Road Test: CBR954RR vs. ZX-9R v GSX-R1000 v YZF-R1

Another year, another choice selection of 1,000cc sportsbikes. But this year is a particularly good vintage as Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda try to close the gap on Suzuki's all conquering GSX-R1000 of 2001.

0
By John Cantlie, Warren Pole, Niall Mackenzie, Gus Scott on Mon, 21 Apr 2008 - 09:04

Visordown Motorcycle News


Doesn't matter how many times you say "smaller bikes are more fun because you can thrash them harder," or "I'm getting bored of the latest supersports thing to come out of Japan - they're all the same." You know deep inside that you're talking utter bollocks. You may say these things, you may even mean them at the time, but your first ride on the new FireBlade, R1 or GSX-R1000 is enough to shut your cake-hole for another six months. Big-bore sportsbikes are the Big Lick, they sit at the head of the motorcycling table and are waited on hand and foot, and for 2002 they are (surprise) better than ever before.

Last year, the GSX-R1000 was quite rightfully crowned the new boss. Unspeakably powerful and with a totally sorted chassis, it ran rings round the opposition. Before that, the Yamaha R1 ruled the roost. It, in turn, stole the limelight from the FireBlade before it, who spent far too long in the top slot despite repeated efforts from Kawasaki's ZX-9R to dislodge it. So you see, these four bikes are old adversaries. They've been slashing at each others' throats for bloody years now. Some years it's easier than others, but 2002 is going to be a bitch. This new crop is good.

It's not about outright power anymore, that's for sure. Infact, it's quite possible that the GSX-R1000 will remain the most outlandishly brutal sportsbike that we'll see for a long while. Yamaha and Honda had a long, hard look at the internals of the GSX-R, you can bet your bottom dollar on that, and decided that finely-tuned chassis, suspension and overall riding finesse were the way to go, not sheer power. Honda hiked the capacity of their FireBlade from 929cc to 954cc for good measure, but the FireBlade and R1 are both tweaked as 'total packages', not just horsepower-laden super-missiles.

Even the Kawasaki ZX-9R has been properly tweaked for 2002. Using the lessons learnt from the launch last issue, Gus and myself spent 30 minutes a couple of days before the test slamming the front end of the 9R and jacking the back-end up (see handling caption for details) so it could meet the onslaught of its more, er, developed competition in a fairer light. In the end the big Kawasaki did far better than any of us could have imagined on the road and track.

Riding-wise, obviously we needed heaps of road-riding and a hardcore racetrack. Rockingham Raceway near Corby offered the use of their full National Circuit for the day. Job on. It's 1.7 miles of fast, very technical track that sees these bikes topping out in 4th gear, sadly not taking in the speed banking at Rockingham, but with everything from a flat-out right-left chicane and a hairpin that seemingly goes on forever, the Rockingham circuit was an excellent test of the four bike's circuit manners. And even the pit garages were gleaming and smelt of fresh paint - a class facility.

With riding talent ranging from ex-GP god Niall Mackenzie and ex-production Champion Gus Scott, down to farty old wobblers like Wozza and myself, every aspect of every bike would get a proper look-in. Let's get it on!

YAMAHA YZF-R1

Where last year's R1 could batter you into submission faster than a Northern boiler on a hen night after 18 Bacardi Breezers, this year's R1 effect is more subtle.

With 143bhp at the back wheel power from the Yam is as heady as ever, but it's the new fuel injection and revised delivery that make this year's bike more sea breeze than breeze block.

"Yamaha have softened the behaviour of the engine to such a point that there's no obvious kick of power like there was with the old model," reckons Niall. "No doubt it's accelerating as hard as before, it just doesn't feel like it. From when you first crack the throttle right the way through to the redline there's just a very constant and linear wave of power. Motorcycles like these need powerbands, and the new R1 doesn't really have one. She's still bloody fast - a look at the way those digital numbers flash by on the speedo, leaping upwards in 15mph lumps as they struggle to keep up with the acceleration tells you that straight away, as does motorway traffic reversing towards you - but she's become a little... unthrilling. "

And this is true. Compared to last year's bike this one don't feel as rampant when you get her flying. But these same engine mods and fuel injection also supply a bucketload of control. Where before the R1 sat in the same camp as the GSX-R1000 with the fear of an enormous highside never far from your mind winding on the gas out of any corners in the pursuit of fast laps, this year it's shifted into the FireBlade camp now punching very hard but wearing a velvet glove. You can now use more of the R1's power, more of the time.

