This Season’s Most Exotic Superbikes | Class of 2013

One-Percent Rides

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

Our annual “Class of” comparisons have taken many different shapes, depending on what’s trending in the marketplace. We’ve directly compared bikes of various displacements, different engine configurations, all Japanese bikes, all European bikes, even a mix of the two. For 2013, we decided on a different direction, gathering the ultimate, money-no-object exotic superbikes. Call these the One-Percenter rides.

These are the ultimate sporting motor-cycles, forming the pointy tip of the two-wheeled performance pyramid. While the other 99 percent of sportbikes strive to achieve some pragmatic balance of high-speed proficiency and value, these bikes target pure performance no matter what the cost. And make no mistake—these are not cheap bikes. Three ring in at $25,000 or more, with Ducati’s 1199 Panigale R topping the list at a wallet-spindling $29,995. That’s almost twice the price of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R ABS, the most expensive Japanese sportbike on the market.

This year’s appearance of the aforementioned Panigale R—the racing homologation version of Ducati’s radical 1199 superbike—was one of the machines that inspired our “What price?” theme. That bike, in all its titanium, magnesium, and carbon fiber glory, along with BMW’s limited edition HP4 and MV Agusta’s equally exotic F4RR, made this comparison seem inevitable. Add our two-time “Class of” winning Aprilia RSV4 Factory—now with standard ABS—plus last year’s Japanese “Class of” winner, the Kawasaki ZX-10R, along with the exotic-by-Austrian-birth KTM RC8R, and we’ve assembled an eclectic group of elite machines.

But hypoxic price tags aren’t all that make these bikes interesting. Payments to match a well-equipped automobile also buy you the most advanced technology ever attached to a pair of handlebars. Virtually all of these bikes (except the KTM) offer variable power modes, traction control, and ABS. Quickshifters are commonplace, and so are“intelligent” steering dampers running their own dedicated ECU. Two bikes—Ducati and MV Agusta—utilize Öhlins electronically adjustable suspension—while the BMW features Dynamic Damping Control with electromagnetic valves that automatically alter suspension adjustment on the fly. These bikes are bleeding edge.

As in past years, we subjected these six tech-obsessed over-achievers to four days of intense street and circuit scrutiny. We tackled everything from bumper-to-bumper city traffic on a 90-degree morning in Palm Desert to the commuter-clogged 405 to wide-open backroads in the San Bernardino National Forest. Then we torched 18 sets of Bridgestone R10 race tires at our adopted high-speed home, Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, CA, gathering lap times and other pertinent performance data. Read on to find out just how well the One-Percenters ride.

Aprilia RSV4 Factory

BEST LAP:
1:50.75
Fastest

Aprilia’s awesome RSV4 has in many ways become our “Class of” benchmark. Since appearing in 2010, it has won this comparison twice, and barely lost last year to BMW’s stunning S1000RR. For 2013, it returns with the addition of ABS and updated Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC) electronics, while everything else we loved—including ultra-neutral handling and that soulful, 65-degree, 999cc V-four engine—returns unchanged.

Not surprising, then, that the RSV4 turned this test’s fastest lap, a blistering 1:50.75. Rent-a-wrist Bradley Adams, from sister publication Sport Rider, mostly credited the highly integrated APRC for superior on-track performance. Traction control, wheelie control, and ABS operations are very complementary, so interventions are always predictable and only advance forward motion, not impede it. Bonus points for oversized paddle switches that allow eight levels of TC intervention to be altered on demand without closing the throttle or clutch—though the on-screen menu isn’t easy to decipher, and pity the fool tasked with resetting the tripmeter after stopping for gas.

Testers universally praised both the RSV4’s fit and handling. The tiny tailsection and blunted upper fairing keep the overall dimensions tiny, but wide clip-ons, a long saddle, and ample legroom accommodate even over-six-footers. Carved-from-billet stability and near-perfect balance allow more aggressive inputs without bending the bike out of shape, improving confidence and masking some mass—at 465 pounds, the RSV4 is almost the heaviest bike here, 34 lbs. porkier than the Panigale, which is the lightest. Perhaps that poundage reduces ground clearance—the RSV4 again dragged both its bellypan and exhaust at the track.

Street reviews were mixed, with demerits for a firm saddle, super-tall gearing, and a surfeit of engine heat. The Öhlins suspension felt unexpectedly compliant on the street, however, and no one complained about the exhaust note that credibly imitates a small-block Chevy with a lumpy cam.

