In the End…
Some claim Ducati’s designs never grow old, but five years on even the gorgeous 1198SP is nearing its sell-by date. After the looks start fading, it’s more difficult to ignore those temperamental tics that once seemed almost endearing: things like the overly stiff suspension, demanding ergos, bum-roasting exhaust and the way you crush your thumbs against the fairing every time you back out of the garage. There’s still plenty to love about this fiery Italian redhead—especially that eye-watering Testastretta Evoluzione engine—but the fickle chassis, unforgiving attitude and familiar looks remind us that this superbike is overdue for an update. Luckily, Ducati looks set to deliver in time for our “Class of 2012” comparo.
We had high hopes for the all-new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, but the final product just seems a little—if you’ll excuse the expression—green. The S-KTRC traction-control system is pure awesomeness. You can still spin and slide the big Ninja like a World Superbike racer, but now thanks to software that’s roughly 200 times faster than your right hand, you’re approximately 99 percent less likely to end up on your head. The rest of the bike, however, seemed unripe: The engine especially lacked power and personality—two areas where Kawasaki traditionally excels. There’s a strong argument for value here, but no matter how much money you save, you can’t buy soul.
Despite its Teutonic heritage, BMW’s S1000RR doesn’t lack for character. The way it tears through the upper revs—both sonically and in terms of ground speed—is enough to make any red-blooded enthusiast an instant Germanophile. Power is nothing without control, and fortunately the S1000RR offers plenty of that, too. We wish the preset ride modes offered greater adjustability, but each cooperates well enough to get the job done. The Beemer is also the easiest bike to live with day-to-day, though some of the things that make it such a willing companion—the comfortable riding position, forgiving suspension and simplified electronic controls—hold it back at the racetrack.
Which brings us to the competent and endlessly charismatic Aprilia—our top pick for the second year in a row. We effectively wrote this conclusion last year: “If the Aprilia RSV4 Factory had traction control, it would have been Game Over.” This year it does—the best system in the business, in fact—and the results are even better than we anticipated. Max Biaggi’s World Superbike winner thrilled us on the street and made us feel like gods at the racetrack. When you’re searching for the ultimate superbike, it doesn’t get more divine than that.