Welcome to the A&R Superbike Deathmatch

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Hello and welcome to Asphalt & Rubber’s 2017 Superbike Deathmatch – our take on the motorcycle media’s superbike shootout review format, and the solitary path for a motorcycle to become A&R’s Superbike of 2017. Booyah!

What makes the Superbike Deathmatch different from other shootouts, you might ask? Well for starters, instead of renting a track out for a day, and spending only a limited amount of time on the plethora of machines available, we decided instead to take a lesson from college basketball’s very own March Madness.

That’s right, we are using a single-elimination head-to-head bracket system to find out which superbike is the best of the best, and thus worthy of being our Superbike of 2017. Think of it like a two-wheeled Thunderdome: two bikes enter, one bike leaves.

The Superbike Deathmatch Format

While the more interesting aspect of the Superbike Deathmatch is probably its bracket-styled bike pairings, the real heart of our program though is our effort to add more scientific process to what is generally a pretty subjective affair.

As such, our biggest goal with the 2017 Superbike Deathmatch is to eliminate as many variables as possible with our rules and format, in an effort to judge these superbikes solely on their merits.

To achieve this, our first big bullet point is to compare superbikes with similar features and price tags. This is because there is little point in comparing a bare-bones motorcycle with a cheaper price tag, against another one that costs twice as much, but comes with every farkle under the sun.

As such, all of the machines we will evaluate sell for around $20,000 MSRP, and have similar feature packages (up/down quickshifters, traction control, cornering ABS, IMUs, etc) and hard parts (premium suspension, lightweight wheels, and high-end brakes).

This rule was created to level the playing field against the European manufacturers, who routinely offer higher-spec bikes for review, which cost considerably more than their Japanese counterparts’ who often only offer “base model” motorcycles.

Our next big bullet point was to control the environment we operate in, namely excluding manufacturers from providing trackside support at our track tests.

This rule was aimed at the Japanese brands, who have earned a strong reputation for bringing legions of mechanics and bikes (which are often suspiciously well-prepared) to a shootout, and then on top of that, they offer a level of support that the other manufacturers cannot match.

Since we want our results to reflect the quality of the machines produced, and not the level of support that a manufacturer can offer our publication, we are going to kick out the OEMs from playing at the track with us – completely.

This also means that our assessments will better reflect what consumers face in the real world, especially if a motorcycle is overly complicated to adjust or understand. The last we checked, OEMs weren’t providing trackside support to their customers, so why should we let them provide it to us?

This rule goes right to the core philosophy of Asphalt & Rubber being an enthusiast-focused publication.

Moving along, our venue of choice is Portland International Raceway, which is not only convenient to where Asphalt & Rubber is located, but it is also well outside the list of tracks that OEMs routinely visit for testing and use for machine prep.

The reason for this should be obvious, and it can be understood by checking the public calendars at race tracks where other magazines are holding their tests. Take a look a couple weeks ahead of those shootouts, and you will find some interesting track reservations.

Meanwhile, Portland International Raceway also is a great venue for testing a superbike machine. Its long straight-away highlights the power that these motorcycles produce, and its corners offer plenty of challenges for IMU-powered electronics – the two big pillars of the modern superbike.

Our last main item for the list is our use multiple riders, who have a variety of skill sets and body types. This ensures that no one person can sway the results with their own personal biases, and it also provides a spectrum of opinions on each motorcycle.

Having only two bikes per day to focus on also means that each rider is able to turn a huge number of laps on each bike, and thus test a number of different electronic and physical settings on the bikes, to see which they prefer.

At the end of each evaluation, we will take a vote on which bike wins, and in the case of a tie, we will base our decision on a comprehensive scorecard that we will be keeping as well.

What We’re Riding

For our inaugural edition of the Superbike Deathmatch, we have six bikes up for our consideration, out of the eight available to motorcycle enthusiasts.

Accordingly, we will be talking about the Aprilia RSV4 RF, BMW S1000RR, Ducati 1299 Panigale S, Honda CBR1000RR SP, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR, & Suzuki GSX-R1000R. Disappointingly, the MV Agusta F4 and Yamaha YZF-R1M were unavailable to us.

