The Ballabio's bikini fairing seemed to be the source of more air turbulence than the completely naked Rockster.
Helping bring these fuel-injected Twins to life are fuel enricher levers, which richen the mixture for cold starts. For the Rockster, the switchgear is completely different than what has become the standard arrangement. Its turn signal buttons are on opposing sides of the bars, a la Harley-Davidson, except that canceling the signals takes an upward movement of the right thumb. After several days of inadvertently honking the horn, the process became second nature, but it is too complicated for an already-busy right hand. We've been complaining about this arrangement for years, but it continues to be a BMW standard.
The Ballabio's controls, on the other hand, are more traditional, with the exception of the turn signal switch that is located below the horn button, opposite of most bikes we have tested. Once again, the unusual placement led to accidental honks while trying to signal, and signaling when attempting to honk.
"I couldn't get used to the configuration of the controls, even though it's pretty similar to most bikes," commented Editorial Director Ken Hutchison. "I had a guy pull out in front of me and I ended up flashing my left blinker at him to get his attention."
If the peculiar honk and signal routine doesn't get the attention of fellow motorists, the deep throaty exhaust note of these Twins should. The Ballabio gets bonus points for the ultra-cool clatter of the dual-disc dry clutch that's similar to Ducatis.
Throw a leg over the saddle of either of these two machines and the first thing that grabs your attention is the sheer weight. With a full tank of gas, the BMW tips the scales at 550 lbs., significantly heftier than the 515 lbs of the Guzzi. Trying to move these beauties around the parking lot is no easy task and satisfied my weekly exercise regimen.
The Guzzi monobeam frame construction makes the engine a stressed member, leaving us with the hardware to admire.
On the open road, the differences between the two machines are as evident as their aesthetic design. The BMW's seat, which sits at 32.9 inches (1.35 inches higher than a standard R1150R), is considerably softer than that of the Guzzi. The Beemer's seat feels comfy and soft at first, but nether regions scream for a firm aftermarket saddle after 45 minutes on the bike. The Guzzi's saddle is slightly lower at 31.5 inches, and it offers a firmer, more supportive platform (if a bit hard-edged) for your rump.
Both machines offer a relaxed riding position with wide flat bars and comfortable peg placement. A problem some people have with naked sportbikes is the increased amount of windblast, which we found in our comparison of the Buell XB9S vs Ducati Monster
. However the BMW's lack of fairing isn't unbearable because it allows an unobstructed stream of air against the head and body.
The Guzzi, unlike the Beemer, does have a fairing. However, the small protective shield serves to make wind blast worse by creating turbulence in the neck area which worsens as speed increases. It also has an annoying resonance at certain rpm, buzzing uncouthly. Even though the bike looks good with the accessory, the rider might be better served if Guzzi just left it in the parts bin like Guzzi's V11 Naked Sport.
Vibration is part of the character on both machines, but the 90-degree V-Twin Guzzi definitely shakes more than the horizontally opposed BMW Twin, emitting enough wiggle to distort the image in the mirrors. Another annoyance is the position of its bars which are relatively flat but slightly raked up and back to accommodate the lengthy 5.8-gallon gas tank. The combination of the bar position and considerable vibration threatens to put the hands to sleep over long straight stretches. The slightly wider bar of the Rockster also quickens the steering compared to the Guzzi.
Thinking of using a tank bag on the Ballabio? Forget it, the 5.8-gallon tank's shroud is nylon.
Windblast and vibration concerns shouldn't be enough to keep you from partaking in the joys of these unique machines. A twist of the throttle elicits a lively response from both bikes, which pull hard on the bottom and continue right up through the midrange. At highway speeds there is ample power to maneuver through traffic and sprint by clueless cagers with ease.
The European Twin's horsepower numbers are quite comparable. The Rockster pumps out 74.1 hp @ 6500 rpm with peak torque coming in at 66.0 lb.-ft. @ 5500 rpm. The Ballabio is equally powerful, cranking out 74.9 horsepower @ 8250, and peak torque of 62.2 @ 5250 rpm.
More telling of the Rockster's prowess is the heart of the torque curve, which on the Beemer begins with 60 lb.-ft. of torque at just 4250 rpm and holds that number until 6250 rpm when it begins to decline. Conversely, the Ballabio ascends past the 60 mark much later at 5250 rpm and holds it for just 500 rpm before trailing off. While both bikes produced similar numbers, it's clear the Rockster maintains its peak performance for a longer period of time. The BMW's extra 70cc is balanced by the Guzzi's 35 fewer pounds.
In the real world, the power difference wasn't as noticeable as the dyno charts indicate. With its more bottom-heavy powerband, the Beemer runs away from the Guzzi in sixth-gear roll-ons. In fifth gear, with the revs a bit higher, the Ballabio's roll-on performance is nearly the equal of the Rockster. A sprint race starting from second gear allowed the Guzzi to make the most of its more top-end powerband to result in a dead heat.