Honda CBR100RR / Kawasaki ZX-10R / Suzuki GSX-R1000 / Yamaha YFR-R1

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christa Neuhauser

The best of the best, cream of the crop, and pick of the litter are all phrases used to denote the outstanding single example of a collective. And when surveying the four 1000cc supersport models parked in the hotel parking lot, it quickly becomes apparent that picking the "Best of Show" isn't going to be an easy task. Each model arguably represents the pinnacle of its respective manufacturer's technological bloodlines. Will determining a winner be easy? Highly doubtful. Will determining a winner be fun? Oh hell yeah.

The morning of our first big ride, it's hard not to be impressed by the stable of thoroughbreds waiting to be unleashed. The Honda CBR1000RR, the Kawasaki ZX10R, Suzuki's GSX-R1000, and Yamaha's YZF-R1 all sit quietly in the cool morning mist. We've been looking forward to this ride and the sound of the awakening inline fours does nothing but agitate the riding juices. The mere sound of these idling beasts reverberating across the parking lot is enough to turn nearly every head in the vicinity. Though not overly loud, it's obvious these machines mean business. We depart, gliding through the intersection and banking right onto the freeway on-ramp. Juicing the throttle to attain California freeway speed leaves no doubt in any of our minds that they call these things superbikes for a reason.

Motivation
To say all four of these machines have power to spare is a flagrant understatement. If you can't provoke a speeding ticket in first gear, a quick snick to second should hook you right up. That being said, it's surprising how these engines, all with such incredible potency, manage to behave when the afterburners are not firing. Once out on the back roads the available abundance of power and torque begins to really set in and, boy, is it fun.

The Suzuki GSX-R1000 quickly earned praise as a throttle monger's weapon of choice, scoring a bull's eye every time we pulled the trigger. Whether dicing through tight twists or zipping past slowpokes, the big Suzook delivers the goods no matter the gear. An appropriate snatch of the wrist is all that the 998cc mill needs to get cooking. The power is linear and tractable all the way to redline with nary a hint of any unexpected surprises. All the while, you're pleasantly wrapped inside a vortex of goose-bump-rousing symphonics emanating from the titanium exhaust. The transmission is a smooth-shifting unit that seems to be geared with a tad more street attitude than the others. Awesome power delivered in a user-friendly fashion is never a bad thing.

Hot on the Gixxer's heels is the Yamaha YZF-R1. This black beauty's gait can make any high-strung speed freak swoon while exhibiting a civility akin to Ms. Manners. The short-stroke 998cc four churns out a ranch of ponies at a blistering 12,500rpm. The R1 does love those revs and demands them to keep the boilers lit. No worries though, the less intense velocity required in the real world of commuting and touring is on tap in spades, you just have to put the whip to it a bit more than when riding the Suzuki to reap the speedy rewards. Some of that feeling may be the result of gearing. The R1 feels a bit longer-legged than the Gixxer. Regardless, the slick tranny functioned flawlessly requiring no more boot to shift than the Suzook.

Following close behind in a dead heat are Honda's CBR1000RR and Kawasaki's ZX10R. The power on the ZX10R comes on in a rush best described as brutal. For a bunch of guys oriented to touring, this can of worms has a bit too much wiggle. Though its juice is on par with the Suzuki, it seems to lack the restraint. We all like the ZX10 - for all the wrong reasons. Adrenaline and touring/commuting makes for interesting but sometimes nightmarish bedfellows. For our purposes, the ZX is just a little too much of a good thing. As for the CBR1000RR, it's a stereotypical Honda. There's an inherent perfection in most of Big Red's machines that, strange as it sounds, sometimes leaves them on the outside looking in. The CBR does nothing poorly and delivers its dose of head-snatching power flawlessly. An awesome power plant, but its ability to initiate forward progress is overshadowed by the character displayed in the other machines.

Feel
Often it's hard to associate touch and feel with brute power. Yet in the sport motorcycle world the two really do have to go hand in hand. Big power needs big handling or big problems can ensue. Again, as in the motor department, there isn't a loser in the bunch. We took these rides out for a little run encompassing all types of tarmac. From LA's feral 405 Freeway to the twists of Palomar Mountain, we did our best to expose the mount with top touring potential.

