SR Comparison Test
Ducati Streetfighter vs. Kawasaki Z1000 vs. MV Agusta Brutale 990R
Although the naked bike market's sales in the U.S. have never been anywhere near as strong as other categories, that hasn't stopped the manufacturers from continually offering new and better performing bikes of this genre every few years. Ducati introduced a brutish successor to the S4R series in the 1099cc testastretta evoluzione-powered Streetfighter in '09 ("Turning the Page", July '09), and there were three new entries to the class this year: the all-new Kawasaki Z1000 ("Naked Torchbearer", May '10) and the MV Agusta Brutale 990R and 1090RR ("Brute Force", January '10). And that's not counting the other members of this stripped fraternity that aren't exactly long in the tooth either: Triumph's iconic Speed Triple, Aprilia's Tuono series, KTM's Super Duke, and even Yamaha's FZ1 with its quarter-fairing.
It's been a while since we've gotten naked, so we gathered the three newest entries into this class - the Kawasaki Z1000, Ducati Streetfighter, and the smaller of MV Agusta's Brutales, the 990R - together for a little party. Why not the other aforementioned bare beauties? Triumph didn't have a Speed Triple available, although we think the real reason is because we've heard there will be a substantially updated version unveiled at Intermot for '11. The same could be said for the Aprilia Tuono in a way; photos have been circulating of a V4-powered successor in pre-production form being tested at the racetrack and on the road in Italy, although we hear that machine won't be introduced until '12. KTM's Super Duke is basically unchanged from its '07 form, and in our last comparison it was found to be lacking a bit in the engine department compared to its undressed compatriots. The Brutale 1090RR was not available in time for this test. And as mentioned in the "New Bikes 2011" story, Yamaha's venerable FZ1 is receiving some ECU upgrades for '11, so that was held back as well.
Whittled down to the three contestants, our comparison took us through the traffic-laden mean streets and byzantine freeway system of El Lay, as well as the myriad serpentine canyon roads that slither through the mountains surrounding SoCal. Only the tiniest percentage of naked bikes actually do any mileage on racetrack pavement, so that arena was left out of the overall equation.
Day-to-day civility points go to the Kawasaki, with the well-padded and supportive saddle complementing a higher bend in its handlebars and more forward-set footpegs than the other two to provide ergos that are much more hospitable over longer rides. Both the Ducati's and MV's more track-oriented ergos extract a bit of sacrifice from the rider, with the MV's rearset footpegs and firm seat eliciting some groans from testers after extended periods, and the Streetfighter's tiny instrument panel and exhaust heat shield on the right side intruding on the rider's foot raising continual complaints. The mirrors on the Streetfighter and Brutale are both little more than window dressing - the MV's basically show an excellent view of your elbows, and it's the first naked bike where we've had to do the "sportbike elbow tuck" to see anything behind you in the mirrors. The grippy footpegs on the Kawasaki were also deemed superior to the small and slippery pegs on the Italian machines.
_**It's a good thing the bulk of the Ducati Streetfighter's power is lower in the rpm range, because its LCD instrument panel is so tiny (left) that attempting to read the bar graph is virtually impossible at speed. The Kawasaki Z1000's LCD instrument panel (center) can be tilted to one of three positions, and we like the tinted cover that provides more contrast - although the bar-graph tachometer is actually smaller than the Streetfighter's. We're glad MV Agusta has resisted the temptation to join the bar-graph tachometer trend, and its instrument panel (right) is clear and easy to read - resetting the odometer or changing engine modes or traction control is a more work than it needs to be, however._
The Z1000's engine is the smoothest of the trio, with its secondary counterbalancer canceling out excess vibes at highway cruising speeds. Although the Brutale and Streetfighter are far from paint-shakers, the MV has just enough vibes to become a little wearing on long rides, and the mirror images become fairly fuzzed out as well; same with the Ducati, whose mirror images are basically unrecognizable.
Even the Kawasaki's suspension rates are more in tune with the urban environment. While the stiffer suspension of the MV and Ducati became a little harsh over sharp-edged potholes and frost heaves, the Z1000 could be softened up to literally a '70s Cadillac by comparison.
Not that you'd want to stay in the saddle long enough to prove it, but the MV definitely has the fuel range over the others. Its surprisingly huge 6.1-gallon fuel tank makes up for the fact that it was the thirstiest of the trio, and it was easy to squeeze 180 miles out of a tankful (although surprisingly the low fuel light would come on at 140 miles, meaning you had over a gallon still left). The Kawasaki's comparatively skimpy 4.0-gallon tank means you'd better plan fuel stops on any long trips, as you'll be running on fumes in 135 miles or so. The Streetfighter was only slightly better with its 4.4-gallon tank.
