2011 Naked Middleweights Shootout

Unapologetic un-faired funsters!


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With the recent introductions of Yamaha’s FZ8 and BMW’s F800R to U.S. shores, the unfaired – or “naked” – middleweight category expands to include at least five models. With machines from Germany, Japan, Italy and the U.K., it’s a good ol’ moto melting pot of naked bike fun!

Lucky us, we got our paws on four of ‘em: Aprilia’s Shiver 750, the BMW F800R, Triumph’s Street Triple R and the FZ8 from Yamaha.

What are they?

Perhaps with the exception of the Shiver, these motorcycles, like the first true nakeds – streetfighters – were born from other models of bikes, and share many things with their “genetically” similar siblings. However, they also differ enough to create a distinct place of their own in their respective brand’s model lineup.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

So are they really just sportbikes sans bodywork, and a handlebar in place of clip-ons? Or are they purpose-built standards for a new age of motorcycling?

Let’s not forget, naked sporting standards like these have sold only modestly in North America, especially so if they had Asian origins. So the OEMs represented here are reaching out with well-rounded but cool machines to both aging sportbikers and practical intermediate riders. Will you bite?

Our captain Kevin Duke theorizes the American market might be maturing to a point where they will embrace rationally sized yet highly interesting bikes like these. Can these sportbike-influenced scoots become the new standard-type of motorcycle, the new UJM? 

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

Motor, lump, mill, powerplant, motivator, engine room…

Along with the fun fact that each bike in this collection represents a different country of origin, they also represent four different engine configurations.

The Italian Shiver motivates with a 749cc, liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-Twin with dual overhead cams actuating a total of 8 valves. BMW’s F800R employs a liquid-cooled, 798cc, DOHC, 8-valve, Parallel Twin. Triumph and Yamaha represent the inline philosophy. The Street Triple R’s three cylinders all in a row comprise a total displacement of 675cc with 12 valves in the head. And the new FZ8’s inline-Four displaces 779cc with 4 valves per cylinder.

If it’s a horsepower champ you’re interested in, then look no further than the Street Triple R, a special award considering its displacement disadvantage of more than 74cc in this quartet. It earns its place by revving up higher than the others.

The Triumph’s 94.8 peak horsepower at 11,900 rpm slightly bests the next most powerful FZ8 (90.9 hp at 10,000 rpm) by 5 hp. At the same time, the Brit bike simply blows the Shiver’s 73.1 hp into the weeds, while the F800R’s 82.6 ponies falls somewhere in the happy middle.

Perhaps the Beemer can’t outgun the inlines for top power honors, but its large-volume parallel-Twin does boast the most torque with 56.7 ft-lbs at roughly 6000 rpm. The Yamaha is a close second with 51.5 ft-lbs, but this good showing for the inline-Four is somewhat overshadowed by a drop in twisting force around the 5000-rpm mark, where it falls on its face for a thousand or so revs.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

The grunty nature of the Aprilia’s V-Twin makes up for ground lost in the horsepower battle with an ultra-flat and accessible torque curve. Its peak of 44.2 ft-lb puts it on par with the STR’s 44.3 ft-lb, but it arrives 3000 rpm sooner. 

But there’s more to a motorcycle engine than its dyno results.

“The BMW’s parallel-Twin motor is very effective with a wide and gutsy powerband,” noted Duke. But he also had some reservations about the German Twin, saying that it felt “thrashy and agricultural” compared to the other engines in this battle. An inherent and not necessarily admirable quality of some parallel-Twins is engine vibration.

“Despite using a clever engine counterbalance mechanism,” said Kevin, “vibration is very noticeable through the handlebars, especially past 5500 rpm.”

Another observation from some in our ranks was how easily, or rather, quickly the Beemer hit its rather lowly 9000-rpm rev limiter. Admittedly, this sensation of a low rev ceiling was exacerbated after swapping over from one of the high-revving inlines. We quickly discovered the solution to this perceived issue was simply running a gear higher than you might normally on one of the other bikes, using the BMW’s plentiful torque to muscle out of a corner. 

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

Relying on the strong low-end power typical of a Twin also helped keep the Beemer’s engine out of the buzz-zone at higher rpm, allowing us to better appreciate what this Twin offered. “I liked the F800R’s torque,” said Motorcycle.com’s newest staff member, Troy Siahaan, “It gave the bike versatility in the canyons and on the freeway slab.”

As the horsepower dyno graph shows, the Aprilia turns out to be down a significant amount to the FZ8 and Triumph. Kevin referred to the Shiver’s power output as “underwhelming in this group.”

