KTM Super Duke
Another new model recently sampled by His Geekness ("Orange Dawn," May '07), KTM's Super Duke has finally delivered the goods after teasing us for more than a couple of years by not being available in the United States. All our testers praised the KTM's peppy engine and nimble chassis and expressed surprise at how polished the Super Duke is for essentially a first effort.
The KTM's 75-degree V-twin mill pumps out the jam from idle to redline, leaving a choice of gears for any given turn. Throttle response is moderately smooth, although at low speeds and around town the engine is almost too crisp and responsive, requiring a careful touch. Coupled with a snickety-snick transmission, the engine is perfectly matched to the tight gnarly roads you'd expect a supermoto-inspired bike to be tailored for. The chassis is well sorted and agile, with light steering and pring and damping rates well suited to a sporting ride. Brembo binders provide moderate stopping power, but excellent feedback and modulation.
We picked up a nail in our test unit's rear Dunlop D208RR and swapped out both tires for Michelin Pilot Powers rather than wait for a replacement OEM donut. Both the Dunlops and Michelins took to the KTM well, with neutral characteristics and excellent grip.
Most of our testers pointed to the KTM as the funnest bike to ride on tight roads, but when things open up the Super Duke shows its motocross background. The wide bar and narrow, blocky seat grow tiresome, and at higher revs the seat and pegs vibrate badly. That low-end grunt tapers off quickly to a somewhat wheezy top-end when compared with the other bikes, and the Italian twins use that to their advantage when the roads straighten out.
Our crew was pleasantly surprised by the level of quality found in the bike's details, and there are few nits to pick. The tach could be easier to read, but with the engine's acres of torque it's hardly a necessary part of the gauge package. The bar is a bit wide for in town, something easily fixed--as one of our jokesters pointed out--with a hacksaw. For a cool 14 grand, though, you'd expect the bike to be sorted; even though many of our riders picked the KTM as the best overall performing bike in the group, the price would lead them elsewhere.
MV Agusta Brutale 910R
There's one good aspect to the MV's lofty price tag of just under 18 grand: If you can afford the bike, posting bail will likely be a drop in the bucket. Count on getting to know your bondsman intimately, too, as the Brutale not only begs to be ridden, shall we say, with spirit, but also its looks will undoubtedly attract attention.
Based heavily on the F4 line of MV sportbikes, the Brutale's smaller displacement is courtesy of a 5mm shorter stroke than the 1000. The chassis sports a similar hybrid steel-tube/cast-aluminum structure along with top-shelf components such as Brembo monoblock radial-mount calipers, Marzocchi's 50mm R.A.C. (Road Advanced Component) fork and Brembo forged aluminum hoops, all of which distinguish the R model from the standard S version (that is not offered in '07, but will be for '08).
The finished product is very compact. It's a short reach to the narrow bar, with the pegs similarly close to the slightly hard saddle. Plenty comfortable for short hops, the cramped seat will have you squirming around after a half-hour or so. The lightest bike in the test, the Brutale has arguably the best chassis that feels completely planted in almost any cornering situation. Steering is almost effortless, even though the bar is narrower than most of the other bikes here. The front Brembos are one-finger powerful yet have great feedback, and the suspension is definitely on the stiff side, sacrificing comfort for control.
Hammer on the Brutale and it just asks for more as the brakes and stiff suspension are worked harder and the sticky Pirelli race-spec tires get up to temperature. While the Brutale squirts between tight corners with the torque of the twins (short-stroke engine or not), top-end steam is easily on par with the Japanese fours, and the Brutale comes into its own when the road opens up.
Sound like heaven? It is, but for one glaring detail. All of our testers complained about the bike's horrid off/on throttle response. While MV's EBS (Engine Brake System) minimizes engine braking to almost nonexistence, the throttle is very stiff to open in midcorner. And once open, engine braking actually increases before the motor fires and provides acceleration. It's practically the only flaw in an otherwise incredible package.
Yamaha FZ1An all-new model last year, the FZ1 received lukewarm reviews and was seen by many as a step backward from the original, carbureted version. In our first ride report ("Fizzy Fizzer," July '06), Trevitt (hmmm...he always ends up doing the naked tests for some reason) cited abrupt throttle response and harsh suspension action as the low points; our man was not alone in his criticisms, and for '07 Yamaha has updated the bike accordingly.
A new ECU addresses the throttle response, and the '07 bike is much smoother getting on the gas mid-corner. Whereas the old bike was flat until the mid-rpm range, the new model is much peppier from 3500 rpm, filling in that gap nicely. While the updates are a huge improvement, our testers were hoping for more from the FZ1, especially in this company. The Yamaha's bottom-end and midrange are no match for the twins, and even the Z1000's smaller-displacement engine feels much more powerful in day-to-day city riding and canyon runs. There's a definite rush of top-end power above 7000 rpm, and on faster roads the FZ1 rider can use that to his advantage.
With the largest fairing of this group, the FZ1 combines upright ergos, a soft, wide seat and good wind protection for a comfortable freeway ride. Like the Z1000, the Yamaha starts to buzz at elevated rpm but remains smooth at legal-and-then-some speeds; the Yamaha's better wind protection makes it the logical choice of the bikes tested here for a sport-touring jaunt, with the Aprilia a close second pick.
Suspension action is noticeably less harsh than the '06 model's, but still not up to the task of hustling nearly 500 pounds of 125-horsepower motorcycle down a gnarly back road. As well, the bike's sport-touring tires--OEM variants of Dunlop's excellent D220--don't have the outright grip of the almost-full-spec race tires fitted to some of the other bikes or even the Kawasaki's gummy Qualifiers.
Like the Z1000, the FZ1 is somewhat out of its league in the company of the more expensive European bikes; kept in perspective, it easily offers the widest range of usability here, extending from sport to tour; the other bikes may be more sporty, but they're definitely less suited to long-distance work.
Naked Bikes - Gauge, LCD Panel & More
The Tuono's gauge package...
The Tuono's gauge package is tidy, although the area behind the fairing is not. A push-button switch on the back of the left handlebar switch toggles through the various functions.
Analog gauges on the Ducati...
Analog gauges on the Ducati have too-small LCD panels for tripmeter, clock and temperature readouts. The bar is uncomfortably flat and can't be adjusted from this position, and the mirrors shake excessively.
The Z1000's dash is lifted...
The Z1000's dash is lifted from the ZX-6R, although with the addition of a fuel gauge in place of the 600's gear indicator. The handlebar bend is comfortable, and the mirrors are adequate but could be more rectangular and wider set.
The small tach on the Super...
The small tach on the Super Duke is difficult to read at a glance, as are the digits on the LCD panel. Handlebar and levers are all quality components, and the mirrors are nicely spaced for a good view behind.
The Brutale's gauges are the...
The Brutale's gauges are the same as on the F4 sportbike and require the engine to be running to cycle through the functions as the starter button is used. The mirrors are way too close-set to see anything behind.
A nice dash layout on the...
A nice dash layout on the FZ1 shows everything at a glance, and the mirrors are easily the best here. Some of our testers felt the handlebar was too flat, otherwise the bike is all-day comfortable.