Acceleration off the line (i.e., from a stoplight) seemed fairly even between the three for the most part. The Ducati's slightly tall first gear requires a bit of clutch slippage to get off the line smartly, but its low-end torque and light weight (only 427 pounds wet) helps there. The Kawasaki's torque-laden 1043cc inline-four doesn't have to fight a tall first gear, but it's the porkiest of the bunch at 483 pounds full of fuel, so that evens things out a bit. And while the Brutale has the quickest-revving and most responsive engine of the trio by far, it required a bit more rpm to get off the line in haste, and its engine lags behind the other two in overall power.
Slicing And Dicing
Once we began to encounter twisty tarmac and ramp up the cornering pace, the more racetrack orientation and higher-spec componentry of the two Italians quickly came to the fore. This is not to say the Kawasaki couldn't hold its own when the horizon began to tilt - it just required more work and concentration to keep the Ducati and MV in sight.
The $4500 difference between the Z1000 and the two Italian thoroughbreds is easily traced to the suspension. While the Kawasaki's 41mm inverted cartridge fork and horizontally mounted rear shock offer complete adjustability (the shock has spring preload and rebound damping only), the spring and damping rates are skewed toward the softer end of the spectrum. The model-specific aluminum beam frame and swingarm are more than capable, but the suspension is also saddled with the task of controlling the Kawasaki's substantial heft; in order to keep everything under control, we had to crank up the rebound damping to just off maximum in the rear, and close in the front as well. And although this enabled the chassis to remain composed during aggressive cornering, the stiff settings compromised compliance at any pace less than full pin.
The brake components also reflect the Kawasaki's more frugal intentions. While the Brutale and Streetfighter both sport radial-mount Brembo calipers and 320mm discs, the Z1000 makes do with radial-mount Tokico calipers and 300mm discs. Compared to the top-shelf brakes on the MV and Ducati, the Kawasaki's brakes were adequate, but extended periods of aggressive riding began to show a bit of sponginess in the brake lever. Tires were also a contributing factor; the Z1000's stock OEM-specific Dunlop D210 Sportmax rubber wasn't quite a match for the Streetfighter's Pirelli Diablo Corsa IIIs, and especially the MV's Diablo Rosso tires. Overall grip was decent, but edge grip and compliance were not on par, and the Japanese-made Dunlops also showed some pretty major wear during the course of our test, while the Pirellis had plenty of life left.
Although the front brakes on the Streetfighter and the Brutale 990R look somewhat similar, their performance was not. Both offered superb stopping power, but the Ducati's radial mount/monobloc Brembo setup (left) was fairly aggressive in its response and progressiveness, which seemed a bit sensitive to some riders; the MV's standard radial-mount Brembo calipers (right) delivered a more linear response and power curve. The Kawasaki's radial-mount Tokico calipers and smaller 300mm discs (middle) offered good stopping power, but started to get a little mushy when pushed.
There isn't much in it between the MV and Ducati when the pace really ramps up - each had its strong points that struck a chord with testers. For example, everyone loved the sharp and lithe steering habits of the Brutale chassis that enable it to carve both tight and fast corners with uncanny precision. Turn-in effort is light but not flighty, and the Marzocchi front fork offers up good feedback. But the Ducati counters with superb front-end feel when pushed hard, and although it lacks the agile characteristics of the MV's chassis, its rock-solid stability makes up for it. While the Marzocchi/Sachs suspension fitted to the Brutale is very good, the Showa pieces on the Streetfighter are that much better.
One complaint we do have with both the standard Ducati Streetfighter and its 1198 literbike cousin: adjusting the rear shock rebound damping is a major hassle. Because the adjuster screw is at the bottom of the shock body, accessing it requires a long 4mm hex wrench with a ball wrench on the end; due to the access hole in the single-sided swingarm being offset in relation to the adjuster, you're forced to access the adjuster at an angle. Not good.
The Streetfighter (left) and Brutale (right) both sport single-sided swingarms and dual exhaust mufflers on the right side, but the Ducati's heat shield for the mufflers intrudes on the rider's boot, forcing an awkward position that often causes the boot to slip off the peg; accessing the rear shock's rebound damping adjuster is also a major pain. The Kawasaki's more conventional rear suspension/exhaust setup (center) utilizes a horizontally mounted rear shock to keep it away from exhaust heat.
It's difficult to find fault with the Ducati's beefy 1099cc V-twin. With boatloads of low-end and midrange torque coupled with the lightest weight of the three bikes, the Streetfighter literally leaps off the corners, aided by the traction-assisting power pulses of the V-twin engine. Boasting the highest peak power of the three certainly doesn't hurt its top-end when you've got the Ducati straightened up and charging toward the next corner. And it's hard to beat the sound of a testastretta twin bellowing at full song.
