We pitted a quartet of the sexiest European machines on the market in a four-way comparo to determine which naked streetfighter would smoke its competitors.
Depending on how old you are and how many miles you have in the saddle, you've probably realized that your chances of beating Nicky Hayden around a racetrack lie somewhere between winning the lottery and achieving peace in the Middle East.
So, let's just say you've been around long enough to realize that a bike that looks like it's going 160 mph while parked might not offer optimum ergonomics for your weekend jaunts or your commute to work. The implied pretense that you're some kind of upcoming Racer Boy now rings as hollow. But while that may be true, there's no way you'd be caught dead posing on an unwieldy cruiser or crossing states on a Barca-Wing.
No, what you want is "sport." And not some watered down "sporty" will do - you demand sport
. A raw yet sophisticated experience, undiluted and without the pretension of Ricky Racer. There are no anti-lock brakes or automatic clutches here, only artful steel and aluminum frames cradling a rich assortment of high-performance powerplants - naked, on display, and proud of it.
And that's what we have with the quartet assembled here, bare-bones and minimalist and yet somehow dripping with style - and made even more special by their European ancestry. They are muscular and ripped, as if wearing a tight black t-shirt and ready to rumble. We're talking powerful tools here, though with more of an emphasis on dexterity than outright strength - think Brad Pitt in Fight Club
Our gauntlet of testing included the requisite commuter mileage, but we found time to burn rubber on the best two-wheeled stretches of road in Southern California.
Now, a Honda 919 is arguably in the same market segment as these, but it's a junior-high punk compared to the lettermen in this group, having neither the grunt nor the panache of its European counterparts. The bike with the least horsepower here cranks out 110 eager ponies while running a 10.82 quarter-mile, so we're obviously in a fairly serious performance category here.
On these bikes, as long as you keep speeds under 120 mph or so, your race-rep-mounted buddies will never shake you down a twisty road. In fact, on the really tight roads, you'll be quicker, thanks to an agility-promoting riding position not unlike a dirt bike. And when it's time for a java break or a grub stop, you'll be striding in gracefully while your friends shake out aching wrists and cramped knees.
So now that we've established what a Euro-style streetfighter offers, let's talk about the best way to test them. Yeah, we put in commuter-style duty, pouncing through traffic like predatory cats, and we logged plenty of miles on the unavoidable freeways in Southern California. The real fun came once we broke away from the human-encrusted concrete morass and onto some of the best motorcycle roads in the country. It was sport-touring Lite, as a chase vehicle freed us from the burden of carrying luggage.
The Horsethief Mile in Willow Springs International Raceway was yet another stage from which to evaluate the sporting capabilities of our four European beauties.
This would be more than enough for most magazines, and it would be a dream ride for many a two-wheel enthusiast. But, testing the theory that it's impossible to have too much fun, we also rented a racetrack for our private use. Before you start drafting bitter emails about the inanity of taking naked bikes to a racetrack, please don't or you might blow it for us in the future!
Actually, the tight and hilly Horsethief Mile in the Willow Springs International Raceway complex is an excellent representation of an undulating road, the kind of which you might travel several hundred miles to ride. Maximum speed isn't much beyond 110 mph. Not only did it paste smiles on our faces that would last for weeks, it was also a fantastic way to capture some of the best pictures and videos in MCUSA history.
All this work and yet still more testing. We roll each bike over our electronic Intercomp scales to get the actual weights instead of relying on an overly optimistic number from a factory spec chart. The measured tank-empty weights ranged between 5.8% and 10.0% higher than the OEM "dry weight" claims. The lightweight proved to be the newest bike in this group, the 2007 Ducati S4R, at 428 lbs. Coming in just 5 lbs heavier is the sultry MV Agusta Brutale 910S, itself 8 lbs lighter than the new-for-2006 Aprilia Tuono R. Triumph's iconic Speed Triple was the heaviest of the lot at 462 lbs. It's slightly ironic that the two bikes with steel in their frames were lighter than the aluminum-only framed bikes (the Brutale uses a mix of steel and aluminum).
