2012 Superbike Shootout: Workhorses

The most affordable high-performance machines in the world face off.

Workhorses: Superbikes 2012

Workhorses: Superbikes 2012

Budgets are tight these days, right? But that doesn’t mean you have to give up any of life’s necessities like big horsepower, awesome handling or incredible brakes.

These machines prove this point. Our group of five Workhorses in this less-costly class range from the $13,799 Suzuki GSX-R1000 to the $16,490 BMW S1000RR. Three have traction control, two do not. Despite being designed as streetbikes, all have been used as the basis for successful racing motorcycles. We rolled them out onto Miller Motorsports Park's East Loop and let Bostrom have his way with them, to some surprising results.

Yamaha YZF-R1- Superbikes 2012

Yamaha YZF-R1- Superbikes 2012

Yamaha YZF-R1   (1:41.84)

If the Yamaha was the slowest of the workhorse superbikes, it could at least be said that the spread between it and the quickest was narrow—a tight, 1.1-seconds. The R1 has an unusual firing order with crank throws spaced 90 degrees apart, unlike the more typical 180 degrees on every other inline-four-cylinder participating in this test. This crank order reduces inertia changes per crank revolution, as pairs of pistons don’t stop and start at the same time at bottom dead center and top dead center as in conventional Fours. Yamaha believes this factor is one reason 90-degree V-Twins have always been praised for outstanding traction, and why it incorporated the “crossplane” crank in its MotoGP bikes before introducing it on the R1.

Ups

• Smooth engine, smooth brakes, smooth everything

• Most distinctive inline-Four exhaust note ever

• Traction control to keep underarms dry

Downs

• Keep it smooth but please, more power!

• Brake feel could be more solid

• At 448 pounds dry, it needs a diet to run with this bunch

That unusual firing order also gives the R1 a distinctive sound, like a pair of distant Ducatis, making it easy to tell when EBoz was exercising the Yamaha on the track. As soon as he came in after his setup ride, he nailed the bike’s character: “It’s sneaky fast. It’s so smooth—almost too smooth. The brakes are smooth, the engine is smooth, the chassis is smooth—you don’t feel fast.”

Setup consisted largely of increasing rear spring preload and balancing damping, with one theme for the Japanese superbikes quickly emerging: For track use, Bostrom would have liked a stiffer rear spring on every one of them.

When he did his four official timed laps, Eboz was happy with almost all but one aspect of the R1: Power. “The Yamaha was the best bike getting from the braking zone to the apex, but from the apex, it was lazy, and the engine just didn’t want to do much. It was extremely refined, but I wanted more of the hot-rod effect.” The combination of good handling and a relative deficit in power could be seen on the data coming off the VBOX data logger: Corner speed was good, second-highest of the five bikes in two of the three corners we sampled, but speed at the end of each of Miller’s two short straightaways was the lowest of the group, roughly six mph down on the fastest bike.

Weight, the dyno and the drag strip explain: The R1 scaled the porkiest at 448 pounds dry and peaked the lowest at 148 horsepower—36 horses less than the most powerful! And with the worst power-to-weight ratio, it gained the lowest terminal speed by the end of a quarter-mile sprint. All riders praised the smooth traction control, noting it was confidence-inspiring, but all wanted more power for the system to modulate.

#### SPECIFICATIONS
GENERAL
List Price|$14,190
Warranty|12 mo./unlimited mileage
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Engine|liquid-cooled, four-stroke inline-Four
Bore & stroke|78.0 x 52.2mm
Displacement|998cc
Compression ratio|12.7:1
Valvetrain|dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
Valve adjust intervals|26,600 mi.
Induction|(4) 45mm throttle bodies
Electric power|462w
CHASSIS
Weight:|
Tank empty|448 lb.
Tank full|478 lb.
Fuel capacity|4.8 gal.
Wheelbase|55.5 in.
Rake/trail|24.0°/4.0 in.
Seat height|32.5 in.
GVWR|871 lb.
Load capacity (tank full)|393 lb.
SUSPENSION & TIRES
Front suspension:|43mm YHSJ
Claimed wheel travel|4.7 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Rear suspension:|YHSJ
Claimed wheel travel|4.7 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Tires:|
Front|120/70ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Q2
Rear|190/55ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Q2
PERFORMANCE
1/4-mile|10.21 sec. @ 140.73 mph
0-30 mph|1.3 sec.
0-60 mph|3.0 sec.
0-90 mph|4.8 sec.
0-100 mph|5.7 sec.
Top gear time to speed:|
40-60 mph|3.3 sec.
60-80 mph|3.3 sec.
Measured top speed|171 mph
Horsepower|148.4 @ 11,590 rpm
Torque|75.0 ft.-lb. @ 10,215 rpm
Fuel mileage:|
Average|34 mpg
Avg. range inc. reserve|163 mi.
Braking distance:|
From 30 mph|31 ft.
From 60 mph|125 ft.
Kawasaki ZX-10R - Superbikes 2012

