These were honest machines unfettered by fairings and blessed with amenable upright ergonomics and comfy seats, allowing them to be nearly whatever its rider wanted it to be.
But in the modern era of motorcycles, the age of specialization has fractured broad segments into tightly compartmentalized sub-genres. The sport-touring category, not long ago consisting of just a few models, now has players in the light-duty realm (VFR800, F800ST), the so-called Supersport Touring class of heavyweights (Concours 14, FJR1300, K1200GT), and the liter-sized class (ST3, Sprint ST). And that doesn’t even include the adventure-touring market that contains admirably competent sport-touring mounts.
So for this test, we went back to basics. But instead of revisiting the UJM segment, we looked past Japan to see what was available in the arena of relatively simple bikes that offer a rider a stripped-down mechanical horse that can handle nearly anything thrown at it. The common thread of this comparo is a liter-plus-sized twin-cylinder engine that is left exposed for all the world to admire its air-cooled mechanicalness. To round out the capabilities of the bikes, the option of hard saddlebags was another requirement for inclusion in this test.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the Europeans that offer the best selection of bikes in this category. BMW supplied its powerful R1200R with some nice options, and Ducati countered with its sporty Multistrada 1100. The revitalized Piaggio/Moto Guzzi/Aprilia group offered up its Breva 1100 with an accessory windshield and optional hard cases.
We thought we had our group complete until we realized that America offers its own version of air-cooled versatility. The XB12X Ulysses received several updates for ’08, so we gathered up an early-release model to see how the improvements have affected one of Motorcycle.com’s favorite oddball machines.
Ever the diligent, over-privileged and under appreciated crew of writers, bike wranglers, photo/video wizards and tireless bike testers, we here at Motorcycle.com put this quartet through a myriad of riding assignments, including commuting, backroad exploring, freeway droning and overnight sport-touring.
We've crafted five videos for this shootout, so make sure you click the video link at the bottom of each page.
Let's take a look at what each bike is all about.
2007 BMW R1200R
|Vitals at a glance:|
Introduced in late 2006 as an early '07 model, the R1200R is one of two nakeds offered by BMW, the other being the speed demon K1200R. The oversquare (101mm x 73mm) 1170cc flat-Twin with a 12.0:1 compression ratio owns the distinction of producing the most power of this group. Its 95 rear-wheel ponies stampede over its class rivals, and its 76 ft-lbs of torque easily out-twists even the burly Buell.
As such, the spread of torque is nice and wide, as are the gear ratios. Although it's a six-speed, that last cog was almost exclusively owned by the freeway. My routine for most of the canyon and otherwise serpentine routes was to simply leave the mostly smooth but notchy-on-the-upshift tranny in fourth gear. This was due in part to the great chassis and excellent brakes, but was an equal testament of the flexibility of the engine. If we over-anticipated a corner, braking earlier than need be, the torquey Twin simply pulled through it effortlessly, salvaging poor riding technique. More importantly, it kept me ahead of Duke Danger as often as possible.
Regular friend-of-Motorcycle.com, Alex Edge, echoed my sentiments about the Beemer's low- and mid-range pull saying, "Just twist the throttle and it goes, whether you’re at 3,000 or 5,000 rpm." But without sounding like an ingrate, Alex also noted that time on the interstates revealed an "annoying low-frequency vibration, making itself known at 70 mph and increasing steadily as you move towards 90 mph." Though the buzz didn't create numbness in his extremities, he still felt it was rather irritating the way "it blurred the mirrors to such an extent as to make them nearly useless."
But the big-cube Boxer motor, despite not feeling as sporty as the Ducati powerplant, is the strong-armed thug in this foursome. It produces more power than the rest at nearly every rpm, giving it the grunt to out-hustle everything but the plucky Multistrada.
Because a good share of the engine mass is both low and wide, certain aspects of the handling are affected in a good way, mostly. How does handling benefit? The long-ish wheelbase doesn't lend to sportbike-fast steering response, but the bike can be cranked quickly into a corner thanks to its wide handlebar that is placed fairly high for maximum leverage. Once the R12 is set into a turn, stability is the name of the game.
Although young Alex made a strange analogy between the BMW and the door on a bulletproof limo, he couldn't deny its strong handling traits, commenting that "even aggressive throttle application just past the apex didn’t seem to upset the chassis very much."
