2002 Naked Bike Shootout

We Like to Play the Emperor's New Clothes

And now, a word from Jim the Fishstick:

Fresh off my Schwantz School of Confidence and ego-building the red light on the Burns phone was blinking once again and Johnny extended an invite to ride the AMA track at Fontana to test the new standard bikes, I was in and leathers were packed pronto. After a night of fresh tri-tip at Chez Johnny, sliced thin, accompanied by my whining, we were off to face the heat and to tackle that banked straight at the California Speedway.

First bike out was the Triumph Speed Triple. Nothing like learning a track like Fontana behind Burns at what he calls moderate speed.

Down the backstraight my mind must have wandered cause in a split second my fearless leader braked, tucked and bombed down headed toward the infield. I panicked for a second and muscled the Triumph down the banking through the chicane. The tidy black mount did well and felt very stable underneath my Sasquatchian silhouette torquing her around. Forging my way through the infield was strange with few direction indicators other than the black streaks on the pavement. For a moment I thought I was in the Wal-Mart parking lot after hours. The Triumph motor had plenty of poo as I bounced off redline trying to get all it had for me feeling my way around the intermediate Fasttrack session, gradually picking up what I consider speed. The brakes were fine and the handling crisp with a great sound coming from the triple.

Next machine out was the Yamaha FZ-1. Headed out of the pits I felt like I was on my favorite easy chair with an R1 motor and Brakes attached. The front end didn't convey as much about the road as the Triumph but the power and brakes more than made up for it.

This bike stopped like no other. I found the handling to be an acquired taste on the track; as the session wore on I got more comfortable with the feel of this machine.

The FZ-1 proved to be a solid performer. It just needed a bit of ground clearance. Wait, not that much. Stickie, take it off the center-stand.

This was the only bike that allowed me to drag my knee consistently around the infield. I pulled in to show off my puck to all who would listen. After wringing the sweat out of my eyes in the pits I mounted up the Kawasaki ZRX-1200.

This machine looks way cool and feels like a big beast of a bike. Initial impressions were that it felt alive underneath me, squirming and moving about not unlike my WR big bore dirt machine and to a lesser degree, Mrs. Hatch.

The power was amazing and had enough ready at any point of the track to make it a point and shoot affair for me. I felt a bit of a high-speed wobble down the straight so I took her in to ask the Kawasaki men stationed in their well-appointed rig.

The ZRX was fast out of corners and could carry mad lean angle. However, the persistent hobble-wobble prevented some of our less experienced testers from utilizing the full breadth of the Kawi's torque-producing motor.

They told me it may just be my overly large Torso bones weighing down the bike and causing the problem. After a confirmation by a normally sized human and a few adjustments later-- she was performing flawlessly down the back straight over the indicated 132 mph problem area. This is a very entertaining bike and I had a blast every time I rode it.

The matte black Honda 919 was next. My first impression was how machinelike and crisp this bike felt while performing all of its duties. Handling was fast and sharp and the brakes were appropriate. The motor lacked the Tyson punch of the FZ-1 and ZRX but was very linear and predictable, gently trailing off as the red approached. All in all a very well put-together ride.

It's hard to rank these bikes since I didn't ride them on the street, where they belong, but for my money I would go with the Triumph or Kawasaki--a tie for first on the Hatch card--then the Yamaha and finally the Honda. I would look for scary power if shopping in this category, and the FZ-1 and ZRX have that to offer. The Triumph does everything so well it makes up for its power deficiency in my book.

Raw Fish
FZ-1 2:04.3
Speed Triple 2:04.4
ZRX 2:05.2
919 No time, dangit... computer snafu.

(Hatch's torsal bones may have been producing a cross-channel Doppler effect with the official MO Hackfu Longines timing apparatus.)


Back to you, Johnny

Although he preferred the ZRX, Burnsie set fastest times on the big track aboard the Lucitania (a.k.a. ZRX) and the QEII (a.k.a. FZ-1).

Yours truly turned blazing times in the low minute-47's on the big track on both the ZRX and the FZ-1, low 48's on the Speed Triple, and high 48's on the 919. For comparison, look no further than our Openbike Shootout of a few months ago, in which I ran 1:41.9 on the overdog GSX-R1000, 1:44.3 on the 954 Honda, and 1:44.9 on the splendiferous R1--all of them riding on spanking new race rubber. (And I truly think the tires all these bikes come with are perfectly fine for typical track-day use; the real sticky stuff is most useful when making whipcrack transitions/turn-ins on very firmly suspended sportbikes--and these naked bikes don't encourage super-aggressive riding.)

