Motorcyclist Magazine Sportbike Test - Ducati 1098, Honda CBR600RR, Yamaha R1, Kawasaki ZX6R


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Motorcyclist Magazine Class of 07 Sportbike test
Thunderhill Racetrack
April, 2007
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Once done with lunch I headed over to the Yamaha truck. On the way over I thought back to my last ride on a Yamaha. It was the high banks of Daytona on an FZR600 in the early nineties. You might laugh if I told you I started dead last, from the back of the second wave. Hell I couldn't even see the starter from where I was gridded. I simply launched when everyone else did. This race was the only chance I would ever get to beat the one and only Colin Edwards. He finished not far from where he started - first. I finished very far from where I started - tenth. But those were just the beginning of our differences that weekend. Colin came to Daytona with a fleet of bikes, I came with my FZR. He came with an entourage of sponsors, I came as Jimmy Adamo's wrench. He went through about 20 sets of tires that weekend, I went through one. He won about eight races, I won a wrestling match with Jimmy that began in an elevator and ended with him fully clothed treading water in a swimming pool...

But such is life - and we all do the best we can with what we've got.

Yamaha sent a very capable tech, Kurt Morris, to prep the bikes for us. Kurt was a one man show and he had no problems with that. He didn't say much with his mouth, but he did say a whole lot in every other way there is to communicate. I got the feeling he didn't have a lot of respect for me in the beginning. Kurt made it clear that you had to earn his respect.

Yamaha tech removes tire warmers for Eric GoGo Gulbransen

Eric Gulbransen stretches before riding the R1

Once out on the track the Yamaha R1 felt nimble, light, and strong. But there was a significant lag in the throttle response about mid way through the rev range. Kurt said it was the "Fly by wire" system that Yamaha uses on the R1. Call it what you want, all I know is when I was leaned way over looking for a little more roll speed to maintain lean angle, the bike just fell on it's face sometimes. The only way around it I found, was to ride it like a 600. Just keep the revs way up - out of the range of the lag. At least it was consistent. Consistent problems you can ride around, which is exactly what we did. But as we picked up speed out there we uncovered another problem with the R1. The brakes (or at least that's what I thought it was). Straight up and down under any substantial braking this bike shook like a jackhammer. I swore the rotors were bent, so once I found no way around the problem I came back in. I drove right up to Kurt and explained in great detail exactly what I experienced out there - from the throttle lag to the jackhammer braking. Suddenly Kurt seemed to come around. He jumped into the truck and quickly got another front wheel. He explained the throttle situation in great detail, and then began working on the forks. In less than a half hour we were back out there - but so was the jackhammer. Turns out it wasn't the brakes after all. It was the front suspension. I guess I was braking hard enough out there to bottom the front end. It took a few runs back-to-back but Kurt got the bike dialed pretty good.

Eric GoGo Gulbransen riding the Yamaha R1

There is a back straight at Thunderhill that has a 'gradual' rise to it, then you crest the rise and shoot under a foot-bridge. I've run around this track a few times by now and at the very most, sometimes our bikes used to get light in the front-end while cresting that rise. "Sometimes." This Yamaha R1? It lofted the front wheel BEFORE the rise, on the way UP the hill. The R1 is insanely fast. But this was not supposed to be my hot lap time - that was to come later. So I parked it for a while and moved on over to the Honda camp.
Honda CBR 600RR

This is where we finally got to meet Doug Toland. It turns out he was not there to ride, necessarily. He was there to set the CBR600-RRs up for us testers. I introduced myself to Doug and I could tell he already had me pegged as an opportunity to create some heat out there for the Honda. Doug asked my weight, eyed up my height, asked me to sit on the bike - and then told me to go away for a while. He spun the shock up, turned a few clicks here and there, checked static sag and then had me sit on it all over again. He made me do this three times, then finally he set me free. I have to admit, Doug knows what he's doing. That bike felt like it wanted to be ridden just as much as I wanted to ride it. The power came on very smooth and linear. It was very predictable, and gradually just grew stronger and stronger. And nimble? Oh man this bike loved being flicked from here to there and back again. It gave great feedback through the front end, and almost asked you to turn the throttle till you plowed the front tire through some of Thunderhill's long lefts.

Eric gulbransen testing the CBR600RR

Some bikes scare the life out of you with their front-ends. It seems the most you can do is to guess whether or not you can go faster. Not the CBR600-RR. That bike, at least the way Doug had it set up, was one hell of a fun bike to ride hard.

Eric GoGo Gulbransen riding Honda's CBR600_RR

By now I was feeling like re-aligning my hips, so I figured I'd check in on the boss. Tracy and I found Jeff Nash, John Canton, and Michael Lock all set up on pit lane. They were watching Aaron Frank about to take his hot laps on the 1098. And this, my friends, is where the day gets a bit more interesting..