Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory vs BMW S 1000 RR vs Ducati Panigale V4S

European superbike supremacy

Arguments will be made for other categories of sportbikes, but nothing delivers the emotion-evoking exotic personality and outright performance like a modern-day superbike.

Each is a brutally fast piece of industrial art optimized with everything it needs to strive for the fastest lap time and nothing it doesn't. Superbikes are simultaneously raw yet refined. These machines are built solely to push the boundaries of pure performance, but addictive personalities beware: Superbikes can and will induce obsessive horsepower highs.

Superbike Shootout
The Superbike Shootout class of 2019—the updated and bored-out Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory, the all-new BMW S 1000 RR, and the class benchmark Ducati V4 S.Jeff Allen

So, while there are a number of sportbikes on the market that mix in more practicality and comfort at a more affordable price, the open-class superbikes here—the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory, BMW S 1000 RR, and Ducati Panigale V4 S—represent the pinnacle of motorcycle performance. With these machines, a combination of mass horsepower and knife-edge handling makes previously unthinkable lap times easily obtainable, while a rock-solid chassis begs to push the limit a little further. Of course, pushing the envelope means increasing the consequences, but sophisticated rider aids have made this level of superbike performance more accessible than ever.

Accessibility of raw capability is one thing, but cost of entry is something entirely different. Each bike being priced at roughly $25,000 makes for an exclusive owner's club. But what you get with any of these motorcycles is racing DNA drawn from the front lines of MotoGP, and they also form the basis for cutthroat World Superbike competition—right down to the winglets. Buying a modern superbike has moved beyond just buying the bike with the most horsepower; it has become about owning exoticness, and getting the best a manufacturer has to offer.

Ducati Panigale V4
The Ducati comes with the steepest cost of admission—$27,895.Jeff Allen

And in the case of Ducati, this means the Panigale V4 S, which claimed Cycle World's Best Superbike title in our 2018 Ten Best Bikes voting. Sure, there is the FIM-homologation-special Panigale V4 R with its superbike-legal 998cc, but comparing the rest of the current crop of literbikes to the class-leading street offering from Ducati with its burlier 1,103cc engine is only sensible.

Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory
Aprilia’s winglets are said to produce roughly 18 pounds of downforce at 186 mph.Jeff Allen

Aprilia's best? The big-bore RSV4 1100 Factory. Updated with an additional 79cc, top-shelf braking components, and MotoGP-derived aerodynamic winglets, this is a refined version of an already-potent platform—and stiff competition for Ducati.

BMW S 1000 RR
All three bikes have similar dimensions, but the BMW is the lightest, an advantage felt in tight sections of track.Jeff Allen

BMW has something to say to its rivals, redesigning the 2020 model-year S 1000 RR from the ground up with a revised inline-four, a narrower and lighter chassis, and more sophisticated electronics. Oh, and the up-spec M and Select packages (an additional $3,700 and $1,400) come equipped with carbon-fiber wheels and semi-active electronic suspension. Thankfully, we were able to get ahold of one, much thanks to San Jose BMW employee and local racer Cory Call, who loaned Cycle World his privately owned M model for the track test.

We also requested the multitime Ten Best Bikes-winning YZF-R1M for the fun, but Yamaha declined. With updates made to the forthcoming 2020 model, the company decided to wait for next year's shootout, which is already shaping up to be an even higher-speed showdown.

Still, with a combined 559 high-strung ponies, there’s no shortage of horsepower in this year’s crop of exotic superbikes.Jeff Allen

The Test

Exploiting absolute open-class performance requires worthy testing grounds, and for the 2019 Cycle World Superbike Shootout, it meant Thunderhill Raceway Park's 3-mile road course for two full days of private testing. Thunderhill's variety of fast sweepers, hard-braking zones, dramatic elevation changes, and fifth-gear straightaways puts each bike to the detailed scrutiny of our testing staff, which included current licensed professional roadracers, longtime moto journalist and motorcyclistonline.com editor Adam Waheed, Red Bull stunt lunatic—I mean, street freestyle motorcycle artist—Aaron Colton, and legendary CW road test editor emeritus Don Canet.

Thunderhill’s dramatic and varied layout left no superbike ability untested.Jeff Allen

Our vote for equal and abundant grip came by mounting Pirelli Supercorsa SC race rubber to each contender. (It is important to note Ducati’s stock rear-tire spec is a 200/60, but only a 200/55 is available in this tire.) Then we weighed, measured, and ran the bikes on the Cycle World in-house dyno.

