Downtown Sprinters

We find out which is the best alternative to make light work of your daily commute
Story: Mihir Gadre
Photography: Sanjay Raikar

 

An ideal commuter vehicle is the one that will get you to work and more importantly, back from work fresh as a daisy and that too in a couple of minutes, tops. So that makes a helicopter the most ideal commuter. But most of us are either not rich enough to buy one or not important enough for the government to give us one. Sadly, we have to look at other alternatives that can tackle the ever growing congestion, somehow avoid the smashing (as in actually smashing into other vehicles) public transport system and the grossly expensive taxis/rickshaws. Now it’s a proven fact that apart from things that can fly, two-wheelers are the fastest and the most convenient mode of transport for city commutes. But it’s not that simple. You see, there are around a hundred different two-wheelers available in the market belonging to two distinct categories, namely automatic scooters and manual motorcycles. In a bid to find out the most commutable commuter, we pit the most commuter focused machines from the two categories against each another.

We chose the Zeus and the Access for this shootout because both of them are made by the same manufacturer, i.e. Suzuki. Their pricing too is similar, with the Access retailing at Rs 48,295 while the Zeus, slightly expensive at Rs 51,698 (both prices, OTR-Pune). Both the Suzukis are conservatively styled, extremely well built, have nice comfy perches for the pillion and are slightly more utilitarian compared to their competitors. We even insisted on a drum brake equipped Zeus so that the equipment levels on the two remained similar. Both their engines have a similar cubic capacity and are nicely refined motors with lack of any vibrations even at the top of their rev range. The Zeus’ engine develops its peak torque at just 3500rpm which makes it absolutely effortless to pilot around town. Yours truly was even able to roll off from standstill easily in fifth gear! However, the bike does run out of breath in the upper reaches of the rev band. The Access’ mill feels even more refined than the Zeus’. It has great shove off the line and unlike the Zeus doesn’t lose its gusto even as the revs climb, in spite of the fact that on paper, the scooter is down on power as well as torque compared to the bike.

The pillion gets a wide, comfy seat and doesn’t have to bear the hassle of carrying the shopping bags, thanks to the scoot’s huge underseat storage

The Zeus gets one of the slickest five-speed ‘boxes in the market with the engine in the middle freeing up space for bigger tyres and suspension

That brings us to the first major difference between these two, i.e. the transmission. The Access’ variomatic transmission is able to harness the engine’s power much better than the Zeus’ manual ‘box, however slick and precise the latter may be. The Access is quick off the line and able to poke its nose into the smallest of gaps in traffic. The Zeus’s gearbox employs very tall ratios, especially for the higher cogs, which means that you end up doing most of the commuting in the third and fourth cogs and hardly ever get a chance to shift up to fifth in the city. This hurts the Zeus in the fuel efficiency stakes. A hyper miler, who likes to chug along everywhere at 40km/h in fifth with hardly ever letting the rev needle cross the 4000rpm mark, might be able to extract 65kmpl from the Zeus. But if you ride smoothly and just fast enough to not let the daily commute get boring (like I do), the Zeus’ efficiency does drop sharply to just 50-52kmpl. However, if you try the same hyper miling technique on the Access, going easy on the throttle right from standstill, you will be spending most of your time below the economy band which is usually above 30km/h and the fuel efficiency will actually drop. The variomatic transmissions are better suited to real world riding where you wring the throttle until you reach the speed you want to travel at and then ease it off a little to maintain your speed, i. e. travel like normal people. I used the Access as my long termer for over a month and it returned a fantastic 46.4kmpl, no kidding.

The second big difference between the two is their respective body shape. The Access, being a scooter, gets a big front apron that will protect you from the sprays during the rainy season, a nice flat floorboard that can hold a variety of things like an LPG cylinder that your mom needs immediately, a 15kg pile of newspapers that needs to be taken to the recycler’s or your dog who needs to be taken to the vet. Now try doing that on the Zeus. The scoot even gets a hook to, er, hook your shopping bags. The lockable under-seat storage of the Access is big enough to fit a small helmet or sun coats, scarves and what not in case of the fairer sex. In fact, the scooter is nothing but an iteration of two wheeled transportation that was made just for these specific reasons. The Access appeals to the whole family and everyone can ride it including you, your wife, your mom or even the 16-year-old teenager in the house who is allowed by the weird laws of our land, to ride a 125cc scooter that is easily capable of 90km/h but not a less powerful 100cc motorcycle.

But along with these advantages, the scooter’s shape also has its set of disadvantages. Due to smaller wheels and forks, a scooter like the Access can never be able to match the dynamics of the Zeus. The bike gets bigger wheels, longer suspension and better weight distribution. So even though the bike loses ground to the scooter in the practicality department, it is able to claw its way back into contention in the others.

The Access is a big improvement over the previous generation scooters as it gets telescopic front forks and 3.0 section tyres at both the ends. In terms of ride quality, it is a definite improvement over the Activa, against which it was benchmarked. The Zeus, on the other hand, has completely average road manners. It has an upright stance, with a short wheelbase and is softly sprung which makes it extremely easy to maneuver around town. It soaks up all the bumps but is not good at corner carving compared to most of its rivals like the Yamaha Gladiator. Even with all those commuter oriented traits of the Zeus, the scooter doesn’t even come close to the bike in terms of dynamics. The Access has a tendency to lock up its tyres vey easily under braking and safety in the rains is a big concern for the scooter compared to the bike. All this also makes the Zeus a better bet for weekend getaways.

There is ample space for shopping bags on the flat floor board and the underseat storage compartment

The scoot is a perfect companion for weekly trips to the market

Verdict
The Zeus is perhaps the easiest bike for negotiating heavy traffic conditions and one of the most effortless commuters in the country. But get aboard the Access and even the Zeus seems like a hassle to ride. A lot of research and development has taken place in automatic transmissions. They no longer impose a heavy penalty in the fuel efficiency stakes. In fact, there isn’t much of a difference in real world fuel efficiency of the two vehicles. The difference of 5kmpl, in this case, translates to a difference of just over a thousand bucks over 10,000km which means that the scooter will actually be cheaper till the 30,000km mark owing to the price difference of around Rs 3000. No wonder then that the gearless scooter segment which had dwindled down to almost extinction has resurrected itself and continues to grow in spite of the recession. The Access has become very popular. It has a waiting period of three to four weeks in spite of Suzuki churning out 9000 units every month. The Zeus, in contrast, hasn’t been able to garner any popularity – evident from its paltry 3 percent market share in the 125cc segment. The verdict is clear, within the city, the scooter wins against the motorcycle.

Sequel-conundrum

Is the Stunner version 2.0 an improvement over the older version as it happens with electronic gadgets or does it disappoint like movie sequels?
Words: Mihir Gadre
Photography: Sanjay Raikar

 

Usually, when Honda launches a new product it leaves the audience gasping for breath. The Stunner FI launch was no different. This time though it was not because Honda had unleashed yet another phenomenal product but because of the bike’s price tag of Rs 72,834 (on-road, Pune). To put this into perspective, let me give you an overview of its competition. Yamaha’s streetfighter par excellence, the FZ16 as well as TVS’ flagship, the Apache RTR EFi cost exactly the same as the Honda. Those looking for affordable performance have options like the Pulsar 180 or the Apache RTR, both of which retail for about rupees five grand less.

Honda’s own 150cc offering, the Unicorn, is rupees nine grand cheaper whereas the Hero Honda Achiever, which sports the same 150cc engine from the Unicorn, costs around Rs 12,000 less. Honda’s other 125cc bike, the Stunner (without the FI), is Rs 15,000 cheaper while the Shine is a whopping rupees 19 grand less. Does the FI tech justify the Stunner FI’s ultra premium price tag or is Honda asking for too much for a couple of alphabets added to the Stunner’s name tag? Well, let’s find out…

Style and ergonomics
The Stunner is a very handsome bike. The body work follows a uniform design language from its sharp, beak-like front to its upswept tail. The ergos are slightly sporty with rear set footpegs but are reasonably comfortable at the same time thanks to the high seat and handlebars. The quarter fairing too has been executed with much more finesse than the abrupt jobs pasted on to some other bikes in the country. I opine that the Stunner is one of the best looking bikes in the country. The FI version gets a new two-tone paint scheme with colours borrowed from the Fireblade which look, well, stunning.

The new shade of deep metallic red especially complements the bike much better than the solid blood red shade of the old bike. Build quality too is top notch perhaps the best you will find in the market. The FI gets red coloured rear springs, a silver heat shield and a golden coloured engine which differentiate it from the carburetor fed variant. However, we have a bone to pick with Honda for ditching the wing graphics on the tank and fairing that we absolutely loved. Nevertheless, on the styling front at least, the new bike fares much better than the competition.

Performance and FE
The Stunner is now the fifth bike on the market to feature fuel injection and the second, after the Glamour FI, to get Honda’s Legendary PGM-FI short for Programmed Fuel Injection. The FI engine feels much more refined than the carbureted version while the gearbox is a typical butter smooth Honda unit. The throttle response has improved and is especially evident while blipping on downshifts. The engine now produces 11.76PS of peak power – half a PS more than the old Stunner – and 11.2Nm of torque at a slightly lower 6250rpm.

The console gets the pgm-fi logo below the fuel gauge and a malfunction indication lamp next to the neutral indicator

 

The bike gets an open chain guard and red rear springs which differentiate it from the carb version. honda have employed a smaller rear sprocket in order to make the overall gearing taller

 

The stunner fi gets a silver finish heat shield instead of the chrome unit seen on the older bike

The FI manages much higher speeds in every gear compared to the carbureted Stunner which used to be totally out of breath at the 80km/h mark. However, the difference is not so much due to FI technology as Honda would like you to believe but because of the revised gearing. Honda technicians have given the bike a taller gearing by going one tooth down on the rear sprocket. BIKE India had suggested a similar gearing change to Honda way back in June 2006. We had even carried out the sprocket modification on the Shine and had done a comparo with the stock Shine in our magazine. However, it took Honda three long years to implement the changes. Honda must have hoped that nobody would find out about the revised gearing and assume that the difference in performance was all because of the PGM-FI.

The bike clocked a 0-60km/h time of 6.32sec and a top speed of 108.2km/h. Its performance is good for a 125cc but it is not good enough for the bikes it is trying to compete with. More than outright performance, it’s the new bike’s deficiency in midrange torque that takes it out of the performance game. However, Stunner FI does make up for it by returning fantastic fuel efficiency figures. The bike managed to stretch a litre to 64km on city roads and 72km on the highway. That gives it an overall fuel efficiency of 66kmpl which is 5kmpl more than the carbureted version in addition to being on par with other 125s.

