Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC vs. BMW S1000RR vs. Ducati 1199 Panigale S vs. MV Agusta F4R | Class of 2012 Part II

MC Comparison

The World Superbike Championship celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and it’s no exaggeration to say that, historically, European brands have dominated that series. Honda won the first two titles, but in the intervening 23 years European brands have won 15 times. A remarkable 14 crowns have gone to Ducati alone, most recently in 2011, while Max Biaggi gave Aprilia its first title in 2010. Japanese manufacturers might have more money and engineering muscle, but none compete so fiercely as scrappy European brands with racing history hardwired in their DNA.

This close relationship between R&D; and racing traditionally makes European sportbikes harder-edged and more aggressive than their Asian counterparts. That’s why, for our annual “Class of 2012” superbike comparison, we decided to divide the Japanese and European machines into two separate tests. Last month we pitted the Big Four’s Big Fours against each other, and Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10R rose to the top. This month it’s time for the Best of Europe to square off...

First up is Aprilia’s awesome RSV4, the very bike that won the SBK Championship two years ago—not to mention our “Class of” trophy the past two years running. Once again we selected the Factory APRC version, with upgraded Öhlins suspension, forged wheels, carbon-fiber bodywork and, of course, Aprilia Ride Control electronics. Essentially unchanged from last year, could it manage a three-peat against significantly updated competition?

The challengers include MV Agusta’s F4R, featuring an all-new Corsacorta engine. Though the basic F4 chassis is 15 years old, the redesigned short-stroke motor is cutting-edge and now comes within 1 horsepower of matching the BMW S1000RR’s tremendous output. Speaking of which, the S1000RR’s 169-horse inline-four is the only thing that hasn’t changed for 2012. The rest of the bike is all-new, including a comprehensively redesigned chassis, revised electronic programming and subtly restyled bodywork. Last, but certainly not least, is Ducati’s highly anticipated 1199 Panigale S, which uses an all-new Superquadro V-twin along with all-new everything else, including an ultra-light “frameless” chassis and electronically adjustable Öhlins suspension—the first sportbike equipped with that technology.

An exotic lineup indeed, and one we relished thrashing for two days over some of SoCal’s best backroads, including Ortega Highway and Palomar Mountain Road, split by two full days of wide-open performance testing at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. Desert Center is far from the Autodromo di Monza—SBK’s spiritual home—but our aim was the same: to identify the best superbike in the world, no matter what the country of origin or how much it costs.

Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC

Best Lap: 1:53.4

We knew going in that Aprilia’s thrilling RSV4 would be tough to beat. Our “Class of” Champion the past two years running, the Italian superbike returns essentially unchanged for 2012 with the same lusty V4 powerplant and World Superbike-winning chassis. This top-of-the-line, $22,999 Factory APRC version received only minor updates in the form of a slightly lighter exhaust, new design forged-aluminum wheels and revised fueling and final-drive gearing. All the same praise we heaped on it last year still applies here.

Riding the Factory felt as familiar as chatting with an old friend—a snarling, sharp-edged, brutally fast friend! The growling, grunty V4 dominates any initial impressions. Aggressively oversquare with a 13:1 compression ratio, the 999.6cc mill punched out 147.5 rear-wheel horsepower at 12,500 rpm—5 bhp down from last year, incidentally, though we didn’t really miss the missing ponies. Ride-by-wire electronic throttle activation enables three different power profiles: Road, Sport and Track. Power delivery is exceptionally linear and smooth in all modes, with no spikes or surges. Some test riders even described power delivery as “flat,” though the performance data suggests otherwise. Output is admittedly soft below 6000 rpm and falls off above 10,000, but kept between those points—a feat made easier with the AQS quick-shifter—you’ll haul ass! Gearing is too tall, however—this was the only bike on which we consistently used first gear. Going down one tooth on the countershaft would create a real animal! One thing that doesn’t need altering is the angry exhaust note, which sounds just like a Cherry Bomb-equipped musclecar.

