Power Tools

d4 red
Source: Performance Bikes, June 1996
(Excerpt from the original article)

These are the most powerful production bikes in the history of mankind. Is all this necessary, or even desirable?
Albert Gruntfuttock investigates and decides that it probably is.

Yamaha YZF1000R ThunderAce: new for '96 but basically a derestricted 1000 EXUP in a YZF750 frame. All the benefits of a big motor plus the sharp handling of a short wheelbase sports chassis.

Suzuki GSX-R1100WT: in its eleventh model year, the GSX-R had a change of bore and stroke in 1989, and another when it switched to liquid cooling in '93, but its engine has always been restricted. Until now.

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100: the definitive sports tourer. In its sixth model year, with a change of frame in 1993 and otherwise only detail and styling changes, the ZZ-R is, for some reason, still supplied in restricted form.

Suzuki GSX-R1100WT

139 horsepower. Close the stable door please.

The GSX-R line may be the longest in the tooth but, now the manufacturers have abandoned arbitrary horsepower limits, it emerges as the longest in the leg as well.
They've had plenty of prectice with this motor and, while it used to come with intake restrictors and restrictive slencer cans, the WT is free of all these encumbrances and punted out just a shade under 140bhp.
There's nothing peaky about it, either. It has more midrange and more bottom end than the Yamaha or the Kawasaki, with a torque curve that dominates like a mountain range looming above the foothills.
Torque is what you feel on the road. Once you're in top gear, you don't really need to change again until it's time to stop. There's immediate response and ample urge for most needs, whether it's overtaking in confined spaces or impressing your friend on a mere 114 horsepower FireBlade.
If you want pure grunt, this is the place to come. You can't help feeling it's the end of a line, possibly the end af an era. Kev summed it up: the GSX-R has much improved over the last few years but it's now as good as it's going to get, without a complete redesign. It's very aged, both to look at and to ride (in comparison with new sports bikes and the Thunderace in particular).
It has a good riding position, comfortable for long journeys, ergonomic for twisty lanes and traffic so it all blends well with the effortless engine. The result is a complete, allround, competent package.
Gus: I can see why people like this bike. It's a bit oldfashioned looking, and the clocks etc are very basic. The engine is a monster yey it's so easy to use. Open this thing up on a fast, bendy road and, bugger me, anything else will struggle to pass you.
It's still a big bike, though and compared to the current generation of sports 750s it doesn't have the precise, instant handling response, it often feels a bit edgy and the brakes seem to take time to work up full power (especially with a hairpin bend hurtling towrds you). It's the price big bikes have to pay: lighter machines have double benefit, less mass to haul around and better tyres to do it on. Put stickier tyres on any of these monsters and you'll be lucky it they last the week out.
It's a compromise between having the blind faith to be able to stuff it into turns regardless and having the free use of all that power. On most days and most journeys, I suspect the power will win, especially when it comes with day-long comfort and a 200-mile tank range.

Yamaha YZF1000F

131 horsepower. YZF with an EXUP motor, now there's a good idea.

The new bike here is a highly logical progression - putting the acclaimed EXUP motor into the acclaimed YZF frame and getting a brand new model for practically nothing.
Well, not exactly nothing. The bits that weren't acclaimed on either EXUP or the YZF were the brakes and the YZF1000 has some brand new, one-piece four pots which do indeed work very well.
And there's the new bodywork, which Yamaha claims is 5% more slippery than the EXUP's, although our speed tests don't show it to be significantly faster than other, derestricted EXUPs.
The motor is, of course, minus the intake webs that kept the earlier bikes down below 120bhp and now gives a healthy 131 horses - enough grunt to keep up with the 1100s, while the bike is light enough and handles and brakes well enough to compete with the agile, sports 750s. In between the two, it also competes with the FireBlade... with a 15bhp advantage. And Yamaha have reverted to right-way-up forks, to make the competition fair? Or judging by the big, 48mm stanchions, not that fair.
It's the lightest bike here, and if you want to use most of the performance most of the time, it's the best bike here. At the end of the day, the performance envelope stretches further than the others. Right down to the bottom line, in fact.
And its advantages come from its weight, stiffness and steering geometry, plus the suspension's ability to keep on top of it all. In a straight line it is outdragged by the Suzuki. It is outperformed at the top end by Kawasaki's aerodynamics, where the ZZ-R managed the same speed on less horsepower. Everywhere else, the YZF was best. The FireBlade has got some serious competition.
Gus even thought it was easier to use than the Thundercat: ... it's not wild or vicious and it feels a lot more in control than the Thundercat... lighter, less clumsy and the power is just a pleasure to use. Entering a tight turn was just so easy - I've ridden 600s that are harder to manage than this. The seating position is perfect too, you feel as though you're in the middle of the bike and can feel exactly what both wheels are doing.
If any of these bikes could get away with sportier tyres, it would be the Yamaha. It's still 30lb heavier than the FireBlade and it would give its tyres a harder time, but it would be interesting to try some Hi-Sports. Smithy was as complimentary as Gus, and thought the OE Bridgestone BT50s were OK anyway: (they're) ample in the dry and surprisingly good in the wet. It was trying to wheelie when I wanted to spin the wheel out of corners. The suspension took all the bumps... it's a bit hard at low speed but spot on as the speed gets higher. It's stable and well-mannered, very comfortable for the rider but the pillion footrests are unnecessarily high. Good strong brakes, unlike the older YZF. Whithout a doubt it's the best heavyweight sport bike - better than a Blade, or your money back.