As much as we would prefer to test all eight of these machines for our Superbike Deathmatch, the reasons for having only six of the eight available superbikes on the market gives an interesting insight into how the sausage gets made in the US motorcycle industry.

First up is MV Agusta, which is in the throes of restructuring its US business operations. The Italian brand finds itself with an extremely limited press fleet at the moment, which is devoid of any of the company’s superbike/supersport models, and thus their exclusion.

For Yamaha USA, things are bit more complicated. Yamaha was the first manufacturer to commit to doing Superbike Deathmatch, way back in March of this year, but when we started sharing our review format with them, more specifically that we were excluding manufacturers from providing on-track support, Yamaha’s enthusiasm quickly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, waned.

When our Deathmatch rules wouldn’t offer an opportunity for manufacturers to test at our possible venues ahead of time; when we then weren’t willing to relocate rounds to a race track in Southern California; and when we wouldn’t allow trackside support from OEMs, the conversation with Yamaha changed rather quickly.

Suddenly, a Yamaha YZF-R1M wasn’t available to Asphalt & Rubber, and hence it is absent from our lineup. As the old maxim goes though: in order to win, first you must show up. As such, the Superbike Deathmatch claimed its first victim, before a wheel even had a chance to turn on the race track. Brutal.

The last thing to note was Ducati’s inclusion in the Superbike Deathmatch. As you may have seen on other superbike shootouts, Ducati was intent on preventing media outlets from evaluating the 1299 Panigale against other machines, and even went as far as to remove the Panigale from its press fleet entirely, in order to avoid such comparisons.

Thankfully for our purposes, we had a loyal A&R reader with a bike we could use, thus keeping Ducati in the 2017 Superbike Deathmatch. 

We couldn’t achieve the same with MV Agusta and Yamaha in the time afforded us, but hopefully those two brands will join us next year (and Ducati will provide us a current machine), when we return to the Thunderdome for the 2018 A&R Superbike Deathmatch.

Meet the Deathmatch Squad

To help us evaluate these incredible machines, we have a lineup of riders of various skill levels and body types to assess the pros and cons offered by these six superbikes.

Our hot-shoe for the Superbike Deathmatch is Oregon’s own Andy DiBrino, who when he isn’t racing in the MotoAmerica Championship, he is usually busy setting track records at PIR (he currently holds nine OMRRA class records by the way), sliding around in the new Super Hooligan flat track series, or hooning around for an OEM photo shoot.

My Two Enthusiasts Podcast co-host Quentin Wilson will also be joining us, and as both a licensed AMA and OMRRA racer, Quentin brings a solid Pro-Am perspective to the Deathmatch, along with a bevy of horrible, horrible cat puns.

Noticeably absent from other superbike shootouts is a female perspective, so we asked A&R super-friend Hannah Johnson to join us on the track. Hannah is a former Ducati Master Technician, and now spends her time wrenching for a local Ferrari Challenge race team. She is an avid track day rider, and has been spending her 2017 racing in both OMRRA and WMRRA – the two Pacific Northwest amateur racing series.

And then of course there is yours truly…I ride bikes, and then talk about them on the internet, for a living. I also have a cat.

The Bracket

To accommodate the six superbikes we have served up to test, we will whittle the field down by first having three head-to-head skirmishes, the winners of which will advance into a three-bike battle royal.

Then, whichever bike is still standing after that three-bike finale will be crowned as Asphalt & Rubber’s 2017 Superbike of the Year. Easy, right?

You can find the bracket for the 2017 A&R Superbike Deathmatch below. In the first round, we have Aprilia vs. Ducati, Honda vs. Kawasaki, and BMW vs. Suzuki. Stay tuned next week, and see which bikes from these pairings go onto the next round…and then see who wins it all.

The 2017 A&R Superbike Deathmatch is made possible by our A&R Pro members. If you like seeing features like this on Asphalt & Rubber, you should consider supporting this content by signing up for A&R Pro.