Although the Honda finished nine percentage points behind the winner, it is one of the most versatile motorcycles of this six-pack. Both the positive and negative points are most likely related to the fact that the CB1000R has been around since 2008 (although it didn’t make it to the United States until 2011). So, what’s changed in the five years since the big CB arrived on these shores? Well, what colors do you like?
Historical Editor, John Burns, sums the status of the 1000R up the best: “The Honda is still a really sweet bike, but the game has moved on. It’s a bit underpowered only relative to the others — it has plenty of power.”
While welterweight Burns felt the Honda had “maybe the sweetest suspension of any but the Triumph,” heavier editors felt the suspenders were too soft. This was a plus when cruising down the highway, and Big Cheese Editorial Director, Sean Alexander, opined that the Honda had “very nice feel in medium speed sweepers over smooth pavement, solid and seamless handling responses as long as the rider is fairly gentle with the pace and their inputs.” However, the CB’s softish suspension tuning limits the bike’s ultimate pace, and hard parts would touch down when ridden aggressively over rough pavement. This issue presents an interesting challenge: While the CB was extremely nimble, enticing us to flick it into turns, the truth is that its softer suspension prefered to be more gracefully bent into the corner.
The CB1000R was the smoothest of the inline-Fours, delivering slick shifts and predictable power. Unfortunately, the power delivery, while smooth, was soft, delivering both the lowest peak power and torque. Aside from being short on power, the Honda was also devoid of any of the modern technologies we’ve come to expect in open-class motorcycles, lacking ABS, ride modes, and TC – a fact that relegated the CB to a distant last place in the Technologies category of our scorecard.
When the focus turned to ergonomics and rider comfort, the CB1000R finished a solid third place. Its handlebar has the rider’s body leaning forward just enough to combat the wind at highway speeds. The roominess of the peg location conspired with the cushy suspenders to have the feelers dragging earlier than the other bikes.
The consensus about the CB1000R was that the bike works well but lacks modern technologies aside from its cool single-sided swingarm. Additionally, its motor feels kind of bland relative to the powerhouses in this group. Finally, its $11,760 MSRP seems a bit overpriced for the package it delivers, especially in relation to the bargain-priced Gixxus.
Burns closed his comments with a good suggestion for riders who are short on funds but want essentially the same bike as the 2016 tested, saying that the CB can probably be found as a used bike bargain. And since the color scheme of our test unit – particularly the red frame and single-sided swingarm – drew some criticism, folks shopping the used market might find an alternate colorway that could be more visually palatable.
Let’s start with the Z1000’s looks, shall we? Where I found the Z attractive from stem to stern, the consensus among the rest of the riders was that the “melting/droopy headlight nacelle is a turn-off, but the rest of the bike is gorgeous,” as Alexander put it. Burns chimed in with a dig about it looking “like a melted Gundam Wing.” The remaining riders were kinder, simply referring to the Z1000’s lines as polarizing.
With one exception, the Kawi’s engine garnered praise across the board. The Z1000 leaps out of low- and medium-speed corners, delivering entertaining power right where it does the most good on the street. Alexander, ever the iconoclast, carped about the mill’s mid-range focus, noting that “the Kawasaki’s engine signs-off way too early for a sporting machine.” He finished with a plea for “more Ninja and less Vulcan!”
One other, more universally held, complaint about the powerplant was its tendency for abruptness in off-to-on throttle transitions, but this should come as no surprise to anyone since we’ve noted the same issue on other models using this engine platform.
Wrapping up our discussion of the engine, many riders noted that vibration played a prominent role in the rider’s experience at certain rpm. The buzz was felt in the pegs, but the vibro-massage seat received the most comments.The chassis stiffness provided by the solid engine mounts, unfortunately, comes at the cost of increased buzz, though it rarely rose to the level of nuisance at anything but the highest rpm. However, the sound of the dual intakes at full song in the upper reaches of the tachometer could make us forget a variety of ills.
The suspension, which includes Kawasaki’s Separate Function Fork-Big Piston (SFF-BP) fork, was mostly praised, though Burns felt there was “too much high-speed compression damping for 160-lb me over broken pavement.” I, on the other hand, brought an additional 25 lbs to the party and absolutely loved the suspenders on the roughest road we encountered in our travels. Alexander and his class-leading mass concurred, claiming the Z1000 had the best suspension of the Japanese machinery. The Kawasaki’s nimble handling was also widely praised by most of the riders.
