Not too long ago, we could lump all the standards together and call it a naked-bike test. Now, as more manufacturers jump in with more non-fully-faired sportbikes, sub-categories are emerging and lines can be drawn (see sidebar page 84). At the exhibitionist end of the spectrum are the true naked bikes-no bodywork, just a big...headlight. Opposite are the modest half- or three-quarter-faired bikes, and in between are varying degrees of coverings. Conveniently, a sampling of this year's newly released standards includes models that fall into three of these sub-categories, and these three bikes can provide some insight into why we like to go semi-bare.
Almost naked is the Kawasaki Z1000, which Kawasaki calls a "Super Naked" motorcycle, with just a hint of a windscreen mounted to its fork. You may recognize the pumpkin bike's engine and running gear as based loosely on the ZX-9R, but the tubular steel frame and suspension are dedicated pieces. We had a sneak peek at the Z1000 in the Dec. 2002 issue. More covered is the Aprilia Tuono, which has a frame-mounted bikini fairing (but mirrors still mounted to the handlebar) and some additional bodywork parts tacked on. We were impressed with the R-model Tuono ("Speed Shift," Feb. 2003), and, just as that bike is based on the upper-spec RSV1000 Mille R, the Tuono is essentially a stripped-down standard Mille. Displaying even more modesty is Suzuki's SV1000S, with a larger frame-mount fairing and belly pan. We already had a first ride on the big SV-S ("A Good Idea Gets Bigger," June 2003), and details on both the SVs can be found there. While this is not a comparison test in the usual sense, each of these bikes can be considered to represent its respective sub-category of undressed sportbikes. The question for you to answer is: boxers (SV1000S), briefs (Tuono) or a thong (Z1000)?
Singing in the city
Any of these three bikes is perfectly adequate for bombing around town or back and forth to work. All have beefy, tractable powerbands that make dispensing with wayward traffic easy, and each has nimble low-speed handling. The Z1000, however, floats to the top of the trio for the daily grind. Very similar to Honda's 919, the Z combines a peppy and smooth engine with a small, lithe chassis that simply makes riding to work fun. The Ninja-based mill (overbored 2.2mm from the ZX-9R), once past a soft spot at 3000 rpm, pulls strongly enough in the midrange that more than 7000 rpm is rarely necessary. The short-throw transmission shifts easily, with the only hiccup coming when trying to find neutral; you have to stop and use the neutral finder, especially when the bike is cold. Threading through traffic, the narrow handlebar gives plenty of leverage without posing a threat to others' mirrors, the soft suspension easily soaks up large pavement transitions and the brakes are strong and predictable. About the only fly in the ointment is the forward-sloping seat, which-like the the Z1000's ZX-6R-based tail section, though the seats themselves are different-gradually presses you forward onto the narrow, humped portion. It's fine for a half-hour or so, but longer will have you squirming.
The Tuono, also major fun around town with stomping midrange, light steering and excellent binders, pays the price for its sportbike-spec suspension with a slightly harsher ride than the Kawasaki over rough Los Angeles streets. While the Aprilia's 60-degree V-twin engine is easily as powerful as the Z1000's, it doesn't take kindly to using low revs in the higher gears-you'll shift more to keep things running smoothly. Also, though not a problem for non-Californians, the Tuono is less user-friendly for lane splitting thanks to its wider handlebar.
The SV1000S, with its clip-ons and sporty riding position, is quite capable but just not as graceful in town as the Tuono and Z-bike. The engine, aside from a shaky resonance right at 3500 rpm, is fantastic, pulling from low rpm without being snatchy, providing excellent throttle response from the SDTV injection setup with the most power in the around-town range. While the clip-ons are not in an extreme position and the seat itself is comfortable, it's the reach to the bars along with the high footpegs that makes around-town riding awkward.
The front end of the Aprilia (left) is shared with the Mille: great Brembo brakes, a Showa inverted fork and sticky Dunlop D207RR rubber. The Z1000's inverted fork (middle) has no compression adjustment and rebound adjustment for only one leg. Brakes are ZX-9R calipers with smaller discs. The Suzuki's conventional fork (right) is beefy, has all the right adjustments and works well. The brakes look like GSX-R600 parts and work fantastically with the SV's extra weight.
