lights. No joke: Head of R&D Etsuo Yokouchi made the company produce the GSX-R as a racebike during most of development, then threw street stuff at it during the final phase. Outside-the-box thinking back then, no doubt, particularly for a big company mass-producing motorcycles built to a good price. But when you think of the foam (yes, foam) they used to hold the gauge package in place, it was more like inside-the-box thinking—a shipping box. That gray sponge was one of the many reasons the bike was 20 freakin' percent lighter than other 750s. The engine also made 20 percent more power, and it cost about the same as the competition. The 1100 (pictured) was even crazier. I couldn't afford a machine like that back then, but I felt the same disturbance in The Force that the rest of the sportbike-loving world did.

About the time l might have been able to afford a used '86 GSX-R—say, 1993 or so—I suddenly didn't want to. Honda went and unleashed a flyweight sportbike that was lighter than a 600

and stuffed into it an 893cc inline-Four, and thereby rendered boring and staid every sportbike in every category. I wasn't at the press launch for that bike but, in a rare and much-needed dose of humor from Big Red, product planner/tester and complete nutjob funnyman Dirk Vandenberg (rest in peace, my friend, and have a chuckle at me the next time you hear me scream in a corner) handed out official Honda parts bags that contained "lightening holes," explaining the high technology and benefits of these special parts. This is where you smile, because the bags were empty. By the time I got to ride a 900RR as a tester, it was 1998, the year Honda added a bit of trail and made the bike have a "bigger circle" to allow more people to ride this extreme machine with confidence. Because not only was the CBR900RR a phenomenal performance bike, Large i hfrf. arf. cf.rtain momf.nts of I astonishment in this business overcome you and leave you slack-jawed, then screaming like a little girl. One of those for me was a near-crash in Turn 8, Willow Springs, on a privately owned 2000 Yamaha YZF-R7 during a big comparison test way back then. First you worry about getting maimed or killed as you cartwheel into the desert at 140 and leave a 530,000 trail of exotic Superbike-homologation-special fairy dust, synthetic oil mist and powdered femur. Then you worry about living through that and having the owner of the bike—the guy who paid his own money not only to buy the bike but kit it out with race parts, and only lent it to you because you said you wouldn't crash it—kill you when you hobble back to the pits clutching the battered remains of a once-bitchin' aluminum fuel tank and a portion of titanium-nitride-coated Ohlins fork, which is really more like an Ohlins stick, but not as straight and now less valuable than a piece of driftwood. The nice thing is when the front tire comes back online and none of that happens so you can keep it all a secret for 10 years. That, folks, is astonishingly awesome.

Some other moments of astonishment come as more of a surprise. Honest. Like when I went to the 1998 Spanish launch of the Suzuki Hayabusa, a strange, copper-colored Very Large Sportbike that looked swollen as though stung by bees, then subjected to 1.7 times normal gravity while being solidified in the design studio. Smug motojoumalists sat in a conference room listening to the usual PR backhoe de liver hyperbole about how this cosmic suppository created a new category of motorcycle, Ultimate Sport. "Oh, lah-de-dah, fellas, that's rich! What do you think this barge is going to feel like around Catalunya?! Sheesh..." We wandered out to the paddock at this amazing race circuit, had a couple of sighting laps, then on the front straight unleashed for the first time the gobsmacking fundamental force-of-nature-like 160 horsepower and 100 foot-pounds of torque. And have never been the same since. I'd like to formally apologize for being a little smug back then, and also to thank Suzuki for making a bike that taught me to keep my gooey center unencrusted in jade, as it were.

That motorcycle obliterated our very expectations about motorcycles. It redefined what was deemed possible with two wheels and an engine.

It wasn't the first time Suzuki had made a great leap. Back in 1985 ('86 for the U.S.), the GSX-R750 rolled into showrooms as a racebike with

Like me. Dirk had been wheelying everywhere, using the fabled "negative travel"—an extra 20mm of extension provided by the fork for just such occasions—to try to keep the wheel in contact with the ground! (This reminds me why we keep the BS detector handy when reading PR copy, even on great motorcycles.)

The R1 just did everything better and caused that same "Uh-oh" sound to echo throughout R&D departments across the industry. And so the modern liter-bike concept was born.

The fact that these significant bikes are Japanese is not an accident— they really know how to make motorcycles. But as you can read in the latest MasterBike track shootout (page 38) and in Roundup (page 14), Europe has arrived, with BMW leading the way. In a year when Yamaha is charging SI270 for special graphics on its Rl, Suzuki didn't send over any 2010 GSX-R 1000s, Kawasaki changed the shape of the ZX-lOR's muffler and Honda essentially held steady on its CBR1000RR, the S1000RR ignites our enthusiasm and crushes the competition at the track and on the dyno. Buy the base model for SI3,800 or out-equip and undercut the European competition by opting for a quick shifter, ABS and traction control for $15,730 all up. I'll go with the latter because I don't want this moment of astonishment to be followed by me screaming like a little girl. I'd like to be overcome and slack-jawed after riding safer, faster laps than I ever have before.

Welcome to the new great leap. □

___Leader Tadao Baba made the absolute rideability of those 900s a technical priority. Baba-san was one of the best, and it was reflected in the machines he made with the help of a very capable development team.

By '98, though, things were changing. Fast. And riding on a huge hit of midrange torque followed by an amazing top-end whack, the Yamaha YZF-R1 powerfully altered the sporting landscape. I first discovered the raw beauty of this monster in a liter-bike comparison that year. I'll let Dirk, there with Honda to help set up and support the 900RR, sum up the R1 after Yamaha let him ride it a few laps:

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