Note also that Aprilia has gifted wannabe owners with a substantial price cut—now at $19,999, it’s a full $3000 less than last year, despite the addition of standard ABS. Lap-leading performance, loads of Italian character, and bargain pricing (comparatively) keep the RSV4 in contention, even if the platform is now 4 years old.





BOSCH ABS
The RSV4’s only significant update for 2013 is the addition of race-grade ABS, putting the Aprilia on equal footing with BMW, Ducati, and Kawasaki. Developed specifically for this bike in conjunction with Bosch, the 4.4-lb. ABS offers three levels of sensitivity, or it can be switched off entirely. The Rain setting delivers maximum intervention; Sport incorporates a Rear Lift-Up Mitigation (RLM) strategy to keep the rear tire on the ground under heavy braking; Track, in comparison, disables RLM entirely. Any of these ABS settings can be paired with any of the three engine/TC maps, and all three act on both wheels at all times.

BMW HP4

BEST LAP:
1:51.19
3rd Fastest

BMW’s limited-production HP4 is the automatic superbike. Don’t wanna fuss with suspension adjustments? Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) fettles itself, effectively. Can’t bother with the clutch? Shift Assistant will grab the next gear. Meanwhile, launch control lets any squid capable of holding a throttle wide-open execute a mid-9-second quarter-mile pass.

With an ECU mediating everything from power delivery to traction to braking force, where does rider skill end and rise of the machines begin? The answer depends on where your circles of skill and courage overlap. Most of us lapped fastest on the HP4—some in Race mode, not the wide-open Slick setting. Only our Pro-grade guest complained about slight lap-to-lap inconsistencies from the fork, or excess front ABS intervention during extreme trail braking.

BMW’s S1000RR, the Class of 2012 winner, was already a dominant superbike; the addition of DDC and other electronic updates, including 15-level-adjustable traction control (last year’s model only offered four TC presets) and more aggressive race ABS parameters, make the HP4 exponentially better than even last year’s overdog.

On the street, The Ultimate Riding Machine exhibits none of the rough edges we sometimes associate with European thoroughbreds. It’s exceptionally comfortable and composed even at very high speeds, and it was the bike everyone wanted to ride on the street—though it does feel stiffer and slightly buzzier through the bars and pegs than the standard S1000RR.

Civil street manners don’t keep the HP4 from being downright lethal at the track, however. Acceleration from the 178-bhp, 1000cc inline four is face-melting—note the 9.82-second, 150-mph (!) quarter-mile E.T. Complaints at Chuckwalla included a slight tendency to headshake—because the front tire hardly ever touches the ground—and an inability to experiment with on-the-fly-adjustable TC settings, because the HP4 covered the short straights too quickly.

HP4 handling is sharper, too, due to lighter-weight, forged alloy wheels, an Akropovic exhaust, and other upgrades like folding levers and adjustable rearsets that are included with the $4470 “premium competition” option package that saves 15 lbs. over the standard S1000RR. Ticking that box also buys you an array of “sponsorship” decals, too—though who needs sponsors in this income bracket?


Dynamic Damping Control
Ducati and MV Agusta both offer Öhlins electronically adjustable suspension, but only BMW’s Dynamic Damping Control is a self-adjusting, semi-active system. Öhlins’ system lets the rider adjust damping rates by pushing a button while the bike is parked; DDC goes a step further, automatically adjusting damping on-the-fly in response to changing road conditions. A dedicated ECU monitors throttle position, shock-spring travel, lean angle, and more to determine whether the bike is accelerating, braking, or turning, and then alters the damping to suit using electromagnetic valves in the fork and shock that vary as many as 100 times per second, delivering optimized damping response over every bump.

Ducati 1199 Panigale R

BEST LAP:
1:50.87
2nd Fastest

For red-blooded superbike enthusiasts, nothing compares to an R-model Ducati. These are the racing homologation specials, designed specifically for on-track performance. For the Panigale R, this means a superlight aluminum fuel tank—note the bare-metal “graphics”—an adjustable swingarm pivot, and, inside the engine cases, titanium connecting rods and a lighter flywheel to let the Superquadro V-twin rev even higher, now to 12,000 rpm.