The MV's 998cc inline-four was surprisingly down a bit on steam compared to the Streetfighter and even the Z1000, but the dyno chart doesn't tell the whole story. The Brutale's engine is the quickest-revving unit by far, with an ability to devour the upper rpm range that can't be matched by the Ducati or Kawasaki. And not only is that engine paired with a slick-shifting gearbox sporting well-chosen ratios that enable you to easily keep it on the boil, but the Brutale is also equipped with the same traction control system as the new F4 we tested in the Sept. '10 issue ("The Art of Speed"). There are eight levels of intervention, and the TC can also be turned off if desired; we found level 2 or 1 to provide the best combination of spin control and drive on the street. Unfortunately for the Ducati, only the Streetfighter S model is equipped with traction control.
Another plus with the MV is that - just as with the new F4 - the overly abrupt throttle response of past models is largely gone. There is still a hint of jumpy response when you get back on the throttle in the midrange rpm, but it's nowhere near the overly abrupt character of past MVs that forced a brain surgeon's care with throttle inputs.
Although the Ducati and MV's front brake setups are both Brembo setups, their braking action is very different. The monobloc radial-mount calipers on the Ducati deliver a more aggressive feel, with a very responsive and progressive ramp-up in power that one tester felt was a little too responsive. The Brutale's slightly lower-spec Brembo radial-mount calipers were much more linear in response and progressiveness; but both did a superb job of slowing these bikes without a whimper.
You Make The Call
This test showed how ultimate performance isn't quite the end-all with naked bikes as it is with hard-core sportbikes. Despite the Ducati ekeing out a win over the MV Agusta on numerical evaluation tallies, and even though the Kawasaki Z1000 was outclassed in ultimate performance, two of our testers stated that they'd probably end up buying it due to its lower price and more hospitable daily manners. And from what we've seen at bike gathering spots across the country, the marketplace seems to have the same opinion: most of the naked bike owners we've talked to bought their machine based on emotion instead of outright performance. What that reason was wasn't easily identified, and often varied as much as the numerous platforms available in the category.
But whatever your reason is, you can't go wrong with any of these three bikes.
Considering its serious acceleration that didn't seem to give up anything to the others, we were surprised at the MV's lack of power compared to the Kawasaki and Ducati. Gearing definitely plays a role, with both the Z1000 and Brutale seemingly geared shorter.
|2010 DUCATI STREETFIGHTER|
|+||Torquey, strong engine|
|-||Tiny instrument panel|
|-||Exhaust heat shield fouls right foot|
|-||Altering rebound damping a hassle|
|x||Far more than a stripped 1198|
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: spring preload - 2 lines showing; rebound damping - 8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping - 1 turn out from full stiff Rear: spring preload - 15mm thread showing; rebound damping - 2 turns out from full stiff; compression damping - 1 turn out from full stiff
|2010 KAWASAKI Z1000|
|+||Smooth, strong, torquey engine|
|+||Superb chassis, comfy ergos|
|+||$4500 cheaper than the others|
|-||Heaviest of the bunch|
|-||Suspension a bit primitive|
|-||Limited fuel range|
|x||Is affordability a plus in this class?|
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: spring preload - 8 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping - 0.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping - 1.75 turns out from full stiff Rear: spring preload - 25mm thread showing; rebound damping - 0.25 turns out from full stiff
|2010 MV AGUSTA BRUTALE 990R|
|+||Agile chassis, zippy engine|
|+||Smoother throttle response|
|+||Traction control standard|
|-||A little down on power|
|-||Changing dash settings a hassle|
|x||A reduced price makes it very appealing|
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: spring preload - 9 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping - 8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping - 8 clicks out from full stiff Rear: spring preload - 20mm from top of spring to end of threads on shock body; rebound damping - 7 clicks out from full stiff
|DUCATI STREET||KAWASAKI||**MV AGUSTA **|
|Fun to ride||9.0||8.5||9.0|
|Instruments & controls||8.0||8.5||9.0|
|Chassis & handling||9.0||8.5||9.5|
|DUCATI STREETFIGHTER||KAWASAKI Z1000||**MV AGUSTA BRUTALE 990R **|
|TYPE||Liquid-cooled, DOHC 90-degree V-twin||Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four||Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four|
|BORE X STROKE||104 x 64.7mm||77.0 x 56.0mm||76.0 x 55.0mm|