“If you’re a harder-core sport rider,” adds Duke Danger, “the R1200R is the only machine of this quartet that can keep the Duc’s taillight in view. And, in the right hands, the Beemer can show its taillight to a Multistrada rider.”
The cast-aluminum/tubular-steel/engine-as-a-stressed-member chassis combines well with the linear power of the motor, making the R1200R a very tractable bike to bend through fast sweepers. However, tighter sections of tarmac that require quick direction changes aren't quite as rewarding as, say, on a bike with a higher center of gravity.
By virtue of the Boxer design, when you're tipped over in one direction and need to be over just as far on the other side in a hurry, you have to lever all the weight of the outside cylinder and the inside cylinder over. This sounds more dramatic than it really is, and it's a small price of the horizontal-Twin layout. The longitudinal crankshaft of the Boxer and the Guzzi produce a measure of rotational inertia to the right side that can be disconcerting for riders unaware of this phenomenon. Using three buttons to control the turnsignals, as on the BMW, can be similarly bewildering.
While we appreciated the unique Telelever front suspension for its ability to soak up midcorner bumps and its anti-dive properties, it doesn’t transmit the amount of feedback from the front tire like a conventional telescopic fork does. And its Paralever shaft-drive rear end, which is virtually maintenance-free and does away with messy chains, can’t absorb sharp-edged hits as fluidly as the lighter drive arrangements of the Ducati (chain) or Buell (belt). And although the R12 has a hydraulic rear preload adjuster, it’s mounted under the seat so it can’t be manipulated on the fly like those on the other bikes.
If there's one component aside from its brawny engine that shines on this German-built bike, it's the semi-integral ABS. BMW has recently begun moving away from its hydraulically boosted ABS, slowly implementing the non-linked rear brake, non-servo-assisted 3-pound Bosch system. The beauty of this new brake set-up is that it uses traditional Brembo calipers and stainless steel lines that will function like, well, normal brakes should you find yourself in ABS failure. The days of squeezing the lever and getting mush for the first quarter of its travel before reaching a certain vehicle speed, or hearing that annoying servo whine, are gone.
This newest ABS lacks the abrupt action of the previous system that had a tendency to fall somewhere between not quite there and a 20-ton press, but it doesn’t have the most sensitivity at initial application either. Soon thereafter, though, power comes on strong in a rather non-linear manner, ultimately stopping you much sooner than you expected until a rider becomes accustomed to their stellar braking power. I've ridden an R1200R on different occasions over the past year, and the thing that I keep taking away from the experience of braking is that it's much more organic, if you will: the familiar feeling that one gets when using good quality, non-ABS binders. The R12 gets bonus points for having the only (optional) antilock brakes in this group.
Alex "Goldilocks" Edge opined that its ergos were "not too far; not too close," saying that the cockpit was "extremely comfortable," or in fairytale speak, just right. Its 31.5-inch seat is easy to straddle, but its narrow forward section doesn’t offer the broad support of its Buell and Guzzi rivals.
Finally, we need to consider some of the goodies that made this bike lean toward touring. Like the simple and roomy saddlebags ($1,014). With a key matched to the fuel cap and ignition, locking, unlocking and releasing the hard bags is a simple affair. When you're ready to call it a day, and want to tote all the stuff you packed, just pull up on the carry handle after turning the lock in the right direction and the bags come off in a snap. It should be noted that whoever was riding behind the Beemer would often observe a rather precarious amount of shaking and vibrating by at least one bag. No worries, though, we never lost one. We suggest carrying your Dom Perignon in a tankbag.
Another appreciated extra is the optional sport windscreen ($210). Small enough to be unobtrusive yet big enough to deflect a goodly amount of wind blast, we were all glad it was on the bike. We also cherished the soothing comfort offered by the Beemer’s heated grips ($235); as motorcyclists, we suffer enough as it is.
And if there's one piece of steel that shouldn't be optional, it would have to be the $120 accessory centerstand. It should be standard! They make simple maintenance a breeze, not to mention parking in certain situations easier and safer. Yet, they ask so little of you or the bike. At least it’s available for the Beemer, but it’s standard equipment on the Guzzi.
For those with money to burn, we suggest ordering the R12 with the supremely convenient ESA suspension system ($800) that allows push-button alterations to damper and spring settings, which wasn’t included on our test unit. Then there’s also the available tire-pressure-monitoring system and GPS unit, plus higher and lower seats and a taller windshield.
