This time we decided to create a new category of sportbikes. These machines aren’t especially unusual in any way, but they don’t fit the standard definition of their class in the strictest sense. Just when you thought it was safe to come out from behind your favorite dyno chart… It’s time for another “literbike” war.
Behold! The Oddball Literbike Comparo! (Insert sound of thundering authoritative voice, or calliope music.)
We assembled three machines that go beyond the class-typical 998 or 999 cubic centimeters summed up from four cylinders, all sitting nicely in a row. No, instead we give you 104 x 64.7mm multiplied by a factor of two for a total of 1,099cc in the form of the 90-degree L-Twin Ducati 1098S.
We aimed to get ourselves a standard 1098, but all that was available at the time was the S model with its up-speced Öhlins suspension front and rear, 5-spoke Marchesini forged alloy wheels, carbon-fiber front fender and data acquisition. Poor us, we know. Just bare in mind our original intent before you set to burning the village of Motorcycle.com.
Next, we sized up the newest thing coming out of Milwaukee. With a bore and stroke of 103 x 67.5mm in a 72-degree V-Twin, the end result is Buell’s first-ever liquid-cooled motorcycle, the 1125R.
Finally, going way out of bounds, not so much in displacement as much as in limited quantities, we sandwiched the American muscle between another Italian, the Benelli Tornado Tre 1130. Not only is it not precisely a liter, it’s also not another Twin. This Italian oddity does 88 x 62mm three times. An exotic inline-Triple! Can you hear it yet?
How odd art thou?
These units not only fly in the face of convention with their rebellious displacement, they all offer something much less tangible: uniqueness and exoticism. Although the Duc has a high, mainstream profile these days, in its S version it becomes a true Italian exotic like a svelte young Sophia Loren or Gina Lollbrigida. The Duc has a seductive yet sinister appeal. On one hand it’s sensual with its sweeping, glossy red paint, slender waist and race-replica profile. On the other hand it looks like an evil beast lying dormant when parked in your garage, its snarling furrowed-brow look created by the thin projector-beam headlights. A killer in heels?
The Buell’s styling is something that divides households. People seem to either love or hate the looks. Even our own photog Fonzie found the bike’s unusual shapes challenging when trying to click pics of it. Like the 1098S, the Buell glares at you with a penetrating stare. One can’t help but personify the Buell as a two-wheeled alien that, however benevolent, still demands you demonstrate your worthiness to ride it. Unfortunately, some find the bike’s bulbous jowls laughable.
But to get a full appreciation of the American bike’s looks you must understand that its shapes were born from functional needs as much as aesthetics. The pair of big scoops on the side serve both to funnel air to the side-mount radiators and as frame protectors. Because of their shape, and an opposing metal strip behind the outer cowling, the whole thing acts like a leaf spring to soak up the blows. Best of all, the outer color-molded piece that usually gets the raw end of the deal in a spill is cheap to replace, according to Buell tech staff.
The rather wide nose creates a spacious area forward of the rider. This was done intentionally by Buell so as to specifically create what the company calls a “quiet zone,” a void of sorts, where the rider can hide from aero forces.
If the Ducati is sexy and the Buell is different, then the Benelli strikes a good balance between them. The other Italian in the battle has a look all its own, with two vertically stacked headlights flanked by large ram-air openings on the nose of the main cowling. The bike’s elegantly-designed color-matched-to-the-bodywork mirrors stem away from the narrow windscreen like a pair of antennae. The tall mirrors offer a good view but unfortunately have limited adjustability as the stalks are solid-mounted.
The Tre 1130’s main bodywork is similar to the Duc’s in that it covers much of the bike, but it has a couple of odd-shaped cut-outs for venting as well as a couple of small protrusions to accommodate for engine bits underneath. It isn’t unattractive for these reasons, but it lacks the smooth, more fluid appearance of the 1098S. Kevin, the overworked EIC, appreciated the uniqueness of the frame construction, especially “the way its tubular spars attach to an aluminum rear casting that incorporates the swingarm pivot.” The Benelli’s angular and tapered fuel tank shape takes a cue from the Duc. This tank shape, along with low, narrow clip-ons, instantly has you thinking torture rack. Surprisingly, it’s quite humane once aboard.
