Master Bike: 16 athletes on a racetrack comparison

Master Bike: 16 athletes on a racetrack comparison

Today we hit the drum

16 motorcycles, eight drivers, six magazines. Countless lap times, measured values ​​and impressions: MOTORRAD was part of the 1998 mega comparison, which was intended to clarify on Spanish soil and internationally which is the best sports motorcycle under the sun.

Such a thing would never have happened without my Spanish colleagues. MOTORRAD would never have dared to thrash 16 sports motorcycles of various categories around in a circle and then – nothing to me, nothing to you – to choose the athlete of the year based on the lap times alone. A comparison on the racetrack, and only on the racetrack. No pillion rating, no fuel consumption. Neither serviceability nor wind protection.
But the Spaniards are allowed to. Because they write for the Spaniard. Because the fascination of motorcycling on the Iberian Peninsula has a lot to do with a very devilish pace. Because every Spanish motorcyclist has a little Sito Pons that has practically absorbed the expert handling of 90 degrees inclination with the breast milk and doesn’t give a damn about the everyday suitability of a super athlete.
“Just come down and join in. The more magazines, the better. This increases the value, the objectivity of the event. Sweden, Norway and Italy have also agreed. "Augusto Moreno from Carlos, editor-in-chief of the magazine MOTOCICLISMO and initiator of the »Master Bike 1998«, had not yet hung up the phone in his Madrid office when Gerhard Lindner, test chief at MOTORRAD, decided: We are on. A decision that sparked heated discussions within the editorial team. But after all, you have to take risks.
Place of the event: The Calafat race track. 150 kilometers south of Barcelona. In a sense, the living room of the colleagues at MOTOCICLISMO. You are on you and you with all the curbs, you know the qualities of the gravel beds and you don’t look at the nearby nuclear power plant more suspiciously than the tapestry at home over the sofa.
Tea conditions are perfect: blue skies, 19 degrees, no wind, great atmosphere. Augusto puts on his most serious face and praises the regulations: »We have four categories – Supersport 600, Superbike two-cylinder, Superbike four-cylinder and Open Class. All pilots drive eight laps per motorcycle: three to get used to, five for a limited period. Then please fill out the points evaluation provided. The best machine from each group makes it to the final or semi-final, which is held between the two Superbike classes. Which is the best machine in each case is calculated from several factors … "
What follows is a highly complicated mathematical formula that cannot be repeated here as it would go beyond the scope of the story. And the good thing about it: you don’t have to understand it at all. The bottom line is that nothing else comes out than: best time = final.
"Shit. The 748 SPS, of all things," hisses Pere Casas, test manager at MOTOCICLISMO, who has just learned that he has to do his first turn on the Ducati. At nine in the morning, cold as an adder, do eight laps in push-ups – he’s too old for that. "How am I supposed to spend a reasonable amount of time there?"
"And don’t forget: It’s not a race," Augusto ends his remarks and earns roaring laughter. Of course it’s a race. When six European motorcycle magazines send out their fastest test riders, it’s racing. “Believe me, Calafat will turn into a mega pinball machine over the next three days. They’ll roll around here as if they had no more relative. ”With these words Markus Jahn snaps his camera to take a position in the so-called sea curve. One of the key points on the winding race course. Experience shows that this is where it cracks first.
Not this time. The first crash occurs in the slow right, after which it goes towards the home straight. Barely an hour after the starting shot, Fernando Cristóbal elegantly breaks away from the Ducati 748 SPS to take over the yellow beauty of the Catalan landscape. Fortunately, the Spanish Great sports runner-up remains unharmed.
Less than five minutes later, the PLC is up and running again. Nothing has been left to chance here. Each brand is looked after by a mechanic from the official importer throughout the test.
Back on track, Fernando burns a lap time into the asphalt with the 748 that has washed itself: 1.35.95. As if nothing had happened. So the Ducati should have made the race in the 600s. Not correct. At the very end, Gerhard Lindner passes by on the ZX-6R. Besides him, three other riders set their personal best with the Kawasaki. The Ducati combines only two best times, as does the GSX-R 600.
The duel between the two-cylinder superbikes that degenerated into the Japanese Waterloo went without incident. The Ducati 916 SPS shows completely irreverently who is the boss in the Vau-Zwo business, degrades both the Honda VTR and the Suzuki TL 1000 S to bloody beginners and qualifies for the semi-final.
"What is that?" Markus widened his eyes to the size of a plate. Behind the tool shed, which hides the view of one of the chicanes, a huge plume of dust billows out. "That was counterfeit." With the CBR 900. "I slipped on the alternator cover," he apologizes as he spins into the pit lane. He looks tired. Strained. Like everyone else.
You’re involved with the 750s and the Open Class, have been spinning around the course for two days, and your concentration is slowly decreasing. Less than ten minutes after Gegesch, Dad thrashes into the gravel. A highsider with the ZX-9R. For the first time, the Friends of the Red Cross have to move out.
Findings: Pere is injured in the heel. The ZX-9R also got it hard. The mechanic from Kawasaki Spain squints his eyes critically, examines the break, walks around it once, twice, three times, pulls his hands out of his trouser pockets, lights a butt and says: "It’ll take time."
Compulsory break. Of course, it doesn’t go by unused. Photos have to be taken, tires changed, machines cleaned, refueled, serviced. The task is to set up a new schedule, to check the replacement ZX-9 – if the resurrection tactic of the Kawa mechanic should not work – and to do 117 things. Within seconds, the pit lane bustles like an anthill, while outside on the track four photographers in five different languages ​​try to direct 16 photo drivers. Long live organized chaos.
Sunday March 1, 1998. Third and last day. In the meantime, every Master Bike rider has a good 130 laps under his belt and is somehow fed up. "If you had learned something sensible," teased Pepe Burgaleta, responsible for the smooth running of the event. "Come on now, don’t get hung up, after all, there are worse things than making a living riding a motorcycle. "He’s right. Off to the final.
Constellation: Ducati 916 SPS against Kawasaki ZX-9R against Kawasaki ZX-6R. A great day for the Greens. And a lucky one too. Because with a wafer-thin lead and a time of 1.33.69, the ZX-9R wins the 1998 Master Bike tournament.
How did it happen that the times in the final were slower than those in the semi-final? Well, the thing was as follows: at some point the Michelin man ran out of tires. After the 34th set of Race 3, which roughly corresponds to a sum of 20,000 marks, there was a yawning emptiness in his fresh-rubber cell.
PReally, that the bottom was reached just at the time of the finale. Even bigger bad luck that there was no more Race 3 in all of Spain at the same time. The colleagues from MOTOCICLISMO had almost pulled Michelin down to their shirt. So what was left but to fish the best from the pile of already discarded tires in order to send them out again. That a couple of tenths crumbled up – who cares? Don’t forget: It wasn’t a race.

