Racetrack credentials are one thing; a long and illustrious competition history something more. And a comprehensive dossier of the latest technology and packaging is yet another gold star in the permanent record.
But let's not forget one critical piece of this supersport puzzle: These bikes, no matter how trick they appear on the specs page or how well they translate into racetrack tools, are street bikes-two-wheeled sporting machines designed for public roads. And as such they must start, stop and comfortably support a human for the far more mundane and less-exacting pursuits of back-road riding, commuting and touring.
It's a testament to the stunning state of the art that these four motorcycles-Honda's new CBR 929RR, Kawasaki's redesigned ZX-9R, Suzuki's clean-sheet GSX-R750 and Yamaha's revitalized YZF-R1-can be dang-near all things to all riders. As sharp-end sportbikes, they possess the kind of power, lightness and handling that would have set the racing world afire not that many years ago. Imagine a 750 sending 123 horsepower to the rear wheel, or a near-literbike that tips the scales to the tune of just 405 pounds without fuel.
Perhaps just as impressive is that none of these top-line missiles is in any way high-strung or difficult to ride. All "carburet" well (two are fuel-injected), have wide, usable powerbands and serve up a highway ride that, while taut, never ventures into harshness. Despite a few comfort compromises, all four will dutifully serve you on the daily grind, transporting you to and from work (or your favorite canyon playground) without mutilating your sorry carcass as would, say, a Ducati 996.
Ultimately, parsing the differences among this quartet of supersports requires extensive and arduous back-to-back testing on a variety of sublimely curvy roads. (Where do we form the line for that job?) In isolation, all feel fast, sophisticated and screwed to the road. Put them cheek-to-jowl and the differences, however slight, emerge clearly.
Back-Road Riding, Fast RoadsGetting around quickly and comfortably on the street comes as much from the confidence engendered by your ride as the bike's basic competence. If it sends you the right signals and behaves in a way that you find predictable-notice here the influence of personal bias, as some riders like different things from different bikes-you'll have the sense of leaving a greater margin for the unpredictable, like dirt at the apex or minivans crossingthe double-yellow. As a result, you'll go faster with greater comfort. And on the street it's all about how the ride feels more than outright velocity.
On the roads we frequent, one in particular is known for its long, sweeping turns that encourage a smooth touch and tidy lines. Here, the ZX-9R feels great-initially. With good power available all over the rev range you're left to explore lines and braking points rather than fuss with gear selection. Basically pick a gear or two and you're set. The Kawasaki is wonderfully stable at high speeds-as you'd guess once you know it's got the longest wheelbase and the greatest amount of trail of the four bikes. It's also the heaviest (23 pounds more than the next chubbiest), and this extra mass portends the bike's unflappability. You notice the extra heft mostly in the size of the bike-it is, by quite a margin, the largest-feeling of the group. Finally, when the going gets really rapid, the 9R's chunkiness begins to overcome the suspension and the bike's comparatively slow steering response makes you brake a little earlier and you're far less inclined to lunge for the apex at the last possible moment.