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Traffic Light GP - motorcycle launch control

We all do it. Even if we don’t admit it. Traffic light racing. Silly and purile maybe, but when another bikes lines up alongside and the lights turn green, you going to just let him go? How to do it. And the best bikes to do it on...

Anyone that has ever pulled up at a set of lights on a motorbike has experienced the feeling. Acceleration. It’s what bikes were made for. There’s someone next to you with the same idea. I’m gonna beat you. Whether you care to admit it or not, we all race away from traffic lights. Even if you decide not to get involved, you secretly knew you could beat that rider over there. As such, you’re still involved. There’s a genuine rush to be had from tramping away first from a set of lights, but why do we enjoy it? We spoke to Martin Poole from Pro Performance, a sports science consultancy. Martin has helped top level racers conquer their pschyological barriers, so he was the perfect person to explain why we race.

“That genuine rush that you seek is called ephinerine, also known as adrenaline,” he says. “It’s a chemical produced by your body that prepares you for action. Oxygen flow to the brain is increased, your heart rate quickens and your pupils dilate. It’s commonly referred to as ‘Fight or Flight.’” And that’s what you’re doing when you get the butterflies at the lights when someone else pulls alongside. Are you going to fight him, or roll over and let him win?

“Whether you win or lose you will want more,” continues Martin. “Beat someone from the lights and your body will start to associate the feel-good-feeling because you got the adrenaline, and it will send you out to look for more. Get beaten and your body will forge a link between adrenaline and the need to compete to try and feel the feeling again. But as you get older your body doesn’t accept the influx of adrenaline in the same way as when you were in your prime.” Which explains why older riders don’t feel the need to race away from every set of lights. You’ve got no juice left in you.

So if you are going to race away from every set of lights like Casey Stoner, best equip yourself with the right hardware. We chose our bikes, and riders, from the cross-section of motorcycling. Representing sheer straightline speed, Kawasaki’s ZZR1400. Proper heavy fast thing. In the sportsbike corner is Honda’s CBR1000, the most technically-advanced Japanese superbike currently available. You want pure muscle? Triumph’s Rocket III has got more guts than most know what to do with, while Suzuki’s daft-looking B-King packs Hayabusa punch. And just to test whether acceleration is all about massive horsepower or more about the rider behind the throttle, we threw in a 675cc Street Triple.

Our test riders are as varied as the bikes themselves. From one of the fastest drag racers in the UK, Steve Venables, to TWO staff and a lad who’s only just learned to ride, we wanted to find out who is quickest on what. Ready? Because the lights just turned amber...

The traffic lighters...

Steve Venables

The best drag racer in the UK. Proper, proper quick off the lights

Simon Bowen

Old hand at riding anything, quicker than he looks. And older

John Hogan

Reasonably experienced, though not as quick as his boots suggest

Ben Cope

Internet legend who would race the wind if nobody else was about

Luke Williams

Only a year road-riding, so by far the least experienced of the lot

Kawasaki ZZR1400

BEST SUITED TO: AGEING HOOLIGANS

0-60mph 4.3 0-100mph 7.1

Max g pulled 2.8

If this were a test of bikes that are quickest between 40 and 170mph there wouldn’t be much point pulling up along side the ZZR. But its problem lies in the fact that it needs to be rolling to get the most out of it. Steve Venables demonstrated this perfectly when he tried to launch it away from the lights for the first time. 8,000rpm and a dumped clutch sent it skywards, shutting the throttle and cracking it back open meant that it had to pull through the fluffy bottom end again before it hit hyper-speed. Full drag-bike technique isn’t the quickest way to launch a roadbike like the ZZR - there’s no lock-up clutch here - but the Kawasaki certainly isn’t the quickest off the line.

Luke (the ink is still wet on his licence) felt too intimidated by the monster Kwak to really give it some while Steve at the other end of the scale was dialling in too much to get it away cleanly. Ben has done a bunch of track days enjoys fast road riding, “I love what this bike represents, it just goes about its business with ruthless efficiency, I could find space for one of these no worries”.

Everyone came back aghast at how quick it was once motoring but how they fluffed the actual process of getting the thing cleanly off the line. Look at the figures between this and the Street Triple: where the Triple got the drop thanks to its ease of use it actually beats the ZZR to 60mph, but the 0-100 time shows how monstrous the ZZR is once it gets into its stride, a full second and a half quicker than the 675!

