TURN & BURN II: Superbike Shootout

And now, the "Turn" portion of our high-performance test: Four superbikes, one road course, one winner!

TURN & BURN superbikes group action

We all love the thrill of acceleration and speed. And while WFO sprints down an expansive, perfectly smooth Naval Air Station runway is one way to fuel the need, diving deep into a sharp curve on the binders down to the apex and then carrying a low, hard-driving power wheelie on the corner exit or running full-tilt lean through a 90-mph sweeper is quite another.

In our hot pursuit we headed south from NAS Lemoore to another California Central Valley facility dedicated to thrust: Buttonwillow Raceway Park. While Kawasaki opted out of the cornering component of our test (offering that the H2 and H2R are not supersport bikes; see sidebar in TURN & BURN II: Superbikes vs. Supercars), we picked up a worthy replacement in the form of the heavily revised 2015 Aprilia RSV4 RF. Fresh off the docks, the limited-edition Italian V-4 ("1 of 200" for the US) had been held up in customs and missed our 0–180-mph blast.

TURN & BURN superbikes group static

As they say, better fashionably late than a party pooper.

The Ducati 1299 Panigale S and BMW S1000RR rounded out our trio of newly updated Euro superbikes and joined the all-new Yamaha YZF-R1M flying the flag for Japan. Also joining us trackside were technical personnel representing each brand. The plan called for a morning session on stock tires and then a midday tire swap onto Bridgestone Battlax RS-10 sport radials in an effort to put all of our bikes on equal footing during comparative timed laps for which I was the test monkey.

Each machine offers a full suite of electronic rider aids, including traction control, wheelie control, and ABS. They all have quickshifters for seamless upshifts, while the BMW and Ducati also feature clutchless auto-blip downshifting. The Beemer, Duc, and Yamaha each have semi-active electronic suspension that can automatically adjust fork and shock damping on the fly. Tech support from each of the manufacturers assisted us with setup.

A drawing of straws determined the running order in which I rode each bike with our VBox Sport GPS datalogger attached before handing it over to Editor-in-Chief Mark Hoyer, Senior Editor Blake Conner, and guest tester Tom Montano for collective riding impressions.

Aprilia RSV4 RF Buttonwillow track action

First in the rotation was the Aprilia RSV4 RF, and it established the time to beat. Blessed with a silky smooth-running engine that delivers a broad torque spread and sound all its own, the RF speaks racing pedigree both audibly and with loads of chassis feedback. While livelier than the others with constant chassis movement, it instilled confidence to be pushed ever harder as I quickly found the limits of the Bridgestone street/trackday radials. Following a few heart-stopping rear slides, I thumbed its bar-mount button to select a higher level of TC (up from level one to three) to finish the five-lap stint with a bit less drama before handing the bike off.

“Fresh off the docks, the limited-edition Italian V-4 (“1 of 200” for the US) had been held up in customs and missed our 0–180-mph blast.

“This may be my favorite superbike engine,” Hoyer remarked. “The V-4 note and broad power making for a thrill on every corner exit.” While the Aprilia’s fast lap would ultimately be eclipsed by the others, we enjoyed every moment spent in its firm saddle. “Throttle response was nearly telepathic, and blipping for downshifts or reacting to rear wheelspin is one of the great trackday pleasures,” Hoyer added.

Climbing onto the reworked S1000RR and immediately feeling comfortable at speed illustrates the progress in refinement BMW has achieved since the Bavarian brute’s 2009 debut. Its TC/WC implementation is now worlds more seamless in operation, and its auto-blip downshifts feel like cheating. That being said, it’s still a monster on the gas that will raise a nose despite electronic wheelie restraint. As with the Aprilia, the BMW displayed chassis agility that made for less work through the track’s fast side-to-side transitions.

BMW S1000RR Buttonwillow track action

“Shooting out of the Mazda Hairpin and into the esses was my favorite place on the track aboard the S1000RR,” Conner noted. “I could pick up the throttle quickly and grab a short-shift before threading the bike through there easier than on any other bike.” Veteran Isle of Man TT racer Montano concurred: “The chassis worked well with good feel, and the engine control was nice, considering it’s a 1,000cc conventional-firing-order beast. The whole package was well balanced, much more so than I expected.”

The BMW’s brakes are as formidable as is its speed, providing fantastic initial bite that inspires confidence without being overly aggressive. But as in the past, it’s the Beemer’s raw power that carries the conversation in the pit box. “This powerhouse engine combines some of the Yamaha’s silky delivery with a touch of the Ducati’s animal nature,” Hoyer enthused. “Low-to-mid-revs power has been boosted over that of past RRs, and it just doesn’t quit as you catapult toward the shift light.”