But there is still much to like about this smooth 90-degree V-Twin. After yet another coffee, our Ed-in-Chief Duke allowed, “Aprilia’s 750cc V-Twin barks out a burly yet sweet exhaust note while it pumps out its usable power.”

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

Troy also admired the exhaust note emanating from the Shiver’s large undertail collector and dual, angular cans. He said the exhaust’s “rumble” helps define the Italian Twin’s character, and he still got excited about the Shiver’s mill. “Despite the Shiver losing by a mile in our impromptu drag race, I still really like this Twin.”

This 750’s Vee, while not a power king, provides a linear powerband. But the engine doesn’t always feel so smooth when its three-setting switchable engine mapping is in Sport mode. We’ve noted this in prior reviews involving the Shiver, and here again our best experience was with the mapping in the Tour setting, as it allows the same peak power but without the abrupt throttle response that plagues Sport mode.

For a supposedly peaky inline-Four engine, Yamaha’s new FZ8 kicks out good power without revving it to the moon. Troy said the Yamaha’s engine felt “spritely,” delivering good power once past 2000 rpm. Jeff Cobb echoed that sentiment when he characterized the FZ8’s power as “quite usable” and “solid from low rpm to high.” However, Yamaha engineers need to tweak the Four to eliminate its flat spot at 5000 rpm.

The FZ8’s mill reminds us of the advantages found in the flexibility of 750cc sportbike engines. And we were amazed at the outstanding job Yamaha did of isolating the rider from engine vibes inherent in an inline-Four. You know an inline is supposed to have some buzz, and generally at higher rpm, but on the FZ8 only the slightest tickle makes its way through the bar, or to the frame if your leg(s) occasionally touches the chassis when cruising around at low- to mid-range revs.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

With plenty of low-end torque, the FZ8 chugs smoothly out of slow-speed turns, but it will gladly and rapidly wind out if you ask it to. And like a true inline-Four, the Yami engine gives that familiar high-rpm wail all the way to its 11,500 redline. Runner-up in the horsepower battle, the FZ also allows some headroom up top. “The revvier nature of the inline-Four can save an upshift,” Kevin noted.

Action from the FZ8’s six-speed gearbox was typical Japanese-motorcycle-smooth, “buttery,” Troy called it, but range of clutch engagement was notably narrower than on the other bikes. Additionally, we also noticed a somewhat snatchy response from closed to open throttle.

Even though Triumph’s 675cc Triple hasn’t changed since its 2008 introduction, it remains a favorite ‘round here. In fact, we have yet to come up with genuine drawbacks. It’s just that good. Tuned for grunty power but with a willingness to rev, the 675 is at the same time both mild-mannered and aggressive.

“Easily the most exciting and sport-oriented engine here,” Troy said gleefully about the Street Triple.

Indeed!

“It has a broad, usable swath of power to compete with the larger 750 and 800s,” remarked Jeff. The STR’s good fueling and reliable, smooth-shifting gearbox combine with the engine’s power characteristics to create a predictable, user-friendly motorcycle with a hooligan side ready to surface at will.

And lest we forget, the Triumph sings our song, too! “The STR’s appeal is enhanced by an intoxicating exhaust sound that delights a gearhead’s ears,” said Kevin.

Ducati Monster 796 – An ideal alternate

You’ll get no debate from us that Ducati’s Monster 796 fits in this group, but time and logistics worked against us, preventing the Bologna-built bike from joining our naked party.

The middleweight Monster belongs in a shootout against the Street Triple and Shiver, but it’s a stretch to be compared to something like the FZ8.
 
Like the Shiver 750 and Triumph Street Triple R, the 796 has graced the pages of this site a number of times recently, including in its single bike review as well as against the Shiver 750 and Street Triple R.

Had we included the 796 in this shootout, it’s air-cooled, two-valve-per, 803cc L-Twin would’ve been the low-tech lump of the bunch. But, as we learned in the Shiver vs. Monster 796 comparison, it certainly wouldn’t have been the underachiever. This naked Ducati managed 76.1 hp and 52.8 ft-lbs when last tested, besting the Shiver by more than 3 hp and nearly 8.5 ft-lbs. Low-tech, eh?

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

Like the Shiver, the Monster sports a steel-tube trellis frame mated to aluminum side plates. However, we think the Duc’s frame is the more attractive of the two, and the 796 is likely as stable as any of the other four in this Naked shootout.

Furthermore, if this Ducati came onboard it would’ve joined the BMW as a bike with optional ABS. A base model MSRP of $9995 would’ve helped the Monster 796 fit right in with this gaggle of nudies.

Ducati’s Monster is one seriously appealing motorcycle. Sad that it didn’t make the party this time around.

