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The best superbike sports motorcycle for the road?

Posted by on in WhichBike.com Staff Reviews & Blogs
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This is perhaps one of the most, if not THE most, hotly contested questions in the world of motorcycles. Which is the  best Superbike for the road?

Of course, this is a matter of contention, this is down to pure opinion, sometimes biased with brand loyalty and always very subjective but let's take away all of that and, passion aside, which is truly the best sports motorcycle for the road at the time I write this, a sunny weekend at the end of May in 2016? 

To come up the decision involved the feedback from all of those connected with Which Bike and their friends, colleagues and ride-out partners.

I am not talking about the best all-rounder. Practicality can take a back seat here, in fact, these bikes mostly don't have back seats! I am talking about race bikes for the road, supersports motorcycles, superbikes. The kind of bike you might see at the TT in the Isle of Man. A low slung, uncompromising bike that all young wannabe riders drool over.

To start with, we have to be realistic, we can rule out any 'specials'. Typically, this means any existing mass-produced superbike which has then been fettled and lightened and given yet an other 'R', 'S', 'RS' or 'M' moniker. Let's keep this real and include the usual dealer superbikes up to about 16K.

Right, first things first; the shortlist. This is the easy bit, isn't it? How many can there be? Let's list the contenders in alphabetical order:

Aprilia RSV4 RF

Aprilia RSV4 RF Superbike Sports motorcycle

BMW S1000RR

BMW S1000RR Superbike Sports motorcycle

 Ducati 1299 Panigale

Ducati Panigale 1299 Superbike Sports motorcycle

 Ducati 959 Panigale

Ducati 959 Panigale Superbike Sports motorcycle

 Honda CBR1000RR

Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade Superbike Sports motorcycle

 Kawasaki Ninja ZX10-R

Kawasaki Ninja ZX10-R Superbike Sports motorcycle

 MV Agusta F4

MV Agusta F4 Superbike Sports motorcycle

 Suzuki GSX-R1000

Suzuki GSX-R1000 Superbike Sports motorcycle

 Yamaha YZF-R1

Yamaha YZF-R1 Superbike Sports motorcycle

Which Bike - Best superbike sports motorcycle for the road 

 

Wow, what a fine selection of bikes! When you look at them all together like this, the first thing you realise it that they are ALL extremely desireable and good looking and most riders would bite your hand off to own, or even just ride one.

We really need to take brand loyalty and 'looks' out of it to make a proper decision. Nah, rubbish, change that. We HAVE to include looks and desirability as isn't that a huge, major factor when buying a motorcycle?  The problem  is, that this is, of course, purely down to opinion but I will surely speak for the masses and in some of the cases above, beauty is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. 

So how will I score the factors making up the result. Well, Which Bike team members have rdden all of these in various guises. I can make a pretty good case for what will be the best bike for the road. The main factors, in no particular order, but perhaps with some 'weighing' more than others are:

  • Overall looks - does the bike make you look back at it as you walk away
  • Desirability - Do people come to you and say 'Wow, nice bike mate!'
  • Smoothness - Smooth = speed and confidence, comfort and forgiveness
  • Adrenaline - Does the bike give you that magic mix of feel, passion and excitement? Does it get your heart racing?
  • Performance - Does it accelerate from a standing start and through the gears is a manner appropriate and condusive to fast road riding?
  • Handling - IS the bike only really suitable for an urban environment with poor surfaces. Will a small pothole bump you off and into a tree?
  • Cost - I'd rather this was not a factor but, in the real world, it has to be. Most of us need to watch every penny or cent when buying and running a bike

I will not bore you with my workings out, algorithms or calculations, just highlight the best and worst of the bikes and come with a top 3.

Note: Remember that this viewpoint is from the eyes and hands of a normal bike rider and NOT a track day hero, professional rider or any other such non-sensical reviewer that bears no resemblence to me and you!

Overall Looks

This is the biggest nightmare to work out when trying to balance things for the masses. As well as my own view, I aked all the team, and we  all asked friends and gathered feedback and views from other road tests and articles and came up with the top 3 being:

  1. MV Agusta F4
  2. Ducati 1299 Panigale
  3. Ducati 899 Panigale

No great surprise that the Italians smashed this one with the detailing of the F4 taking it despite the nicer back-end of the Panigales. You MUST see an F4 in the flesh to appreciate it. Even though it is an italian bike, the Aprilia , especially in this most common livery is not that nice, though everybody like the way the top of the seat cowl looked! At the bottom for looks was:

  1. Suzuki GSX-R1000
  2. BMW S1000RR
  3. Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade

Remember, all the bikes are considered stunning, but there has to be an order!  Don't get upset :)

Desirability

Interesting one this. Closely related to looks but it also comes to rarity, kudos, perception and presence.