Fugue On the Freeway
You could look at this trio and make a snap decision about which is nicer for a long stint on the open road, but there is a surprise in the group in the form of the Aprilia. The small fairing provides ample wind protection, the dual-counterbalanced 60-degree engine is eerily smooth at freeway speeds and the seat and riding position are comfortable for easily a tankful of fuel. Although the Tuono's fairing is tiny, the difference between it and the Z1000 is this: Whereas on the Kawasaki you are constantly aware that you have no wind protection, you don't even notice the Tuono's nakedness until you go more than 80 mph on the freeway.
While the SV1000S provides more fairing than the Tuono and the clip-ons keep you more out of the wind, the racier riding position puts a fair weight on your arms. Again, it's the high, forward pegs that contribute to that extra arm pressure by forcing you to use your abdominals if you want to relieve your arms. While the engine loafs at a fairly low rpm (4500 at 75 mph), there is a noticeable surging on the freeway and it's difficult to keep a steady speed. The seat is comfortable for longish periods of time (though its slightly humped shape will have you continuously hunting around for a fresh position) and the engine is fairly smooth at freeway speeds, with only a low-frequency buzz passing through the bars and pegs. As you'd expect, the almost fairingless Kawasaki is not the greatest on the freeway, though the pretend windscreen does deflect some of the wind. Also working against the Kawasaki rider are buzzy footpegs (while the handlebar is rubber mounted and vibrates only moderately, the footpegs are not) and a sloping seat that has you constantly adjusting yourself rearward.
The Tuono's gauge package (left) is lifted from the Mille, so you get everything the Mille has-including the lap timer, easily read speedometer and the sun's glare in the flat lens. You'll recognize the Z1000's dash (center) as identical to that of the new ZX-6R. Because it's higher and closer to you than on the 636, it's not nearly as hard to read. No lap timer for the Z1000, and the fuel gauge is optimistic, then pessimistic. SV1000 gauges (right) are basic but nice. Below the tach, the speedo forces you to look a bit far from the road, though. Note the handlebar and mirror placement on each bike.
Cantata In the Canyons
After each of our testing stints in the twisties, it was easy to tell who had just stepped off the Aprilia-the person with the canary-eating grin on his face. Simply put, the Tuono rails on a winding road. Top-shelf sportbike suspension, grippy Dunlop D207RR tires and a stable, quick-steering chassis provide almost effortless handling, and the tall, wide handlebar make it fun. With standard suspension settings, the Aprilia felt tipsy and tall-we ended up lowering the bike as far as possible (the shock is ride-height adjustable), and while still on the tall side, it's not unmanageably so. With the Mille-based Tuono, we were initially worried the Aprilia would suffer the same lack of power and rocky powerband that befell the Mille in our last sporting twins comparison test. However, the Tuono's throttle response-and there's no double-valved trickery here-is quite smooth, and the spread of power is wide enough that you don't need to row the snickety-snick gearbox between turns.
While the Aprilia seems to effortlessly keep pace, the SV1000S demands some concessions. The motor-the most powerful of the group in the midrange-runs out of breath at the top end and feels busy. Throttle response is crisp-much better than the previous-generation TLs-but off/on response is not as seamless as the Aprilia. The chassis and suspension are obviously not GSX-R-level components, but are adequate-the limiting factor is the bike's Michelins. The Pilot Sports are a step behind Aprilia's D207RRs and Kawasaki's BT-012/019 combination, providing good grip but lacking feedback. We did notice, however, that at the end of our test the Kawasaki's and especially the Aprilia's tires looked quite worn, while the Suzuki's buns still looked fresh.
The Kawasaki is every bit as much fun as the Tuono, provided you keep to approximately 90 percent of your normal pace. The inline-four mill provides a fantastic burst of power coming off corners if you use some revs, and the injection delivers that power smoothly if you're gentle with the go handle. The short, compact chassis and real handlebar give lots of confidence, especially in point-and-shoot, tighter canyons. But the Kawasaki comes up short in the suspension department. The second-tier componentry is decidedly on the soft side, and rolling pavement will have the Z1000 wallowing and taking a moment to compose itself as you set it into a turn. The excellent front brakes, while not quite as powerful as the Aprilia or Suzuki binders, are easy enough to bottom the fork, which will set the suspension to chattering if you're too enthusiastic going into turns. Same with the rear brake-get it close to locking up and it will set off a major chatter.