Although the steeply sloped headlight nacelle may turn some people off, it does a tremendous job of directing wind blast from the rider, easing the rider’s effort at highway speeds an amount similar to a motorcycle with a larger windscreen. However, all was not rainbows and unicorns in the rider-comfort department. Most testers critiqued the firmness of the seat, and some also noted that the shape – which after extended time in the saddle – felt like it was higher in the middle and sloped off to the sides. The firmness also put more pressure on the rider’s thighs at the slab’s edge.
In a clear sign of how spoiled technology has made us, more than half of the riders felt it was necessary to comment on the absence of a gear-position indicator in the instrument panel. The instrument pod, with its unique split tachometer and circular fuel gauge, is easy to read once you know the layout. In fact, the Kawi’s fit and finish was quite nice. While the Z1000 ranked next-to-last on the scorecard, which favors performance over many other considerations, in discussions, it was rated much higher by most who rode it.
The new kid on the block also happens to be the least expensive of our rides. That newbie, though, churns out an impressive 143 hp, the second highest here. Actually, that really shouldn’t come as a surprise given the Gixxus’ lineage, a direct descendant of the famed K5 GSX-R powerplant. So, perhaps this youngster is an old soul.
While the GSX-S’s engine has lost some of the top-end power of its more sporting progenitor, the shuffle of the oomph down in the rpm range didn’t result in the bike feeling defanged. Although the riders were divided on the Suzuki’s bottom-end power, the dyno charts reveal that the torque curve has a significant dip from 4,500 rpm to 7,000 rpm that drops the output to last place before clawing its way back to mid-pack. After the dip, the rider finds ample power that continues to build to a top-end rush one would expect from 143 ponies.
“Stay on the gas and the Suzuki really rips!” says our peak horsepower addict-cum-Editorial Director Alexander. One of our anonymous co-riders felt the same way: “That motor is absolute sweetness! It has nice smooth torque down low and then revs with a nice hit that makes you want to do that corner with the wheelie hump again and again.”
I, on the other hand, felt that the Suzuki didn’t pull as hard from the bottom end as the Kawasaki. The disparity between Alexander’s and my experience with GSX-S’s drop in torque at 4,500 rpm might be explained by the fact that, as a mid-range favoring rider, I spend more time near the rpm range where this is an issue, and Sean merely passes through it on his charge to the top-end power.
We also need to consider another niggling issue. The EFI is glitchy at low rpm, suffering from the dreaded off-to-on-throttle abruptness. Additionally, the Gixxus occasionally has trouble holding neutral throttle and dropping into deceleration without a change in grip position. These symptoms are usually encountered at around-town engine and road speeds – right where streetbikes spend most of their time. Flip on the rider’s red mist, though, and the fueling issues rapidly shrink in the mirrors as the revs climb to canyon-scratching levels. Our collective prognostication says the GSX-S1000 is just an EFI flash away from streetable perfection. Still, as the Gixxus stands, it claimed victory in the mpg portion of the shootout with an impressive 41.3 mpg.
Another place where the Suzuki displays some new-model teething pains is the suspension, which to some riders suffers from being too soft and too harsh. Like the other softly suspended bike in this shootout, the CB1000R, the Gixxus is happier with smooth roads and consistent inputs. Start muscling it around, and it gets weak in the knees. However, hit a large bump, and the high-speed compression damping locks up. So, when riding on gnarled, bumpy pavement, the ride goes from boingy to harsh in an instant – hardly what you want to experience as you encounter an unexpected decreasing-radius corner. The good news is that with the Suzuki’s low price, you should (hopefully) have some money left over to buy a shock or to take the bike to a suspension tuner.
The Gixxus rider benefits from a riding position that is practically perfect, with enough forward lean to suit the sporting speeds the bike generates. Interestingly, the riders were split on the GSX-S’s wind protection. Most of the taller riders felt that the wind blast was the worst on the Suzuki, with one commenting that “it could use a small windscreen for the freeway” and another saying he “felt like a giant sail.” One, however, strongly disagreed with this assessment. This was a non-issue for riders who are closer to average height.
When it came to the topic of engine vibration, the opinions were unanimous: the Suzuki vibrates in ways that don’t give pleasure. “Noticeably more buzzy in the seat and pegs than the other inline-Fours,” noted Alexander. The grips, too, developed some buzz, but this is usually a quick fix with end weights or a handlebar snake.
After our northbound/southbound thrashings, consensus was reached: The GSX-S1000 was the best project bike in the test that was, as Burns noted (repeatedly) “a quick reflash and a new shock from being the best $10k bike on the planet.”
