

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.

Kawasaki ZX-10R

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.

Honda CBR1000RR.

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.

Ducati 1299 Panigale S.

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.

15 thoughts on “Which superbike is the best?”

  1. These bikes will never fade away and i dont think the 600 supersports will fade out like people say, ive owned sportbikes for many years have a kawi 636 now, but people will keep buying them because they are fast as fuckin shit, and sexy as hell, grab ya r6 or zx10r etc and hit a backroad, canyon and rock. Best feeling in the world, id love to have the rsv4 or beemer, but the 600s have always been funner to me, the gixx 750 is awesome too, so finding a used low mileage bike in good condition aint hard, mom n dad got a r6 for little johnnys graduation it scared him shitless and bam need to sell. Sportbikes rule, shit like harleys i dont get…ugly as shit, and if i wanna cruise ill get a suv.

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      And take it easy on the cursin’ – you kiss yo mama wid a mouth like that ?
      Ride with pride clyde, see you at the next Moto Social – I’ll look for the squid with the GoPro on his helmet….

      1. Fo shizzle he be droppin’ da troot on ya, yall.
        y done yo take yer whitey ass stuk up hatin’ to da next level, yall?

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        How ’bout them Leafs, eh? Did you watch them hump the RW’s tonight?

  2. There almost isn’t a point to these bikes any more when you start looking at the S1000XR, Multi strada, or even the 1000 Ninja and Yamaha’s FZ09 or 10…. You get close to the same performance in a far more comfortable chassis.

  3. I just can’t get over the price of these bikes and the eventual steep depreciation ouch! How can that bill be fun? Who is the target audience for these machines? Is the new owner of such a machine going to have a 6 digit income and a $80 000+ dollar car in the garage?

    1. I’m nowhere near that income and my car is nowhere near that value. They say you should spend your money on experiences, not things. Owning one of these bikes has been an experience I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Imagine reaching the end of a life filled with only sensible choices.
      R1M!

  4. The question to me in this class has always been which one is most passable as a thrilling street bike while having the stuff that I value most – precision & feedback – for track days. The BMW has played both sides best for a while now IMO, Hondas were best to me in the past.

    It’s all a moot point now that Ontario is pricing these out of the market in insurance – which is depressing.

    Saw the new Suzuki at the bike show, it’s clearly more “all new” than the Honda. The frame spars the smallest I’ve seen for alloy literbike frames, which was interesting.

    1. Yechwando : No, not all equally reliable. Japanese brands are in their own league. Just the way it is. And just as in the auto industry, btw. That being said, European brands have come a long way. If you want one, reliability is less and less a valid reason not to get one.

  5. Best for whom?

    When it comes to potential buyers unless you are a professional rider with enough skills to exploit the full potential of these machines on a racetrack you should pretty much ignore most performance aspects and fully base your judgement on other things such as looks, comfort and practicality (or lack of …).

    If you’re going to ride mostly on the street you should appreciate the electronically adjustable suspensions of the R1M and Honda. Since the Honda is lighter and more beautiful it would probably be my pick.

    And Aprilia sould be there too.

    1. pBrasseur : You are correct. The problem is you are almost too correct. What I mean is your point is very logical. These purchases aren’t. They haven’t been for a very long time. They’re emotional. And the emotion that brings someone to the tipping point, to where he/she «feels» this one is the one, is very much triggered by what the bike is capable of. In short, buyers want the fastest and baddest, the latest and greatest. So that’s what manufacturers build.

      But you are absolutely correct : the performance level is so high for every model (it has been for years and years) you can pick the one you think looks the best. You can’t lose.

      You are also correct about the Aprilia RSV4. It should be there. The issue is it’s all but impossible in Canada to get press bikes from the Piaggio Group brands (Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Vespa). They just don’t have a press fleet. A dealer in MTL has just begun loaning bikes. Let’s see how that goes.

  6. R1M Yamaha has the Ohlins electric racing suspension which delivers a semi-active system. So the new Honda is not the only one to provide this.

    1. Dave Shepherd : I didn’t write the Honda was the only one equipped with Öhlins semi-active suspension. The R1M and the 1299 Panigale S also have the Öhlins semi-active setup.

      I wrote :

      « The Honda’s semi-active suspensions are among the most desirable features in the class. … choose the kind of result you want. Preprogramed changes to preload and damping should get you there. »

      What is unique and desirable about the Honda (SP) is the ability to choose between 11 settings of «Firmness Character», «Nose dive Character», «Turning Character» and «Pitching Character», meaning you choose what you want the bike to do and preprogramed changes to preload and damping get activated. The Honda also gives the option to do it the old fashion way, by increasing or decreasing preload and compression and rebound damping individualy.

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