Twenty years ago, there were few streetbike choices beyond the “standard” motorcycle. However, technical innovation and new trends pushed the once popular category out of the public eyes in favor of distinctly defined market segments. Now, it seems the genre has been injected with new life thanks to the wildly popular “naked” sportbike category. Manufacturers that initially took the leap into the hooligan-inspired design were rewarded with sales successes.
It should have come as no surprise when BMW unveiled the Rockster in Munich in September of 2002, but it was. Starting with the bland but capable R1150R roadster, BMW jazzed it up with wild-for-BMW paintwork, a squinty-eyed nose by using the R1150GS asymmetrical headlights, and a small wind deflector. The company known for some of the most refined machines in the market appeared ready to take the plunge into the underworld of wheelies and stoppies. Well, almost.
Likewise, Moto Guzzi (pronounced goot-sie) hasn’t been associated with high performance for close to four decades, which has forced the company to rely on nostalgia to fuel its sales. However, with the introduction of the Ballabio edition of the V11 Sport, Guzzi is hoping to appeal to younger riders who are interested in performance as well as the lore and history of the company that won 14 world championships from 1921 to 1957.
Both the Rockster and Ballabio facing off in this shootout can be lumped into the naked bike category. They aren’t stripped down sportbikes, but rather are standards that have been modified to look more menacing than their performance would seem to allow.
Despite their apparent dissimilarities, the Italian Guzzi and the German BMW share many of the same qualities. Both use non-overhead-cam, air-cooled twin-cylinder motors mounted across the frame making around 75 horsepower, and both are quirky shaft-driven European machines with the same 120/70-17 and 180/55-17 tires. Each can be purchased for about $11,000.
The Rockster might look familiar to some BMW enthusiasts; it is, after all, just an R1150R that’s been redressed to look more like leather-clad Johnny from “The Wild One” rather than the more demure Ward Cleaver that BMW has come to embody over the years.
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