The ZRX and FZ-1, then, are but a few seconds off the pace--at a fast race track that was built for serious sportbikes. Three seconds is a lot if you're racing people, but it's not much at all when you're playing racer at a track day with your friends.

The point of all this, then, is as clear as an Arthur Andersen spreadsheet: these naked bikes are plenty competent--way moreso, frankly, than we expected--when it comes to holding their own at the typical track day; throw on your leathers and a tank bag, ride out, roost `til the cows come home, slay and eat the cows, ride comfortably home. Rinse. Repeat.


In which the Ducati makes its appearance...

The infield road course. One particular staffer felt that this course was better than the big course. Another staffer felt that the infield course was too flat. Goldilocks finally ate the last bowl of porridge and it was juuuust right.

The infield track is shorter, but more work than the main course. No place to rest. Constant direction changes and butt movements required and it's hot out here too... did I already mention we brought only the Ducati S4 Monster and the Kawasaki ZRX due to labor shortages?

The ZRX was in fact, just as much fun as on the big track with one wobbly exception: when riding the big track at Fontana, there's one section of track that requires a sort of swoopy left/right transition which you come to after a big long left, which means you go through it at maybe 70 or 80 mph. When riding the infield course, you encounter the same swoopy left/right combo but now it comes at the end of a longish straight--like, top of fourth gear on the Kawasaki. Turns out there's a few bumps in there we bypassed before.

"If you're stupid and have the gas pinned through there like yours truly a couple of times, you'll be suddenly wishing you had one of Muzzy's cool ZRX steering dampers and a change of shorts; the whole bike seems to leave the ground, burning up any sense of directional control upon re-entry."

Actually it's not that bad, but it's the only time the Kawasaki reveals its, ahhh, old-school construction in a scary way. By the end of the day, we found a smoother line, a neutral throttle in fifth gear, clenched thighs, weight on the footpegs, a loose grip on the bars and a dab of Preparation H made things better. In the Kawasaki's defense, its adjustable suspension actually adjusts it--even the dual shocks offer both-way damping and preload (and I think the bike worked better before the nattering nellies of negativism flipped the eccentric rear axle to the rear-end-lower setting). With more time to play with things, you might make the Kawasaki work fine.

For one reason or another, JohnnyB was able to adapt to the dread Pirate Roberts (a.k.a. hobble-wobble). But, we'll let him tell you whether or not he's holding these racers up, or leading them through the chicanes.

Aside from that one scary spot, the old girl again acquitted herself surprisingly well. We got passed by R1s and GSX-Rs (riding with Fastrack's fast group), but they usually had to wait 'til the ends of the long straights to pull it off; the Kawasaki's bigger and heavier than those bikes, but its wide bar and low pegs (and still sticky D208GP's) let you throw it hard into corners without worrying. And it must look scary enough from behind that guys don't want to get too close. I don't blame them.

Thence onto the wild-card unknown Ducati S4 Monster. I don't care much for this one as a streetbike. Where other Monsters always had a regular handlebar, this one is a denuded ST4, with that bike's cast bars and risers affixed in a non-adjustable way to the top clamp. It's a weird angle, to me. Plus, the Monsters are wide between the feet and splay your ankles out in an unnatural way. I was all set for the ZRX to whip it good. Didn't happen that way.

The S4 had the best suspension with the weakest motor and ergonomics. Ultimately that didn't matter as its superior chassis design and tractable power let JohnB take pole by a scant three-tenths of a second.

Relying on not as much power as the Kawasaki, but said power being of the traction-enhancing two-cylinder variety, and the fact that the Ducati weighs ninety pounds less, and the fact that it has really good suspension, let the Ducati lap a tic quicker than the Kawasaki.

That's right.

Through sphincterclench gulch, you can nearly not roll out of the Ducati at all; its Sachs shock and upside-down fork allow it to roll through like a 16-pound Brunswick, a solid little chunk of a bike, and then you brake into the tight little right still leaned over at a pretty decent angle, all controllably-like, thanks to those nice, braided-hosed Brembos. Matter of fact, the only thing holding the Monster back is the usual complaint with Monsters: limited ground clearance. Hang as far off as you can, the mufflers still grind, and the sidestand too.

HOWEVER, there is built-in ride height adjustability if you have a different sort of wrench than any we've ever seen; the big nut you need to loosen right at the swingarm looks real tough to get to. Not that we made the attempt. (Real Ducatisti will simply have their dealer handle the procedure and bill them for 10 hours.)

Otherwise, the Monster is a fine trackday tool: low, solid, quick-reacting, fast. Wish we had had it for Big Track Friday too... If we had had, though, I think the ZRX would've smoked it like a Hav-a-Tampa.