"Riding the two back to back, the R1 just beats the Suzuki for the 'best fuel injection' award," says Niall. "It's fractionally better right at the bottom, when you've got the throttle fully off then crack it back on again. The R1's really gradual there and very useable. For riders with a bit less experience it's definitely the way to go - the GSX-R caught me out a couple of times, going sideways as soon as I touched the throttle out of some of the faster turns. The R1 never did that, just gave me loads of confidence."

Chassis mods for this year have also transformed the bike. Gone are the days of R1s tankslapping themselves into knots at the first sign of any real fast bumpiness on the road because this bike has phenomenal stability. And once more this means you can spend more time with the throttle pinned merrily wide open. After all, what's the point in owning a sportsbike like this if you can't ride it like it should be ridden?

For a track-handling lowdown, it's back to Niall.

"The R1 may be the smallest bike here to sit on, and she's far more nimble than before, but she isn't quite the most agile handler here - that trophy goes to the Honda. And despite being quicker-steering than last year's model, the R1 is still quite heavy changing direction at the track, especially through Rockingham's fast chicane. Still, that front end is the most planted here, far more so than the Blade's. You can take real liberties with the R1s front end grip, which is nice to have in reserve. It seemed to have the best weight balance here too, not transferring too much weight from rear to front on the brakes or gas, just staying nice and balanced wherever you were on the track."

But Niall's not finished yet. "But it could be better. If it was my bike I'd jack the rear up to make it turn faster, which you could happily do without fear of losing rear end grip."

One area of the R1 that categorically has suffered with time is the brakes. Back in '98 when the bike was launched they were the Guv'nors and the new class leaders. Unfortunately time stands still for no man, and for 2002 the R1's anchors now drop back to being plain old 'very good' while the Blade now out-stops anything you care to mention at a single finger brush of the lever.

As for the rest of the package, there's a token effort at a pillion seat with some pegs thrown in for good measure should you really feel the need to upset the bike's precision handling with a screaming pillion, the riding position is still surprisingly bearable for a bike as committed as this one is - although 20 minutes through rush-hour traffic will still leave you with achier wrists than a Bangkok ladyboy at closing time. Still, the trade-off for this minor inconvenience is the best riding position at the track - you really are plugged right into this bike. Neat trick, Yamaha. And to sum it all up, back to that Mackenzie bloke:

"The R1's exceptional on the road, dead safe and dead accurate. You simply cannot upset it, even over bumps and the like. She looks stunning, and at the track is now even easier to get the best out of. But the steering is still heavy on occasion, and those who like their big sportsbikes really manic may find the R1's lost a bit of its hooligan element for 2002, drifting away from the Monster Raving Looney party and more towards the Conservatives."

TRACK SETTINGS

What we should have done (didn't have time) was raise the forks through the yokes 10mm to speed the steering up. In lieu of that, this is what we altered on the stock settings...

FORKS: One full ring more preload in, rebound 3 back from maximum, compression 8 back

SHOCK: Preload as stock, ride height as stock, rebound 3 back from maximum, comp. stock

KAWASAKI ZX-9R

Another year, another mentalist 1,000cc shootout, and another chance for the poor old ZX-9R to make the wooden spoon well and truly its own. Again.

Just looking at the figures, the ZX-9 was in for an absolute pasting. Not your run-of-the-mill Chinese burn then nicking your lunch money kinda pasting either, but the sort that means you won't be eating solids for a few months.

At least 13bhp down in power and 7 ft-lbs down on torque with anywhere between 12 and 18 kilos more bulk to heft around against the competition, it seemed the writing was on the wall for the green machine before it turned a wheel.

"I thought the nine was going to be a tired old slugger in this company," reckoned Niall Mac after clapping eyes on it. "She's a big old girl compared to the others, and that huge tank splits your legs wider than an expectant mother in the hospital stirrups. And then the fuel tap and analogue clocks - I thought those things had gone the way of the Ark! On fast bikes like these you need big digital speedo numbers so a quick glance tells you everything you need to know in an instant."