The RSV4 engine is the most tractable of this bunch, combining the top-end power of an inline with the low-end punch of a twin. The V4 is also easy to package, resulting in a bike that’s narrower than the inlines with better mass centralization, so it feels slimmer between the knees and easier to toss around at speed. Short but stable, the angry Ape splits the Ducati’s agility and the BMW’s stability. The RSV4 snaps into turns with tremendous front-end feedback, then drives with absolute authority, like it could grip pavement the other bikes couldn’t find. The fully adjustable Öhlins suspension remained typically compliant, and with brilliant traction control and effective anti-wheelie programming keeping the front wheel ground-bound, it’s no surprise that even with less horsepower than before the RSV4 Factory still consistently turned the quickest laps.

Aprilia’s APRC electronic suite is second only to Ducati’s in terms of sophistication and breadth. Dual ECUs, informed by various accelerometers, gyroscopes and wheel-speed sensors, process up to 256 million (!) instructions per second for unrivaled responsiveness. Three-level ALC launch control promises faster launches, though we didn’t find this to be the case at the dragstrip. Aprilia’s self-calibrating traction control, on the other hand, is the best there is in terms of both activation and adjustability. Eight-level trigger-switchable on demand, without closing the throttle or clutch, ATC delivers unmatched convenience, while smooth engagement via manipulating the throttle valves ensures the most linear and predictable response of this bunch.

With a broad saddle and high, widely spaced clip-ons, the RSV4 isn't as cramped as its compact looks suggest—though legroom was a bit tight for our taller testers. Everything on the RSV4 is purposeful and functional, just like a racebike. The analog tach is easy to read at speed, the digital display prioritizes different information depending on ride mode, and oversized thumb and forefinger triggers that alter the TC settings are intuitive and easy to use, even in the heat of a hot lap. The Factory delivers legit World Superbike-level performance without lacking any intangibles you expect from an Italian exotic. Most agree this snub-nosed stallion is the best-looking bike here. The vestigial tail and center-dense, MotoGP styling still look cutting-edge. Mil-spec matte-finish carbon-fiber bodywork and magnesium engine cases lend paddock appeal, just like the matte gold-anodized forged-aluminum wheels. The polished frame looks rich, and you can't ignore the anodized, laser-etched hardware that secures the bodywork. That's attention to detail!

Just like before, we had a hard time finding fault with the RSV4 Factory. The lowest lap times show it still does the job on-track, helped by an excellent electronics package, with hewn-from-a-single-billet stability that makes every rider instantly feel confident and fast. It’s a passable streetbike, too, at least by European sportbike standards, with a moderate riding position and adequate cockpit space, even if the exhaust system throws a lot of heat onto your feet. We’re a bit disappointed that power is reduced slightly, and compounded by too-tall gearing, but that’s easy to fix. The essential core of this race-ready performer remains, and it remains one of our all-time-favorite superbikes.

Off The Record

Ari Henning, Road Test Editor

Best Lap: Aprilia 1:53.5   Age: 27   Height: 5’10”   Weight: 175 Lbs.    Inseam: 33 In.

After four straight days riding these brutal beasts, I felt like I’d been beaten with a fork leg. These bikes are built for speed, not comfort! Even so, come Monday morning, I was ready to do it all over again—these European sweethearts are that infatuating. The Panigale is stunning, but the honeymoon was short. I’m no fan of the Superquadro engine—where’s the torque?—and the chassis was a pain. The MV surprised me with impressive handling and great power, but the engine and electronics were at odds with one another. I initially expected the RSV4 to dominate again. It still looks drop-dead sexy and makes great musclecar noises, but less power and taller gearing felt like a step backwards. BMW’s new S1000RR has it all: comfort, edgy looks and ferocious-yet-tractable power. Our testing is long over, but I’m still riding the Beemer!


Best Lap: 1:53.8

When it debuted just in time for our "Class of 2010" contest at Infineon Raceway, we assumed BMW's S1000RR would crush all comers like a 174-bhp Kampfpanzer—and we were as shocked as anyone when it finished fourth out of five bikes. We were awestruck by that awesome engine, but less dazzled by flat-footed handling and poor programming that left the various electronic rider aids interrupting each other at the least opportune times. German engineering is fallible after all!

