A Quartet of Electronically Enhanced Superbikes | MC Comparison

Class of 2011: Divine Intervention

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Joe Neric, Kevin Wing, Matt Samples

Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE
Ducati 1198SP
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

The signs were everywhere: on USA Today’s front page, the TV news and splashed on giant billboards throughout the Southland. “Judgment Day is coming!” they warned. Or so said Harold Camping, the 89-year-old fundamentalist radio preacher/lunatic from up north near San Francisco. Naturally…

While the righteous unloaded their earthly possessions and scrambled to arrange post-Rapture pet care, and godless heathens dutifully reviewed the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse preparation guidelines, we readied for the End Times in the best way we knew how—by planning an epic sportbike ride. Heaven would have to wait. We had a garageful of overpowered superbikes calling our names, and we felt obliged to worship the great god Horsepower.

It was time for our fifth-annual “Class of” sportbike shootout, focusing this year on the most sophisticated, electronically enhanced superbikes on the market. We were searching for our own form of Divine Intervention—a digital angel that would watch over us and protect us from skyshot high-sides, blessing us with safer street rides and quicker lap times.

Our prophets were carefully chosen. Some, like BMW’s S1000RR, equipped with traction control, wheelie control and race-grade anti-lock brakes, returned in the exact same form as at last year’s “Class of 2010” comparo. Ducati’s traction-controlled 1198 was brought back as well, now in SP guise with a slipper clutch and electronic quick-shifter. Making an encore appearance was 2010’s defending champ, the Aprilia RSV4 Factory. While last year’s bike was all analog, this year our RSV4 was equipped with the Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC) package, which includes traction, wheelie and launch control. Finally, we welcomed a wild card in the form of Kawasaki’s all-new Ninja ZX-10R, the first Japanese superbike to come factory-equipped with TC.

Again we subjected this quartet to a rigorous, four-day testing regimen, with two days of street riding bookending two days at the racetrack. While in previous years we ventured north, this year we headed east to the post-apocalyptic environs of Desert Center, California, home of the new Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. Though we didn’t encounter any walking dead, we did dodge the occasional dust devil.

Street sessions subjected these bikes to everything from suburban commuting to and from our El Segundo offices to freeway droning on the battered I-5 to classic SoCal canyon strafing on legendary State Route 74—better known as Ortega Highway. Idling through gridlock, humming along HOV lanes and spreading darkness in every corner between San Juan Capistrano and Palm Springs was a real-world workout for these big-bore cannons, favoring finesse over brute force.

Thank God reports of the earth’s demise had been greatly exaggerated. Instead of spending eternity wandering through the desert with the rest of the left behinds, we blasted back over the mountains and filed this report. It’s not the same as being teleported to heaven, but riding any of these superbikes isn’t a bad substitute for eternal afterlife.

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