Ride and handling

There are no changes on the chassis-suspension front. The bike is stiffly sprung to complement its sporty pretensions. This gives it a slightly harsh ride especially when riding solo. The ride gets much more compliant with a pillion on board. However, the stiff set-up also has its own advantages. It gives the bike good handling characteristics. The Stunner FI has a good grip and plenty of feedback through the tyres. The short wheelbase makes it a doodle to swerve in and out of the traffic. So in terms of dynamics, it does manage to outclass most of its competition. Many Stunner owners complain about the problem of vibes creeping up through the footpegs and handlebars at the top end of its rev range. Thankfully, as the FI variant runs lower revs due to its taller gearing in addition to the bike’s new bar ends, this problem has been alleviated to a great extent.

Verdict
What the Stunner FI sets out to achieve is to give the customer the performance of a 150 and the fuel efficiency of a 125 and it has almost achieved this goal. At the same time, it feels much more of a premium product compared to its competitors and has that all important big bike feel. It would have been a great product for people looking for a premium bike with great fuel efficiency to boot had it been priced a bit more realistically. A maximum premium of Rs 5,000 over the carbureted Stunner would have been justifiable. But a price tag of Rs 73,000 is just too optimistic on Honda’s part.

To reiterate a bit, the bike is certainly head and shoulders above the rest in its segment but is so darn expensive that prospective buyers are forced to consider other alternatives. The fact that Honda itself offers a fantastic bike like the Unicorn at a reasonable price makes the case for the Stunner F1 a bit weaker. The Unicorn is a well established benchmark in its segment with its legendary reliability, refinement, performance and dynamics. It also has a monoshock rear suspension and a tachometer which is absent on the Stunner FI.
If you compare the Stunner FI with the Unicorn, it is 7kmpl more fuel efficient than the Unicorn but then there’s a difference of Rs 9,000 in their price tag. So if you do the math it will take you at least 75,000km of riding to recover the price difference in your fuel bills. As such, the big question is whether the Stunner FI will be flying out of showrooms like all the other Hondas.

 

The-emperor-strikes-back

More power. More fun. More bang for your buck. The P220 returns with a vengeance
Words Bunny Punia
Photography Sanjay Raikar

 

While exiting the last left oval before the straight started, I ducked down as much as my large frame allowed. Gunning the bike, I upshifted to fourth and could see the digital speedometer climb towards the 120km/h mark rapidly. At close to 130km/h, I shifted to fifth and by the time I was forced to brake hard for a left curve, the speedometer had registered 135km/h! For a rider weighing in at a quintal, these speeds are phenomenal on a short straight. Can the new Bajaj Pulsar 220 easily clinch back the crown for being the fastest Indian bike?

When launched two years ago, the P220 redefined the rules of performance biking in India. It also marked the debut of technologies and features never before seen on any domestic motorcycle. As an overall package, true to Bajaj’s traits, the 220 was also a fantastic value for money proposition. However, once Yamaha entered the Indian performance biking segment, they stole the crown from the Pulsar 220. Later, with TVS confirming the launch of the 180cc RTR, Bajaj had to act fast to reclaim its lost glory.

Starting on the outside, the firm’s design boffins have followed an all-black treatment seen on the bike’s new smaller capacity siblings too. The engine, the alloy wheels, the suspension and the chassis – everything is painted the colour of midnight. In our opinion this treatment goes a long way in adding more muscle and poise to the bike. The inclusion of a braided brake hose not only looks good, but also improves the feel under hard braking as there is next to no flexing of the steel hose. There is a slight change in the sticker work as well but we are left wondering what the big ‘F’ logo behind the front indicator means? The tyres remain the same, however, Bajaj officials claim they are now made of softer compound in order to aid grip around corners.

A major alteration, however, is between the bike’s wheels. The engine does away with the fuel injection system and in its place comes the biggest carburetor seen on any current Indian production bike – a UCAL UCD 32 Venturi unit. This is a major departure but Bajaj claims that the overall benefits in terms of getting more power and better fuel economy at a lesser cost compared to the FI unit made them incorporate this change. Other modifications like graphite coating of the piston’s skirt for reducing the friction between the block and the piston, a modified intake port, high lift cams, a larger resonator and a bigger catalytic converter aid in generating more power which is up by a PS to 21. These figures give the Pulsar 220 the best power-to-weight ratio in India. Bajaj also claims to have made the final gearing longer for a better top end.

Right then, with our test equipment strapped on, it wasn’t long before we realized that the carbureted Pulsar 220 managed better timings than its predecessor. Most importantly, the new bike bettered its previous iteration’s top speed by a fair margin. Naught to sixty comes up in 4.7 seconds and the ’09 220 flies past the 100km/h mark in just 13.1 seconds. With Aspi on board and a relatively short straight, that didn’t do full justice to the bike’s top end, our test equipment still showed a true 132.5km/h with the bike’s digital speedometer registering 142km/h! Needless to say, these numbers make the new Bajaj Pulsar 220 the quickest and the fastest production bike in the country today. Performance aside, the company also claims an improvement in the bike’s fuel efficiency by approximately five percent over the FI model, however, we couldn’t test the fuel economy due to a lack of time.

Even the grab rail and clip-ons match the all-black treatment of this colour option

Just like the chiselled logo on the tank, the numericals of the tacho too get same effect with a grey background

The latest 220 employs the biggest carb on an Indian bike. K&N lovers rejoice! The engine also gets temperature based ignition mapping and an auto choke function

Time and again, we have highlighted the 220’s weakness around the track. Although there hasn’t been a significant change in the bike’s chassis and suspension setup, some retuning, especially at the front has been done. We rode the bike for an hour around Bajaj’s test track at Chakan and could feel the softer compound tyres doing their duties well. However, the main stand played spoilsport and was done away with for the photo shoot. The tendency of the earlier 220’s front suspension to dive while braking hard has been somewhat reduced in the new version. However, we would like to reserve our judgment about the bike’s handling prowess compared to its main rivals until we pit it against the competition soon.

Saving the best for last, the biggest improvement, rather the reason I would recommend this machine to bike fanatics, is its discounted price. We knew the 220’s sticker price would be reduced, considering the bike is now minus an expensive FI unit, but what we heard is simply outrageous. The 2009 Pulsar 220 will retail for approximately ten big ones less than the current bike which, simply put, makes it a shattering value for money deal! This price makes the 220 almost rupees thirty grand cheaper than its main rival – more than enough reason for bikers to head to a Bajaj showroom and book one right away. The 220 was once the benchmark for performance bikes in India and unlike other manufacturers, Bajaj didn’t want to sit and relax on their laurels. Instead, they have decided to raise the bar higher and challenge themselves by delivering a product that is not only better looking and faster but economical to run as well as to own. So, does that mean the competition has been smoked already? Let’s wait and watch!

 

Motoware-july09

The most sought after yet functional and fashionable biking gear available in the country

 

 

Alpinestars Paddock
A part of Astar’s Nero collection, the Paddock leather jacket for the fairer sex is the latest style statement in biking sisterhood. The jacket’s classic styling and contemporary finishing highlights its urban culture couture. It also incorporates lightweight safety padding in the shoulder and elbow sections to provide impact protection.

Sidi B2 Boots
Sidi’s base line race boots are now available in the country. The boots combine the trademark safety elements of the Sidi range but are priced economically courtesy a less radical design. With a variety of colours to choose from, safety and comfort at its best, an Italian design and a well known brand in the world of motorsports, the B2 are one of the best entry level boots money can buy.

 

Alpinestars Stella Octane
Here’s one suit that needs to be in the kitty of female bikers who look up to Alisha Abdullah and want to get their knees scraping on the racetrack. The Octane two-piece suit is designed to suit the female body form and is constructed using high grain leather for optimum protection. The two-piece assembly means that you can use just the jacket during your regular bike rides too.

Sidi Streetburner
Made from top grain leather, the Streetburner shoes from Sidi are what every fashion freak biker would want to wear each day. Designed for regular use, these shoes incorporate some of the necessary safety elements from Sidi’s race boots and at the same time they are comfortable enough for city commutes. In spite of being street shoes, the Streetburners come with toe sliders if you decide to scrape your toes while turning at intersections.

Ed Hardy Helmets
Top fashion designer Christian Audigier’s latest designs use imagery from tattoo god Ed Hardy’s collection. However, the designer has gone a step ahead from apparels and for a change has included helmets as a part of his 2009 line-up. The base shell choice for these designs comes in the form of the VR-2R helmet model from KBC. The helmets featured here are the Pirates and the Tiger models in white and black base colours respectively. For further details on pricing and availability, check out the website.

World Exclusive -rsv4-v-the-rest!

Aprilia’s WSB bike with a tax disc takes on all 2009 test winners to find the UK’s ultimate sports machine By Adam Child

 

Our UK introduction to the RSV4 Factory is typically British: rain, wind and cold. With 320km up the A1 and M62 to Heysham for the ferry ahead of us, I’m chomping at the bit to get on the new Aprilia despite having already ridden 90 miles to the office on my R1.

The immediate impression is of its supermodel looks, closely followed by its physical dimensions – the RSV4 Factory is tiny, almost 600-like. Even for me, at 5’7”, it feels small.

On board, the pegs are high, the seat firm and there’s very little suspension travel; however, after 130km of the A1 I’m not complaining – it’s not that bad.

Yeah, the screen is low and taller riders may have a problem but it is, after all, a sports bike and not a Goldwing. Even the mirrors are just about acceptable, while the multi-functional clocks are the best in their class – like most Aprilias there’s a mode button on the left-hand bar which lets you scroll through them.

In fact, nobody really complains about its comfort – the small tank range of just over 160km being the only real criticism. That said, over long distance all the others are better, even the 675.

By comparison the RC8R is a sofa – its pegs are low, the screen is acceptable, its mirrors are good and even the seat is plush for a sports bike; as fellow tester Kev Smith put it: ‘I could ride this all day’. Shame the clocks are poor and it’s a little vibey compared to the rest.

By the M62, with the Steam Packet ferry not too far away, I’m back on the R1. Having done 4800km in the last month, I know how good it is for covering distance. The fairing is wide at the front and offers good wind protection, the mirrors are fine and the engine is hardly working at 160km/h and 7000rpm.

KTM is the cool, comfort king

To my surprise I’m wishing I was on the 675. During MCN’s 600 group test earlier this year it was the bike everyone fought to ride for long journeys, and even in this company it excels – only the RC8R gets more comfort votes.

OK, so the 675’s motor is revving higher, but there is little or no vibration – unlike the RC8R. Later on I do a 320km stint on the Triumph two-up with a tankbag fitted and it’s fine. The 675 could well be the dark horse here.

Despite the cold weather, we’re like excitable children hopped up on Ribena as we ride onto the famous ferry, and even more excitable riding off. This is it: the toughest road test environment in the world – and it doesn’t start well for the KTM.


 

We head up to the top of Bray Hill for a gentle lap to let the Isle of Man virgins savour their first Mountain experience and the RC8R stalls twice at the lights at the top near the petrol station. The fuelling at low revs is far from perfect – it’s really snatchy, and every one of us stalls it at some stage. As such, Ramsey Hairpin and Parliament Square is a pain on the RC8 in the busy traffic.