When BMW announced an “all-new” second-generation S1000RR for 2012, we were dismissive. A fraction less rake, a slight change in swingarm pivot height, “optimized” electronics and “edited” bodywork do not a new bike make. It sounded like the German version of the famous Japanese “bold new graphics” update. How wrong we were! The changes may seem inconsequential on paper, but on the road and track, the S1000RR has been absolutely transformed.

Not only is the S1000RR the only bike here that you’d want to ride for more than one tank of gas, it’s likely the most comfortable sportbike made today. The cockpit is roomy, with a supportive and unexpectedly soft saddle. The high, flat bars orient your wrists at a natural angle, the upper fairing creates a bubble of still air and the mirrors actually provide a rear view. The real prize, however, is heated handgrips! Laugh all you want, but these proved indispensible on the street. Excepting a high-frequency vibration through the handlebars at sustained high rpm, the S-dog’s street manners were beyond criticism.

The BMW’s chassis has been comprehensively revised with more aggressive steering geometry, a shorter wheelbase, more swingarm angle and a raised center of gravity, all to make the bike turn faster. These changes are almost comically minute—the biggest is the wheelbase, which was stretched less than 10mm—but the overall effect is transformative. The first-gen S1000RR was slow to turn, quick to stand up while trail-braking and hard to keep on-line when exiting corners. The new bike suffers none of those problems. It drops into corners quickly, remains indifferent to braking inputs and feels stone-stable on exits, even with the rear tire lit and stepping out.

The Sachs fork and shock have also been revised, with new springs front and rear and recalibrated valving and needle geometry for quicker damping response. The BMW’s suspension was the most compliant on the street, and needed the least fiddling to work at the track. The S1000RR seems slightly high-effort in present company—inevitable when comparing a 460-lb. inline-four alongside lighter, skinnier V-twins and V4s—but compared to the Japanese quartet we tested last month, the handling is superb and light.

Like many motorcycles we’ve tested this year, the new S1000RR makes less power than before, dropping 5 bhp to 169 at the rear wheel. Still, acceleration contests were no contest: The BMW was the only bike to dip into the 9s, scorching the quarter-mile in 9.95 seconds at 148.32 mph. The 999cc four makes huge power everywhere, then finishes with an eye-watering top-end rush. The transmission is the only powertrain complaint, a long throw between gears leading to clunky action and an occasional missed shift, despite the electronic shift-assist.

The S1000RR offers four preset ride modes (Rain, Sport, Race and Slick) to tailor throttle response, traction control, wheelie control and anti-lock brake systems for different riding conditions. Throttle response curves are now more aggressive while traction control and wheelie control have been made less intrusive, addressing another of our previous complaints. Both Race and Slick modes are noticeably improved, allowing more front-wheel float and rear-wheel slip before the computer cuts power, which helped the BMW achieve the second-quickest lap time. The electronics no longer slow the bike down, but the lack of adjustability—beyond changing the preset ride mode, you can’t alter traction or wheelie control—seems primitive alongside other bikes that all offer eight-level-adjustable traction control.

The BMW’s brakes are the best of this bunch, delivering stopping force that feels every bit as overwhelming as the engine’s acceleration. A few testers complained that the brakes were too strong for street duty, and it is easy to outbrake yourself if you’re not ready for the response. At the racetrack, however, this bike builds so much speed between turns that you soon appreciate all that stopping power, and the added safety net of BMW’s flawless Race ABS.

Cost of entry usually isn't the first concern—or any concern—for European sportbike buyers. Still, it can't be ignored that this $16,995 S1000RR is the least expensive bike here by almost $3000, even after adding optional Motorsport paint ($750), ABS/DTC ($495), quick-shifter ($450) and, of course, those wonderful heated grips ($250). With world-beating performance, globetrotting comfort and more features than most sportbikes no matter what their country of origin, BMW's much-improved S1000RR is rewriting the book on what a sportbike can be.

Off The Record

Zack Courts, Test Consultant

Best Lap: Aprilia 1:53.4   Age: 28    Height: 6’2”    Weight: 185 Lbs.    Inseam: 34 In.