The ZZR is the easiest to live with out of all these bikes. It’s comfortable, easy to ride at both slow speed and hyper-drive. It doesn’t have the same pace as the B-King off the lights and it doesn’t have the twitchy manners the Blade has in the twisty stuff, but it strikes the perfect balance between the two and for this reason won the vote of the majority of the riders on the test. If you spent some time with one of these and figured out exactly how to get the most out of it you would win pretty much every time away from the lights. Its problem is the B-King is instantly easy to ride regardless of the fact it knocks out 160bhp.

The Newbie Luke Williams

“I wanted the Fireblade to be the best, but I just couldn’t get it away from the lights quick enough. The Rocket surprised me, it wasn’t easy to ride, but it was easy to launch. The Street Triple was the bike I felt the most comfortable on, but it turned out that the B-King was the best for me. The first timed launch I did on it I cheated and launched it in 2nd, I was so worried about it throwing me off the back! Eventually I had a go in 1st and found it wasn’t too bad at all. It felt mental: one minute you are sat doing nothing and within eight seconds you are doing 100mph. The ZZR was super smooth, but I never dialled in enough power to really shift off the line. If I was going to recommend a bike to readers with limited riding experience like me I would say take the Street Triple. But if I was aloud to take one of these home it would be the Fireblade every time.”

Honda Fireblade

BEST SUITED TO: RICH WEEKENDERS

0-60MPH 3.9 0-100MPH 7.4

Max g pulled: 2.3

Being a litre sportsbike instantly qualifies the Blade for anything to do with speed. The problem with living with a bike like the Honda is that at every set of lights you are actually expected to blaze away. It’s a proper Catch 22 bike; if you choose to race and win people will just say it’s because your on a Fireblade, if you choose not to get stuck in you will get laughed at, and more importantly, handed your arse by some geek on a commuter bike.

What makes the Fireblade a fantastic sports bike doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good at fast getaways. The power is fairly non-existent until you’re over 7,000rpm, not ideal if you aren’t playing your ‘A-game’ come green light time. For an ideal launch you want the clutch fully disengaged around 6,000rpm, this should keep the front wheel down and have you moving before you get into the bulk of the power available. Get it wrong and the Blade starts to chew through the clutch, get it really wrong and you will be pointing skyward in an instant. Luke was as happy launching the Blade as Steve. Obviously their times were different but the feedback the Blade gives is plentiful. Jim Bowen loved the Honda. “I was certain until we strapped the timing gear on that this would be in with a chance of being the quickest off the lights, it just feels so capable. I suppose the riding position tricks you into thinking you are going quicker than you are. In one race Steve annihilated me and he was on the Street Triple.”

The Fireblade makes 163bhp @ 11,700rpm, which sounds very healthy, but the reality of this bike isn’t quite as good though. Don’t go for the Blade and expect to be good on it straight away, it’s too focussed and the power tucked away in the folds of a chassis set up for circuits with a riding position that tips the weight bias too far over the rear wheel.

Once in its stride the Fireblade is devastating, but getting it into its stride (which what matters here) is very tricky in comparison to the other bikes here. The Fireblade will flatter the brave and flatten the foolish, so be sure you know which category you fall in before you indulge. Sportsbikes are about controlling power, and the Blade is a perfect example of a sportsbike.

Triumph Rocket III

BEST SUITED TO: VERY FAT PEOPLE

0-60MPH 4.8 0-100MPH 8.6

Max g pulled: 2.2

The mighty Triumph promises a lot in a gig like this. Having a lazy cruiser ride position you never have the worry of flipping it when you give it a big handful from a standstill. If the tyres are cold it will simply spin up, but not in a scary snappy way. The rear tyre understandably struggles to translate so much torque into forward propulsion. Get it right and the Rocket will fly, until you have to change gear. This bike easily has the worst transmission of any ‘modern’ bike. Granted, not every bike has a 2.3 litre engine, but what you gain in acceleration you lose in between gears.

This was the shortest geared bike here, which only compounds the problem. In the average traffic light scrap you will need to change gear at least once, and as soon as you do on the Triumph you’ll throw away any ground gained as you hit a false neutral. You have to be very deliberate and firm on the shift to make the change without graunching. It’s easy to launch though. It doesn’t really matter how many revs you dial in, as it delivers bucket loads of drive. Jim followed Luke through town and wondered why he was going so slowly, until he had a go “That thing handles like a pig, I hate the way it goes from upright to on its side, it really does feel like its fitted with a car tyre.” The high bars are easy to hang off and although it’s huge it is very easy to ride. The Rocket III is the ultimate power cruiser, this is the bike that drew the most attention every time we stopped. It’s easy to see why, you just have to look at it.

