2003 Naked Twins

Nice Little Bikes, And The Runaway Winner: SV650 :: M800 :: XB9S

The Brembo brakes are stronger and feelier, too, with their standard steel braided lines. A good thing about an old design, in the case of the Monster at least, is that it's now a highly refined piece. It's so refined it's not even the same frame; the 30-percent stiffer one in this Monster and the new 1000 is from last year's S4 Monstrosity. It goes good, feels good, also taut and compact, and is worth $8,695 if you've got it--though I bet you could drive a harder bargain. I hate to jiggle the H-D peanut gallery by saying Ducatis hold their value pretty well, but I'll say it anyway. (And I for one could be about 90-percent as happy on a left-over 750 Dark Monster for not much more than what you'd have to give for an SV650.)

What's not to like about this Monster? One thing: The M800 gets stuck with a 4.5-inch rear wheel and a measly 160/70 tire (same sizes as the SV650). From behind, the Ducati looks a little more emasculated than the Suzuki, because it's more aggressive and muscular everywhere else.

Nope, if you want a nice fat tire under yourself, you'll have to look to our third small twin finalist--the smallest twin with the biggest pair o' cylinders, that is--the BUELL XB9S. Right, now you're looking at a $9,995 motorcycle, but like many of life's finer underappreciated things, you won't be paying that much unless you just don't care about saving money--the price for a new XB9S seems to be hovering at around 9K, and it will go lower as the summer wears on...

How do I love this Buell, let me count the ways. I love everything about it 'cept the clutch is a little stiff of pull (keeping the cable well-lubed makes a big difference).

The "S" we now have at MO has 3000 miles showing, and the gearbox is now easier if still not quite Japanese. (The Italian clutch/gearbox actually sets the standard in this group.) Ergonomically, the Buell is for me the finest moto on the planet, with a low, comfy, sculpted seat and a handlebar that sits in your lap and purrs.

Zero vibration up at 80 mph and 4500 rpm, with the nicest ride of the group filtering up through its all-way adjustable suspension. A bike this small has no right to be as comfy as the XB9S is in everyday use.

Yes, it's that archaic Harley Sportster engine again (and if you're basing your opinion of it solely on what you've read and heard from guys who owned a Sportster 10 years ago, maybe you need to test ride one). Even cooler, then, that using that old lump, Buell still winds up with the lightest bike of the trio, the shortest wheelbase, the most power, and the nicest-riding, best-handling bike of this trio. Excuse me, is one definition of archaic "most maintenance- free"? Hydraulic lifters mean no valve adjustments ever. Change the oil and filters and you're done.

We thought the old tube frame looked better.

Don't bother to lube the drive belt or adjust it. And oh yeah, don't forget the Buell makes more peak power and more torque too. If all you want is cheap, go with the SV. If you're like me, you also want a cool motorcycle. Twenty years from now, you'll be able to stand around your lovingly cared-for Buell, which will be somewhat rare, and you can `splain to the kids how it was the first bike to carry its gas in the frame, first with the perimeter front brake, how you and Ann-Margret used to bomb round `Vegas on it. In other words it will still be cool. The Guggenheim might call to borrow it. Meanwhile, you might see the occasional ratty SV650 parked on the street in a shabby neighborhood or over at KPaul's with a plastic milk crate bungeed to the back seat and duct tape covering the holes in the faded seat, smelling of cat urine.

We thought the old tube frame looked better.

Do you see where I'm going with this? There's more to this stuff than the bottom line, and even the bottom line is not what it appears to be when you think long-term. My dad drove a series of station wagons and AMC's and thought guys in Corvettes were crazy for spending that kind of money on a car--perpetual sophomores, he called them.

Now, of course, a mid-60s Vette is worth considerably more than a Kingswood Estate wagon with flip-down third seat. Don't get me started about the perfect `68 GT500KR convertible Shelby Mustang I tried to get him to buy for $6000 in 1978, which even had a back seat. He bought a new Plymouth Volare wagon instead for about the same money. I saw a Mustang exactly like that one (may have been the same car) sell for 60K the other day; the Volare went to the scrap heap years ago.

I'm not really meaning to compare the SV to a Volare wagon, but you get the idea. The difference between spending 6K and 8K isn't that much. The SV is a nice enough little bike. The Ducati's just cooler, better put together with nicer components, and more fun to ride. The Buell is a cutting-edge masterpiece of a motorcycle, unique, beautiful, tiny, and just quirky enough to be endearing. Sometimes it's true: You get what you pay for.

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