In this collection of four reputable rides, the BMW R1200R can stake at least three claims: the most (available) technology, the broadest spread of power, and the steepest retail figure. Ride stability is fantastic as is the time-tested, refined flat-Twin. But those assets, along with a myriad of others, come with a hefty price tag.
|The Perfect Bike For…|
|...the rider who wants a machine that is very tractable and smooth, has more optional equipment than an adult video store, the quality inherent in a Beemer, and has the grip to pay for it all.|
2008 Buell Ulysses
Yep, the Uly has once again found itself in another Motorcycle.com comparison. It was only two years ago that we chose the XB12X as a wildcard, oddball last-minute addition to the mix of street-only sport tourers. And it did surprisingly well, coming in second out of five bikes.
Fortunately for the buying public, Buell gave a number of refinements and additions to this early-release '08 model. But even more exciting than the changes to the bike is the fact that it hasn't gone up one nickel from last year's $11,495.
The forks have been beefed up considerably from 43mm to 47mm, and rotating those legs right and left during a U-turn
|Vitals at a glance:|
The mighty Thunderstorm 1203 also received a tune-up with a new timing system that operates from a crank position sensor thereby eliminating the need for manual timing. Redline was bumped from 6800
rpm to 7100 rpm, and a new tach reflects the change. Crankpin size went up from 1.25 inch to 1.50 inch, and to compliment that improvement a new, higher-output oil pump was integrated, as well as a bigger oil cooler. New Jiffy-tite fittings grace line ends. Unfortunately, our test unit still managed to weep a little at the fittings around the oil cooler.
Other tech upgrades include a new engine control module, and the throttle cam is more progressive with new cables to go with it. The Uly now rides on the street-biased Pirelli Scorpion Sync rubber (like the Multistrada) instead of the dirt-minded Dunlop D616 from the original Buellysses as part of an across-the-board change from Dunlop to Pirelli last year.
Those mechanical upgrades are important and all, but the new stuff t hat will probably matter most to prospective buyers are the now-standard heated hand grips that previously demanded an additional $187 from your wallet. The Air Flow Cover Kit, although not as thrilling as heated grips, is now standard fare. Essentially, it's a small piece of plastic wedged in the space between the seat and frame, near the rider's inside thigh area, to deflect some of the heat radiating off the rear cylinder. It’s only moderately successful, as a rider’s right leg still gets lightly roasted on warm days.
For years now, people who haven't ridden Buells or are just plain skeptical of them bemoaned the use of an "antiquated" engine platform. To them we say, "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!" The near-square (88.9mm x 96.8mm bore and stroke) 1,203 cc Harley Sportster-sourced Twin has received plenty of attention from Erik B and his team, making it a very competent if somewhat lumpy mill. Lest we forget, until the mid-2007 introduction of the liquid-cooled 1125R, the entire Buell line was born from and expanded with an air-cooled, torque-generous engine that so many mocked.
Once I learned to skip past the short first and second gears, all that was left to do in most non-freeway environments was keep the engine boiling around 4500 rpm for a very tractable drive. Though the Uly can wheelie away from stoplights with the best of them, your ride is best served by keeping the tach spinning above the aforementioned range, which is kind of odd for a big two-valve-per-cylinder Twin. Peak torque of 67.0 ft-lbs doesn’t arrive until 6100 rpm, just 750 revs short of the Uly’s rev limiter. Compare that with the free-spinning Ducati motor that pumps out its torque peak at just 4800 rpm, knowing that it also has a rev ceiling nearly 1700 rpm higher than the Buell. Also of note is that the Uly produces its maximum horsepower immediately before running into its rev limiter, which is kind of like the cops coming to the party just as the hot girls/boys arrive.
Although notably more powerful than the lazy engine in the Guzzi, the Buell mill seemed a little wheezy compared to the livelier motors in the Beemer and Duc. It picks up revs like the motor is filled with 100-weight oil. The dyno reveals bigger numbers than are felt by the old butt-dyno method, as revs are slow to pick up despite large reserves of grunt. Nevertheless, this is one "old" design that offers a very linear and user-friendly experience, and it produces peak power second only to the BMW. Hindering the Twin’s enjoyment was our bike’s glitchy fuel-injection mapping, as the engine would sometimes want to cough and stall when giving it a throttle blip before taking off from a stoplight. Buell reps assert that our tester had pre-production fuel mapping that isn’t indicative of the production bikes in dealers.
