The big-capacity naked sports bike class is packed with new bikes this year. So what else to do other than line ‘em up and wheelie them until we find a winner?
In the orange corner, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R – 180hp – £13,999
Billed as ‘The Beast’ but in reality rarely attacks anyone. Full complement of rider aids to try and harness the ridiculous power of a 1300cc V-twin. Orange paintwork in case you weren’t sure who makes it.
From Bavaria, the BMW S1000R Sport – 163hp – £11,390
If it looks like an S1000RR sports bike with no fairings and it goes neeooww… Thinly disguised superbike, sophisticated electronics and more low down power and torque than its fully faired sibling. Nuts.
All the way from Tokyo, Japan, Kawasaki’s Z1000 – 142hp – £9,699
We’re still not quite used to how crazy the Kawasaki styling department goes on naked bikes either, but we love it. Ignore the low headline power; this thing has more than enough shove to make you wish for traction control.
Fresh from the superbike paddock, it’s Aprilia’s Tuono V4R – 170hp – £12,632
Should win this test on engine noise alone – that V4 superbike motor makes our hair stand on end. It looks like a race bike, but rides like a road bike – can the improvements to road manners bag it the win?
And looking sharp, it’s the Ducati Monster 1200S – 145hp – £12,995
The least frantic of a wild bunch. The monster dials the madness back a notch with less power and more comfort. Still wheelies on cue and still has all the electronic gizmos to keep you out the hedges. Is softer better?
Big naked bikes with tonnes of power, more torque than their sportsbike equivalents and just as much technology; that’s the thing for 2014. Every single one of the bikes on test here is a new model. And, with the exception of the Aprilia, they’re all completely new bikes, not just ‘stickers and styling’ updates. The Aprilia itself, though it looks similar to the old Tuono V4, has had extensive changes to its suspension setup and engine performance to keep up with the crowd. This lineup also says as much about the shift of focus away from race-reps as it does about the shift of power in innovation and motorcycle technology across the continents. Count the Japanese bikes here, yep, just one, the new Kawasaki Z1000. Honda’s CB1000R, though good, hasn’t changed for years and is a few steps behind this wave of bikes. Yamaha’s FZ1 is a step behind that and Suzuki don’t make a naked 1000cc sports bike any more, unless you count the Bandit 1200 and that came out of the ark with Noah. So with five new bikes to test, we headed into the open countryside to test ‘em the best way we know how, flat out or on one wheel.
To the testmobile…
We met up at the services, bleary-eyed
and cursing the sun for hiding behind a layer of cloud and letting us freeze. I say us, I mean everyone except me as I was on van driving duty. So I find myself sat in the van, trying to wake up behind a convoy of naked 1000cc bikes heading up a nondescript dual carriageway, watching four naked bikes wheelying in unison. It’s going to be one of those days, one where, when asked ‘how was your day?’ everyone involved just smiles and brushes over the not-to-be-repeated details. There’s not much to beat a great ride on the road, especially a cheeky mid-weeker with clear, dry tarmac. It’s even better when you’ve got five top-end bikes that are arguably the best superbikes for the road. They’ve got the power, suspension and technology of a sports bike, but with a chassis set up for B-roads, not Brands. Plus you’ve got wide bars and upright riding positions that make no sense at 150mph down the back straight at Snetterton, but plenty of sense peering over hedges and charging roundabouts. In theory, these five bikes should be as good as it gets for riding fast bikes on the road, with no sacrifices made for on track performance. In theory.
A box of frogs; not that mad as it happens
Let’s start with the maddest looking bike of the lot, the Kawasaki Z1000. On looks alone, it’s definitely the wildest bike here and when you hop on, the madness continues. The seat is canted forward and pushes you to hunch over the front of the bike, it’s not uncomfortable, it just puts you in a stance that says, right, let’s do this. After riding the others, the Z feels big and heavy; there’s no getting away from that. Dynamically, that makes it harder to turn, it takes more effort to maneuver at slow speed and it requires more effort to stop or get going. But what that extra weight does afford the Kawasaki is a more planted, less frantic riding experience – you don’t feel compelled to ride like an idiot everywhere. How can I put it, the Kawasaki is a bike you’d want to get back on and ride Monday morning, even if it wasn’t the craziest on Sunday afternoon. That said, the big Kwack has a surprisingly stiff suspension set up as standard, making things pretty intense down a bumpy road. It definitely helps bolster the edgy, sporty feel of the bike, but I could help but wish for a little more compliance when hammering through the back roads. On a smooth road, it feels taut and stable, giving the most planted feel through the long corners on our test route.