The MV Agusta reminds me of an aging supermodel; still sexy, still sharp, but not what she used to be. It looks and feels dated because it is!! Sadly, Ducati’s all-new Panigale failed to live up to the hype, despite being athletic, agile and ready to fight. Sure, the TFT dash is neat, but I’ll take my V-twin with some torque, and an analog tach, too, please. The Aprilia is a hugely entertaining bike to ride, and oozes appeal with sinister looks and the best exhaust note this side of custom night at the local diner, but for a guy my height it's just too tiny. If I could just have a more comfortable riding position and a little more power (and heated grips!), I would gladly give up a few tenths of a second on the track. Lucky for me, BMW already built that bike, and it's one impressive machine. The only dilemma is where to spend the leftover $7000...

Ducati 1199 Panigale S

Best Lap: 1:53.9

The 1199 Panigale S, Ducati's first all-new superbike in two decades, boldly goes where no production sportbike has gone before. Featuring a superlight monocoque chassis, the most powerful production V-twin engine ever and more e-gadgetry than Radio Shack—including electronically adjustable suspension, a superbike first—the Panigale was favored to win this contest before it even turned a wheel. After a stunning First Ride impression at Yas Marina race circuit in Abu Dhabi, expectations for the street debut were extremely high. Would Ducati's next-generation superbike live up to the hype?

Blood-red bodywork, gold Öhlins suspension, black forged Marchesini wheels—are there any other colors?—all look familiar, but this isn’t like any Ducati that’s come before. It’s tiny—smaller than most 600s, the Panigale positively disappears beneath you. The subframe is barely wider than the rear cylinder head it bolts to, and there’s nothing between your legs but the side-mounted Öhlins TTX shock that pokes your left thigh at a standstill, but disappears once your feet are on the pegs.

The Panigale is almost comfortable—words we've never uttered in the direction of a Ducati superbike. The 1198's long, laid-out riding position is gone, replaced with high, wide, flat clip-ons that create an upright, elbows-up riding position some riders loved, but others felt was a pain in the wrists. The saddle is supportive and properly shaped but slopes downward slightly, making the narrow, hard-to-grip fuel tank a familial liability under heavy braking. And even with the exhaust relocated underbike rather than underseat, the Panigale still roasts its pilot's legs. The poorly shielded rear header is shaped like a heating coil and acts like one too, especially at commuting speeds.

A cool, fighter jet-style shielded starter switch ignites the Superquadro (“Supersquare”) V-twin with some effort—our testbike occasionally struggled to start, especially when hot. An 11,500-rpm rev-limit makes this the highest-revving production V-twin ever built, and generating 158 bhp and 80 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s the most powerful, too. Unlike most V-twins, however, that power is concentrated over a narrow band between 8000 and 10,500 rpm. The old Testastretta’s legendary low-end lunge is gone, and although the upper-rpm acceleration is truly ferocious, the soft bottom end often made the superlight Panigale feel like the slowest bike here.

The peaky powerband, coupled with a close-ratio transmission, made street riding a chore. Where the other three bikes can be treated as single-speeds anywhere from 40 to 100 mph, the Panigale needs constant shifting. Luckily, the transmission is the best of this bunch, with an effective quick-shifter aiding upshifts. The calibration of this U.S.-spec machine also left something to be desired. While the factory-prepped machines at Abu Dhabi amazed with an instantaneous appetite for revs, response here felt stifled off closed throttle and lackluster until we reached the upper half of the tach.

The 56.6-inch wheelbase is slightly longer than the 1198’s, but the old bike’s slow-steering stability has been replaced by a hyper-responsive willingness to turn. The Panigale loves corner speed, and has the ability to follow lines that less-agile bikes could never negotiate. Low weight and a higher mass center let the Panigale snap from edge to edge like a MotoGP racer, and it feels like you can always tighten your arc. Three-level-adjustable engine-braking control, an excellent slipper clutch and foolproof race ABS let you rush corners like a Roman scooter jockey runs red lights, and there’s never any argument from the chassis while trail-braking.