RC8R is best on smoother sections

Respect to the King of the Mountain

For all you TT visitors, be warned – speed camera and CCTV live here

Yet again it’s the Triumph which surprises – I’d forgotten just what a great bike it is. Perfect fuelling, easy and light around town and simple to ride, yet with such proven sporting potential. The next day our brave pillion Frankie – who had never ridden anything bigger than a 400 – takes the Triumph for a spin and can’t believe how smooth and easy it is to ride.

Though she draws the line at trying the R1, she would have had no problem. Considering how much bhp there is available to your right wrist, it’s a pussycat around town. At low speeds the riding position forces a lot of weight on your wrists and when the ambient air temperatute is high the frame and engine give off tremendous heat. But those are our only real complaints.

RSV4 lacks the R1’s reactions
In previous tests we’ve had fuelling issues with RSV4 Factorys at low speeds, but this bike was fine. The fuelling isn’t as slick as the Triumph’s or R1’s but it feels far better than the KTM.

However, when we take it over the Mountain part of the circuit later on we discover there’s a noticeable glitch in the power curve higher up in the rev range. At 6500rpm it seems hesitant, then it takes off and at 10,000rpm it goes beserk – it makes the Aprilia feel aggressive and hard to ride compared to the others. There also appears to be a slight hesitation when you wind on full throttle, as if the fly-by-wire system takes too long to react to the throttle position (Aprilia is investigating). But once you unleash the V4, boy does it want to party.

ISLE OF MAN
Every motorcyclist should do the Isle of Man at least once

If you’ve never been to the Isle of Man you are missing one of the greatest motorcycling experiences anywhere on the planet.

The island is a motorcycling paradise, both on and off road, at any time of year with the only unrestricted roads in the UK. But during TT fortnight it’s much more. Not only do the road racing gods take over, there’s also masses of activity and entertainment – from stunt shows to classic jamborees – to suit every taste. There’s nothing else like it for any motorcycle racing fan and there’s even still time to get there to make your pilgrimage this year… Go to www.iomtt.com

 

Flying over the Mountain, tucked into the bike like I’m on a 250, it gives me one of those moments I’ll remember forever – the V4 singing its intoxicating tune, 240km/h on the clocks, fenceposts passing sideways in a blur and the TT course unwinding ahead of me.

The R1 and KTM aren’t far behind – in fact in terms of outright speed there’s very little in it – but the Aprilia feels the quickest. Its aggression, tiny dimensions and firm set-up give it a phenomenal sensation of speed. The Ohlins multi-adjustable steering damper controlling the odd shake from the bars over bumps just adds to the pure racing feel. As we found out later the RSV4 Factory is actually significantly quicker than its rivals, clocking a mind-bending 303km/h – 10km/h faster than the R1 and nearly 50km/h more than the 675!

This is where the 675 suffers
When the going gets this fast, the Triumph obviously suffers. It’s quick, but on the run up to Hailwoods Rise after the tram lines the poor 675 just can’t keep up with the brutally fast litre bikes. I thrash it mercilessly, and its blue change-up gear indicator lights seem to flash constantly, but there’s no hope: the others just pull away up the hill.

But it’s not all about outright speed. On the fast run down from Kate’s Cottage to Creg-Ny-Baa you need some serious brakes and a quality suspension set-up to get around the lovely right-hander quickly. The Triumph’s lightness is its advantage here, easily matching the bigger bikes for cornering speed.


 

All the bikes here are good on the brakes, but the Brembo radial set-up on the Aprilia is simply outstanding. These are race bike quality brakes. The KTM’s Brembos are powerful too, but the combination of grippy Diablo Supercorsa tyres and

factory-feeling Ohlins forks mean the Aprilia gives the most confidence under hard braking.

 

TT RACER’S ROAD VERDICT
Up-and-coming road racer Connor Cummins is among the hot favourites for a podium at this year’s TT. The 23-year-old from Ramsey is the fastest Manxman around the island and this year is racing for the McAdoo Kawasaki team who’ve had great success on the roads previously. Here are his impressions of the four bikes:

TRIUMPH 675 DAYTONA
“I’m really impressed. It’s not like any other 600 I’ve ridden; it’s really soft at the bottom, not sharp and aggressive, then just loves to rev, you can play with the over-rev. It handles well, too; I’m really surprised how good it is. For a small bike it’s not uncomfortable either, it’s actually good even for someone as big as me.”

YAMAHA R1
“It’s just awesome isn’t it? I race one in British Superstock so I know how good they are. The engine is amazing, – so smooth – it makes its power so precisely and it really uses the tyres well – we’ve noticed how much tyre is left even after a long Superstock race. The brakes are great, so is the handling. The standard settings are a bit soft, but that can be sorted and I know it’s not the best looking, but who cares when it’s this good?”

APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY
“Wow! That’s awesome. I didn’t think it would be that good. It’s the first time I’ve ridden a V4 and boy it has some grunt – it just wants to take off! The mid-range has a nice feel to it, it’s really impressive. When I first looked at it I thought it would be way too small for me at 6’4” but it’s not that bad. It’s aggressive, handles like a race bike and looks gorgeous. But how much did you say it was again?”

KTM RC8R
“It feels like a comfortable sofa compared to the others – the bars are high and the pegs are low. You get going and you’re easily above a ton and above – it really feels quick. The V-twin engine has some real kick, too; I didn’t think it would be that quick. It’s easy to ride and would be perfect for someone who isn’t that quick or skilled but wants to ride fast. I’d have one. It’s fun, quick and easy-going.”

CONNOR’S VERDICT – IF HE HAD TO RACE ONE AT THE TT:

1ST Yamaha R1

2nd Aprilia RSV4 Factory

3rd Triumph 675 Daytona
4th KTM RC8R

“The Yamaha is easier to ride than the Aprilia, a little quicker, stable and would save its tyres. The Triumph would be so much fun around the TT course however. The KTM is still a great bike, it’s just that the others are that bit more fun.”

CONNOR’S VERDICT – IF HE HAD TO BUY ONE:

1st Yamaha

2nd Triumph

3rd Aprilia

4th KTM

“I’d still fork out that little extra and buy the Yamaha, but not the Aprilia. It’s too expensive, even though it is really good. The Triumph is a bargain.”

The RSV4 Factory also scores highly on the turn-in to corners. Again, it’s like a race bike in the way it flicks aggressively onto its side. The testers who haven’t raced lately take a while to get used to it, and the Aprilia makes the 675’s steering feel beautifully natural – it also makes the KTM feel long and lazy. The Yamaha turns fast, but after the twitchy Italian it feels planted.

As our confidence rises and speeds pick up, limits are approached – mostly ours, but also those of the Yamaha’s tyres. Why did Yamaha choose only average rubber for its flagship sports bike? The standard Dunlops aren’t as good as the Pirelli Supercorsas fitted to the other three bikes and if you push hard it’s noticeable – both Kev and I have front- end slides at the Gooseneck. The Dunlops are fine once warm – and 95% of the time you won’t have a problem – but such an amazing bike deserves equally amazing tyres. Grumble over.

Yamaha’s ideal road-focus
The R1 is set-up slightly softer than the Aprilia out of the dealership and this is a good thing – it was far more comfortable and easier to ride most of the time, and fine in the wet. But when we really pushed, the rear would squat under power and would give a little wallow. With time you can tweak this out to make the R1 a formidable track tool, but out of the crate the R1 is significantly more road-focused than the Aprilia.

At the end of the day there’s excited chatter about the outrageous performance of the litre-bikes. On the Isle of Man’s unrestricted roads they are truly astonishing, and it’s humbling to think how hard TT racers ride them. We went fast, but still felt as though we had only scraped the surface of the bikes’ potential.

The surprise is that instead of feeling short-changed by the Triumph because of its lower power and more ‘ordinary’ performance, we all end up raving about it. Its ease of use and screaming engine make it a joy to thrash, and it’s far less intimidating than the others. Howling across the mountain I feel like I’m really riding the 675, bouncing the gutsy triple off the rev limiter in fourth and fifth. The others are all so ‘oh-my-god’ quick that, frankly, I’m slightly scared by them.

When we get to the ferry for the return trip, the arguments are still raging. By this stage no-one is fighting the RC8’s corner – in isolation it’s a great bike, but it’s out-gunned in this company. The RSV4 Factory has won over our hearts and minds with its race-focussed aggression, and the R1 is possibly the most phenomenally-competent sports bike yet devised, but to everyone’s surprise the 675 is still there – a middleweight slugging it out with heavyweights.

We roll off the ferry and head home still undecided. Plenty of motorway time to ponder this one…

PILLION VIEW
Frankie Lister, 26, is the proud owner of a Honda NC30 and MCN’s brave pillion for this test.

TRIUMPH DAYTONA 675
“The Triumph is the best by some way. As a pillion on a sports bike, comfort is nice but a secure seated position is an essential – the Triumph has both. The peg position and the height of the pillion pad relative to the rider and the tank combine to give a safe feeling through fast corners and comfort for the motorway.”

YAMAHA R1
“The peg position and the pillion pad are fine, the problem is the exhausts which push your legs right out leaving the pillion with sore knees and an insecure seating position. A change of exhausts does alleviate this problem, making it a reasonable albeit not particularly comfortable ride.”

KTM RC8R
“The pillion seat is very high on the RC8R, making you feel very insecure under hard braking and fast cornering. The KTM is also the only bike that had peg vibration.”

APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY
“The RSV4 has a quintessential sports bike position with your knees tucked and a fairly high seat. It is, however, not a terrible pillion option if you are used to sports bikes, just don’t swap from a Goldwing to one!”

AND TESTER SAYS…
“Considering the Triumph’s racing potential it’s not bad two-up, but its lack of power when compared to the competition is really noticeable when two-up and riding hard over the Mountain course.

“The Aprilia wasn’t half bad, but its vicious power delivery makes it very flighty. It might be painful for the pillion but a light pillion doesn’t really affect the R1. It’s a similar situation with the KTM, but that is a nightmare for the pillion, bordering on dangerous at high speeds.

 


IT’S THE RSV4 WE WANT MOST, YET IT DOESN’T WIN THE DAY…’
This is difficult, so let’s start with the easiest bit. The KTM is outclassed here, despite having the most powerful V-twin engine ever bolted into a road-going bike and being absurdly comfy for something so competent on track.

 

Yes, it’s dripping with quality components from the likes of Brembo, WP, and Marchesini but at Rs 11.7 lakh it’s seriously pricey, too. So if you want a V-twin that’s comfortable, easy to ride (apart from that fuelling glitch) and live with, but can still cut it on track, you’re not going to be disappointed with the RC8. If you want the best sports bike full stop, read on.

In many ways the Aprilia is the one we want most. For me, it’s head and shoulders above the others on looks, and the multi-adjustable chassis and engine just add to its exotic allure. If you were lucky enough to have one of these in your shed there’s a good chance you’d spend more time in there than in the house.