Accept the fact that over the first 20 metres you will be on par with pretty much any bike, but once you factor in that gearbox you handicap yourself. It’s a shame, but in a nice way it was gratifying to see it being nailed by all the other bikes. The Rocket says ‘I’m huge don’t mess with me’ but the reality is it’s a little too agricultural for no-holds traffic light dust-ups.

The Old Hand Jim Bowen
“Ranking the bikes in reverse order they come out like this:

Rocket III: The Triumph is too big and hefty to thrill. It’s not hard to launch but its bulk, engine note and low revs means that however precise the take-off, it feels slow and cumbersome. Which is to be expected.

Fireblade: This might come as a surprise, as the Honda is very light and powerful but needs a lot of revs and accurate clutch control to get it off the line and into the power without ending up on your spine.

ZZR1400: An almost sublime experience presented by a sweet balance of weight and horsepower, but ultimately too peaky for such a large motor and takes a while to lift up its skirt and get going.

Street Triple: Get it right and the Triumph absolutely flies to 60mph with a giant grin factor thrown in. It’s the least powerful here, but it’s also short and light and not remotely intimidating. Amazing little bike.

B-King: It’s huge, heavy, very powerful and looks very intimidating but it’s also very fast, totally exhilarating and surprisingly easy to launch effectively. The Suzuki motor is creamy smooth and comes with plenty of low-down grunt so doesn’t require crazy revs or a professional right hand to get it right. It’s blisteringly fast but that bulk means that it won’t flip itself in all the excitement. Top marks.”

Suzuki B-King

BEST SUITED TO: FAST BLIND PEOPLE

0-60MPH 3.1 0-100MPH 7.3

Max g pulled 2.6

The Suzuki B-King is the absolute daddy at launching. The focus is on straight-line speed from the outset, and where all the other bikes here make compromises to be good at straight-line action, the B-King makes its compromises in every other area. It doesn’t like going round corners, it doesn’t like chugging round town and if you took this bike to a track day it would try and kill you. There’s so much weight over the front it spins the back tyre up exiting roundabouts, let alone Druids.

You line the B-King up at a set of lights though and everything becomes clear. Power, huge linear useable power, is available from tick over, the riding position is classic sit up and beg, the bars wide and your view of the road ahead natural. Where you crane your neck slightly on the ZZR, you sit like a tank commander on the Suzuki. Watching Steve launch the B-King was amazing. Hanging over the front he wound it up to way past what the average road rider would be comfortable with and just dumped the clutch. He was moderating the wheel spin rather than letting it hook up and wheelie. But what made the Suzuki stand out was the fact that everyone went fast on it. Regardless of who was on it the Suzuki nearly always beat the other bike. Luke, who had the least experience of all the testers here, beat everyone on every bike apart from the ZZR.

Even if you get it slightly wrong you just have to shut the throttle and start again and it still reels in the competition. I loved the B-King but didn’t like the feel of the steering, if you jumped from any of the other bikes onto the Suzuki it felt like the front tyre was flat, there’s so much weight on it. You get used to it though, unlike the acceleration, which you can never tire of. As long as the road is straight enough you WILL beat any standard bike on the road.

Those plastic pipes do look unbelievably stupid, which explains poor sales figures. “If you haven’t ridden one your opinion on how it looks will be really strong, after you’ve had a go you won’t really care,” opined a slightly shakey Luke after his first go. You cannot question that the B-King is amazing at what it is intended for. If you own this bike you can ride everywhere safe in the knowledge that you are the Traffic Light King. Bar none.

Triumph Street Triple

BEST SUITED TO: THE SMART RIDER

0-60MPH 4.1 0-100MPH 8.5

Max g pulled 1.9

The tiny Triumph was the surprise package here and in some ways is the perfect traffic light GP bike, being light, having an upright riding position and an unintimidating amount of power. Where it beats other middleweight bikes is by having enough character to be entertaining in other respects of everyday riding. This bike has held its own round Brands GP circuit in the fast group, gone head-to-head with supermoto bikes on B roads in Scotland and handles day-to-day commuting with ease. None of the other bikes here are as capable.

Steve enjoyed launching the diddy Trumpet. “You just dial in 5,000rpm and slip that clutch for all you’re worth.” It picks up the front wheel and propels you forward where most of the other bikes slam the front into the air and force you to shut off. No-one put their faith in it being any good because it was the smallest bike, but in the same way that if you had to pick between a round with Amir Khan or Mike Tyson the outcome would be the same. The Street Triple was the one that most people were happy to get a little too cocky with. This is down to the fact that it doesn’t feel as threatening. This is the bike that will catch out the average sports bike rider at the lights, it howls away from the line, letting everyone know that you are really going for it with its distinctive, addictive three pot motor. Steve enjoyed giving it a pasting but doesn’t want to own one, “It makes you feel good when you get a good launch on that bike, it just hooks up and buggers off, but it won’t take long to knacker the clutch though.”

