2007 Bike Of The Year Comparison Test - Absolute Power

The Year's Best Literbike, Middleweight And Exotic Vie For Bike Of The Year Honors

Yawn. Another year, another bumper crop of fantastic sportbikes that is unbelievably and undeniably superior to the previous year's. Over the course of the year, we put more than 25 of those bikes through the Sport Rider mill. Thousands of street miles, hundreds of racetrack laps and dozens of dyno runs and dragstrip passes have been logged. Untold hours of midnight oil have been burnt to determine the best bike in each class, but one question remains as the year winds down: Which bike is the cream of the '07 crop? To find out, we took the winners from three of our earlier comparison tests and pitted them against each other in the closest-fought Bike of the Year battle we've had in ages.

The Contenders
As the winner of our middleweight comparison smackdown ("Tear It Up," May '07), Honda's CBR600RR earned pole position on the BOTY grid. The all-new 600 used light weight and a surprisingly midrange-potent engine to not only handily outperform its peers but also to change our expectations of the class itself. Certainly the flyweight Honda is outpowered in this company, but there is a precedent: In 1999, Yamaha's then-new scimitar-like R6 turned the middleweight class on its ear and went on to pluck the BOTY crown from its big-brother R1.

Next on the list is the incredible Suzuki GSX-R1000, slotted in by virtue of its performance in our literbike comparison test ("Mind the Gap," July '07). While some view the somewhat overweight GSX-R as a step backward from the previous model, the more powerful K7 is still the big-bike champ-for better or worse. The Suzuki also has the advantage of being the incumbent BOTY candidate: In our '05 end-of-year bash, the GSX-R handily won against the CBR600RR and Ducati 999. In fact, we didn't even bother holding the competition last year, as the held-over model retained such an advantage.

Winning last issue's exotics comparison test ("High-Dollar Hardware," Sept. '07), Ducati's 1098S took the final grid position here. The standard model fared less than spectacularly against literbike competition, but in upscale trim with hlins suspension and lighter, forged wheels, the S model could well prove to be the dark horse. And if you think a twin can't break the four-cylinder BOTY stranglehold, flipping through some SR history may surprise you: In the mid-'90s, the Ducati 916 had as strong a grip on the title as the GSX-R1000 has had in the more recent past.

This trio of comparison test winners was fed to the street- and track-testing wolves: Staffers Kunitsugu and Trevitt were joined by guest tester Lance Holst for a day at Buttonwillow Raceway and then for extended street rides in the Los Angeles area. Each rider completed a questionnaire and rated each bike in 10 categories for both the street and track portions. The summed scores for each venue are detailed in the following text, with the final, overall scores listed by category in the accompanying SR Ratings chart. In addition, we strapped our Racepak G2X datalogger to each bike at Buttonwillow, with the results (and lap times) shown in a separate sidebar, and the usual dyno, dragstrip, ergos and other objective measurements are also listed. Enjoy.

Racetrack Rumble
Ducati: 88.3
While the high-dollar 1098S drew a favorable review in the company of MV Agusta's F4 312 R for last issue's exotics comparison test, against the GSX-R and CBR the Ducati shows its rough edges. At Buttonwillow, those rough edges turned into low scores practically across the board, as the 1098S struggled to compete with the Suzuki's steamroller horsepower and the Honda's rapier-quick maneuverability. Like the standard 1098 that has an identical engine specification, the S model is hampered by its wide-ratio gearbox that leaves you stuck between gears on many of the track's turns. Kunitsugu noted that "You're forced to shift too much to keep from smacking the rev limiter." Also hampering the 1098S are its ergonomics, which give a forward rider-weight bias with widely splayed clip-ons and a tall seat height. It's not uncomfortable, but rather gives less of a feeling of control when compared with the GSX-R or CBR.