|INDUCTION||Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 60mm diameter, single injector/cyl.||Keihin EFI, 38mm throttle bodies w/oval sub-throttle assemblies, single injector/cyl.||Marelli EFI, single-valve throttle bodies, 46mm diameter, single injector/cyl.|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||43mm inverted Showa cartridge fork, adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping, 5.0 in. travel||41mm inverted cartridge fork, adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping, 4.7 in. travel||50mm inverted Marzocchi cartridge fork, adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping, 5.1 in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Single shock absorber, adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping, 5.0 in. travel||Horizontally mounted single shock absorber, adjustments for spring preload and rebound damping, 5.4 in. travel||Single shock absorber, adjustments for spring preload and rebound damping, 4.7 in. travel|
|FRONT TIRE||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III||120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D210F J Sportmax||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso|
|REAR TIRE||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III||190/50ZR-17 Dunlop D210 Sportmax||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso|
|RAKE/TRAIL||25.6 deg./4.5 in. (114mm)||24.5 deg./4.1 in. (104mm)||25 deg./4.0 in. (103.5mm)|
|WHEELBASE||58.1 in. (1475mm)||56.7 in. (1440mm)||56.6 in. (1438mm)|
|WEIGHT||427 lb. (194kg) wet; 400 lb. (181kg) w/all fluids minus fuel||483 lb. (219kg) wet; 459 (208kg) w/all fluids minus fuel||472 lb. (214kg) wet; 435.5 lb. (198kg) w/all fluids minus fuel|
|FUEL CONSUMPTION||34 to 42 mpg, 37 mpg avg.||34 to 40 mpg, 36 mpg avg.||33 to 39 mpg, 34 mpg avg.|
|DUCATI STREETFIGHTER||KAWASAKI Z1000||MV AGUSTA BRUTALE 990R|
|Quarter-mile||10.88 sec. @ 130.27 mph||10.55 sec. @ 130.71 mph||10.90 sec. @ 129.72 mph|
|Roll-ons 60-80 mph||2.98 sec.||2.45 sec.||2.72 sec.|
|Roll-ons 80-100 mph||3.31 sec.||2.69 sec.||2.80 sec.|
In all my years of testing, I've never chosen a favorite bike that finished at or near the bottom of my objective evaluation sheets. This year however, the almighty dollar is king. Considering that all these bikes are relatively close in most categories, it makes my decision all the more easy. The Z1000 may not have the outright performance of its Italian counterparts, but its turn-key simplicity brings a ton of value to the mix. The Kawi is a versatile bike that can handle most applications - though when pushed, it begins to show its flaws and puts the emphasis on "street" rather than "fighter".
The Z's suspension demonstrates the old adage, "you get what you pay for." It's a key reason why the Kawasaki ended up at the bottom of the tally, but realistically, none of these bikes are meant for the racetrack. The Ducati may have the styling department covered and a V-twin motor that delivers the typical strong and usable power, and the Brutale may sport powerful brakes, a strong chassis and a motor that begs to be spun up, but it's the Kawi that gets my cash.
Alright, I'll just get this out of the way, my pick in this group is the Ducati Streetfighter. This bike is a pissed off factory hot rod. It's got a powerful engine, seriously strong brakes, and well-sorted suspension, all in a stripped-down package. That's what a "streetfighter" should be. Not that the Brutale is a lesser bike than the Streetfighter, but I really enjoyed the experience and how the Ducati delivered its performance more so than the MV. The Streetfighter does "Brutale" a little better than the MV.
As for the Z1000, it was outclassed in this field, but not by much. What it lacked was the high-end bits that the Italian bikes were outfitted with. While this may detract for the well-heeled buyers, it shouldn't for the masses. No question, this is a great package Kawasaki has put together. It may not be the adjective Kawasaki was looking for when they released the Z1000, but comparing it to the Italian offerings,value is written all over the Z1000. The bike was never very far behind the Italians, and for a savings of $4500, I could easily live with its slight shortcomings.
Even though the European manufacturers have been able to take advantage of the Euro's exchange rate to either substantially drop prices or keep them at '09 levels, I still would balk at spending $15K for a naked bike. My needs are much too practical to be overly concerned with style or image, and if a bike ticks most of the right boxes while still retaining some good value, it'd get my vote.
The Z1000 may not have the outright speed and handling of the Italian thoroughbreds, but for the roles I would need it to play, the Kawasaki would be more than sufficient. I wouldn't be taking my naked bike to the track, so exacting compromises in the name of ultimate performance doesn't really score with me. Although it would be nice to see the Z1000 drop a little weight...
All that said, I certainly wouldn't reject serious performance if it were given to me. And both the Ducati and MV deliver in spades. Although the Streetfighter has slightly better outright speed, I love the Brutale's agile chassis, and its quick-revving engine feels much faster than it looks on the dyno graph.