Class of 2010: European Sportbikes - Foreign Exchange

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

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Joe Neric, Adam Campbell

Forget about PIIGS, or any other overseas currency crisis-this is the kind of Euro bailout we can get behind. In a season when Japan's motorcycle industry is on lockdown, recycling last year's sportbikes, Europe's top manufacturers have stepped up with some seriously hot machinery.

This is not a consolation prize. In years past, European motorcycles tended toward the fringe, mostly big-bore V-twins, inline-triples and other niche-oriented errata. The European manufacturers built bikes with "character," but conventional wisdom said they couldn't-or wouldn't-compete on equal footing with the Japanese. That excuse has now officially expired. This year's foreign fleet strikes right to the windpipe with a quintet of sportbikes every bit the equal, in design and intent, of anything from Japan, Inc. That these five Euro-sports also offer significantly more character than the average Asian offering is just a little extra octane in the tank.

Unlike our previous "Class of" tests that pitted 600s against 1000s and the occasional big-bore twin, all of this year's new sportbikes are liter-sized or larger. A trio of World Superbike-ready fours-the inline BMW S1000RR and MV Agusta F4, plus the V4-powered Aprilia RSV4-square off against two V-twins-Ducati's reigning champion, the 1198S, plus the bigger, more powerful KTM RC8R. Since the manufacturers weren't holding back, neither did we, ordering the fully optioned version of each. This means the Factory-edition RSV4, DTC/ABS-equipped S1000RR, Corse Special Edition 1198S and the Akrapovic Edition RC8R. Only the F4 was a "base" model-and there's nothing basic about it!

We stuck to the same four-day format of years past, with two days on the street and two more at the racetrack. After two years testing at the tight and technical (and bumpy) Streets of Willow, this year we made the long trek north past San Francisco to undulating Infineon Raceway near Sonoma, California. That Infineon is located nearly 500 miles from our new El Segundo offices, and required traversing some of California's most challenging and scenic backroads en route, played right into our plans.

Over four days we racked up almost 1500 miles of urban warfare, interstate droning, backroad blasting and edge-of-the-tire track antics. Lap times were duly noted but not decisive; We were looking for an all-around leader; a bike that could throw down at the track and also endure all-day backroad exploring and even commuting. Although the hardware was different, our aim was the same: To identify the year's most-advanced and alluring sportbike. You can bet a stack of Euros on that.

Aprilia RSV4 Factory
Sometimes, numbers lie. As was the case with our Class of '09 shootout winner, the Yamaha YZF-R1, hard numbers hardly give a good indication of what Aprilia's RSV4 Factory feels like at speed. Jumping off after a hot lap of Infineon, you'd never believe this bike weighs 459 pounds and is the least powerful four-cylinder here. On the contrary, extreme mass centralization and massive midrange make it the most ferocious.

The Factory option adds $5K to the base RSV4's sticker price. Upgrades include gilded Öhlins suspension front and rear, an Öhlins steering damper and forged-aluminum wheels. Underneath the Factory's up-spec carbon-fiber bodywork you'll find magnesium engine cases and variable-length intake stacks. Peak output rises by 5.4 bhp, and total weight is 10 lbs. less. Shed poundage is mostly unsprung, a difference you really feel.

Aprilia set out to create a machine with the silhouette of a 250cc Grand Prix racer, which explains the stubby nose and pointed tail. These attributes reduce aero drag, and also shave pounds from the outer perimeter of the bike. An underseat fuel cell and super-compact, 65-degree V4 engine further centralize mass. A compact cockpit and narrow width make the 1000 feel like a 600 from the saddle. More than one tester commented on how closely the RSV4 resembles Yamaha's YZF-R6, the most aggressive and hyper-responsive sportbike on the market.