We were critical of the over-committed Panigale S during street testing last year, and the R’s track-biased changes only make street riders suffer more. Sensitive throttle activation, and almost no flywheel weight make the R difficult to launch and hard to ride smoothly in stop-and-go traffic. Coupled with an ass-annihilating saddle (firmer for “better feedback”) and excessive heat from the rear header—though less than last year, thanks to revised heat shielding—commuting on the Panigale is a chore, even if the wide, flat bars and ample legroom create an otherwise comfortable cockpit.

Everything changes, however, after you exit I-10 and enter Chuckwalla’s Turn 1. Ducati claims electronic manipulation has increased midrange power. We wouldn’t know—the R rips through the midrange too fast to tell! Thank goodness, then, for the Ducati Quick Shifter (DQS) and an extra-light clutch lever for rowing back downward. It takes a few laps to adapt to the 431-pound Panigale’s handling behavior. The lack of mass makes it more responsive, and more forgiving, too. You can almost always adjust your line, and no matter how hot you think you overcook a corner, the awesome Brembo M50 Monoblocks and flawless race ABS—the best stoppers here—always step up.

The Panigale wasn’t perfect on track, feeling a bit jittery at full lean—perhaps because there’s no frame to dampen lateral loads? And occasionally the traction control and rear suspension argued with each other, causing some pogoing on corner exits. The R-exclusive adjustable swingarm pivot provides two lower positions said to increase rear-end stability under power, but a compressed schedule kept us from altering this setting. Still, no one ever hesitated to jump on the Panigale R for a few laps, it was so rewarding to ride fast.


Frameless Construction
It’s ironic that Ducati, a company revered for its iconic steel-tube trellis frames, deleted the frame entirely when designing the Panigale, its first new-from-the-ground-up superbike in two decades. Instead of a frame, the Panigale features a monocoque aluminum structure bolted to the front cylinder that locates the steering head and doubles as an airbox; an abbreviated subframe bolts the rear cylinder, while the swingarm pivots on the transmission. Sturdy, vacuum die-cast Vacural engine cases turn the Superquadro V-twin into a very stressed member. In addition to increasing stiffness dramatically, deleting the frame saves 22 lbs. over the previous 1198. Who’s going to miss a rack of tubes with numbers like that?

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

BEST LAP:
1:51.97
5th Fastest

One of these bikes—Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10R—is not like the others. Not only is it the cheapest bike here at $15,299 (after the optional $1000 ABS upgrade), it’s the only non-European competitor, too. But this bike is the defending Japanese Class of 2012 champion. We wanted to see how it compared to an even more sophisticated slice of the Eurobike pie.

There’s no inferiority complex on Kawi’s part. Technologically it’s on par with the others, offering variable power modes, Sport-Kawasaki Traction Control (S-KTRC), and race-grade ABS. With 159 bhp and modern Kawasaki build quality, it matches the others on performance and fit-and-finish, too. The Kawasaki is not outclassed.

The first thing you notice is an odd bar position. The clip-ons feel low and close-set, though without inhibiting maneuverability or comfort. It’s also wider through the middle and longer than the V-powered bikes, which makes it feel bulkier at the racetrack. A higher-effort throttle requires a bit of wrist recalibration, but otherwise the Kawasaki is the smoothest bike here in terms of riding dynamics and power delivery, besting even the BMW—and with acceleration almost to match, held back only by unnecessarily tall gearing.

The three-level S-KTRC traction control scheme is one of the least sophisticated here, but it’s extremely satisfying in practice. You almost believe there’s a slide-angle sensor in Level 1 because it allows the bike to get so deliciously sideways before activating. We’re not convinced this traction-control strategy results in the fastest laps, but it is the most fun—and the ZX-10R does finish corners exceptionally well.

Kawasaki’s horizontal-linkage rear suspension, which positions both the shock and linkage above the swingarm for better compliance, or so Kawasaki says, kept the rear wheel moving predictably, but a soft shock occasionally produced a slight instability under the hardest accelerations. The Showa Big Piston Fork, on the other hand, exhibited perfect behavior, thanks partially to stellar set-up work by ace Kawasaki tuner Joey Lombardo, who had our Ninja dialed.

Considering it’s the least expensive bike here, and its electronic technology is the least sophisticated—without gyroscopes, accelerometers, or other advanced gadgets, it’s status quo, not bleeding edge—the ZX-10R is a remarkable performer. Imagine if Honda and Suzuki brought their liter bikes up-to-date.