Even assisted by game-changing Öhlins/Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) that lets you alter damping rates instantaneously by pushing a button, we struggled for a setup that would settle the Panigale down. A harsh ride on the street, flighty behavior over mid-corner bumps, excessive pogoing and lots of rear-end pumping under hard acceleration all suggest the Panigale is oversprung. That twitchy behavior eroded confidence at the racetrack, where the Duc only turned the third-quickest lap. With such light weight, great top-end power and flawless traction control the Panigale should have topped the timing charts, but poor suspension setup—if not outright chassis compliance—held it back.

The Panigale is a technological tour de force. Once you experience the clarity of the iPhone-like TFT dash, which reconfigures its display depending on ride mode, everything else looks obsolete. Now we're spoiled forever by the convenience of tool-free damping adjustment. The LED headlights (only on the S-model) are remarkable too, even if they add 6 lbs. But ultimately, our honeymoon with the Panigale was over too quickly. We were dazzled by the technology and thrilled by the features, but undercooked engine and suspension calibration left us frustrated. On paper, the Panigale is unlike any Ducati superbike built before. But in practice, it's the same as it ever was. It's still committed and uncompromising, still sensitive to setup, and it still demands to be ridden hard and fast in order to work best.

Off The Record

Matt Samples, Test Consultant

Best Lap: BMW 1:55.4   Age: 36   Height: 6’2”   Weight: 200 Lbs.   Inseam: 34 In.

Forget the conclusion of this comparison—Aaron got it all wrong! The Ducati is the real winner here. Sure, the exhaust heat burned even my Gold Bond-medicated bum, and the back end bucked around a bit on corner exits, but who cares? No other bike here thrilled me like the Panigale. This cutting-edge scalpel exudes next-generation appeal, and because it’s the lightest bike in the test, it’s not exhausting to ride. So there’s no low-end grunt—so what? I wasn’t missing anything each time I felt the manic rush crossing the 8000-rpm rev threshold. Talk about exhilarating! The ergonomics fit my 6-foot frame just fine, the quick-shifter was flawless, and did I mention the TFT dash, which has more functionality than your iPhone, plus electronically adjustable suspension? This bike is the future—even if it still needs a bit of tweaking to find the perfect setup.

MV Agusta F4R

Best Lap: 1:55.3

In many ways, the MV Agusta is the most impressive bike in this bunch—but mostly because we had such low expectations for it! Too often the gorgeous MV Agusta F4R is dismissed as little more than butt-jewelry for well-heeled cappuccinisti. The "other" Italian superbike doesn't get any respect for being an awesomely functional piece of perform-ance art. This latest version, with its all-new Corsacorta ("short-stroke") inline-four, flat-out hauls Balz and carves corners better than a Beltrame stiletto. Considering that at $19,498 it's the second least expensive bike here, it's a mystery why more MV Agustas aren't sold.

Even alongside the exquisitely finished Aprilia and Ducati, the MV is in a class of its own. The steel-trellis portion of the composite frame is hand-welded and looks it, while fine details such as MV-monogrammed clip-on clamps and the exquisite brushed tips on the quad-outlet exhaust make this bike a joy to admire and touch. Classic two-tone red-and-siver paint lets designer Massimo Tamburini’s fine lines stand alone—even if, 15 years later, the F4’s long-nose/big-tail silhouette looks like an aging supermodel alongside the nipped-and-tucked younger starlets.

Fortunately, underneath that sculptural bodywork, the F4R has more than kept up. With extremely oversquare (79.0 x 50.9mm) engine geometry, a higher 13.4:1 compression ratio, a new low-inertia crankshaft and even larger, radially arranged titanium valves, the 998cc four spins faster and makes more power than ever before: 168.9 bhp to be exact (12 more than the F4 we last tested in 2010), and nearly identical to this year's BMW S1000RR. Just like the Beemer, the MV makes power everywhere, with fierce low-end punch and an absolutely rabid top-end rush. The howling exhaust note could come straight from Formula 1 and the Corsacorta offers loads of lusty character, though spikes in the powerband—especially at 12,000 rpm where the variable-length intake stacks snap open—bothered some testers.

