From the unchained environment of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where performance is the sole consideration for victory in our 2015 Six-Way Superbike Track Shootout, we move to the confines of public roadways to determine which superbike renders the best street-legal exhibition. As tight as our track test results were, the street shootout was just as close with a half-percent separating second from first place. If the MO offices were located in Florida, I’d demand a recount.
While the contestants remain the same: Aprilia RSV4 RF, BMW S1000RR, Ducati 1299 Panigale S, Honda CBR1000RR SP, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, Yamaha YZF-R1, we did swap out our track ringer, Doug Chandler, for yours truly. To test acceleration abilities, we brought the group to a run-what-ya-brung drag night. Sadly, for the birthplace of dragracing, SoCal lacks a selection of quarter-mile dragstrips, so we were forced to settle for the eighth-mile strip at Irwindale Speedway. Sean Alexander would be our reference rider, getting runs on all six bikes, while the rest of us were limited by the track to passes on just one bike. Then on the last round, in a typical MO moment, we just said, “Screw it, we’ll switch riders anyway, because they can’t kick us out after it’s over!”
Otherwise, with model introductions, dyno charts, test explanation and thank-yous littered throughout the preamble of the track test, we’re left with nothing more than getting to the nitty gritty of where and why each bike placed as it did in the street shootout. So, let’s get to it.
Sixth Place: Honda CBR1000RR SP 83.7%
In my single-bike review of the CBR1000RR SP I gave the Honda a score of 83.5%. Against its peers, with five other editors involved we collectively scored the CBR 83.7%. Can’t say we’re not consistent. This solid B score would be perfectly acceptable were it my high school report card, but in this instance, it’s only good enough for last place.
Bereft of tech and weak in horsepower, the CBR remains a good package due to its well-balanced chassis. The SP produces more torque than the other Japanese bikes in this shootout. In the pounds per pound-feet category of the ScoreCard, the Honda comes in third behind the Ducati and BMW. With very streetable mid-range power and gearing, the CBR proves a six-axis gyro isn’t necessary for high-octane street riding.
“Despite its lack of whiz-bang technologies, the big CBR was one of the most user-friendly bikes of the bunch,” says Evans Brasfield. “It’s a great reminder of both how far we’ve come in just a few years and how good we had it – with a taste of what was lost by bringing GP technology to the street.”
With a 39.1 mpg average the Honda bested the runner-up mpg average of the BMW by 1.7 miles per gallon, and the worst offender, the YZF-R1, by 9.4 miles per gallon.
The CBR does claim a slipper clutch, which is great for both street and track riding. Its other notable technology is its Öhlins suspension. The fully adjustable NIX30 inverted fork and Unit Pro-Link Öhlins shock conspire to give the SP a supple ride for the variety of road conditions you’ll experience.
“Suspension is a nice compromise for the street, providing good control while being relatively compliant,” says Kevin Duke.
“The CBR’s great for soaking up small chop on the Crest and riding home 400 miles,“ adds John Burns. “Strange its ergos aren’t as good as every other CBR. On the track it’s slow; on the street, you’ll never know it’s 30 horses down on the BMW. When the BMW is in for warranty work, the CBR will be waiting for you in the garage. Ditto the Kawasaki.”
Öhlins and Brembo are two of the best names in the biz, and you feel the quality when riding the CBR, but Duke makes a good point: “No forged wheels on a $17k Honda?”
No one particularly cared for the CBR’s seating position. Not a surprise considering Honda tweaked the footpegs and clip-ons to be more aggressive for track duty. The instrument cluster is uncluttered with only traditional information displayed plus a gear-position indicator.
We can continue praising what the Honda does right against the likes of newer models equipped with more formidable arsenals, but let’s get to the elephant in the room – the SP’s price tag. At $17,299 the CBR is the fourth most expensive bike here: $1,700 more than the ZX-10R and $809 more than the GP-for-the-street R1. That’s a hard pill to swallow when the other bikes here are armed to the teeth with the latest and greatest technological wizardry.