And none of us were in a hurry to disagree with the old trout either. But there's a certain grace and poise to the 9R's new lines. That upswept slinky tail unit's taken years off her, and in green she's still a badassed and purposeful chunk of motorcycle.

Enough of figures and aesthetics already because the ZX-9 comes to this test as a new model, fettled and tweaked for 2002. Not to the same league as the rest, but improved at least.

And following Sonic's discoveries of the improvement to be had from half an hour's suspension adjustment, he and Gus set about the 9R with the underseat toolkit and a 22mm spanner to give her the best fighting chance possible. And bugger me if this didn't bring the old battler out swinging hard and fast.

"On the revised settings the ZX became the unsung hero of this test," reckons Niall. "On the track it was surprisingly impressive - every bit as good as the FireBlade in the steering department and sweeter and more accurate than the GSX-R and R1. Very capable over the bumpier sections of the track and the back was really planted and stable too, even hard on the anchors. Mid-corner grip was fine and mated to the soft bottom end power and zingy top-end getting back on the gas even when you were cranked right over was never a worry. I would have liked to stiffen up the front even more for Rockingham, just because it's such a front-endy circuit where you're always on the brakes, pushing the front down underneath you."

Frankly, the biggest surprise for all of us was that the ZX-9R wasn't left for dead at the track once, and nor was it always the last bike anyone wanted to leap on at the beginning of any session. It was solid and stable thanks to the extra bulk it's carrying, less intimidating to lay down the power on thanks to there being less of it everywhere, but with really sweet steering that meant you could use all the grip and feedback the tyres and chassis had to offer. All in all, a satisfying plaything.

Talking of playing, it was also the Don when it came to rolling stoppies as Sonic happily demonstrated at every possibly opportunity, drifting past nose-down with the back wheel hovering three feet in the air. They ain't the best brakes here - that accolade goes to the Blade - but they're still packing enough firepower and feel to keep the ZX in the frame.

As Niall put it, "this bike is a lot more capable than I imagined, so if you've got Kawasaki blood running in your veins, you can buy green safe in the knowledge you're not going to be left totally behind". And even with its relatively meagre 130bhp at the back wheel, the nine's motor has become something of a modern classic. A raw screamer as the revs rise, she's also got a wonderfully slick gearbox that makes all the extra lever-stoking you need to do to keep the others in touch a pleasure rather than the chore it could be.

"Like a beefed-up 600 to ride," reckons Niall. "It does lack midrange in this company, and you can tell it's still running carbs the way the throttle response is less instant than the others, but get it singing above 10 grand and it accelerates like a good 'un. And the roar from the airbox underneath your nose only makes the experience even better."

Out on the road we left the nine on its revised settings because the bike's weight meant that even with the sharper geometry there was no nasty instability even during those ton-plus backroads yahoo moments. And when the pace became a little less frantic, the big plush seat was a major bonus, as was the less than fully-committed riding position and wide, flattish bars. At times like these, you could kick back on the ZX and just let the miles roll by as you enjoyed the scenery. If it's real-world and fuggin' fast all at once that you're after and the sheer size of the thing doesn't put you off, then the 9R's still got a few years left in this class. Wozza

TRACK SETTINGS

The ZX-9R responds well to some major chassis tweaking. Try this little lot...

FORKS: 12mm preload showing, rebound .5 turns back from max, compression same as stock, raise forks through the yokes 10mm

REAR SHOCK: Preload same as stock, raise rear ride-height 5mm (see right), rebound 3 turns back from max, compression as stock

SUZUKI GSX-R1000K2

There's still no question which is the fastest and most intimidating of the 1,000cc supersports bikes: the Suzuki GSX-R1000.

The others may have upped their respective games to keep the Suzuki in sight, but ride all four bikes blindfolded and - assuming you didn't ride immediately into the first parked car you came across - you'd instantly know when you were on the Suzuki. I mean, it even sounds twice as nasty as the rest with a jet-turbine whistle from the barely-silenced exhaust.

"The GSX-R has been the bike, no question," agrees Niall Mac. "Honda and Yamaha have looked at that and seen what they could do to match it. The GSX-R is still the pinnacle of horsepower and grunt in a lightweight sportsbike, so the opposition have decided that trying to actually beat it in a straight fight is not the way to go. The new bikes are more about handling, styling and making 140 brake horsepower more rideable, more accessible to the rider."