Finally, the signature design feature is the Benelli’s wasp-waisted tail section that houses twin, yellow radiator fans that give the effect of being designed by Q, Bond’s right-hand gadget man. Telling passers-by that the Tre was amphibious made them think for a moment before they giggled or guffawed. Anyway you perceive the shapes and lines, one thing was universally applauded: the color. The British racing green and liquid-like silver scheme had bike-lover heads turning everywhere we went.
More than looks
The underpinning theme for us in this collection of machines was their engines. As noted above, they all have different configurations and displacements, and therefore we can expect some disparity in power. To get the facts before putting any miles on these beauts, we took the trio straight to the dyno at AreaP No Limits in Placentia, CA. As you probably expected, the mighty L-Twin Duc dominates the power game with just under 142 hp at 9,600 rpm. That’s at least 20 hp more than the 72-degree Vee of the 1125R pumping out 121 hp at 9,700 rpm. It’s a similar picture with the glorious amounts of torque these beasts offer. The 1098S (as well as the standard 1098) churns out over a whopping 83 ft-lbs at 7,900; the Buell rates just less than 69 ft-lbs at 7,700. In spite of a hefty 14 ft-lbs deficit to the Duc, the Buell is exceptionally linear with what it produces. Looking at the raw data of the dyno results shows the Buell moving steadily, almost one foot-pound at a time, from 48.5 ft-lbs at 3,100 rpm all the way to peak with no crucial dips in between. Bravo!
'The British racing green and liquid-like silver scheme had bike-lover heads turning everywhere we went.'
The Duc makes quite a bit more right off the bottom, yet, around 4,200 where it’s producing 65 ft-lbs it looses about 11% of its twist power over the course of nearly 1,000 rpm. Very steadily thereafter it regains its footing and climbs, Buell-linear-like, to max torque.
The Tre 1130 is a liquid-cooled DOHC 12-valve inline-Triple with a 12.5:1 compression ratio and a six-speed transmission. The engine serves as a stressed member in a swoopy tubular-steel frame. A tastefully cast aluminum piece connects the frame to the sculpted aluminum swingarm and acts as the pivot. A pair of Brembo wheels that look like they were hand-carved spin a set of Dunlop Qualifiers. Slowing things is an easy job thanks to a premium pair of four-piston radial-mount Brembo calipers pinching 320mm floating rotors. Suspension up front is handled by a hulking, fully-adjustable 50mm Marzocchi fork. Duke said its sliders have impressive “girth.” Meow, Kevin! The Extreme Technology branded shock is another fine piece of fully-adjustable kit.
Chassis dimensions of a 55.8-inch wheelbase, 23.5-degree rake and 3.7-inches of trail are on par with the Duc’s 56.3-inch wheelbase, 24.5-degree rake that can be tightened up to 23.5 degrees via an eccentric steering head adjustment, and 3.8 inches of trail. The 1125R offers, as most Buells do, twitchy-looking figures with a 54.6-inch wheelbase, 21-degree rake and 3.3-inches trail.
So how did the big Triple fair on the dyno?
Kevin took a minute to suss out the dyno runs on the Benelli we brought to Kerry Bryant, owner of AearP No Limits. Regarding the lean-running - especially below 6k rpm – state of tune, Kevin tells us “Kerry Bryant’s theory is that the catalyst in the muffler needs a lean mixture so it is heated for optimum performance. Some more modern systems use multiple cats in different sections of the exhaust.” He goes on to explain that “at top end, the mixture is perfect (about 14:1), so the 131hp is about as good as it could be with the factory exhaust system.
The finally tally for the Triple was 131hp at its 10,200-rpm rev limiter and a little over 76 ft-lbs at 8,400 rpm. The Tornado makes almost as much torque (57.7 ft-lbs at 3k rpm) from the bottom as the Duc does, but is closer to the Buell’s flat, linear pull. An imperceptible dip in the Benelli’s torque curve occurs around 6,200 rpm, otherwise it’s full steam ahead.
Be sure to spot the flame-thrower exhaust of the Benelli in the video to see what a super-hot catalytic converter can do to unburned fuel mixture.
All three bikes look great on paper, but after the first few miles some chinks in the armor started to appear, especially with respect to fueling and throttle response. The Ducati has what is almost a non-issue with some surging or rough fueling when trolling around the 2,000-rpm mark. This may seem a rather odd thing to note, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to cruise around a parking lot, or some place similar, at that rpm with the Duc’s torque available so early in the rev range. Roll the grip past this rpm and all is quickly forgotten.