Supersport 600 – brand diversity and a head-to-head race determine the 600 class

Agile, light, fast: The 600 class can expect a real chance against the larger-displacement big bikes on the narrow, winding course of Calafat. But before there can be a direct duel against the big classes, the fastest 600 series has to be driven out. As in the big comparison in MOTORRAD 6/1998, a bitter duel between the Kawasaki ZX-6R and the Suzuki GSX- R 600. And again the Kawasaki has its nose in front when it comes to lap times. It benefits from its fantastic two-finger brake, which makes life easier for all pilots thanks to its perfect controllability and reliability. Another plus point: the chassis. The ZX-6R easily copes with the difficult conditions in Calafat. Brutal bumps in the braking zones, shorts waves in the curve radius, hard heels when accelerating or the critical high-speed bend after the home straight – the Kawasaki can handle it. There is no sign of a stamping fork – unlike in the comparison test in MOTORRAD. According to Kawasaki, this problem should no longer occur in the current series. The motor does the rest: extra strong on the straights, elastic in the winding curves. The Kawasaki formula for fast lap times is made up of these ingredients, beaten by just a few tenths, the Suzuki missed the finals. Although all drivers praise their engine, which is enormously powerful in the middle, and both the ability to rev and top performance are equal to the Kawasaki, the lap times speak against the GSX-R in the end. But she emerges clearly as the moral winner of the 600 duel, as she takes a surprising second place in the evaluation of points (see table on page 25). All eight test drivers attest to their great braking, precise, stable driving behavior, good handling and, last but not least, a sporty seating position. The Ducati 748 SPS once again shows its enormous potential by being able to undercut the Suzuki’s lap time by 13 hundredths. However, this feat can only be achieved by the Spanish racing driver Fernando Cristobal, who has already unwound several kilometers of racing with this machine over the course of his long career. All the others lag behind their best times on the Kawasaki and Suzuki by a good half a second, but still top marks for the Italian chassis, which ironed extremely stiffly and accurately over the undulating slope. A merit of the expensive spring elements, which are perfectly matched for this purpose. Also convincing is the acceleration of the two-cylinder, which ensures powerful, always easily controllable propulsion, especially when accelerating from the slower corners. On the other hand, the 748 loses valuable time in the braking zones. The pressure point of the brakes was too dough, too little feedback when looking for the limit – this is the flaw that Fernando stumbles over when he tries to top his best time again. The front wheel just slips away at the beginning of a slow bend. Not bad, because Duc and Fernando survived the small incident unscathed apart from a few scratches on the paintwork and leather. Overall, although still placed in the lower midfield, the Honda CBR 600 still performs disappointingly. The CBR concept is simply no longer up to the competition. Both the engine power and the usable power band are now lagging behind the new engines from Kawasaki and Suzuki. On the chassis side, the Honda has also missed the connection. Much too soft in the basic set-up, it lurches over the Spanish course. Especially in the fast passages, the CBR rocks again and again, and when changing lean angles quickly in the chicanes, it gives an unstable impression. The brake system with the two double piston calipers in the front wheel does not have to hide from the mighty six-piston systems of the GSX-R and ZX-6R. Although successful in racing, the standard YZF 600 R from Yamaha has never really shone on the extremely racetrack. She always stumbles over the same shortcomings: lax spring elements and a muffler that touches down in every right bend. However, it is astonishing how small the gap to the competition is. The engine does it, impresses with its good-natured character and a wide speed range. A little more revving couldn’t hurt it though. What remains for the Yamaha fans is hope for an early successor in the style of the R1.

