The boys from TWO give the big four's litre superbikes a going-over
A few years ago World Superbikes had a problem. For a series that built its reputation on close-fought, hard racing it was becoming a bit, well, dull...
The organisers needed to spice things up a bit, level the playing field and reintroduce the element of excitement and close racing to the series.
Looking back to the the series' roots, namely in hot-rodded road bikes, it was clear what needed doing. The 750cc class, in which WSB's roots were grown, had been all-but abandoned by the manufacturers. The buzz is now around 1000cc fours, so the rules were changed to allow these into the series, instantly spicing up the entry and so increasing spectator interest. Once again you could see your new road bike there on TV being raced around the world.
And to make it even closer all the competitors were now battling on the same brand of tyre. Which was a real leveller. In a corner a bike sticks to the road thanks to two palm-sized contact patches of rubber. If yours are better (or bigger) palms than the competition's then you have a huge advantage. Remove this element and the racing is closer and the net result a better reflection of man and bike. Inspiration for this test.
So to make this the definitive 1000cc group test we arranged exclusive acccess to Dunlop's test facility at Mireval in the South of France and for the track test all the bikes were fitted with identical Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier tyres. The circuit was specifically designed to develop and test tyres and has a huge array of corners and cambers as well as perfect tarmac to put both tyre and bike to the ultimate test. With the rubber variables removed it was purely down to the bike's chassis and motor to impress our testers.
But unlike their race brothers these bikes don't just live on the track, so under the watchful eye of ex-WSB man James Whitham we rode them on the sun-drenched mountain roads of southern France. To the limit, and just a little bit beyond...
FIRST UP, WHAT'S NEW? With Kawasaki's ZX-10R and Honda's Fireblade nothing has changed for 2007, although the Blade does get a set of snazzy gold wheels and a new paint scheme. Last year Honda down-geared its 1000 and tweaked the chassis so this year it's purely colour changes. And it's the same for the Kawasaki. Last year saw an all-new ZX-10R with new frame, steering damper, engine mods and underseat pipes, so 2007 sees a few new stickers on the fairing and that's it. The big changes come from Suzuki and Yamaha.
Despite looking the same, the R1 has a whole host of modifications for 2007. I'll try and keep it brief. The engine now has four valves per cylinder head rather than five (like Rossi's MotoGP bike), it has R6-style fly-by-wire throttle, electronically operated intake funnels, a revised chassis, new brakes and a tweaked gearbox that comes with a slipper clutch as standard. So don't let the look lure you into thinking it's only a small tweak, Yamaha has thoroughly gone over the R1 and repositioned its target - but more of that later.
The GSX-R1000 has also enjoyed a major re-think. It didn't really need a redesign but Suzuki gave it one anyway. For 2007 the GSX-R gets some chassis changes, an electronic steering damper, new look, engine tweak and a new gizmo - for the first time on a production sportsbike the GSX-R1000 comes with the ability to switch to change engine mapping parameters - just like a full-on race bike. This, to be honest, is just another gadget to play with rather than concentrating on where you are actually going.
So, with all the bikes on the same Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier tyres, and an empty track at our disposal we set about the track comparison. Will the road bikes mimic the success of their race brothers?
Continue for the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade Review - 2/6
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