Infidel (a.k.a. JohnnyB) Times:
S4 1:22.33
ZRX 1:22.66

Remember dear readers, that this is strictly a track test. As such, voting is as follows:

The MO staff ranks things thusly:
Ducati S4 Honda 919 Kawasaki ZRX1200R Triumph Speed Triple Yamaha FZ-1
JohnnyB 2 1 5 4 3
Hackfu 3 1 2 5 4
Stickie 2 4 1 5 3
Total 7 6 8 14 10

Ducati S4 Honda 919 Kawasaki ZRX1200R Triumph Speed Triple Yamaha FZ-1
Engine 916cc liquid-cooled, 8-valve, 90° DOHC v-twin 919cc liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC inline four 1164cc liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC inline four 955cc liquid-cooled, 12-valve, DOHC inline triple 998cc liquid-cooled, 20-valve, DOHC inline four
Bore x Stroke (mm) 94.0x68.0 71.0x58.0 79.0x59.4 79.0x65.0 74.0x58.0
Compression Ratio 11.0:1 10.8:1 10.1:1 12.0:1 11.4:1
Ignition Digital
Fuel Delivery EFI 4x 36mm Keihin Carbs, TPS EFI 4x 37mm Mikuni Carbs, TPS
Valve Adjustment (miles) 6,000 16,000 12,000 15,000 26,000
Transmission 6-spd, dry, multiplate clutch 6-spd, wet, multiplate clutch 5-spd, wet, multiplate clutch 6-spd, wet, multiplate clutch
Chassis Steel Trellis Steel Spine Steel Double-cradle Aluminum Tube-perimeter Steel Double-cradle
Suspension, Front 43mm inverted, 4.7" (P,C,R) 43mm, 4.7" 43mm, 4.7" (P,C,R) 45mm, 4.7" (P,C,R) 43mm, 5.6" (P,C,R)
Suspension, Rear Mono-shock, 5.7" (P-threaded,C,R,H) Mono-shock, 4.7" (P-ramp) Dual-shock, 4.8" (P-ramp,C,R) Mono-shock, 5.5" (P-threaded,C,R) Mono-shock, 5.4" (P-ramp,C,R)
Brakes, Front 320mm, 4 piston 296mm, 4 piston 310mm, 6 piston 320mm, 4 piston 298mm, 4 piston
Brakes, Rear 245mm, 2 piston 240mm, 1 piston 250mm, 2 piston 220mm, 1 piston 267mm, 1 piston
Tires, Front 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D207 120/70ZR-17 Michelin Hi-Sport 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT010* 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT010 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT020
Tires, Rear 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop D207 180/55ZR-17 Michelin Hi-Sport 180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT010* 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone BT010 180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT020
Wheelbase 56.7"/1440mm 57.7"/1466mm 57.7"/1466mm 56.2"/1429mm 57.1"/1450mm
Rake-Trail 24.0°-4.0"/102mm** 25.0°-3.9"/98mm 25.0°-4.2"/107mm** 23.5°-3.3"/84mm 26.0°-4.1"/104mm
Seat Height 31.50"/800mm 31.75"/907mm 31.50"/800mm 32.00"/813mm 32.00"/813mm
Thumb Height 37.75"/959mm 39.50"/1003mm 39.00"/990mm 39.00"/990mm 39.75"/1009mm
Thumb-to-Thumb 20.5"/520mm 18.5"/470mm 19.5"/495mm 20.5"/520mm 20.0"/508mm
Fuel Capacity 4.4gal/20L 5.0gal/23L 5.3gal/24L 5.5gal/25L 5.6gal/26L
Fuel Mileage 43mpg 39mpg 40mpg 42mpg 41mpg
Measured Weight (wet) 462lbs/210kg 484lbs/220kg 540lbs/245kg 480lbs/218kg 510lbs/231kg
Available Colors Black, Gray, Red, Yellow Asphalt Red, Green (Both w/ cool purple/white stripes) Blue, Red, Black (as the ace o' spades) Blue, Silver, Black/Yellow
Suggested Price $12,995 $7,999 $7,899 $10,599 $8,499
  • * = As tested: Dunlop D208
  • ** = This figure is variable due to the ability to adjust ride height. (Ducati = shock, Kawasaki = eccentric rear axle)
  • (P,C,R) denotes adjustable Preload, Compression damping and Rebound dampening.
  • threaded and ramp denotes method of rear shock preload adjustment. Threaded collar, or ramped collar.
  • Front brakes come in pairs. We assume this to be common knowledge so we didn't mention anything about it. If you didn't know this information, don't worry, you're informed as of now.
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