Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Top 10: superbikes
The British Superbike Championship features some of the closest, most exciting racing you'll see anywhere in the world.
Machines which can do 0-100mph in around two seconds and reach almost 200mph while battling elbow to elbow - no wonder crowds of up to 60,000 pack in to see the action.
But what really makes fans connect with the racing is that the bikes on track are modified versions of what you can buy in the showroom and ride on the road.
The fat bloke wobbling around on his Ducati 1098 gets some reflected glory from the fact that Shane Byrne breaks the lap record at Brands Hatch on the same machine.
And we British love our sports bikes with a passion. Every year these 180bhp monsters, dripping with carbon fibre and expensive rare-metal alloys top the sales charts, but which is the best superbike? Here's our choice.
1. Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade
What more can be said about the Fireblade that hasn't been said a thousand times. More than any other machine the 'blade defines the term superbike. Since 1992 it has been the benchmark for others to meet.
It epitomises state-of-the-art performance in a package that can feel civilised on the road and brutally cutting edge on the race track. New for 2008, the latest model's daring looks have divided opinion. One thing the critic's aren't arguing about though is its performance and after 16 years it's still as breathtaking as ever.
2. Ducati 1098
No other manufacturer has enjoyed as much success in superbike racing as Ducati. The Bologna factory has even provided us with three British world champions - Carl Fogarty, Neil Hodgson and James Toseland.
The new 1098 has not been without its controversy - many rival manufacturers are unhappy it has a 200cc advantage, introduced to allow twin-cylinder machines, which don't rev as high, to compete with the fours. The 1098 picks up where the 916 left off; gorgeous to look at and a thumping mid-range.
3. Suzuki GSX-R1000
More than any other maker, Suzuki has brought the superbike to the masses and its sports bikes top the sales charts seemingly at will. The GSX-R1000 is one of the most powerful, but also one of the cheapest.
The Gixxer, as it's known, is no bargain basement duffer, in fact Troy Corser proved just how quick the GSX-R1000 can be when he claimed the World Superbike crown in 2005. Go out for a ride on any sunny day and you're guaranteed to be overtaken by at least 10 GSX-R1000s - so if you're happy to blend into the crowd, the Gixxer is probably best superbike in the world.
4. Yamaha R1
The fifth generation of the R1 now boasts more technology than Currys. The fly-by-wire throttle means wherever you are in the rev range you're guaranteed smooth and linear power delivery.
The R1 is also surprisingly comfortable to ride, unlike some other superbikes there's less weight on the wrists and your legs feel less cramped. However, in the ultra-competitive world of superbikes it would seem Honda's Fireblade has just edged its (somewhat squashed) nose in front and it's up to Yamaha to catch up.
5. Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja
Kawasaki has always enjoyed its brutish reputation in the sports bike market. Next to the finesse and over-engineering of Honda comes Kawasaki's savage power and explosive delivery. This is no-holds-barred performance and the rider can just hang on and suffer.
But with 175bhp propelling you forward, all thoughts of discomfort will jump out of the window as the adrenaline kicks in. Without a major revision since 2006, the ZX-10R is, in the fast moving current of superbike development, a bit long in the tooth and it's soon going to be time for Kawasaki to unleash its next generation Ninja.
6. KTM RC8
The newest superbike contender thinks the future is orange. When we rode the RC8 last month at its world launch at Spain's Ascari circuit we described it as: "a very mean pussycat" - gentle when you wanted, but able to spit and snarl with the best.
The styling is going to divide opinions; described as 'like looking at a superbike through a cracked mirror'. But it's on the track that matters and the RC8 is making its race debut in the World Superstock Championship, possibly heading to superbike racing in 2009. KTM has a proud competition history, so its entry into production road racing will cause quite a stir.
7. MV Agusta F4 1000R
The F4, penned by legendary bike designer Massimo Tamburini, is the very pinnacle of what a great Italian sports bike should be: it's beautiful, focused and depressingly expensive. It just loves to be photographed and you can't take a bad picture of it.
But the F4 isn't all beauty and no brawn, this is a tyre-shredding superstock race winner at heart and faster than most mortal riders would dare go. Top of the range components, a highly tuned in-line four and a chassis capable of delivering the sharpest possible handling combine to make the F4 1000R one of the most desirable bikes on the planet.
8. Aprilia RSV1000R Mille
Aprilia had never made a superbike until it turned its hand to the RSV Mille and if this is the fruit of its first labour then it makes you wonder just how good its V4 superbike will be when it's unveiled later this year.
The RSV Mille utilises a punchy Rotax V-twin and brings Italian exotica to the mainstream, tempting a few would be Ducati owners away from the red-side. If the standard bike is just too soggy for you (which I very much doubt) then an ultra-trick RSV-R Factory version is available with the highest spec racing components - naturally, a higher spec credit card is also required.
9. BMW HP Sport
This is a bit of a departure from sensible, old BMW. For so long BMW has only dipped a toe in the sports bike market but now it's only gone and launched a full-on carbon factory racer. Just how BMW has squeezed nearly 130bhp from its air-cooled flat twin is almost more stunning than the bike's class winning victory at the Le Mans endurance race first time out.
Light and flickable with bags of torque, whatever this superbike loses on sheer top end it will make up for in its usability - however, don't lean too far or you'll scuff those carbon tipped cylinder heads.
10. Buell 1125R
The 1125R had a rocky start when the original bikes, plagued with fuelling glitches and other faults, were withdrawn and tweaked. Now, with the problems ironed out, we have America's first real superbike in all its glory.
It's been a controversial move by Erik Buell, not least because he ditched Harley-Davidson's air-cooled, 45-degree lumps in favour of an Austrian Rotax liquid-cooled monster of an engine. If you want something a little bit different from an inline-four Japanese rocket (and for a reasonable price) then the Buell 1125R is a worthy contender.