Kawasaki ZX-10R - Superbikes 2012

Kawasaki ZX-10R   (1:41.57)

The Kawasaki ZX-10R was new for 2011, the first of the Japanese superbikes to feature a standard traction-control system, and it returns this year with an updated paint scheme.

For Eboz, the Kawasaki was a bike with strong positives and a few issues. “I loved the motor,” he said. That’s not surprising, as it was the second-most-powerful of the workhorse Fours, making 160 hp with a particularly smooth torque curve—though the smoothness came in part from having a lower torque peak and less power in the midrange than the other machines. “What hurts is that it’s geared the longest, so on this track, it’s just slightly out of its power range.” On the East Course, you only use second gear for most corners, shifting to third on the straights, and the tall second on the Kawasaki, combined with its slightly top-weighted power, definitely slowed its drive: “The traction control is really nice and works really smoothly,” said Bostrom, “but I didn’t get to lean on it as heavily as I wanted to because the rpm range just wasn’t there to be spinning the tire.”

Ups

• Smoothest torque curve

• Green, baby, green

• Traction control is reassuring

Downs

• More midrange, please

• 160-hp Open-class bikes are so last-year

• Handling balance could be better—with an AMA Pro rider aboard

In contrast to the gearing, though, the brakes were wonderful, among the best of the five: "Phenomenal brakes, with a real nice feel at the lever. You can feel it binding against something, instead of just sort of a smoooosh like on some bikes." Other riders concurred: The Kawasaki consistently ranked first or second for braking performance.

But handling was a mixed bag, according to Bostrom: "The toughest part for the Kawasaki is uncertainty in the apex. It has super feel on the front tire, the front is really good on the entry, but at the apex, it shifts its weight. It's just kind of unsure and makes you unsure about picking up the throttle. That's nicking off a tenth of a second here, a tenth there from its potential time." Those tenths could be seen in the VBOX data, where the Kawasaki was consistently in the bottom two for either corner speed or in its split time through the section with the most curves. In the end, despite its 12-hp advantage, the Kawasaki was just 0.25-second quicker than the Yamaha and almost 0.9 second behind the fastest bike.

#### SPECIFICATIONS
GENERAL
List Price|$13,999
Warranty|12 mo./unlimited mileage
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Engine|liquid-cooled, four-stroke inline-Four
Bore & stroke|76.0 x 55.0mm
Displacement|998cc
Compression ratio|13.0:1
Valvetrain|dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
Valve adjust intervals|24,000 mi.
Induction|(4) 47mm throttle bodies
Electric power|420w
CHASSIS
Weight:|
Tank empty|417 lb.
Tank full|445 lb.
Fuel capacity|4.5 gal.
Wheelbase|56.4 in.
Rake/trail|25.0°/4.2 in.
Seat height|32.7 in.
GVWR|834 lb.
Load capacity (tank full)|389 lb.
SUSPENSION & TIRES
Front suspension:|43mm Showa
Claimed wheel travel|4.7 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Rear suspension:|Showa
Claimed wheel travel|5.5 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Tires:|
Front|120/70ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT016
Rear|190/55ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT016
PERFORMANCE
1/4-mile|10.05 sec. @ 145.67 mph
0-30 mph|1.3 sec.
0-60 mph|2.9 sec.
0-90 mph|4.6 sec.
0-100 mph|5.3 sec.
Top gear time to speed:|
40-60 mph|3.5 sec.
60-80 mph|3.2 sec.
Measured top speed|177 mph
Horsepower|160.0 @ 11,650 rpm
Torque|73.4 ft.-lb. @ 11,060 rpm
Fuel mileage:|
Average|37 mpg
Avg. range inc. reserve|166 mi.
Braking distance:|
From 30 mph|29 ft.
From 60 mph|123 ft.
Suzuki GSX-R1000 - Superbikes 2012

Suzuki GSX-R1000 - Superbikes 2012

Suzuki GSX-R1000   (1:41.22)

Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 has been around in recognizable form for almost a quarter of a century and at various times has dominated AMA SuperBike racing at both the factory level (think wins and podiums) and the privateer ranks (filling almost the entire grid).

