Naked Bike Group Test: Naked & Naughty - Streaking Was Never This Much Fun
Six Slices Of The Increasingly Populated Naked Bike Pie: Aprilia Tuono R, Ducati Monster S4R, Kawasaki Z1000, KTM Super Duke, MV Agusta Brutale 910R, and Yamaha FZ1
We always thought streaking was a '70s phenomenon, but it seems to be coming back in style as more and more people are riding naked. Bikes, that is. What did you think we were talking about? Every year the number of upright, fairingless (or semi-faired) sporty bikes--sometimes called standards--grows, with even a couple of new manufacturers in the mix this year. It's to the point now that to test all the nakeds together would result in a gathering worthy of a Spencer Tunick photograph.
From a testing standpoint, there are a number of ways to split the market. You've got your 1200 bikini-faired models, buck-naked liter-sized twins, four-cylinder half-faired bikes, standard triples...you could mix 'n' match all day and still have bikes left over. Instead of trying to sort through that mess, we decided to showcase a cross section of the market with six models, all of which are new or updated for '07. Here are European and Japanese, faired and unfaired, twins and fours. If you don't see something you like, or wonder how these bikes fit in with the rest of the class, check out our "Exhibitionist's guide" sidebar at the end of the story.
Aprilia Tuono R
The naked Mille has always been a staff favorite, generally coming out at or near the top of any comparison test. It's not surprising, really, when you consider that the Tuono is essentially what we've long opined would be the ultimate standard: an unneutered, naked version of the company's 1000cc sportbike, with a real handlebar. This latest iteration is based on the second-generation Mille and incorporates the engine and frame updates found on the '06 fully faired model, including the latest-spec radial-mount brakes, 60-degree V-twin engine and spaceship tailsection.
In this company, the Tuono stands out as the best combination of performance and usability. The ergonomics strike that nice balance between aggressive control and relaxed comfort, with the handlebar offering plenty of leverage without being unduly wide and the seat plenty plush for an all-day ride. The frame-mounted fairing could provide a bit more wind protection for the freeway, but compared with the rest of this group only the FZ1 offers a calmer cockpit.
The latest updates to the long-running Rotax mill provide the Tuono with an almost perfectly flat torque curve and plenty of steam easily accessed by well-sorted fuel injection. Tall gearing more suited to the Mille unfortunately makes leaving a stop more difficult than it needs to be and also puts the Tuono at a disadvantage in tighter canyons when running with the shorter-geared KTM and MV Agusta. And while the short-throw tranny shifts smoothly once underway, finding neutral at a stop takes a few tries.
Where the Tuono stands out is in the chassis department. The frame, upgraded banana swingarm and suspension components all transition nicely from the Mille; in midcorner the Aprilia has no equal in this bunch thanks partially to the grippy Pirelli Supercorsa tires. Steering is wonderfully quick and precise, the front brake has a great combination of power and feel and the suspension soaks up most anything L.A.'s Department of Public Works can cobble together and call a road. We did find a couple of flies in the chassis ointment, though; the rear brake may as well not be there, and we couldn't dial out a serious harshness to the high-speed compression damping that spoiled the bike's freeway ride.
Overall, the Aprilia carded high scores across the board with several of our testers picking it as their favorite. And while the Tuono is the cheapest European bike in this group, you still pay a hefty $4000 premium for that performance when compared with the Japanese bikes.
Ducati Monster S4R
In the logical progression that is Ducati's Monster series, this latest version sports the 998cc Testastretta engine. That is the high point of the S4R; while the company has likewise upgraded the bike's components over the years, the overall package feels dated in this group and in desperate need of a makeover.
The S4R's engine is the best of the three twins here, combining the bottom-end punch of the KTM and the smooth torque curve of the Tuono--but with more power across the range and better throttle response than either. While that alone makes this one of the best Monsters ever, it also is the bike's undoing. With each upgrade over the years, from air-cooled to liquid, 916 to 996 and finally to 998, the engine has progressively outshone the chassis to the point that the 998cc mill is too much for the standard chassis to handle.
Just as the rest of the S4R is mostly unchanged from the S4, our complaints are still the same: The fork is excessively harsh, the handlebar bend forces you into a sail-like position and the footpeg placement splays your feet awkwardly. The brakes, while plenty powerful, lack feel and--like the engine--easily overpower the rest of the bike. When pushed hard--really hard--the engine makes up for a lot and the Ducati can really come into its own. Guest tester Lance Holst coped best with the maximum Monster, insisting that the handling improved with speed to the point that it was on par with the MV Agusta and big fun to ride anytime the road got twisty. Indeed, between corners it's easy to forget the chassis difficulties, as the smooth rush of power--and the fantastic sound from the boom-box muffler--gets more addictive with every twist of the throttle.