With the bulging fuel tank, and kicked-forward attitude, the Z1000 feels fully bad-ass, making you scoff at the others with their poncy electronic rider aids. The Z-thou is available with ABS, for an extra four hundred notes, but the one here is the raw, unadulterated, full-fat edition. Is that a good thing? Well having started out by saying that the bikes here have all the technology of modern 1000cc sports bikes, I should have added ‘except the Kawasaki’ because it has none. There are no selectable riding modes, there’s no traction control, no slipper clutch, no electronically adjustable suspension. You get a throttle, clutch and brakes and, if you’re really fussy, you can buy one with ABS, although the sales guy might call you a pussy under his breath if you do. You do get four-pot radial calipers and big piston forks so in hardware terms the Z is on the money. The big Kawasaki is the cheapest bike here, so for the money, it’s forgivable not to be covered in high-tech features. The trouble is, for £300 more, the base model BMW S1000R (we’ve got the Sport version here) comes with riding modes, traction control and ABS. And more power. And less weight. But what the BMW doesn’t come with is the attitude of the Kawasaki. It looks mean, the short gearing means it accelerates like buggery off the corner and the quality and attention to detail among the best here.
From the low-tech brute to the high tech cruiser: the Monster 1200S. The Kawasaki and Ducati are really the more cruiser bikes of this test. All the other three are pretty much born from full-on track sports bikes. And where the Z1000 is revvy, firm and aggressive, the Ducati is supple, torquey and, well, just a bit more chilled out than the manic green alien. Straight away you notice the plush seat, with the thickness of foam you’d normally associate with a touring bike. And the riding position is relaxed and comfortable too – it couldn’t be more different to the Ducati Streetfighter range if it tried. The 1200S has the same riding modes system as all new Dukes, which means if you’ve ridden the red brand recently, you’ll know how everything works whether you’ve come from a Multistrada or a Panigale. Hit the indicator cancel button to toggle through the riding modes and close the throttle to activate, easy. The only thing to do before you set off is customize the modes to your taste, which takes about a minute when you know what you’re doing. Our advice is to set one mode up for skids and wheelies, one with a dab of traction control and ABS for fast road riding and one with the softer power delivery for cruising about. Then you can simply toggle between the three as required; simple and effective.
This ‘S’ version of the Monster 1200 costs £2,300 more than the £10,695 base model and comes with swanky Öhlins suspension, more power, better brakes, lighter wheels and a sprinkling of carbonious fibre. The suspension, as you would expect, is gloriously plush, especially when set up purely with road riding in mind, as this bike is. Where the Kawasaki would be rattling your fillings out, the Monster glides through on a blanket of Swedish luxury. In the turns, once you start riding hard that translates to the bike moving around more as you muscle it about, not settling in a turn as willingly as the others. This feeling just reinforces the Ducati’s intent of enjoying the ride, not setting a lap record. When you look at the numbers, the Monster does seem out-powered, but on most roads we really didn’t notice. Once you get onto an open stretch, sure the BMW and KTM vanish off like a couple of excited kids, followed closely by the Tuono. But firing out of the slower turns and chasing overtakes, especially when everyone’s being a bit lazy on the gears, the Ducati gets its nose ahead and slightly above the others. The KTM would beat it here, but the KTM seems far too keen on the upwards bit, rather than the forwards. Which is fine by me, but does tend to spook the people you’re passing. You can either learn to use the back brake, leave the traction (and wheelie) control on, or get an apology printed on the back of your leathers.
To be continued…
Tune in tomorrow for part 2.