For 2012, it received incremental improvements that shaved a little more than four lb. (bringing its dry weight down to a very respectable 423lb., just 6 lb. more than the lightest of the five workhorses, the Kawasaki), along with a new 4-into-1 exhaust and engine updates that improved midrange power.

Ups

• Midrange, baby!

• Feels like a 600

• Great brakes

Downs

• 600-agile can sometimes be 600-twitchy

• Suspension a little soft—like those on the other Japanese Superbikes

• We’d take traction control over optional power curves

But the most striking thing about the bike was its feel. After Ebox first rode it, his first reaction was: “Oh my God, I’m on a 600.” But the good news didn’t stop there: “The bike does everything well. The brakes are consistent, strong, with great feel. That translates all the way back to everything on the bike. There is good feel in the tires, the agility is there and the steering is razor-quick.”

The motor was solid, too, cranking out 159.8 hp on the dyno with an excellent midrange hit, enough to power the Suzuki through the quarter-mile at 9.9 seconds with a 145 mph terminal speed. The strong midrange also meant that even though the GSX-R had a tall second gear like the Kawasaki, its acceleration out of corners was less of an issue.

But when it came time to face the clock on hot laps, the Suzuki came up half-a-second behind the quickest, as one of its strengths also became a weakness. “On drive grip, accelerating out,” explained Bostrom, “the Suzuki is very good, the best. But where I lost a little bit of time was in the transitions through the esses, with a wandering front end.”

He said that the rear spring and shock were just too soft, squatting and letting the bike run a little wide. “I was just a bit nervous. The GSX-R was quick but felt reactive—it was just a little hard to stay in front of. With its amazing agility, it might have benefitted the most from a stiffer rear spring. Because it’s such a rigid platform, it needs the suspension to complement that.”

The VBOX data told that story, showing that the Suzuki produced the second-highest straightaway speeds, offset with relatively low cornering speeds. There’s still a champion lurking in the GSX-R, but bringing it out would have taken more chassis tuning (read: parts) than this test permitted.

#### SPECIFICATIONS
GENERAL
List Price|$13,799
Warranty|12 mo./unlimited mileage
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Engine|liquid-cooled, four-stroke inline-Four
Bore & stroke|74.5 x 57.3mm
Displacement|999cc
Compression ratio|12.9:1
Valvetrain|dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
Valve adjust intervals|14,500 mi.
Induction|(4) 44mm throttle bodies
Electric power|375w
CHASSIS
Weight:|
Tank empty|423 lb.
Tank full|452 lb.
Fuel capacity|4.6 gal.
Wheelbase|55.5 in.
Rake/trail|23.5°/3.9 in.
Seat height|32.3 in.
GVWR|860 lb.
Load capacity (tank full)|408 lb.
SUSPENSION & TIRES
Front suspension:|43mm Showa
Claimed wheel travel|4.9 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Rear suspension:|Showa
Claimed wheel travel|5.1 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Tires:|
Front|120/70ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax S20
Rear|190/55ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax S20
PERFORMANCE
1/4-mile|9.92 sec. @ 145.88 mph
0-30 mph|1.2 sec.
0-60 mph|2.8 sec.
0-90 mph|4.5sec.
0-100 mph|5.2 sec.
Top gear time to speed:|
40-60 mph|3.4 sec.
60-80 mph|3.0 sec.
Measured top speed|178 mph
Horsepower|159.8 @ 11,500 rpm
Torque|77.3 ft.-lb. @ 9890 rpm
Fuel mileage:|
Average|40 mpg
Avg. range inc. reserve|184 mi.
Braking distance:|
From 30 mph|29 ft.
From 60 mph|124 ft.
BMW S1000RR - Superbikes 2012

BMW S1000RR - Superbikes 2012

BMW S1000RR   (1:40.93)

BMW’s entry in the superbike class has been an unabashed sales success, the S1000RR quickly becoming one of the brand’s better-selling models and bringing to the roundel company customers who almost certainly would never have considered a shaft-drive sportbike.

Its approach was simple: Forget BMW traditions like flat-Twins, shaft drive and unique front suspensions and instead give superbike customers exactly what the competition was offering. The BMW differentiates only in a few areas: power, styling and more electronic rider aids.

Ups

• 185 horsepower!

• Traction control and anti-lock brakes!