Then there’s the distinctive, howling V4 engine itself which goes berserk at 10,000rpm. If the looks fail to get your heart racing, that certainly will. The fact that it handles like a race bike on the road is a less clear advantage. It adds excitement, but does become wearing. And how much?! At Rs 11.7 lakh you have to look at it as a cheap Ducati Desmosedici rather than a competitor to standard sports bikes.

When pushed, none of our testers could say they’d actually spend their own money on an RSV4 Factory.

And so to the R1. Its standard tyres and looks are a disappointment, but those are the only negatives. Though nowhere near as exotic as the Aprilia, its mixture of astonishing performance and ability as everyday transport makes it incredibly appealing to those of us who can only justify owning one bike. The R1 came so, so close to winning this test.

But it didn’t. While the litre bikes were bludgeoning our brains out with their ludicrous amounts of power, the Triumph Daytona 675 charmed us with its mix of real-world ability, brilliant chassis, characterful engine and slick looks. It’s reasonably comfortable – you can tour with luggage two-up if needed – and it’s easy to ride. Yet at the same time it’s fun, exciting and can easily cut it on track. It only lagged behind the others when speeds passed the 210 km/h mark, but in reality how many times does this happen in your average month?

You could argue there’s not the pride of ownership you’d get from the KTM or Aprilia, and you certainly won’t have flocks of people around it like seagulls on spilled chips. But the Triumph is just over half the price of the RSV4 Factory, and was the bike that our testers would actually buy. In that regard it’s a deserving victor and so takes the title of MCN sports bike of the year.

 

Versatility-defined

Adhish Alawani finds out if the new RTR 180 packs in the ingredients of an all-rounder
Photography Sanjay Raikar

 

TVS Motors had the Apache RTR 180 in the pipeline for a long time. The bike’s predecessor, the RTR 160 has already proven to be one of the best bikes in its class. This fact alone had definitely raised my expectations from the new bike and when I first saw the breathtaking promotional video of the RTR 180 shot at one of the MotoGP tracks abroad, my excitement knew no bounds. I could hardly wait to lay my hands on this beast. After innumerable calls to the TVS guys, I finally got the chance to pick up the RTR 180 from the company warehouse on the outskirts of Pune.

The bike’s sparkling white colour with golden front forks and rear shock gas reservoirs plus the big RTR logo running across the tank scoops is a treat for the eyes. In spite of not making too many cosmetic changes to the original RTR, the 180’s refreshed looks make it stand out from its 160cc sibling. The front and rear petal disc brakes come from the fuel injected version of the RTR 160. TVS has retained the instrumentation console of the 160 although it sports a white treatment now. It retains the 0-60km/h timer and the high speed recorder previously featured the older RTR. What comes as an option on the bike is a set of naked footpegs for the track (which otherwise have rubber sleeves over them) and a stylish rear fender. All in all, the RTR 180 is more or less the same as its 160cc version with minor but welcome upgrades.

Without wasting too much time at the warehouse, I hit the road astride one of the most awaited performance bikes in the country. The company claims that the RTR 180 is one of the quickest Indian bikes from zero to 60km/h. I wasn’t quite convinced about this while riding it for the first few minutes. The engine is not as free revving as the smaller RTR. TVS also claims that the 180’s horsepower is considerably higher (17.3PS) at 8500rpm compared to the 160cc bike (15.5PS). Additionally, the new bike’s peak torque has increased to 15.5Nm from 13.1Nm of the RTR 160. It was obvious that all these figures had to reflect in the performance testing results even if they weren’t really being felt while riding normally. And boy was I impressed after the performance runs! The RTR 180 managed to pull off the 60km/h mark from standstill in just 4.64 seconds – a feat as yet unattained even by some of the higher capacity Indian bikes. During testing, the bike took just 18.47 seconds for the quarter mile run. An interesting fact here is that the engine has a very linear power delivery. Wring your wrist at any given rpm and the bike is more than happy to start pulling away comfortably. The Apache 180 also managed to pull off a true top speed close to 124km/h which is slightly more than the RTR 160’s top speed. What is worth mentioning is that the new 180’s engine doesn’t have a rev limiter. The tacho redlines at 9000rpm, however, rev it hard and the engine can go all the way up to 12,000rpm – the last mark on the tachometer. The fact that TVS is developing a race kit for the RTR 180 makes a lot of sense as it will help boost the power in those high revs. Nonetheless, until that happens, we are sure enthusiasts will be more than happy with the stock bike.

The new 177.4cc mill packs in adequate power to plaster a grin on every enthusiast’s face

The golden gas reservoirs are among the few cosmetic upgrades on the 180

The instrumentation console remains more or less the same as the 160’s except for the white treatment

Considering the fact that TVS has created the 180 by keeping performance as a top priority, it goes without saying that the company has made sure that the bike’s chassis can handle power quite ably. The bike’s wheelbase was increased by 26mm as compared to the RTR 160. The longer wheelbase has lent a very stable and planted character to the 180. The way the bike behaves in corners instills a lot of confidence in the rider. Throw the bike around a bend at the maximum possible speed, get your butt off the saddle and point the knee down – you are surely in for a comfortable high speed cornering act. I wonder how many Indian bikes would be able to match this kind of handling. And it is not just about the corners, the RTR 180 feels very stable on bumpy and uneven surfaces as well. The stability of the chassis is phenomenal and the grip lent by the new set of lightweight TVS Shrichakra aids the handling of the bike to a great extent. The manufacturer has switched from the 18-inch rear tyre of the 160 to a wider 17-inch one on the 180 while retaining the 17-inch front.

TVS engineers who have done a lot of work on the racing front for the company’s factory team in India have pooled in their collective experience in creating the RTR 180. The new bike’s amazing power delivery and fantastic handling characteristics is a proof of the fact that a motorcycle can be perfected to a great extent on the racetrack. Yet, in doing all this, they haven’t missed out on other aspects of biking. I had to catch up with a friend in Mumbai the other day and I took this opportunity to ride the RTR on the NH4. Even after riding the bike for two and a half hours continuously, there was no hint of fatigue crept in my body. The new RTR’s handlebar-footpeg geometry is so versatile that apart from the racetrack, it will prove to be highly comfortable even on the highways and in the city. The Pune-Mumbai NH4 ride was a testimony of the high speed stability of the RTR 180. Not to forget, that the Apache RTR is one of the better bikes to ride in traffic with its strong low end grunt. Additionally, the bike’s flickability makes it a fun machine for the city.

Let’s talk about an aspect of biking worshipped in India – stunting. The images of the Apache 180 featured on these pages probably speak more than a thousand words. The bike is a stunter’s delight and is extremely wheelie friendly, ready to pop that front wheel anytime it is required to do so. In fact, even during the performance testing, I had a tough time keeping the front wheel down while managing the perfect launch. The longer wheelbase has made it a bit difficult to execute stoppies easily, however, it’s just a matter of getting the hang of it. So where does the RTR 180 lack? There are hardly any negative aspects of the bike aside from the fact that the engine doesn’t rev smoothly. Also, one wouldn’t call the RTR 180 a very refined machine. But well, refinement is not something that everyone likes. There are people who love to have that slight grunty feel from a motorcycle which adds a big bike flavor to the machine.

At the end of the day, when I look back at all the characteristics of the Apache RTR 180, I am convinced that TVS has successfully introduced a bike in the local market which is ready to take on other contenders in India’s performance bike segment. The RTR 180 is a highly versatile machine that can do almost everything comfortably be it sport riding, city commuting, touring or stunting. There is absolutely no area where the bike refuses to perform. The manufacturer’s claim that the RTR 180 is one of the quickest from zero to 60km/h is absolutely correct and the bike truly lives up to TVS’ racetrack promotion. But there’s a lot more to the bike apart from just its performance and racing gene. It returns a decent fuel efficiency of 42kmpl in the city and 55kmpl on highways. What else do we need from a bike that costs Rs 72,000 (approx OTR, Pune)? Probably nothing! Except, of course, TVS’ performance kit that produces even more power beyond the red line!

One-fine-day

In a bid to find the best 100cc commuter bike in the market, BIKE India takes these puny performers on a 350km trip
Words Bunny Punia
Photography Sanjay Raikar

 

When was the last time we had a discussion about 100cc motorcycles? The fact is that these puny little machines are mass segment bikes and make up for more than half the two-wheelers sold in India today. While bigger capacity machines and Indian performance bikes are generally the talk of automotive forums and the letters that we get from our readers, it struck us that we seem to have forgotten this interesting segment of two-wheelers. Flipping through older issues, the last time we pitted 100cc bikes against each other was way back in 2006! A weekend was coming up and what better (and adventurous) way to spend it than on commuter bikes that are at times used to ferry a whole family from one village to another in a hundred milliliters of petrol! This was also the first time we were heading for an overnight road trip on small capacity machines. This could be fun. Was it? Read on…

Our aim was to take a 100cc bike each from every motorcycle manufacturer. Honda, Royal Enfield and Suzuki don’t have a 100cc yet and hence it all boiled down to the Platina from Bajaj, the CD Dawn from Hero Honda, the Star Sport from TVS and lastly the Crux from Yamaha. The Platina and the Star Sport have a bikini fairing while the other two make do with simple road headlamps. The plan was pretty straight forward: ride to Diveagar (a small town on the west coast) through the Tahmini ghats and back to Pune. A round trip of around 350km would not only give us ample time to judge the bikes, but also prove to be a good break from our usual daily grind. The numerous hill sections along this route meant that we would have to rev these small engines hard till the valves popped out and then upshift to make progress. The riders, apart from yours truly, were Ramnath, Varun and Sawan. Monica took over behind the wheel of our backup car while Sanjay was busy with his lens. We finished work early and left the BI office by 4 pm. About 20km
from the office at our first meeting point, Chandni Chowk, each of the riders seemed to have apprehensions about continuing with the journey. Yes, it seemed we have been spoiled lately by the slew of larger capacity Indian bikes. Nonetheless, there was a task at hand and we decided to continue towards Mulshi lake. The traffic had eased up and we decided to stick to 55-60km/h as all the bikes were relatively brand new.

I had chosen to ride the Platina first and it surprised me its comfortable setup. The wide seat is well padded providing a comfy place to pile on the miles. However, being a tad too soft, the padding can give in quickly if you are a heavy rider (like me) making your bum sore within half an hour. The Platina has always been a great value buy and won our 100cc shootout way back in 2006. It also feels the classiest of the lot. The bike’s fairing, a good use of stickers with the silver colour, the alloy wheels, an all-black exhaust, etc., add up to the Platina’s overall good looks. The engine is quite smooth though it has the characteristic metallic sound that is now quite common on most Bajaj bikes. Being the most powerful and torquiest of the lot here, the Platina is always eager to jump ahead in traffic and its throttle response is good for a bike in this class. Leading the group, I decided to increase the cruising speeds to 70-75km/h and surprisingly the Platina didn’t feel strained at all.