The RSV4/R6 comparison holds water right up until you whack open the Aprilia's throttle, releasing one of the gnarliest combustion barks on the planet and unleashing truly vicious motive force. A butterfly valve in the exhaust spreads power across the bottom, while the variable-length intake stacks snap open at 10,000 rpm to boost output in the upper revs. Low-rpm power from the 999.6cc V4 is unimpressive, compounded by clunky low-end fueling and some vibration through the bars to make the Factory a bummer around town. Rev it above 6500 rpm, however, and this little missile absolutely comes alive. Just like the chassis, power is amassed in the middle, with a noticeable drop beyond 12K that not even electronic intake trickery can hide. Better to shift sooner, then, and enjoy the smooth action of the slipper clutch-now a conventional, mechanical-type that replaces the old Mille V-twin's vacuum-actuated unit.

A fly-by-wire throttle provides instantaneous response, and enables three selectable drive modes. Track mode provides full, unadulterated power, Sport mode cuts torque by 25 percent in the bottom three gears, and Road mode cuts power by 25 percent across the board. Modes are changeable on-the-fly using the start button, which transforms into a mode selector 5 seconds after start-up.

Thanks to the demands of World Superbike homologation, the Factory offers more chassis adjustments than most riders would know what to do with, including adjustable swingarm pivot, rake and even engine position-though you'll need race-kit parts to do so. Luckily, the bike works right out of the box, delivering neutral steering and loads of feedback. Don't let the stubby look fool you: The Factory has a full-size wheelbase, and needs all those 55.9 inches to help keep the front wheel down on the ground. As expected, the sophisticated Öhlins suspension is excellent. The shock, with both high- and low-speed compression damping, prevents squatting without sacrificing compliance, and the super-sensitive fork delivers laser-like feedback even when loaded up on the brakes.

Everyone raved about the Factory's stability after the first street leg, but on the track we wished for quicker response. Adding 15mm of rear ride height improved turn-in, making the Aprilia easiest to flick from edge to edge through Infineon's constricted chicane. The V4 engine delivers power more predictably than either an inline-four or a V-twin, but even these inherent traction-enhancing properties aren't enough to mask the RSV4's lack of traction control. The Factory rider can smear the rear tire at will, and needs to apply decidedly more discretion before grabbing a big handful compared to the other bikes. But with a good tire and good throttle feel, the Aprilia is unstoppable off the corners, and runs like a raped ape everywhere else. Such unbelievable acceleration, coupled with world-class communication from the chassis and a soul-stirring exhaust note, put the Aprilia near the top of everyone's list. No matter what the numbers say, the RSV4 Factory is hard to beat.

BMW S1000RR
Unlike the Aprilia, there was no ambiguity surrounding the BMW's spec sheet. The all-new Beast from Bavaria pumped out an astounding 174.2 horsepower at the rear wheel. That's 2 more than the last Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa we dynoed, and a full 17 more than its next closest competitor here, the MV Agusta F4! With a full complement of electronics including traction control, Race ABS, selectable drive modes and even a quick-shifter, the S1000RR was wired to put all that power to good use-on paper, at least.

The S1000RR was the bike everyone wanted to ride on the street. BMW reportedly used Honda's CBR1000RR and Suzuki's GSX-R1000 as benchmarks, thus it's no surprise that the S1000RR feels almost indistinguishable from a Japanese four, with moderate ergonomics and the same wide, top-weighted feel. Engine character is likewise familiar, with a muted exhaust note and slight upper-register vibration. It's a mostly pleasant motorcycle for commuting or cruising, with none of the rawness of the howling MV Agusta, to say nothing of those three rowdy Vees.

Whatever it lacks in personality (Duh, it's German!), the S1000RR makes up for with performance. Acceleration is brutal, with arm-stretching power available at almost any rpm. Excepting a lean spot around 5000 rpm causing some surging on the street and part-throttle sluggishness at the track, power is copious and easy to access. There's a reason BMW's DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) incorporates wheelie control: It activates almost constantly.

The electronic controls are highly integrated and reasonably intuitive to use. Selecting one of the four available drive modes changes the parameters for both DTC and ABS. Rain mode reduces power, blunts throttle response and maximizes ABS intervention. Sport mode offers full power and quicker throttle response, along with fairly aggressive ABS and DTC settings. Race mode quickens throttle response even more, while allowing less ABS and DTC intervention. Slick mode (which is only accessible after plugging in a jumper under the seat) disables rear-wheel ABS functionality entirely, engages wheelie control only at extreme lean and permits plenty of wheelspin before the DTC activates. You can change drive modes on-the-fly (your selection is cued when you close the throttle and pull in the clutch), or turn off the DTC and/or ABS entirely-at your peril.