Cruising, turning, stopping

“The Street Triple R’s lean, narrow posture makes it easy to zip through traffic and then toss from side to side once you reach the twisty stuff,” said Troy of the peppy Brit bike.

A quick check of the spec sheets reveals that the Triumph’s lightest weight in the group of 416 ready-to-ride pounds along with its repli-racer-like chassis dimensions are primary factors that give it the overall edge in handling. “This is easily the most agile machine in this test,” Kevin stated unequivocally. He said the STR is “exceedingly obedient and, in the canyons, feels like you’re cheating. It will make riders of all levels feel like a hero.”

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

No small contribution to the Street’s excellent handling performance comes from its best-in-the-group fully adjustable and well-damped suspension.

Contrast the Triumph’s featherweight status with the FZ8’s portly figure. Its claimed wet weight figure is 61 pounds heavier than the Triple R. According to Kevin, the Yamaha’s “liter-size roots are evident when picking it off the sidestand and when hustling it through the canyons.”

The Yamaha is a fat boy by comparison, but once under way it acquitted itself well in the turns. Despite the 8’s heft, Troy said that only during initial turn-in and transitions was the weight apparent. Otherwise the bike’s handling struck him as “unassuming.”

We were split on whether the FZ8’s budget-conscious suspension was a smart move or merely just cheaping out by Yamaha.

Kevin and I thought the FZ’s ramp-style pre-load-adjustable-only shock was under sprung, on the soft side. Troy, on the other hand, wasn’t so bothered. He called the FZ’s ride “supple yet compliant,” saying its damping felt almost progressive, “where it was comfortable on the highway, yet firm in the twisty stuff.”

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

The BMW showed a genuine strength in its chassis performance. While not the snappiest turning motorcycles (other than the S1000RR, of course), once set into a turn Beemers are known for their stability. The neutral-handling F800R was no exception, offering the most trustworthy front end feel of the group. And yet it can be turned in sharply despite its longest-by-inches wheelbase.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

Ride quality on the BMW was also neutral-ish: neither overly plush nor too rigid in the name of overachieving aspirations of handling like a sportbike. We judged its suspension a close runner-up to the Triumph’s. The F800R’s conventional fork, like the FZ’s and Shiver’s, lacks adjusters, but its shock provides rebound damping and hydraulically adjusted preload; simple hand dials allow a rider to tune both adjustments.

Past experiences with the Shiver left us with generally favorable opinions of its handling. We’re not usually too keen on linkage-less shocks, as they lack some of the progressive feel a shock with some type of linkage can provide.

For some reason this Shiver’s suspension was all out of sorts. We discovered the shock’s rebound damping had been turned past the last click of full rebound damping, which, once backed off, improved its composure, but we never got the Shiver to mimic the usually good steering response we’ve enjoyed on previous test units.

“We’d like to see more suspension adjustability,” Kevin said. “Its fork is completely devoid of clickers that could improve its performance, and the linkage-less Sachs shock lacks adjustments for compression damping, further limiting our ability to set it up precisely to our liking.”

Likely the Shiver’s biggest handling hindrance was delivered by a “squared off” rear tire – as though someone had ridden it for thousands of miles with precious few turns mixed in – that managed to slip past Aprilia techs, and, well, us too, until it was too late to remedy the sitch.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

Regardless of a really off day for the Shiver’s handling, we’re limiting demerits in light of its usually good handling in the past.

Every bike here employs dual rotors/calipers up front that more than adequately reel in speed. We’re giving the nod to the Triumph’s binders as having the best overall feel and power, with only Troy preferring the Shiver’s brake set. The F800R’s binders, while not quite class leading, are nonetheless very good.

"Kudos to the BMW for standing as the only bike with optional ABS..."

Kudos to the BMW for standing as the only bike with optional ABS ($900) that, as Kevin informed us from his first ride on the F, uses an additional pressure sensor to deliver a higher threshold before the ABS computer intervenes. Yay for us, we never got around to testing the absolute limits of the ABS, but it’s a nice safety blanket if the unexpected happens in front of you.

The Yamaha’s brakes offer good power and better-than-anticipated feel, but I found they exhibited a small degree of fade when we hustled these machines down tight, swift canyon roads.

Ergos, cockpit, rider environment, etc.

Despite having roots in sportbike design, part of the appeal of these motorcycles is a reasonable amount of comfort in mind for the rider. And while one or two have sportier seating positions, each provides a mostly upright, open rider triangle. A windscreen isn’t standard on any model, but the headlight/instrument cluster area can offer a modicum of wind protection. Our BMW and Triumph testers both had accessory flyscreens fitted that modestly but appreciably increased wind protection.