One area that held both praise and cursing was braking. The ZTL (Zero Torsional Load) perimeter-mounted, massive 375mm front brake rotor and six-piston caliper combo are a Buell signature item. And they work great too. The front binder (note that there is only one) offers great feel and plenty of power to reel in this adventure-inspired bike. Too bad the rear brake is the polar-opposite. To this day I can't understand how a bike with such a great front brake can have a rear brake that performs so poorly. Plain and simple, it's horribly lacking in feel and difficult to modulate. We know from riding other ZTL equipped Buells that these are some of the best brakes available as OEM, but the long-travel suspension on the Ulysses dives excessively during hard braking.
At least the suspension pays dividends over bumpy pavement. Yes indeedy, the XB12X has plenty of spring. With 6.5 inches up front and 6.4 inches out back, this bike coyly suggests that it may want to venture down a dusty road. The fork and shock (both Showa) are fully adjustable, with the rear offering the convenience of rider adjustable preload via a dial peeking out from the left side of the frame. Dive aside, the suspenders ate up most road imperfections, providing a very comfortable ride.
But that same generous spring travel can also be a drawback during aggressive on-road escapades. Alex was pretty spot on when he mentioned that its handling qualities are typical Buell, except that it feels like you’re riding a “Buell on stilts.” The taller suspension means more weight transfer and slightly slower reflexes. Still, the Ulysses offers "sharp turn-in, responsive handling, and a generally sportier feel than any of its competitors except the Ducati." There’s something undeniably cool about scything through a twisty road on what is essentially a really big dirt bike with a Harley motor.
And we all know that the bike entertains fire roads pretty easily, with the wide-platform footpegs allowing the rider to stand comfortably for long distances while shifting his or her weight like a true dual-sporter would, even if the bars are a little low, forcing a crouch when standing. But just like a dirt bike of one sort or another, seat height is still an issue for many sub-six-footers, despite the 1.3-inch reduction in height from 2006. That's just the price you pay for all that ground clearance that begs for a stream crossing or two. Still, the Uly’s seat remains one of the most comfortable among sporty bikes.
So what do we know about this hard-to-categorize Twin? The engine is uninspiring below 4500 rpm but has torque and power everywhere else. The front brake, despite its true nature being slightly masked by the long-travel suspension, is an excellent set-up. The rear brake, eh... not so much. The fuel-in-frame, flex-resistant aluminum chassis is simple, ingenious and unflinching in the face of tight, twisting canyons, or rough, unmaintained stretches of road, be they asphalt or otherwise.
And if we get heated grips, a couple other goodies and a number of refinements all for the price of last year's bike, we'll be willing to plug our ears a little while longer while that noisy engine cooling fan keeps running long after the bike is shut down. Any guesses on how long before we see an 1125R variant in the Ulysses? We'd love to hear what you think.
|The Perfect Bike For…|
|...someone who wants the familiarity and simplicity of an air-cooled Twin in a bike that can wear many hats, taking them over the horizon for thousands less than other bikes. Just don't expect to have your own A&E TV series.|
Few names elicit as much lust and excitement as Ducati. With a strong history, a racing pedigree that continues to grow as you read this and that glorious red paint, no other marque available today stirs the soul of riders worldwide quite like Ducati.
Believe it or not, the basic layout of the desmodromic L-Twin engine has been around as early as 1973, and a similar architecture is what we find in the 2007 Multistrada 1100. Fully air-cooled and full of character, the uniquely Euro-styled motorcycle has developed a small cult following with its upright riding position, roomy ergos, long-travel suspension and powerful mill readily able to hoist the front skyward with little more than a hot breath on the throttle.
|Vitals at a glance:|
The 90-degree Twin's pistons pump through an oversquare 98mm x 71.5mm bore and stroke to squeeze out a compression ratio of 10.5:1. Although its 79.6 maximum ponies won’t garner many headlines, it’s the Duc’s broad spread of torque that makes this newly enlarged Desmo such a treat on the street. There’s plenty of stonk coming on as early 4200 rpm, and revving freely all the way to the (no-redline) redline of about 8600 rpm... even in sixth gear! We were really impressed with its linear and brutish power, and we were amazed that the MTS could hold its own in roll-on contests against the BMW stump-puller.