At last, it was time to inject our veins with superbike stimulants.

BMW S 1000 RR
Although numbed by regulations, the BMW S 1000 RR is a silent killer in twisty sections of track.Jeff Allen

The first shot in the arm? How about the BMW’s incredibly willing and nimble handling chassis. Tipping the scales at 412 pounds on an empty tank, the S 1000 RR weighs considerably less than its competitors—8 pounds under the Ducati and a full 15 pounds less than the Aprilia. And you feel it. The BMW excels in difficult ­side-to-side transitions, requiring the least effort, and also tackles them more quickly than the rest. Put the Beemer on a track of successive chicanes, and it will take the crown every time. Period.

It’s got superb chassis balance too. At least, that’s what Colton had to say once he had finished wheelie-ing the entirety of Thunderhill’s front straightaway, through Turn 1, and then some.

But that’s not what defines absolute superbike performance. It’s about a confident blend of raw power, quick handling, and a refined electronics package that keeps you coming back for more. And the BMW’s got that. Almost.

underslung swingarm
BMW’s racing DNA includes this underslung swingarm for improved corner exits.Jeff Allen

Peak performance is the most we've seen from a Double R on our dyno—182.7 horsepower at 13,580 rpm—but midrange power is electronically limited to help the bike meet U.S. sound regulations. The dyno chart paints a clear picture. Power builds smoothly from idle, then dramatically dips between 6,000 and 8,000 rpm before regaining steam toward the redline. It's a frustrating dead zone that requires the BMW to be ridden a bit like a 600cc supersport, utilizing sweeping lines and precise shifts to keep the engine spinning above the power abyss. But keeping the revs up for an entire lap is practically impossible, making a full track session an exhausting hustle at the gearshift's lever. Get it right, and it's a blood-­pumping German warhead. Let the revs drop, however, and it will put an end to your superbike high.

Speaking of electronic intervention, the over-sophistication of the BMW’s rider-aid package robs the S 1000 RR of the same animalistic nature of the Aprilia or Ducati. The throttle connection is numbed, meaning inputs don’t translate to expected reactions, killing the experience of being one with the motorcycle. It’s one thing for a traction-control system to limit wheelspin, maximize exit speed, and increase safety, but driving off a corner in fury and close to the edge contributes to the superbike experience. And the BMW limits that—too much.

There's no doubt, however, that the Ducati Panigale V4 S possesses the soul-moving stimulants we have come to expect of an exotic superbike. How moving? Ask its 1,103cc V-4 powerplant that's worthy of 186 rear-wheel horsepower at 13,320 rpm. It's a controlled substance, finding the ideal medium between raw performance and rideability, thanks to superb electronic intervention. Ducati's traction and slide control functions have a way of making you a superhero with midcorner throttle inputs, allowing the skilled rider to pitch the rear end out to a comfortable flat-track-like slide and staying there. No more, no less. Then it rips off the corner and into straightaway hyperspace. It shows with the fastest split in sector 3, a series of high-momentum corners where the Ducati's ability to control wheelspin takes charge. At full stick, it feels the fastest of the bunch, despite contradicting data in trap speeds and lap times.

That’s because extracting the last 5 percent from the Ducati on corner exit is more difficult than expected. Opposite from the BMW, it’s overstimulating. The chassis comes unhinged under high-stress, hard acceleration, inducing a rear-end chassis pump that hinders the ability to efficiently drive out of corners. It’s an eventful ride, one that feels faster than it is. The chassis begs to be ridden with more aggression, feeling as if it will settle in with more speed, but then crosses fingers behind its back.

Panigale V4 S
Contrary to its animalistic nature on corner exits, the Panigale V4 S is a friendly creature on entry. Here, chassis composure is tops, and race-ready Brembos offer the Ducati an advantage.Jeff Allen

Corner entry is a completely different story. The Panigale’s stopping power makes up for lost ground. It’s easy to make friends with the top-shelf Brembo brake componentry through serious capability and supreme feel at the lever, which allows you to fully understand how much force is being applied at the discs and then adjust your input accordingly. Important stuff, especially at 160 mph. Under that heavy braking load, the chassis offers steadfast composure and feedback at the front tire’s contact patch, and most importantly, it easily recovers from pushing it over the limit.

Corner entry is a completely different story. The Panigale’s stopping power makes up for lost ground.