Superbike two-cylinder – little hope for the Japanese

What a glitch: Due to production difficulties that are still kept secret, the Suzuki TL 1000 R is not included in this comparison. And so the two-cylinder match lacks almost any tension. It is clear that the Ducati 916 SPS will have the edge. The only question is: how far? With a dream time of 1:34:51, the Italian not only shocked the direct competition, the highly favored 600s suddenly looked pale. Should there really be no substitute for power – even on a tricky course like Calafat? Even from low revs, you accelerate gently in order to savor the full power of the Vau-Zwo when exiting a curve. After switching from the 600s, it is almost frightening how powerful the Ducati is when it comes to pushing it to the next corner. The chassis is a force – although the extremely high driving stability has a negative effect on handling. The Ducati always demands powerful steering commands. But once it is on track, nothing can disturb it. However, little works without practice: like the 748 SPS, the 916 SPS can only be spurred on to top performance by experienced pilots. And just like her little sister, it suffers from braking problems. Similar to the engine characteristics, the Suzuki TL 1000 S gets good marks, at least in this point. The injector hangs spontaneously on the gas and impresses with its rich thrust from low and medium speeds. However, in regions above the 9000 mark, where the Ducati engine really bites, the TL never builds up the grip that the 916 offers, despite the identical tires (Michelin Race 3). A sign that the idiosyncratic rear suspension of the Suzuki is not the last word. The fork also looks comparatively slack. A consolation for all Suzuki drivers: the TL is 25,400 marks cheaper than the fighting machine from Bologna. Even the Honda fan community shouldn’t blow up because of the modest departure of the VTR 1000 F. After all, the Firestorm was never intended to win athletic laurels. Comfortable for tourists and easy to control, it lurches around the course with little ambition, with the fork bottoming out with every harder braking maneuver and the front wheel jumping over all waves. Only one thing helps: out the gas.

Superbike four-cylinder – more or less doomed

What happened to this class? The superbikes, once the undisputed rulers of the racetrack, have slipped into mediocrity. If it weren’t for the Suzuki engineers who try year after year to breathe new life into the premier class in four-stroke racing, they would no longer play a role. At least not in the importers’ sales statistics – the best example of this: Honda. The RC 45 was withdrawn from the range two years ago. Even though John Kocinski finally won the long-awaited world title for Honda in 1997, the work seems to be worth it for Suzuki nonetheless. At least one can hardly avoid the GSX-R 750 in mass-production sports. And in the exchange of blows in Spain, the GSX-R once again underlines its supremacy. Top marks for the chassis and engine give her third place in the points classification, and the lap times are also impressive. The Suzuki benefits from the direct response of the new injection and from its relentlessly revving engine. The only weak point: the greatly decreasing brakes. This time, however, this has hardly any effect on the lap times, as only three laps are timed per driver; the performance of the other two four-cylinder engines is not very good. Somehow it gives the impression that both Kawasaki and Yamaha have already written off the former superstars. Not the slightest modifications have been made to them in recent years. May the two still do well in the Superbike World Championship: Here they are among the big losers, especially the ZX-7R disappoints with stubborn handling, extremely poor throttle response in the middle range and cruel load change reactions when applying the throttle in an inclined position. Add to that this drowsy engine characteristic and poorly metered stop on the front wheel. The bad lap times speak for themselves. Worse, however: The driving pleasure remains completely on the track. A little more fun, but even slower: the Yamaha YZF 750 R. However, despite the much too slack chassis and the not very lively engine, it could even defeat the ZX-7R. If, yes, if it weren’t for that huge muffler that scrapes over the asphalt with sparks and prevents large lean angles. As in the case of the YZF 600 R, there is only hope for a successor in the R1 trim.