Where indeed. The Tuono is by far the best performer, and as champagne in the trophy is the best all-around bike, too. You could easily take in a track day halfway along your summer tour on the Aprilia, because it really is one of those "if you could only have one bike" bikes. Don't have the green for the Italian bike? Both the Kawasaki and Suzuki give a good bang for the buck, and you can use the money saved to make either one your own. The pumpkin bike is the fun one, the SV seriously sporty and a better base for modifications or track days-you pick. If you can't decide, the standard SV is just around the corner. With all this diversification going on, the Aprilia can stand tall as a representative of the frame-mount bikini fairing sub-category. Briefs it is, then. The stripped-down sportbike of this group offers comfort, fun and performance, whereas the bikes pieced together to do it all come up just a bit shy.
APRILIA TUONO RACING:
Ultimate Track-Day Tool?
After waiting longer to become a player in the flourishing naked streetrod segment than either its customers expected or company boss Ivano Beggio surely wanted, Aprilia scored a bull's-eye with the stripped-off, sold-out Tuono R when it debuted last year in its 200-bike limited-edition guise. Now, to satisfy those who were too slow on the draw with their checkbooks to sign up for a Tuono R, Aprilia has come up with a third new version just entering production, which not only satisfies demand, but does so by offering two bikes in one-the Tuono Racing.
The Tuono Racing comes street legal with a higher level of spec than the original R-bike. That's because it's based on the 2003-model RSV-R, which itself is specced up from the '02 version on which the original Tuono was based. So in streetfighter guise complete with Euro 1 emissions approval, the Tuono Racing comes road-ready with lightweight white OZ wheels shod with Pirelli Dragon Super Corsa rubber and fully adjustable Superbike-quality hlins suspension front and rear. All the Tuono Racing's bodywork is made of carbon fiber, except the 18-liter fuel tank (and that's a lightweight rotational nylon item ideal for racing since it's robust and light) mounted atop the stock RSV-R aluminum chassis, charcoal-painted to simulate an anodized black finish.
Rather than ride the new bike exactly as delivered in street-legal guise, Aprilia presented the handful of journalists invited to sample it at the hillside Varano circuit (a tight, twisty track tailor-made for a bike as maneuverable and grunty as the Tuono) with a quintet of machines equipped with the Racing Kit included in the steep, approximately $19,500 list price. All the Racing's lubrication and brake system bolts come predrilled for wire locking, and there's an optional reverse-pattern one-up gearshift fitment for the six-speed gearbox. Aprilia also supplies a 16T engine sprocket in case you want to change the overall gearing from the stock 17/42, and finally, the race kit includes a titanium racing exhaust can and an EPROM chip to retune the Nippondenso EFI to suit your needs.
This is unquestionably every bit as addictive and as capable a bike to ride hard and fast as the original Tuono R and then some, because even compared to that paragon of fun, the Racing sets new dynamic standards for the streetrod class. I can think of several circuits-and Varano is one of them-where I'd be ready to bet a competent rider could consistently lap faster on the upright handlebar, nose-fairing Tuono than he could on a fully faired Mille R or any of its sportbike competitors. That's thanks to great leverage from the one-piece enduro-style handlebar which, together with the stock RSV-R footrests, delivers a fantastic riding position, not overly upright but with the grips pulled back to deliver extra control in tight hairpins or when flicking fast from one side to another through the fourth-gear Varano chicane.
Correcting a slide is easy with those high bars, and the Tuono holds the line you choose very well, so even with the quite stiff suspension settings dialed in for the racetrack, it didn't deflect from the chosen line when I hit one of the car-induced bumps in the Varano tarmac while cranked over. The Tuono's a thoroughbred thunderbike: It's been well sorted, and perhaps the only suggestion I'd have would be to lower the handlebars 1.0 to 1.5 inches on the risers for track use, so as to put more of the rider's weight over the front wheel and stop it from popping up quite so easily, especially on the angle if you get hard on the gas out of a turn.
Aprilia has managed to create the same fun package as the original Tuono R, but in EvoCorsa race-ready form-a mean-looking, aggressive streetfighting superbike that is completely distinctive, with no obvious rivals and a huge amount of fun. Like I said-the ultimate track-day tool.
Naked Bike Spotter's Guide
Overwhelmed by the number of naked and semi-naked bikes in the market now?
So were we. Here's the rundown on how our trio fits in with the rest of the bunch.
At the completely exhibitionist end of the scale are the true naked bikes, such as BMW's R1150R, the Buell Lightning, Ducati's Monsters, Honda's 919, Moto Guzzi's V11 Sport, Suzuki's naked SV and Bandit models and Triumph's Speed Triple. While they obviously offer the least wind protection and most upright riding position, these blank canvases are great for making your own version of the perfect motorcycle.