Now, we move our focus from the Japanese manufacturers to those originating from across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Ducati Monster 1200S secured its third-place standing through consistent praise for its engine. Power-hungry Sean said, “The Monster’s motor is a monster, with good power everywhere.” Burns agreed, saying it “burns down backroads almost as well as the Aprilia.” Guest Rider 2 elaborated: ”The Ducati was really fun up top in the powerband on 70-mph-plus sweepers when you’re in sixth gear rolling on and off the throttle.”
One look at the dyno sheet reveals the secret of the Monster’s Testastretta engine: It has much greater displacement than any other bike here, and its torque crushes the other five contenders from just over 3,000 rpm to 8,000 rpm.
The Monster’s Öhlins suspension (the reason for the S after the 1200) and the super-stiff chassis also won consistent praise. (For those wondering how different the S is from the base Monster 1200, Ducati claims 10 hp and 4.8 lb-ft less than the S; plus the swap to a non-Ohlins fully-adjustable suspension.) The Monster tied for second place in the Handling segment of our scorecard with the Triumph, and its suspension scores were significantly higher than the Japanese trio.
The result of these strengths is a motorcycle that brings a smile to the face of any performance-minded rider, as the chassis lays waste to the apexes of the twistiest roads. “The Monster’s chassis loves tight corners,” gushed Sir Sean of Alexander. “It reminds me of a Buell XB, always diving for the inside line.”
Still, all that torque and handling love has a hard time outweighing some glaring issues. Every rider noted the Monster’s clunky, recalcitrant transmission.
“This is the second Ducati 1200 I’ve ridden in less than a year that had more than one neutral in its box,” Alexander commented. “Like last summer’s Multistrada 1200S, this Monster 1200S has easy-to-find neutrals between 3rd and 4th, and also between 4th and 5th gears. I ride a lot of different motorcycles, and can happily shift them many different ways without any trouble, but these Ducati 1200 models seem to require a very specific and deliberate upshift technique — not a good idiosyncrasy for a sporting motorcycle.”
Unfortunately, the transmission wasn’t the only part of the Monster to receive demerits. We’ve said several times before that the Monster’s ergonomics for the lower body leave a lot to be desired. This is partially a consequence of having a 30.9-inch seat height, the lowest one here. One of the ad guys detailed his experience after one of the most roller-coaster-inspired sections of our trip: “For me being 5-foot-11, the footpeg-to-seat ratio was a bit tight as well. After an hour of twisties on the lunar landscape that is Highway 198, my knees and hips ached.”
The trend continues with every rider commenting on the footpegs in their notes. Burns tried diplomacy, saying it is “slightly wonky ergonomically” before getting to the truth of the matter and ending with ”that whole no-place-for-your-heels problem gets old.”
The impossible-to-read-in-direct-sunlight instrumentation was another “feature” of the Monster that garnered universal condemnation. The cool TFT screen with its switchable screen modes is beautiful but isn’t worth diddly-squat if you can’t see it. The problem is so bad that, during a high-noon stint on the 1200S, I thought the other guys had punked me and turned off the backlighting. Sadly, I wasn’t the butt of a joke but rather a manufacturer’s oversight.
Then there is the Monster’s styling. Liquid-cooling hasn’t been kind to the Ducati’s looks, especially from its left side. What was once one of the prettiest naked engines has morphed into something quite different. “Its looks sort of repel me, from the left side anyway, which looks like the bottom of a refrigerator,” bemoans Burns before summing up our mixed feelings about the Monster: “The more I ride it the more I like it.”
And we do love the Monster enough to place it third in this road war. Sean summed up our hopes and dreams for the Monster thusly: “With a taller seating position, more reasonable footpeg ergos, and a more positive-shifting transmission, this bike would be giving the Tuono a run for its money!”
The original hooligan naked bike has grown up, and while the Triumph Speed Triple S may have lost a little of its nastiness relative to some of the hyper newcomers to this class, the refinement of the newly updated Speed Trip softens its capabilities the same way a boxing glove does a horseshoe. When riding the Speed Triple, the improvements over the previous model come in rapid succession.
The big technology upgrade for 2016 is that the engine now features ride-by-wire and all of the technologies usually associated with it: ride modes (Sport, Rain, Road, and Custom) and variable traction control. While its peak torque isn’t the highest here, it has the second broadest curve – only bested by the Monster – and nothing can touch it from 2,000–3,000 rpm.
With the Triumph ranking next to last in peak horsepower, with a mere 124 horses on tap, some of us were wishing Triumph allowed it to rev out a little further than its 10,000-rpm rev limit. “If Triumph tuned it to rev like a superbike, it would sweep this test hands-down,” Alexander opines, lauding the Triple’s harmonic sounds he likens to six- and 12-cylinder engines.