In the plus column, the 1098's monoblock Brembo brakes drew high scores from our testers, and the hlins suspension and forged Marchesini wheels helped overall handling. "A surprising improvement from the standard model," Holst commented, "with a better-balanced chassis that lets you better use its strong-everywhere powerband." We've found both the standard and S versions of the 1098 to be sensitive to suspension setup, with what feels to be a very progressive rear linkage requiring some compromise in preload and ride-height settings. We made some significant improvements over the course of our track day with minor changes, but even then the hlins-equipped 1098S was a handful on Buttonwillow's aging tarmac. Perhaps Kunitsugu summed up the Ducati's track performance best: "The Ducati is kind of a paradox; it requires as much commitment from the rider as the GSX-R and feels like you're going really quick, but the end result isn't quite there."

+ Fun and peppy twin-cylinder engine
+ hlins suspension, Brembo brakes
- Aggressive ergos and Hibachi leg roaster
- Expensive in this company
* Too much style, not enough function
FRONT Spring preload: 8 turns out from full stiff; Rebound damping: 5 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damp ing: 15 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: 10mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
REAR Spring preload: 3mm thread showing; Rebound damping: NA; Compression damping: 19 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: minimum

Honda: 92.9
In stark contrast to our constant fiddling with the 1098S, the CBR600RR went practically untouched in the garage when not being ridden. All our testers raved about the little Honda's toy-like feel and user-friendly handling. "One of the most pleasurable track bikes ever in terms of rider satisfaction," Holst wrote. "It makes me feel like a better rider. You can wring its neck and throw it around with reckless abandon without scaring yourself silly or getting dangerously over your head." With a well-sorted chassis, suspension that is "near perfect" according to Kunitsugu, stellar brakes and an overall package that is refined to the nth degree, the CBR has the performance to match: The data sidebar shows the full story, but in terms of lap times, the Honda is quicker than the Ducati and less than one second slower than the GSX-R around Buttonwillow's west loop.

On the score sheet, the Honda lost out only in terms of engine power and delivery-understandably, as it's more than 50 ponies down from the GSX-R. Our test bike had a noticeably more abrupt off/on throttle transition than we experienced in our middleweight test, slightly hampering mid-corner speed-a crucial point when you're trying to minimize the damage the big GSX-R will surely cause on the following straight. Setting egos and lap timers aside, all three of our testers pointed to the Honda as the user-friendly and fun track-day bike that would most benefit anyone's riding skills.

+ Incredibly strong 600cc motor
+ Toy-like, lightweight chassis
- Outpowered by the mighty GSX-R
- Buzzy on the freeway
* We can't wait for the '08 1000 version
FRONT Spring preload: 10 turns out from full stiff; Rebound damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; Compression damp ing: 2 turns out from full stiff; Ride height: 5mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
REAR Spring preload: position 4 from full soft; Rebound damping: 2 turns out from full stiff; Compression damping: 21 clicks out from full stiff

Suzuki: 94.2
With a clean sweep of our testers' total track scores and the quickest overall lap time, the GSX-R1000 ruled the on-track festivities. The Suzuki-all 160 horsepower of it-has the potential to be a handful on track, and it requires maximum commitment from the pilot. Ride with precision and finesse, and the Gixxer Thou' rewards with quick lap times and remarkable speed. Show even the slightest disrespect for that power, however, and in return it will quickly show you who's boss. "The damn thing is a workout to ride fast," Kunitsugu wrote. "But that doesn't mean it's a chore like some other bikes. The chassis, suspension and brakes are capable of handling the beefy engine."

Turning our attention away from outright steam, the Suzuki still holds its own against the less-powerful opposition. Steering is heavier and slower than the other bikes', but still surprisingly quick for the GSX-R's weight. The brakes lack the Ducati's feel and light effort but do a fine job of hauling the bike down from the speed it so easily attains. And the suspension is on par with the Ducati's upscale componentry. Overall, handling is a definite notch down from the lithe CBR, but there's no denying the GSX-R's horsepower. It does corrupt, absolutely.


+ The Engine
+ The Chassis
- Seat gets hot from exhaust in traffic
- Seriously porky at 471 pounds wet
***** Can your ego and riding skills handle it?

