Pics: Bonnie Lane
CAN YOU ever have too much of a good thing? Sitting at my desk now, after one of the most amazing bike tests I’ve ever done, I’m really not sure. We set out for a two-day, seven-bike, £150k, 1300bhp, road-and-track extravaganza, on the two hottest days of the year so far, with the hottest superbikes you can buy.
From the Suzuki GSX-R1000R, Yamaha R1M, Honda Fireblade SP and Kawasaki ZX-10R SE, through BMW’s S1000RR, to the Aprilia RSV4 RF and Ducati Panigale V4S, it’s fair to say we’d gone large on bike choice. A day at Donington’s legendary MotoGP-spec track, plus a day on some of the best riding roads in England, together with dyno runs, feverish spec scanning and tech investigations was the spec for the test, with a wide range of riders – track novice to national-level superstock racers.
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And we’d booked the weather too. Sadly, the climate gods were feeling too generous – and ladled out blazing tropical sunshine all week. As the mercury hit 32 degrees across the Midlands, our test bounced off the redline – human and mechanical – before giving us some really interesting insights into this incredible class of motorcycles.
Sportsbikes aren’t as popular as they once were of course – loads of folk have moved away to adventure and naked bikes. But fair play to the manufacturers – they’ve not given up on them, in 1,000cc form at least. The various demands of global Superbike race series (WSBK, BSB and the like), together with the need for halo products to polish a firm’s tech reputation means everyone from Suzuki to Ducati is still keen to do a solid job here. And the recent advances in high-tech electronics have given them two very important development pathways. Firstly, of course, fitting very high quality rider aids, electronic suspension, quickshifters, advanced traction control and ABS lets riders get even more out of their riding, with wider safety margins. Cunning software layouts, large colour dashboards and user-friendly button interfaces are making it easier than ever to access and change these setups too.
Secondly, it’s become apparent that electronics have allowed engineers to move in ways you might not have expected. I remember years ago, in the days of 500GP two-strokes, reading that the most powerful 500 engine wasn’t Mick Doohan’s Honda NSR500 or the Yamaha YZR500 – it was the Swissauto engine that powered many of the top-class sidecars. The fact there were two humans on board a heavy, three-wheeled chassis with mega-wide rubber meant the tuners didn’t have to give a toss about rideability or progressive power delivery. So a light-switch engine which even Mick Doohan would have struggled to ride round a track on two wheels could be used in the three wheelers.
And now, the electronic rider aids have become so clever that they can replicate this job, to a degree. Meaning that engine designers can build motors which put out even more peak power, and then use the engine management, ride-by-wire throttle and traction control to add controllability back into the package. Then, if Mick Doohan (or equivalent) jumps on the thing, he can turn all that madness up to 11, and have a tyre-smoking ball. Us lesser mortals can dial down the loon-settings accordingly, and make it round a track or down our favourite road in relative safety – yet still with the ultimate performance available at the top end.
Of course, the rest of the tech has also moved on, if maybe not just as far. All the bikes come with top-spec road/track tyres which would, as they say, probably win a WSB race 10-15 years ago. Yet they also warm up quickly and work well on the road. Brakes are mostly by Brembo (only the Yam has different stoppers), and together with the latest in ABS help, give stunning stopping. The firms have long since worked out how to make frames with geometry that work more than well enough for 99 per cent of riders, and even fripperies like colour dashboards, quickshifters, switchgear and the like have all been ratcheted up to another level.
As we left London for our Midlands litrebike odyssey then, I was a little nervous if I’m honest. Have these bikes finally – finally – reached a limit in terms of performance? Would we survive it?
Let’s find out…
Your testers are:
Your humble scribe, who’s been riding and writing about these bikes for nearly 20 years. Loves a dodgy wheelie, not designed for the heat at all.
Legendary northerner has been crashing superbikes since the early 1990s, and is still crazy after all these years. Fine at high temperatures if regularly fed with expensive alcohol
Ex-national Superstock racer and quite handy on a trials bike too. From the sunny south, so thrives in the heat.
Another ex-national superstock racer, and quite handy on any bike. Spends his winters snowboarding, where there’s no heat at all.
Laura’s bringing a younger viewpoint to the litre bikes - there aren't many 23-year-olds who've ridden all these bikes... Does okay in the heat, for a redhead.
Where we went
While you can certainly ride these superbikes anywhere on the road, they’re best sampled in the proper environment of course. That usually means a racetrack – but not just any track. We called the top folks at Focused Events, and bagged a few spots on their Donington Park trackday. A full day at the legendary MotoGP-spec circuit, which also hosts the UK WSBK round was just the job – this is a track with the space to open up even the mega-bhp Ducati, and is a fabulous spot for testing engine and chassis alike.
Most folk spend the majority of their riding time on the road of course – we needed some suitable stretches of Tarmac too. So after Donington Park, we headed south to Market Harborough, and the fabulous roads round there. The B664 to Uppingham is fabulous, and, again, perfect for these bikes. Jumps, straights, corners of all types, and fairly quiet during a sunny weekday too. Truly, we were spoiled…
• Huge thanks to Kevin and Darryl at Focused Events for helping us out at Donington. We’re happy to recommend FE for all your trackday needs, in the UK and abroad. They’ve been doing it for twenty years plus now, and really know their trackday onions. Check them out: www.focusedevents.com
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