Kawasaki Intelligent Anti-Lock Braking
Linguistic mysteries aside—how does Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Braking abbreviate to KIBS?—the Ninja’s ABS is excellent, providing near-transparent intervention, minimal lever feedback, and useful (but not excessive) rear-end lift suppression. Built by Bosch, the super-compact ABS module is positioned behind the cylinder head to centralize mass and it monitors data including: front and rear wheel speed (using sensors from the S-KTRC traction control system), throttle position, gear selection, engine rpm, caliper pressure, clutch actuation, and more, all to prevent wheel lock-up. A Tokico radial-pump front master cylinder further improves brake power and feel, while petal-cut rotors better shed heat.

KTM 1190 RC8R

BEST LAP:
1:51.76
4th Fastest

Lacking electro-trickery of any kind—no traction control, no power modes, no ABS, manual damping adjusters, and a throttle activated by cables, not wires—KTM’s RC8R is a throwback to the days when men were men and they managed everything using just their hands and feet. What a surprise, then, that the stone-ax KTM, extracting just 145 bhp from its 1195cc, 75-degree V-twin, lapped Chuckwalla faster than the MV Agusta and Kawasaki, and just a half-second behind the monster-motored HP4.

“The KTM is the only bike in this group that doesn’t intimidate you,” Adams explains. With a classic V-twin powerband that prioritizes low- and midrange torque, the KTM comes off corners easily and builds speed in a predictable manner without scaring you like some other bikes. The Brembo Monoblock brakes are similarly friendly, combining strong power with a manageable initial bite.

It takes some laps to adapt to the RC8R’s unique chassis attitude. It’s tall and narrow, and feels utterly unlike the other more compact, center-dense machines. Initially the front end felt high and stiff, demanding strong steering inputs and staying stuck at the top of the stroke. Dropping the triples and reducing preload alleviated this, but the WP 43mm fork still remained somewhat overwhelmed over rough pavement.

At a sensible street pace, however, the KTM is in its element. Engine vibration is minimal, the adjustable ergonomics coddle any rider, and light clutch action coupled with proper gearing and loads of low-end torque make the KTM a capable—even practical—commuter or sport-touring bike.

That might read like damning with faint praise—it isn’t. Lap times prove the KTM can contend, without demanding too many sacrifices from the rider. At $16,499, the RC8R is not exactly cheap, however, and without proven performance and safety adds like traction control and ABS, it’s at an undeniable disadvantage on the dealer floor. But if you desire the unique V-twin character in a versatile package you won’t encounter at every other stoplight, the Austrian machine abides. It was nice to have the RC8R back in the mix—it sat out last year—to remind us what bikes were like before computers took over. But progress is difficult to resist.


Adjustable Ergonomics
With big bones and a wide-open ergonomic triangle, the RC8R was the bike of choice for freeway stints, and with more ergonomic setting options than any other production sportbike, the riding position can be tweaked to accommodate almost anyone. Hand and foot levers are adjustable for reach and angle respectively, and KTM also makes the foot levers length-adjustable too. Additionally, the rearsets are two-position height adjustable and the subframe is, too, letting you easily and effectively alter cornering clearance and the seat-to-footpeg distance as you desire. Up front, the clip-ons offer two height settings, and two angle choices as well.

MV AGUSTA F4RR

BEST LAP:
1:52.09
6th Fastest

You can’t really conduct a European superbike comparison without including MV Agusta’s F4. Penned by Massimo Tamburini and powered by the howling, 1000cc Corsacorta (short stroke) four that sounds even more ferocious now that new titanium rods allow the rev limit to be safely raised to 14,000 rpm, this bike comes closest to the traditional definition of an exotic superbike. Like revered exotics, the F4 is easy to love from a distance. The 15-year-old silhouette remains improbably striking, and fine detailing makes good on the firm’s “Motorcycle Art” claim. From the saddle, however, MV puts the “temperamental” in “temperamental Italian Superbike.”

The 167-bhp F4RR is furiously fast, but clumsy engine dynamics make it difficult to ride well. The most vexing problem remains the abrupt power spike when the variable-length intake stacks snap open right before 10,000 rpm; this jarring hit, coupled with glitchy injection, makes throttle management challenging. This power spike also causes the traction control to cut torque too severely, so much so that some riders preferred to ride with the TC deactivated! We’re informed that MV recently signed an agreement with the same engineering firm behind Aprilia’s excellent APRC system, but we’re tired of MV saying “wait until next year.” Speaking of, what about the advertised auto-blip downshift programming? Not activated on our bike, or any U.S.-bound models, we’re told—though perhaps available for download “later.”