But even if the Ducati was the best handling and most powerful, the details and quality could be improved. The analog gauges are outdated and still hard to read; the fairing and mirrors buzz hopelessly at speed; the clutch groans and grabs; and there are wires, canisters and lines hanging everywhere. As much as we love the engine (and the S version of the S4R with hlins suspension front and rear remains Monster nirvana), the chassis needs an update to compete with this bunch.
Significantly updated from the first-generation Z1000, the latest Team Green naked bike was sampled by Senior Editor Trevitt in a past SR issue ("Z1000!," Aug. '07). In brief, updates to the ZX-9R-based engine and steel-tube frame address many of the original model's shortcomings, and the Geek came away impressed--but wondering if the updates were enough for the bike to remain competitive with its peers.Of these six bikes, the Kawasaki is arguably the most user-friendly. The seating position is plenty comfortable, the controls are well-placed and low-effort and the engine has smooth, rheostat-like power along with almost perfect response. Steering is light, the brakes are crisp and powerful without being grabby and the plush suspension soaks up a wide variety of pavement imperfections. This user friendliness covers city riding, freeway jaunts and moderate canyon strafing, and the bike is a big improvement over the previous model. You can probably guess what's coming: Ratchet up the pace, and where the European bikes in this sextet come into their own, the Kawasaki shows its bargain-oriented intentions. The chassis and suspension are essentially out of their league at speeds the more expensive bikes are comfortable at, and they struggle to control the incredible power the Z-bike's engine is capable of. Tighten the clickers in an effort to control the chassis pitch, and the ride quickly becomes harsh. Mess with preloads to curb the bike's tendency to fall into corners, and it starts to run wide on turn exits. The engine, on the other hand, is a standout in this crowd and makes up for a large portion of the chassis shortcomings with easily accessible power and smooth off/on throttle transitions. At elevated freeway speeds vibration can be an issue, and top-end power is a tad underwhelming for a four-cylinder almost-literbike, but you're well into two-point misdemeanor territory if you experience that.
The majority of our testers noted variations of the same theme: At some point, the Kawasaki transitions from easy to ride and heaps of fun to a lot of work. That said, we entirely expected the $8649 Kawasaki--the cheapest bike in the test--to be outgunned when thrown in with the big-buck wolves, and with price taken into account the Z1000 becomes a very attractive option.
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
Is that your final answer?-
Because these six bikes cover such a price range, we didn't include a ratings chart with this test, nor will we name a winner. Our testers' picks, as described in the accompanying SROs, cover just as wide a range as the bikes do. It really depends on what you want to do with your bike naked...er, naked bike. And let's not forget the other offerings in the always-expanding class; check out our sidebar to see where these bikes fit in.
SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS
APRILIA TUONO R
FRONT: Spring preload: 4 lines showing; Rebound damping: .75 turns out from full stiff; Compression damping: 1.5 turns out from full stiff; Ride height: 4mm fork tube showing above triple clampREAR: Spring preload: 17mm thread showing; Rebound damping: 19 clicks out from full stiff
DUCATI MONSTER S4R
FRONT: Spring preload: 4 lines showing; Rebound damping: 9 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 1.5 turns out from full stiff; Ride height: set fork tubes flush with triple clampREAR: Spring preload: 16mm thread showing; Rebound damping: 8 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 6 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: 4 threads showing
FRONT: Spring preload: 5 turns out from full stiff; Rebound damping: 1 turn out from full stiff; Ride height: 8mm fork tube showing above triple clampREAR: Spring preload: 10mm thread showing; Rebound damping: .5 turns out from full stiff
KTM SUPER DUKE
FRONT: Spring preload: 5 turns out from full stiff; Rebound damping: 18 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 15 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: set fork tubes flush with triple clampREAR: Spring preload: 10mm thread showing; Rebound damping: 18 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 18 clicks out from full stiff
MV AGUSTA BRUTALE 910R
FRONT: Spring preload: 6 turns out from full stiff; Rebound damping: 15 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: set fork cap flush with highest part of triple clampREAR: Spring preload: 13mm thread showing; Rebound damping: 5 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 12 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: 21mm linkage rod showing
FRONT: Spring preload: 4 lines showing; Rebound damping: 21 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 5 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: set fork caps flush with triple clampREAR: Spring preload: position 5 from full soft; Rebound damping: 1 click out from full stiff
|APRILIA TUONO R||Corrected Quarter-Mile||Roll-ons 60-80 mph||Roll-ons, 80-100 mph|
|11.048 sec. @ 125.94 mph||4.47 sec.||4.87 sec.|
|DUCATI MONSTER S4R||11.047 sec. @ 124.21 mph||4.35 sec.||4.74 sec.|
|KAWASAKI Z1000||10.923 sec. @ 124.18 mph||3.34 sec.||3.53 sec.|
|KTM SUPER DUKE||11.103 sec. @ 122.25 mph||3.52 sec.||3.64 sec.|
|MV AGUSTA BRUTALE 910R||10.573 sec. @ 129.49 mph||3.33 sec.||3.26 sec.|
|YAMAHA FZ1||10.957 sec. @ 127.99 mph||3.67 sec.||4.55 sec.|
The many ways to go naked
While we've showcased a sampling of the standards currently available, the naked-bike class grows each year and is filling every conceivable niche. There are naked or semi-naked bikes for everyone, from the budget-conscious new rider to the experienced, wealthy sport rider that's tired of being hunched over and everyone in between.
