‘Round here that blooming love is for one of our favorite types of motorbike. They’re motorcycles with sensible, upright ergos and a minimalist ethos capped off with plenty of horsepower, torque and sportbike-like chassis geometry. These two-wheelers with a wild side often also come with badass looks and have the performance to back up their tuff-guy stance.
We love ’em lots, these mass-produced rebels; and this time we’ve Supersized our moto meal for what we’re calling our Literbike Streetfighter Shootout!
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Triumph’s revised-for-2011 Speed Triple is ready to reassert itself against the returning Kawasaki Z1000 – a bike we deemed last year as our preferred hooligan mount. But the brutish Z won’t have it so easy this year since the new-to-America Honda CB1000R is entered in the naked-bike fray.
Powered by a superbike inline-Four, the wasp-waisted, futuristic-looking CB has the goods to potentially cause lots of trouble for both the Speed and the Z.
Three-way slugfest of power!
With displacements from 998cc to 1050cc, there’s no shortage of power ’tween this trio. However, an outright dyno champ did emerge.
For 2011 Triumph reworked the potent 1050cc inline-Triple in the venerable Speed, with an emphasis on boosting upper-rpm power. As Troy Siahaan pointed out in his review of the updated Speed, Triumph chose to sacrifice some low-end – and a little bit of the mid-range – power in the new engine. Triumph claims the Triple isn’t quite as strong below roughly 4800 rpm as the 1050 from last year. But we didn’t notice any deficit, and neither did the dyno.
The 2011 S3 managed 121.3 hp at 9200 rpm and 74.7 ft-lbs at 7800 rpm, edging out the Kawasaki’s 119.0 hp at 10,100 rpm and 71.6 ft-lbs at 7800 rpm. Our Z came up four ponies short of our 2010 model’s 123.1 hp.
But in the interest of objectivity, we must offer full disclosure that our Triumph test unit came equipped with dual slip-on Arrow exhaust cans, as that was the only bike Triumph had available when we pieced this battle together.
While a couple peak horsepower and ft-lbs advantage for the Tri isn’t worlds better than what the Z’s strong inline-Four produced, the Triple looks to have picked up considerable top-end poke compared to the 115 hp it made for us last year.
The Triumph always had a deep well of low-end power, but judging by the gap it put on the Z, the Speed’s low-rpm power is as at least as strong as last year despite Triumph’s claim of moderately reduced low-end performance.
From the minute the dyno started recording twisting force, the S3 simply ran away from the Zee. Although the Triple ceded some ground to the Kawi near peak power and torque, it ultimately was a wire-to-wire win for the Triumph in the dyno room.
The CB1000R is the one bike in this collection that can lay claim to running with a genuine modern superbike-based engine. Troy’s recent ride report on the freshly imported CB-R reveals that Honda sourced the CB’s engine directly from the 2006/07 CBR1000RR.
In our first look last year at the then-not-U.S.-bound CB1000R, our Canadian motorjournalist buddy Costa Mouzouris informed us the ’06-’07 CBR1000RR mill had a longer stroke than the current model RR, and thusly was better suited for street duty in the CB thanks to better mid-range power potential. Other tweaks given the repurposed literbike powerplant are smaller throttle bodies and reduced compression ratio said to further expand its streetability.
The CB proves to be strong right off idle. The dyno shows the Honda softens between approximately 3500 to 4800 rpm, but once past this dip the CB spools up and delivers smooth, tractable power. For a short span the CB1KR even manages to pace the Z1K, but after 6000 rpm or so, it’s all over but the cryin’ for the CB. When it comes to hard numbers, Honda may have tuned out too much of the CBR-RR’s raciness.
Final dyno numbers for the Honda were 107.1 hp at 10,100 rpm and 63.6 ft-lbs at 7200 rpm. By no means do any of us here think this kind of power is insufficient for street riding, but this is, after all, a competition of sorts, and a shortfall of 12 to 14 hp is notable.