The high-revving four-cylinder Brutale topped the horsepower dyno sheet with 117 hp @ 10,800 rpm, but all four machines were within 7.4 ponies of the leader despite of three different engine configurations.
Despite four different engine configurations and 141cc of a displacement gap, the motors turned out to be quite well matched on the Area P
dyno we like to use. Peak power varied by just 7.4 hp; peak torque fell over a range of 5.5 lb-ft. There are a couple of notables seen on the chart. First is that the Speed Triple's lump rules whenever revs are below 8000 rpm. Its 1050cc overshadows the smaller engines in this test, and this is most evident in the torque chart where it towers over its rivals, especially below 5500 rpm. Also surprising is that the Triple hits its rev limiter before the two V-Twins, hitting the electronically limited wall at just 9500 rpm on the dyno.
It should come as no surprise that the four-cylinder Brutale revs the highest (12,100 rpm), as the shorter stroke from its multiple cylinders keeps relative piston speeds easily within a safe zone. But what was impressive is how well it compares down low with the torquey competitors in this shootout, especially considering its smallest displacement in the group.
The Brutale bagged the quickest quarter-mile time in our performance tests, just nipping the eager Ducati S4R. The Tuono was a bit tardy off the line but made up most of the gap by the finish line.
As you might expect, the two 998cc V-Twins run neck-and-neck, exchanging advantages through the rev range as the dyno traces intertwine with each other. After making its way through a flat spot around 3000 rpm, the Aprilia maintains a slight advantage over the S4R Testastretta motor. It's only at the top end of the rev range where the Duc posts a slim lead, peaking at 115.0 ponies to the Tuono's 113.5 at virtually the same rpm. Torque-wise, the Italian Twins spat out nearly identical peak numbers. The Aprilia trades its stronger overall powerband for a torque crest nearly 1000 rpm higher than the Duc. The Tuono revs out to nearly 11,000 rpm, while the S4R's 998 motor manages 10,400 rpm before being reined in by the ECU.
The final phase of our evaluation regimen is our performance testing, in which we strap on our sophisticated VBOX data acquisition receiver to record the maximum acceleration potential of each bike. We kept our run total to a ceiling of just four passes.
The Monster used its highly controllable clutch to get the best time to 60 mph, helped in some measure by the longest wheelbase of this club. The Brutale is just a hair behind the Duc to 60 but romps ahead by the 100-mph mark. The MV finished the quarter-mile just 0.02 second ahead of the Duc, but its trap speed is several mph faster. In contrast to the Ducati, the Tuono was difficult to launch because of a lack of low-end power. However, its formidable hit up top helped it to match the trap speed of the class-leading MV. Meanwhile, the Triumph was nearly as quick through the quarter as the Tuono despite traveling more than 6 mph slower at the end, a credit to its engine's broad snort.
When it was all said and done, one of our test rides would be bruised and battered a little more than the rest in our search for a winner.
Maximum speed isn't what these naked bikes are about (so we didn't attempt full v-max runs), but it's worth noting that they all easily top 140 mph. The fact that the MV registered the highest speed (148 mph) during acceleration testing says something about its top-end punch.
Oh, and there was one other test we performed, although it didn't qualify as scientific because we didn't do it to all the bikes. We're mortified to admit we actually crash-tested one of these beauties. Did we make it easy on ourselves by crashing the $9999 Speed Triple or did we go for glory of pummeling the $14,495 Brutale? Or perhaps it was one of the $13K Italian Twins?
For the answers to those questions and many more, you're going to have to turn the pages to peruse the Streetfighter Shootout, a bare-knuckles brawl in which one bike captures the glory with a convincing win while another walks away with a bloody nose. Yet another was returned banged and bruised in the back of a van.