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Comparative test of super sporty big bikes

Spanish opening

Don’t worry, there is no piste chess played here, it is really driven here. But for the new Yamaha YZF-R1, the season started in Spain. Where she met strong opponents.

It was admired ardently and still is today for its design. But the R1 has not yet entered the Olympus of sports motorcycles, immortality as it were. Many owners only had a short, breathless relationship with the capricious beauty. The combination of the lowest weight, a torque curve of enormous abundance and relatively sluggish handling turned out to be very demanding. Too demanding, too demanding in some areas. Not to be forgotten: Lady R1 could hit the handlebars quite viciously in the already difficult use of her abundant power.
So it was high time for Yamaha to walk a tightrope, to make the motorcycle more pleasing, without softening it to the point of characterlessness, to provide more and more easily realizable performance despite strict emission limits and to modernize its appearance without the adorable ones Denial lines of the original R1. Especially since the competition had pretty consistently driven out its small and some big weaknesses. The ever-pleasing Honda Fireblade has become stronger and more manageable, the down-to-earth Kawasaki ZX-9R tighter, more stable and no longer as fluttery. In any case, the Suzuki GSX-R 1000 has achieved the highest level of power and practicability to date, with its motto "Length runs, length lies". The clientele honored it amply last year.
What seems successful at first glance? Orienting oneself to the qualities of the others without being clumsily similar to them is confirmed on the first trips with the new R1. In contrast to the previous models, the handlebars are optimally inclined and tilted at hand, but the Yamaha still requires the most bent seating position of all fours. This creates a forward thrust, a dynamic that remains completely independent of the actual speed. Whenever an R1 drives, this feeling drives with it. Or better: it should go along. Because, of course, you can also defend yourself against the bow that is required of you, you can sit as upright as possible with your arms straight. But the R1 likes that even less than other motorcycles, because it gets really stubborn. In this situation, consciously flexing the trunk and elbows and facing forward immediately creates the aha experience. So that’s how it works, that’s how it gets smooth. Yes, it clearly pulls in the back muscles, clearly the shoulder girdle becomes tense over time. But with the inevitable training, there is objectively an improvement. Subjectively, R1 drivers should not think of this as an effort, but as the effort that goes with such a piece of sports equipment.
After all, the others are not the continuation of the living room armchair by other means either. Although the handlebars of the Fireblade and the ZX-9R are mounted much higher than those of the R1 and the Suzuki, they are therefore easier to reach. And although this position noticeably promotes maneuverability at low speeds and easy cornering in the Spanish hinterland? As soon as these motorcycles are only moved close to the driving dynamics for which they were built, they too require physical effort from the pilot. So please, when accelerating, push forward from the notches, when braking backwards, lean down in the curve, keeping your body tension and pulling on the handlebars as little as possible. The feeling for the differences in the steering forces is only kept alive by constantly swapping the motorcycles, as is customary in test drives. Otherwise, even half an hour’s uninterrupted ride on the R1 will get you used to it. This also applies to the GSX-R 1000, although its steering damper is again a bit bulky.
The Yamaha made even more significant progress in terms of handiness when colleague Werner "Mini" Koch transferred the suspension settings of his presentation machine (see MOTORRAD 6/2002) to the series test motorcycle. The most important trick is to lower the front section by eight millimeters; The fact that Mini noticed and corrected the tightening torque of the fork clamping screws did not damage the fork’s responsiveness. The damping can then be adjusted to the needs of the driver between half and three quarters of the setting range. The latter is almost too tight on the country road, but is just right for wonderfully peppery changes in lean angle in the Winkelwerk.
The steering precision of the R1, especially in slow corners and when accelerating in an inclined position, benefited again from the new setting. The greater part of the sharpened stroke compared to its predecessor, however, is due to the harder spring at the back and the pivot point that has been shifted upwards, thanks to which the suspension is now more resolute in preventing the hindquarters from buckling. A central point in light, super-powerful big bikes that, even at moderate speeds, provide so much thrust that almost the entire mass of rider and motorcycle is shifted backwards. The better you succeed in countering, the less you push out of the chosen curve and the longer the front wheel stays on the ground when driving straight ahead. Ultimately, the Yamaha can rank here on the high level of the Honda and Suzuki. Only the ZX-9R is easier to lure into the wide arches when accelerating or to set it in good-natured, but sustained rocking movements in long curves of bumps.
But it is the only one that manages to produce only harmless approaches of kickback without a steering damper. In this respect, the Yamaha has at least become significantly milder than its predecessor, which suspension experts explain with the longer lag. Nevertheless, there is a lot of movement in the steering during brisk journeys over bumpy roads, which sometimes increases uncomfortably. The good thing is that the R1 never unexpectedly wedged the handlebars. There were always warning signs and enough time to react. Not so on the Fireblade. Not only did it keep the steering calm on a notoriously bad route near Calafat, which Ohlins and MOTORRAD testers like to use. Mostly. If not, she hit viciously right away. In addition, there is their peculiarity of unsettling their pilots at high speed with a constant tendency to kickback, while the R1 and the ZX-9R just run straight ahead. It is no wonder that the GSX-R 1000 does not have to feel addressed here at all. With her steering damper she not only keeps kickback in check, but also keeps herself out of all discussions on this topic. At the price of a somewhat limited handiness. So what. The Suzuki technicians show a pleasantly uncomplicated attitude here, compared to the pretentious steering bearing tightening fumble in the range of a few Newton meters that Honda does. Which brings nothing and on top of that, the danger of the problem as well as the other qualities of the Fireblade is completely inappropriate.
