Honda CBR1000RR vs. Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R vs. Suzuki GSX-R1000 vs. Yamaha YZF-R1 | The Big Four's Big Four

Class of 2012 Part I

By Ari Henning, Photography by Joe Neric, Adam Campbell

Best Lap: 1:54.33

Suzuki GSX-R1000

Like Honda, Suzuki hasn’t done much with its big-dog GSX-R1000 in recent years. Redesigned in 2009, Suzuki’s engineers saw fit to revisit the Gixxer Thou for 2012 and revise a few things to enhance usability. The engine sports lighter, high-compression pistons and revised cam timing for improved midrange power, while removing a muffler and switching from Tokico to Brembo brake calipers cut 4 lbs. and helped differentiate this GSX-R from previous models.

In this era of compact, mass-centralized sportbikes, the Suzuki feels big compared to everything except the Yamaha. The GSX-R is narrow at the waist but has a wide engine and flared fuel tank that force your legs out. Even so, all of our testers found it relatively comfortable, some even rating it best. Softer springs and milder damping helped the suspension absorb most everything the choppy freeway and frost-heaved mountain roads threw at it. The GSX-R was delivered with its footpegs in the highest position, and they remained there throughout our street ride since legroom was sufficient. The seat is hard but easy to move around on in the twisties, and while the cockpit is roomy the landscape is nothing to get excited about. The dash looks dated and rather Toys-R-Us, while the unfinished inner fairing and flimsy bodywork give the bike a cheap appearance, especially next to refined machines like the Honda and Kawasaki.

Engine improvements aren’t as apparent from the seat as the dyno sheet would suggest. The Suzuki rivals the Honda for midrange power, yet it feels the weakest down low. The previous model’s flat spot between 6000 and 7000 rpm has been successfully filled in, but there isn’t much poke until you spin it above 8000 rpm. This bike would benefit most from shorter final gearing. The Suzuki’s peak output of 155.2 bhp at 11,800 rpm is right on the heels of the Kawasaki’s, but it takes revs to unlock that power and tall gearing means you really can’t let the Gixxer breath on public roads without obliterating the speed limit. Fueling is precise and utterly flawless, and the handling is likewise faultless, but on twisty roads the doggy low-end performance made the Suzuki less exciting to ride. Add to that a vacuum-like intake noise, itinerant engine vibes, blurry mirrors and exhaust heat that irritates your left foot and it’s easy to see why the GSX-R1000 didn’t rate well as a streetbike.

But the Suzuki came alive at the racetrack, where its quick and predictable handling and strong top-end power helped it put down a lap time of 1:54.33 with relative ease. If kept on the boil, the Suzuki is quick and less likely to spin the rear tire than the Honda, but doesn’t come off corners nearly as hard. Suspension setup and handling proved excellent right away, with a high level of stability and the most neutral behavior while trail-braking. The GSX-R received high ratings on front-end feedback, and everyone appreciated how well it cornered. With the most aggressive steering geometry and shortest wheelbase it’s no surprise it turned the easiest and was the quickest to transition from vertical to leaned over and back again.

The Suzuki also received unanimous praise for its seamless SDTV (Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve) fueling, which has nary a hiccup or hesitation to interrupt a feeling of total connectivity between your right wrist, the engine and the rear tire’s contact patch. The smooth fueling lets you get on the gas early and pour it on in complete confidence. And while the Suzuki’s dash looked silly on the street, that big, analog tachometer and those bright shift lights work wonderfully at the track. The new Brembo brakes are adequate, but not outstanding. Stopping power was good but feel was lacking, which kept testers from comfortably increasing entry speeds.

The Suzuki is old-school and somewhat dated, but it still works amazingly well, and its few performance problems are easily remedied. Unfortunately, it’s not substantially better than it was three years ago. It’s louder and rougher around the edges than the others, and call us shallow, but it just doesn’t look new enough. We docked it style points because the 2012 version is so indistinguishable from previous years and other models in the GSX-R family. Yet Suzuki is selling a ton of them, thanks in part to zero percent financing, which in this economy is pretty enticing. Combine that with the GSX-R’s proven track record in AMA Superbike and club roadracing, and it’s easy to understand why track-day riders and racers still choose to own one.

Ari Henning

BEST LAP: 1:53.13, Kawasaki ZX-10R | AGE: 27 | HEIGHT: 5’10” | WEIGHT: 177 lbs. | INSEAM: 33 in.

OFF THE RECORD
I’m a big fan of small bikes, and the Honda gave the impression of being a smaller machine with good midrange power. I got a kick out of spinning the rear tire off corners, but then its brakes went off. I was impressed with the Suzuki’s handling and engine, but it was uninspiring unless I was hoisting 100-mph wheelies. The Yamaha rocked as a streetbike, but as soon as the mercury started to rise, everyone wanted off that heat sink! The Kawasaki felt as long as a limo until we got the suspension sorted. I liked the low-slung riding position and who can deny that engine, especially when you can have 170 bhp with a simple ECU reflash? For my money, I’d go with the ZX-10R.

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