• Gritty, hot-rod feel

Downs

• 185 horsepower!

• Anti-lock brakes can throw off your rhythm on the track

• Fierce character can wear out the rider

Eboz got it immediately. “The BMW is just this over-the-top hot-rod!” Hot-rod, indeed: The S1000RR dynoed at 184.9 hp, 15 percent more than any of its Workhorse competition, more Hayabusa than 1000cc Superbike. That showed in its quarter-mile performance, both the quickest at 9.78 seconds and the fastest at 152 mph. Its top speed of 185 mph is 7 mph faster than the second-fastest machine, the GSX-R1000.

And it wasn’t as though power was just part of the story. Said Bostrom after the timed laps: “The BMW was working really, really well. The motor is fantastic. The brakes have good feel, just awesome. The chassis feels bulky but balanced. The highlight was 90-degree corners. The bike was stable; it just dropped in.”

In general, the BMW’s suspension was firmer than that of the Japanese superbikes, appreciated on the track if not on a bumpy urban freeway. If there were weaknesses according to Bostrom, it was in the esses: “That’s where I’d like a little more accuracy and nimbleness. It could be better with direction changes.”

Also, the aggressive power delivery, he thought, could wear out a rider in a long race. Helping offset that was another strong feature: “The traction control is flawless, working killer. I felt very comfortable driving out and spinning the rear tire on the BMW; it’s nice peace of mind to not worry about spinning out. With the BMW, you have to roll on a little later, just because of the power. But you can really lean on the traction control when you are looking for tenths.” Unfortunately for the BMW, we were running just the Miller East circuit, not the long course used for the annual late-May SBK race, and it lacked the mile-long straightaway that would have allowed the machine most commonly described as “gritty” (never “refined”) to push its horsepower advantage. Giving away just a little bit in trust and handling, the BMW finished second-fastest, 0.19 second behind the winner.

#### SPECIFICATIONS
GENERAL
List Price|$16,490
Warranty|36 mo./unlimited mileage
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Engine|liquid-cooled, four-stroke inline-Four
Bore & stroke|80.0 x 49.7mm
Displacement|999cc
Compression ratio|13.0:1
Valvetrain|dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
Valve adjust intervals|18,000 mi.
Induction|(4) 45mm throttle bodies
Electric power|350w
CHASSIS
Weight:|
Tank empty|433 lb.
Tank full|462 lb.
Fuel capacity|4.6 gal.
Wheelbase|55.9 in.
Rake/trail|24.0°/3.9 in.
Seat height|32.0 in.
GVWR|893 lb.
Load capacity (tank full)|431 lb.
SUSPENSION & TIRES
Front suspension:|46mm Sachs
Claimed wheel travel|4.7 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Rear suspension:|Sachs
Claimed wheel travel|5.1 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Tires:|
Front|120/70ZR17 Continental ContiSport Attack 2
Rear|190/55ZR17 Continental ContiSport Attack 2
PERFORMANCE
1/4-mile|9.78 sec. @ 152.21 mph
0-30 mph|1.3 sec.
0-60 mph|2.8 sec.
0-90 mph|4.4 sec.
0-100 mph|5.1 sec.
Top gear time to speed:|
40-60 mph|3.0 sec.
60-80 mph|2.8 sec.
Measured top speed|185 mph
Horsepower|184.9 @ 13,270 rpm
Torque|78.8 ft.-lb. @ 10,830 rpm
Fuel mileage:|
Average|34 mpg
Avg. range inc. reserve|156 mi.
Braking distance:|
From 30 mph|29 ft.
From 60 mph|125 ft.
Honda CBR1000RR - Superbikes 2012

Honda CBR1000RR - Superbikes 2012

Honda CRB1000RR   (1:40.74)

Honda’s CBR1000RR has been getting beaten up recently in some overseas magazines for the stuff it doesn’t have, namely a traction control system or 185 hp like the BMW S1000RR. Instead, Honda gave the 2012 model modest changes: improved suspension front and rear, updated bodywork and an LCD dash. The company left its flagship’s engine unchanged. And perhaps that was for the best, because the big CBR does have something that doesn’t show up on a spec sheet: balance. Listen to Eboz: “It’s the class leader for balance, for overall chassis balance. It’s so inspiring; you can do no wrong. It’s so easy to ride.”