Alex noted that the Duc's power was sportier than, say, the flat torque characteristics of the BMW. “The Ducati builds its power in a more exciting manner, enticing the rider to rev it higher and more often than the others here," was the way he encapsulated his thoughts on this speed-limit-taunting red machine's engine.
Anybody that knows Ducatis is aware they are just as much about their handling as they are about their engines. The Multi uses, like all current Ducatis, a tubular steel trellis frame with the engine as a stressed member. Seems almost quaint when compared with the unique, futuristic-looking single-piece unit that Buells use. But just because it looks like a strange assortment of bicycle frames welded together doesn't mean it isn't up to task.
With plenty of sportbike and performance-oriented riding under his belt, young Alex really liked the Multistrada's handling when termed it as "the sportiest in the group." He also thought that the suspension worked well with the frame to "handle hard braking and mid-corner bumps far more easily than any of the others." The Duc is certainly well-suited to spirited riding with its high center of gravity and light steering that clearly made it the king of "sport" in this shootout. Yet, unlike Alex, I was able to pick up on some chassis movement when I pushed the bike a little more than I probably should have over rough, uneven pavement. But the sensation wasn't ever disconcerting, just barely perceptible and fully capable of being managed.
Like the Buell, the Multistrada has fully adjustable suspenders. An inverted 43mm Marzocchi handles business up front while a Sachs shock attaches to the Duc's single-sided swingarm via progressive linkage at the rear. Also like the Buelly Uly, the Multi has an easily accessed hydraulic adjuster for preload on the shock. We just wish Ducati would have thought a little more about how far that knob was going to poke out between the tubes of the trellis frame. It often jabbed us on the inside of our right legs. Better to have it than not, we suppose. And better to have it on the left side like the Buell and Guzzi, as that allows easier on-the-fly adjustments.
Poking aside, the suspension was really good as delivered. Those accustomed to sportbikes will wince when anticipating large bumps in the road that are ably sucked up by the Multi’s long suspenders. Despite this plushness, the Ducati maintains its composure in sporting situations. Duke, in fact, did a track day at the Streets of Willow on the MTS, which is something you wouldn’t want to do on, say, the Breva. Other than the header pipe shield touching down prematurely, the Duc showed its sporting pedigree well.
Although Ducati doesn't even think about hinting at off-the-beaten path excursions on the Multi, its saddle height (33.5") and suspension travel (6.5" and 5.6" front and rear) suggest that it might consider looking for a secluded camping spot, or something. But even if it won't so much as traverse a gravel driveway, the Multi certainly seems to urge a rider to put a foot down. Just consider the rogue left feet of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Duke and Edge, or is it Edge and Duke?) in these photos.
The wide handlebar produces an upright and forward-biased riding position that instantly had me thinking motocrosser/motard. What that really equated to was a comfortable cockpit and great steering leverage. Wind protection offered by its stylistically questionable nose fairing is among the best in this group, with the Guzzi and its accessory windshield providing the only challenge for supremacy in this respect. The seat that is nicely narrow for feet-down stoplight stints doesn’t provide the wide support offered by the Guzzi or Buell or Beemer. An ergonomic niggle is the clutch housing for the new wet clutch, as its larger cover contacts a rider’s calf with legs down. Evidence is the upper edge of the housing that has its paint rubbing off.
Instrumentation on the Duc is simple to use and chock full of data. A couple of nice touches are the very large A and B buttons that allow you to toggle between different tripmeters and whatnot with riding gloves on; and the white-faced analog tach is easy to see at a glance, but the dearth of a redline just seems screwy.
Where the Multistrada comes up a bit short is in its long-haul comfort and convenience. Valves will need expensive and relatively frequent adjustments, and its chain final-drive system requires messing and fiddling that are unbecoming compared to the belt- and shaft-drive competitors.
|The Perfect Bike For…|
|...the person who's looking to get all the great things they've ever heard about Ducatis, including an instant leap in the social order, without selling their mother, young children and pets into servitude.|
2007 Moto Guzzi Breva 1100
If we were choosing a bike based on uniqueness and originality, the 2007 Moto Guzzi Breva 1100 would take the cake. We're not sure about how things are where you're from, but even here in Southern California, we just don't see many modern Guzzis on the road. And depending on your tastes, that may make owning a Guzzi all the sweeter.