Kawasaki ZZ-R 1100

120 horsepower, but this is only the RESTRICTED version.

For a long time this was the definitive big bike. (Ever since it appeared in 1990, to be exact). Quite obviously not a sports bike, the ZZ-R was frequently faster than race reps, able to hold its own on country lanes and still came with the practicalities of a centre stand, civilised dual seat, 200-mile tank range and, err, a clock.
Restricted to around 120bhp by carb tops that stop the slides lifting fully, the ZZ-R was nevertheless fairly useful. With fully lifting slides another 12 to 15 horsepower would appear, making the Kawasaki even more useful. It's strange that now they don't need to restrict the engine, bikes still appear with the old carb tops. There's probably a big box full of them at the factory and they're waiting until they've all been used up.
One of the first (and one of the few) bikes to have serious aerodynamic development, the 1100 is slippery in body shape and efficient in air intakes. In short, it goes faster than other bikes with the same power. Or at the same speed, it goes further on a litre of fuel.
Gus: It's a big, bulbous, soggy thing with an aeroplane engine and no wings. If you could send it up through the gears with your eyes closed, you'd find it hard to believe you were still on the ground. It's true. It's so smooth, the gearbox is smooth, you can go up and down without touching the clutch. It isn't fair to compare it to the others because it's built for a different purpose... it doesn't handle that badly it it's treated with a bit more respect.


Right. It isn't a racer. Compared to pure sports bikes it's a lot heavier, its geometry is slower and more stable, its frame isn't as stiff and, with the enormous power, its handicapped by tyres that are not in the first division of stickiness.
Keep all this in mind and the ZZ-R is safe and rewarding to ride. Remove brain for an instant and a big fist on the end of a spring will fly out of the tank.
Or, from Kevin's point of view: The rest of the bike doesn't match the outstanding engine. The excess pounds push the front wheel on, instead of into the tarmac. This puts the rider in serious danger of locking the front wheel under heavy braking. It's time Kawasaki made a sports bike with the same motor. Trouble is, Kev couldn't see properly round the boxing glove.
It's in its sixth model year, with very few revisions and there isn't much you'd want to do to change it - short of putting the motor into a smaller, stiffer chassis. The old chassis has just about reached its limit of performance but on motorways and main roads it's working wel within its limits. So it still makes an excellent tool for covering big distances fast. With the on-board clock, you even know how fast. So all it needs next is the heated handlebars.

Tester's verdict

 Suzuki GSX-R 1100 WTKawasaki ZX 1100 D4Yamaha YZF 1000 R
Good pointsBulletproof power Fast and practical Combined grunt and handling
Bad pointsLong teeth Still restricted Er, pillion footrests
PerformanceThe straighter the line, the better it gets Still restricted Doesn't care whether it's straight or twisty
EconomyDecent tank range, at least Better mpg, bigger tank Smallest tank size
Ride comfortVery good Excellent Good
BrakingOK Brakes are OK, weight and tyres not so OK Big improvement over EXUP and YZF 750
HandlingCan feel a touch nervous Very good, considering Good as a Blade
ValuePricey Pricier Cheaper than a Blade...


These are three different bikes; almost different philosophies. Therefore they are all good at something and the overall best depends mostly on what you want from the bike.
For all-round performance, the Yamaha wins. It is all intents a FireBlade with 15 percent more power. By comparison, the GSX-R is a bit heavier and dated, in both styling and suspension. It's close to the end of its development line, which also means it's a well-proven, bullet-proof lump with stomping power delivery which should be rounded off with a tempting price. Onfortunately it's about the same as a FireBlade and significantly more than the Thunderace.
The Kawasaki is in a different field. It has the speed and it has the time-proven reliability, but combines it with everyday practicalities and a bit too much porkiness for continuous back-lane scratching. What loses out on a Sunday afternoon, makes more sense if you want to do big distances Monday to Friday. Like the Suzuki, it's near the end of the model line, so if you can tolerate not being on the leading edge of fashion and development, you can look forward to more performance per pound weight, if not per pound spent.