For the always-popular streetfighter look, this is the way to go. Look for a big headlight up front and not much else in the way of wind protection for a long trip. These bikes are better suited for city riding or twisties that are close to home--the freeway is not much fun without a fairing. Of the bikes in this test, the MV Agusta Brutale fits here.
Honda's still-available 919 packs a fun punch and is typical of the liter-sized (or thereabouts) standards. A leftover sportbike motor combines with budget running gear for okay performance but loads of fun.
Covering up a little bit is the modest thing to do, and it's certainly nicer on a longer ride. Even the tiniest of fork-mounted fairings can make a difference, more in terms of smoothing the airflow rather than outright protection. The Ducati S4R, Kawasaki Z1000, KTM Super Duke all slot in nicely here.
Typical of the bikini-faired bikes, Buell's XB12Ss Lightning Long is all the fun of a true naked bike but offers a bit of comfort with a fork-mounted fairing.
This interesting subclass contains bikes with small fairings that are mounted to the frame rather than the front fork--as in the case of the Aprilia Tuono R tested here. With mirrors still attached to the handlebar rather than the fairing, these bikes typically sacrifice the least in comfort and performance while still retaining the naked look.
The BMW K1200R Sport fits in between the fully faired K1200S and naked K1200R, with a frame-mounted faring and bar-mounted mirrors.
Capable of all-day touring as well as canyon strafing, this class offers typically the most comfort short of a sport-touring bike. The FZ1 slots in here, with a large, frame-mount fairing. Expect that comfort and civility to add weight, however, with an appropriate step down in performance from a full-on sportbike or the more-naked models.
We tested Suzuki's new-for-'07 Bandit 1250S earlier this year ("Cross Dressing," July '07) and figured it had "the best standard/naked-bike engine yet." Overall, the Bandit rates higher than the FZ1 in our book.
The KTM Super Duke was by far the most well thought out piece of two-wheel equipment I have ridden in many years. It will fill every need for the rider that requires a catch-all bike for any situation, including road surfaces, traffic conditions and riding solo or two-up. The torque of the KTM is well matched with its transmission, and clutchless shifting with a slight throttle release was seamless both in traffic and in the canyons. The handlebar position, peg position and seat made for a great all-day rider. When we entered the canyons all I needed to do was scoot up closer to the tank and take a flat track-type riding position and the KTM did not fail to deliver.
Now if you're looking more toward the racebike configuration, I would highly recommend the MV. Other than the riding position, the MV is also equipped with great power, brakes and suspension. The MV has no funny quirks and does everything well except in the passenger department--but that's not what this bike was designed for. It looks spooky-fast standing still, but be advised it also delivers only what you ask for; after just a day on the MV your confidence will soar, and the bike just makes you look good.
This is not to say that the rest of the naked bikes are bad, poorly made or substandard. The Aprilia, Ducati, Kawasaki and Yamaha are just no match for the KTM or MV. -Bruce Reimer
Pity the poor Japanese entrants here. The two, beaten to death by the bean counters, can't help but seem cheap next to the exquisitely turned out MV Agusta, the amazingly well developed KTM and the brutal insouciance of the Aprilia. The Z1000 is festooned with awkward details and let down by lowest-bidder suspension; the Yamaha isn't far behind, a huge disappointment to me as one of the first-gen's biggest fans. (To be kind, the '07 bike is, I'm told, dramatically improved over the '06, but I long for the better suspension and long-stroke engine of its predecessor.)