FRONT Spring preload: 5 lines showing;Rebound damping: 5 clicks out fromfull stiff; Low-speed compressiondamping: 15 clicks out from full stiff;High-speed compression damping:2.5 turns out from full stiff;Ride height: 6mm fork tube showingabove triple clamp

REAR Spring preload: 8mm thread showing;Rebound damping: 15 clicks out fromfull stiff; Low-speed compressiondamping: 15 clicks out from full stiff;High-speed compression damping: 3turns out from full stiff

Ducati: 88.2
While the 1098S is clearly a more track-oriented bike than the GSX-R or CBR, in some respects it fared better on the street than at the track. Still, overall the bike is let down by the details, and it trails the four-cylinders by a wide margin. On the street the V-twin's loping power is a joy to use, with ample bottom-end and midrange easily accessed by throttle response that is better than we remember our standard 1098 having. The tendency to be caught between gears is much less noticeable than at the racetrack, with only slow-speed turns having the engine spinning busily in first or lugging in second. At higher speeds the motor's torque gives you a choice of gears. The ultra-powerful brakes offer good feedback for street use, steering is light and neutral and the race-spec standard Pirelli Supercorsa tires offer slightly more midcorner grip than the sport tires fitted to the Suzuki and Honda.

We had a tough time reading the Ducati's tachometer at the racetrack, but the geek came up with a quick fix. Surprisingly, it worked.

From there, the Ducati is simply not built for comfort or convenience. The mirrors are practically useless, the ergonomics have you feeling like a pretzel after less than 30 minutes in the saddle and even before that, the backs of your legs will be broiled medium-well on a warm day. Ironically, the 1098's V-twin mill is the smoothest of this trio at freeway speeds, a trait largely unnoticed through the shortcomings.

Honda: 93.3
Honed to near-perfection in almost every characteristic important to a streetbike, the CBR drew high marks from our testers in almost every category. "The mirrors, seat and controls are all great," Trevitt noted, "and the engine is peppier than most literbikes' around town. It all makes the Honda a great bike to just plain ride." In the present company, the CBR's mill needs to be spun hard to keep pace down a canyon road, but it never protests. "You end up going just as fast with far less effort," Kunitsugu reported. The suspension is surprisingly plush given the level of control it provides over bumpy canyon roads, and again we made not a single adjustment to the CBR while we constantly messed with the Ducati and, to a lesser extent, the Suzuki.

As refined and capable as the Honda is, it does buzz more than the others on the freeway, and our testers felt the GSX-R to have slightly more comfortable ergonomics. And, just as on the racetrack, the Suzuki's power and power delivery scores tipped the balance in the GSX-R's favor. Whereas the GSX-R's dual-butterfly and dual-injector EFI provides a seamless off/on throttle transition, the CBR's single-butterfly, dual-injector setup is comparatively notchy-and again, more abrupt than we remember from our middleweight test.

Suzuki: 94.2
"This bike defines speed," Kunitsugu wrote, "and it offers it up much easier than in years past. But in order to really make time in the canyons, you have to work hard, and the bike constantly reminds you to stay on top of things." The GSX-R topped the street categories with near-perfect ergonomics, incredible power and suspension that offers a nice compromise between comfort and control. It's not only the effortless way the Suzuki makes power and builds speed that makes it so much fun to ride, but also the way it accommodates a variety of styles. Whether you ride to maximize the power output or to maximize the benefits of the chassis, the Suzuki only cares that you use restraint with one or the other. Ride to the full capabilities of this bike and things can come undone-not to mention illegal-in a hurry.

As good as the GSX-R is, we can pick some nits. In slow traffic, heat rises from the underengine exhaust to cook your butt, and the brakes could be slightly more progressive. As well, while the excessive heft was not so noticeable at the track, it was definitely felt on the street. Suzuki has done an admirable job of masking the bike's weight ("It feels 30 pounds lighter than the scales show," Holst said), but you do feel it under acceleration and braking ("That still makes it 20 pounds heavier than the Honda," Trevitt countered). Interestingly, while both Trevitt and Kunitsugu scored the GSX-R higher than the CBR, they both picked the Honda as their favorite for street use, citing the ability to use more of its performance in a street setting-where the Suzuki is hamstrung 90 percent of the time.