We've now drunk the rider-aid Kool-Aid, and generally believe in the power of electronics to make us faster, safer, more satisfied riders. The BMW, however, makes an argument against too much intervention, or at least too much integration. The faster you go on this bike, the more e-compromises you uncover. Sport mode is mildly annoying on the street, as the ABS numbs the front brake lever to keep the rear wheel down and the wheelie control engages abruptly whenever the front snaps up. Race mode is better, but the ABS still occasionally stepped in too much-especially approaching Infineon's hard-braking, rear-lifting downhill turns-causing a soft lever and missed apexes. The ABS is unflappable in slick mode, but then DTC only works at lean angles greater than 53 degrees, and the tire often lights as soon as you pick the bike up! We think the lady doth protest too much.

We were also less than overwhelmed with the S1000RR's handling. The Sachs fork and shock both offer 10 clicks of everything, but are softly sprung and harshly damped. The rock-solid stability that made the BMW such a trustworthy companion on unfamiliar backroads translated into sluggishness at the racetrack. It felt heavy and lumbering in transitions, the polar-opposite of the razor-sharp Aprilia. You can flip the eccentric upper shock mount to raise the rear 10mm and quicken steering response; unfortunately, it wasn't until we were almost done testing that the attending BMW racer shared this information with us! The potential is there, but like BMW is finding in SBK competition, it will take more time and tuning to extract it.

One other area where the S1000RR recalls a Japanese machine is in terms of value. Even fully equipped with Race ABS/DTC ($1480), Shift Assist ($450) and the optional Motorsport red/white/blue paint scheme ($750) it's still the cheapest bike here at $17,480. It's also the least demanding to ride, especially if you're one of the "conquest" buyers BMW is targeting with this bike. You can jump straight off a GSX-R and feel right at home on the S1000RR, which is certainly not the case with the other bikes here. BMWs are typically iconoclastic, odd-mannered bikes, so it seems strange to describe the S1000RR as conventional. In this case, conventional is the best compliment.

Ducati 1198S Corse Special Edition
Last year we raved about what a value Ducati's 1198 represented, offering world-championship-winning performance for only a few thousand dollars more than the Japanese competition. Not so this year: Though the base 1198 is still a relative bargain at $16,495, this year's "all-options" criteria yielded the 1198S Corse Special Edition. At $24,995, this exotic Italian cost $4000 more than the next most expensive bike here. A few laps around Infineon, however, convinced us it's worth the premium.

The biggest difference between the S and the base model is its suspension. Öhlins bits front and rear substitute for the standard model's plebian Showa parts, and trick seven-spoke Marchesini forged-alloy wheels drop a few pounds of unsprung weight. The $3200 Corse Special Edition package adds an impossibly cool, lighter and larger brushed-aluminum fuel tank, Corse graphics and a race kit consisting of Termignoni carbon-fiber slip-ons and a dedicated race ECU. The S is 5 lbs. lighter than the standard 1198, and the Corse Special Edition is 2.2 lbs. lighter yet.

We asked each manufacturer to deliver our testbike stock, and Ducati's definition of that term obviously differs from the rest. In its defense, the slip-ons and ECU come in the Corse's crate, and the two bikes at Infineon were air-freighted directly from Italy, barely arriving in time for our test. With its "cheater" parts installed, the Ducati pumped out 145.1 bhp and a stump-pulling 87 lb.-ft. of torque. When we got back to SoCal, we retrofitted the 1198S with the stock parts and output dropped marginally to 144.9 bhp and 85.3 lb-ft. All that thrust made shifting optional: We could lug the motor through the T9 chicane and T11 hairpin and short-shift without worry. In fact, short-shifting was the only way you could roll the throttle wide-open without wheelying in the lower gears.