We took a small break once the hill section began. Trading in the Platina for the CD Dawn came as a huge surprise. While the former feels substantial, the Hero Honda is certainly diminutive. Sitting upright with the helmet on, I couldn’t even see the handle bars or the speedometer console. The saddle is harder and so is the suspension with respect to the Bajaj. However, we were riding on bad roads and it didn’t take long for me to realize why the CD Dawn does so well in rural markets. Even with a family of four on board, this 100cc workhorse takes all the battering that owners subject it to without a complaint. The CD Dawn is probably as basic as it gets when it comes to looks, but from practicality point of view, it scores very high. The bike feels very spirited courtesy the short initial three gears and is a boon in rush hour traffic. Since we were riding on deserted twisty roads and going beyond 65-70km/h, the Dawn felt a tad underpowered.

Who gets to drive in the luxury of our back up car?

Holy ‘Moo’ly! Sanjay finds some cow comfort

Platina: How could Bunny resist sliding the little Bajaj?

Cd dawn: Sawan takes the most reliable bike here a little too close to the water

Throughout our trip, we were lucky enough to not have the rains spoil our fun. Stopping for another photo-op near the lake, surprisingly different viewpoints regarding our steeds were discussed among the riders. I was eager to get onto the third bike, the TVS Star Sport. Oh boy, was I blown away! This bike is spot-on whether it is the seating posture, the firm yet comfortable suspension or the quality of the parts. In my opinion, the Star Sport matches the Platina when it comes to appearance. The TVS is a smart looker without being overly flashy. It also handled beautifully over broken tarmac with the only grouse being the bike’s thin and hard compound rear tyre that played spoilsport. The Star Sport might not be the fastest of the lot, but over bad roads and around twisties, it was probably the best performer amongst the quartet.

We exited the ghats and headed towards Mangaon on the Mumbai-Goa highway to halt for the night. However, once we discovered that we were getting good and reasonably priced accommodation at Diveagar beach, we decided to go ahead with a night ride approximately another 50odd km to our new destination. The Crux would be my companion now. The roads from here on were very nice and smooth even over the several ghat sections. The Yamaha is the lightest of the lot but it doesn’t impart this feeling while riding. In fact, it feels quite substantial for a 100cc bike. The engine is soft although the gearbox is clunky. The Crux gave me a tough time locating the neutral (between the first and second gears – the only bike here to have a universal shift pattern). It has the largest capacity motor (106cc) and the tall ratios meant that I could stick around the 75km/h mark with ease on straights. Around corners, the Crux does feel a little nervous and not as assuring as say the TVS. We reached Diveagar by 9 pm and headed to MTDC’s resort that is located right on the beach. Two cottages for 3500 bucks seemed like an excellent deal but the ordeal of the air-con in the room not working after 2 am and a million insects was a different story all together. Add to that, the discourteous behavior of the staff and we would not recommend this resort to our readers. Serious discussions over vodka and whisky lasted late into the night and I was looking forward to another day of riding to decide the winner of this shootout.

Blame it on tiredness or sleeping at dawn, but it was only by 10 am that we dragged ourselves out of bed. The beach was just a hundred meters away and we decided to head to the coastline before searching for a good place to have breakfast. Lightweight and thin tyres translated to us having pure fun playing with the bikes on the sand. Small wheelies, long slides or simply riding in the water saw us spending almost two hours on the beach. It was almost noon when we stopped for brunch. I kept switching between the four bikes from time to time on the return journey in order to clear out a few confusions. The harsh sun was nearly killing us and we wanted to reach home ASAP. The four bikes were now given the stick in contrast to the so far restricted 80km/h mark. At a newly discovered kilometer long tarmac stretch closed to regular traffic, the Yamaha Crux even went on to kiss the magical 100km/h reading on the speedometer with featherweight Varun on board. All of us rode in a convoy back to Pune where we regrouped for the last time at Chandni Chowk. Before announcing the winner of our 100cc comparo, let’s recap a bit:

VERDICT
The aim of this shootout cum adventurous travelogue was to see which 100cc bike offers the best bang for your buck. The difference between the cheapest and the most expensive motorcycle here is Rs 2,000. The CD Dawn offers the best value deal. It’s surprising to see a Hero Honda selling for the least amount of money. The Crux seems to chug along well for Yamaha as the next cheapest bike from the Japanese stable retails for an additional Rs 6,500. However, the 100cc Yam is like a jack of all trades but the master of none. It all boils down to the Bajaj Platina and the TVS Star Sport. Way back in 2006, the Platina was Rs 641 cheaper than the TVS. Today however, the difference is just a few bucks. The Platina’s only serious grouse remains its light front end whereas the TVS’ sole disadvantage is its inefficiency to run on the highways for long. The Bajaj has a fuel gauge whereas the TVS has the longest tank range here. Anyway you look at it, buyers will be more than happy with either of the two bikes. This shootout turned out to be tougher than expected and we have a rare case of having a joint winner.

 

WINS ON TRACK

The all-new MotoGP-style R1 outclasses its rivals in the toughest ever track test. Find out how…

 

‘This is a bike so full of contradictions but it’s so damn good’

 

1ST

Yamaha’s epic new R1 is the unanimous, hands-down winner of our 1000cc superbike track test. It easily beats the competition, but it has to be said from the off that it takes time to appreciate the R1’s brilliance. That’s down to the Yamaha’s unique MotoGP-inspired crossplane crank motor with its irregular firing intervals. It’s so different to anything anyone – except Valentino Rossi and his mates – have ridden before, it takes time for it all to sink in.

When fellow road tester Bruce Dunn rode it briefly for straight-line performance testing at our test strip, he wasn’t jumping for joy. When I rode it against the more familiar Fireblade in France, I was initially convinced it wasn’t as good as the Honda. Already there have been magazine articles saying it’s all hype.

But all these opinions come from lack of quality time in the saddle. The more you ride the R1, the more you’ll fall in love with its unbelievably vibe-free engine, glassy-smooth power delivery, gruff factory YZR-M1 engine note and ability to let you get on the throttle sooner than you ever thought possible. Jump off the R1 and on to any of the other four-cylinder 1000s here, and they lack the Yamaha’s instant burst of acceleration as soon as you pick up the throttle out of a corner. They all feel a bit gutless and vibey.

All of us on this test were bowled over by the R1, including James Haydon, who was almost speechless after riding it.

 

Inspired by MotoGP

Back in 2004, Yamaha gave Rossi’s M1 a crossplane crank and irregular firing order so he could get in and out of corners as fast as possible. The same applies to the new R1. It’s like there’s an electric motor in the big red Deltabox chassis, not a big inline four-cylinder internal combustion engine.

Unlike the others, the engine won’t try to twist the chassis and pump the tyre under hard acceleration, causing it to be unstable. It just drives you forward with sublime feel for the rear tyre, so you can get on the throttle sooner and harder from the middle of the corner.

You almost have to ride the R1 like a twin – using the grunt, not the revs – so a lot of the corners at Cartagena can be taken a gear higher than on the Blade, for example, which makes the Yamaha less frantic to ride fast. Ironically, the slower corners have to be taken in first, though, as it has a very tall bottom gear.

 

Worn tyres don’t faze it

The R1 is also easiest of all the bikes here to ride on worn tyres. You can feel the exact moment the tyre starts to lose grip and you can control it from there. When the ZX-10R goes, it snaps sideways violently. The Blade and the K9 have lots of natural grip thanks to their long swing-

arms, but still don’t offer the sublime feel of the Yamaha. The electronically-aided Ducati just splutters on its traction control when the tyre starts to spin, which is cool, but you have to wait too long for the power to come back in again, by which time the R1 has buggered off along the next straight.

With its lack of crank inertia, when you throttle-off the R1 freewheels, almost silently like a two-stroke. This keeps the R1 stable on the way into corners and gives you the confidence to run in faster with more control. But this lack of engine braking can make the R1 ‘back in’ slightly, especially if you use the back brake, so you have to ride accordingly.

 

Like three bikes in one

The R1 is three bikes in one: a twin or V4 on the throttle, a two-stroke off it and an inline four at high revs.

This is the key to the R1’s speed around the track or through a set of corners on the road, but none of it shows up on paper, testing it by conventional means. Its power and torque figures aren’t particularly impressive (it’s the least powerful inline four) and the straight-line performance is on a par with the competition. Where you feel it is through the seat of your pants and, of course, on a stop watch around a track.

The ZX-10R has 13bhp more power, but it still laps over a second slower than the R1. And the Yamaha is two and a half seconds faster than the more powerful new K9. It’s nearly a second quicker than the Ducati 1198S – and that has full Ohlins suspension and traction control!

It’s hard to see how the competition is going to catch up in the future. The ZX-10R proves that throwing big bhp at a bike doesn’t make it fast from A to B. The Ducati shows that top-shelf suspension, a big engine and advanced electronics can’t quite close the gap on the R1. It’s going to take some Yamaha-style ‘out of the box’ thinking to catch the R1.

While the engine dominates the R1, it also handles beautifully – once it’s properly set up for the track. Get it on its nose – by taking off front preload, adding more rear and tightening up the damping at each end – and it ‘floats’ around the track.

A fast lap is completely effortless. The suspension is plush, giving lots of feel, and flip-flop chicanes can be taken with ease. The brakes have more feel and power than any R1 I’ve ever ridden and the lack of engine vibes and useable power make riding the R1 as fast and easy as playing a computer game.

That’s not to say the Yamaha isn’t fun and involving. A screaming four-cylinder Blade or ZX-10R certainly gets the juices flowing, but there’s nothing more fun than reducing following riders to a speck in your mirrors as you leave them for dust out of corners and pull a huge gap. Here at Cartagena there must have been a lot of red-faced slick-shod race bike riders wondering ‘what the hell was that growling bike with a numberplate, indicators and mirrors’ flying past them.

 

Verdict

Yamaha has shown its crossplane crank engine and irregular firing order works at MotoGP; Ben Spies has proved it works at WSB and it has demolished the competition in our 1000cc superbikes shootout. Here is a bike so full of contradictions and so different to anything out there, but just so damn good. Most impressively, our R1 had only 322km on the clock when we tested it – the motor was still tight and it still whupped ass!

 

Riders View Turn 10: ‘Midway through this second-gear hairpin you can give the R1 more throttle than usual as there’s a steep camber in your favour.’

 

THE R1’S TRACK WIN BY NUMBERS

62 Laps of the Cartagena circuit completed on this test

234.24 Km/h at the end of the straight

1.03 Seconds quicker than the second placed bike

2.26 Seconds quicker than the bike with slowest lap time

 

Tester’s second opinions

“It looks like an old French Endurance racer, but what a bike”

JAMES HAYDON

Wow, what a bike! What a motor, it’s really impressive. I really love that engine, it sounds amazing. I can’t stop smiling, I so enjoyed riding that. It’s nimble with a lovely front end – I can really feel what the front end is doing.

 

 

Braking into the slow speed turn 2, Ben Neeves is about to flick right

 

 

WHAT MAKES THE R1 THE BEST ON TRACK

Engine and gearbox 100%

Suspension 95%

Cornering 98%

Braking 97%

Overall 98%

 

 

Kawasaki ZX-10R

Best lap: 1:48.41, max 238.94km/h

 

2ND

The Kawasaki was our early favourite here. It steers beautifully, holds a line, is agile in the chicanes and has a storming amount of power. If we had left all the bikes on standard suspension settings, there’s a good chance the Kawasaki could have taken the victory in this track test.