Ups

• Balance and refinement

• Perfect midrange power curve

• Made every rider go faster without trying

Downs

• Not as visceral and exciting as the BMW

• Keep the midrange but extend the top-end higher

• Traction control, please

The engine contributes to that, too, with a slipper clutch that precisely controls deceleration, and with a power curve that, while peaking at just 154 hp, has a delightful, long, smooth midrange where torque stays above 75 foot-pounds for almost 4000 rpm, from 7000 to 11,000. With 1000cc Superbikes, fast lap times don’t necessarily come from the most explosive engine; they come from high corner speeds and a powerplant that allows the earliest possible throttle roll-on when exiting corners. The VBOX shows where the Honda made time: in the curves, with the fastest split time by two-tenths of a second through the twistiest bit. Despite being down on power to both the Suzuki and the Kawasaki, the CBR was essentially as fast or faster on the straightaways by carrying more speed from the previous corner exit.

It wasn’t perfect. Eboz thought it excellent in single corners but large-feeling and slower through the esses: “The positive side of that is that it doesn’t pitch or do anything strange,” he said. “You can put extra effort in it, and it wasn’t getting distressed by the extra bar pressure. On some of the other bikes, you put in the extra pressure and they get kind of wobbly.” And, as quick as it was, the Honda could have been quicker yet: “It’s a couch. The suspension is still too soft, and the seat foam is way too soft. There was more time waiting if I could feel the rear tire better.”

Perhaps that should worry the competition, as the CBR1000RR already managed to best the hard-edged BMW by nearly two-tenths of a second a lap because of, according to Bostrom, “Pure comfort factor. With the Honda, I knew exactly where I was at. It gave me that factor of confidence—I didn’t think it would have that.” But it did.

#### SPECIFICATIONS
GENERAL
List Price|$13,800
Warranty|12 mo./unlimited mileage
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Engine|liquid-cooled, four-stroke inline-Four
Bore & stroke|76.0 x 55.1mm
Displacement|1000cc
Compression ratio|12.3:1
Valvetrain|dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
Valve adjust intervals|16,000 mi.
Induction|(4) 46mm throttle bodies
Electric power|372w
CHASSIS
Weight:|
Tank empty|422 lb.
Tank full|452 lb.
Fuel capacity|4.7 gal.
Wheelbase|55.5 in.
Rake/trail|23.3°/3.8 in.
Seat height|32.3 in.
GVWR|807 lb.
Load capacity (tank full)|355 lb.
SUSPENSION & TIRES
Front suspension:|43mm Showa
Claimed wheel travel|4.3 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Rear suspension:|Showa
Claimed wheel travel|5.4 in.
Adjustments|compression and rebound damping, spring preload
Tires:|
Front|120/70ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax S20
Rear|190/50ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax S20
PERFORMANCE
1/4-mile|9.82 sec. @ 144.77 mph
0-30 mph|1.2 sec.
0-60 mph|2.6 sec.
0-90 mph|4.4 sec.
0-100 mph|5.0 sec.
Top gear time to speed:|
40-60 mph|3.6 sec.
60-80 mph|3.1 sec.
Measured top speed|174 mph
Horsepower|153.1 @ 10,670 rpm
Torque|78.3 ft.-lb. @ 9630 rpm
Fuel mileage:|
Average|38 mpg
Avg. range inc. reserve|179 mi.
Braking distance:|
From 30 mph|30 ft.
From 60 mph|123 ft.
Workhorses: Superbikes 2012

Workhorses: Superbikes 2012

Workhorses: Superbikes 2012

Workhorses: Superbikes 2012

Yamaha YZF-R1- Superbikes 2012

Yamaha YZF-R1- Superbikes 2012

Kawasaki ZX-10R - Superbikes 2012

Kawasaki ZX-10R - Superbikes 2012

Suzuki GSX-R1000 - Superbikes 2012

Suzuki GSX-R1000 - Superbikes 2012

BMW S1000RR - Superbikes 2012

BMW S1000RR - Superbikes 2012

Honda CBR1000RR - Superbikes 2012

Honda CBR1000RR - Superbikes 2012

Zip ties (as straws) were used to determine running order.

Bostrom was given setup laps to be sure each bike was to his liking.

Cernicky's ready. (When isn't he?)

American Honda's Jon Seidel draws for running order.

Authors Anderson (left) and Cook on the ground at Miller.

All bikes ran VP Racing's T4 unleaded fuel.

Yamaha's Jonathan Belding prepares the YZF-R1 for battle.

Eric Bostrom, 2001 AMA Supersport champion and experienced Superbike racer, consults with data maven Don Canet.