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? Part 2 of 3
Down at the front, please
If people are easily offended by wheelies, then they’re going to really hate the Super Duke R. Physics cannot be tricked (except by Marc Marquez and Casey Stoner), so when you stick superbike levels of power in a tall, short chassis with an upright riding position, only one thing is going to happen. Wheelies. Lots of ‘em. The 1290 Super Duke R has been the hot topic since KTM announced it, overshadowing the other bikes with the rumours of a V-Twin killer-death machine that eats up tyres and test riders alike. The truth when we got to finally ride it was a testament to how far rider aids have come. With everything switched on, the KTM is a pussycat. A really fast, bright orange pussycat, but a pussycat all the same. And just when you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, you turn off the traction control and all hell breaks loose. What surprised us most, was that the rock-hard, uncompromising, hard-to-control bike we expected didn’t exist anywhere, except in the early prototypes and the minds of the marketing department in Austria. The Super Duke has suspension set up to cope with actual roads with real potholes and everything. It doesn’t collapse vertebrae when you cross a seam in the road, nor does it go into a wild tank slapper if you clip a cat’s eye with the throttle open. The fuelling is the smoothest on a fuel injected KTM yet and in the softer power modes novice riders could ride one without firing themselves to the moon. What KTM has managed to do is make a bike that in one mode will have the most crazy riders cackling with joy, yet in another mode could be ridden by your nan.
Chasing the BMW through the lanes, the KTM feels like it could fire past at any moment, using the instant drive and torque while the BMW takes a bit more winding up. Out of any corner, a big handful of throttle has the 1290 wheelying while leant over, straining against its electronics. After ten miles of madness, I’m laughing like an idiot and wondering how long it will be before I go to jail. Yes it is annoying when the traction control turns back on each time you kill the engine. No, I don’t think that’s a reason not to love the Super Duke R, the fourteen-grand price tag, however, may be harder to swallow.
From one tamed beast to another – the Aprilia Tuono. The early V4 Tuonos were hard, uncomfortable and, well, still awesome. We loved riding them on the road, but the fun always came at the price of a numb bum and minor spinal trauma over the bumps. For this update, Aprilia gave a nod towards practicality with a bigger fuel tank, more comfortable seat and suspension set up to soak up the speed humps. It worked, hurrah. So now you get a gorgeous V4 soundtrack, accompanied by the best electronic package and a chassis that you can ride all day without crippling yourself. The Aprilia Performance Ride Control system might not have the user-friendly graphics and ease of use that the Ducati offers, but the way the system goes about its work is second to none. The traction control is so smooth, it’s only the fact that you’re not in a hedge, despite your actions, that lets you know it’s working. The ABS has properly saved my bacon on wet racetracks more than once and the toggle switches for TC on the left hand bar are so easy to use, you wonder why nobody else does them. The way the V4 motor delivers its power is a mix of the smoothness of an inline four with the punch and spread of power of a V-Twin. You don’t get the kick-up-the-bum shove of the KTM or Ducati, or the screaming top-end of the BMW. But you do get smooth, strong drive all the way through, coming on stronger and stronger as the revs pick up. For riding fast, sweeping roads, there’s nothing better. If you want to dick about pulling wheelies and skids, the Aprilia will tut and click it’s steering lock on until you’ve grown up and taken it back to some proper roads.
Back to back with the KTM and BMW, the Tuono’s brakes didn’t quite have the same bite or power, needing a little more effort on the lever to get things calmed down. That may have been accentuated by the need to hold the throttle open more to enjoy the aural opium that is the Aprilia’s engine sound.
Das ist sehr gut
Aaaaaaaarrrgh heeeeeelp, it’s going to bite meeeeeee. That just about sums up my sentiment halfway along the test route on the BMW, after hopping off the Aprilia. The BMW feels fast, frantic and, with the electronic suspension set to track mode, more than a little flighty. The engine is smooth and with tons of power throughout the rev range, but it still has enough of that screaming top end rush from the S1000RR to make you squeal before the redline. Next to the Aprilia, the BMW just feels plain brutal and riding it reminded me of what my first ever ride on a 1000cc sports bike felt like. It accelerates with an urgency that makes my chest tighten just thinking about it, coupled with a raucous exhaust note and a cheeky burble on the overrun. It’s hard to fathom that it comes out the same company that make Simon-sensible tourers and practical commuter bikes. In my mind, there’s a big white design office at BMW, with everyone working studiously at identical work stations. At one end of the office, there’s a door marked “S1000R and RR Department” with the muffled sounds of German heavy metal coming through, while the rest of the company pretends not to hear. Well thank god for that room, because the S1kR (let’s throw some more random letters in there) is a fantastic bike.
With the electronic damping control switched to a more road-friendly setting, the S1000R is much less terrifying to ride, provided you temper your throttle inputs. The traction control and ABS really turn a bike this powerful into something useful. Instead of worrying if you’ll get spat off at any moment, you can just enjoy the power and speed, leaning on the electronics to sort things out. On wet roads, I’ve never ridden harder or faster than I have on the S1000R, such is the confidence afforded to you by the TC and ABS. With semi-active damping thrown into the mix, this is an incredibly sophisticated bike for surprisingly little money.
Tune in Monday for the conclusion – which bike did we love most?