Off the Record
Weight: 185 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.
Dismissing MV Agusta’s arm-stretching F4RR or Kawasaki’s hugely capable ZX-10R is difficult, but necessary. Honorable mention goes to KTM’s RC8R. It has a delightful motor, good brakes, and great ergonomics, but it’s behind the times (no TC, quickshifter, or ABS?). Ducati’s Panigale R made me feel like a superstar on the track, but it’s absolutely punishing on the street. BMW’s HP4 represents the sharpest point of the cutting edge, but it isn’t $9K better than a standard S1000RR. Aprilia’s RSV4 Factory is just too much motorcycle to ignore. It looks lean, sounds mean, handles flawlessly, and has an electronics package second only to BMW’s. It’s also $3K cheaper than last year. Brilliant.
Weight: 155 lbs.
Inseam: 32 in.
I think it’s funny that if my finger lingers on the shift key a millisecond too long, HP4 is mistyped as HP$. At $24,995, the BMW is a very expensive motorcycle—but it’s worth every penny. This bike can change its suspension characteristics 50 times in the time it takes me to press that shift key! But I’d still pick the $29,995 Panigale R, which makes the BMW seem like a bargain. Ultra-light weight lets it do things at speed that no other sportbike can do. It reacts differently than any other bike, which can make it feel difficult at first. But I have a sense that if you really spent some time on this bike, carefully dialed the set-up, and learned all its idiosyncrasies, it would be really rewarding to ride. And fast.
Weight: 185 lbs.
Inseam: 34 In.
All six bikes in this comparison are capable of going quick around a racetrack and entertaining you on the street, but the BMW, Aprilia, and KTM especially impressed me. I appreciated the KTM for its character and comfortable ergonomics, but disliked its lack of power and humble suspension. The runner-up Aprilia has the best electronics and a rock-solid chassis, but if you look at the bikes as an all-around package, the BMW shows its superiority; the HP4 feels better-geared on the street, wicked fast at the track (where horsepower always reigns supreme), and quicker to bounce between the two environments thanks to the DDC system. If only you could find one for sale at a dealership…
Weight: 200 lbs.
Inseam: 34 In.
BMW’s HP4 is my ride of choice, because it’s the best of the six when it comes to blending street manners and racetrack prowess. The well-sorted chassis seldom gets out of shape, aided infinitely by seamless traction control and the dynamic suspension—which I never knew I needed until I tried it. The thrilling motor and crazy-strong binders are just icing on the cake. If I took some time to dial in the suspension, the Ducati would be a razor on the racetrack, but it’d be a tough sell as a streetbike. The RSV4, on the other hand—loaded with character, quick around the track, pleasant on the street and potentially sexier than the Beemer—and the Aprilia makes a worthy runner-up.
When money is no object, the usual cost-benefit analysis doesn’t apply. All six of these bikes strive to be the most advanced and most capable motorcycles on the planet. On paper, MV Agusta’s ultra-equipped F4RR has this contest locked up. But it’s better on paper than in practice. We’ve overlooked obvious flaws in the past, but this is the third time we’ve been promised things would be better next year. Sorry, MV, but three strikes and you’re out. KTM’s RC8R is certainly capable, as the lap times and subjective street testing show, but it’s all analog in this digital world. Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10R comes closer to our artificial intelligence ideal, delivering a full suite of electronic aids that effectively enhance rider confidence, but the technology is status quo, not cutting edge—and that’s just not cutting it in this group.
Which brings us to our top three—where the real arguments started. Purists demanded the Aprilia RSV4 Factory be ranked first—it was fastest around the racetrack, so it must be the best—but pragmatists pointed out that, excepting added standard ABS and a few other tweaks, it is essentially the same bike we rode in 2010. Without the benefit of electronic suspension and other innovations that represent the cutting edge, it is at least a half-generation behind. We still love it, but time and tech have moved on.
Both Ducati’s 1199 Panigale R and BMW’s HP4 are new for ’13 and highly advanced, epitomizing everything we were targeting this year. The Ducati is thrilling in every way, with ferocious power delivery and a light, tight personality that makes it feel like the proverbial racebike with lights—it absolutely deserves that R-label. But the BMW is every bit as exciting to ride—delivering even more-brutish acceleration and equally adroit handling, but with an added level of civility and sophistication that the pared-down Ducati doesn’t match. It’s a testament to BMW’s broadband ability that the HP4 works so well for such a broad diversity of riders, across such a wide range of conditions on the street and track. Whether you’re one-percent or part of the other 99, the HP4 is bound to satisfy.