The transverse-mounted V-Twin is the defining trait that screams Guzzi as soon as one is within sight. Sadly, though, this pushrod, two-valve air-cooled engine is more plant than power. Both horsepower and torque figures resulting from the 92mm x 80mm bore and stroke and 9.8:1 compression ratio fall short in this crowd. The Breva is pretty gutless in the lower rpm ranges, and it shudders and struggles like a smaller-displaced, stock V-Twin when the throttle is slammed open in top gear.
|Vitals at a glance|
I learned to deal with how this bike develops – or rather doesn't develop – power by carrying as much velocity as possible when approaching a turn. Otherwise, rolling off the throttle too early meant it was time to tap dance on the shifter. The engine simply doesn't have the strength to pull itself out of a hole dug by being one or two gears too high. Its gearbox, thankfully, is a low-effort affair.
Alex "Grasshopper" Edge picked up on this other Italian bike's barren supply of steam, noting, "The low-end power of the big V-Twin isn’t very impressive, at least not in this company. Roll onto the throttle at 3000 rpm and the engine feels dead and boggy until 5000 when it starts to wake up and pull more aggressively."
Kevin made a painfully accurate quip we he asked rhetorically, "Would you believe that this [the Multi] is an air-cooled Italian Twin, and that this [the Breva] is an air-cooled Italian Twin?" Great point, Danger.
We all experienced heat in one way or another from these Twins in the breeze, but because of the Guzzi's cylinders proximity to the rider's knees, the heat emanating from this bike seemed exaggerated. Regardless of how riders dealt with the swelter, this transverse Twin suffered at the hands of the Heat Miser. Once hot ambient air met even hotter engine temps, like a pan of crackling hot bacon grease, the tell tale ping ping sound of detonation reared its ugly head. Horsepower certainly suffered as a result. That's the last thing this bike needed.
On the plus side, this powerplant has received a plethora of recent upgrades (like sintered valve seats, lighter pistons and rods, and a healthy 540-watt alternator) that make it a better running and more reliable lump than Guzzis of old.
And this sensation was only exacerbated when going left through a turn whilst trying to modulate the throttle. The combination of driveline lash from the shaft drive and the resultant rotational inertia from the crank pulsing outward made for a wobbly ride anytime we didn't pull a Ronco Showtime Rotisserie on the throttle by setting it and forgetting it. Mid-corner line changes, or anything less than a deft right wrist, weren't readily welcome by the Breva when cornering aggressively.
Alex felt the troubles too, criticizing the bike as having "strange frame geometry in some way – the front end has a weird feel, somewhat floppy, so when you turn the bars slightly off-center, instead of returning to center, they want to fall all the way to full lock."
If you're willing to sacrifice a sporting time in the twists for a generally forgiving freeway ride, then you might actually prefer what Alex called "the softest suspension of any in this group." No doubt that this bike from nearly 90-year-old Moto Guzzi supports touring more so than sport. Spring rates for both front and rear seem too light, as the rear end would sometimes blow through its stroke even with the hydraulic preload adjuster set all the way toward hard. The preload-adjustable-only 45mm fork didn't fare much better. But maybe what you’re looking for is a semi-sporty cruiser that can cruise great distances in comfort, and in this respect the charismatic Guzzi shines.
Moto Guzzi uses its patented CA.R.C. (Cardano Reattivo Compatto/Compact Reactive Drive Shaft system of providing rear suspension via a single-sided swingarm and a shaft drive. It claims to eliminate the jacking effect of most shaft-drive systems, and indeed it did keep this unwanted dynamic from hindering our rides.
The rider environment is where the Breva 1100 shines. With a distinctly shaped and comfortable saddle, pull-back handlebars, and upright riding posture, it welcomes long freeway miles. Taller riders might be cramped by a fairly short seat-to-footpeg distance. Wind blast was reduced significantly by the accessory windshield, making for a fresher rider at day's end.
Looking like a set of magician's magic linking rings, the unconventional instrument cluster is a defining item of the Guzzi's looks. The chrome-rimmed analog tach, speedo and fuel gauge are crowned by a thin strip of inconspicuous idiot lights. But the bizarrely-placed square LCD display overlaps, literally and figuratively, the other gauges. "Eh, ga-ROSS! What's that fly doing in my soup!" The figures displayed on the screen are hard to see during the day, and the whole thing just bungs up the look. Not to mention the level of education required to run the complex combination of data displayed. And, for a bike that retails for $12.5k, we were unimpressed with the low-quality stainless steel used on the header pipes, which allowed the tubing to become terribly oxidized over the bike’s 6500 miles of journalistic abuse.