Perhaps more disappointing than how the CB’s engine faired against the Kawi and Triumph on the dyno is all the potential Honda had to work with in the RR-based engine. In our 2007 Literbike Shootout the CBR1000RR churned out 147.3 hp at 11,250 rpm and 76.1 ft-lbs at 8500 rpm.
Indeed, the Honda trails the other two in terms of having a thrilling engine, but as you’ll learn, the CB-R offers an overall package that makes for a fun, competent machine with wide-ranging appeal that should interest a variety of riders.
The rest of what makes up these scoots brings them closer together. Suspension works well on all three, and each has a stout frame package, with the Triumph and Honda sporting sexy single-sided swingarms. Stopping prowess is another area wherein nothing is bad and is simply a matter of degrees of goodness. Ergos are likewise well sorted, offering layouts that can suit nearly everyone.
To get to know each bike better, and get a healthy dose of impressions and opinions, we’ll examine this trio more closely. For all the spec sheet jockeys out there looking for the nitty gritty on each bike, make sure to see the comparative specifications table in the article.
Honda CB1000R Overview
2011 Honda CB1000R $10,999
If there’s one word Troy, Editor Duke and myself used time and again in reference to the CB-R, it was agile.
“The CB is exemplified by its light-effort responses, from its switchgear and clutch effort to its freakishly agile chassis,” said Kevin.
Where the Speed and Z1000 have hulky, muscular stances, the Honda’s ultra-narrow waist and overall waifish appearance is directly reflected in its handling. The CB flips from corner to corner with the lightest-by-far steering effort in this group – it transitions so easily between turns that it feels like a bike half its size.
After completing a circuit each on all three bikes, we had guessed the CB weighed tens of pounds less than the others. Then we were blown away when we learned the Honda’s 485-lb curb weight made it the heaviest bike. The Honda weighs 4 lbs more than the Z1000, and gives up 14 lbs to the Triumph. Sure, those are comparatively small amounts, some might say indiscernible.
But what’s impressive isn’t so much the Honda’s ability to hide the extra 4 to 14 lbs, but that it somehow hides what feels like double or triple those amounts.
Further confounding us, and belying the Honda’s cat-like maneuverability, is that its 25.0-degree steering angle is 0.5 a degree more than that on the Kawi – which isn’t so much – and is loads lazier than the Speed Triple’s crazy shallow 22.8-degree rake.
The Honda tightens up handling with 3.9 inches of trail (4.1 inches for the Kawasaki), but that’s still 0.4 inches more than on the Trumpet. Each bike has a 56-point-something-inch wheelbase length, with no more than 0.4-inch diff from the longest to shortest.
With the most weight to cart around, and relaxed-in-comparison steering geometry, how does the Honda manage to feel like a supermotard according to Troy, or similar to the smaller but long-gone 599 in Kevin’s eyes, or GP-bike-like to me?
The engine’s forward placement in the frame lends to narrowness at the seat-tank junction, which not only makes the seat feel low to the ground, but also gives the rider the sensation of an overall skinny, lightweight bike. However, it is perhaps the CB’s narrowest rear tire that’s most responsible for the bike’s ultra-agile responses.
Spinning on the Honda’s single-sided swingarm is a 180/55 tire (Bridgestone Battlax BT015) whereas the Z1000 runs a wider 190/50 (Dunlop Sportmax D210) and the Triumph a 190/55 (Metzeler Racetec Interact). While the Triumph has the raciest geometry and should steer as quickly as the Honda, we can deduce that it’s the CB’s narrower tire that makes the bike feel as though it weighs less when hustling between corners.
The Honda’s steering impressed Kevin enough that he suspected he could “go quicker over a tight canyon road, and especially on downhill sections,” than he could on the more powerful Z and Speed.
