Finally, the Honda's suspension, though not as plush as the Kawasaki's or as buttoned-down as the Yamaha's, goes about its work seamlessly. At a modest pace, the ride feels busy, as though it could get harsh and ugly at elevated speeds. But pour it on and the Honda just works better and better. There's slightly more road feel than on the Yamaha and less suspension movement than on the Suzuki-the GSX-R, in particular, was criticized by our heavier riders as being a touch mushy. Although you have to work a bit harder to keep the engine in the meat of the powerband (next to the Kawasaki or Yamaha, anyway), the rest of the package is more than a match for the R1.
For faster twisties, our preferences line up like this: Honda and Yamaha very close together, the Suzuki a slightly larger increment into third, and then the Kawasaki.
Back-road riding, slow roadsIf fast roads reward powerband management, smoothness and pure courage, the really tight (and, on our testing route, coincidentally smooth) roads put a premium on engine flexibility, steering response and general agility.
You'd expect, then, that the superlight Suzuki would show its shapely tail section to the others. Not quite. Instead, the GSX-R's lack of midrange punch becomes ever more apparent, and lands the bike slightly out of its element. Sure, it turns well and its brakes are highly rated, but forward progress is often dulled by the rider's search for just the right gear to keep the motor spinning up. On the 30 to 60 mph corners we're talking about here, that's not always easy.
What's more, the Suzuki's soft suspension, which feels just fine in the faster stuff where chassis loads are less abruptly applied, lets the bike bob and wander more than we'd like. We also noticed that the Suzuki was the most inclined to stand up on the brakes (so forget about stuffing it in really late only to change your mind) and had considerable bump steer; every stroke of the suspension had to be accompanied by slight changes in bar pressure to hold a desired line. Individually, these characteristics aren't damning, but put them together in a high-workload situation and the Suzuki soon becomes more work than you bargained for.
Landing just behind the GSX-R on our tight back road was the Kawasaki. If you failed to notice its heft on the fast stuff, there's no question you'll see the differences here. With suspension calibration and brakes well up to an eight-tenths pace and a generous spread of midrange power, the ZX-9R encourages you only up to a point. (That said, under those limits, the bike is really a peach-just be sure you know where the wall is.)
To its credit, the 9R, with a more upright riding position and wider-set bars, gives you extra leverage and a better vantage point than the others. Actually getting the bike heeled over and changing direction is less effort than all but the Honda on this sort of road. But the bike constantly sends back signals that it doesn't really want to be flicked vigorously. About this time, you're starting to notice that you can't brake quite as late.
On faster roads, the Honda and Yamaha finish closely. But on the serpentine blacktop, the Honda's immediate steering and greater accuracy let it pull out a dramatic lead. It's here the 929's fast steering (amazingly bereft of headshake or other nasty side effects) and tack-sharp brakes give you the tools to slash through the turns. From max-lean left to hard-over right the Honda is the fastest-responding bike here. (The Suzuki's soft suspension takes some of the intensity out of it that's not quite compensated for by its light weight.)