XtraPix: MasterBike 2008

A sportbike comparison beyond comparison.

XtraPix: MasterBike 2008

XtraPix: MasterBike 2008

You've read comparison tests before, but MasterBike takes the concept to a whole other level. A few months ago, for the 11th time, Spanish magazine Motociclismo took a select group of moto-journalists and test riders from around the world and every major Supersport 600 (including Triumph's 675 Daytona), as well as 750cc and larger Superbikes (Twins and Fours) to the Albacete Circuit in Spain. In this year's test, 13 riders rated 14 bikes' handling, speed and other factors. Middleweights were tested first, Superbikes next, and finally, Twins. The last phase of testing pitted the six fastest riders and the fastest bike from each category against each other in a highly competitive final round.

Would the tight, challenging track favor the Supersports? After we ran them through their paces, we couldn't find a loser, but the best was the Yamaha YZF-R6. I loved its racy chassis geometry and rev-happy motor as I slipper-clutched my way to my fastest Supersport time. So did eight other riders, so the R6 would go on to represent the SS category in the MasterBike final.

The Superbikes' massive power made them a handful around the tricky Albacete circuit, but by the end of that tire-trying day, one bike rose to the top. Strong, predictable brakes and great front-end feel helped the Honda CBR1000RR consistently maximize entrance speed. Excellent ground clearance let riders take advantage of its short wheelbase and—thanks to an intuitive rear-wheel traction feel—uncanny ability to hug tight lines while firing out of second-gear corners. Never in the 11-year history of MasterBike had Honda won in any category, let alone Superbike.

After the liter bikes on the third day of testing, I was bumped out of the Quick Six into the second rotation. Ducati's 1098R had tire-fitment problems, so there where only three Twins to be timed, including two newcomers to MasterBike, the KTM RC8 and the BMW HP2 Sport. The HP2 showed surprising speed, and the RC8's great handling and linear power helped me improve my personal best time. If it wasn't for gearbox problems, the KTM could have won. Instead, it was the 2006 MasterBike-winning Aprilia RSV1000R Factory. Its combination of a sweet slipper-clutch and sorted suspension allowed R6-like drifting corner entries, putting the Factory in this year's finale as top Twin.

As it turned out, after putting the Twins through their paces, I found out that riding second rotation on scrubbed tires and reduced fuel load was a better scenario for me. The improved times put me back in the Quick Six. Read more in the current September issue of Cycle World.

2008 Master Bike XI: The 2.2-mile, 13-turn track, consisting of eight rights and five lefts, is completely flat. Hairpin, decreasing-radius corners, high-speed kinks and a sweet chicane challenged man and machine.

2008 Master Bike XI: Testbikes take five from their rigorous routine.

2008 Master Bike XI: The Supersports going through Albacete's chicane.

2008 Master Bike XI: Cycle World's Spanish office.

2008 Master Bike XI: Suzuki's GSX-R1000 was easy to ride fast. Riders agreed how nice the suspension felt and how much feedback the chassis gave them, but there was no Miss Congeniality award this year in Spain.

2008 Master Bike XI: The Honda had great throttle response and an exceptional feel for traction; the Dunlops would slide, but unlike the ZX-10R, how much they slid was predictable.

2008 Master Bike XI: Master of Ceremonies Randy Mamola was impressed by the handling of the KTM RC8, but not so much with the balky gearbox we experienced.

2008 Master Bike XI: Yamaha YZF-R6, Honda CBR1000RR and the Aprillia RSV 1000 Factory: MasterBike finalists.

2008 Master Bike XI: With results tabulated, three bikes proceeded to the final time trail.

2008 Master Bike XI: Kawi's ZX-10R was second, but not because it was slow. Riders complained of a vague feel for traction at initial throttle opening when still leaned over.

2008 Master Bike XI

2008 Master Bike XI: Massive lean angles, early-on-the-gas corner exits and the Yamaha YZF-R6's feel for rear-end traction propelled it to lap times that were hard to beat, even on a 1000.

2008 Master Bike XI: When helmets are on, friends become fierce competitors. Just five timed laps on each bike decide which of six riders and three bikes will be in the final.

2008 Master Bike XI: This year's supplied tire was the Dunlop Sportmax D209, a Euro-spec tire similar to the stateside Sportmax GP-A. Once up to temp, grip was excellent.

2008 Master Bike XI: All the bikes were weighed and dyno-tested at the track.