During the 2000s, bikes were selling at historically high volume levels on a wave of cheap credit and ever-improving models. And superbikes were at the heart of this vortex. It was an arms race that made unfathomable power and handling attainable at a price that could be bought or financed freely.

Soon, insurance rates, development costs, an economic recession, and shifting buyer habits would throw a wrench in the excess, but the superbikes that closed out the decade would show how this segment would evolve for the years to come.

2000: Suzuki GSX-R750

For all the talk about 1,000cc being the requirement for the superbike class in the new millennium, Suzuki showed up with an all-new Suzuki GSX-R750 to prove that there’s more to life than displacement.

GSX-R750
2000 Suzuki GSX-R750Cycle World archives

In 2000, the GSX-R750 had a new, slimmer engine, redesigned frame, a sprinkling of lighter components, and a new fairing to signify you’re the freshest on the block. We were thrilled by its balance and its punch. The entire package reminded us that the “old school” combination of power and handling still had merit in the new millennium.

2001: Suzuki GSX-R1000

1998 marked the end of the GSX-R1100 line, and in its stead years later would be the GSX-R1000. Completely new for 2001, Suzuki took the compact components from the GSX-R750, added a little bore and stroke to hit 1,000cc, sprinkled in titanium for the exhaust, reinforced the frame, and set the GSX-R1000 out into the world.

GSX-R1000
2001 Suzuki GSX-R1000Cycle World archives

In our summary, we were “white knuckled” at the result of a bike that combined this level of handling with 144 rear-wheel horsepower. This was just the first sign of a new era dominated by the “Gixxer Thou.”

2002: Suzuki GSX-R1000

To retain the crown in 2002 for our Best Superbike, the GSX-R1000 had to fend off all comers. The CBR-RR was new, the YZF-R1 received fuel injection, and Kawaski heavily revised its ZX-9. And yet it wasn’t enough to keep the GSX-R from the top spot.

GSX-R1000
2002 Suzuki GSX-R1000Cycle World archives

A high-9 quarter-mile time, and a scintillating experience from its long-stroke motor, combined with handling that had us gobsmacked the year before kept its competitors at bay for another year, and the Gixxer on top.

2003: Suzuki GSX-R1000

And then for 2003, with the GSX-R1000 still on top from last year, Suzuki released a heavily revised “K3” generation model. It’s dominance was not unnoticed by us when we said, “It’s beginning to look as though a permanent parking space labeled ‘Suzuki GSX-R1000s Only’ may be warranted for this category.”

2003 Suzuki GSX-R1000
2003 Suzuki GSX-R1000Cycle World archives

For 2003, it was lighter, had more power, and handled better. The dimensions stayed the same, but a diet and a slight power increase kept its competitors in the dust and amplified the handling we loved for this model.

2004: Kawasaki ZX-10R

It took a lot to wrestle the crown away from the Gixxer in the early millennium, and Kawasaki managed to do it with a monster of its own. All new for 2004, the ZX-10R replaced the beloved but outgunned ZX-9R.

2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R
2004 Kawasaki ZX-10RCycle World archives

With 155 hp at the wheel, 10-second quarter-mile, 183-mph top speed, and weighing 403 pounds, the ZX-10R was a benchracing and real-world king. It was a long way back to the top of this category. The last time Kawasaki achieved the Best Superbike title was all the way back in 1990 with the ZX-11.

2005: Kawasaki ZX-10R

Kawasaki didn’t want to make its return the top a brief affair. For 2005, the ZX-10R was relatively unchanged but did receive a revised transmission to smooth out shifting quality we noted in 2004.

Lime green 2005 Kawasaki ZX-10R
2005 Kawasaki ZX-10RCycle World archives

A delayed BMW K1200S and a disappointing debut of the heavily revised GSX-R1000 cleared the way for the green monster to take the crown once again. The Ninja had made it two in a row for the new millennium in our Best Superbike category.

2006: Suzuki GSX-R750

There were 440 distinct models for sale in United States showrooms in 2006. The market was flush with power, chrome, and speed in any dosage you’d like. And if that wasn’t enough, a diverse aftermarket to deliver every whim you could think of. In this hotly competitive environment, a bit of a throwback took our Best Superbike title.

Blue 2006 Suzuki GSX-R750
2006 Suzuki GSX-R750Cycle World archives

It had been six years since a bike with under 1,000cc was our pick for Best Superbike, but once again Suzuki showed that 750cc can still be enough to take the title. It did it with an all-new-from-the-ground-up GSX-R750. As literbikes became ever faster and 600cc sportbikes became ever more shrill and sharp-edged, the brand-new ’06 GSX-R750 struck the right balance for an increasingly intense sport/superbike segment.

2007: Ducati 1098

It took 12 years to get back to be our Best Superbike choice, but Ducati did it with aplomb with the brand-new 1098 in 2007. For one, the controversial looks of the 999 were gone, replaced with a modern take on the 916 design language. But it was the mechanicals that won us over.

Man riding red 2007 Ducati 1098
2007 Ducati 1098Cycle World archives

With the Testastretta Evoluzione engine, Ducati was placed into the new millennium with an engine that had the behavior and thrust of the Japanese, without losing its Italian personality in the process. It was also less expensive than its predecessor as well, a full $3,000 less. It was a long way back, but Ducati made it with style and speed.

2008: Ducati Desmosedici RR

It was the year that performance-enhancing electronics had begun to trickle down from the racetrack to the street. It was also a last gasp of decadence before economic turmoil would put superbike development on ice, at least initially. And there was no better bike as a sign of the times than naming the Ducati Desmosedici RR as our Best Superbike for 2008.

Red 2008 Ducati Desmosedici RR
2008 Ducati Desmosedici RRCycle World archives

A MotoGP-derived, V-4-powered hellion, and limited to 1,500 units, it was the most expensive bike to receive this title to date at $72,500—if you could get one. We called it a “masterpiece with a warranty” and it was a cherry on top of a period of continuous superbike development. It was also a glimpse at the future we’re living in today where the very utmost tip of the market would be served with race specials with no limits, and limited numbers, and the very finest in componentry and performance.

2009: Aprilia RSV4

The economic uncertainty of a new generation was mentioned in the intro of 2009’s Ten Best, but it didn’t have any impact on the motorcycles that were our choices. And for Best Superbike that year was the truly amazing Aprilia RSV4.

2009 Aprilia RSV4
2009 Aprilia RSV4Cycle World archives

Packed with an all-new V-4 engine, and new from the ground up, the RSV4 was Aprilia’s comeback from financial straits. Its tight dimensions, unmatched agility, and competitive power, surprised and delighted us upon its debut. In fact, it’s so good that it’s basically still with us today, adding electronics and refinements that still make it class competitive even 10 years on.

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