The clutch became the Achilles heal, stinking and eventually slipping. If you took it easy on the clutch you didn’t get the drive needed to keep up with the competition, so you have to be ruthless. For this reason the Street Triple impressed everyone but wouldn’t be the bike of choice of racing from the lights should that be an everyday occurrence on your daily commute. Is it?

The Professional racer Steve Venables

Steve Venables is the fastest street based bike drag racing rider in the UK. His list of achievements includes running the first seven-second quarter mile time outside the USA. So he is more than qualified to speak as an expert when it comes to launching a bike properly:

“Get your weight over the front, keep your left foot on the floor and rest your right foot on the brake to prevent the bike creeping. Depending on where your bike makes the most power will dictate where you set the revs, between four and seven thousand revs is where most road bikes are happiest. Fix your vision on the horizon with the light in the corner of your eye, use the horizon line as a gauge for how high the front lifts when you’re on the gas. A good street rider should never see a green traffic light. Build and hold the revs on red, let the clutch drag and hold the bike stationary on the rear brake, when the light goes to amber get the clutch out as fast as possible and feed in all your revs. The perfect launch doesn’t always need two wheels on the floor, you need drive, which comes from the rear. If the front is a couple of inches from the floor don’t worry, if it’s going to come up too high it will do so straight away, by then you’ve blown it. If your bike bogs you need more revs, try to use as little clutch as possible or you will knacker your bike.”

Conclusion:

Sometimes less is more, but in this case more is better. However, the Triumph Street Triple definitely punches above its weight. Light weight and useable power mean that you don’t need a stack of experience to get the most from the Triple, but you will need a stack of clutches as ultimately you have to thrash it a bit to stay in front.

The Fireblade is an amazing bike, but its dynamic is focussed on going fast everywhere rather than just in a straight line. For a litre bike it has a vast amount of power at the bottom end, though not enough in this company. Easy to ride? Definitely. Easy to launch hard? No, not really.
The Rocket could have been a contender, but the gearbox lets it down. The fear of flipping isn’t an issue when launching hard, the fear of wearing your left foot out trying to get it into the next gear is. The harder you try to shift the more it protests. Treat the gearbox with respect and it will work for you. It’s incredibly fast for a cruiser, incredibly fast full stop, but just having a huge engine won’t do in this competition.

The ZZR is monumentally fast, and as a complete package I would be happy to ride one of these every day. But accessibility of the power is why the B-King pips the mighty Kawasaki. The drive isn’t easy to get at, and if you over-rev it off the line it wheelies too easily. Shame. This just leaves the Suzuki, the perfect TLGP tool. The riding position is ideal for quick getaways, the gearing is spot-on and the power relentless. Lookswise it lets everybody know that it’s special (yes, special needs - JC) thankfully it can back it up. Everybody on this test agreed that the B-King was the boss, if you ever find yourself next to one at a set of lights, give the rider the nod and give him a wide berth. He could open a can of whoop-ass on you.

MODEL SPECS

KAWASAKI ZZR1400

PRICE: £8,995

ENGINE: 1,352cc liquid cooled inline four

POWER: 190bhp @7,500

TORQUE: 113lb.ft @7,500

DRY WEIGHT: 224kg

TOP SPEED: 186mph

TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING: 4/5

HONDA FIREBLADE

PRICE: £9,200

ENGINE: 999cc liquid cooled inline four

POWER: 163bhp@11,700rpm

TORQUE: 76lb.ft @8,700

DRY WEIGHT: 199kg (C)

TOP SPEED: 182mph

TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING: 3/5

TRIUMPH ROCKET III

PRICE: £11,999

ENGINE: 2,294cc liquid cooled inline triple

POWER: 140bhp @4,600rpm

TORQUE: 147lb.ft @2,500rpm

DRY WEIGHT: 299kg (C)

TOP SPEED: 129mph

TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING: 2/5

SUZUKI B-KING

PRICE: £9,000

ENGINE: 1,352cc liquid cooled inline four

POWER: 155bhp @8,800rpm

TORQUE: 100lb.ft @6,200

DRY WEIGHT: 279kg

TOP SPEED: 158mph

TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING: 5/5

TRIUMPH STREET TRIPLE

PRICE: £5,349

ENGINE: 675cc liquid cooled inline triple

POWER: 94bhp @ 11,500

TORQUE: 51lb.ft @9,100

DRY WEIGHT: 167kg

TOP SPEED: 133mph

TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING: 4/5

Anyone that has ever pulled up at a set of lights on a motorbike has experienced the feeling. Acceleration. It’s what bikes were made for. There’s someone next to you with the same idea. I’m gonna beat you. Whether you care to admit it or not, we all race away from traffic lights. Even if you decide not to get involved, you secretly knew you could beat that rider over there. As such, you’re still involved. There’s a genuine rush to be had from tramping away first from a set of lights, but why do we enjoy it? We spoke to Martin Poole from Pro Performance, a sports science consultancy. Martin has helped top level racers conquer their pschyological barriers, so he was the perfect person to explain why we race.

