Class of 2010: European Sportbikes - Foreign Exchange

While Japan throttles back, Europe delivers its most serious sportbikes yet

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Adam Campbell, Joe Neric

Barry Burke, Guest Tester
Best Lap: Ducati 1198S 1:52.01
Age: 49
Height: 6'
Weight: 175 lbs
Inseam: 33 in.

The Aprilia RSV4 Factory and MV Agusta F4 stood out from the start. The Aprilia is like a 600 with liter-bike horsepower and laser-precise handling. My only problem was fit: Monkey ... football-you fill in the rest. The MV's motor is the most impressive here. If it weren't for the footpegs being so high, the F4 could have been my winning pick. The BMW had motor, but its handling wasn't in the same league as the Aprilia's or MV's. Compared to the rest of these rocketships, the KTM felt like a stepladder bolted to a piece of farm equipment. Which leaves the Ducati: Amazing traction control, adult-sized ergonomics, superb suspension, an excellent motor and even cool paint. Can I have one, please?

Matt Samples, Guest Tester
Best Lap: Ducati 1198S 1:48.11
Age: 34
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 195 lbs
Inseam: 34 in.

"Motorcyclist to Agent Gold Bond: We've got a vector on $100K worth of European superbike hardware, do you copy?" "Roger that. Chubbage commencing, over."

Talk about a killer collection of machinery! Where do I start? BMW's S1000RR is an amazing first effort, dripping with technology and horsepower, but the lap times weren't on the pace. Aprilia's RSV4 is so tiny and trick, like a race-kitted R6 stuffed full of 150-horse V4 (that sounds like a V8). But without traction control, it was a handful to ride.

In the end, none of the young guns could keep up with the veteran. Power everywhere, no fighting the bike to go where you want, and as much traction control as you desire, Ducati's superbike still sets the standard.

Ari Henning, Associate Editor
Best Lap: Aprilia RSV4 Factory 1:49.45
Age: 25
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 175 lbs
Inseam: 33 in.

Even a high price tag can't buy perfection, as each of these expensive machines has flaws. The KTM was held back by a wonky throttle and slippery seat. The MV Agusta was a rocket, but the transmission kept jumping out of gear. The BMW's electronics package was outstanding, but it handled like it was 100 lbs. heavier than its peers. Ducati's 1198S was phenomenal in every respect except price-and it again suffered a mechanical issue. The Aprilia spun up and wheelied incessantly. Some called that a drawback, but I thought it was bliss. I went fastest on the Aprilia, which I can only attribute to my comfort level on the bike. It feels like a 600 with 50 more horsepower!

Aaron Frank, Editor-at-Large
Best Lap: Aprilia RSV4 Factory 1:53.21
Age: 35
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 145 lbs
Inseam: 31 in.

I flew to this shootout straight from a Metzeler tire test at Portimao, Portugal, where I rode the BMW back-to-back with all the Japanese liter-bikes. It's remarkable how the atomic-strength S1000RR felt so superior alongside its Japanese competition, and so sluggish against these harder-edged Euro-sports. I just couldn't cut a quick lap on the Beemer at Infineon, and I wasn't the only one. The Aprilia, on the other hand, fits me perfectly, oozes personality and easily delivered my quickest laps. But if I were choosing, it would be the F4, for sure. I went nearly as fast at the track, and fell in love with the howling four on the street. That it's now almost the cheapest bike here-without sacrificing any of its legendary style-seals the deal.

Brian Catterson, Editor-in-Chief
Best Lap: Ducati 1198S 1:49.49
Age: 48
Height: 6'1"
weight: 215 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

This week-long superbike comparison is the perennial highlight of my year, like summer camp with 775 horsepower. Too bad tuition costs $15K+! I attended last year's press intros for both the Aprilia and BMW, and was frankly disappointed in them here. The RSV4 is so toy-like that I constantly upset its chassis, and our S1000RR handled like a slammed Chevy Impala. The KTM likewise needs its throttle issue resolved to be in the hunt. I wasn't surprised when I set my quickest lap on the Ducati, but I was astonished at how easily it came. Too bad the clutch lever came back to the grip during my last session! Which leaves the MV, the biggest surprise of the test both in terms of performance and value. Anybody want to buy an '05 model-cheap?

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