Whether you’re a thrill seeker, techno buff, or a motorcyclist seeking a ride you can make a fast getaway on, you should keep tabs on the Superbikes. Here, 400-pound curb weights and 150-plus horsepower are the norm, with a couple models flirting with the 200-horsepower threshold. This class of motorcycle boasts exceptional power-to-weight ratios, unlike any other production two-wheeler in existence. And after a three-year break due to an abnormally stagnant literbike class, Superbike Smackdown X on the Street returns.
The Superbike class of 2015 has been invigorated with fresh redesigns, which we discussed in greater detail in MotoUSA’s Track Shootout. The same bikes take the fight from Willow Springs Raceway to the public roads of Southern California, where we run the bikes through our usual street-biased scoring methods. Now, introducing the contenders…
Fresh off a decisive and first-ever win in the track shootout, Yamaha enters this contest with its racy YZF-R1 ($16,490). A complete, ground-up redesign for 2015, the R1 is engineered with genuine MotoGP R&D knowhow, including a sophisticated electronics package that lives up to the hype. But will the Superpole-winning performance of the R1 transfer to the road?
BMW hopes to do better on the street with its lightning-fast S1000RR ($18,945). Despite rating second fiddle to the Yamaha at the circuit, the BMW’s array of street-friendly road amenities includes electronic suspension, cruise control and heated grips. These should all work to its favor during stoplight-to-stoplight evaluations, but will it be enough for Street supremacy?
Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10R ($14,599) proved its might on the track, placing third overall. But will the green machine’s track prowess lend itself as well during the workday commute as it does during a race? It’s certainly going have its work cut out for it, as the Ninja’s plastic is the oldest in design, last updated four years ago.
With its adept cornering skills Aprilia’s RSV4 R APRC ABS ($15,499) was a serious contender on the track, despite its fourth-place result. Armed with an advanced, fully adjustable electronics package paired with a playful, snarling V-Four, the Aprilia is sure to cause a ruckus on the street.
Although a couple years old now, Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 ($13,899) is always a favorite on the street. Similar to the Ninja, it’s been a few years since it received any significant R&D attention, but that might work to its favor as the GSX-R competes with the most affordable price tag.
Year after year Honda impresses with its fun and friendly CBR1000RR. Although it’s missing the electronics of some of the others, the 2015 CBR gets special paint, suspension and brakes with its premium SP specification ($17,299). While we love the Repsol Honda livery, will the upgraded hardware pay that much of a dividend on the road?
So gear up, because we’re going for a ride to find out which Superbike performs best on the open road.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R – 6th Place
A proven contender in Superbike racing trim, Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10R is now a four-year-old design. Team Green’s literbike offering impressed with a third-place result in the Track comparison, but how does it rate for the street rider?
Aside from the Aprilia, the Ninja’s bodywork is the oldest in appearance, having last been updated in 2011. And while we generally appreciate it’s styling, especially in last year’s flat white colorway, the premium $300 30th Anniversary green/white/black color scheme doesn’t do it for us visually. The paint scheme is so busy that it camouflages the signature features we love about the Ninja, including its sharp fighter-jet nose, as well as more subtle elements like the wingtips on the bottom fairing. Color plays a big part in the appearance of the motorcycle (just look at the Honda SP and Aprilia) and the Ninja’s 2015 colorway held it back in the Appearance scoring category.
On the road there isn’t a whole lot to find fault with in the Kawasaki. It feels lightweight, with pleasing ergonomics and features a fast, super-smooth running engine. However, its engine is perhaps too smooth and muffled, with it giving off such little character that it makes the green bike ho-hum to ride compared to its more spirited rivals. On the plus side, the Kawasaki’s engine is least likely to annoy the neighbors, as it registered the quietest exhaust during our sound testing.
Power-wise the green bike can be deceiving. Overly tall final drive gearing make it feel a little lethargic at lower rpm. However, get the engine spinning higher in the rev range and you’re rewarded with serious acceleration force.
“It has some grunt – it absolutely has a lot of brute power,” says professional freestyle street rider Aaron Colton. “Easing it on in the bottom sometimes on/off throttle can be [too] much to handle. I’m sure with some tuning that can be softened out. But I actually enjoyed riding the bike in the middle power mode [‘M’] instead of wide open [‘F’ power] because it was a little easier and more friendly to ride through canyons.”
As Colton mentions the Kawasaki’s throttle response can be a little jerky feeling at slower speeds, which is strange as we’ve generally had favorable experience with previous Ninja model years since its last redesign four years ago. Like the rest of the bikes, with exception of the Honda, the Ninja offers three different engine power modes, in addition to its three-way traction control (with integrated wheelie control). Despite being a little older in design Kawasaki’s TC works well, though we wish it had finer adjustment options – like the Aprilia, BMW, and Yamaha set-ups.
Ride Height: 7mm (clamp to top of fork tube cap)
Preload: 5 (Turns in)
Compression: 4.5 (Turns out)
PreloRide Height: 10mm shims
Preload: Standard +3 turns (14mm)
L/S Compression: 1.75
H/S Compression: 1.75
Power Mode: Full
An unique LCD display, with color horizontal bar graph-style tachometer, keeps tabs on the engine’s vitals. But the display is difficult to read at a glance, and the flashiness of the tachometer can be disruptive to the eye while riding.
On the dyno the Ninja’s engine proves more than capable, producing the second-most peak horsepower next to the BMW. But its super tall final drive gearing hurt it slightly in the acceleration tests as it recorded the second-slowest 0-60 time. It also only tied the Suzuki through the quarter-mile, despite having almost 10 more horsepower than it. But on the plus side, that tie was for second-fastest, trailing only the BMW.
Size-wise the Kawasaki feels larger than the rest of the bikes and take a little bit more muscle to get turned too. True, it’s ergonomics are a little stretched out, but we wouldn’t necessarily rate them as bad – just different. Through turns the green bike handles acceptably but it lacks the same connected cornering feel as the five bikes.
“The suspension I felt was pretty good – but the overall balance of the bike kind of put you over the front of the fork and the stability wasn’t there for me,” complains regular MotoUSA/Cycle News test rider, Jason Abbott. “Going through the corners on the uphill it was great. But when you’re going downhill and you’re on a flat surface the amount of weight on the front end of the Kawasaki made it really nervous. If the forks were raised a little bit more, or the shock was brought down a little bit more, I think the bike would definitely benefit from this.”
Certainly the Kawasaki’s chassis has no lack of adjustment with it offering ride height shims to get the position of the bike right where you want it. Maybe this would have helped Abbott, but for the rest of us the Kawasaki’s handling was simply uninspiring and average by comparison.