 “That genuine rush that you seek is called ephinerine, also known as adrenaline,” he says. “It’s a chemical produced by your body that prepares you for action. Oxygen flow to the brain is increased, your heart rate quickens and your pupils dilate. It’s commonly referred to as ‘Fight or Flight.’” And that’s what you’re doing when you get the butterflies at the lights when someone else pulls alongside. Are you going to fight him, or roll over and let him win?

“Whether you win or lose you will want more,”  continues Martin. “Beat someone from the lights and your body will start to associate the feel-good-feeling because you got the adrenaline, and it will send you out to look for more. Get beaten and your body will forge a link between adrenaline and the need to compete to try and feel the feeling again. But as you get older your body doesn’t accept the influx of adrenaline in the same way as when you were in your prime.”  Which explains why older riders don’t feel the need to race away from every set of lights. You’ve got no juice left in you.

So if you are going to race away from every set of lights like Casey Stoner, best equip yourself with the right hardware. We chose our bikes, and riders, from the cross-section of motorcycling. Representing sheer straightline speed, Kawasaki’s ZZR1400. Proper heavy fast thing. In the sportsbike corner is Honda’s CBR1000, the most technically-advanced Japanese superbike currently available. You want pure muscle? Triumph’s Rocket III has got more guts than most know what to do with, while Suzuki’s daft-looking B-King packs Hayabusa punch. And just to test whether acceleration is all about massive horsepower or more about the rider behind the throttle, we threw in a 675cc Street Triple.

Our test riders are as varied as the bikes themselves. From one of the fastest drag racers in the UK, Steve Venables, to staff and a lad who’s only just learned to ride, we wanted to find out who is quickest on what. Ready? Because the lights just turned amber...

The traffic lighters...

Steve Venables The best drag racer in the UK. Proper, proper quick off the lights

Simon Bowen Old hand at riding anything, quicker than he looks. And older

John Hogan Reasonably experienced, though not as quick as his boots suggest

Ben Cope Internet legend who would race the wind if nobody else was about

Luke Williams Only a year road-riding, so by far the least experienced of the lot

Kawasaki ZZR1400

Kawasaki ZZR1400

BEST SUITED TO: AGEING HOOLIGANS

0-60mph 4.3 0-100mph 7.1

Max G pulled 2.8

If this were a test of bikes that are quickest between 40 and 170mph there wouldn’t be much point pulling up along side the ZZR. But its problem lies in the fact that it needs to be rolling to get the most out of it. Steve Venables demonstrated this perfectly when he tried to launch it away from the lights for the first time. 8,000rpm and a dumped clutch sent it skywards, shutting the throttle and cracking it back open meant that it had to pull through the fluffy bottom end again before it hit hyper-speed.  Full drag-bike technique isn’t the quickest way to launch a roadbike like the ZZR - there’s no lock-up clutch here - but the Kawasaki certainly isn’t the quickest off the line.

Luke (the ink is still wet on his licence) felt too intimidated by the monster Kwak to really give it some while Steve at the other end of the scale was dialling in too much to get it away cleanly. Ben has done a bunch of track days enjoys fast road riding, “ I love what this bike represents, it just goes about its business with ruthless efficiency, I could find space for one of these no worries”. Everyone came back aghast at how quick it was once motoring but how they fluffed the actual process of getting the thing cleanly off the line. Look at the figures between this and the Street Triple: where the Triple got the drop thanks to its ease of use it actually beats the ZZR to 60mph, but the 0-100 time shows how monstrous the ZZR is once it gets into its stride, a full second and a half quicker than the 675!

The ZZR is the easiest to live with out of all these bikes. It’s comfortable, easy to ride at both slow speed and hyper-drive. It doesn’t have the same pace as the B-King off the lights and it doesn’t have the twitchy manners the Blade has in the twisty stuff, but it strikes the perfect balance between the two and for this reason won the vote of the majority of the riders on the test. If you spent some time with one of these and figured out exactly how to get the most out of it you would win pretty much every time away from the lights. Its problem is the B-King is instantly easy to ride regardless of the fact it knocks out 160bhp.

