Superbike Speed Test - Super Bikes 2000!

We've been hearing those stories about truly fast guys entering Willow's infamous Turn Eight "at 140 mph" forever, but we never suspected we were one of them, and it never seemed like a good time to look at the speedometer anyway. These new digital speedos are much easier to read. Safely hunkered behind the new GSX-R's windscreen as it bores through the downhill straight into Eight, its LCD speedo is right in your line of sight: 142 it says. Damn. Who knew we were this good? Wait, we're not! Roll out of it.... The strange thing is that 142 mph feels like a reasonably safe, magazine-test speed on the GSX-R. Dang, this thing's good. (And speedometers lie.)

Many days and flecks of spittle could be used up determining which of these four is the best overall streetbike, but in fact the answer comes down to, what streets are you riding on, what size and shape is your body in, and what color do you like? It's all sort of relative.

Determining the racetrack winner is considerably more scientific. Which one scoots around the track fastest, according to our highly accurate Drack data acquisition system, in the hands of a) the suave and expert Curtis Adams, and b) the bumbling yet occasionally well-meaning John Burns? (A gaggle of other riders of various ability-from Willow Springs expert Frank Aragaki all the way to editorial director Kevin Smith-rode the bikes and gave input, but we didn't data-acquire everybody.)

We rode all four bikes on Willow's big, 2.5-mile circuit, because it was there and because we could, but we're going to base our research mostly around the smaller Streets of Willow track, where speeds range from 30 mph to 120-ish-just like the environment in which these bikes will be ridden most of the time by most of the people who'll buy them. We also put sticky race tires on the bikes, though not until we'd also sampled the very good stock skins first. Please, hold your applause to the end.

Bringing up the rear on all judges' cards, and not too surprisingly since it's the heaviest, softest and most comfortable bike here, is the Kawasaki. We're not sure what's going on with this one: Kawasaki's literature claims the 9R's suspenders are stiffer, with a less linear curve than before as the wheels move up in the travel-which should be sportier. But the bike that beat the R1 head-to-head on the big track a couple of years ago now feels softer, and much less accurate and trackworthy than the R1-which isn't to say the ZX-9R isn't still a blast to ride.

On the track, there's no getting around those 40 extra pounds the 9R carries relative to the GSX-R-and the fact that the 9R has the longest wheelbase. And really, none of that stuff hurts the bike as much as its shockingly abrupt power delivery in the low-end and midrange; opening the throttle out of the Street's slower corners results in hesitation followed by a big jagged jolt of power, resulting in hesitant throttle fists and much slower laps; what's only a minor annoyance on the road becomes truly plastic-threatening on the track. Together with its sproingier suspension (increasing damping in both directions, at both ends, didn't help much), the 9R is not the smoothest way around the track, and not the fastest. (A little carburetion work would help tremendously.)

Curtis, being an expert, adapted to the bike's shortcomings-including a midcorner tire-chatter his extra speed uncovered-and clocked a time only 0.8 second slower than his best time on his fastest bike. Pretty consistent. Burns' best time on the 9R, in contrast, was a whole three seconds slower than his best time on his fastest bike. On both riders' charts, the 9R's problem is clear: Its jet lag means it starts accelerating, onto every straight, later than the other three bikes-that and the bike's less-than-confidence-inspiring feel.

Ahead of the last-place Kawasaki, things begin to get interesting, with the Honda and Yamaha running neck and neck depending on who's wringing which. The Yamaha's got the motor; the Honda's got the flickability. The CBR's fuel injection is the best we've sampled, linear and glitch-free, and its brakes are one-finger wonders. As a package, it is seamless. How utterly unsurprising.

Accustomed to and fond of high-horsepower bikes, Curtis is on the R1's power early and often out of every corner, and harnesses all 130-some horses. Burns, more in touch with his feminine side and wearing a new Spidi suit of lights, is more tentative with the Yamaha's throttle at the exits and therefore slow down the straights that follow them.

If you can use all the R1's low-end and midrange grunt, more power to ya. Guys like Curtis go faster on the Yamaha, and while he appreciated the CBR's quick chassis and great brakes, in no way do they make up for the R1's power advantage out of the corners and down the straights. Curtis' consistency-all four bikes within 0.8 second-also points out the fact that he has found a line, isn't deviating from it by more than a foot on any given lap, and has little need for the Honda's greater ability to make unplanned direction changes.

Burns, in contrast, sometimes has a hard time remembering which way the track goes. Less expert riders feel more comfortable on the Honda and so go faster on it. Revvier and with less torque, the CBR feels more secure driving out of corners (too secure, C.A. says: "You just whack it open"). At Burns speed, the CBR is well-damped, lively, nimble. At Curtis speed, it is just beginning to unravel.

Curtis' cornering speed is remarkably consistent on all three non-Kawasakis-suggesting that the identical tires on all three bikes (Dunlop 207 Stars) define his maximum cornering speed. Burns' graph reflects that he trusts the Honda more, carries more speed deeper into most corners than on the other bikes, and conserves more of it in the corner.

Whether you're faster on the CBR or R1, then, depends on your experience level. Experts will likely go faster on the R1 because it has more power. Novices and intermediates are more at home on the more user-friendly and, OK, slower, Honda.

After those two bikes, we have a quorum. Hopping off the new GSX-R following his first ride, Curtis may have said it best when he observed: "That one's the sh*t." Indeed, verily, and kudos....

On the GSX-R Curtis gapped the R1 an entire half-second-a bunch for him. Burns was sure he was faster on the Honda, but Count Drackula doesn't lie: four-tenths faster on the GSX-R. By the way, the Suzuki was fastest on the big track too-1:26.5 for Curtis and 1:34.7 for Burns.

Blame it on the GSX-R's overdog engine. Out of the corners, all you need to do is get the throttle open; the bike will do the rest. Geared shorter than the others, the GSX-R spins to a peak higher than the CBR's and throws 14,000 rpm overrev potential in to sweeten the deal-along with a high-ish first gear and semi-close-ratio gearbox. How much would you expect to pay? Wait! We'll throw in the Ginsu knives!

The amazing thing is that the little 750 doesn't even give up much midrange power; drop it down to 7000 if you want, and out the GSX-R pulls. On top it's an absolute, 123-horsepower shrieker; listen to it roar down the front straight and you'd swear it's a full-on racebike. The Suzuki's throttle is slightly more abrupt back on the gas than the Honda's, but not bad-and nowhere near as jumpy as the previous generation GSX-R.

Throw in the best suspension, near-perfect front/rear balance, lightest weight, adequate brakes, great high-speed stability, racey ergos and the best fairing-and you've got a clear-cut racetrack winner: Suzuki's GSX-R750.

Torturous track test, high-speed ballet of man and machine, you get the picture 142 mph feels like a reasonably safe, magazine-test speed on the GSX-R