  1. MV Agusta F4
  2. Aprilia RSV4 RF
  3. Yamaha R1

Umm. The F4 is rare, no argument, and MV Agusta is a brand with huge respect and racing success. The Aprilia is a very current, contemporary race bike highly regarded in all circles, and the R1 is just the latest superbike on the market. The Ducatis do not make the top 3, perhaps down to image, which is sometimes a bit, well, snobbish.

Less Desirable:

  1. Suzuki GSX-R1000
  2. Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade
  3. Ducati 959 Panigale

Ouch, two out of two last places for the Zuki. Probably perceived as a bit old in the teeth, not exciting and very badly marketed. The Blade, well, it just needs a major revamp and struggles now in the face of all of this competitoin.As for the Panigale, it likely suffers a slight snobbery brand issue and, of course, it has some very powerful siblings, even in the base model 1299, shown here.

Smoothness

The next few factors are similar in that they really answer the question 'would a new rider feel okay on this bike' . After all, in the hands of a non-prefessional riders like us, the bike has to give us confidence. It has to promote a feeling of wellbeing and safety. It has to make us feel like we are indeed in full control of the bike and not the other way round!

  1. Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade
  2. Suzuki GSX-R1000
  3. BMW S1000RR

Bit of a flip around there which is perhaps logical and to be expected. The Fireblade is seriously smooth through the revs and even the burst of torque at 6000 revs does not change the character of the bike in this respect.  The new Yamaha R1 comes 4th here as it is pretty smooth and well engineered considering its speed.

Less Smooth:

  1. MV Agusta F4
  2. Ducati 1299 Panigale
  3. Aprilia RSV4 RF

The F4 is pretty scary and definitely not for new riders.

Adrenaline

This one word has a lot to answer for! The technical meaning of adrenaline is "a substance that is released in the body of a person who is feeling a strong emotion (such as excitement, fear, or anger) and that causes the heart to beat faster and gives the person more energy" . It is the change in the body that causes fight or flight. Some people like this. Motorcyclists who crave it will like speed, will like all of these bikes but which one most?

  1. Ducati 1299 Panigale
  2. Aprilia RSV4 RF
  3. Yamaha R1

A combination of noise, poise, power and looks sets the adrenaline going on the big Panigale, just from starting the button. The fear of dropping something so beautiful also adds drama to the occasion. All 3 bikes are ones that make people come over and talk to you. New and middleweight riders look on in awe as they know that these bikes are just faster, more adrenaline pumping versions of their own steed.

The bikes have enough technology to actually allow a rider to tap into their full power. Is this good or bad? Should they not be more scary? Is it right that an inexperienced rider could get on one of these and feel at home.

 

Less Adrenaline giving:

  1. Honda CBR1000RR
  2. Suzuki GSX-R1000
  3. Kawasaki Ninja ZX10-R

Of course, all of these bikes provide adrenaline and a lin e has to be drawn somewere.  The Fireblade is perhaps too smooth and not loud enough. The Suzuki is similar but not quite to the same level. The Ninja, epic bike, maybe handles TOO well, perhaps TOO good.

 

Performance

At the bike meet, with the bikes stood still on the tarmac, it often comes down to the bikes with the most power on paper that afford the biggest bragging rights. Performance is best summed up by that few seconds after a ride when you get off the bike, pull your helmet off and speak to your mate. It usually along the lines of "******* ****, that thing is ****** insane. They way it simply shoots away from the corner and ***** off is ridiculuous". All of these bikes are fast, some more so than others. Some have more power but can you use it propoerly when you want to. What 'feels' faster? After all, if you are on the road and not collecting lap times then performance is more about feel than figures.

  1. Aprilia RSV4 RF | Ducati 1299 Panigale | BMW S1000RR | Yamaha R1 | Kawasaki Ninja ZX10-R

These 200 HP bikes are really impossible to split. They have insane power have clever engine management electrickery and gizmos to make the power attainable, often along more of the rev range than we are used to.They all have decent low end power now and have mitigation services on the bike so even a beginner could rag these of the line and make instant progress. They all happen to be great track bikes as well. On the road, in the same hands, there is nothing really to split them and it may just come down to how much confidence the particular bike gives you for whatever reason.

 

Lesser Performance:

  1. Ducati 959 Panigale
  2. Honda CBR1000RR
  3. Suzuki GSX-R1000
  4. MV Agusta F4

The MV has the power but just not as accessible on the road and in normal hands will not make the same progress as the aforementioned bunch.