With Öhlins components front and rear, and Ducati super-tuner Jeff Nash helping us in the pits, the 1198S sliced and diced the former Sears Point Raceway. Front-end feedback is its strongest attribute, especially while trail-braking. The Italian twin was also praised for its neutral steering at speed. There was zero resistance to mid-corner line adjustments, even in Infineon's super-fast downhill Carousel, where the bike hugged the inside best. The Ducati was harsh to the point of painful on the street, and doesn't turn that well unless loaded up, but when pushed hard responds better than the rest.

Numerous small adjustments make this year's 1198S friendlier than before. The Brembo Monobloc front brakes have a softer initial bite without sacrificing any overall power, for easier modulation. The Ducati was second only to the BMW in terms of outright braking ability. And the latest version of DTC (Ducati Traction Control, in this case), which now retards spark and reduces fuel, is smoother than before. You hear and feel the traction control more on the Ducati-perhaps because it works harder to resist all that torque-but it never upsets the chassis or disrupts your drive.

We still want a slipper clutch. Back torque is a big issue on this big twin, and it's nearly impossible to downshift to first without inducing massive rear-wheel chatter. The 1198S was also the only machine to experience a mechanical issue at the track, when the clutch locknut backed out, resulting in a dead lever. Otherwise, the Ducati's transmission is the best of this bunch, with a positive feel, decisive engagement and no missed or vague shifts.

The 1198S has the longest reach to the lowest bars, but our 6-footers preferred this compared to the cramped BMW and diminutive Aprilia-at least at highway speeds. Still, little things annoy: You will crunch your fingers between the bars and fairing at full lock. Despite theoretically perfect primary balance, the 90-degree V-twin thumps through the bars and seat at low revs. And the underseat exhaust rotisseries your rump.

The Ducati is the most committed and uncompromising machine here, which makes it the best on the racetrack. The bike flat-out works when you want to go fast, which makes it a weapon not only in SBK competition but also under hacks like us-three testers turned their best laps on the Desmo by a significant margin. Such single-minded focus comes at a cost, of course, and for day-in, day-out livability the 1198S offers little in terms of comfort or convenience. There's also the issue of price, though to be fair, the standard S-model would likely offer 95 percent of the performance for $3200 less.

Such common-sense considerations are usually of no concern to Ducatisti, however.

KTM RC8R
KTM's original RC8 wasn't as powerful as its Italian rival, but that was all right. The Austrian company said from the get-go that its first V-twin sportbike was intended as a streetbike, not a racer. When it came time for the well-known dirtbike maker to homologate its sole superbike for competition in 2010, it was a different story. Then the engineers pulled out all the stops, bumping displacement from 1148cc to 1195cc-just shy of the SBK ceiling for a twin-raising compression, porting the heads and inserting longer-duration cams, all to increase power.

It worked. Even without its so-called "club kit" installed, our RC8R made 145.1 rear-wheel horsepower-identical to the Ducati 1198S with its optional race exhaust and ECU bolted on-and 79.6 lb.-ft. of torque. Later, we had KTM's Tom Moen install the kit parts (Akrapovic Evo4 titanium exhaust, high-compression head gasket, slotted cam sprockets and an ECU chip), ran the RC8R on the dyno again and it made 155.2 bhp and 87.7 lb.-ft.

The R-model also features Marchesini forged-aluminum wheels and a carbon-fiber front fender, reducing the weight to 439 lbs.-a single pound more than the 1198S. Mission accomplished, KTM.

The RC8R is an analog offering in this overwhelmingly digital crowd. No traction control, no variable drive modes, no ABS-just a no-nonsense steel-trellis frame, high-end WP suspension and a big-bore V-twin that begs you to get on and go. One thing the KTM offers in abundance, that the rest of this group painfully lacks, is ergonomic adjustability. Featuring four-position footpegs, a subframe that can be raised and lowered and two bar positions, the RC8R can be reconfigured from an aggressive track tool to a street-ready near-standard in seconds. In its most capacious setting, the KTM offers 2 inches more legroom and 2 inches more bar rise than any other bike here. That being the case, we all fought over the RC8R for the 500-mile ride home from the racetrack.

We initially struggled to find chassis settings that worked. Following factory orders, Moen had raised the rear of the bike 5mm to speed up steering. But so set-up, it felt too high, falling into corners. So we had him drop both ends 5mm, retaining the same steering geometry but lowering the center of gravity so it changed direction better, particularly in the tight T9 chicane.