All the other bikes here are set up to be stable and reassuring on the road, with relatively soft set-ups and slow steering. It’s not until you adjust them – speed up the steering and stiffen them up – that they become useful on the track.

The ZX-10R needs hardly any tweaking for it to work straight away. That’s why it’s such an unstable, scary monster on the road when you accelerate over bumps at speed. But on a smooth race track there are no such problems. The Kawasaki is razor-sharp, stable and massive fun. It has the perfect riding position for the track – roomy yet

aggressive. It’s a good half-second faster than the Ducati and Honda, and a second and a half quicker than the Suzuki, but for all its power and nimbleness, it can’t match the R1 – it’s nearly a second slower than the Yamaha.

Despite huge reserves of power at the top end to play with, the ZX-10R’s brilliant chassis makes it a pussycat around Cartagena. The brakes on our test bike were strong (though we’ve heard of fading issues before on track).

If the new R1 didn’t exist, you’d think the ZX-10R accelerates out of corners like a guided missile; it certainly has the speed on the straights, and is faster than the R1. But compared to the Yamaha you have to wait too long for the power to chime in when you get on the throttle, so it feels slower coming off a corner. Taking the corner in a lower gear won’t catch the R1, either – the lower gear slows you down too much going into and through the corner.

 

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Verdict

This is a spectacular track machine straight out of the crate – and ironically it’s less scary on the circuit than on the road. It’s devilishly quick, but not quick enough to challenge the R1.

Stick a cross plane crank in the ZX-10R, change its firing intervals and Yamaha will have a fight on its hands.

 

 

Engine and gearbox 98%

Suspension 97%

Cornering 97%

Braking 94%

Overall feel 97%

 

On a smooth race track the Kawasaki is razor-sharp, stable and massive fun. It’s a spectacular track machine

 

 

 

 

Ducati 1198S

Best lap: 1:48.93, max 227.21km/h

 

3RD

Just like the R1, the Ducati takes a lot of setting up to get it to work around the track. You need to get it on its nose so it’ll steer well enough to change direction and hold a line. It also needs lots more damping to control the weaves and wobbles initiated by the instant power delivery of the 1198cc

V-twin engine and provide the stability to control the dive caused by the fierce Brembo Monobloc brakes. Properly

set up it’s a wonderful track bike.

You feel perched up high and it’s a long way down to get your knee down. It’s still slow-steering, too – especially compared to the R1, Blade and ZX-10R.

At first the Ducati feels clumsy and unnatural around such a tight track and the instant power delivery too snatchy, but when you’re hard-charging trying to chase someone, the 1198S changes completely. Ridden by the scruff of its neck the Ducati is amazing.

The 1198s is happiest at full lean, where it’s so stable. It loves high-speed corners and punches out of slow ones in a bass-happy frenzy of mono-wheeling majesty. At full throttle it’s a cacophony of induction roar and hot metallic violence.

With traction control set on the middle level four, it kicks in coming out of slow-speed corners, especially on cold or worn tyres. It lets you get on with it on the faster sections of the track, but because you know your electronic friend is there to help you, you tease the throttle more than you would do normally to run breath-taking corner speeds.

 

Verdict

For the first time a road-going Ducati can compete with its Japanese 1000cc rivals on track – although it’s taken advanced electronics, an 1198cc motor, top-shelf suspension, lightweight wheels and a giddy price tag to achieve it. On a more flowing circuit with fewer tighter corners, the Ducati might have beaten the Kawasaki ZX-10R, but would still struggle against the Yamaha, which is 1.5 seconds faster here.

 

Engine and gearbox 97%

Suspension 94%

Cornering 96%

Braking 98%

Overall feel 96%

 

1198’s traction control gives you the confidence to hold high corner speeds and then get on the throttle hard

 

 

 

Honda Fireblade

Best lap: 1.48.99, max 242.61km/h

4TH

In the scrap for best of the rest after the R1, the Blade loses out to the ZX-10R and the 1198S – but only just. It trails the Ducati by just 0.06s, hitting the fastest top speed on the straight in the process, thanks to its useable grunt out of corners.

All the things which made the Fireblade the fastest around the track and our favourite 1000 superbike last year still ring true. The Honda is still impossibly easy to jump on and ride fast, being smooth, beautifully balanced and predictable, with superb handling.

It was another bike that needed lots of tweaking to get it to behave around the circuit, mainly through controlling the damping at each end to stabilise it under acceleration and braking. The only real limit to its cornering ability is the pegs, which go down easily with these sticky Michelin Power One tyres fitted.

The Fireblade is a very comforting bike to be on, once set up, and will make the perfect trackday bike. It never does anything nasty and is constantly re-assuring you, giving you lots of feedback and confidence. While the Ducati is a serious track tool and feels the most like a proper race machine out of all the bikes here, and the ZX-10R is a precision tool for carving out fast lap times, the Blade is just fun. You feel like riding round and round until the fuel runs out. And remember, it cleaned up in last year’s National

Superstock championship, too.

Fourth position in this test doesn’t really do the Blade justice, but the stop watch is a cruel mistress. Compared to the R1, it’s too slow out of corners to keep up and the engine feels too buzzy and frantic. National Superstock racer Steve Mercer is one or two seconds a lap faster than me around Cartagena, but when we were riding together, him on the Blade and me on the R1 for the on-board camera footage, he was having to scream the Blade a gear lower than me just to keep up with the Yamaha on acceleration.

 

Verdict

It’s hard to believe the Honda is way down in fourth place, but by no means does that mean it’s become rubbish overnight, because it hasn’t. It’s still a gem of a motorcycle.

 

Engine and gearbox 97%

Suspension 95%

Cornering 94%

Braking 95%

Overall feel 95%

 

The Blade is fun, but lost out to the ZX-10R and 1198S by split seconds

Suzuki GSX-R1000 K9

Best lap: 1:49.63, max 237.74km/h

5TH

Suzuki’s new K9 GSX-R1000 struggled on the track. Ride it in isolation and it’s superb; fast, stable and thanks to its new Blade-esque short engine/long swingarm combination, it maximises rear tyre grip too. New Showa Big Piston Forks also work better the harder you push, giving great feel from the front tyre too.

The engine has been totally overhauled for the first time in the GSX-R1000’s eight-year history. It has a shorter stroke than before, so is eager to rev, but still has good grunt off the corners. The power delivery is smoother than the old K7/K8, too, but it’s down on power compard to the old model to the tune of 7bhp.

Unfortunately, although the K9 is lighter and more nimble than the old bike, it’s still not agile enough – and now it’s light years behind the new R1.

Two and a half seconds doesn’t really sound a lot, but every 10 laps around Cartegana, the R1 pulls a massive 25-second gap over the GSX-R1000…

The K9 also needed setting up. Like all GSX-Rs, the new K9 sits very flat compared to the more extreme, ‘nose down/tail up’ set-up of the ZX-10R or R1 and feels more like a big sports tourer in this company. It’s already been proved that in WSB trim it can kick butt around the track and, in testing, superstock K9s have been going really well, too – but as it is out of the crate, even with the suspension dialled in, it’s not as sharp as its rivals.

Its lack of agility means you have to be a bit steadier into the corners and have to wait longer for it to turn before you get on the power. The K9 has good grunt, as it still has the longest stroke of any of the Japanese 1000s, but it still feels flat from the middle of the corner on the throttle compared to the R1.

 

Verdict

Every GSX-R1000 from the K1 to the K5 raised the 1000cc superbike bar, but for whatever reason the 2007 K7 lost the plot a bit. It was too heavy and clumsy around the track. That didn’t stop it selling by the bucketload, though, as it’s still a great road bike. The K9 is a big improvement – it’s lighter and friendlier, but still doesn’t capture the GSX-R spirit of old.

 

Engine and gearbox 97%

Suspension 93%

Cornering 92%

Braking 92%

Overall feel 94%

 

Despite an overhaul and Haydon riding, the K9 isn’t agile enough on track

 

 

 

 

Second opinions

 

‘The GSX-R has a good engine, but the R1’s is better”

JAMES HAYDON

 

The Suzuki handles well; it has a different stance, but does not turn as well as the Yamaha. It’s a great bike, tractable, good engine, smooth but not as good as the Yamaha I’ve just ridden.”

 

 

 

 

“A few tweaks transformed the Ducati –

what a buzz”

 

STEVE MERCER

 

I’m impressed by the Ducati – it’s got loads of grunt. When set up, it holds its line. It’s a little unstable at the end of the straight but a few suspension tweaks has transformed it – what a buzz.

 

 

 

 

“The ZX-10 still has most power and top-

end rush”

ADAM CHILD

 

The ZX-10 still has the most power and top-end rush. It won’t stop wheelying and it’s hard work. It feels fast as it’s so lively and you need to wrestle it round, but I still love riding it on track.

 

 

 

“The Blade is easy to ride, but it’s a bit soft for

the track”

BRUCE DUNN

 

The Fireblade is quick down the straight and easy to ride. But it’s on the soft side – you need to play around with the set up, but I can’t get at the rear shock. Throttle response is soft for the track.

 

 

 

“The 1198’s fuelling is on/off compared

to the fours”

BEN NEEVES

 

I found the Ducati the hardest to ride of all the bikes. The fuelling is on/off compared to the four-cylinder bikes. It’s a pig to ride fast – with the power delivery and brakes, it’s all or nothing .

 

 

 

 

Last year’s results

1st Honda Fireblade We said: “The Honda’s new shorter stroke engine is an epic powerhouse.”

2nd Kawasaki ZX-10R We said: “The ZX-10R is back to its wild, brutal and aggressive best.”

3rd Yamaha R1 We said: “The R1 lacks the engine to compete with the new ZX-10R and Blade.”

4th Suzuki GSX-R1000 K8 We said: “The GSX-R1000 isn’t the phenomenal track weapon it used to be.”

 

 

 

 

 

‘The R1 tears chunks out of the others in corner exits’

 

T

he 3.48km Cartagena race track is used for winter testing by WSB and BSB teams and proved the ideal location for our test. The 610m straight is long enough for the bikes to stretch their legs, while the 18 turns enable the bikes to be pushed to their handling limits.

Each bike was set up specifically for the track. We then used a Rs 3.96 lakh (UK) Microsat GPS datalogger to record every lap. Our test rat was Bruce Dunn, legendary bike tester with over 14 years experience. Bruce had all the time he needed to set a fast lap on fresh Michelin race rubber. Set under perfect conditions, the lap times speak volumes – clearly showing the new R1 as the overall winner.

 

 

TURN 4

Fast right-hander

Out of the tight chicane in second gear, you scream up to the top of third gear before braking for the tight right The ZX-10 is fastest here and feels the quickest through this section – its top end performance really shows.