Among the Europeans, the KTM impressed most, partly because I had few expectations of it. What a wonderful motorcycle on the right roads, incredibly refined and docile. That engine is a complete sweetheart, making you question the need for a breathtaking top-end rush for street use. The KTM struck me as what the Suzuki SV1000 could have been--a faster version of the 650 but with its talent for taking care of the rider and instilling confidence. Then you have the Tuono, for the first time seriously challenged (by the Super Duke) yet rising heroically to the game. The reworked, single-plug engine lacks the first-gen's boomy bottom-end, but it's much more refined and notably smoother. Aprilia gave the new Tuono a superior chassis, didn't mess with the ergonomics and completely failed to lose sight of what made the original such a standout. It's in my mind the best bike here, period, but keep an eye on the mirrors for that angular orange beastie. -Marc Cook
As I rode the KTM Super Duke I asked myself, "What is wrong with this bike?" It certainly isn't the motor. The KTM 990 engine is strong everywhere, with the real power coming on above 5K rpm. The Super Duke's off-idle and low-end power delivery is silky smooth as well. It's not the suspension, which soaked up the bumps with ease and transmitted multitudes of seat-of-the-pants feedback. Perhaps the brakes would let me down? Nope--strong, linear brakes with good bite make the braking very predictable. The ergonomics are all-day comfortable, as long as the day wasn't spent on the freeway. I even like the styling, which may be hit-and-miss depending on personal taste, although nothing can match the styling of the MV Augusta Brutale. So what's wrong with the Super Duke? At almost $14K, it's the second most expensive bike in the test. Sure it is a great standard-style motorcycle, but without the exotic styling that comes with the MV Augusta, I just can't see spending that much money on this category of motorcycle. -Jim O'Connor
In my mind, this group breaks down to three pairs of bikes. The Japanese duo look and feel like the affordably priced bikes they are with their uninspired styling (okay, so the Kawasaki appears to be inspired by The Transformers) and poorly damped suspensions. The Kawasaki's entertaining engine beats out the Yamaha's puzzlingly unresponsive lump. The S4R and Brutale perform more like pure sportbikes without bodywork. They're wonderfully planted in the turns, ferociously fast and sound like the pedigreed racers they're so closely related to. While they are significantly more comfortable than Ducati's 1098 and MV Agusta's F4, they're also noticeably less so than the far more versatile Aprilia and KTM. The Tuono R and the Super Duke are the standout winners in this class because they offer absolute all-day comfort without sacrificing much--if any--performance to the racier Italians. The KTM is the most entertaining with its knockout low-end punch and dirtbike-like agility, but the Aprilia offers better long-haul comfort and superior high-speed performance, all for $999 less. It might just be the best all-around sportbike in existence. -Lance Holst
Although we went through great pains to test these bikes based on their performance, I can't avoid acknowledging the probability that most people shopping for bikes in this category care more about styling than performance. While all the motorcycles in this group can handle canyon curves as well as they can negotiate downtown traffic, I think the vast majority of them end up spending far more time in the latter than the former. Thus the reason for such a radically divergent-looking group of machines.
I love the performance of the KTM and Aprilia--but I have a hard time justifying shelling out more than 12 large for a bike in this category. If I was in the market for a naked bike, I'd most likely be a cheap bastard, so I'd probably look toward the Z1000 or the Triumph Speed Triple--even though neither bike's appearance is to my liking. -Kent Kunitsugu
There are so many ways to compare these naked bikes that no matter how you group them, it will be lopsided. How much performance do you want? How much comfort? How much do you want to pay? It seems to me that versatility is what these bikes should be about and of these six, the Aprilia stands out as the true do-it-all bike. Great ergos and adequate wind protection for a long trip, loads of fun in the twisties and a price in line with that performance.
The Yamaha and Kawasaki would be high on my list as well, especially if money was an issue. But I can't help thinking that, rather than buy the FZ1 or Z1000 and then spend money to fix the things I didn't like, it would be easier to start with an R1 or ZX-10R and work the other way. Strip off the bodywork, mount up some lights and a handlebar, and I'd be in business. Sure it might be more expensive in the long run, but it would be cheaper than the European bikes, and the performance is practically guaranteed. Hmmm, we've still got that ZX-10R hanging around... -Andrew Trevitt