As an aside, there is still a positive curiosity here. The rear suspension of all test machines has so much stamina that, even when riding with a pillion passenger, they work much better and more comfortably than the completely depressed systems of some naked bikes or enduros. If only the seating for the unfortunate passengers was something better than poorly concealed launch pads. Because of them, you should avoid getting anywhere near top performance with a co-driver. No matter which of the four. After all, there is enough draft. This more comfortable, lazy way of accelerating has driven the light, large-capacity 900 and 1000 cc engines to its peak, and it is not only useful for the friendly handling of passengers. Even in solo operation, lush torque at low speeds, brought to the road with the help of high-quality chassis and tires, ensures a very peculiar driving experience. It arises from the dynamic and the contradicting impression that you are on the road with only slightly accelerated comfort. If the stressful turn from relaxed speeding has ever worked, then here. The fact that all four-cylinder engines run particularly smoothly in the medium speed range and remain relatively gentle when there are load changes goes well with this. Incidentally, since the appearance of the new R1, there is a new master in the discipline of drafts. Thanks to its comparatively short overall gear ratio and the unchanged bearish engine, it rushes through each of the three speed ranges of the MOTORCYCLE measurement in the last gear in significantly less than four seconds. From below it pushes particularly brilliantly, in the middle only the Honda and between 140 and 180 km / h the GSX-R 1000 a blink of an eye faster. Overall, the Yamaha deserves one point more. The ZX-9R obviously pays tribute to the smallest displacement and the highest weight. Their torque values ​​are so much worse that you like to shift down a gear when the other drivers just have to fold their wrists down. This effort is sweetened with the unrivaled fiery suction of the quartet.
And that doesn’t even have to be paid for in the form of higher consumption. Although the ZX-9R was not able to distinguish itself as the most economical motorcycle in the comparison drive in this test, it consumed exactly the same amount as the others and thus creates the greatest range with the largest tank. The higher consumption of the Honda and the Suzuki during the winter test (see MOTORRAD 4/2002) is due to the colder temperatures at the time and the associated higher oxygen density in the air. Injection systems react to such conditions by making the mixture more enriched. In this test, they thanked in their own way for the mild Spanish spring air.
If so far there has not been much talk of the top performance of the top-class four-cylinder, this is because it can be used about as often as it was mentioned in this text. Very seldom, most likely on the racetrack. For everyone who urgently needs to know: The GSX-R 1000 remains the horsepower champion even after the appearance of the R1. On the test bench and in the driver’s mind. It adds an extra bubble where the performance curves of the others turn from the ascent into the plateau or drop again. Sounds nice, but it can overwhelm the pilot’s coordination potential over the long term. Only a few top-class sports drivers manage to find the right braking point at the end of a long acceleration phase. Most of them have to be content with at best a cosmetic approach to the ideal and can still count themselves among the brave in the country. The Yamaha, with barely four hp less, is in the same league. Above all, it has a well-founded suspicion that a higher limiter speed might produce one or two more horsepower. Because the ignition box locks strangely early, almost in the rise of the power curve.
That did not challenge a real top-class racing driver, the Swede Christer Lindholm, who is still well-known here. He implemented the potential of the new R1 in an impressive manner in the harassment of Calafat and undercut his own best time on the GSX-R 1000. Only by the tiniest two hundredths of a second, but still. To put this into perspective, it must be mentioned that Lindholm has been driving a Yamaha for a long time and will also be driving this year. On the other hand, the only 13 hundredths that the World Cup experienced Spaniard Fernando Cristobal lost with the R1 on the GSX-R are proof of their skills. Earlier comparative drives of this type were more clearly to the disadvantage of the Yamaha. So no one said that the R1 has not improved. And above all, nobody who drives slower than Cristobal’s 1.33, 24 minutes in Calafat needs to look to the motorcycle to blame.
Okay, the brakes should be better. For all drivers. They become noticeably dull under load and are difficult to dose. They seem to have a delayed reaction to a decrease in brake pressure in particular. Whether the new aluminum brake pistons play a role, which Yamaha is now using for the first time, while Honda has just gotten away from them again? The braking feeling on the R1 is definitely strange. The fact that the six-piston calipers of the Suzuki become more snappy and easier to dose, especially at full deceleration, is in any case the more pleasant way of having a non-optimal brake. The Nissin systems on the Honda and Kawasaki feel even more pleasant. In everyday life and on the race track, you brake equally well and react quickly. And so put a striking end to this game with the Spanish opening.