For as big and bulky as the 469-lb. F4RR is—even with new forged wheels and a 4-pound-lighter muffler—it handles surprisingly well. High-speed stability is its strong suit—it razored Chuckwalla’s high-speed bowl—but it also has light, responsive steering.

One complaint that MV did address was a lack of legroom, adding adjustable footrests this year. The F4RR is still ergonomically demanding, however, with a high, board-like saddle and a long reach to low bars. Considerable vibration and that underseat heating unit are annoying as well.

Such glitches and gremlins were once expected on a European exotic, but Aprilia and BMW prove this is no longer the case. MV Agusta has charisma and character, not to mention, the outright power and performance to compete. If the company would refine its current technology to work as advertised, it could be a contender.


Motor & Vehicle Integrated Control System
MV Agusta’s Motor & Vehicle Integrated Control System (MVICS), which incorporates multiple power maps and traction control, uses a complex “inertial platform” consisting of three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and two potentiometers to gather an unprecedented amount of data. MVICS also invites an unprecedented amount of adjustability: a Custom mode allows everything from throttle sensitivity to torque response to engine braking to rev limit to be individually fine-tuned. The F4RR model also features Öhlins electronically adjustable suspension, offering 24 rebound and compression damping settings in the Custom mode. Supercheesy wiring leads, which flop over unattractively and are covered by a rubber boot that doesn’t stay seated, look utterly out of place on an otherwise exquisitely finished bike. A quickshifter and Öhlins Mechatronic steering damper are icing on MV’s electronics cake.

Off the Record

Zack Courts
Age: 29
Height: 6’2”
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.





Aaron Frank
Age: 38
Height: 5’7”
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.





Bradley Adams
Age: 23
Height: 6’3”
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…





Matt Samples
Age: 37
Height: 6’2”
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.


Conclusion
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.

You’d hardly guess the KTM and Ducati are both V-twins: KTM’s trace is traditionally smooth and linear, while the Ducati resembles a peaky 600cc four with revs rising precipitously at 7000 rpm. That’s part of what makes the Panigale feel so ferocious on-track. Kawasaki’s curve is clean save for a soggy spot at 8000 rpm; MV Agusta’s has more spikes than an iguana’s back, especially when the variable-length intake stacks snap open at 10,000 rpm. Aprilia shows the V-four advantage, with stout midrange and stable top-end power to carry a gear without killing drive. But nothing compares to the 177.5-bhp BMW, its glass-smooth curve evidence of exceptional electronic tuning.

KTM’s old-school, long-stroke V-twin owns the torque chart under 8000 rpm, at which point Ducati’s Superquadro engine finally builds a decent head of steam on its way to its 81.5 lb.-ft. peak—the most here. Aprilia’s V-four again appears to be the perfect compromise between a V-twin and inline four, impressively strong as low as 4000 rpm with peak output barely diminishing between 10,000 rpm and redline. The Kawasaki and MV Agusta both post solid torque figures around 11,000 rpm, but output declines quickly after that. The BMW is the only inline that escapes this torque fade—electronic smoothing lets it carry a healthier bump all the way to redline.


Bridgestone R10 & R10 Evo Tires


Traction & Control

Words: Ari Henning
Photo: Kevin Wing

All but one of the six bikes we tested in “Class of” have multi-level traction control and most of them have race-grade ABS, but that doesn’t mean tire choice is any less important. For the track portion of our comparison, we put all of our testbikes on Bridgestone’s R10 front and R10 Evo rear DOT-approved race tires.

We rode on the R10s during last year’s Japanese “Class of” test, but the rear tire has undergone some changes since then, hence the Evo moniker. The updated rear tire offers better grip and handling by way of a new rubber compound that is more durable and provides more consistency over a wider range of temperatures, while a revised carcass construction yields better handling and a larger contact patch at full lean.

“Bridgestone is always tweaking their products, and these tires have a lot of trickle-down from MotoGP,” says Bridgestone America’s Brian Davenport, who, along with Performance Tire Service’s Rory O’Neill, braved the desert with their 18-wheeler (packed to the ceiling with MotoGP rubber bound for Laguna Seca!) to break beads and make sure tire pressures were spot-on throughout our test.