I think (I know) we must all be getting old. Why? Well, the GSX-R1000 is unchanged from last year, when it was the bike that comprehensively wiped the floor with the competition, but this year the R1 has dramatically-improved handling and the FireBlade is just dramatically faster. And in this company, the GSX-R is plain... frightening. I mean, it's a real fearsome monster of a thing. It's so quick, especially in its thudding midrange hit, that at Rockingham you really thought twice about opening the throttle hard out of some of the corners.

"That's what's happening in four-stroke GPs now," remarks Niall of the horsepower on tap. "The first thought was massive power everywhere, and already they're reining them back in, not really going beyond 200bhp, getting the things rideable and manageable. And at a lesser level, at the British Superbike Crescent Suzuki team who are using GSX-R1000s this season, they're dialling horsepower out of the bikes to make them more useable. In 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears they're just too urgent, too much of a handful." Dialling horsepower out of a GSX-R1000? And you think you can handle one of these things on the road?

Well let's get this in perspective. There is nothing unrideable about a GSX-R1000. The throttle does indeed work both ways, the fuel injection system is nigh on perfect, there's a plateau of 80ftlbs of torque to surf and the powercurve doesn't have any hidden dips or peaks to catch out the unwary. On the road this equates to a stunning sportsbike that can overtake anything it comes across without going above 7,000rpm. Except it makes peak power at 10,500rpm. The footpegs are set racebike-high and will cause discomfort over the long haul, but the screen is effective and the gearbox buttery-smooth as you demolish your favourite stretch of A-road without ever braking into a sweat. Back on the track for some chassis talk with Niall:

"The GSX-R has the best front-end feeling for sure, turns fast and you can change direction really fast, although I'm not a big fan of that OE steering damper. Best to take it out of where it is, and put it somewhere you can adjust it. There's no doubt that the GSX-R does need a damper, but the standard one is too intrusive to the handling. Otherwise, it's hard to fault the handling. The problem is (and I'm sorry to come back to the engine again) that unlike the R1 and Blade, getting all that power down to the ground is the issue. Put simply, I'm not sure the GSX-R would be the fastest round a circuit in the hands of an average rider. I think less experienced riders might actually find it would cost them more time than it would gain. With the right rider on it'll be the fastest bike on the racetrack, but for someone who wasn't that sharp, they'd be quicker on the R1. Personally, I didn't once feel that I was riding the GSX-R to the max. Found myself riding it at 90% of what it was actually capable of."

Wherever you go with the GSX-R, you always come back to that engine. You may be talking about the chassis, but the way the chassis feels and responds is governed by that ballistic motor. "Suzuki's school of thought back in 1999 was 'we got to make a bike better than the R1, how can we do that?' So they gave it good handling, good chassis, the best brakes of this bunch, but mega bloody horsepower. It even sounds 20mph quicker than the others, and even though it's only 5mph quicker than the others on peak power, to find that extra 5mph you've got to be pushing some serious horsepower to cut through the wind-resistance," says Niall. Not that you'll ever be riding it at its speed-limited maximum of 186mph on the roads to know this, of course...

Styling-wise, the GSX-R is a very special bike so it really should look different to the GSX-R600 and 750 that it shares the stable with. In isolation, great, but with those two other bikes looking identical, it's a bit of overkill.

I'll let Niall sum-up the GSX-R1000. "An incredible tool, but you just can't ride it to the max. In the chip-shop carpark this is definitely the winner, got the most cred by a mile. If you're sat on a GSX-R1000, you have got the daddy. You're sat on a three or four year-old superbike, pretty much the same bike that Chris Walker rode in BSB in 2000. But can you handle it?"

HONDA CBR954RR FIREBLADE

Everyone (well, me) tipped the new FireBlade to be the unanimous winner before the test even kicked off, and bugger me if that isn't how it turned out.

All four of us were agreed that of all the bikes on this test, the 2002 FireBlade offered the best mix of outright power, sharp-dressed styling, handling and just general sexiness to scoop the top slot. Which is kind of funny, because there's no way it feels as fast as the rip-snorting GSX-R1000 to ride round the racetrack. Er, isn't that what these supersport bikes should be all about?