““The powerhouse BMW engine combines some of the Yamaha’s silky delivery with a touch of the Ducati’s animal nature.”

Riding the new punched-out 1299 Panigale S at the world launch in Portimão, Portugal, gave me an idea of what to expect, but testing it back to back with these smooth-revving fours shows just how visceral the big twin is. Every pulse of those coffee-can pistons ringing through the hands and arms was like gripping a bull by the horns and left me feeling more physically spent after a half-dozen quick laps. Its lower rev ceiling saw the Duc running a gear higher in several corners, and also the bike required more shifting during the lap. Upshifts under full power produced a chassis-unsettling jolt at times while the auto-blip feature worked superbly, allowing full focus on brake-lever pressure on corner approach. I felt certain the 1299 was on pace with the quickest bikes here, but perhaps I was deceived by the amount of effort I put in and lively chassis movement that came when I pressed the bike hard.

Ducati 1299 Panigale S Buttonwillow track action

“This is the wild animal of our test,” Hoyer assessed. “It snorts, growls, and roars and feels like it can barely contain itself. But, thankfully, it does contain itself—yes, just barely.” Having just returned from riding a Panigale R at Imola, Italy, the previous week, Conner weighed in: “Once you learn to trust the Ducati’s chassis, it can be ridden quite fast, but it doesn’t give you the instant confidence of the Yamaha’s stability or the BMW’s nimble steering.”

And while the Yamaha YZF-R1M was the third bike I rode in the rotation, I saved it for last here because it was the quickest. And what a relative relaxed ride it offered in stark contrast to the other bikes. Its ultra-composed chassis delivers unmatched confidence on every inch of a lap. Its engine’s crossplane firing order emits a subtle vibe through the grips that delivers a sense of tractability and rear grip I would normally equate with a V-4. I also imagine the R1’s excellent electronics sense the same and are not, perhaps, forced to work quite as hard as the others as the processors help meter out the right amount of juice to propel the bike forward with minimal rear-slip or front-lift drama.

“The R1M's ultra-composed chassis delivers unmatched confidence on every inch of a lap.

If there’s a caveat to the R1’s bedrock composure it’s the level of steering effort needed to initiate turn-in and make side-to-side direction changes.

“What the R1M demanded for its beautiful composure was planning and precision on the part of the rider in the sense that it was necessary to accurately hit turn-in and apply concerted effort to really steer the bike down to the apex,” Hoyer said. “But I’ll pay the price any day: fastest lap time, zero drama. Just an absolutely buttoned-down feeling as if it somehow applied suction to the earth through its contact patches.”

Yamaha YZF-R1M Buttonwillow track action

Although the R1 spotted the other bikes peak power on the CW dyno, the Yamaha proved the most effective at putting ponies to the road. “On all of the other bikes you can feel the intervention from TC and wheelie control, whereas on the R1 it’s so smooth and well integrated it doesn’t make itself as easily detected,” Conner said. “On the Yamaha, I had a lot more faith opening the throttle earlier and not having to worry about any inconsistencies in the wheelie control or TC.”

Perhaps being fashionably late to the electronics revolution has played into Yamaha’s hand. The company’s own work in MotoGP and Superbike racing, as well as the studied observation of what other manufacturers’ superbikes offer for the street, has allowed the tuning fork folks to implement the best system—and it’s been made very user friendly.

No doubt, electronics have trans­formed the superbike and trackday experience. Traction/wheelie/slide control, ABS, and data acquisition/GPS make us into faster, safer riders. The addition of GPS/inertia-based track mapping and data acquisition allows for rapid, no-BS analysis of your efforts. And, if you open your mind to the digital feedback, the path to better laps is clear.

In 2015, the YZF-R1M offers the best mechanical package with the finest electronics we’ve ever sampled. Think of it as the faster way to go faster.