This thrust chart shows driving force to the rear wheel in each gear for each bike. The six curves represent each gear in the transmission, with first having the most thrust and lowest speed. The Suzuki is just hitting its stride in first gear while the Honda and Ducati are already at redline. Huge gaps between the Ducati's curves show graphically the term "being stuck between gears," as the bike makes much less thrust in the taller gear than it does at redline in the lower gear. The Honda and Suzuki lines for each gear intersect, indicating a smooth transition through the gearbox.

The Honda's and Suzuki's ergonomics are very similar. While some riders prefer the GSX-R's layout with its lower seat height, others feel its clip-ons are angled too rearward. This diagram shows the Suzuki's rearsets in the high/forward of its three positions.

The Ducati gets the jump at the dragstrip thanks to its lower gearing, but note the shift points: The GSX-R goes as fast in first gear as the 1098 does in second. The Suzuki's tall gearing hurts roll-on performance only at lower speeds. The Honda is simply out of its league in this aspect of the competition.


MSRP $19,995 $9499 $11,399
Type Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke 90-degree 4-stroke L-twin Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four
Displacement 1099cc 599cc 999cc
Bore x Stroke 104.0 x 64.7mm 67.0 x 42.5mm 73.4 x 59.0mm
Induction Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 60mm dia., one injector/cyl. PGM-DSFI, 40mm throttle bodies, two injectors/cyl. EFI, SDTV dual-valve 44mm throttle bodies, two injectors/cyl.
Front suspension 43mm inverted cartridge fork, 5.0 in. travel 41mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel 43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.9 in. travel
Rear suspension Single shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel Single shock absorber, 5.1 in. travel Single shock absorber, 5.3 in. travel
Front tire 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro 120/70-ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier PT 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone BT-015F N
Rear tire 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier PT 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-015R G
Rake/trail 24.3 deg./3.8 in. (97mm) 23.7 deg./3.8 in. (98mm) 25.5 deg./3.9 in. (98mm)
Wheelbase 56.3 in. (1430mm) 53.8 in. (1367mm) 55.7 in. (1415mm)
Weight 438 lb. (199 kg) wet; 413 lb. (187 kg) dry 412 lb. (187 kg) wet; 383 lb. (174 kg) dry 471 lb. (214 kg) wet; 443 lb. (201 kg) dry
Fuel consumption 33 to 36 mpg, 34 mpg avg. 36 to 44 mpg, 41 mpg avg. 34 to 36 mpg, 35 mpg avg.

Racepak G2X Data Analysis
As per our usual modus operandi, a data acquisition pouch was mounted to each bike for Kento's flying laps, recording lap times, speed and throttle position. Using GPS allows the track to be accurately broken down into many segments, and the system's software tracks speed and time for each segment as shown below. These segments are laid out identically to those used for our earlier literbike shootout and (aside from the Turn 2-3 segment) the same as used in our middleweight smackdown.

Lap Times
Ducati: 1:08.73
Honda: 1:08.42
Suzuki: 1:07.61

Turn 2-3 Segment Time
Ducati: 14.06 sec.
Honda: 13.78 sec.
Suzuki: 13.87 sec.

This section, taken at 90-plus mph, consists of a right-left combination that taxes outright grip and rewards high-speed steering quickness. The Honda pulls out almost a 10th of a second on the Suzuki in this section-and almost a quarter-second on the Ducati-thanks to its nimbleness. While the Suzuki makes up some ground on the short chutes between each corner, the Honda maintains more corner speed throughout; the Ducati, meanwhile, loses time and speed with each transition.

Turn 4 Segment Time and Minimum Speed
Ducati: 6.38 sec., 59.6 mph
Honda: 6.28 sec., 61.0 mph
Suzuki: 6.23 sec., 61.1 mph

The exit of Turn 3 leads uphill to the blind right-hander that has its apex right at the crest. Front-end feel and feedback is at a premium here, and it's all too easy to drift off-line and scatter a bike off the other side of the peak. The GSX-R gains time with faster entry and exit speeds but is no quicker than the CBR through much of the turn. The 1098 more than holds its own, but a bobble on this particular lap heading down the hill leads Kento to chop the throttle, costing valuable time.