You know, he’s right about the sound. While the Aprilia and Ducati have their own aural appeal, they both also strain credulity with their claim of EPA legality. (Though we hope the Gub’ment doesn’t go all VW on them.) Riding the Speed Triple, a rider is enveloped in sound from both the intake and exhaust while not shouting at the world for negative attention. Since the Triumph wants to have its butterflies tickled from way down in the bottom end, we’re happy to report that the Triple had the smoothest throttle application of the group. The transmission is just as buttery.
Although the Triple’s top end doesn’t have the same intoxicating rush as the Monster and Tuono, it has the capability to generate speed beyond what most rational humans need on the street. Then again, some of us aren’t terribly judicious, now are we? We know this because Sean wasn’t the only rider who felt the Speed Triple lacked a little exuberance at times, as evidenced by one of our guest rider’s comments: “It just felt underpowered against these other monsters. The Triple just doesn’t have the grunt the others do.”
Fortunately, the Triumph’s suspension can match the forces generated by those three cylinders and the quick turning forces allowed by the Triple’s steep 22.9° rake. Unlike on the Ducati, the S suffix on the Speed Triple’s name denotes it as the base model, meaning no carbon fiber bodywork or fancy Öhlins suspension components (plus other cosmetic changes) for a $14,900 MSRP of the Speed Triple R. No matter, the fully adjustable Showa suspension, though a little on the softer side compared to the Aprilia and Ducati, controlled the chassis quite nicely.
Perhaps the Triumph’s upper-crust feel comes from being, according to Alexander, the “most comfortable bike in this test, thanks to its natural seating position, reasonable seat padding, and sensible bar-and-peg placement.” Some of this is, no doubt, due to the 32.5-inch seat height – a tie with the Tuono for the highest – and the additional leg room it allows. However, a Speed Triple rider has to battle the second-strongest wind blast caused by the minimalist headlight nacelle located quite a distance away from the rider. Burns thought the lights are ugly, but what does he know? Enough to rank the Speed Triple first overall – as did I – in personal preference.
While several of us debated whether the Triumph was first or second in our ratings, the one thing we could all agree on was the the big Triple was the most versatile bike in the group, making it the ideal choice for the rider who wants one bike to do anything.
In the end Alexander had the best summation of our time with the Speed Triple: “Happy in the canyons, the Triumph is perhaps a step behind bikes like the S1000R, Super Duke R, and Tuono when the pace gets serious, but it’s still a better sportbike than most people will ever need. A great ‘only’ bike for any experienced rider.”
The Aprilia put the sex in our sextet. The Tuono V4 Factory won all subjective categories but ergonomics on the scorecard. Still, when we talked about why we all loved the Tuono, the engine was always the center of the conversation.
Yes, the V–4 makes the most horsepower and the second-most torque, but that’s only part of the story. All that top-end power does come at the expense of the bottom end in terms of both power delivery and EFI refinement. Looking at the dyno sheet reveals that the Aprilia ranks last on torque from 4,000–5,500 rpm. However, 2,000 rpm later it twists its way into second place and never relinquishes its hold. The same can be said about the horsepower curve. It ranks at the bottom from just over 3,000 rpm to 4,500 rpm, staying mid-pack up to 7,500 rpm. Once it makes its move, though, it clears the other engines at 8,500 rpm and just keeps going up – while the others are signing off. The rush from 7,500 rpm up to redline is what makes the Tuono so amazing. It will alter your impression of space and time.
Next, let’s consider the magnificent exhaust note. Any time the engine was started, I would pause whatever I was doing and simply revel in it for a moment. However, this auditory bliss for us motor heads could cause some unwanted attention. “Sounds F’n-A-Mazing!” gushed Alexander. ”Which is no surprise, considering it has a ‘legal’ stock exhaust that’s louder than many aftermarket cans.” As noted above, the Ducati’s exhaust is similar in volume, though not as extreme.
The exhaust volume wasn’t our only quibble with the Factory’s engine. Oddly, the quickshifter felt slow by cutting the ignition for an excessively long time. Also, there is a price to be paid for the V-4’s performance in the form of the lowest gas mileage of the shootout. The Tuono only managed to squeeze out an average of 31.4 mpg – a shocking 9.9 mpg less than the best-in-class Suzuki!