 

 

 

TURN 8

Medium right-hander

The Yamaha’s is significantly faster here. Its lack of engine braking means you carry more corner speed. It also steers near-perfectly, with great chassis feedback in mid-corner.

 

 

 

END OF STRAIGHT

Maximum speed achieved

The Yamaha is down on top end power compared to the other fours and it shows here – when they get the chance to stretch their legs, they start to pull away slightly. On a longer straight we’d expect an even greater gap.

 

 

 

TURN 11

Very fast left-hander

The Honda comes out on top through this section, despite finishing fourth overall. Its power delivery is smooth and it doesn’t wheelie too much over the crest. The Suzuki isn’t too far behind, its road manners shining in this section. The Kawasaki’s vicious power makes it hard to keep under control here. Again the Yamaha features highly, showing its driveability out of corners.

 

 

 

TURN 14

Tight hairpin

As you’d expect in a slow turn, the times are very close, but the Yamaha carries the most corner speed, followed by the ZX-10R and Duke – exactly the same order as the apex speeds on faster corners. The R1 always carries the most corner speed, despite the Ducati’s quality suspension. The Yamaha’s lack of engine braking, the way it allows you to attack corners and the great feedback it gives mean it was always on top.

 

 

 

ONTO MAIN STRAIGHT

Maximum acceleration

In this small section, the Yamaha makes almost a second or more on almost all the other bikes. It’s simply so easy to get on the power early and the new engine has the low-down grunt to fire the Yamaha down the straight. The Suzuki also scored well here, allowing the rider to get on the power sooner. The Honda was a real surprise as it has excellent feel from the rear, recording the highest speed at the end of the straight, but in this section it’s over a second slower than the Yamaha.

 

 

 

Overall track verdict: why the R1 wins

Yamaha’s new R1 completely dominated our track test. We’ve given every bike a fair chance to shine here. All our test riders, regardless of experience and ability, fell in love with the R1.

The R1’s brakes are sublime, its handling sharp, its suspension plush and, of course, that growling, electric motor of an engine lets you feel for rear tyre grip and get on the throttle sooner than anything else.

It’s neither the most powerful machine here, nor the fastest along the straights – but ait can get in, through and out the other side of a corner better than anything else.

To be a whole second clear of the next best machine is simply staggering and puts the competition in the shade.

 

 

Tiny Crusader

The XCD135 stretches the DTS-Si platform further while still sticking to 125cc segment pricing. But does it really deliver?
Story: Rohit Paradkar, Photography: Sanjay Raikar

When the CBF Stunner was launched, it wasn’t a bike competing with its 125cc (Shine) sibling but was instead a sportier alternative based on the same platform. Yamaha did the same when they made a sporty Gladiator Type SS/RS based on the commuter Gladiator. Along similar lines, the XCD135 joins its sibling, the Bajaj Discover 135 with an intention to capture the market with its 125cc segment pricing. Is the new XCD a sportier variant of the Discover then? Or is it just another commuter? Can it really serve as an alternative to the existing line up of 125cc commuters? With these queries haunting me, I set off to get my answers.

When BI broke the news of the XCD135 being Bajaj’s first model for 2009, we had highlighted the fact that the bike would be based on the XCD Sprint concept that Bajaj showcased at the ninth Auto Expo last year. Unfortunately, the production version shaves off all the radical design elements of the concept like the chiseled side profile of the headlamp, the floating type panels, the visor for emulating a bikini fairing, the chrome spine on the tank extensions, the toe shifter and the swingarm mounted rear fender. What makes it to production though is a conventional trapezoidal headlight that gels well with the edgy design of the bikini fairing, visor and other body panels plus other commuter bits like a toe-heel shifter and a large rear fender with a wheel hugger from the Pulsar 150. The tank extensions, now becoming a regular feature on Bajaj bikes, make the tank appear quite muscular. The inclusion of mesh covered vents on the tank extensions and centre body panels add a streak of sportiness and at the same time highlight the Pulsar (220) lineage. The turn blinkers look stunning with the arrowhead design and are unconventionally mounted on the triple clamp. The tail light looks radical too and the fine weave of reflectors within the unit makes it appear like the compound eyes of a sinister insect when lit. Though the bike’s design carries cues from the original XCD125 like the graphics, paint schemes and body proportion ratios, on the whole, the XCD135 still manages to look different and fresher.

The digital console is well laid out with easy to read letters and an orange backlight. However, the high gloss covers for the tell tale lights appear too reflective during the day making it difficult to see them even when lit

The XCD135 uses gas damped NITROX shock absorbers for rear damping and provide great handling capabilites to the bike. The bike employs a 135cc DTS-Si mill unlike the older DTS-i version on the Discover

Get astride this refreshing new bike and its muscular tank suddenly appears puny and fails to fill in between the rider’s thighs – reminding you of the much smaller 100cc commuters. However, in spite of the tank’s mere 8-litre capacity, you will get a riding range of more than 500kms between consecutive tank ups courtesy the bike’s impressive mileage figures of 68kmpl and 62kmpl on the highway and in the city respectively. However, in order to achieve them, you will need to restrict the revs to approximately 5500rpm translating to 60km/h in the top gear. Above this mark, you will not only lose out on the mileage but will also start feeling the engine vibes. The 135cc engine redlines at 9000rpm, but the XCD takes ages to climb that tall. Nonetheless, between 5000 to 8000 revs, the XCD guarantees a decent punch for quick overtaking maneuvers in Indian traffic conditions. On the highway, the XCD135 will max out at 104km/h (true speed), which is a tad less than its segment sibling, the Discover 135. However, the XCD impresses with an equally good acceleration and significantly quicker roll-ons which can shame even the sporty 125cc bikes like the Stunner and the Gladiator. Our test bike managed a standstill to 60km/h stint in less than 6sec! The suspension setup complements these figures by providing spot on handling capabilities to the bike. The XCD135 uses gas filled Nitrox shockers for rear end damping unlike the S-N-S units on its 125cc sibling. What further aids traction and stability around corners is the Eurogrip footwear that I was already introduced to on the Discover 135. Overall the bike handles very well throughout twisty roads and has a grunty engine to match, but how does it all sum up?

Well, it’s a mixed bag of positive and negative points for the XCD135. The bike, though marketed as a sport commuter, will target the executive working class at the end of the day. It will primarily execute its chores around city environs and that is exactly where its performance needs to shine. The healthy roll-on figures are a boon and translate into quick overtaking maneuvers. Easy flickability was the XCD125’s forte and the 135 not only builds further on this aspect but also impresses with its handling around corners. But in the bid to achieve this capability, the XCD uses a stiffer suspension by default and hence loses out on ride comfort. Though the seat has ample space for two adults to perch, the hard sponge makes it uncomfortable while the 810mm saddle height means it is an awkward task for short riders to get on the bike. There are some positive bits as well, like the ergonomically positioned ultra wide footpegs and a tall handlebar making for a commuter-ish riding posture, but these are not enough to provide the kind of comfort a commuter will look for. This product then is not all that potent as the balance between its performance capabilities and commuter comfort is not up to mark.

But let’s evaluate the deal as a whole. Compared to its segment sibling, the Discover 135 as well as other bikes in the targeted 125cc segment, the XCD is definitely sportier with better styling, roll-ons and a fifth cog. It has the latest gizmos like a digital console, auto choke, LED taillights and a gas damped suspension. Additionally, it comes in an attractive ex-showroom price ranging between Rs 43,000 to Rs 47,000. The XCD135 is definitely a worthy consideration for a buyer looking to put money in the 50-55,000 rupees sport commuter segment. However, for people looking at a more focused product like a hardcore commuter or an outright 125cc sport machine, the Shine and the Stunner/Gladiator still remain worthy alternatives albeit for a few extra bucks.

 

Just got better

Phenomenally fast, better looking, easier to ride – but that’s simply not enough…

By Michael Neeves

Suzuki’s new GSX-R1000 K9 is a big improvement over the old K7/K8 model, but it’s not the giant leap forward we expected. It’s much more a case of evolution than revolution for the new Gixer, despite it having its most radical overhaul since it was introduced in 2001.

As well as looking similar to the old K7/K8, retaining the two-exhaust design, it’s pretty close in character too. It has the same ‘sit-in’ riding position and the same torrent of power when you twist the throttle. After a day riding it around the twisty Almeria circuit in southern Spain it’s clear it has new- found agility and friendliness the old bike lacked.

Compared to some of its competition, the GSX-R is not as razor-sharp in and out of the corners and it’s still missing that intoxicating mix of grunt and light weight that made the old K5/K6 the sensation it was at the time. With things like extra soundproofing and the ever-bigger catalysts Suzuki have to run nowadays to get through Euro 3 laws, it seems the glory days of the waif-like K5 are gone forever.

Another sign that it’s now 2009 and not 2005, is the price. The new bike is the most expensive GSX-R1000 ever, costing £9800 (Rs. 7 lakh approx) when it hits showrooms at the end of March. Gixxers have always been at the most affordable end of the 1000cc market, but it’s now nearly the dearest, just after the new R1.

Thankfully the new GSX-R1000 motor isn’t as angry as before, thanks to a mass overhaul (see following pages) to smooth out the rough edges. Although power and torque remain the same, a claimed 185bhp isn’t to be sniffed at. It’s still an obscene amount, but it’s easier to use than before.

Power is smoother all the way through the rev range and there’s grunt oozing from every engine bolt, despite having a shorter stroke engine than before. All this gives you the confidence to twist the throttle further. But don’t worry, the GSX-R1000 hasn’t gone all soft. The K9 still retains that spine-tingling, evil bark when you blip the throttle and it wants to wheelie at every opportunity coming out of corners. The K9 isn’t as flabby as the old K7, either. That went a bit ‘90s GSX-R1100’, compared to the lightweight K5 model that went before. With its 5kg reduction in overall weight combined with the smoother power delivery, the K9 is now much easier to muscle around a track.

Last year we did our 1000s group test here at Almeria. The K8 GSX-R1000 finished up
two seconds behind the slightly more powerful ZX-10R and the significantly less powerful FireBlade, the overall winner of our test. It was only a fraction behind the R1, though. The Suzuki’s bulk and lack of agility (you could even feel the weight getting it off the sidestand) compared to the competition was the main reason it lagged behind. This is a technically demanding track dominated by constant throttle, high radius corners and flip-flop chicanes, so you need a bike which is light on its feet. What I do remember is that it flew down the long sixth-gear back straight like a guided missile, as it would with a true 169bhp at the rear wheel.


I’m sure the K9 would make a dent in those two seconds if we were to run the test again. It still has the power and speed and it’s even easier to get that throttle open now, but it still lacks the agility of the Blade and ZX-10R. And of course now it has the grunty new R1 to think about, too.

Except for the straight, the whole of Almeria can be taken in second gear, so you have to ride the big Suzuki like some hyper-speed twist-and-go moped for most of the lap.

For corner after corner, you dive in towards the apex and the K9’s slipper clutch eliminates most of the engine braking, so you get a nice smooth, balanced corner entry as you dial in more and more lean.