"Well, yes and no," reckons Niall. "I could match the times I did on the GSX-R for a lot less effort on the FireBlade - and without scaring myself in the process. Thing is, I've never really liked FireBlades that much in the past before, always thought they were a bit lardy and dull. But now the FireBlade is the bike to beat. Nice and sharp-looking, with tiny dimensions, it's like a little toy to ride."

A very serious little toy, mind. The new FireBlade managed to be almost as fast as the GSX-R1000 down Bruntingthorpe's 3,000 metre runway, topping-out at 180mph compared to 184mph. Four mile an hour difference? Whoo, big deal. That's a particularly slow jog from a fat, sweaty old person. It is the smallest bike physically, almost smaller than a CBR600, and yet there's plenty of room for lanky legs to fit between yer arse and the footpeg, and the screen is usefully large to hunker behind (take note, Yamaha R1).

"Unlike the R1 the FireBlade engine has obvious power-steps, which adds to the character," says Niall. "It's very smooth off the bottom, with a really nice powerband in the middle. The front gets light at 6,000rpm and off she goes all the way to 12,000rpm. But that powersurge is nice because it gets the adrenaline going, it's not linear and keeps the rider's interest. And because it's the lightest out of the four bikes, power-to-weight is going to be right up there." Indeed it is. With a dry weight of just 168kg (same as the Suzuki GSX-R600, ferchrissakes!) and making just 3bhp less than the GSX-R1000 at 140bhp, the new FireBlade is packing serious firepower.

"The frame is totally rigid, with really good feel from the back end of the bike at the track," reckons Niall, talking about the handling package. "When it's right on its side you can feed the power in and there was no movement - it coped really well on the slow to medium-fast turns. And even on the really fast corners after the tyres had started going off, it was totally predictable when it started to slide, no nasty surprises anywhere, unlike the GSX-R, which was threatening to bite badly and forcing you to back the power off." This sharp track handling translates into equally sharp road handling. The new FireBlade is an absolute pussycat to sling around as quick or slow as you fancy, and it'll take the most determined of road-riding psychos to get it out of shape on the road. If anything does go, it'll be the front.

"Not the best front-end," agrees Mackenzie at the track. "I stiffened it up, put a ring more preload and a half-turn more compression damping into the forks, which worked well at Rockingham. But when it hits the powerband hard the front wheel goes light, and doesn't really matter what you do, if you combine that with exiting a bumpy corner, you could be in for some fun."

The brakes are stunning. With massive 320mm discs on either side, as soon as you stroke the brake lever, they bite down hard and let you know they're there and ready to work. On the road you need to treat braking with a bit of respect. If you just bang on the anchors willy-nilly in a wet or cold road situation, you could well find yourself on your arse before you knew what hit you. All you need is one finger of braking power, feel for the bite and squeeeze. At Rockingham, the brakes were utterly effective. If you've got a new FireBlade and find yourself at a trackday, rest assured that you can outbrake every other simpleton on the circuit.

Styling-wise, the Blade is a winner. "Looks like an Erion racing FireBlade, like it's just come straight off a track in the US," says Niall, but that's the red/black colour scheme. The yellow/purple and especially white/black colour-schemes are certainly less effective. "Then you get up close and there's some nice lines and styling touches, really smart," continus Niall. "Nice and skinny around the waist, like there's no extra fat on it. But then, Honda needed to get lairy with the new FireBlade, I think. The SP-1 didn't really happen for them, so they needed to re-vamp the Blade and make it aggressive to take on the other bikes in this market."

For at least a decade now, the best sportsbikes have been complete packages. You may have the best handling, or the most powerful engine, or the sharpest styling, but the bike that manages to combine slightly lesser amounts of those three ingredients will always be better than a bike that boasts just one. And for this year, that bike is the new FireBlade. Stunningly fast with a motor that involves the rider, bolted into a razor-sharp chassis and finished-off with cracking styling has got to be a recipe for success. The GSX-R motor is meaner, the R1 looks better, but the best of all worlds is the FireBlade. My God, it's even pretty decent two-up for the passenger... Sonic

CONCLUSION

Instead of announcing an immediate and obvious must-rush-out-and-buy supersports bike winner, let me tell you instead how these four sit apart from each other.