The Newbie Luke Williams

“I wanted the Fireblade to be the best, but I just couldn’t get it away from the lights quick enough. The Rocket surprised me, it wasn’t easy to ride, but it was easy to launch. The Street Triple was the bike I felt the most comfortable on, but it turned out that the B-King was the best for me. The first timed launch I did on it I cheated and launched it in 2nd, I was so worried about it throwing me off the back! Eventually I had a go in 1st and found it wasn’t too bad at all. It felt mental: one minute you are sat doing nothing and within eight seconds you are doing 100mph. The ZZR was super smooth, but I never dialled in enough power to really shift off the line. If I was going to recommend a bike to readers with limited riding experience like me I would say take the Street Triple. But if I was aloud to take one of these home it would be the Fireblade every time.”

Honda Fireblade

Honda Fireblade

BEST SUITED TO: RICH WEEKENDERS

0-60MPH 3.9 0-100MPH 7.4

Max G pulled: 2.3

Being a litre sportsbike instantly qualifies the Blade for anything to do with speed. The problem with living with a bike like the Honda is that at every set of lights you are actually expected to blaze away. It’s a proper Catch 22 bike; if you choose to race and win people will just say it’s because your on a Fireblade, if you choose not to get stuck in you will get laughed at, and more importantly, handed your arse by some geek on a commuter bike.

What makes the Fireblade a fantastic sports bike doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good at fast getaways. The power is fairly non-existent until you’re over 7,000rpm, not ideal if you aren’t playing your ‘A-game’ come green light time. For an ideal launch you want the clutch fully disengaged around 6,000rpm, this should keep the front wheel down and have you moving before you get into the bulk of the power available. Get it wrong and the Blade starts to chew through the clutch, get it really wrong and you will be pointing skyward in an instant. Luke was as happy launching the Blade as Steve. Obviously their times were different but the feedback the Blade gives is plentiful. Jim Bowen loved the Honda. “I was certain until we strapped the timing gear on that this would be in with a chance of being the quickest off the lights, it just feels so capable. I suppose the riding position tricks you into thinking you are going quicker than you are. In one race Steve annihilated me and he was on the Street Triple.”

The Fireblade makes 163bhp @ 11,700rpm, which sounds very healthy, but the reality of this bike isn’t quite as good though. Don’t go for the Blade and expect to be good on it straight away, it’s too focussed and the power tucked away in the folds of a chassis set up for circuits with a riding position that tips the weight bias too far over the rear wheel.

Once in its stride the Fireblade is devastating, but getting it into its stride (which what matters here) is very tricky in comparison to the other bikes here. The Fireblade will flatter the brave and flatten the foolish, so be sure you know which category you fall in before you indulge. Sportsbikes are about controlling power, and the Blade is a perfect example of a sportsbike.

Triumph Rocket III

Triumph Rocket III

BEST SUITED TO: VERY FAT PEOPLE

0-60MPH 4.8 0-100MPH 8.6

Max g pulled: 2.2

The mighty Triumph promises a lot in a gig like this. Having a lazy cruiser ride position you never have the worry of flipping it when you give it a big handful from a standstill. If the tyres are cold it will simply spin up, but not in a scary snappy way. The rear tyre understandably struggles to translate so much torque into forward propulsion. Get it right and the Rocket will fly, until you have to change gear. This bike easily has the worst transmission of any ‘modern’ bike. Granted, not every bike has a 2.3 litre engine, but what you gain in acceleration you lose in between gears.

This was the shortest geared bike here, which only compounds the problem. In the average traffic light scrap you will need to change gear at least once, and as soon as you do on the Triumph you’ll throw away any ground gained as you hit a false neutral. You have to be very deliberate and firm on the shift to make the change without graunching. It’s easy to launch though. It doesn’t really matter how many revs you dial in, as it delivers bucket loads of drive. Jim followed Luke through town and wondered why he was going so slowly, until he had a go “That thing handles like a pig, I hate the way it goes from upright to on its side, it really does feel like its fitted with a car tyre.” The high bars are easy to hang off and although it’s huge it is very easy to ride. The Rocket III is the ultimate power cruiser, this is the bike that drew the most attention every time we stopped. It’s easy to see why, you just have to look at it.

Accept the fact that over the first 20 metres you will be on par with pretty much any bike, but once you factor in that gearbox you handicap yourself. It’s a shame, but in a nice way it was gratifying to see it being nailed by all the other bikes. The Rocket says ‘I’m huge don’t mess with me’ but the reality is it’s a little too agricultural for no-holds traffic light dust-ups.

