We have two upsets for the price of one this month. Aprilia vanquishes the bleeding-edge Ducati for top honors among the Exotics while the apparent overdog Workhorse, the BMW S1000RR, returns to Munich to lick its wounds inflicted by, of all things, a Honda! A Honda without traction control or an unabashedly in-your-eardrums engine note that’s like so many first-generation M3s, a Honda whose lack of WonderTech is obvious in a superbike world of crossplane cranks, high-end electronics and eye-watering peak power.
If the Honda could beat the mighty BMW, how would it fare in a group of bikes whose average ticket is $28,873? The price differential from Honda to the Aprilia RSV4 Factory (the least-expensive Exotic here) would buy you enough gas at today’s prices to ride more than 60,000 miles. Thinking about returning those Biaggi-replica leathers yet?
Not so fast, Faux-Max. For all the subjective praise turned its way, the Honda got flat-out beat by the Aprilia on lap time. Run in sequence with the exotics, on the same Dunlop D211 GP-A DOT race tires, the Honda clocked a time that put it fourth out of five, trailing the third-place EBR 1190RS by a substantial 1.1 seconds but leading the MV Agusta F4 RR by more than half a second.
“The Honda really held its own,” concluded Bostrom, setting aside the lap-time gap. “It was the big surprise for me yesterday [in the Workhorse class]. But it didn’t surprise me today. The thing that hurt it, of course, is the soft suspension and not having the feedback from the rear tire. But as far as balance, rideability, motor…it was solid all the way across the board.”
It wasn’t a close fight between the Aprilia and the Honda except that the two had exactly the same velocity at Peak Speed 1, the spot on the track near the braking point for the first turn: 135.99 mph, better than all the other exotics. Bostrom felt that the Aprilia achieved the speed through excellent traction control plus enough side grip to allow him to maintain his pace through the last corner leading onto the straight. With nearly the same peak horsepower (153.1 hp vs. 151.3 for the Aprilia) and more peak torque (78.3 ft.-lb. vs. 73.5), the Honda benefitted from predictable handling and easy-to-modulate power, letting Bostrom’s highly refined, cellular-based TC do its job.
Miller’s West Loop isn’t just the straightaway, of course. Elsewhere, the Aprilia’s sharper reflexes and stiffer suspension allowed it to scythe through the tighter corners and carry speed through the exit to the following straight. Where the Honda had to get settled, the RSV railed, pulled hard and rocketed to the next apex. A tenth here, a couple more there.
Other points? Putting all these machines together on the track and on the street brings some surprising things to light. One is the widely disparate personality and feel offered by each, even the ostensibly similar Japanese Fours. Another big one is that the Japanese make remarkable motorcycles. We all suspected as much, but it’s nice to be proven right. For all the wow power of a 185-hp BMW, a howling Aprilia, the amazing Ducati, an edgy 1190RS and gorgeous MV, the level of smoothness, refinement, comfort and weirdness-free operation of the Japanese superbikes is absolutely incredible.
The BMW remains the class gorilla, with a mind-blowing urgency and hairiness unlike any other streetbike you can buy. Just because it got edged by the Honda on this particular racetrack shouldn’t detract from its top-spec power and gut-churning acceleration. It is, unashamedly, a beast.
Ducati’s progress and change this year are particularly impressive. The Panigale S’s $24K price is high, but given the breadth of the electronics package and stunning performance from the all-new, short-stroke V-Twin, it represents its own kind of value. That it redefines two-wheel sexy isn’t a bad thing, either.
The bikes that fared the best at the track were those that gave the riders the most confidence at the limit. For testers less skilled than Bostrom, the gap between the Aprilia and Honda times was wider. A key element of this? Non-pro-level riders could maximize drive knowing that TC was there for them. Honda is, almost certainly, working on integrated TC right this minute.
For now, we’ll praise the Honda for cracking the best time among the Workhorses and sticking so close to the Exotics—and doing so for so little money, relatively speaking—and we’ll e-mail a grazie mille to Aprilia for a job stunningly well done.