Climb aboard the F4R and again you feel its age. Long, tall and top-heavy, it feels almost elephantine after riding the svelte Aprilia or Ducati. Yet despite its big size, the MV doesn’t make much room for the rider. The bars are low and crush your fingers against the fairing at full-lock. The non-adjustable footpegs are very high and cramped even our shortest rider unnecessarily—these could drop an inch and still not touch down at the track. And the underseat exhaust remains a rump-roaster, especially in a Palm Desert construction zone on an 80-degree day.

It’s not comfortable by any definition, but the low, forward-biased riding position does the job at the track, contributing to the F4R’s almost telepathic front-end feedback. The handling isn’t quick compared to the Ape or Duc, but you don’t need to wrestle it toward an apex, and it holds a line like nobody’s business. Despite the F4R’s base-model Sachs suspension—the Öhlins-equipped F4RR wasn’t made available for our test—this bike still provided excellent suspension action on the street, staying on-track over all surfaces while delivering predictable handling at any speed.

Suspension performance was less consistent at the track, however, where corner entries suffered from a lack of braking stability. The progressive-rate fork springs that worked so well over a wide range of street conditions collapsed under hard braking, causing the rear end to wag and wander during turn-in. We also struggled to get good drives out of corners. The aforementioned power spikes caused the rear wheel to break traction erratically, then the eight-level-adjustable traction control would over-correct to compensate, occasionally causing what felt like stuttering as the engine and electronics struggled to attain equilibrium.

The F4R would benefit from the addition of an electronic quick-shifter, too. It’s the only bike here without one, and this absence was especially noted because the otherwise smooth-shifting gearbox found occasional false neutrals. The slipper-clutch mechanism needs attention, too. It works fine gobbling up back-torque during deceleration, but is almost impossible to engage smoothly from a dead stop at anything above idle—the herky-jerky dragstrip launches were literally painful to watch. Certain small details—the electronic interface consisting of tiny rubber-covered buttons one tester likened to a ’90s TV remote, for example—seem ready for an upgrade as well.

Mechanically the MV Agusta occasionally suffered from an excess of “character,” and the styling and technology are both long overdue for an update. But with more charisma than anything else even in this exotic bunch, and engine performance that equals the benchmark BMW S1000RR, the F4R remains an undeniably desirable superbike—and it functions considerably better than most would expect. If only MV Agusta could repackage this essential character in a more modern chassis—something like a big-bore version of the newly released F3 triple, for example—then the firm’s line-leading superbike might get the respect it otherwise deserves.

Off The Record

Aaron Frank, Editor At Large

Best Lap: Ducati 1:56.8   Age: 37   Height: 5’7”   Weight: 155 Lbs.   Inseam: 32 In.

If I was being pragmatic and just wanted the best all-around sportbike, I’d pick the BMW S1000RR. Or the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, which does everything short of warming the rider’s hands as well as the Beemer, for $3000 less. But there’s nothing sensible about selecting an exotic European superbike. The right Euro-bike needs that extra bit of style or charisma that lights up the emotional as well as the rational regions of your brain. All four of these motorcycles have plenty of character—there’s not a boring bike here—but none excited me quite like the MV Agusta F4R. Mostly it was the howling exhaust note, and the stupendous acceleration that accompanied it. But the build quality, finish and attention to detail are a class apart. It’s like a Ferrari among Audis and Alfa Romeos. The others are fine machines—just not the same.

Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa Tires

Three Out Of Four Manufacturers Choose Pirelli **
Ari Henning
PHOTO: Kevin Wing

Having testbikes on equal footing is always a priority during racetrack shootouts, and while we'd intended to put all four of these Euro-bikes on sticky race rubber, it didn't quite work out that way. Due to Ducati's Pirelli-or-nothing mandate that prevented us from testing the Panigale on anything other than the OEM-specific 200mm-wide rear Diablo Supercorsa, combined with a shipping snafu by Pirelli, we ended up using an ad-hoc selection of Supercorsa SP (street) rear and SC (race) front tires. The capable crew from CT Racing (www.ctracetires.com), Pirelli's West Coast race tire supplier, wielded the tire irons during our test.