At The Drag Strip: 7.437 @ 105.60 mph
Curb Weights (full tanks)
Aprilia RSV4 RF 456 lbs – 51.0% front
BMW S1000RR 451 lbs – 52.3% front
Ducati 1299 Panigale S 427 lbs – 52.6% front
Honda CBR1000RR SP 444 lbs – 52.5% front
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R 446 lbs – 51.6% front
Yamaha YZF-R1 438 lbs – 52.4% front
“The CBR SP was straightforward and easy to ride at the strip,” notes Sean Alexander, our rider who made the most passes on these superbikes at Irwindale. “What was a surprise, however, was how quick it was off the line, thanks to its moderate gearing and tractable powertrain. Once into third gear, it starts to feel a bit slow compared to everything else in this test, I suspect it wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive beyond the 1/8th mile mark. However, the CBR makes a most willing partner in crime for stoplight banditry.”
Fifth Place: Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R 86.8%
Twenty years passed between Kawasaki’s first World Superbike Championship title in 1993 with Scott Russell and the company’s second title in 2013 with Tom Sykes. But win it that year Sykes did, and he did it aboard this motorcycle (largely unchanged since 2012). The Ninja 10R – reigning champ from our 2012 Japanese Superbike Shootout – held up well against its new competitor from Japan, the YZF-R1, losing out to Yamaha’s new flagship superbike by only 2.4%.
By way of the lowest MSRP, the third lowest weight and strong finishes in the power-to-weight categories, the Ninja did win the Objective section of the MO ScoreCard with a 92.1% to the R1’s 91.6%. The 10R lost ground to the other bikes in the Subjective scoring categories, but judging by the notes of all the testing editors, the Kawi does nothing terribly wrong, nor does it stand out in any particular way.
The ZX-10R’s bar-graph tach is colorful and easy to read, but the LCD info window is on the smallish side.
“A well-honed machine with no acclimatization needed,” says Duke.
“Fat midrange, beastly top-end, perfectly weighted steering, perfectly good suspension, and the knowledge that TC is there even if I’m too slow to really use it,” says Burns.
So, why doesn’t the Ninja do better in this shootout? At $15,600 it’s the bargain bike here, undercutting the CBR by $1,700 and besting it by having a relatively impressive arsenal of technological rider aides. Here’s the pinch, for only $890 more you can have the all-new R1, which certainly seems to be the real bargain. And although we didn’t test the base model Aprilia, the RR, it should at least be considered as an option because it’s only a Ulysses S. Grant away from the Kawi ABS model.
“Shame the Ninja’s only a 50 bucks less than the base-model Aprilia, which isn’t any more competent but is way more, ahhh, exciting and better sounding,” says Burns.
The Ninja’s graphics “are flatteringly slimming,” according to Duke.
The Kawi’s brakes drew good reviews with Siahaan saying he couldn’t “believe the brakes weren’t Italian.” The seating position, however, seemed more appropriate for the larger editors while not so much for the smaller editors, who complained of the reach to the bars, and the overall aggressiveness of the seating position.
When it comes to fuel economy, the 10R ranked fourth with an average consumption of 33.2 mpg. And despite its tall gearing, the Ninja was third fastest at the drag strip behind the BMW and Yamaha.
At The Drag Strip: 7.721 at 102.19 mph
Aprilia RSV4 RF 34.9
BMW S1000RR 37.4
Ducati 1299 Panigale S 31.7
Honda CBR1000RR SP 39.1
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R 33.2
Yamaha YZF-R1 29.7
“The ZX-10R can be a nightmare to launch due to its overly tall stock gearing causing it to fall into a torque hole right around the time the clutch gets fully engaged,” says Alexander. “This makes it way too easy to bog out of the hole. Siahaan got one good clean run on it, out of four tries, and ripped to a 7.1 at 112.5 mph, so it isn’t slow at all, just very difficult to launch in stock form. ZX-10Rs actually do great on the dragstrip once properly geared and set-up.”