The Old Hand Jim Bowen

“Ranking the bikes in reverse order they come out like this:

Rocket III: The Triumph is too big and hefty to thrill. It’s not hard to launch but its bulk, engine note and low revs means that however precise the take-off, it feels slow and cumbersome. Which is to be expected.

Fireblade: This might come as a surprise, as the Honda is very light and powerful but needs a lot of revs and accurate clutch control to get it off the line and into the power without ending up on your spine.

ZZR1400: An almost sublime experience presented by a sweet balance of weight and horsepower, but ultimately too peaky for such a large motor and takes a while to lift up its skirt and get going.

Street Triple: Get it right and the Triumph absolutely flies to 60mph with a giant grin factor thrown in. It’s the least powerful here, but it’s also short and light and not remotely intimidating. Amazing little bike.

B-King: It’s huge, heavy, very powerful and looks very intimidating but it’s also very fast, totally exhilarating and surprisingly easy to launch effectively. The Suzuki motor is creamy smooth and comes with plenty of low-down grunt so doesn’t require crazy revs or a professional right hand to get it right. It’s blisteringly fast but that bulk means that it won’t flip itself in all the excitement. Top marks.”

Suzuki B-King

Suzuki B-King

BEST SUITED TO: FAST BLIND PEOPLE

0-60MPH 3.1 0-100MPH 7.3

Max g pulled 2.6

The Suzuki B-King is the absolute daddy at launching. The focus is on straight-line speed from the outset, and where all the other bikes here make compromises to be good at straight-line action, the B-King makes its compromises in every other area. It doesn’t like going round corners, it doesn’t like chugging round town and if you took this bike to a track day it would try and kill you. There’s so much weight over the front it spins the back tyre up exiting roundabouts, let alone Druids.

You line the B-King up at a set of lights though and everything becomes clear. Power, huge linear useable power, is available from tick over, the riding position is classic sit up and beg, the bars wide and your view of the road ahead natural. Where you crane your neck slightly on the ZZR, you sit like a tank commander on the Suzuki. Watching Steve launch the B-King was amazing. Hanging over the front he wound it up to way past what the average road rider would be comfortable with and just dumped the clutch. He was moderating the wheel spin rather than letting it hook up and wheelie. But what made the Suzuki stand out was the fact that everyone went fast on it. Regardless of who was on it the Suzuki nearly always beat the other bike. Luke, who had the least experience of all the testers here, beat everyone on every bike apart from the ZZR.

Even if you get it slightly wrong you just have to shut the throttle and start again and it still reels in the competition. I loved the B-King but didn’t like the feel of the steering, if you jumped from any of the other bikes onto the Suzuki it felt like the front tyre was flat, there’s so much weight on it. You get used to it though, unlike the acceleration, which you can never tire of. As long as the road is straight enough you WILL beat any standard bike on the road.

Those plastic pipes do look unbelievably stupid, which explains poor sales figures. “If you haven’t ridden one your opinion on how it looks will be really strong, after you’ve had a go you won’t really care,” opined a slightly shakey Luke after his first go. You cannot question that the B-King is amazing at what it is intended for. If you own this bike you can ride everywhere safe in the knowledge that you are the Traffic Light King. Bar none.

Triumph Street Triple

Triumph Street Triple

BEST SUITED TO: THE SMART RIDER

0-60MPH 4.1 0-100MPH 8.5

Max g pulled 1.9

The tiny Triumph was the surprise package here and in some ways is the perfect traffic light GP bike, being light, having an upright riding position and an unintimidating amount of power. Where it beats other middleweight bikes is by having enough character to be entertaining in other respects of everyday riding. This bike has held its own round Brands GP circuit in the fast group, gone head-to-head with supermoto bikes on B roads in Scotland and handles day-to-day commuting with ease. None of the other bikes here are as capable.

Steve enjoyed launching the diddy Trumpet. “You just dial in 5,000rpm and slip that clutch for all you’re worth.” It picks up the front wheel and propels you forward where most of the other bikes slam the front into the air and force you to shut off. No-one put their faith in it being any good because it was the smallest bike, but in the same way that if you had to pick between a round with Amir Khan or Mike Tyson the outcome would be the same. The Street Triple was the one that most people were happy to get a little too cocky with. This is down to the fact that it doesn’t feel as threatening. This is the bike that will catch out the average sports bike rider at the lights, it howls away from the line, letting everyone know that you are really going for it with its distinctive, addictive three pot motor. Steve enjoyed giving it a pasting but doesn’t want to own one, “It makes you feel good when you get a good launch on that bike, it just hooks up and buggers off, but it won’t take long to knacker the clutch though.”