Comparative test of super sporty big bikes

Spanish opening

Why without a steering damper?

The application range of the 1000cc four-cylinder is astonishingly large. You can do anything from cruising to turf. The only problem: nasty surprises with knocking the handlebars. It may well be that the steering damper used to have the image of concealing weaknesses. It is an aid that expands the range of applications for radical chassis designs. Easy handling should be combined with stability, good grip with controllable border area behavior with minimal weight and 150 hp. Even in racing, where there are no compromised, you can’t do without it. Only once did I remove the shock from my factory Honda during a rainy training session to get a better feel for the front wheel. That did not work. Without a steering damper, the driver can only try to control the kickback by applying even pressure on the footrests and handlebars and by leaning forward. He cannot prevent it. Well, the Kawasaki works without it; with its soft tuning, however, it becomes unstable in fast corners. At least one is warned on the Yamaha. Without any warning, however, the Honda handlebar hits from lock to lock! A tricky thing! I advise retrofitting a steering damper. Preferably an adjustable one.

1st place – Kawasaki ZX-9R

1st place
Kawasaki ZX-9R

With all the sporting cannons, the ZX-9R steadfastly pays attention to its suitability for everyday use. The mighty Kawasaki offers many useful features such as good wind protection, a dresser seating position or a large tank. To a cheap price. In addition, she does develop temperament. Just take them to the racetrack once and enjoy their handiness, poisonous brakes and wonderfully hoarse sound. As a reward, the ZX-9R is tied for first place with the Suzuki.

2nd place – Suzuki GSX-R 1000

2nd place
Suzuki GSX-R 1000

It is not the handiest one, but as the strongest it does not have to be. What is more important is their ability to burn super fast and stay safe. There remains the desire for a spontaneously biting brake, an ergonomically sensitive footrest position and perhaps, at some point, better emissions. The GSX-R 1000 shares the top spot on the podium with the ZX-9R. Even if it gets there in a completely different way.

3rd place – Yamaha YZF-R1

3rd place
Yamaha YZF-R1

The further development of the Yamaha is particularly noticeable in the chassis. The buckling of the hind quarters known from the old R1 when accelerating strongly has disappeared, the handling is better. However, kickback remains an issue. There are only good things to say about the engine; he has increased in performance and running culture. In contrast, the seating position and paneling are unchanged and radically sporty. And then there’s that gorgeous look from the slanted headlight eyes.

4th place – Honda Fireblade

4th Place
Honda fireblade

When things are as close as in this comparison, you can’t afford to be a handlebar racket like the Fireblade. Otherwise you will be last despite your excellent qualities. If you can and would like to remedy the kickback with your own resources, you will find the handiest motorcycle with the best brakes and ?? for a clear conscience? the best emissions. Together with the R1 also the most expensive. And if Honda would turn off the kickback itself, the best ever.

Suspension settings and lap times

Honda Fireblade Kawasaki ZX-9RSuzuki GSX-R 1000 Yamaha YZF-R1Fork Rebound stage2 U open1 U open (1.5 U) 2 K open (5 K) 10 K open (15 K) Compression 0.5 U open (1.5 U) 0.5 U open ( 2 U) 2 K open (8 K) 4 K open (8 open) Spring based Completely closed (min. Plus 6 U) 3 rings visible, 4 rings visible, 4 rings visible (6 rings) HeightStandardStandardStandardStandard minus 10 mmSpring strut Rebound level2 U open5 U open 4K open (6 K) 16 K open Pressure stage O, 5 U open (1.5 U) 1 U open (2 U) 2 K open (10 K) 1 K open (6 K) Spring base stage 5 180 mm preloaded. Length 180 mm pre-loaded LengthStep 4HeightStandardplus 12 mmStandardStandardLap times * in minChrister Lindholm1.34,021.33,501.31,711.31,69Fernando Cristobal1.33,801.34,321.33,091.33,24 * lap times in Calafat, driven on Michelin Pilot Race 2U = revolutions, K = clicks , each counted from the fully closed setting, Values ​​in brackets for country roads

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