It's a rare occasion when you hear a fellow rider say his personal bike is a turd. Most often, riders are all too willing to defend their mount of choice as the best machine available.
And this mine-is-best attitude is even more vociferous when it discussing engine configurations. V-Twin riders extol the virtues of easily manageable power thanks to a broad, rider-friendly torque curve. Inline-Four pilots rightly brag that their bikes' peak power can't be beat. And then there's the oddball three-cylinder contingent (consisting only of Triumph, Benelli and the Petronas FP1 in this modern era) who believe Triples offer the most of both worldsâ€”ample torque with a howling top-end hit.
When it came time to bring three bikes together to put a focus on engines, only one market segment has a variety of choices. No less than 20 models fit into the liter-sized naked/near-naked bike category, and since it's one of our favorites anyway, we began our shopping there. Thankfully, we don't have to pay for our test bikes (unless we wad them!), but in deference to the rest of you poor bastards that do, we set a price ceiling of $9000 for our candidates.
The four-cylinder sub-class is represented here by our Kawasaki Z1000
long-term project bike. With 120 stompin' ponies at the rear wheel, the Z never fails to thrill. Yamaha's versatile and comfy FZ1 would also have been a strong contender, but the bad-ass Kaw is closer in personality to our three-cylinder representative.
If this were a race, the Speed Triple would use its honking midrange to out-accelerate the Z out of the corner, but would eventually get overtaken if the road ahead was straight.
The Speed Triple is perhaps the best usage of Triumph's wonderful 955cc inline-Three. The raspy and distinctive motor is perfectly at home in the archetypal hooligan streetfighter (with acknowledgment to Ducati's Monster), and Mr. Speed has the same cohesive unification of purpose and execution as a Harley-Davidson Softail Deuce
. Looking supa-bad in its black livery, the Eurotrash Speed Trip surprisingly comes in with a lower sticker than our next contestant.
Picking a twin-cylinder machine to fit our requirements proved to be more problematic. Sure, given our druthers we would've picked an Aprilia Tuono or a Ducati Monster S4S, but that would've blown our budget. We had originally planned to include the standard SV1000, but Suzuki discontinued that unfaired and high-handlebarred model for 2004. The sportier quarter-faired SV1000S retails for $8599, but Suzuki was unable to get us one in time.
Instead, we looked to an oft-forgotten classic from another Asian manufacturer. The VTR1000 Super Hawk sits in a dark corner of Honda's lineup, almost neglected since the spotlight-grabbing RC51 debuted in 2000. But to ignore the Super Hawk is to miss out on a much friendlier Honda V-Twin that is still fast and capable enough to run with this crowd.