Indeed, the first thing you notice about the 1098 is it's ferociously fast. The 1099cc V-Twin stomps out an impressive 137.9 bhp and, more importantly, 77.5 lb.-ft. of torque. Compared to the more manic inline-fours, it comes on much more smoothly-so much more smoothly, in fact, that we frequently found ourselves entering corners faster than we realized. Fortunately, the radial-mount Brembo Monobloc calipers-perhaps the strongest brakes ever fitted to a production bike-were plenty capable of slowing us down. As Go-Go noted, "If most brakes have an initial power of 1 and progress to 100, these Brembos start at 20 and progress to 120. They can make trail-braking a somewhat violent exercise if you're not careful." Something I found out the hard way a short while later.
The 1098 chassis is noticeably more aggressive than the 999 that preceded it. The back of the bike is high and the nose is low. Though it feels like you're all over the front end into corners, the front tire tracks well under trail-braking, doesn't push (provided you firm up the fork, which is too soft on the stock settings) and provides a balanced stance mid-corner. Though he already turned the fastest lap on the 1098, Go-Go thought he could go faster still with a stiffer front end.
Our guest tester only put one other bike under the 2-minute threshold-the Yamaha YZF-R1, which he rode to a single 1:59 lap-"and it was a real sketchy lap," he reported. The R1 is all about power. With 155 bhp and 73 lb.-ft. of torque on tap, and the YCC-I "chip-controlled intake" spreading that motivation across the rev range, the R1 produces what Go-Go calls "colossal power" from the bottom to the top. As immediate and broad as this power is, however, it is also somewhat difficult to access. Despite the YCC-T "fly-by-wire" throttle system that is said to provide flawless throttle response, all of our riders noted an occasional and unpredictable lag on throttle pick-up, especially at low- to mid-rpm, which made rapid corner exits a dodgy proposition.
From the saddle the R1 feels big, especially in such compact company. The bars are relatively high and far apart, the seat and tank are both broad, and there was plenty of room for our two full-sized testers (both 6-foot-2) to move around, which wasn't the case on the other bikes. The stock suspension is also too soft for serious track work, with the fork diving under deceleration (amplified by the significant engine braking) and the chassis wallowing under heavy braking. A bit of attention to setup soon had the bike working very well. "When you're honkin' you definitely know you're on a big bike, but it works well," said Go-Go. "Once you get around the higher initial effort to turn in and the slight unpredictability of picking up the throttle to get out of the corners, you've got a capable-if not exactly cooperative-track tool at your disposal."
At the opposite end of the usability scale is the Honda CBR600RR. And here's where things got interesting: Go-Go turned his third-quickest laps (low 2:01s) on the 105.5-bhp CBR, faster even than the GSX-R1000 and surprisingly close to the R1, despite the fact that both literbikes make at least 50 more ponies. And it wasn't just Go-Go who loved the little Honda. Fast or slow, big or small, our testers praised the CBR's near-perfect chassis, great brakes and ample, easy-access power. It made everyone feel like a hero.
The Honda's riding position is comfortable if a bit compact, with a short bar-to-seat distance that puts you right up over the front of the bike and imparts a sense of mastery over the machine. On track, that sensation is only further enhanced.
Soggy conditions gave us plenty of time to prepare the morning of our test. Pirelli Diablo
The radial-mount four-piston Tokico calipers are plenty powerful and very easy to modulate-and this, coupled with the best front-end feedback of the bunch, allows for drama-free trail-braking and unparalleled confidence heading into corners. Superb front-rear balance in fast transitions (especially the full-lean left/full-lean right at the top of the Cyclone). Excellent rear wheel traction that allowed us to wind into the throttle early and take full advantage of the CBR's surprisingly stout 44 lb.-ft. torque peak helped shave fractal seconds from each lap. In some of Thunderhill's long, off-camber corners, Go-Go reckoned he was able to carry more speed on the CBR than on any of the other bikes, a testament to its utter composure and trustworthiness when leaned over.