The R's upgraded, TiN-coated suspension is responsive but a bit soft, delivering vague feedback at high speed and behaving unpredictably at full lean. The R-model is fitted with reduced-offset triple clamps that increase trail from 3.6 to 3.8 inches for more high-speed stability, but the bike was still a bit skittish in the fastest parts of the track.

The powered-up RC8R was quick out of tight turns, too, since it was the only bike here that could be consistently dumped into first gear without suffering debilitating rear-wheel chatter. It doesn't have a slipper clutch, but its Keihin EFI system is equipped with a throttle kicker that cracks open the rear throttle butterfly on decel to reduce engine braking. This, coupled with a smooth, easy-to-modulate clutch, also made the KTM easiest to back into corners super-moto-style.

The big V-twin makes abundant power, but abrupt throttle response made this difficult to exploit. An extremely light throttle-return spring led to unintended input, especially on bumpy backroads. On top of that, the long-throw twistgrip was almost impossible to take from closed to wide-open without re-gripping, making it hard to feed in power smoothly. A KTM rep said production bikes will come with a revised cam on the throttle tube that reduces twistgrip travel-whether or not that improves initial pick-up remains to be seen. We certainly hope it does.

The RC8R's unique styling was universally applauded. Stealth Fighter-inspired sharp edges give the bike an aggressive, modern appearance. But no one liked the billboardy Akrapovic paint scheme-and the alternative Red Bull livery isn't much better. The tall, angular tank and skinny saddle likewise took some acclimatizing, as it proved difficult to anchor oneself when hanging off. We'd also appreciate a redesign of the odd-shaped, orange-tinted dash, which we found to be poorly organized, overcrowded and nearly impossible to read at speed.

This latest "Ready to Race" version of KTM's superbike is more satisfying on a racetrack than ever before, but still lands short of more evolved rivals like the Ducati and MV Agusta-not to mention, aggressive and effective newcomers like the Aprilia and BMW. On the street it's a different story. There the added adjustability and improved ergonomics tip the scale in the direction of Austria. With the race kit installed and the throttle mechanism improved, this might be a very different ballgame.

MV Agusta F4
Though the bikes are still built in the famous factory on the shore of Lake Varese, MV Agusta is owned-for now, at least-by Harley-Davidson. Fans of the Italian brand worried that The Motor Company would dumb down the product line when it took over in 2008. Those fears, thankfully, were unfounded. This essentially all-new version of the F4 1000-aside from increased displacement the first real redesign in 12 years-is improved in every way. More amazingly, its price was slashed some $3000 to just $18,500, making it the second least expensive bike here. That's right: The MV Agusta F4 might be the best value in this test. Talk about a sentence we never dreamed we would type...

The updated F4 was the biggest surprise of the test, and in many ways the most impressive. We were intimately familiar with the old model-Catterson even owns one, having purchased his 2005 long-term testbike-and though we appreciated its exoticism and exclusivity, the outright performance never equaled Japanese liter-bikes costing a fraction of the price. This year, however, that's different. Three testers turned their second-fastest laps on the F4, and everyone raved about its rock-solid stability, exceptional front-end feedback, transparent traction control and absolutely stonkin' inline-four.

Some criticized this F4 restyle for clinging too closely to the original, literally sharpening Massimo Tamburini's sensual curves. For the record, we love the dynamic new look. And beneath that edgier bodywork the bike is 85 percent changed. The engine received many updates, most significantly a new, heavier crank intended to smooth power delivery. The motor was relocated further forward to increase front-end weight bias and allow a longer, traction-enhancing swingarm, and every part was scrutinized with an eye toward shedding pounds. It's the heaviest bike here at 468 lbs. full of gas, but that's a full 20 lbs. lighter than before

With an almost 33-inch-high seat and just 17 inches between the saddle and pegs, the F4 feels tall and somewhat cramped. The bars are low and the reach is long, but the ergonomics work surprisingly well for going fast. The 50mm Marzocchi fork felt harsh on the street but delivered exceptional feedback at the track. Riders especially flipped for the F4's handling in Infineon's wicked-fast downhill Carousel; more than one said they railed that section harder and faster on this bike than on any other. Of course, having the legendary Eraldo Ferracci on hand to provide individualized set-ups helped!