The clutch became the Achilles heal, stinking and eventually slipping. If you took it easy on the clutch you didn’t get the drive needed to keep up with the competition, so you have to be ruthless. For this reason the Street Triple impressed everyone but wouldn’t be the bike of choice of racing from the lights should that be an everyday occurrence on your daily commute. Is it?

The Professional racer Steve Venables

Steve Venables is the fastest street based bike drag racing rider in the UK. His list of achievements includes running the first seven-second quarter mile time outside the USA. So he is more than qualified to speak as an expert when it comes to launching a bike properly:

“Get your weight over the front, keep your left foot on the floor and rest your right foot on the brake to prevent the bike creeping. Depending on where your bike makes the most power will dictate where you set the revs, between four and seven thousand revs is where most road bikes are happiest. Fix your vision on the horizon with the light in the corner of your eye, use the horizon line as a gauge for how high the front lifts when you’re on the gas. A good street rider should never see a green traffic light. Build and hold the revs on red, let the clutch drag and hold the bike stationary on the rear brake, when the light goes to amber get the clutch out as fast as possible and feed in all your revs. The perfect launch doesn’t always need two wheels on the floor, you need drive, which comes from the rear. If the front is a couple of inches from the floor don’t worry, if it’s going to come up too high it will do so straight away, by then you’ve blown it. If your bike bogs you need more revs, try to use as little clutch as possible or you will knacker your bike.”

Conclusion

Conclusion:

Sometimes less is more, but in this case more is better. However, the Triumph Street Triple definitely punches above its weight. Light weight and useable power mean that you don’t need a stack of experience to get the most from the Triple, but you will need a stack of clutches as ultimately you have to thrash it a bit to stay in front.

The Fireblade is an amazing bike, but its dynamic is focussed on going fast everywhere rather than just in a straight line. For a litre bike it has a vast amount of power at the bottom end, though not enough in this company. Easy to ride? Definitely. Easy to launch hard? No, not really.

The Rocket could have been a contender, but the gearbox lets it down. The fear of flipping isn’t an issue when launching hard, the fear of wearing your left foot out trying to get it into the next gear is. The harder you try to shift the more it protests. Treat the gearbox with respect and it will work for you. It’s incredibly fast for a cruiser, incredibly fast full stop, but just having a huge engine won’t do in this competition.

The ZZR is monumentally fast, and as a complete package I would be happy to ride one of these every day. But accessibility of the power is why the B-King pips the mighty Kawasaki. The drive isn’t easy to get at, and if you over-rev it off the line it wheelies too easily. Shame. This just leaves the Suzuki, the perfect TLGP tool. The riding position is ideal for quick getaways, the gearing is spot-on and the power relentless. Lookswise it lets everybody know that it’s special (yes, special needs - JC) thankfully it can back it up. Everybody on this test agreed that the B-King was the boss, if you ever find yourself next to one at a set of lights, give the rider the nod and give him a wide berth. He could open a can of whoop-ass on you.

MODEL SPECS

KAWASAKI ZZR1400

PRICE: £8,995
ENGINE:
1,352cc liquid cooled inline four
POWER:
190bhp @7,500
TORQUE:
113lb.ft @7,500
DRY WEIGHT:
224kg
TOP SPEED:
186mph
TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING:
4/5

HONDA FIREBLADE

PRICE: £9,200
ENGINE:
999cc liquid cooled inline four
POWER:
163bhp@11,700rpm
TORQUE:
76lb.ft @8,700
DRY WEIGHT:
199kg (C)
TOP SPEED:
182mph
TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING:
3/5

TRIUMPH ROCKET III

PRICE: £11,999
ENGINE:
2,294cc liquid cooled  inline triple
POWER:
140bhp @4,600rpm
TORQUE:
147lb.ft @2,500rpm
DRY WEIGHT:
299kg (C)
TOP SPEED:
129mph
TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING:
2/5

SUZUKI B-KING

PRICE: £9,000
ENGINE:
1,352cc liquid cooled inline four
POWER:
155bhp @8,800rpm
TORQUE:
100lb.ft @6,200
DRY WEIGHT:
279kg
TOP SPEED:
158mph
TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING:
5/5

TRIUMPH STREET TRIPLE

PRICE: £5,349
ENGINE:
675cc liquid cooled inline triple
POWER:
94bhp @ 11,500
TORQUE:
51lb.ft @9,100
DRY WEIGHT:
167kg
TOP SPEED:
133mph
TRAFFIC LIGHT RATING:
4/5