If the Tuono’s engine was kick ass, it’s chassis was every bit as good; only the Ducati and Triumph could challenge it. Alexander could barely contain himself with his praise. In fact, a couple times I was worried he’d stroke out, veins bulging from his temples as he unleashed a verbal torrent:
|Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory||31.4 mpg / 154 mi.|
|Ducati Monster 1200S||39.9 mpg / 184 mi.|
|Honda CB1000R||36.2 mpg / 163 mi.|
|Kawasaki Z1000ABS||37.9 mpg / 170 mi.|
|Suzuki GSX-S1000 ABS||41.3 mpg / 186 mi.|
|Triumph Speed Triple S||39.8 mpg / 163 mi.|
“Brilliant chassis feels better and better the faster you go…. the Tuono places a devil on both of the rider’s shoulders, both whispering, ’Yeah, do it!’ It’s the bike your mother warned you about, a fiery Italian redhead who will blow your everything and then burn down your house.” (And that’s only one outburst.)
The 24.7° rake plus the fully-adjustable Öhlins suspension deserve some of the credit for the Aprilia’s backroads manners. The rider’s impression was that the Tuono could be placed anywhere in the corner at any time. While taut enough to provide the feedback advanced riders require, the damping is also capable of swallowing the big hits that rough, broken pavement can deliver.
Surprisingly, the Tuono, the sportiest bike here, was also ranked second in ergonomics, finishing a mere 2.5% behind the Speed Triple. The consensus was that the riding position is all-day comfortable while still providing an ideal perch for canyon shenanigans. The pegs strike a great compromise between ground clearance and comfort. The handlebar is wide enough for good leverage, though several riders commented that a slight rise would help its everyday, in-town rideability. Clever control of the wind blast helps to take the weight off the rider’s wrists at highway speeds without leaving the rider hanging out in the air flow like a sail. The seat is one of the most comfortable in this six-pack. Just don’t plan on carrying a passenger anywhere if you want to maintain a cordial relationship.
Still, as fun as the Tuono is, most riders still felt it was necessary to mention the exhaust – even in their summations. Here’s Johnny B:
“Aprilia would be like driving a Ferrari every day. Twenty years ago, I might’ve said, ‘Sure why not?’ Now, I don’t want that much drama in my life. It’s too loud to be legal, both visually and verbally. I prefer to fly a little more under the radar. If sheer speed and race-track ability is what you seek, however, then there is no other choice. It is an amazing thing to ride in the middle of nowhere, when you can open the throttle at 7000 rpm and kick in the booster stage. Unfortunately, I’d be riding it more in the middle of everywhere.”
“The Tuono Factory makes a great exotic second bike for old racers and experienced riders who are serious about performance. It’s too fast for polite company, but it’s irresistible for us antisocial types. A 1-inch bar rise and push-button ‘quiet’ exhaust valve would make this an honest only-bike candidate.”
So, there you have it, our Naked Sports Shootout’s results, as determined by the MO Scorecard with supporting statements. Only, that’s not all. In our discussions both during and after the ride, each rider developed a personal preference list, the order the bikes would rank if each rider were (shudder) forced to spend their own money. When you run these six exceptional motorcycles through your own personal filter system, you’ll probably find yourself developing a list of your own.
All hail the Naked Sports!
Scorecard Be Damned!
The Editors’ Top Three And Why
|Triumph Speed Triple||Capable of any street riding task I ask of it.|
|Kawasaki Z1000||Almost as versatile with a unique look.|
|Aprilia Tuono Factory||I can’t deny the pull of outright performance.|
|Triumph Speed Triple||Bond, James Bond.|
|Aprilia Tuono Factory||Completely over the top, but there are other bikes in the garage for sub-ballistic missions.|
|Suzuki GSX-S1000||Terrific bang-for-buck and completely practical, too.|
|Aprilia Tuono Factory||So close to perfection it’s scary, too bad about those gaudy graphics. I’d buy it anyway.|
|Triumph Speed Triple||An A-list all-arounder, the almost practical choice.|
|Kawasaki Z1000||One headlight, some ground clearance, and a couple thousand rpm away from perfection.|
|Naked Sports Six-Way Shootout
Hover your mouse over the overall score for individual category ratings.
Speed Triple S
- Kawasaki Vulcan Forum
- Kawasaki ZX Forum
- Kawasaki Forum
- Kawasaki Ninja 250R Forum
- Kawasaki EX-500 Forum
- Kawasaki KLR650 Forum
- GSX-R Forum
- Suzuki GSXR Forum
- Suzuki V-Strom Forum
- Suzuki SV650 Forum
- Suzuki Intruder / Boulevard Forum