BMW S1000RR and Kawasaki ZX-10R | Best of the Best

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

When Kawasaki's ZX-10R bested the rest of the Japanese superbikes in Part I of our "Class of 2012" comparison (MC, July), we said that victory only guaranteed its position in the ring with the winner of Part II, our European shootout. But rather than facing off against a certain ultra-expensive and sophisticated V-twin as many expected, the Ninja went up against its closest European counterpart, the four-cylinder BMW S1000RR.

Totally redesigned from the contact patches up in 2011, the Kawasaki debuted as the first Japanese superbike to feature traction control. Nothing changed for 2012, but sharp styling and outstanding performance have kept the Ninja fresh. It beat the competition with the same set of assets the S1000RR employed: accommodating ergos and street manners, superior horsepower, stable handling and stupendous brakes. At the track the ZX-10R took a lot of set-up time, however, as it suffered from a slammed rear end that made it slow to turn. We also wished it had an electronic quick-shifter, as transmission action wasn’t the smoothest.

The BMW is European by birth, but its DNA was harvested in the Land of the Rising Sun. While the Euro-bikes’ engine and chassis designs are all over the board, the S1000RR architecture is completely in line with the ZX-10R, as well as every other Japanese sportbike’s. Of the two, the BMW boasts greater power and a superior traction-control system. While both bikes are limited to just four TC settings, the Beemer’s are more refined, offering less intrusive wheelie control and more consistent and transparent slide management.

On the other hand, at just 442 lbs. wet, the ZX-10R is 17 lbs. lighter than the S1000RR, and combined with better mass centralization it feels lighter still. It also has better brakes, offering the same stopping power but with better feel and feedback.

On top of that, the Kawasaki is $3000 less expensive (adding the optional ABS reduces that to $2000) than the BMW, and it was the unrivalled winner at the racetrack. Shod with the same Pirelli tires as the Euro-bikes, it turned a best lap of 1:53-flat, making it the quickest of all. But lap times aren’t everything, and while the Kawasaki is impressive, the BMW is even more so. It cranks out over 10 more horsepower with more linear delivery; comes stock with a quick-shifter, better TC and ABS; and worked remarkably well at the racetrack right out of the box. It’s also more comfortable, with a softer seat and more spacious cockpit. And did we mention it’s available with heated handgrips?

The BMW is a hybrid—a German interpretation of a Japanese literbike, executed with inexpugnable European flair. It offers the cachet of its Continental peers without compromising comfort or accessibility. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but what happens when the imitator outdoes the original? It becomes the new standard—and that's what the S1000RR is. MC