Buttonwillow Raceway Park West Loop course map

Lap Analysis:

Buttonwillow, West Loop

We used a VBox Sport GPS datalogger to analyze each bike's quickest lap and broke the 1.83-mile course into three parts. Sector 1 involves trail braking into Pacific, followed by a TC-tapping exit drive as the radius opens and leads into Riverside. In Sector 2, you'll crest Phil Hill and then stretch the throttle cable using every ounce of power as you accelerate through a left kink onto the fastest part of the track. Sector 3 involves a test of second-gear midrange grunt as we power out of the track's tightest turn, thread through the esses, and brake hard into Sunset. Average corner speed through Riverside and Sunset is a good indicator of our confidence in that particular bike's edge grip. Peak speed on the two fastest straights is as much about rider confidence through the preceding corner as it is a measure of that bike's power and acceleration. How does the R1M post the best time? Chalk it up to the good performance in Sectors 1 and 3, plus high peak speeds on both straights. —Don Canet

LAP TIME DATA - BUTTONWILLOW RACEWAY PARK, WEST LOOP - 1.83 MILES
BIKE Lap Time Spilt 1 Spilt 2 Spilt 3
Aprilia RSV4 RF 1:10.31 22.23 19.60 28.48
BMW S1000RR 1:09.91 22.18 19.36 28.37
Ducati 1299 Panigale S 1:10.28 22.33 19.62 28.33
Yamaha YZF-R1M 1:09.73 21.92 19.69 28.12
Peak Speed 1 Peak Speed 2 Riverside Avg. Speed Sunset Avg. Speed
Aprilia RSV4 RF 142.04 mph 130.80 mph 91.87 mph 63.04 mph
BMW S1000RR 144.53 mph 134.32 mph 91.83 mph 63.71 mph
Ducati 1299 Panigale S 144.77 mph 136.66 mph 90.69 mph 63.83 mph
Yamaha YZF-R1M 145.90 mph 135.58 mph 91.85 mph 64.00 mph
performance data shown on a tablet

Your Personal Coach

Built-in data acquisition will help you go faster

High-end sportbikes like Yamaha’s YZF-R1 and R1M, the Aprilia RSV4 RF, BMW S1000RR, and the Ducati 1299 Panigale S offer the capability to download riding data from the bike's ECU right to your computer, or even your smartphone for some. Then you can review your trackday performance, corner by corner, lap by lap, in the comfort of your home or at the coffee shop with friends. This is fabulous—it is a personal coach who observes and measures your performance.

Be prepared for possible disappointment. When Eddie Lawson first worked with a data system on a GP bike, he reportedly said, "I hate that thing! Where I think I've got the throttle open 100 percent it's telling me it's only 25 percent."

Imagine the possibilities for self-improvement. Instead of spending a trackday trying to remember what you did on your best lap, such a system tells you exactly what you did on every lap. You can also overlay stored laps for detailed comparison.

Now imagine a website from which to download laps of your favorite tracks by top racers such as Josh Hayes or Max Biaggi or Chaz Davies (somebody hurry up with that!). Data systems offer tremendous possibilities to imaginative software writers. Stand by to be amazed, and get started now at your local dealer!
—Kevin Cameron

Group action #1

Superbikes at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Group action #2

Superbikes at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Group action #3

Superbikes at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Group action #4

Superbikes at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Group static #1

Superbikes at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Group static #2

Superbikes at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Group static #3

Superbikes at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Group static #4

Superbikes at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #1

Aprilia RSV4 RF at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #2

Aprilia RSV4 RF at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #3

Aprilia RSV4 RF at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #4

Aprilia RSV4 RF at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Static #1

Aprilia RSV4 RF at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Static #2

Aprilia RSV4 RF at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Badge.

Aprilia RSV4 RF at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Aprilia Team.

Aprilia RSV4 RF at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #1

BMW S1000RR at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #2

BMW S1000RR at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #3

BMW S1000RR at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #4

BMW S1000RR at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Static #1

BMW S1000RR at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Static #2

BMW S1000RR at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Badge.

BMW S1000RR at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #1

Ducati 1299 Panigale S at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #2

Ducati 1299 Panigale S at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #3

Ducati 1299 Panigale S at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #4

Ducati 1299 Panigale S at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Static #1

Ducati 1299 Panigale S at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Static #2

Ducati 1299 Panigale S at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Badge.

Ducati 1299 Panigale S at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Ducati Team.

Ducati 1299 Panigale S at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #1

Yamaha YZF-R1M at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #2

Yamaha YZF-R1M at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #3

Yamaha YZF-R1M at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Action #4

Yamaha YZF-R1M at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Static #1

Yamaha YZF-R1M at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Static #2

Yamaha YZF-R1M at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Badge.

Yamaha YZF-R1M at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Yamaha Team.

Yamaha YZF-R1M at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Tablet.

Buttonwillow performance track data.Jeff Allen

Discussing the rides.

CW Team at our Buttonwillow Hot-Lap Ultimate Performance Shootout.Jeff Allen

Map.

Buttonwillow Raceway course map.