Turn 6 Entrance Speed, Segment Time and Exit Speed
Ducati: 81.5 mph, 10.31 sec., 76.1 mph
Honda: 84.1 mph, 10.30 sec., 80.7 mph
Suzuki: 78.6 mph, 10.32 sec., 78.7 mph

This double-apex sweeper has the bikes heeled over at max lean for more than a few seconds, as Kento struggles for grip over patches and sealer throughout. The Honda's quick steering and controlled chassis allow it to blaze in deep on the brakes and power out earlier and with more speed than even the GSX-R1000, yet the GPS shows it running wide in mid-corner. Even with the higher entry and exit speeds, the Honda is no quicker through the turn than either of the other bikes; segment times through here are a draw.

Chicane Segment Time And Exit speed
Ducati: 7.02 sec., 110.9 mph
Honda: 7.17 sec., 109.0 mph
Suzuki: 6.99 sec., 110.7 mph

The exit of looping Turn 6 leads into a left-right-left chicane (labeled Turn 7 on the diagram and chart) that calls for acceleration through the first portion, then a section of braking and another turn of acceleration. It's a tricky section, but flicking from side to side under power is the key to getting through quickly. The CBR enters with big speed but can't accelerate as fast as the GSX-R or 1098S and loses significant ground to both bikes. It's practically a tie between the Ducati and the heavier Suzuki in this section, with the GSX-R's extra power offset by its porkiness and heavier steering under power.

Turn 8 Segment Time
Ducati: 5.09 sec.
Honda: 5.00 sec.
Suzuki: 4.99 sec.

Turn 8 is a slightly cambered 90-degree left hander that shows handling in a simple straight-turn-straight scenario. Kento appears to brake conservatively on the 1098, but ends up going deeper on the binders and maintaining a high apex speed. The GSX-R, with the lowest apex speed, rockets onto the next straight to still record the quickest segment time, but virtually identical to the CBR's split.

Dunlop N-Tec Tires
For our Buttonwillow track day, we fit each bike with Dunlop's Sportmax GP tires, using the N-Tec rear for the first time. Finally offered to the general racing public earlier this year in both slick and DOT forms, the new tire is a significant change from the previous Sportmax GP rear. Previously, the huge 190/60 was enough of a change in size alone from stock tires to require setup changes, and-adding to that-the tire grew in diameter significantly at speed, further affecting handling.

The new tire is available in a more standard 190/55 size, and an additional circumferential belt controls growth at speed, providing more stable and consistent handling. We used the 190/55 on all three bikes-even the CBR600RR, which comes standard with a 180/55-and encountered none of the troubles we had in our previous experiences with the Sportmax GPs. On the Honda and Suzuki, we made no significant suspension changes from the street-tire settings, but on the Ducati, which comes standard with a 190/55 rear tire, we raised the rear ride height by one turn to account for the profile of the front Sportmax (this change is not reflected in the suggested suspension settings).

In blazing-hot temperatures, the Dunlops provided remarkably consistent traction over the course of the day, and we were amazed by the level of grip offered. Overall, we were impressed by the new tire's performance and can see why the company's racers have been raving about the N-Tec technology since it was first introduced in 2004.

Top Speed
Both the Ducati and Suzuki ran up against their rev limiters early in top speed runs conducted at Honda's Proving Center of California. The 1098S has ridiculously short overall gearing, while the GSX-R is treading on Hayabusa and ZX-14 territory thanks to the gentleman's agreement limiting top speed to 186mph-theoretically the 1000 could go almost 10 mph faster at redline.

Ducati 1098S: 173.3 mph (limited)
Honda CBR600RR: 159.8 mph
Suzuki GSX-R1000: 184.3 mph (limited)

Fun to ride 8.6 9.5 9.4
Quality 9.1 9.4 9.3
Instruments & controls 8.6 9.6 9.3
Ergonomics 8.0 9.3 9.4
Chassis and handling 8.6 9.7 9.5
Suspension 8.6 9.3 9.4
Brakes 9.6 9.3 9.1
Transmission 9.1 9.1 9.2
Engine power 9.2 8.8 10.0
Engine power delivery 9.0 9.1 9.7
Total 88.4 93.1 94.3

The Final Scores
By the numbers, it's the GSX-R1000 that wins Bike of the Year. But our testers had some interesting comments about the scores, and each made his pick with a caveat. "I would buy the Suzuki, because there is superior performance if your skill level is up to it," Kunitsugu wrote. Ego plays a big part in picking a manly literbike instead of a "little" 600 as well: "The Honda comes close as a track-day bike due to its user-friendly performance envelope," Holst concluded in his notes. "However, I realize that my ego won't let me give up the Suzuki's horsepower advantage. So street or track, I choose Big Blue." Finally, price has to be a consideration: With the Ducati more than twice the cost of the Honda-and the Suzuki in between-your pocketbook may be the deciding factor.