 

Handling

Big power down straights is one thing but can these great bikes deliver the same experience around the twisty stuff?  After all, we love that feel of acceleration on the straight roads but how nice is it to carve your way through some great corners, feeling like a Moto GP rider? Handling is about confidence, knowing how much speed he bike can safely take into and out of any given corner, how it turns in and also how it reacts if something goes wrong in the corner. Remember, this is about the ROAD and not the track.

  1. Ducati 959 Panigale
  2. Kawasaki Ninja ZX10-R
  3. Yamaha R1

Due to its lighter weight and still powerful setup with great electronics, the smaller Panigale will do better on any tighter bend in the hands of the average motorcycle rider. Next up , from the big boys, comes the track focused, WSB specialist, lithe and chuckable Ninja followed just behind by the R1 which always seems impossibly small to be a high performance 1000cc bike. Aprilia RSV4 is just behind.

Lesser Handling

  1. MV Agusta F4
  2. Ducati 1299 Panigale
  3. BMW S1000RR

In the hands of a Pro the F4 will be devastating but we are looking at this in the hands of people like you and me and it's a bit too scary to hit a bend at the same speeds you could get away with on the other bikes. The Ducati is epic but in tighter bends you have to be a bit more careful. The BMW is awesome on the faster bends but just not quite up to the others overall when taking all types of bends into account.

 

Cost

As mentioned before, in the real world, for you, me, Joe Bloggs and Mr and Mrs Smith, cost will be a huge factor in any final decision on a bike. You could say that the best bike is the best bike and, well, you would be right :) BUT everyone does that.. let's keep this real. 3K here or 5K there can make a huge difference. If cost was not an issue we might as well have put the Panigale R and the Kawasaki H2 in here.

In order of affordability - averaging out for US and UK cost discrepancies.

  1. Suzuki GSX-R1000 price US$14000 | UK£11,400
  2. Kawasaki Ninja ZX10-R US$16000 | UK£13,200
  3. Ducati 959 Panigale US$15,300 | UK£13,400
  4. Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade US$14000 | UK£14,500
  5. MV Agusta F4 (base model) US$18,500 | UK£14,800
  6. Yamaha R1 US$16,500 | UK£15000
  7. BMW S1000RR (Sport Pack) US$17,500 | UK£15,300
  8. Ducati 1299 Panigale (base model) US$ 19,300 | UK£17000
  9. Aprilia RSV4 RF US$22000 | UK£18000

The Aprilia gets poor sales and you can see why. Other similarly capable and desirable bikes are 3K to 5K cheaper, which is a big deal. The MV Agusta F4 also has particularly poor sales but perhaps mostly with concerns on dealer location, dealer support and general running costs.

The big Gizzer looks remarkably cheap in this company but it is perhaps the Kawasaki that looks the best value, cheaper even than the 959 Panigale (in the UK)

 

Summary

In no particular order, well, as much as I like it and it is one of the best bikes here, we will have to discount the Aprilia on cost. One can get similar performance and thrills for less money. Doesn't mean it comes last, just dissappointed that it cannot come first.

The 1299cc Ducati is also expensive and although it is utterly desirable can we really call is, here, the best road sports bike, at any price.

The Suzuki, even at that price, just not deliver the same experience as many of the others. The Kawasaki looks to be a strong performer and at a great price. The 959 looks expensive but then again, it is a very able road bike and it is now as near a full liter/litre bike as you can get.

The Yamaha R1 and BMW S1000RR are so different but are both equally competitive and make for a fascinating comparison. Both are great for any occasion. The Fireblade is so easy to ride, such a capable non-nonsense bike but is it still the boss on the road?  The MV Agusta is a joy to look at but just not friendly enough for the road, even at that reasonable outlay, to be considered the best.

Moment of truth, all in, all things considered, for the average road bike rider, which is the bike to spend your money on? Which bike is best for the road?

After much deliberation, argument and heartache this is our Top 3:

 

Best superbike sports motorcycle for the road

 

 

The Kawasaki and R1 are emmense bikes, brilliant, both on road and track, perhaps even better on track though. Both have the tech to help you. Most people over the last year have jumped on the R1 as the best but, for the road?, I do not agree. The BMW has ability to make any rider look good. It has even more electrickery and safety gadgets than all the other bikes, it sounds great and it has upper end acceleration to melt your eyeballs. On top of all that, it is probably the most comfortable and people have been known to tour on it. It has to be our winner.

Agree, disagree? What are your thoughts?

 

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Mature rider, a beginner to motorbiking after being a keen cager. Starting to learn the skills needed to survive fast street riding.
Am seeking out my next bike and sharing my journey with you.

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