Fork-mounted Bikini Fairings
A smaller sub-category with just a handful of entries, this group includes the Kawasaki Z1000 (though that's not much of a fairing) and ZRX1200, Triumph's Speed Four and of course variants of some of the previous category's models with windscreens as standard equipment. Naked-bike aggression and performance with the barest wind protection, this is a varied lot that have little else in common.
Frame-mounted Bikini Fairings
Another small sub-category, we grouped the Tuono and Tuono R along with the Buell Firebolt. Each has enough fairing to provide a reasonable amount of wind protection, with the fairing mounted to the frame rather than the fork. Buell has called its entry a "Sport Fighter," and that sums it up nicely.
Here's where the bulk of the standards reside-bikes that want to do it all, and some that actually can. Here we include the Aprilia Falco, BMW's R1100S variants, the Kawasaki ZR-7S, Moto Guzzi Le Mans, Suzuki's SV and Bandit S models and the Yamaha FZ1. With plenty of fairing for sport touring duties and lots of engine for the purists, there is a lot to choose from, whatever your budget and tastes.
Yes, there's more. Two bikes with not-quite-full fairings that have lately been lost in the standard-bike resurgence-the Honda Super Hawk and Triumph's Sprint RS. The Honda comes in a lovely blue this year, if you hadn't noticed, and the Sprint RS is a budget Sprint ST.
Three bikes and three categories. I call them Super-Standard (SV1000S), Super-Steetfighter (Z1000) and Superbike-Standard (Tuono). First off, I've logged my share of miles on the SV650, and knowing how capable this affordable twin is, I felt let down by the new 1000. To me, the Suzuki seems slapped together, rather than assembled with a purpose. Don't take this wrong; the SV-S is a bike full of potential, but it's going to need a few mods to make it a consideration. I guess I'll have to look forward to the nonfaired version due here midyear.
Then there's the Tuono, or should I say a Mille "D" (D stands for disguised). The Mille is a ripper and the Tuono displays its roots magnificently-stable, powerful and roomy. The buyer gets his or her money's worth with this bike, even if it comes up a bit short in the "eye-candy" department. I scratched my head on this test mainly because I'm a big fan of this category. What do I want and what do I expect? For the money and in stock form, I'd opt for the Kawi. The Z1000 is like having a concept bike in your own garage; brutish looks along with great inline power, now that's a Sunday ride for me!
Permit me to jump to the conclusion: The Aprilia is by far the best motorcycle here, though the Kawasaki provides nearly the same performance for a lot less money. If the Tuono is in fact pricier, at least it feels expensive, with well-controlled suspension and seamless urge from an almost silky chuffmonster of a V-twin. With the Aprilia, you get what you pay for.
I wish I could say that for the SV1000S. Sure, its performance is fine, but the build quality is several strokes past par. What am I to make of a regulator/rectifier inexpertly bolted to the side of the engine in plain view, or a tangle of cheap-looking steel brackets holding the oil cooler in place? Ride the bike and the sense of it being designed and developed by Suzuki's B team continues: The suspension, though better than the price-point 650's, isn't in, say, an FZ1's league. The engine, strong though it may be, is coarse and afflicted by inconsistent injection. The ergonomics are conflicted: Why does this bike have a near hard-core riding position when it emphatically is not a serious sportbike? Had the SV been given the kind of care and devotion-or even clarity of purpose-lavished upon the GSX-R series, it would have been a worldbeater.
Like the saying goes, "you get what you pay for." The Aprilia is definitely a bit pricey, but the quality of its suspension components and overall superior refinement reflect that higher price tag. The Tuono just feels and rides like a motorcycle that had more thought put into its design (even if it is basically a stripped Mille with higher bars). It's like a big-bore motocross bike with lights.
As nice as the Kawasaki is, once you take it out of the urban street element, it loses its appeal fast. The Z1000 is buzzy on the highway, definitely lets you know when you're exceeding its 7/10ths-pace limit in the twisties, and the pegs are set too far back in relation to the bar rise. And I hate the circular LCD bar-graph tach.
I think the Suzuki shows some promise that's held back by its low-bid design approach. The suspension lacks the well-sorted feel of the Aprilia, and the power-though fine for its intended market-runs out of breath too quickly for my taste. Some fiddling with the suspension, however, could change my mind.
This article originally appeared in the August, 2003, issue of Sport Rider.