R10 Evo rears are offered in Type 2 (hard) and Type 3 (medium), while fronts are offered in Type 3. We went with Type 2 rears and Type 3 fronts, just like last year, but got quite a bit more life out of them than previously while also turning consistently faster laps. The R10s are available in a 120/70ZR-17 front size, and the R10 Evo rears are available in 180/55ZR-17 and 190/55ZR-17. Prices range from $350 to $450 a set and are only available from authorized Bridgestone distributors, so visit www.bridgestonemotorcycletires.com to find the closest vendor.

Ergos

A short seat-to-bar distance makes the Aprilia look compact on paper, but a long, flat saddle that’s easy to slide back and forth on makes the bike feel roomier on the road. This is the tightest seat-to-peg measurement here due to a 10mm lower seat. Tall riders take note.

Who says sportbikes have to be uncomfortable? If there’s an ergonomic sweet spot, this is it. More than any measurement, it’s the lack of vibration, excellent wind protection, effective heat management, and soft-yet-supportive seat that make the BMW really comfortable.

Despite small overall dimensions, the Ducati offers plenty of legroom. Unfortunately, you’ll be too busy cursing the rock-hard, overheated saddle to notice! Uniquely positioned, high, wide, and flat clip-ons open your upper body and enhance bike control.

Aprilia RSV4 Factory | Price $19,999

Engine type: l-c 65-deg. V-4

Valve train: DOHC, 16v

Displacement: 999.6cc

Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.3mm

Compression: 13.0:1

Fuel system: EFI, ride by wire

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper

Transmission: 6-speed

Measured horsepower: 153.7 bhp @ 12,600 rpm

Measured torque: 72.6 lb.-ft. @ 9800 rpm

Corrected ¼-mile: 10.27 sec. @ 141.57 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.79 sec.

Fuel mileage (hi/low/avg.): 40/32/36.5 mpg

Frame: Aluminum twin-spar

Front suspension: Öhlins 43mm fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Öhlins shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low speed compression and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston Monoblock calipers, 320mm discs with ABS

Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 320mm disc with ABS

Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Rear tire: 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Rake/trail: 24.5°/4.1 in.

Seat height: 33.3 in.

Wheelbase: 55.9 in.

Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 465/438 lbs.

Colors: Special Edition black/red/white/green

Availability: Now

Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact: www.apriliausa.com


BMW HP4 | Price $24,995

Engine type: l-c inline-four

Valve train: DOHC, 16v

Displacement: 999.0cc

Bore x stroke: 80.0 x 49.7mm

Compression: 13.0:1

Fuel system: EFI, ride by wire

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper

Transmission: 6-speed

Measured horsepower: 177.5 bhp @ 13,300 rpm

Measured torque: 77.1 lb.-ft. @ 10,300

Corrected ¼-mile: 9.82 sec. @ 150.01 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.41 sec.

Fuel mileage (hi/low/avg.): 38/29/33 mpg

Frame: Aluminum twin-spar

Front suspension: Sachs 46mm fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low speed compression and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston Monoblock calipers, 320mm discs with ABS

Rear brake: Brembo single-piston 220mm disc with ABS

Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Rear tire: 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Rake/trail: 24.0°/3.9 in.

Seat height: 32.3 in.

Wheelbase: 56.0 in.

Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 445/418 lbs.

Colors: Racing Blue Metallic/Light White

Availability: Now

Warranty: 36 mo., 36,000 mi.

Contact: www.bmwmotorcycles.com


Ducati 1199 Panigale R | Price $29,995

Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twin

Valve train: DOHC, 8v

Displacement: 1199.0cc

Bore x stroke: 112.0 x 60.8mm

Compression: 12.5:1

Fuel system: EFI, ride by wire

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper

Transmission: 6-speed

Measured horsepower: 154.2 bhp @ 10,600 rpm

Measured torque: 81.5 lb.-ft. @ 9000 rpm

Corrected ¼-mile: 9.99 sec. @ 143.93 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.55 sec.

Fuel mileage (hi/low/avg.): 36/28/33 mpg

Frame: Aluminum monocoque

Front suspension: Öhlins 43mm fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Öhlins shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston Monoblock calipers, 330mm discs with ABS

Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc with ABS

Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Rear tire: 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Rake/trail: 24.5°/3.9 in.

