4 Mean Motorcycles, 3 Average Joes

Three real-world street riders versus the world's baddest sportbikes—Honda CBR1000RR, Kawasaki ZX-10R, Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Yamaha YZF-R1. From the June 2004 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine.

You know what the Motorcyclist staff thinks of the current crop of superbikes—Honda's CBR1000RR, Kawasaki's ZX-10R, Suzuki's GSX-R1000 and Yamaha's YZF-R1. But what would the prototypical Average Joe make of the world's most intoxicatingly capable over-the-counter sportbikes? What do you think? When you weren't home and Joe didn't return our calls, we met the average Joel—along with fellow members Jim and Marina of San Diego's Red Hot Riders motorcycle club (www.redhotriders.com)—at the club's Streets of Willow track day.

Like anyone with a pulse and a sportbike in the garage, they've absorbed months of corporate posturing and general effluvium about the 2004 CBR1000RR, ZX-10R, GSX-R1000 and YZF-R1. The flagrantly unscientific yet potentially enlightening idea was to give three riders, each with different skills and expectations, some laps on each bike to see what happened. The enlightenment level dropped slightly when a minor crash sidelined the ZX-10R for most of the day, limiting seat time for our intrepid trio. To further derail the popular misconception that testing is one big high-speed bacchanal with really sticky tires, we ran everyone through the Kevin Wing twilight photo gauntlet. They left with big, goofy, sunburned grins anyway, and drastically altered opinions on the best way to put 150-plus horsepower in a 400-something-pound package.

**Jim Branch **

Club President Jim seems to be the smoothest and most aggressive of the Red Hot Riders. He was swooping around the Streets on the BMW R1100RS fast enough to impress Boehm when we showed up. Before the Boxer, he swooped around on a Honda CBR600F3 and a RC51.

_Suzuki GSX-R1000: _The GSX-R is the most confidence-inspiring. It lacks the CBR's refinement and the R1's raw feel, but I felt faster and more comfortable on it. Suspension soaks up bumps and surface changes best, always letting you know what's going on. Brake feel was on par with the R1, but I'm more confident in this front end. It turns easily—even on the brakes—and goes where you point it. The motor revs quickly and pulls strongly from down low. It's peakier than the CBR but less so than the R1. I never noticed the ergos, which is a good sign for a tall guy. The gearbox is slightly better than the R1's, but not as good as the Honda's.

_Honda CBR1000RR: _I knew exactly what it was going to do. No surprises. I'm more comfortable on the CBR, so I think I could go faster on it than on the R1. The front never came up or got light. Suspension is firm and less compliant than the GSX-R's. Steering is very light, and brakes are linear with good feel. The engine feels tight and revs slower than the others, but it's very linear. Honda's gearbox is the best; very precise. On the downside, it weighs more than the others, and I felt like I was sitting on the bike, not in it. The front brake has instant feel, and the Honda turns nicely. The CBR does everything well, but it didn't get my juices flowing.

_Yamaha YZF-R1: _The R1 revs very quickly, with a big hit around 9000 rpm that makes the front end light. Accelerating hard out of a corner, it forced my line a bit wide. I'd rather have the Honda's linear response and the R1's quick-revving feel. The Yamaha's ergos are better than the CBR's. I'm sitting in it, not on it. It also soaks up bumps better than the Honda. The brakes are awesome, with more play at the lever. And the R1 turns in very nicely. Shifting takes more effort than on the Honda. The R1 looks fantastic! The stock exhaust is quiet but sounds great. Still, I wouldn't pick the R1 because of the light front end.

_Kawasaki ZX-10R: _I only had two laps on this one in fading light, but it's a brute compared to the other three. The Kawasaki has the strongest, hardest-hitting engine. It's narrow at the tank/seat junction, but with my longish legs the tank feels wide toward the front. The ZX-10R turns nicely, but with all that power it might be a handful.

Marina Pelren

It was hard to tell if Marina was more apprehensive about us, these motorcycles or her first day on a racetrack. Most likely all of the above. Easing into things with more discretion than aggression, she leaned toward the Suzuki, which rewards that approach, as opposed to the R1, which doesn't.

_Suzuki GSX-R1000:_I like the engine. It's very tractable with tons of torque. Brakes are stellar. Acceleration is incredible, and wheelies are easy. The Suzuki is the most comfortable, and it handles best for me. Steering is light and holds the line I set. The fat gas tank makes it harder to body-steer; hanging off took more effort. Shifting seems a little harder than on the other bikes; this gearbox feels notchy. Big, dark numbers make reading the digital speedometer easy. The other instruments are very easy to read as well.

_Honda CBR1000RR: _The Honda turns quickly through tight corners and chicanes, but it never felt planted to me. Power comes on about 8000 rpm. Revs climb quickly, but it doesn't seem to accelerate as fast as the others. Aside from some low-rpm vibration, the engine is very smooth, and the transmission shifts easily. Suspension is the most compliant of this group. I didn't like feeling perched atop the bike rather than sitting down in it, and the seat is hard.