The foremost consideration when choosing any bike to be used for duties outside the gates to the track is comfort. Despite the popular misconception, sportbikes can be comfortable - really, they can. We did 300-400 mile days on these bikes with no lingering aftereffects a hot shower and a cold beverage couldn't cure.

Our consensus vote for an all-day companion is the Yamaha R1. There's something about the ergonomics that just seems to work. The bars, seat, and pegs come together in an almost perfect symmetry that furnishes a sweet spot no matter the rider's size. The steering is comfortably precise with no hints of heaviness or twitchiness. The choice of speed and line through the corners is up to you and the R1 is happy to oblige. The strong aluminum Deltabox frame coupled with a fully adjustable suspension and super-stout brakes make for a truly superb handling package.

It's a jump ball for second between the CBR1000RR and the ZX10. The nod for comfort and all day ride-ability goes to the Kawasaki while the Honda scores big, thanks to its precise handling. The CBR's twin spar aluminum frame and aluminum-hybrid swingarm combine with a fully adjustable front and rear suspension to provide a truly impressive sense of control. The superior brakes and the Honda Electronic Steering Damper™ (HESD™) certainly don't get in the way either. No issues arose in the stability department on the CBR; it just goes where you tell it, no questions asked. Likewise, the ZX10 can track like nobody's business. Featuring an equally stout aluminum twin spar frame and fully adjustable suspension front and rear, the only things the ZX give up to the Honda is a perception that it's not quite as stable and has slightly heavier steering. And the hand-numbing buzz transmitted through the handlebars certainly didn't help any when it came to raising thumbs on the ZX side of the slate.

Having the GSX-R bring up the rear in this department feels truly bizarre, simply because the bike has marvelous handling and is surprisingly comfortable for a machine commonly thought of as a track bike. While the Gixxer's chassis components can go nose to nose with the competition, we noticed a twitchy feel the others didn't have.

Purpose
OK, all of you die-hard touring types, I know you're just a few paragraphs away from jumping on the Net to add to the barrage of e-mails we invariably get every time we test bikes that aren't "touring" models. Bear with us a little longer, if you please, and I'll try to tie this thing together.

There's no denying the pedigree of any of these machines. Glance at the starting grid of an AMA Superbike event, or even a Moto-GP race, and you can easily see the depth of the gene pools. These are all serious sport machines for serious sport riders, there's no two ways about it; but who's to say that this type of rider doesn't like to do a little touring on occasion? I've heard about riders taking their sport touring machines to track days, so why should it be unusual for a rider to take a sport bike on tour for a few days? Granted, hard bags are not an option on these machines, but any number of sources offer soft luggage that will strap on just about anything. In fact, all of these rides have some sort of hook and/or strap setup designed to tie on said bags. From our perspective, if you have enough bag for a few days of tee shirts, you have a touring bike.

All of our testers agree that long stints on the freeway are not the forte of any of these bikes. Then again, how many of us view freeway rides as anything more than a necessary evil, a quick route to the real roads? Well, when the slab ends and the curves start, that's when touring on one of these machines really begins to make sense. The race-inspired breeding inherent in all of these bikes makes any jaunt across curve-infested landscapes a stunning reaffirmation of why we participate in this nutty pastime. When it comes right down to it, fun is the most important monkey we chase and if you can't catch that little cuss on one of these bikes, you ain't gonna' catch him.

Logic
This is certainly a tough call, but as hypothesized earlier, we had a blast coming to our conclusions. We did our best to evaluate all of these bikes from the perspective of touring riders. While the power and chassis are very impressive on all of these machines, we tried to temper our conclusions based on which bike would make the best overall ride for a few long days on the road. Of these four fine machines, we agreed the Yamaha YZF-R1 would best suit our purposes. The undeniably potent engine matches flawlessly with its rock-solid, stable chassis. The ease of low-speed, around-town handling flows seamlessly into a high-speed bliss that must be experienced to be believed. Combine this with surprisingly forgiving ergonomics and the very handy under-seat straps for cinching down a bag, and you have a motorcycle that is capable of making most any tour a ride not soon forgotten. Sure, you may be giving up a little comfort and storage to the traditionally designed touring machines, but logic dictates that you stand a decent chance of making up for it in the tight stuff.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Honda CBR1000RR