The Tornado doesn’t have fueling issues per se, but throttle response is too abrupt at small openings. Riding the bike smoothly, finessing it through tight turns or modulating the throttle at slower speeds is challenging, if not down right frustrating at times. More than once I caught myself anticipating throttle response, bracing for the jolt of acceleration about to come the abrupt throttle, while threading my way through the infamous Omega that is Turns 3 and 4 at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, CA. A flaw like this can make a bike difficult to ride smoothly.
And now we come to the problem child. Seems there’s a kink in the works on some 1125R bikes. Our test unit was plagued with surprisingly rough fueling from earliest throttle openings until approximately 3,500 rpm. Once past that point all is well, and it certainly wasn’t something we ever experienced at the track. But most folk who purchase this American stud will probably keep it as a dual-purpose machine, using it for trackdays and commuting or running around town. It’s this around-town use where such poor fueling can be a major nuisance.
A quick call to Paul James, Director of Product Communications for Buell, revealed that this problem is a known issue but apparently not something the company can pin down as of yet. “We’ve heard of some customers having this or a similar problem, but we can’t account for why it happens to some and not others.” There’s validity to that response. Months before saddling up to our test unit I met an 1125R owner who said he had no such issues, but had heard of and met other owners who had. Here’s to hoping you don’t draw the short straw if you purchase an 1125R.
Our 1125R test unit had its issues, but handling wasn’t one of them. We talked former Willow Springs superhero, Curtis Adams and his five FormulaUSA championships, into circulating the “Fastest Road in The West” with us on a blustery late-spring day. There were no surprise comments from him after his time on the race-like Ducati, but he was jubilant about his time on the Buell. “It was way more fun than I expected it to be,” exclaimed Adams. “You kind of draw some conclusions before you ride it. Maybe it’ll be clunky or maybe a little cumbersome, and it’s absolutely the opposite. It has a very sporty, twitchy feel. It doesn’t have a steering damper and you kind of feel that, but you’ve got a real secure feeling with it.”
I enjoyed the same mid-corner stability that Sir Adams commented on, albeit with what I thought was turn-in effort similar to that of the 1098S. In Kevin’s eyes that stability comes at the cost of needing inside bar pressure to maintain its line. On the street, Duke and I were both stoked about the Buell’s street-able ergos thanks to the more upright, flat handlebar placement, wide, comfy saddle and what Kevin dubbed the “clear winner in wind protection.” Though quite a bit softer on the track than the Italians, the Buell’s fully-adjustable 47mm inverted Showa fork and Showa shock proved an adequate duo on the street, and the Pirelli Diablo Corsa III tires are the business.
'Kevin admitted he had his best session of the day on the 1125R thanks, in part, to the Buell’s “softish motor that allowed full-throttle corner exits.”'
Of good street value also is the “super-light gearbox action,” according to Kevin, but he wisely noted that the “Buell’s vacuum-assist slipper clutch is more abrupt that the Benelli’s traditional back-torque-limiting clutch design.”
If the Buell’s power deficit wasn’t obvious on paper, hammering the bike around the Big Track made it quite clear. Numerous times I had the throttle pinned exiting Turn 9 and just couldn’t help but note the Buell’s unwillingness to rev quickly. “Lethargic acceleration down the front straight” was how Captain Kevin described the Buell’s power when struggling against the infamous desert winds that often plague Willow. Nevertheless, Kevin admitted he had his best session of the day on the 1125R thanks, in part, to the Buell’s “softish motor that allowed full-throttle corner exits.” He added that the 1125R would make a fine endurance-class racer.
The Benelli wasn’t received by Adams as graciously as the Buell. “The Benelli is much more fun to look at, probably, than it is to ride,” he said with a smirk. He could appreciate the exotic qualities of the Tornado, and didn’t deny the power produced from the big inline Triple. Yet he wasn’t ever able to get comfortable with this bike, noting the shape of the fuel tank that Kevin called “awkward” to lean over. And the whole ergo package locks a rider into one position; “confining” was the word Adams used.
The Tornado’s stylish but narrow windscreen also lost favor with us for its inability to deflect enough wind around the rider, especially when getting into a tuck on the track.