A fully adjustable inverted 43mm fork and shock with rebound damping and spring preload adjusters keep the CB rolling smoothly down the road. As delivered, our CB was set up for a plush ride. Its shock’s ramped preload ring (the only one of the group with the easy-to-adjust system) was set to one of its lightest preload settings, making the other two bikes feel tauter overall.
Suspension action is perfectly suited for typical, everyday use, with good damping during freeway stints. Aggressive riding revealed an unsettled back end on a couple of occasions, but adding more rear preload and rebound damping can dial that out.
The CB seemed to have the most upright/shortest reach to its gold-colored, tapered handlebar. And while it offers a roomy span from seat to peg, it also seemed to have the lowest seat height despite its stated 32.5-inch height mirroring the much taller-feeling Speed Triple that also is claimed to sit 32.5 inches off the tarmac. While the seat was comfortable, the bumper, for lack of a better term, on the pillion cover does a good job of holding the rider in place during hard launches, but it also restricts sliding back in the saddle, which might have tall riders feeling cramped at times.
As noted earlier, the CB’s engine comes from good stock. Give the throttle a healthy twist and the front tire goes skyward in no time. Despite smooth, trouble-free fueling, a linear powerband, light-effort clutch and seamless shifting, the CB-R engine ultimately failed to give us the Wow! factor.
“The CB gets the nicest streetfighter honors,” said Kevin with a smirk. “For a bike that can fit into the streetfighter class, the CB’s relatively docile engine lacks the power and the verve of the other two ‘fighters here. It’s the key missing ingredient for fully qualifying as a proper hooligan bike.”
If you’re a Honda devotee, or are looking for a liter-class streetbike that’s easy to ride thanks to light steering, but is also good mannered and every bit as agile as its slender figure suggests, than look no further than Mr. Nice Guy CB1000R.
Kawasaki Z1000 Overview
2011 Kawasaki Z1000 $10,599
While the Honda’s strength is feathery handling, the Kawasaki’s heartbeat is in the engine room – even if it didn’t prove to be King of Horsepower Hill against the cheater Speed Triple.
“The Z’s engine is a monster,” exclaimed Troy. “It’ll burble down low and run out of steam up high, but in the middle it’s a screamer.” Likewise, Kevin said the Z1000’s engine “has acres of grunt for an inline-Four,” and that from 3000 rpm it “stomps all over the poor Honda.”
Music to a gearhead’s ears is the snort from the engine’s intake – it paints an aural picture of the formidable forces the Kawi is producing. Kevin said the sound emanating from the intake made a “rambunctiously wonderful honk” when hard on the gas, and that it made him forget for a minute “about the enviable sonic qualities of fitting an aftermarket exhaust.” Despite this, he wondered if the Z’s top-end power is maybe hampered a bit by the intake.
During a trip to the dyno Kevin noticed that a Ninja 1000 (which has a different airbox than the Z) tested on the same day as the Z1000 cranked out a couple more horsepower from 9000 rpm to the 10,500-rpm rev limit.
Power delivery from the Z’s engine is smooth and nearly as linear as the Speed Triple’s engine. Furthermore, once past the 6000-rpm mark the Kawasaki deserts the CB-R in a hurry, leaving the Honda with no hope of closing an ever-widening gap.
“The Z’s combo of a cooperative clutch, short gearing and deep well of power make it an ace dragracer,” said dragstrip vet Kev. “A good rider can, from a dead stop, easily float its front wheel entirely across an intersection.”
A fully adjustable 41mm inverted fork does the work of keeping the front tire in contact with the pavement (when not wheelying), while the shock, like the Honda’s, provides for spring preload and rebound damping adjustments. We felt the Z’s chassis was well balanced, and while not necessarily better damped than the other two bikes, when ridden aggressively it was more stable than the Honda.
The Z’s physical presence gives an initial impression that agility isn’t part of its repertoire, but the ease with which this Kawasaki changes direction is surprising. There is, however, a fly in the Kawasaki’ handling ointment: a big rear tire.