+ Precise handling, brakes, fit and finish

- comfort, so-so styling

Distributor American Honda Motor Co.
www.hondamotorcycles.com
Engine inline four, DOHC, 16-valve
Displacement 998cc
Bore x Stroke 75 x 56.5mm
Carburetion fuel injection
Power n/a
Cooling liquid
Ignition electronic
Transmission six-speed
Frame twin spar aluminum
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable, 4.7in. travel
Rear Suspension Single shock Pro-Link, fully adjustable, 5.3in. travel
Rake/Trail 23.75¼/4.0in (102mm)
Brakes front/rear twin four piston calipers, 310mm discs/single piston caliper, 220mm disc
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR x 17, 190/50ZR x17
Dry Weight 396lb (179.6kg)
Wheelbase 55.6in (1412mm)
Seat height 32.5in (825mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.8 gal (18.2l)
Fuel Consumption 38mpg
Colors red/black, black/magnetic silver, titanium/black, Repsol Edition
MSRP $ 11,299

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Kawasaki ZX-10R

+ power, brakes, well balanced suspension

- handlebar vibration

Distributor Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA
www.kawasaki.com
Engine inline four, DOHC, 16-valve
Displacement 998cc
Bore x Stroke 76 x 55mm
Carburetion fuel injection
Power n/a
Cooling liquid
Ignition digital TCBI
Transmission six-speed
Frame aluminum twin-spar
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable, travel n/a
Rear Suspension Single shock, fully adjustable, travel n/a
Rake/Trail 24¼/4in (101.6mm)
Brakes front/rear twin four piston calipers, 300mm discs/single piston caliper, 220mm disc
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR x 17, 190/50ZR x17
Dry Weight 375lb (171kg)
Wheelbase 54.5in (1384mm)
Seat height 32.5in (825.5mm)
Fuel Capacity 4. 5gal (17l)
Fuel Consumption 43mpg
Colors Kawasaki Lime Green/stoic black, metallic raw titanium/flat stoic black, pearl maoma red/flat stoic black
MSRP $ 10,999

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Suzuki GSX-R1000

+ power, handling, brakes, power

- comfort for touring

Distributor American Suzuki Motor Corporation
www.suzukicycles.com
Engine inline four, DOHC, 16-valve
Displacement 998.6cc
Bore x Stroke 73.4 x 59mm
Carburetion fuel injection
Power n/a
Cooling liquid
Ignition digital/transistorized
Transmission six-speed
Frame twin spar, aluminum
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable, travel n/a
Rear Suspension Single shock link type, fully adjustable, travel n/a
Rake/Trail n/a
Brakes front/rear twin four piston calipers, 310mm discs/single disc
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR x 17, 190/50ZR x17
Dry Weight 365lb (166kg)
Wheelbase 55.3in (1405mm)
Seat height 31.9in (810mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.8gal (18l)
Fuel Consumption 39mpg
Colors blue/white, black/grey, black/yellow
MSRP $ 10,849

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Yamaha YZF-R1

+ comfort, smooth power, tour-able

- we couldn't find any

Distributor Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA
www.yamaha-motor.com
Engine inline four, DOHC, 20-valve
Displacement 998cc
Bore x Stroke 77 x 53.6mm
Carburetion fuel injection
Power n/a
Cooling liquid
Ignition digital TCI
Transmission six-speed
Frame aluminum Deltabox
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable, 4.7in. travel
Rear Suspension Single shock, fully adjustable, 5.1in. travel
Rake/Trail 24¼/3.8in (96.5mm)
Brakes front/rear twin four piston calipers, 320mm discs/single pistoncaliper, 220mm disc
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR x 17, 190/50ZR x17
Dry Weight 379lb (172kg)
Wheelbase 54.9in (1394mm)
Seat height 32.8in (833mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.85gal (18.4l)
Fuel Consumption 39mpg
Colors Team Yamaha Blue/white, shift red, raven
MSRP $ 10,999 (blue, red) $ 11,099 (raven)