The Breva redeems itself (at least how we had it equipped) with all the storage it posses. I recently read somewhere on the Interweb what may have been a backhanded comment about the Breva, but it was accurate all the same: "The Breva 1100, a true station wagon."
I loved tooling around town or down the freeway on this bike because I knew that everything I brought on the trip was riding securely behind me. The Givi-designed top box is easy to use, and has the added comfort of a pad for passengers to rest against. But to our dismay, the 29-liter hard panniers were overly complex to remove from the bike. It wasn't until weeks after having had the bike did our diligent and bright photog, Fonzie, figure out how to pull 'em off. Alfonse has dealt with all manner of cases and bags, so you know if it took him a while... Also, you may have seen these bags before on the defunct Aprilia RST1000 Futura, evidenced by the “Aprilia” stamp embossed on their insides.
Perhaps we asked too much from the poor Moto Guzzi Breva, as it is easily outclassed performance-wise in this semi-sporting quartet. It's not a crummy bike, but it certainly is lacking in areas that the others flaunt. It’s an enjoyable ride if you’re not in a hurry. The other bikes in this group work better if you’re trying to keep up with the crotch-rocket crowd while carrying a week’s worth of gear.
But if you simply dial down the pace a bit and place your favorite beau on back, the Guzzi becomes a front-runner, possessing a high level of cool along with class-leading comfort for two. Prefer to drone the freeways with the occasional sweeping country road to connect you to your next destination? Then the comfortable and unusual Moto Guzzi Breva 1100 might be everything you want, even if everybody else doesn't get it.
|The Perfect Bike For…|
|...the motorcyclist with a passenger who couldn't give two hoots about the fastest point from A to B, but wants to arrive at point B fresh and in unique style.|
Page 5 In The End…
At the beginning of this comparo we set our sights on a broad target: finding a great motorcycle that comes without the limitations intrinsic in all bikes within specialized market segments. We found four of those here, each with the simplicity of an air-cooled motor and the ability to comfortably take off for a weekend trip. .
The reality is that a motorcycle is what you make of it. No one bike can be pinned down to a strict label of use. We all either have riding buddies, or know of someone, who scoffs at the principal of limited use. You know the guy or gal. The one who rides a dual-sport... for everything. Or how about that crazy Sjaak Lucassen who took three years to circle the globe on an R1? If that doesn't prove the point, then nothing will.
Buell’s distinctive Ulysses again proved to be an entertaining ride that allows its rider to load up for a blast across an interstate or turn off on an unpaved road in search of adventure. It’s comfortable, stylish in its own way, and can also cut up a twisty road with dexterity that might surprise an unsuspecting Ninja rider. Innovative ideas blend with American ingenuity, but its tractor of a powerplant lacks broadband appeal.
The R1200R might very well be the best motorcycle of this group. Its muscular motor output should be a lesson to the Buell and Guzzi engineering staff, and it possesses an unflappable chassis that can also dice it up when the roads get twisty. It’s also full of high-spec componentry and inventive engineering, all of which comes at a price. While the other bikes in this group are in the $12,000-13,000 range, our R12R rings up in the $15,000 stratum. If cost is no object, the techie and competent Beemer wins.
But cost is almost always an object to consider. In this comparo, we’ll consider the Multistrada 1100 as our favorite to park in our eternal garage. As good as the others may be, the Ducati delivers a higher level of performance and fun – simple as that. It’s comfy enough to tour on, yet sporty enough not to wish you were on something else when the road becomes swervy. Plus, it has one of the best street engines yet devised for cutting through the omnipresent brain-dead cagers, with accessible grunt whenever called upon. It represents the best value here.
If it were ours, we’d pop for the accessory centerstand ($245) to make oiling and adjusting that messy chain a bit easier. In the eyes of our testers, that hassle is worth the sporting thrill and all-around goodness of the Multistrada.
NOTE: Be sure to go to the photo gallery to see more detail shots, and many more great pictures of this multi-bike review. Also, be sure to visit the video gallery for more videos from this story.