“First thing I noticed about the F800R’s ergos after riding a couple of the other bikes is that the seating position is noticeably more aggressive,” said Troy, especially noting its rear-set footpegs “which tilts your upper body over the bars in a more sporty stance,” and that it feels narrow.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

The Beemer’s handling prowess is aided by good leverage from its wide handlebar that’s a fair bit wider the FZ8’s narrowest bar in the group.

“I’m a little cramped in the Triumph’s saddle,” noted six-footer Jeff. But as a remedy he said he’d look for “a replacement saddle and maybe different bars” to tailor the bike’s fit to his stature. Regardless of the STR’s somewhat tight fight for Jeff, his willingness to live with it the best he could is a testament to how much he enjoys this middleweight hooligan-maker.

In past reviews of the Shiver we’ve remarked how much we appreciate its well-proportioned seat-bar-peg relationships and broad, comfortable seat. Its ergos make it everyday livable. Kevin also observed that the Shiver’s brake pedal peg is attached to an eccentric mount to accommodate an assortment of foot sizes and shapes.

Interestingly, the Shiver’s saddle proved to have a seat easily the highest in this group. “Aprilia claims a 31.8-inch seat height, but it’s by far the highest of this quartet,” snorted Kevin.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

The Shiver’s stated seat height is only 0.1-inch higher than the easy-to-flat-foot Street Triple, yet no one bemoaned the Triumph’s seat height, just its thinly padded saddle.

Opposite the Street’s narrow, thin seat is the FZ8’s plush, cozy saddle. “Definitely the most comfortable of the bunch,” said Troy. However, we agreed that perhaps the seat foam wasn’t quite dense enough, as over the course of a stint in the saddle the foam would compress too much leading to a numb bum at times.

Kevin felt the FZ’s bulbous fuel tank helps remind a rider that it’s the heaviest bike of the four, as well as making the seat-to-bar relationship seem more cramped compared to the others. Señor Kevin tempered his comments on plumpness by admitting that the combo of the FZ’s “soft seat and compliant suspension make for a very hospitable street mount.”

Read enough of our reviews from the past three years or so and you’ll note our preferred type of instrument cluster is one that features a prominently placed analog tachometer with an LCD to handle just about everything else. Mission mostly accomplished, but naturally we found a peccadillo or two.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

“Good data on the BMW’s red backlit instruments,” commented Jeff. He also said the instruments have an easy to discern layout, but that he’d prefer a digital speedometer. The 800R’s white-faced tach with large numbers helps make up for the speedo’s crowded display.

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

It’s a toss up ‘tween the Shiver and Street for which does a better job of meeting our criteria for the perfect instrument panel. The Yamaha’s white-faced tach is a thoughtful touch, but then we’re a little surprised at the lack of a gear position indicator in its LCD. The others have this feature, why not the FZ?

We’ll leave the final vote on styling up to you, but we’ll say that most of us best liked the Shiver’s unique styling that received worthwhile updates for 2011. Its unconventional appearance makes sense when you first learn that it’s an I-talian motorbike.

The FZ8’s all-black scheme enhances what you could consider a menacing look. But the exposed exhaust midpipe, stretching from the polished-looking headers to the heat-shield-shrouded muffler, looks unfinished and kinda brings down the otherwise cool styling. The aftermarket slip-on industry will do well on this machine.

Naked Middleweights: By the Numbers
  FZ8 Street Triple R Shiver 750 F800R
Engine 779cc liquid-cooled inline 4-cylinder; DOHC, 16 valves 675cc liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line 3-cylinder 749.9cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-Twin; DOHC; 8 valves;
3-mode switchable engine mapping
798cc liquid-cooled parallel-Twin; DOHC; 8 valves
Frame Cast aluminum frame and swingarm Aluminum beam twin spar Steel-tube trellis upper connected to aluminum side plates; cast aluminum swingarm Bridge-type aluminum; cast aluminum swingarm
Suspension 43mm inverted fork and a link-type shock with adjustable preload; 5.1” travel front and rear 41mm inverted fork, w/adj. preload, rebound and compression damping; fully adjustable shock w/ piggy back reservoir; 5.1” travel front and rear 43mm inverted fork w/4.7” travel; fully adjustable shock w/5.1” travel 43mm telescopic fork; shock w/hydraulically adjustable preload, and rebound damping adjustable; 4.9” travel front and rear
Rake, Trail, Wheelbase 25.0 dgr, 4.3”, 57.5” 23.9 dgr, 3.6”, 54.5” 25.7 dgr, 4.3”, 56.6” 25.0 dgr, 3.5”, 59.8”
Tires F – 120/70 x 17, R – 180/55 x 17 F – 120/70 x 17, R – 180/55 x 17 F – 120/70 x 17, R – 180/55 x 17 F – 120/70 x 17, R – 180/55 x 17
Brakes Dual 4-piston monobloc calipers w/310mm rotors Dual 4-piston radial-mount calipers w/308mm rotors Dual 4-piston radial-mount calipers w/310mm rotors Dual 4-piston calipers w/320mm rotors; optional ABS
Seat Height 32.1” 31.7” 31.8” 31.5” (optional low – 30.5”; optional high – 32.5”)
Weight 467 lbs. wet 416 lbs. wet 416 lbs. dry 438 lbs. wet
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal, Observed MPG – 36.1 4.6 gal, Observed MPG – 36.0 4.2 gal, Observed MPG – 34.5 4.2 gal. Observed MPG – 37.5
Base MSRP $8490 $9599 $9499 $9950 (plus $495 destination charge)

