Confidence breeds speed. Traction builds confidence. As with any activity in which humans push their own limits, having faith that you can take it to the next level is often the difference between success and failure. For most motorcycle racers, achieving this trust comes through years of endless practice, racing and spending every waking moment thinking about how to go faster. But most sportbike enthusiasts don’t have that much time. What we need is some instant talent, some instant gratification. The kind you can buy.
Thankfully, part of the formula can be found in electronic rider aids and engine management. With the era of electronic intervention truly upon us, we took the opportunity to gather the four most significant liter-class sportbikes on the market that feature factory-installed traction control to see which motorcycle not only performs best, but which one also gives the rider that extra bit of confidence to grab lost seconds on the track or favorite backroad. If, in fact, traction control actually does all this.
Our group: the $22,499 Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE, the top-tier offering from the Italian company, that includes Öhlins suspension and the full laundry list of electronic options. Our $15,880 BMW S1000RR was delivered with the Premium Package, including Race ABS, Dynamic Traction Control and Gear Shift Assistant. To say that this all-conquering brute has a (silicon) chip on its shoulder is a huge understatement. Next up is the $16,495 Ducati 1198, which gets DTC, Quick Shift and Data Acquisition as standard equipment for 2011, but makes do with Showa suspension in place of the $5G-more-expensive SP model’s fancy Öhlins. Perhaps the most hyped bike of 2011 is the brand-new $13,799 ZX-10R (ours without optional ABS), complete with Kawasaki’s brand-new Sport-Kawasaki TC system. Rumored class-leading power was never realized on U.S. bikes, as complying with noise-emissions regulations forced Kawi to remap the ECU to close the secondary throttle butterflies and exhaust valve in the upper rev-range. Bummer.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and that was the case with our chosen venue for the track portion of this test. Inde Motorsports Ranch couldn’t have been a better place to tax traction with our four fire-breathing repli-racers, not to mention all the other sportbikes we brought along (see track description pg. 44, plus the following comparison tests: Ducati 848 EVO. vs. Suzuki GSX-R750 vs. Triumph Daytona 675R; and Kawasaki ZX-6R vs. Suzuki GSX-R600). We spent the first of two days getting suspension, tire pressures and electronics set up to Mr. Quick Wrist Cernicky’s liking. On the second day, we conducted three- to four-lap Superpole-type sessions, with a spare lap available if, say, an unseen distraction like a gopher snake was sunning itself on the racing line. Cernicky first ran the bikes in the predetermined (through our testing) traction-control setting. Then, we signaled him into the pits, checked tire pressures, disabled the TC system and sent him back out for another run against the clock, “old-school slip-’n’-grip style,” à la Kenny Roberts Sr.
After all timed laps were complete, the bikes were released to the pack of hungry Cycle World staffers, myself included. That would not only give us wider and more balanced opinions due to our broad range of riding skills but also help me translate Cernicky’s mad hand gestures and screeching tire noises when he described to me what each bike was doing after his hot laps.
For the timed sessions, all four bikes were fitted with a fresh set of Metzeler Racetec K3 Interact tires, always snuggling in tire warmers prior to rolling onto the track (the same tires were also used for street testing). All official data was recorded via a GPS-based Racelogic VBox III data-acquisition system, which not only gave us lap times but an almost unlimited amount of information, including apex speeds for any corner, speed anywhere on the track and an infinite number of split options. A random drawing was conducted to determine the order in which the bikes were run, and here they are in that order.