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.
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
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