Though you feel the increased crank inertia when changing direction at high speed, you never detect it through your right hand. The 998cc, radial-valve inline-four revs with remarkable quickness, enhanced by an F1-like howl from the square-tipped, quad-pipe exhaust. Though not the most powerful bike here-it's down 17 bhp to the BMW-testers said the F4 felt like the fastest of the bunch. It sucked up everything on the straights, and was the only bike to wheelie before the drop-off on the back stretch. MV's Torque Shift System of variable-length intake stacks accounts for some of this accelerative authority, as does shorter final-drive gearing and the transparent traction control. Though functionally crude-the ECU monitors changes in engine rpm, not wheel speed-this system was the most fluid in application, controlling wheelspin without seeming to stunt the motor at all. Like Ducati's, MV's system is eight-position-adjustable, but because those settings are changed on the dash, it's impossible to alter on-the-fly.

A superb slipper clutch aids corner entries, though the cassette-type gearbox didn't deliver the smoothest movement between first and second gears. The F4's brakes were also deemed merely adequate. They offered good feel and were easy to modulate, but lacked outright power-perhaps due to mismatched fluid ratios between the MV-spec'ed Nissin master cylinder and Brembo calipers.

One thing no one argued was the MV's build quality. Fit-and-finish is on a level of its own, even compared to the exquisite Aprilia and Ducati. The paintwork is flawless, the steering damper is sculptural, the dash is digital art and nothing says "exotic" like the blue blaze of a genuine HID headlight. That this all comes at a comparatively bargain price is even more astounding. Perhaps it's no surprise that MV recently reported first-quarter sales 50 percent up from the same period last year.

What doesn't make sense is why Harley-Davidson is trying so desperately to divest itself of MV Agusta, when the historic brand is positioned now more than any time in recent history for success. Harley already walked out on Buell; all we can say is please, Milwaukee, don't let another short-sighted business decision put an even better sportbike to rest!

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?

And the winner is...
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Japanese manufacturers have lately seemed more interested in air-kissing each other's butt cheeks than building ass-kicking sportbikes. Most of the Big Four's offerings are so similar, it's hard to tell them apart. With European sportbikes, on the other hand, there is no archetype. Consider the Class of 2010: Some have aluminum spar frames, some use a steel trellis, one has both. Some have V-twins, some have four cylinders, one is a V4. And because each bike is so unique, our individual opinions diverged more than normal. It wasn't unusual to see the same bike at the top of one tester's list and at the bottom of another's. All we could do was crunch the numbers, call each other names, cast our votes and strive to arrive at something resembling a consensus.

With a similar steel-trellis frame and identically sized V-twin, KTM's RC8R will inevitably endure comparisons to Ducati's 1198S. The ultra-adjustable Austrian machine offers something its Italian rival doesn't-namely comfort-but that high degree of adjustability is both a blessing and a curse. Change works in both directions, and we spent a goodly portion of this test searching for a set-up that worked. We eventually got the chassis sorted, but abrupt throttle response soured everyone's impression, landing the RC8R at the bottom of our collective ballot.

BMW's all-new S1000RR came home fourth-talk about an upset! We all expected the velvet-hammer RR to crush all comers with its singular combination of brute force and sophisticated braking and traction assists. But engineers still haven't written software that helps a stubborn bike steer, and those highly integrated electronic controls sometimes stepped on each others' toes. Not to mention, it takes an awfully strong personality to stand out in this crowd! As adept as the Germans are at creating motorcycles with character, they haven't nailed that with the S1000RR quite yet. Setting their sights on "conquest" sales to former owners of Japanese bikes cost them dearly here.

Our Italian stallions ran away with this show, and in the end just three points separated the trio. The MV Agusta F4 ended up third, which is two positions higher than any of us predicted. It's too easy to dismiss the F4 as an overpriced midlife-crisis antidote. When one tester noted that it didn't have a clock, another said, "If you're riding this bike, you've already got a Rolex." Not necessarily: The second-generation machine is a genuine contender, with the lap times and price tag to back it up. And it still manages to be the most elegant and exotic machine here. The MV handled as well as the Ducati and hauled ass harder than anything else. In all honesty, it was a set of adjustable footpegs and some undercut gear teeth away from winning this shootout outright!