In the end, the tire combination worked out just fine. The SC fronts provided the front-end grip we needed to stay upright at race pace, while the SP rears held up for plenty of laps and let us explore the outer limits of these bikes’ traction control systems.

Pirelli’s Supercorsa SP (Special Production) tires have the same profile and carcass construction as the SC (Special Compound) race tires, but use different rubber compounds more suitable for street conditions. The Supercorsas have limited tread and a slick shoulder area for maximum traction at full lean, and feature a carefully tuned carcass construction that balances braking/acceleration stiffness with full-lean compliance. As a street tire the SPs are infallible, and they perform admirably on the track as well, with quick warm-up and very progressive slide characteristics. The SC2 fronts we used maintained the bikes’ handling (the Ducati, Aprilia and MV Agusta come with SPs stock) and promoted later braking and higher corner speeds, which are the key to fast laps at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway.

The SC DOT-approved race tires are available in SC1 (soft) and SC2 (medium) fronts through CT Racing for $188, while the SPs are sold in a single compound from authorized Pirelli dealers.


Comparing Japanese sportbikes is mostly a cost/benefit analysis. Those motorcycles are so alike in price and performance that picking a winner boils down to finding which one delivers more of the latter for less of the former. Comparing European machinery is more complicated. The basic platforms vary widely with regard to engine and chassis configuration, and one also has to account for style, character and other intangibles that are central to the Euro-bike experience.

MV Agusta’s F4R owns the intangible categories, and the ground-pounding Corsacorta engine is measurably great. But even an aural-sex exhaust note can’t overcome dated looks, painful ergonomics and a few outright mechanical flaws. Hopefully some modern F3 technology will trickle up to the F4 by next year’s test.

Aprilia’s all-conquering RSV4 Factory impressed again with unassailable high-speed ability, but with less outright performance than last year and no significant improvements, it’s hard to justify a win.

The Ducati 1199 Panigale S, meanwhile, is massively improved over the old 1198. While we were dazzled by the Panigale’s boundary-breaking technology, however, the final product failed to deliver on the street or the track. Just like BMW’s debut S1000RR two years ago, the first-generation Panigale suffers teething problems we hope will be tuned out by next year.

Which brings us to BMW’s most-improved S1000RR, our unanimous choice for 2012’s best Euro-bike. This second-generation uber-superbike provides heart-stopping racetrack performance in a surprisingly agreeable all-around package. The Beemer still delivers character—one run to redline proves that—but it also offers comfort, convenience, value and other attributes all the other bikes more or less lack. Not coincidentally, as this issue went to press, BMW topped its first-ever World Superbike podium, going one-two at England’s Donington Park. It probably won’t be long until the German manufacturer joins its Italian rivals on the World Champion roster.  MC

Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC | Price: $22,999

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c 65-deg. V-4
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 999.6cc
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.3mm
Compression: 13.0:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Measured horsepower:  147.5 bhp @ 12,500 rpm
Measured torque: 72.4 lb.-ft. @ 9700 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 10.23 sec @ 142.27 mph
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 2.88 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.):  33/27/29 mpg
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: Öhlins 43mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Öhlins shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 320mm disc
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 24.5°/4.1 in.
Seat height: 33.3 in.
Wheelbase: 55.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 458/431 lbs.
Colors: Black/red
Availability: Now
Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: Aprilia USA 140 E. 45th St. New York, NY 10017 800.621.1101 www.apriliausa.com

2012 BMW S1000RR | Price: $16,995

Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 999cc
Bore x stroke: 80.0 x 49.7mm
Compression: 13.0:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Measured horsepower:  169.6 bhp @ 13,000 rpm
Measured torque: 72.3 lb.-ft. @ 10,200 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 9.95 sec. @ 148.32 mph
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 2.47 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.) :  38/29/33 mpg
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: Sachs 46mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with optional ABS
Rear brake: Brembo one-piston caliper, 220mm disc with optional ABS
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Contisport Attack2
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Contisport Attack2
Rake/trail: 24.0°/3.9 in.
Seat height: 32.3 in.
Wheelbase: 56.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 459/432 lbs.
Colors: Racing Red, Fire Powder Blue, Motorsport red/white/blue, black
Availability: Now
Warranty: 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
Contact: BMW of North America P.O. Box 1227 Westwood, NJ 07675 800.831.1117 www.bmwmotorcycles.com