Though the Benelli comes with suspension of notable quality, it still required some attention. Kevin, ever diligent about proper set-up, quickly observed that the shock had about 1.5 inches of free sag, so we added 1.5 turns of preload. Compression and rebound were closed down to maximum for track work. The result of the initial adjustments gave Adams a ride that worked very well with final tweaks of a half turn of extra front compression and rebound. Still, no amount of tuning could have prepared us for fast man Curtis’ ability to drag and bevel the sidestand while putting some serious scuff marks on the lower leading-edge of the main bodywork. “That was a little worrisome,” said Adams, admitting that “it got to where it just wasn’t fun to go any faster.”
The Tre has sporty steering geometry, but Kevin wasn’t satisfied with what he said was heavy steering that gave a “bulky” feeling to the bike’s handling. He also didn’t appreciate the rounded feel and slippery material of the saddle that is placed quite high to make room for the underseat radiator. Surprisingly, heat from the rad is well isolated, warming a rider less than the Duc or Buell and their exhaust pipes that reside near a rider’s legs.
In the first days of having the Tornado, I noticed the minimal clearance between the clip-ons, fairing and fuel tank with the bars at full lock. This really isn’t an issue of concern on the track, but parking-lot-speed maneuvers can get tricky with limited room for your hand between the clip-on and tank. Trying to operate the quirky left switch gear with the indicator switch in the place where most bikes have the horn button is impossible with the bars near or at full lock.
Speaking of switch gear and such, the Benelli’s digital display proved to be impossibly difficult to scroll through its various modes, just like a quirky Aprilia, but they also were the easiest to see at a glance. And its white-faced analog tach blows the super-techy all-LCD Ducati instrument package out of the water in terms of legibility. The Buell’s LCD figures are simply too thin and difficult to see, but its simple analog tach, though black rather than white-faced, is easy to read. Ooo! And the Buell’s tach needle lights up when at redline.
It should be no surprise that the 1098 in S flavor is a complete package. It wins the power and torque war handily, and we imagine ¬even in standard trim the 1098 would simply dominate with its handling. Typical of Ducs, initial turn-in requires some umph, but once set on the Pirelli Supercorsa Pro’s edge, the 1098S is unflappable. Though, we shouldn’t imply that the average rider would be well-equipped to handle the capabilities of the Duc’s chassis. Heck, few of us without a pro racing contract can!
This gorgeous piece of Italian mechanical artwork is ultra-responsive to mid-corner line changes, body English or whatever; the whole bike responds precisely to the slightest input. In other words, it’s going to do just what you want it to do or what you thought you wanted it to do. This isn’t to say the bike is twitchy or unpredictable, but is exceptionally willing to follow command. Furthermore, Curtis commented that when the rider does start to find the bike’s limits, possibly causing the bike to push through the turn, the rider better have the ability to recognize this condition and be one step ahead of the bike. The Duc demands rider skill worthy of its capabilities. Besides, who’d want to wad-up a $20K bike?
Ergonomically, the Ducati is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. At first glance it’s got racer-boy written all over it, but once aboard and down the road you find yourself surprised at just how open the rider triangle is, noting especially what feels like a long distance between seat and footpeg. Of the Duc’s ergos, Kevin said it’s “impossibly narrow between knees, like straddling Kate Moss lying on her side.” After putting a lot of seat time on the latest literbikes, Duke was surprised that the Duc’s riding position wasn’t as cruel as he remembered.
Finally, braking prowess for all three is noteworthy. The Ducati employs a powerful and sensitive set of four-piston mono-block Brembo calipers. How much really needs be said here? Brembo designed this brake specifically, at first, for the 1098. These are some of the best that money can buy. The Benelli also has Brembos, though not the same model as the Duc’s brakes, and these too offer a “big bite,” according to Kevin. He must’ve been dreaming of a 7-11 hot dog when he said that.
The Buell is very unique in this department with its single, 375mm perimeter-mounted floating rotor squeezed by a single 8-piston fixed caliper snatched right from the race-only XBRR. The system is called ZTL for Zero Torsional Load. The general idea is that braking forces go straight to the rim, thereby removing most of the torsional load on the spokes, hence the "Zero" in ZTL. Subsequently, a lighter wheel can be used with lighter steering as the benefit. The 1125R’s brakes don’t offer the same bite as the Brembo-equipped bikes; there’s a noticeable amount of travel in the lever when pulled, but braking power comes on strong and progressive after the initial pull.