On one end of the scale is the GSX-R1000. Irrepressibly fast, excellent chassis, fast, fast and bloody fast. So fast that at the circuit it was intimidating at times, even in the hands of Niall Mackenzie. What the GSX-R needed was a set of Dunlop slicks for it to be able to deliver anything like its best performance at Rockingham. On the road, this equates to lunatic behaviour at every turn. You can pick the GSX-R up in second gear at 8,000rpm (70mph) and wheelie it all the way through to 123mph and 5th gear, where it'll sit all day on the back wheel. It is quite mad, and the surest one-way ride to a solid prison sentence for massive misdemeanours on the public highway.

On the other end of the scale is the ZX-9R. Not saying it isn't manic, because with its 10,000rpm powerband it's like a big 600 to ride and being in the right gear is critical for maximum thrust, but with it's physical size, greater weight (186kg compared to 168kg for the Blade) and lower 130bhp power bracket, it is far more tolerant of the average rider. For 2002 Kawasaki have made some effective styling changes to the nose fairing and rear seat unit, and spend a morning fiddling round with the geometry and you have a decent track tool. Yes, you've got that big, fat, early 1990s fuel tank, and yes, you've got those early 1990s analogue clocks and carburretors, but in no way was the 9R humbled by the other bikes on this test. It's just playing a much more basic game.

Which leaves us, in the middle ground, with the Yamaha R1 and Honda FireBlade. Except in this instance, the middle ground is where you want to be. Let me explain. The R1 and FireBlade look the best of these four, no question. Personally, I think the R1 is the best-looking, although the dark blue colour scheme is a bit dull and the black/silver model looks loads better. The FireBlade in red/black is straight off the racetracks of the USA and is wonderfully petite. The Blade weighs just 168kg, the YZF-R1 174kg. Light weight is good. Both are extremely comfortable to ride over long distances, although the R1's screen is pointlessly low.

And both - this is the really important bit - make 140bhp remarkably easy to access. You can ride the R1 and Blade hard and feel that you're riding them hard without them scaring the shit out of you. On the GSX-R, you were always conscious of opening the throttle and the potentially painful effects of the full highside inflicted upon your thorax. Conversely, Yamaha have gone perhaps a little too far in dumbing-down the R1's previously wild midrange hit. The chassis is markedly better than previous incarnations, but the character of the R1 has been curbed. You could say it's lost a little of its soul.

Which leaves the FireBlade as our winner. Nearly every bit as quick as the GSX-R, but with a less fearsome hit of torque to unsettle the chassis and rider. The chassis is so sorted that Niall was scraping the fairing on the deck and Gus had a massive front-end tuck chasing Niall and still got it back. What that means to us normal people is that you can ride it as hard or slow as you wish, and she'll let you get away with it. The new FireBlade is one of those bikes that manages to transcend the sum total of its parts and become something really rather special, certainly more special than previous FireBlade incarnations before it, and the most complete - and desirable - bike in this test. I'll leave the final word to Niall.

"All the bikes here really dug in. On the circuit they were all much closer than I thought they'd be, and on the road they were sheer magic. We're all keen on the FireBlade and as an all-rounder that was the best one - got a bit of everything and it's not going to kill you either. After that, the bike you buy will be more down to brand loyalty and style preference than anything else. A proper bunch of serious tools, this lot."

And that's a fact.

GUS'S SECOND OPINION

YAMAHA YZF-R1

The all new R1 doesn't feel that new to me really. I mean that in a good way because I still like the old model. New fuel injection makes power much more smooth and linear, giving good drive getting on the gas mid-corner. Personally I would jack-up the rear to make it steer a bit faster. Buy the silver and black one -looks mean and about 100mph faster.

SUZUKI GSX-R1000

Beware of the beast! Just blipping the throttle sends shivers up your spine. It barks at you like a big vicious dog. Give it maximum respect, everytime I ride one surprises me how extremely powerful that motor is for a stock roadbike. The GSX-R is still way ahead of the game in the power figures, but it could do with a bit more power on the front brakes.

HONDA CBR954 FireBlade

This was the one for me, ta very much. Feels half the weight and much less cumbersome than the others. Handling was just so easy-going, and not tiring on the rider, nothing seemed like hard work. Easy riding position, awesome brakes, and watchout GSX-R thou' because it's only a handful of bhps behind now thanks to a few more healthy cubes in those bores. A very sharp, nice-looking motorbike indeed.