It’s interesting that MotoGP superstar Jorge Lorenzo griped about the Ducati Desmosedici GP racer’s fuel tank, because we’ll do the same regarding the V4 S. The smooth curvature of the tank’s shape hinders our ability to use leg strength as support under extreme braking, forcing unnecessary pressure on your arms and wrists. So, as great as the chassis felt during hard braking, testers were sliding around and making unintended inputs at the bars when you least want them. Combined with mentally stressing acceleration, it’s fatiguing—only marginally over the course of a lap, but significantly by day’s end.

Aprilia wheelie
Aprilia’s big-bore V-4 sounds spectacular and makes the most peak power of the three bikes.Jeff Allen

The Aprilia is the most emotionally stirring and addicting motorcycle of the bunch on track. As Canet put it: “Heck, while observing trackside, the Aprilia’s combination of intake and exhaust made it the front-man lead singer of the trio, drowning out the other two when on song. I sensed this in the saddle as well, reinforced by the bike’s visceral V-4 pulse through the bars. The pleasing engine vibes translate to feeling a more direct connection between the twist grip and rear tire’s contact patch than the electric-smooth Ducati or overly buzzy BMW.”

There is indeed a more direct throttle connection than the Ducati or BMW, which translates to a reduced need for electronic intervention. But that's not to take away from the refinement of the Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC) electronics suite, which has steadily improved in consistency and predictability through iterations of the RSV4. And this is the best yet. This, coupled with an absurdly smooth mechanical power delivery, makes for an absurdly rider-friendly package, even at a monstrous 190 horsepower at 13,490 rpm. In fact, we dialed back Aprilia Traction Control (ATC) and Aprilia Wheelie Control (AWC) settings to minimal settings of 2 and 1 for our timed laps, relying on the pure mechanical grip and rideability more than with the other two bikes.

The RSV4 carves corners with an any-apex, any-time attitude.Jeff Allen

Perhaps the most impressive aspect about the Aprilia isn’t its engine, but rather its rock-solid chassis composure. Sure, being the heaviest of the bunch, it takes the most upper-body strength to fully capitalize on its cornering performance, but it reaps the benefits of unrivaled feel at the tire’s contact patch. Could this be a result of the downforce generated by its aerodynamic winglets? Possibly, but let the results of Sectors 2 and 4 speak for themselves—both being sections that demand front-end confidence. Action of the not-electronic Öhlins suspension helps here too, offering more feel and control than the semi-active units fitted to the competitors, with the simplicity of adjustment winning over the hearts of our testers.

Its high isn’t extreme and short-lived; it keeps you itching for more.

In almost every area, the Aprilia commands the competition. Well, except the braking performance. Despite the strongest numbers in Cycle World's straight-line braking tests, the RSV4's brakes begin to fade in five or six laps. Once that happens, the lever inches its way closer to the bar with no rejuvenation. Unanimously, it was the Aprilia's only major downfall noted by our testers at the track.

Test track
A regimented testing schedule left little time for relaxation, especially for the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC spec rubber.Jeff Allen

The Winner

It was obvious that the Ducati Panigale V4 S wasn’t going to take the Superbike Shootout win easily, despite being the class standard. BMW showed up with a brand-spankin’-new S 1000 RR with every top-shelf component and trick you could name. The thing is, BMW may have outdone itself, applying numbing medicine to a seriously potent package through means of electronic intervention instead of cutting its creation loose in a more elemental way. And while the Ducati fought well, displaying the raw, big-bore superbike performance that earned its reputation as an all-around weapon, following this test there is some refinement to be made.

In almost every area, the Aprilia commands the competition.

Aprilia arrived with an updated, bored-out RSV4 1100 Factory. Not exactly all-new, but tweaked in all the right areas. The RSV4 treads the line of rideability and untamed instincts best, one that makes you feel the most like a MotoGP alien. Its combination of raw speed and rideability put it on top of this very close test. Its high isn’t extreme and short-lived; it keeps you itching for more.

Superbike shootout race
Less than a half-second split the trio’s lap times, but how each conquered the lap was different.Jeff Allen