Fourth Place: Yamaha YZF-R1 89.2%
Coming in fourth is the last of the Japanese entrants, Yamaha’s YZF-R1. The 2015 R1 is an all-new model, a technological tour de force, and it was almost universally lauded in reports from its media introduction. Consequently, we had high expectations for it, so it was a surprise to see it slotting down in fourth place on our scorecards.
“I liked it at the track pretty well, but only midpack,” says Burns. “On the street, its ergos are cruelest, and its rear suspension and seat the meanest, placing my droopy old boys in such a position that every bump treated them like a pair of ping-pong balls being dribbled by the Harlem Globetrotters. I understand the ‘racetrack first’ thing as a marketing ploy, I guess, but this is a streetbike. The Aprilia and BMW are both faster around the track while being much more comfy on the street.”
Ergonomically, no one liked the reach to the R1’s clip-ons – the farthest and lowest of the group. This is not a problem at the track, but for street riding, any other bike here has a more comfortable rider triangle.
One thing no one complained of is the sound emanating from the R1’s crossplane crankshaft inline-Four. “Equally as exotic as the Aprilia,” says Siahaan. But even though most testers commented that the 150 horses of the CBR are plenty for street riding, everyone was still amazed at the R1’s low output of 163 hp (only three more than the Ninja), and the least amount of torque, producing only 72.5 lb-ft at 8900 rpm.
One of the Yamaha’s strongest features is its digital tech. “The electronics package is impressive, and I particularly loved the lift control that allowed me to carry a slight wheelie for extended periods on Laguna’s front straight and at the Irwindale drag strip, which was quite exciting for a wheelie-deficient rider, like myself,” says Brasfield.
“The gauge cluster is bright, colorful and informative. I find that its menus and buttons are pretty easy to navigate, too, much more so than the Duc’s,” says Siahaan. With an average 29.7 mpg the R1 recorded the worst fuel economy, even running out of fuel during our first group fuel stop. Yamaha claims a capacity of 4.5 gallons; ours was filled to the filler neck (on its sidestand) after 4.25 gallons.
There were complaints that Ride Mode A is too aggressive, forcing many of the testers to use Ride Mode B in order to smooth throttle application. Siahaan and I both shared this opinion, with Brasfield dissenting, saying “Strangely, I noticed the abrupt throttle transitions more on the track than the street – unlike a few of the other riders. Perhaps this was because I found the R1’s engine braking to be absolutely perfect for my riding style on the street, allowing me to better anticipate my throttle roll-on and make it smoother.”
We did have a strange episode with the R1’s front brakes. As we got ready for a street photo session, we noticed its front brake dragging and registering brake pressure on the instrument cluster. After inspection, it was discovered the master cylinder spacer Yamaha’s testing department removed to allow the brake lever to rotate further downward (at an angle experienced riders prefer) caused an unforeseen issue. With the factory spacer removed and the lever angled lower, firmly pulling the lever to the bar, as we did after we reinstalled tires, allowed a tang on the brake lever to bend slightly and thus caused clearance issues. The R1s delivered to dealers, all with the master cylinder spacers, have no such issue.
In the end, the general sentiment seemed be that the R1 makes a better track bike than a street bike. But its second place finish in the Objective scoring category of the ScoreCard helps justify purchasing it over the other two Japanese bikes. Throw in emotional factors such as sound and styling, and the R1 will rev the lust engine of any sportbike enthusiast.
At The Drag Strip: 7.389 at 103.84 mph
“The new R1 was consistently quick and straightforward on the dragstrip,” says Alexander. “I enjoyed its intake honk and ability to haul ass without being temperamental. Its electronics package clearly allows the R1 to launch controllably without placing any unnecessary restrictions on its forward-progress.”
Read More Here: 2015 Six-Way Superbike Street Shootout + Video