Getting settled into a turn, which seems to last forever, at full lean and holding a steady throttle is easy, thanks to the fuel injection’s smooth and predictable response.

As the corner opens up, gently feed on the power, stand the bike up, feel for grip through the rear tyre and squirt it. With the taps open the K9 rockets to the next corner, front wheel skimming the tarmac and bum forced back into the seat hump, leaving you hanging on by your fingernails. This is every inch a mad, bad, howling GSX-R1000, make no mistake.

Despite its shorter stroke engine, it’s still packed with enough grunt to let you take corners a gear taller than you need, and it’ll still fly out the other side pretty sharpish.

The only thing that stops us from really uncorking the full fury of the K9 at Almeria is the standard road-going Bridgestone BT-016 rubber. The engine wants to play, but it’s a lot to ask of an all-purpose sports tyre to be ragged senseless all day, with only a break for lunch. They do a great job of hanging on, they warm up fast, grip well and are predictable, but you really have to be careful with your right wrist with all that oomph to play with.

On stickier Michelin Power One rubber I rode the K9 on the following day at Cartagena, it turns sharper and you can explore more of the chassis and engine. The two big things to happen to the chassis are the new longer swingarm and the Showa Big Piston forks (see following pages), which replace the old
Kayaba units. Let’s start with the Blade-esque short engine/long swingarm combo.

Asked for by Suzuki’s racers around the world the new longer ‘banana’ style swingarm improves rear tyre grip and predictability. Given the power on tap and the relative low grip of the road tyres in track conditions, you’ve got to say the idea has worked, because it’s only when the rear tyre gets very worn that it starts to slide. When it does it’s with warning and gradual.

I say slide, move a bit is probably more accurate, compared to what Sylvan Guintoli was doing when he was out on track with us. Suzuki’s new BSB signing and ex-MotoGP god was laying the most obscene, thick black lines around the track, and in places you’d never think you’d be on the throttle, let alone at full powersliding fury! He’s going to be a star this year.

Just like the FireBlade, which runs a similar long swingarm, you have to watch it when pulling a wheelie, something that’s de rigueur for GSX-R1000 owners. The front wheel comes up gradually as normal, then when it’s at about chest height it suddenly goes ‘whoosh’, and tries to loop. If you’re ready for it fine, if you’re not you might wake up with a crowd around you.

So, job done there with the swingarm, then but the new forks take more getting used to. They offer a lot of resistance when you ease off or brake, and they only really seem to work at their best when you’re really pushing hard.

For the first few riding sessions at Almeria I didn’t like them, they felt too stiff and made the bike feel heavy and slow steering. They also made my wrists sore by the end of the day. But after a while you realise that the harder you push the better they feel and the more you can judge what the front tyre is doing.

First impressions of the K9’s handling weren’t good when I first climbed on, it felt clumsy, slow-steering and slightly unstable on the rear going into corners. A lot of this was down to set-up.

Once I’d got up to speed and used to pushing the front end harder to make the forks work and give me feel, it was better. I also added some more preload (on John Reynold’s advice) to the rear shock to speed up the steering. By the end of the day I finally started to have some serious fun. On sticky tyres the K9 is even better.

Brakes are an improvement but they still have the same GSX-R trait of feeling a bit mushy at the lever and liable to fade on hard use.

There’s no denying the K9 is a superb motorcycle. Suzuki have been fanatical about weight saving and balance and all these tweaks to make it lighter and grippier will no doubt pay dividends for the race teams who use the road bike as the basis of their Superbike or Superstock racers. Die hard GSX-R fans will still go all gooey over its evil exhaust note, searing top-end rush and slider-shredding cornering ability.

But there’s something missing and I can’t put my finger on it. I wasn’t left giggling, or open-mouthed after each riding session, like I should have been. It’s exciting, there’s no doubt about that, it’s still a wild 180mph superbike, after all.

But maybe with all the changes I was expecting a lightweight, snarling GSX-R1000 K5 MkII? Maybe it feels and looks too much like the old K7/K8 despite all its changes? Maybe it’s still too bulky? Maybe it’s just that Honda and Yamaha have moved the game on so much with the Fireblade and R1.

This is the best-ever time to buy a superbike. They might be edging towards £10k (Rs. 7-lakh approx), but they’re at such a high level, have so much power and are so packed full of technology it’s insane. The trick nowadays isn’t to find more power, it’s to harness the incredible bhp on offer.

The Suzuki ticks all these boxes, it’s better than the old K7/K8. But for me, it’s not different enough to really get me salivating.

Expert views

John Reynolds,

Ex-BSB champ and Suzuki test rider

“It’s a totally different chassis on the K9 from the K7. We’ve got a setting now where the bike works really well on the race track, and with a couple of turns of preload off the rear shock and a bit off the front end you’ve got a bike that’s wonderful for the road as well.

“Suzuki have taken all the feedback from the riders in WSB and all the people who’ve been riding the K7 and K8 and worked out what’s needed is more grip on the back end. The way the geometry of the chassis is now, it’s really focused towards racing bikes more than anything else.”

 

Sylvain Guintoli,

Crescent Suzuki BSB Team racer

“It was an interesting experience riding the K9 today because I’ve never tried a road bike before. I was really surprised. I always thought road bikes on the track would be heavy and soft, but the K9 is good fun and fast.

“We tried the K9 in Calafat a few weeks ago, but it didn’t have all the evolution parts on at that point.

“Now we will ride the K9 full-spec superbike in a test this week, so we can find out exactly what it’s like.

“ I’m looking forward to BSB, because we’ve done this test in Calafat and its gone really well and the team are really nice guys to be around and really good fun.”

David Taylor,

Suzuki GB Sales and Marketing Director

“With the K9, we’re trying to maintain Suzuki’s position of producing the top-selling bike over 125cc.

“The racing side of Suzuki has brought the bike to a pinnacle with the front fork design and mass that’s been taken out of the bike.

“We’re critically interested in how this year turns out with all the new stuff that’s going on in WSB and BSB, and all the Japanese manufacturers face an interesting challenge this year. I think we’ve timed it right with what we’ve got.”

 


Under the skin of the GSX-R1000

1. Engine
More compact and lighter than before, this is Suzuki’s first major-league engine redesign in the GSX-R1000’s history. The K9 has a shorter engine, by 59mm front-to-back, which lets the bike run a 33mm longer swingarm to help rear tyre grip. The overall length of the GSX-R1000 is still 2045mm.

The new motor has a bigger bore and a shorter stroke to give more power at high rpm, but it still has the longest stroke of all the Japanese 1000s. A long stroke equals grunt. This more ‘over-square’ engine layout will give race teams more scope for tuning and raising revs safely. The redline is set at 13,750rpm.

There’s more power up top, but Suzuki claims more low and midrange torque, too, thanks to new camshafts, a reshaped combustion chamber and a hike in compression ratio from 12.5:1 to 12.8:1.

A new two-piece crankcase design and a lightweight crank accounts for most of the engine’s 670g weight loss. The crank has a more efficient lubrication system. Titanium inlet valves are up from 30mm to 31mm and exhaust valves up from 24 to 25mm. Double valve springs replace single ones for better control at high revs. By stacking the primary and secondary gears and moving the clutch and crankshaft forward Suzuki has been able to make the engine shorter. The rear sprocket is down one tooth from 43 to 42.

The throttle bodies are now 10mm shorter, with 12-hole fuel injectors providing a finer spray for improved combustion. Inlet trumpets are now different heights to improve midrange and high rpm efficiency.

There’s still a slipper clutch, but it’s now cable instead of hydraulically operated.

The swoopy exhausts have titanium headers and servo-controlled butterfly valves to maximize power through the rev range. The system is 400g lighter than before.

2. Chassis
The new K9 weighs 5kg less than the old bike. The twin-spar aluminium frame is now shorter (from 645.8mm to 615mm) and comes in five welded-together sections. There’s also a cool ‘banana’ swingarm in cast aluminium, which lets the exhausts tuck in closer to the bike and is 500g lighter than before. The wheelbase is 1405mm – 10mm shorter than the K7/K8. Footrests are three-way adjustable, as is the gearlever. The new, removable cast aluminium subframe is lighter, too.

3. Suspension
Showa replaces Kayaba for the new K9. New 43mm Showa Big Piston Forks (BPF) are now fitted to the GSX-R1000 for the first time. They have just one 39.6mm internal piston per fork leg controlling rebound and compression damping instead of two. They run a lower pressure than conventional forks, so there’s less change of oil cavitation. Springs are at the bottom of the forks and are submerged in oil. This simpler set-up is 720g lighter than conventional forks. Both compression and rebound damping screw adjusters are on the top of each fork leg and preload is at the bottom.

The new Kayaba rear shock (500g lighter) is fully adjustable, including high and low speed compression damping, and works through a new suspension linkage (200g lighter). The speed-sensitive steering damper is 45g lighter.

4. Brakes and wheels
New forged aluminium Tokico one-piece radial calipers are more rigid and 250g each lighter than the old two-speed items. These are bolted to new-style carriers. Different sized pistons are used on the leading and trailing ends of the calipers for even pad wear. The radial-pump master cylinder diameter is down from 19 to 17mm for better feel through the lever. Cast aluminium wheels are 420g lighter.

5. Bodywork
The new fairing has a narrower lower section for better aerodynamics and a wider top to improve wind protection. SRAD (Suzuki Ram-Air Direct) intakes, which cut into the new headlight, have new internal louvres and are moved closer to the centre of the bike to take advantage of the higher air pressure there. A new slimline tail section has clear lens indicators and comes with a clip-in single seat unit. The new fuel tank retains its capacity of 17.5 litres.

6. Instruments
New clocks feature a gear position and power mode indicator, a bar graph showing how bright the clocks are and a lap timer, triggered by a button on the right bar.

On the road

Michael Neeves rode the K9 from the launch in Almeria to Cartagena, the venue for our upcoming 1000s group test. The route took in twisty mountain roads and motorway.

“If you’re coming from a K7/K8 GSX-R1000, the riding position will be immediately familiar. The seat is comfortable, you sit low and the bars are relatively high, so it’s OK to do distance on.

“There’s still good grunt at low revs, though you can’t be completely lazy. Purr along in high gear at normal speeds and you need to stir the gearbox to overtake cars.

“The Big Piston Forks still feel stiff through the twisties, but on normal roads they suck up the bumps beautifully giving very good ride quality.

“The K9 is more fun on the road than on track. You can clutch up big power wheelies at a ton. There’s an excess of power to play with, making the K9 the dog’s on the road!”

 

Evolution of the gsx-r1000

K1/K2: 988cc (73 x 59mm)•168kg (dry)

K3/K4: 988cc (73 x 59mm)•168kg (dry)

K5/K6: 998.6cc (73.4 x 59mm)•166kg (dry)

K7/8: 999cc (73.4 x 59mm)•172kg (dry)

K9: 999cc (74.5 x 57.3mm)•203kg (wet)