Seat height: 32.5 in.

Wheelbase: 56.6 in.

Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 431/404 lbs.

Colors: Red

Availability: Now

Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact: www.ducati.com

Ergos

Kawasaki’s twin-spar frame feels a little thick in the middle. Perhaps that’s why the clip-ons are so narrow and angled back, to make the bike seem slimmer than it is. It doesn’t feel uncomfortable, just atypical. Legroom is good; the saddle is great.

In the standard position, the KTM’s adjustable handlebars are almost an inch higher than the next closest bike. It’s also got the most legroom (by 1.4 inches!). If you’re tall, or just appreciate room to move around, the RC8R is the bike you want to have.

With a very long reach to the lowest bars here, MV Agusta demands what we call a “committed” riding position. Adjustable footrests are a welcome addition, and there’s enough ground clearance to run them in the lowest position without touching toes down.


Kawasaki ZX-10R ABS | Price $15,299

Engine type: l-c inline-four

Valve train: DOHC, 16v

Displacement: 998.0cc

Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm

Compression: 13.0:1

Fuel system: EFI

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper

Transmission: 6-speed

Measured horsepower: 158.9 bhp @ 11,700 rpm

Measured torque: 73.4 lb.-ft. @ 11,100 rpm

Corrected ¼-mile: 10.32 sec. @ 140.87 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.90 sec.

Fuel mileage (hi/low/avg.): 36/28/32 mpg

Frame: Aluminum twin-spar

Front suspension: Showa 43mm Big Piston Fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Showa shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low speed compression and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Tokico four-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS

Rear brake: Tokico single-piston caliper, 220mm disc with ABS

Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT016

Rear tire: 190/55-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT016

Rake/trail: 25.0°/4.2 in

Seat height : 32.1 in.

Wheelbase: 56.1 in.

Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 449/422 lbs.

Colors: Lime Green/Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Flat Stardust White/Metallic Spark Black

Available: Now

Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact : www.kawasaki.com


KTM RC8R | Price $16,499

Engine type: l-c 75-deg. V-twin

Valve train: DOHC, 8v

Displacement: 1195.0cc

Bore x stroke: 105.0 x 69.0mm

Compression: 13.5:1

Fuel system: EFI

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper

Transmission: 6-speed

Measured horsepower: 144.7 bhp @ 10,200 rpm

Measured torque: 80.8 lb.-ft. @ 7000 rpm

Corrected ¼-mile: 10.26 sec. @ 137.90 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.28 sec.

Fuel mileage (hi/low/avg.): 46/31/39 mpg

Frame: Tubular-steel trellis

Front suspension: WP 43mm fork with adjustable spring preload, high/low speed compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: WP shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low speed compression and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston Monoblock calipers, 320mm discs

Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 220mm disc

Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Continental Sport Attack II

Rear tire: 190/55-ZR17 Continental Sport Attack II

Rake/trail: 23.3°/3.8 in.

Seat height: 31.7/32.5 in.

Wheelbase: 56.1 in.

Fuel capacity: 4.4 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 445/419 lbs.

Colors: Black/white/orange, IDM Replica, Akrapovic Edition

Availability: Now

Warranty: 36 mo., 36,000 mi.

Contact: www.ktmusa.com


MV Agusta F4RR | Price $24,998

Engine type: l-c inline-four

Valve train: DOHC, 16v

Displacement: 998.0cc

Bore x stroke: 79.0 x 50.9mm

Compression: 13.4:1

Fuel system: EFI, ride by wire

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper

Transmission: 6-speed

Measured horsepower: 167.2 bhp @ 13,500 rpm

Measured torque: 70.5 lb.-ft. @ 11,500 rpm

Corrected ¼-mile: 10.40 sec. @ 140.98 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.80 sec.

Fuel mileage (hi/low/avg.): 36/34/35 mpg

Frame: Tubular-steel trellis

Front suspension: Öhlins 43mm fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Öhlins shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low speed compression and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston Monoblock calipers, 320mm discs

Rear brake: Brembo four-piston caliper, 210mm disc

Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Rear tire: 200/55-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP

Rake/trail: 23.5°/3.9 in.

Seat height : 32.7 in.

Wheelbase: 56.3 in.

Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 469/442 lbs.

Colors: Pearl white/black, red/white

Available: Now

Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact : www.mvagustausa.com

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