Lap Analysis

A VBox Sport GPS data logger was used to record official comparative lap times around the 15-turn, 3-mile Thunderhill circuit. Delving deeper into each bike's quickest recorded lap has provided split times through four distinct sectors, peak speed achieved on the fastest straights, and corner speed captured in a trio of distinctive turns. Sector 1 begins at start/finish along the pit straight, which saw each wringing 5th gear to its Turn 1 brake point. Traction/wheelie control bolstered rider confidence for a thrilling full-throttle exit drive off the first bend and over the hilltop crest leading to Turn 2. A point-to-point average speed through the long carousel-type second corner puts emphasis on chassis balance and the tire's full-tilt edge grip. Demanding side-to-side transitions in negotiating the series of linked tight corners composes the entirety of Sector 2, as each bike worked second gear throughout. A pair of fast flat-camber dogleg lefts in Sector 3 separates an unsure pilot from the confident, culminating with a comparative peak speed zone. The final sector is a mixture of attributes previously experienced in the lap. Wheelie control proves a godsend powering at lean over the blind rise exiting Turn 9, while a look at apex velocity in the heart of Turn 10 showcases trail braking and chassis load confidence. Midrange grunt is at play regarding the last peak speed trap due to a short shift in the middle of the esses feeding the chute leading up to the double apex final corner complex. —Don Canet

Map of Thunderhill track
Thunderhill’s East Loop offers prime testing real estate, mixing a variety of corners, elevation changes and fast straightaways into a 15-turn, 3-mile course.Cycle World
2019 Aprilia RSV4 1100 dyno
Dyno numbers on the 2019 Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory.Cycle World
2020 BMW S 1000 RR dyno
Dyno numbers on the 2020 BMW S 1000 RR.Cycle World
2019 Ducati Panigale V4 S dyno
Dyno numbers on the 2019 Ducati Panigale V4 S.Cycle World

The Numbers

Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory BMW S 1000 RR Ducati Panigale V4 S
Type: Liquid-cooled V-4 Liquid-cooled Inline-four Liquid-cooled V-4
Displacement: 1,078cc 999cc 1,103cc
Bore X Stroke: 81 X 52.3mm 80 X 49.7mm 81.0 X 53.5mm
Compression Ratio: 13.6:1 13.3:1 14.0:1
Valvetrain: DOHC, 4 valves/ cylinder DOHC, 4 valves/ cylinder DOHC, 4 valves/ cylinder
Induction: (4) 48mm throttle bodies (4) 48mm throttle bodies (4) 52mm throttle bodies
Final Drive: 6-speed/ chain 6-speed/ chain 6-speed/ chain
Front Suspension: Ohlins NIX 30 fork w/ adjustable compression, rebound, and spring preload; 4.9-in travel 45mm Marzocchi w/ semi-active adjustable damping; 4.7-in travel Ohlins NIX 30 w/ semi-active adjustable compression and rebound, manual spring preload; 4.7-in travel
Rear Suspension: Ohlins TTX shock w/ adjustable compression, rebound, and spring preload; 4.7-in travel Marzocchi shock w/ adjustable compression, rebound, and spring preload; 4.6-in travel Ohlins TTX36 w/ semi-active adjustable compression and rebound, manual spring preload; 5.1-in travel
Front Tire: Pirelli Supercorsa SP 120/70-17 Michelin Power RS 2CT 120/70-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP 120/70-17
Rear Tire: Pirelli Supercorsa SP 200/55-17 Michelin Power RS 2CT 190/55-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP 200/60-17
Rake/ trail: 24.5°/ 4.1 in. 23.5°/ 3.7 in. 24.5°/ 3.9 in.
Wheelbase: 56.7 in. 56.7 in. 57.6 in.
Seatheight: 33.1 in. 33.2 in. 33.1 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.9 gal. 4.4 gal. 4.2 gal.
Dry Weight: 427 lbs. 412 lb. 420 lbs.
CW Measured Performance
Horsepower: 190.0 hp @ 13,500 rpm 182.7 hp @ 13,600 rpm 186.0 hp @ 13,300 rpm
Torque: 82.1 lb.-ft. @ 9,800 rpm 77.1 lb. ft. @ 11,000 rpm 79.6 lb.-ft. @ 11,300 rpm
Fuel Consumption: 28.4 mpg 31.2 mpg 27.8 mpg
Quarter Mile: 10.39 sec. @ 147.26 mph. 10.35 sec. @ 149.66 mph. 10.1 sec. @ 150.04 mph.
0-30: 1.5 sec. 1.46 sec. 1.28 sec.
0-60: 3.1 sec. 3.15 sec. 2.88 sec.
0-100: 5.73 sec. 5.7 sec. 5.45 sec.
Top-Gear Roll On 40-60: 3.27 sec. 2.56 sec. 2.28 sec.
Top-Gear Roll On 60-80: 3.19 sec. 2.23 sec. 2.3 sec.
Braking 30-0: 30.6 ft. 30.87 ft. 32.38 ft.
Braking 60-0: 122.56 ft. 124.88 ft. 129.18 ft.
MSRP: $24,499 $22,095 $27,895

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