“The Z1000 has a slight reluctance to turn quickly and a need for continual inside bar pressure,” lamented Kevin. He and Troy agreed the flatter profile of the Z’s 190/50 rear tire was the culprit. Kevin was caught daydreaming about how much better the Kawi might steer if it had the CB-R’s 180-size rear bun.
Ergonomically the Kawasaki is somewhere between the Triumph and the Honda. Troy felt the Z1K is fairly neutral but its bar position is biased forward a skosh more than the Honda’s.
“From the waist up it almost feels like I’m riding a dirtbike because I’m sitting really close to the bars and my elbows are up,” said Troy. The Z also provides a broad, comfortable saddle with plenty of room fore and aft, but unlike the Speed and CB that offer adjustable-reach clutch and brake levers, it’s only the Z’s brake lever that is adjustable.
On the subject of brakes, we’ve always admired the powerful grip on tap from the Z’s radial-mount four-pot units. Sensitivity at the lever allows for easy modulation of the abundant stopping force housed in the Tokico calipers. Initial bite is a little on the soft side according to Troy, but he did, however, note, “For having rubber lines, the brakes on the Kawi are very good.”
After a day aboard the menacing looking Z1000, it left us with little to complain about. Save for some handling peccadilloes due to a fat and squat rear tire, the Z should make lots of sport-riding nuts happy. From tip to tail, it’s a bike we’ve liked since its December 2009 launch. And in this crowd of three machines it has a distinct advantage: price.
“At $1200 cheaper than the S3,” Kevin observed, “the Z easily wins our bang-for-the-buck award, delivering a massively grunty inline-Four wallop and stout chassis, along with funkily futuristic styling. Being able to run with this improved Speed Triple is a huge accomplishment.”
Triumph Speed Triple Overview
Triumph Speed Triple $11,799/$12,599 with ABS
“What’s not to love about this bike?”
Troy took the words right out of my mouth when he asked that somewhat rhetorical question after ending a day with these troublemakers. I have to admit, though, I was sort of biased coming into this comparison.
While I knew the Z was a likable bike out of the gate, and I was eager to sample the new Honda, the Speed has held a special place in my heart for a long time. This new Triple is an improvement over the previous model, but the Speed’s core qualities and character have remained.
And in the spirit of streetfighter hooliganism, the Speed does something particularly well: Effortless, sustainable wheelies with little more than a hot breath on the throttle.
Early on we covered how the Trumpet’s 1050cc inline-Triple won the power grab. But dyno results don’t always convey engine character. It’s not so much the Speed’s dominant power and torque that are key assets, but rather the ultra-manageable manner in which the Triple allows the rider to access that power that makes the Triple the most appealing of the three engines.
Although the Triumph’s dyno graph lines have some minor wiggles and aren’t as smooth as, say, the Kawasaki’s, it’s the Speed’s excellent fueling and locomotive-like pull that create the sensation the bike is motivated by a powerful electric motor. Mix in the burble burble Pop! Pop! Pop! exhaust music during engine overrun, and we’ve got the makings of a very seductive motorcycle engine. Yes, the aftermarket Arrow cans certainly amplify the saucy sounds, but even in standard trim the Triple’s song is alluring.
With the raciest dimensions of the group, and ostensibly lightest curb weight, the Speed oddly lacked the utter “flickability” of the Honda. Nevertheless, the Tri is by no means slow steering. Despite its 190 rear tire, the Trumpet required minimal input to initiate a turn, aided in part by good leverage from the one-piece tapered aluminum handlebar.
“The Speed 3 proved less nimble than I expected,” opined Kevin, “but its improved front-end feel is readily apparent.”
As delivered, the S3’s fully adjustable front and rear suspension was spot on. The ideal combination of good damping during freeway stints and excellent stability in the curvy bits, topped off by high levels of feel imparted by the Metzeler Racetec tires, made the Speed Triple’s chassis a favorite with the majority of our testers.