KAWASAKI ZX-9R

Brakes are much better thanks to the new design four pot calipers. Although it was much lower on the Dyno figures than the others it never showed it around Rockingham circuit. Easy to use power, and along with our suspension mods very surprisingly kept the big K snapping at the end cans of its competitors. Takes a lot more effort to muscle about around the circuit compared to the others.

SPECS - HONDA

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £8695

ENGINE CAPACITY - 954cc

POWER - 146bhp@11,050rpm

TORQUE - 76lb.ft@8835rpm

WEIGHT - 168kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - N/A

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

SPECS - KAWASAKI

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £7995

ENGINE CAPACITY - 899cc

POWER - 130bhp@10,200rpm

TORQUE - 69.4lb.ft@9200rpm

WEIGHT - 186kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 827mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - N/A

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

SPECS - SUZUKI

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £8999

ENGINE CAPACITY - 988cc

POWER - 149bhp@10,600rpm

TORQUE - 80lb.ft@8100rpm

WEIGHT - 170kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 840mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - N/A

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

SPECS - YAMAHA

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £8899

ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc

POWER - 143.7bhp@10,900rpm

TORQUE - 78.8lb.ft@8200rpm

WEIGHT - 174kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - N/A

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

Doesn't matter how many times you say "smaller bikes are more fun because you can thrash them harder," or "I'm getting bored of the latest supersports thing to come out of Japan - they're all the same." You know deep inside that you're talking utter bollocks. You may say these things, you may even mean them at the time, but your first ride on the new FireBlade, R1 or GSX-R1000 is enough to shut your cake-hole for another six months.

Big-bore sportsbikes are the Big Lick, they sit at the head of the motorcycling table and are waited on hand and foot, and for 2002 they are (surprise) better than ever before.

Last year, the GSX-R1000 was quite rightfully crowned the new boss. Unspeakably powerful and with a totally sorted chassis, it ran rings round the opposition. Before that, the Yamaha R1 ruled the roost. It, in turn, stole the limelight from the FireBlade before it, who spent far too long in the top slot despite repeated efforts from Kawasaki's ZX-9R to dislodge it.

So you see, these four bikes are old adversaries. They've been slashing at each others' throats for bloody years now. Some years it's easier than others, but 2002 is going to be a bitch. This new crop is good.

It's not about outright power anymore, that's for sure. Infact, it's quite possible that the GSX-R1000 will remain the most outlandishly brutal sportsbike that we'll see for a long while. Yamaha and Honda had a long, hard look at the internals of the GSX-R, you can bet your bottom dollar on that, and decided that finely-tuned chassis, suspension and overall riding finesse were the way to go, not sheer power. Honda hiked the capacity of their FireBlade from 929cc to 954cc for good measure, but the FireBlade and R1 are both tweaked as 'total packages', not just horsepower-laden super-missiles.

Even the Kawasaki ZX-9R has been properly tweaked for 2002. Using the lessons learnt from the launch last issue, Gus and myself spent 30 minutes a couple of days before the test slamming the front end of the 9R and jacking the back-end up (see handling caption for details) so it could meet the onslaught of its more, er, developed competition in a fairer light. In the end the big Kawasaki did far better than any of us could have imagined on the road and track.

Riding-wise, obviously we needed heaps of road-riding and a hardcore racetrack. Rockingham Raceway near Corby offered the use of their full National Circuit for the day. Job on. It's 1.7 miles of fast, very technical track that sees these bikes topping out in 4th gear, sadly not taking in the speed banking at Rockingham, but with everything from a flat-out right-left chicane and a hairpin that seemingly goes on forever, the Rockingham circuit was an excellent test of the four bike's circuit manners. And even the pit garages were gleaming and smelt of fresh paint - a class facility.

With riding talent ranging from ex-GP god Niall Mackenzie and ex-production Champion Gus Scott, down to farty old wobblers like Wozza and myself, every aspect of every bike would get a proper look-in. Let's get it on!

Click to read the Yamaha YZF-R1 review

Follow Visordown

Competitions

Latest News

Latest Features

Latest Bike Reviews

Crash Media Group
Visordown is part of the CMG Full Throttle Network© : welcoming over 3 million consumers each month