Wrapping up the Nakeds

At $9499 the Aprilia Shiver 750 is the second least expensive bike here. Take into account the bike’s higher tech features of throttle-by-wire, as well as rider-selectable engine mapping – the only bike here with such – and its near bottom price rank is impressive.

But even if we discount the Shiver’s ill-performing handling and chalk it up to a fluke, the suspension’s dearth of adjustments and overall average performance in this group, as well as the V-Twin’s significantly lower horsepower, it is no longer a leader in this market.

However, if you’re looking for a sporty motorcycle that’s comfortable to ride, has an engine with character, a burly exhaust, eye-catching styling and that you won’t find on every street corner, then by all means consider the Shiver 750.

The F800R is the costliest bike at $9950; that price excludes things like the aforementioned ABS, heated grips, onboard computer, TPM (tire pressure monitor), etc. But for some, a bike that offers all those optional amenities is worth the price. Furthermore, the BMW has two optional seats, taller and shorter than the standard seat on our test bike, at no extra cost. Its premium price allows access to premium options and perhaps the greatest versatility.

2011 Naked Middleweights Shootout

We found the BMW’s greatest strength was its predictable and reassuringly stable handling. We figured out keeping the gears high and rpm lower was the key to exploiting the parallel Twin’s best attributes, but the engine’s vibration was hard for the majority of us to overlook.

“The BMW’s added extra features are nice, but overall this bike wasn’t my cup of tea,” Troy said summarizing his thoughts on the German machine. “A few more counterbalancers and larger gauges and then we can have this discussion again.”

We’re going to speculate that the new Yamaha FZ8’s MSRP of $8490 will woo riders far and wide when word gets out that the latest of FZ models is one helluva well-rounded package. Nevertheless, not everyone in our camp was awestruck.

“The FZ8 ably fills the role of a commuter and weekend fun bike,” said Kevin. And while admitting the Yammie is “made even more attractive by an enviable MSRP,” he cautions that it won’t be the best choice for hardcore sportbikers. Troy thought of the FZ as a “throwback” to the spirit of the original UJMs but he didn’t quite fall head over heels for the 8, saying that while it’s like a jack-of-all-trades, it “excels at nothing particular.”

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

So here we are with the Triumph Street Triple R – our pick for Bike of the Year in 2009 – once again successfully defending against other bikes in its class.

A $9599 price tag is the second highest here, but with that price comes a strong inline-Triple that continues to amuse us, well-sorted fully adjustable suspension, friendly ergos, supersport-like agility and a rather light wet weight. And if you’re willing to give up a little in the suspension and braking departments, the basic goodness of the STR can be had in the base Street Triple, retailing for just $8899.

While the FZ8 unquestionably represents a great value in this crowd, the STR is still our fave.

Jeff extols the STR as a bike for all seasons, so-to-speak, remarking that it could make a “perfectly good commuter, tourer with bags, or grocery getter.”

Blend this standard-type motorcycle’s willingness to happily perform “mundane work-a-day chores,” with its competent sporting capability, and the Triumph, as Jeff says, “merely shows how good a standard can be.”

2011 Naked Middleweight Shootout

Related Reading
2011 Aprilia Shiver 750 Review
2011 BMW F800R Review
2011 Ducati Monster 796 Review
2009 Triumph Street Triple R Review
2011 Yamaha FZ8 Review
All Standard Reviews on Motorcycle.com
All Things Aprilia on Motorcycle.com
All Things BMW on Motorcycle.com
All Things Triumph on Motorcycle.com
All Things Yamaha on Motorcycle.com

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