Reeling in the speedy Speed is the work of dual radial-mount Brembo calipers actuated by a radial-pump Brembo master cylinder pushing fluid through stainless steel lines – the only set here.
Troy and I ranked the Triumph’s brakes as the best of the group, crediting them with allowing us to brake later into turns, thereby letting the Speed stay with the quicker-steering Honda in the tight stuff. Put plainly, these binders have it all: good but not overly strong initial bite, power, feel and ease-of-modulation. The Brembo name is once again proudly represented.
We’d like to comment on the optional ABS, but an S3 so equipped wasn’t available at test time.
I scored the Triumph as having the best saddle: it’s broad and roomy with supportive but comfortable foam density. However, the Triumph otherwise has the most aggressive rider ergos. With the most forward lean to the bar, highest footpegs and what clearly was the highest seat height (32.5 inches, claimed), the Triumph is ready for aggressive, attack-mode riding.
While the CB1000R is motard-y, the Speed, too, begs you to wheelie off the line, slam through the gears, then slide the back end around whether by mashing the brake pedal or drifting it like a real supermoto racer (which none of us could do, btw, but the Speed has the potential!).
A Triumphant return for the Speed Triple!
By definition the term streetfighter doesn’t say a bike fitting this mold has to excel at hooligan antics. But “streetfighter” does imply that any motorcycle falling under this category will elicit from its rider strong urges of unnecessary two-wheeled tomfoolery, and make that rider a repeat offender.
Furthermore, the Triumph Speed Triple draws inspiration from a heritage of British motorcycle hooliganism that started the whole barebones, no-nonsense, wheelie-happy, stoppie-inducing, tire-burnout-blowout, raucous-exhaust-having, streetfighter scene.
Look at the new Speed Triple, and you can almost hear it say, “Oi! Arsehole! Ye puttin’ me in yer gar-age, roight?”
While we found many admirable and desirable qualities in Kawasaki’s Z1000 and Honda’s new CB1000R, we’d “brown-bag our lunches for a year to afford the Triumph’s price premium,” as Kevin said, just so we could reply to the Speed, “Right, mate!”
|2011 Literbike Streetfighter Comparison Specs Chart|
|Honda CB1000R||Kawasaki Z1000||Triumph Speed Triple|
|Engine||998cc (75.0 x 56.5mm) inline-Four, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 11.2:1 c/r||1043cc (77.0 x 56.0mm) inline-Four, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 11.8:1 c/r||1050cc (79.0 x 71.4mm) inline-Triple, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder; 12.0:1 c/r|
|Frame||Aluminum frame; alum. single-sided swingarm||Aluminum frame; alum. swingarm||Aluminum beam twin spar; alum. single-sided swingarm|
|Suspension||43mm usd fully adjustable fork||41mm usd fully adjustable fork||43mm usd fully adjustable fork; Fully adjustable shock|
|Rake, Trail, Wheelbase||25.0°, 3.9 inches, 56.9 inches||24.5°, 4.1 inches, 56.7 inches||22.8°, 3.5 inches, 56.5 inches|
|Tires||120/70 x 17 and 180/55 x 17||120/70 x 17 and 190/50 x 17||120/70 x 17 and 190/55 x 17|
|Brakes||Dual radial-mount 4-piston; 310mm rotors||Dual radial mount 4-piston; 300mm rotors||Dual Brembo radial-mount 4-piston; 320mm rotors; optional ABS|
|Seat Height||32.5 inches||32.1 inches||32.5 inches|
|Curb Weight||485 lbs||481 lbs||471 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity||4.5 gal||4.0 gal||4.6 gal|
|Base MSRP||$10,999||$10,599||$11,799; $12,599 w/ABS|
2011 Honda CB1000R Review
2011 Triumph Speed Triple Review
2010 Kawasaki Z1000 Review
2010 Streetfighter Shootout
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