If the Aprilia RSV4 Factory had traction control, it would have been Game Over. Without the invisible throttle hand, it ended up being a very close call between it and Ducati's 1198S. The V-twin does have traction control, making what might otherwise be an unmanageable motor easy to exploit. What's more, no one had any critique of the Ducati's brakes, suspension or styling. The 1198S is very expensive, however, and very uncomfortable on the street. More to the point, it also suffered a mechanical problem for the second straight year.

Which makes Aprilia's RSV4 Factory our pick from the Class of 2010. It's no surprise that Max Biaggi has won World Superbike rounds on the real "factory" V4. The production version presents a race-ready package right out of the box, and makes a surprisingly satisfying streetbike, too. Innovative engineering, high build quality and an inspired-and inspiring-V4 engine mean that even in this crowd of singular and special motorcycles, the Aprilia RSV4 stands out.

Aprilia RSV4 Factory | Price: $20,999
Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c 65-deg. V-4 Front suspension: 43mm Öhlins inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Seat height: 33.3 in.
Valve train: DOHC, 16v Rear suspension: Öhlins shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Wheelbase: 55.9 in.
Displacement: 999.6cc Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.3mm Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 300mm disc Weight (tank full/empty): 459/432 lbs.
Compression: 13.0:1 Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Colors: Black/red
Fuel system: Weber-Marelli EFI Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Availability: Now
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper Rake/trail: 24.5º/4.1 in. Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Transmission: 6-speed Contact: www.apriliausa.com
Measured horsepower:155.4 bhp @ 12,250 rpm
Measured torque: 74.0 lb.-ft. @ 10,000 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.01 sec @ 143.22 mph
Top-gear roll-on: 3.10 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 31/23/27 mpg
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar

Dyno
Aprilia's own V4 is soft off idle, but the midrange is brutally robust. Those bumps and dips between 6000 and 8000 rpm are transparent from the saddle, but that lull at 10,750 rpm makes the bike feel breathless on top.

Ergos
With the tallest seat in the group by nearly an inch and the highest footpegs, the RSV4's stinkbug stance makes it great on the track and miserable on the street. That V4 also throws off a lot of heat, so keep the air flowing or suffer the consequences.

BMW S1000RR | Price: $17,480
Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c inline-four Front suspension: 46mm Sachs inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Seat height: 32.3 in.
Valve train: DOHC, 16v Rear suspension: Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Wheelbase: 56.4 in.
Displacement: 999cc Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs, optional ABS Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Bore x stroke: 80.0 x 49.7mm Rear brake: Brembo single-piston caliper, 220mm disc, optional ABS Weight (tank full/empty): 461/434 lbs.
Compression: 13.0:1 Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016 Colors: Acid Green Metallic, Mineral Silver Metallic, Thunder Grey Metallic, Motorsport red/white/blue
Fuel system: EFI Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016 Availability: Now
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper Rake/trail: 23.9º/3.8 in. Warranty: 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
Transmission: 6-speed Contact: www.bmwmotorcycles.com
Measured horsepower: 174.2 bhp @ 12,250 rpm
Measured torque: 78.2 lb.-ft. @ 10,750 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile: 9.57 sec. @ 156.05 mph
Top-gear roll-on: 2.56 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 38/23/32 mpg
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar

Dyno
Bavaria's most powerful motorcycle to date churns out an astonishing 174.2 rear-wheel horsepower. Torque is essentially flat while horsepower builds continuously, though it appears to be electronically curtailed above 12,500 rpm.

Ergos
There are certain standards BMW insists on upholding, and one of them is comfort. Next to the KTM RC8R, the S1000RR offers the most accommodating accommodations, with a reasonable reach to the bars, decent legroom and a smooth-revving engine.

