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Does size matter: the answer.

Published: 16 September 2001

Updated: 19 November 2014

When it comes to the age-old pub debate of whose bike is fastest, there are two trains of thought. One states that there’s no substitute for cubes. It argues that horsepower and torque provide speed and grunt and as long as you’ve always slightly got the legs on the opposition, all else being equal, they’ll never get by.

The other view believes that a nimble, smooth-handling middleweight will pip a raw horsepower monster around any twisty circuit you care to name. Get chatting to racers and you’ll hear expressions like: " A well-ridden 600 will beat a bigger bike round here any time. " To back up the claim, they’ll point you to the latest race results at that track. They have a point.

Take the recent BSB round at Brands Hatch, for example. The fastest lap for a 1000cc bike was 46.29s, set by Steve Hislop’s Ducati 996. The fastest 750 was only a fraction slower, with James Haydon’s R7 clocking 46.67. In the Supersport, the best 600 lap was 48.22 – well inside the Superbike tail-enders – while the 250s were just behind with a best of 48.34s.

But how does that translate to stock, or near-standard road bikes, and riders who don’t hone their skills to perfection by racing every weekend? Does size really matter, or is what you do with what you’ve got that counts?

To find out, MCN took five bikes and five riders to Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire, and hired datalogging expert Ben Morris (01451-822458). Morris is equipped with the latest-generation logger from RaceLogic. The logger works by hooking up with up to six satellites in space to find out exactly where it is, what direction it’s travelling and how fast it’s going. It checks the data every 20th of a second, making it phenomenally accurate. The info is stored in a datalogging " black box " ready for downloading into a standard PC with a specially-written program.

It plots acceleration, deceleration, G-force, how much of the track is being used, maximum and minimum speeds, mid-corner speed and braking distances. Best of all, it doesn’t need wiring or calibrating, which means it can be transferred from rider to rider, or bike to bike, in seconds. It’s self-powered and simply sits under the seat, using a tiny metal " aerial " Velcroed on to the tailpiece to get a signal from the satellites.

We ran the bikes in reverse capacity order and plotted the results for each. We’ve displayed a graph showing how fast it was going at each point on the circuit – including the four main turns and the chicane – while ridden by the fastest rider. We’ve also looked at the fastest lap, maximum speed, mid-corner speed for each of the four corners and time through the chicane for each rider, then displayed the figures in a table.

The Riders

TO conduct the test, MCN took five very different bikes and five equally disparate riders to Bruntingthorpe. The riders were all of a high, but varied standard – and for good reason. We wanted to see how the kind of rider you are affects how well you get on with a certain machine. Our quintet varied tremendously in terms of physical stature, levels of fitness, race experience, riding style and bike preference.

MCN road tester, Kev Smith has spent many seasons racing in domestic series and has also worked as a professional tyre tester. He’s nine stone and is supremely fit. He knows Bruntingthorpe’s new circuit like the back of his hand.

Dave Hill is 16 stone, favours bigger bikes and is also an established MCN tester. He made a brief foray into WSB and has spent several years in world endurance. He instructs at Ron Haslam race schools and knows the new Brunters well.

Declan Crutchlow has been racing for 10 years, weighs 13 stone and is also a Ron Haslam instructor. He has ridden Bruntingthorpe several times and is very fit. His size and build make him perfectly suited to nimble middleweights.

Steve King has been an international endurance racer for three years. He also instructs for Haslam, but had never seen the new Bruntingthorpe circuit until now. He weighs 15 stone and gets on well with any bike from 600cc upwards.

MCN news editor Keith Farr does most of his miles on the road, but has done several track days. He had never ridden the new Bruntingthorpe, weighs 15 stone, and is the least fit. He hates big V-twins, but loves two-strokes. Will it show?

The Bikes:

THE bikes couldn’t have been more varied. We chose an Aprilia RS250, Suzuki GSX-R600, Kawasaki ZX-7R, Yamaha R1 and Aprilia RSV-R. All demand a different riding approach and all have different strengths and weaknesses.

Aprilia RS250

With between 65 and 75bhp depending on whose dyno you believe, the RS250 is never going to be quickest in a straight line. But it’s famed for its nimble handling. Weighing less than an anorexic on a diet, it changes direction so quickly and holds such a perfect line in both fast and slow, tight corners that what it lacks in sheer size, it should make up for in mid-corner ability. It should be a braking demon, too.

Suzuki GSX-R600

The middleweight Suzuki is the one to beat in standard trim, offering the stability of the CBR600, the handling of the R6 and the power of the ZX-6R. It turns quickly, accelerates almost as quickly as litre bikes, has a high top speed and is blessed with phenomenal brakes. Where the old GSX-R600 engine was peaky, this latest one is far more linear. A predictable, friendly bike that should do well in this test.

Kawasaki ZX-7R

It’s still around and selling like hot cakes. But is that because dealers have knocked the price down? Or is it really that good? It’s been around a long time, but does that mean it’s getting long in the tooth? And is a 750 a white elephant these days? They have neither the power of a 1000 nor the handling of a 600. Are they a compromise, or do they fit perfectly in between?

Yamaha R1

The R1 has it all – ballistic acceleration, a mega top speed, a lithe, flickable chassis, amazing brakes, a cult following – and a penchant for tankslapping when it hits something that isn’t quite smooth. On paper, it’s the clear winner, but will its skittish nature get in the way?

Aprilia RSV-R

This drew the most emotion. Some liked its easy power, its solid chassis and its low-speed drive. Others, more in love with revvy fours, disliked its booming, lazy nature. It’s certain to do well escaping some of Brunters’ slower corners, but it does feel top-heavy. Will that affect its ability to change direction quickly through the punishing and unforgiving chicane section, where one false move and no gravel trap means a written-off bike instead of an ego-bruising exit?

The Track:

Right-handed turn one comes at the bottom of the long straight. You scrub off speed as you’re turning in, braking as the bike is leant hard over, and need to watch out for a nasty bump, which can play havoc with the suspension, on the way in.

Turn two is also a right-hander, but is a lot slower and getting it right is crucial it sets you up for the fast back straight.

Turn three is a heart-in-the-mouth left hander taken at high speed. Less stable bikes will only just have finished waggling their bars along the rough back straight and can be set off again barrelling into this corner, which is packed with overbanding and undulations.

Turn four is a lot faster than it looks, and is the smoothest corner of the lot. It sets you up for a short straight leading to the three-bend chicane.

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