It’s up to you now
If you were hoping for some drag-down, sucker-punching cage fight between these three oddities of the bike world, sorry, but that wasn’t the plan. If you started reading and were expecting some kind of honest match-up with a bike like the 1098S, then you’ll be disappointed. Of course the Ducati would win an all-out, cold, hard numbers shootout.
The idea was to look at these three machines for the unique qualities that each offer, hopefully giving you some insight as to the character of each rather than pit them against one another with raw data and performance.
Each bike has a different take on life, and each has any number of unusual quirks as well as admirable traits.
The 1098S is pure motorcycle sex. Its motor is legendary, brakes superlative, handling to be envied and looks unrivaled. But, it is also very demanding of those who saddle up. It doesn’t suffer fools easily who think themselves more than capable of stretching its limits. But let’s not forget its MSRP that doesn’t include a slipper clutch and a good transmission thought to be “perhaps the worst in the group,” according to Kevin. Also, you have to cautiously consider the Duc’s desirability by less-than-noble citizens, cost of insurance and relatively pricey upkeep. Wow. This thing sounds just like the woman of your dreams, the same woman you probably couldn’t hold onto.
2008 Ducati 1098S $19,995
|The Perfect Bike For...|
|Someone with deep pockets, a deep desire for the best, and the humility to get schooled by a machine.|
The Benelli strikes a good balance between the Buell and Duc in terms of power, braking and handling. Fit and finish is superb, it has a 50mm Marzocchi fork, Brembo wheels and brakes, a minimalist carbon-fiber clutch cover that does nothing to quell rattle from the dry clutch, and its paint and overall look is one of a kind. As a matter of fact, owning a Benelli Tornado Tre 1130 will put you in a class of your own. So few are available you’ll rarely, if ever, see another one on the road. And the sound coming from the inline Triple’s intake and exhaust is priceless. Duke was so enraptured with the Tre’s exhaust note that he gushed, “It produces a scrumptious howl that seems to wrap around itself. It’s a delicious soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place at an exotic car rally – perhaps the best sounding production streetbike engine.”
And yet, the Tornado’s handling leaves something to be desired, the riding position is committed, clutch-pull is way heavy with a narrow range of engagement, the mirrors have limited adjustability and the engine is smooth on the freeway but vibes will annoy as they work their way through the slippery, aluminum pegs (same problem on the Duc!). And don’t buy it to save money on gas – it consistently posted sub-30-mpg figures.
Yes, the Benelli is one-of-a-kind and has the price to match. We’ll venture a guess that anyone willing to pony up for this Italian isn’t concerned with cost and really wants the right to exclusivity – and the luscious-sounding Triple!
|2008 Benelli Tornado Tre 1130 $16,899|
Observed mpg: 26
|The Perfect Bike For...|
|Someone who wants what no one else has, is willing to pay the piper to get it and can’t get enough of the music a Triple makes.|
The Buell is uniquely American and is the vision of a unique American, Erik Buell. From its inception, Buell was clear that the 1125R was to be built around the rider. This motorcycle is not a bike to be raced on Sunday and sold on Monday. If a rider purchases an 1125R and decides to race it, all the better in Buell’s mind. This bike, more than the others, is unabashed about its street bias with a roomy cockpit, plush seat, great wind protection and the most tractable and manageable torque curve.
It loses out to the other two in pure dyno results, but will the deficit seem so big on the street? The engine is buzzy around 80 mph in top gear and causes images in the wide-view mirrors to blur. Given enough wind blast, the right-side mirror migrated toward the rider, taking it out of adjustment. Also, we hope that Buell is quick to resolve fueling issues, not only for individual bikes but for every model year affected.
Things like shifter and brake pedal pegs adjustable fore and aft are a nice touch, as are adjustable clutch and brake levers. The proprietary brakes, fuel-in-frame chassis, under-slung exhaust that has the rest of the sportbike world playing catch-up and vacuum-assisted slipper clutch in the compact Rotax-designed 72-degree Twin all say that owning an 1125R means you’re quite happy to step apart from the crowd.
So, with our first Oddball Literbike Comparo in the can, we’ll let you pick your favorite this time. We also say, “Bring on the hate mail!”
2008 Buell 1125R $11,995
|The Perfect Bike For...|
|Buell fans willing to step out of their air-cooled comfort zone to embrace the most powerful engine from Buell coupled with classic Buell handling.|