Open Class – some want to win, others just want to be there

No question at all: the potential finalists in the Open Class are Honda CBR 900 RR, Kawasaki ZX-9R and Yamaha YZF-R1. Nobody is seriously considering winning the small Aprilia RS 250. Like the English three-cylinder Triumph T 595, the Italian two-stroke engine plays an extra role in the Master Bikes. And after completing the test protocols, all drivers agree: The winner is … Yamaha R1. Except for some deductions in the rating of the loud, somewhat bony gearbox, the new mega-athlete has consistently received top marks. The Yamaha only throws the bill with the publication of the lap times. The Kawaski ZX-9R was faster. And clearly. Even the less powerful Honda is just ahead of it. How could eight experienced testers be so wrong? Is performance perhaps not everything? Well: Too much performance can be a hindrance. Namely when – as in the case of the R1 – so much power is available from medium speeds onwards that every smallest turn of the throttle grip is answered with a slide when accelerating out of tight bends. This is very easy to control and great fun, but unfortunately it’s not fast. The tap can only be opened completely when the R1 is straight. But caution is advised here too, because the next braking point is reached faster than you think. The brutal performance of the 1000 engine can only be converted into a speed advantage on the home straight. The R1 has slight weaknesses when accelerating out of fast corners. The hindquarters tends to pump slightly in the series setup, which does not necessarily promote the pilot’s confidence in unlimited grip. This is the biggest plus point of the Kawasaki. The rock-hard tuned suspension and the good feedback resulting from it leave no doubt about the grip of the French racing mix. Disrespectful throttle is not answered with a slide, also because of the significantly lower torque. In addition, as with the ZX-6R, razor-sharp handling and a fairly upright sitting position that relieves the arms. In the chicanes, thanks to the low steering force, you can change lean angles at lightning speed. This means that the closest possible line can be driven, which allows the earliest possible acceleration. The almost ten kilograms overweight compared to the R1 can never be felt, and the CBR 900 RR comes as a surprise. It also cleverly exploits the advantage of its easy controllability. The smooth start of the thrust from the corners, the almost perfectly metered brakes and the good-natured, not too hard-tuned, but stable chassis increase confidence in the Honda. The extreme bumps and hard asphalt edges hardly seem to exist for the CBR. Even with Michelin racing tires, the 16-inch front wheel still requires a lot of power when turning, but the annoying tendency to pitch up when braking in an inclined position is as good as flat. With the foam braked, the Triumph Daytona T 595 starts the race. And that’s a good thing, because high-spirited athletic ambition would almost exactly end in the gravel trap. Even at a comparatively ridiculous lean angle, the exhaust manifold comes down under the fairing over the entire length. This also explains the small differences between the best and average lap times. Even if the Englishwoman with her three-cylinder with a strong character would be able to drive faster, the lean angle sets an abrupt limit here. With all the sympathy: The T 595 has little to report on the racetrack. Not least because of its slack chassis set-up, but the second outsider in the open class: The Aprilia RS 250 is a real planer. However, it is not easy to make friends with the small two-stroke after all the cars. Constant shifting and still never getting the right gear, that characterizes the first laps. The power collapses again and again when the two-cylinder has exceeded its power zenit at 11,000 rpm. It pops loudly from the gearbox with every shift. In fact, the hyper-agile racing flea requires an enormous amount of empathy. It is the leap into another world. Not better, not worse – just different. Only one thing is clear: one must be born for this world.

Winner on points – Yamaha R1, the moral winner

The astonishment was not bad when the list with the lap times was published on the evening of the first day. The R1 could not live up to its role of favorite. How can it be that the fastest bike measured at the light barrier only achieves the fourth fastest time? Where the engine is a poem of power, torque and controllability. Where the chassis shows no weaknesses except when accelerating hard. Where the brakes do not grip with the hard bite of a Kawasaki, but have the best controllability and sufficient stability. Perhaps things would have looked different on a different racetrack such as the fast Barcelona Grand Prix circuit? Perhaps the R1 could have better exploited its enormous performance potential in the long third and fourth-gear corners? Anyway, the mega-event took place on the narrow, undulating race track in Calafat, and here the eight professional testers from five countries discovered that performance is not everything. And that the R1 is not the fastest, but at least the best sport bike of the year in terms of points.