2012 Ducati Panigale S | Price: $23,995

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v desmodromic
Displacement: 1199cc
Bore x stroke: 112.0 x 60.8mm
Compression: 12.5:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Measured horsepower:  158.3 bhp @ 10,600 rpm
Measured torque: 80.1 lb.-ft. @ 9100 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 10.15 sec. @ 141.79 mph
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 2.66 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.):  36/28/32 mpg
Frame: Aluminum monocoque with single-sided swingarm
Front suspension: Öhlins NIX30 43mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Öhlins TTX36 shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers, 330mm discs with optional ABS
Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc with optional ABS
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 24.5°/3.9 in.
Seat height: 32.5 in.
Wheelbase: 56.6 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 426/399 lbs.
Colors: Red
Availability: Now
Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: Ducati North America 10443 Bandley Dr. Cupertino, CA 95014 408.253.0499 www.ducati.com

2012 MV Agusta F4R | Price: $19,498

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v radial
Displacement: 998cc
Bore x stroke: 79.0 x 50.9mm
Compression: 13.4:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Measured horsepower:  168.9 bhp @ 12,800 rpm
Measured torque: 74.3 lb.-ft. @ 10,500 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 10.73 sec. @ 138.51 mph
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 2.73 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.):  33/24/28 mpg
Frame: Tubular-steel with aluminum single-sided swingarm
Front suspension: Marzocchi 50mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Brembo four-piston caliper, 210mm disc
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail:  23.5°/4.0 in.
Seat height: 32.7 in.
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 473/446 lbs.
Colors : Red/silver, black/gray
Available : Now
Warranty : 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact : MV Agusta USA 10 Canal St. #224 Bristol, PA 19007 215.781.1770 www.mvagustausa.com

Aprilia’s Factory-edition RSV4 is a stunner, with blingy gold wheels to match the Öhlins suspension and raw carbon-fiber accents lending a legitimate race-refugee look.
Updated styling remains asymmetrical and polarizing. Subtle changes like a slimmer tailsection are on-trend, and the bike looks especially tasty in the optional Motorsport color scheme.
It’s a good thing Ducati also builds the Streetfighter and Diavel for casual riders to experience quintessential V-twin character, because the Panigale is not for them!
Still one of the most beautiful sportbikes ever designed, the 15-year-old F4 is nevertheless starting to show its age. The long nose and big-booty tail just look out of date.
The Aprilia is within a few tenths of the BMW's measurements, which explains why it's fairly comfortable. Exhaust heat on your ankles and slightly less legroom make the RSV4 hard on your legs.
Tall gearing neuters what should be an insane ride. Aprilia's V4 doesn't do much below 6000 rpm and falls off beyond 10,000, but keep it spinning between those two limits and it rips!
A spacious rider triangle and the softest seat make the Beemer a good place to log miles. Wind protection is good, vibes are low and there's no perceptible engine heat.
The S1000RR has some smooth lines and big numbers. This engine feels strong everywhere, with power building in a linear fashion toward that 169.6-bhp peak at 13,000 rpm.
The Panigale feels tiny yet the ergos aren't that bad. But there's a TTX shock jabbing you in the left leg at stops, and the rear header coiled under the seat makes this the hottest Ducati we've ridden.
These curves don't look that different from the old 1198's, but that trough between 4500 and 7500 rpm is more pronounced, while the slope above 8000 rpm is steeper.
The MV's bars feel just about level with the seat because they nearly are. It's a long reach, making the F4R pretty hard on your wrists and back, while exhaust heat puts the hurt on your backside.
Less stroke should mean less midrange power, but the F4R feels pretty fierce, and sounds stupendous. Power ramps up quickly above 10,000 rpm, and the motor goes ballistic above 12,000 rpm.