_Yamaha YZF-R1: _The Yamaha feels like it would stop on a dime. Brakes are super strong and very light. There's also more steering lock, which makes U-turns easier than on the previous R1. Ergonomics make it the easiest to hang off on. And it's the nicest-looking bike here. Handling seems unruly to me. I had to fight the bike to steer it in my chosen direction. I had to shift a lot to keep this engine happy, and there's a lot of lever travel between first and second gear. It's a hot bike; lots of heat escaping from the lower fairing.

Kawasaki ZX-10R: My time was really limited on this one—just one lap at twilight—but the ZX-10R feels wild. It seems like the bike couldn't contain all the power it possessed. This is nothing like the ZX-9R. Acceleration is really strong. It has the strongest engine here and feels faster than any of the others. Dislikes? Mirrors seem like an afterthought. They're hard to adjust or see anything out of. The tiny instrument panel is quite difficult to decipher as well.

Joel Keller

Never underestimate a man who brings an FJR1300 to the track. As it turns out, this average Joel isn't average at all. "The CBR is Julia Roberts," he says, "polished, skilled, graceful and immediately endearing, but the GSX-R is Pamela Anderson." It seems Pam is more than Joel wants. Like Marina, Joel was surprised to discover the R1 engine is unimposing...until you spin it.

_Suzuki GSX-R1000: _The Gixxer is a laser. Be careful where you point it. It turns even easier than the Honda, which can be disconcerting. Still, for everyday riding, I prefer the Honda's touch. This engine spins up so fast you're literally screaming before you know it. Now I know why the AMA starting grids are full of GSX-Rs. Brakes are very good, but less inspiring than the Honda's. Overall, the Gixxer feels lighter than the CBR or R1. Suspension feels softer than the others as well, but it soaks up bumps like a champ.

_Honda CBR1000RR: _The CBR is a scalpel. Everybody says inline-fours make power at high revs. Everybody hasn't ridden the Double-R. This thing makes power everywhere. What can I sell that's worth about $11,000? Very sharp, precise, efficient and responsive. From the very first turn the Honda impressed me with how nicely it tipped in. Think about turning right...look right, and I'm going right! Nice combination of turning effort and stability. The CBR allows easy midturn corrections, which is very handy on the street when you notice sand at the apex. Incredible brakes. They modulate extremely well. Apparently I can trail-brake after all. Sweet!

_Yamaha YZF-R1: _The R1 is the meat cleaver: It's a little heavy-feeling and hard to wield. It's short, narrow and takes the most effort to turn, but corners like it's on rails; very confidence-inspiring. My FJR1300 accelerates quickly, so I expected the R1's power to rock my world, but it didn't. I think I was in the wrong rev range. Brakes are good, but they need a stronger pull than the others. Suspension is firm and a little less compliant than the others, probably because it wasn't set up specifically for me.

_Kawasaki ZX-10R: _I didn't get enough time on the Kawasaki for a real comparison. Riding for the photos, I could tell the engine was strong and pulled well. The steering was similar to the Honda's, and it turned nicely, too.

Average Conclusions

So what do we glean from this little experiment? Three riders of varied skill levels can survive an afternoon on these beasts with an indelible smile and all limbs intact. Like all first impressions, theirs were shaped by preconceptions, past experience and physical attraction. But when it comes to forging a meaningful relationship with 150-plus horsepower, it all comes down to confidence. Different riders define that quality in different ways.

For this group, it came down to a choice between the Honda and the Suzuki.

Since you weren't home when we called. we got these three riders to fill in. Left to right: Jim, Marina, Joe.
Jim Branch
Age: 45
Occupation: Aerospace Quality Manager
Height: 6 ft. 2 in.
Weight: 190 lb.
Inseam: 34 in.
Years Riding: 8
Current Steeds: '98 Honda VFR800F, '95 BMW R1100RS
Dream Bike: MV Agusta F4S 1000
Favorite Scary Breakfast Cereal: Count Chocula
Marina Pelren
Age: 28
Occupation: School Registrations Officer
Height: 5 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 125 lb.
Inseam: 33 in.
Years Riding: 4
Current Steed: '01 Suzuki TL1000S
Dream Bike: Benelli Tornado 900 Tre
Favorite Scary Breakfast Cereal: Gremlins
Joel Keller
Age: 42
Occupation: Corporate Accountant/Controller
Height: 5 ft. 7 in.
Weight: 165 lb.
Inseam: 30 in.
Years Riding: 5
Current Steed: '03 Yamaha FJR1300
Dream Bike: Ducati 999R
Favorite Scary Breakfast Cereal: Lucky Charms