Semi-Finals – There can only be one

The rules set by the Spanish colleagues are tough. Only one machine from the Superbike class can advance to the final. A jump-off, the semi-final on the morning of the third day, will decide whether it will be a two or four cylinder. Very tough, machine against machine, and this time also man against man. Only the two fastest drivers will drive. Fernando Cristóbal and "Gegesch" Gerhard Lindner. It quickly becomes clear that under these circumstances the pilot’s prestige is also a factor. The lap times from the previous day are already powdered after the first lap. And that even though these are the first laps of the day. Fernando, the likeable daredevil, rides the Ducati as if unleashed, circling through the meandering behind the pits with long slides and crouching wildly and crouching deep behind the small windshield onto the home straight. A performance that made the entire team take their breath away. No question about it, his Spanish pride can’t stand the setback he suffered the day before on the 600 and 750 cc. Fernando uses his racing experience, which he was able to gain on Ducati, and burns a 1,33.6 on brand new tires on the track. There is no answer from Gegesch, who improves his Ducati time by a second from the previous day, but otherwise can only salute his colleague. A similar picture on the Suzuki. Fernando also spurs the four-cylinder engine as if there were no tomorrow. But this time the lead over Lindner is very small, who can cope better with the lively GSX-R 750 than with the high-torque two-cylinder. "It’s all a question of habit, "the two pilots agree at the end of the semi-finals. Nevertheless – the rules are clear: Even if Lindner was faster with the GSX-R than with the 916, the fastest time is decisive. The Ducati is very close , but deserves the final.

Braked in – The Triumph Daytona marks the bottom light in a sporty way

The thing with the dangerously touching manifold is a rather embarrassing detail. Despite the new exhaust design, the T 595 still hits the banking limit far too early. This problem rarely occurs in everyday life. It only becomes critical when adhesive sports tires come into play. In the aforementioned everyday life, the Triumph also benefits from its slack chassis set-up. Because then the word "limp" can easily be replaced by comfortable. Tea Englishwoman‘s poor performance in this comparison doesn’t quite do it justice. Things like clean workmanship, the elaborate single-sided swing arm and, above all, the inimitable, hoarse hissing sound of the three-cylinder with its strong character were unfortunately lost in the race track rating. That’s racing.

Final – three worlds collide

They are all three winners. Each of the finalists has at least prevailed in his class. All of them barely, but please – here they are. Only six of the original eight drivers are now competing in the grand finale. Pere Casas has to stop after his slip from the previous day because of a sore ankle. The boss of the whole thing, Augusto Moren de Carlos, takes up positions on the pit roof in order to be able to control the situation at any time. After all, the success or failure of the entire story depends on this finale. Because now it’s about the crown of sportiness: Which concept is the fastest? The agile 600 has bad cards in advance. Unfortunately, your calculation of making up important tenths of a second here on the tight race track thanks to the advantages in handling and the easily controllable performance does not work out. The gap of almost two seconds from the previous day cannot be made up even with the toughest driving effort. Nevertheless, it offers a great performance at 1.35.27, undercutting the official MOTORCYCLE record for series 600s by a whole seven-tenths. The decision is made between the Ducati 916 and the Kawasaki ZX-9R. Red versus green, Italy versus Japan, two versus four cylinders. And the decision is once again only very tight. The Kawasaki is two tenths of a second ahead, but in terms of distance it still gives a lead of around seven meters per lap. However, all the pilots seem to have gotten used to the peculiarities of the Ducati more and more in the course of this mega test. Unlike the day before, the beautiful Italian can win the rating for the better average lap time. In any case, there was enough reason to celebrate for everyone involved. Regardless of whether you are victorious or defeated: bring the sparkling wine.


It should be the greatest, most important, and most exciting test. A mega test, the master bike, the event of the century. With this promise, the Spanish fathers of this idea rounded up half the professional world. And they should be right. With the help of eight experienced test pilots from five countries, countless evaluation sheets were filled out, hundreds of lap times were stopped, as many light barrier values ​​were determined and a worthy winner was chosen. Kawasaki ZX-9R, the champion of Calafat. But the test also showed something else: the fastest bike doesn’t necessarily have to be the best. From the many individual evaluations of the pilots it is clear that the performance of modern landing gears, engines or brakes are very close together. Whether it’s a superbike, two-cylinder, 600cc or big bike, each and every one of these sports motorcycles exudes a certain fascination, even if not every advantage comes to the fore on the narrow racetrack as it does in everyday life. But that’s the way it is in racing: only the fastest wins.

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