Ducati 1198S | Price: $24,995
Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twin Front suspension: 43mm Öhlins inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Seat height: 32.2 in.
Valve train: DOHC, 8v desmodromic Rear suspension: Öhlins shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Displacement: 1198cc Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers, 330mm discs Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal.
Bore x stroke: 106.0 x 67.9mm Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc Weight (tank full/empty): 438/413 lbs.
Compression: 12.7:1 Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Colors: Red, black
Fuel system: Marelli EFI Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Availability: Now
Clutch: Dry, multi-plate Rake/trail: 24.5º/3.8 in. Warranty: 48 mo., unlimited mi.
Transmission: 6-speed Contact: www.ducatiusa.com
Measured horsepower: 144.9 bhp @ 9500 rpm
Measured torque: 85.3 lb.-ft. @ 7750 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.02 sec. @ 145.32 mph
Top-gear roll-on: 2.68 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 40/31/35 mpg
Frame: Tubular-steel trellis with single-sided aluminum swingarm

Dyno
Engines with this kind of torque at 3000 rpm usually have "Cummings" stamped on the head and diesel in the tank. The Duc's massive V-twin hits hard right off idle, and those big midrange numbers and early power peak make short-shifting mandatory.

Ergos
Despite its pedigree and aside from some vibration and radiant heat from the underseat exhaust, the 1198 is surprisingly comfy. A broad and softer-than-expected seat, narrow tank and wide clip-ons make the bike easy to move around on.

KTM RC8R | PRICE: $19,998
Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c 75-deg. V-twin Front suspension: 43mm WP inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Seat height: 31.7/32.5 in.
Valve train: DOHC, 8v Rear suspension: WP shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Wheelbase: 56.1 in.
Displacement: 1195cc Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs Fuel capacity: 4.4 gal.
Bore x stroke: 105.0 x 69.0mm Rear brake: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Weight (tank full/empty): 439/412 lbs.
Compression: 13.5:1 Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Colors: Black/white/orange, IDM replica, Akrapovic edition
Fuel system: Keihin EFI Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Availability: Now
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate Rake/trail: 23.3º/3.8 in. Warranty: 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
Transmission: 6-speed Contact: www.ktmusa.com
Measured horsepower: 145.1 bhp @ 10,000 rpm
Measured torque: 79.6 lb.-ft. @ 8250 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.06 sec. @ 143.36 mph
Top-gear roll-on: 2.61 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 39/28/33 mpg
Frame: Tubular-steel trellis with aluminum swingarm

Dyno
In stock trim the KTM makes the same peak power as the Ducati with its accessory exhaust and ECU installed, but those 145.1 horses arrive 500 rpm later and aren't sustained as long. The torque curve is admirably flat.

Ergos
The RC8R wins the comfort crown, hands down. Even before you start experimenting with the adjustable rearsets, seat height and clip-ons, it has the most neutral ergonomics. The only thing holding it back is a slippery seat and tank.

MV Agusta F4 | Price: $18,500
Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c inline-four Front suspension: 50mm Marzocchi inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping Seat height: 32.7 in.
Valve train: DOHC, 16v radial Rear suspension: Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Displacement: 998cc Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm Rear brake: Brembo four-piston caliper, 210mm disc Weight (tank full/empty): 468/441 lbs.
Compression: 13.1:1 Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Colors: Red/silver, black/gray
Fuel system: Marelli EFI Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Availability: Now
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper Rake/trail: 23.5º/4.0 in. Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Transmission: 6-speed Contact: www.mvagustausa.com
Measured horsepower: 157.2 bhp @ 12,250 rpm
Measured torque: 72.8 lb.-ft. @ 9250 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.21 sec. @ 149.38 mph
Top-gear roll-on: 2.88 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 34/25/30 mpgg
Frame: Composite tubular-steel and cast-aluminum with aluminum swingarm

Dyno
The dyno chart doesn't convey how freakishly fast the F4 feels. Power is prodigious everywhere in the rev range, and once you spin the inline-four above 9000 rpm things heat up quickly. On the street that flat spot around 6000 rpm causes annoying surging.

Ergos
The MV wouldn't be bad if it weren't for those ridiculously high footpegs. Previous models came with adjustable rearsets, but the 2010 model's pegs are locked in place. The legroom numbers look right, but that's a function of the 32.7-inch seat height.

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