In terms of overall performance, the GSX-R is a devastatingly effective street or track tool when the rider applies the right mix of skill and restraint, and that performance is well worth the effort required to exactly balance the two.

SR Opinions

Lance Holst
_"Dear Mom: Please send my teddy bear. I scared myself riding the GSX-R1000."

Bike of the year is our version of the Super Bowl, and this best-of-the-best test lived up to its billing. I was pleased what an improvement the Ducati 1098S was over the previous standard version. No doubt part of it was due to the S's upgraded suspension, but perhaps equally important was Trevitt having time to continue in the same direction improving setup. The difference made it BOTY-worthy, but even then the Duck trailed the Suzuki and the Honda in virtually every quantifiable category -and that's not even factoring in price.

In many ways, the CBR600RR is the most fun bike here to ride. It's nimble agility and user-friendly power builds your confidence and lets you feel like you're able to truly wring out its maximum performance. My friend Troy says he loves a screamer because it makes him feel like a real man; in the Honda's case it applies to motorcycles as well. It's one of the most personally satisfying bikes you'll ever ride. The Suzuki, however, is absolutely addicting. Yeah, it's so scary-fast (even for jaded testers like Kent) that you're humbled by how seldom you can open it past half throttle, yet it's also remarkably smooth and comfortable. Even on the track, it's so shockingly quick that I couldn't help but think of the famous line Jeff Karr used to describe the V-Max: "I saw Jesus so many times that I began using him as a brake marker." Amen.

Andrew Trevitt
_Isn't scared by the GSX-R because he already has his teddy bear.

I tried, really I did. If there was any way for the Suzuki to not win Bike of the Year, I would have found it. But short of sabotaging the bike or stuffing the ballot box, there was no way the Ducati or Honda could topple the mighty GSX-R1000. The Suzuki is just too powerful and works too well.
There is no question the GSX-R is the most capable bike here and a worthy BOTY champ, but it's not my pick for a couple of reasons. One, I don't have the restraint necessary to own something this powerful-for sure I'd be constantly getting in trouble both on the street and at the track. And two, I find it frustrating to ride a bike that requires so much to use so little of its potential.
On the other hand, the Honda gives me more of a sense of accomplishment from riding it closer to the limits of the bike's and my own capabilities. The CBR extracts the maximum skill of its rider, just as the rider can better use his skill to exploit the potential of the CBR. It's a symbiotic relationship that makes you a better, faster rider, and that, to me, is what's important.

Kent Kunitsugu
_Contemplating the number of letters he'll get if the GSX-R wins yet again.

Letter to Suzuki: Please sit on your laurels for once and let someone else have a go at Bike of the Year. That way, we won't have to put up with the inane letters accusing us of favoritism or being on your payroll. And it really is getting a little boring after the BOTY test has been completed: "And the winner is...the Suzuki GSX-R1000!"

In all seriousness, I was hoping that the Ducati or the Honda could really give the latest GSX-R a run for its money. I wasn't very confident the 1098S was going to get the job done, and my fears were well-founded; while it might harass the Suzuki on the track, its street manners are severely compromised in typical Ducati fashion.

But the CBR represented the best chance yet for dethronement, and it did come awfully close. While it obviously doesn't have the outright power of the GSX-R1000, the Honda packs enough performance in a well-sorted package to nearly negate its speed disadvantage. Probably more important, however, is that the CBR's user-friendly nature allows a much wider range of riders to approach the upper reaches of its performance, and that is an educational advantage that almost outweighs the Suzuki's staggering potential. Almost.