Streetfighter Shootout

Buell XB12S :: MV Agusta Brutale S :: Apilia Tuono 1000 R

story by MO Staff, Photograph by Fonzie, Created Dec. 21, 2004
All bikes are not created equal. However, there is a class that's populated with bikes created in the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) mold. These bikes are what we like to call "Standards" and/or "Streetfighters".

They can take you from a Monday Track Day, to a Tuesday Commute, to a Wednesday Night Drag Race, to a Thursday Grocery Run, to a Friday Canyon Fling and on through a two-up weekend, without even batting an eyelash. If motocross tracks were still mostly flat, a simple tire-swap would allow them to tackle that too. Though today's bikes aren't all created equal, the UJMs do a good job of covering the wildly different needs of riders who'd typically use a racer-replica for the weekends, a cruiser for commuting and a sport tourer for longer trips. Yes, the UJM class is nothing, if not practical. However, these particular bikes reside on the anti-social fringe of the "Standard" genre. These three bikes might defy exact categorization, but they thrive on a good real world flogging.Furthermore, they're not even Japanese. What we have here are the exotic cousins of the UJM, the Aprilia Tuono, Buell XB-12S and the MV Agusta Brutale S.

These three bikes might defy exact categorization, but they thrive on a good real world flogging. To see which is best, we invited MO guest testers Martin "Sportbike_Pilot" Hackworth, Arthur "Buzz_Waloch", and George "Longride" Obradovich to join the regular staff on a two-day mixed-loop ride through the cities, freeways, countryside and mountains of Southern California. When we were done, each tester wrote separate opinions of the three bikes, as well as ranking them from first to last. What follows are 7,500+ words, 13 Videos, 86 photos and 5 dyno charts describing and contrasting each of these three bikes.

3rd Place: MV Agusta Brutale S

Martin on the MV Agusta Brutale S: The Brutale is first and foremost an exquisite piece of rolling sculpture. You could get by just pushing this thing around everywhere and still be the envy of all your friends. This bike succeeds without any muss or fuss, in being what every over-hyped chopper in the world aspires to be, i.e., "Cool". The fact that it gets down the road like a rocket on a rail is a bonus. It is perhaps the most uniquely beautiful production motorcycle I've ever laid eyes on.

I had the opportunity to ride this bike once before, back in August when Buzz brought it out to Willow Springs as part of a story that we were working on. My impression was that of a 750cc crossbow bolt, tiny, agile and goes like a bat outta hell. Aside from the sharp looks, I was also impressed by what happened when the starter button was pushed - an eruption of roarty notes that sound exactly like what a bike that looks like this ought to sound like. An aural and visual feast. Oh yeah!

The Brutale is set up for a tight fit and I couldn't get my knees to fit into the sculpted cutouts in the tank sides, due to the short distance between the seat and pegs.The engine in the Brutale is the same radial 16-valve engine found in the latest F4. It's a trick 749cc mill with under-piston oil spray, a lightened crankshaft, special Brutale fuel-injection mapping and the aforementioned groovy-as-all-get-out twin-pipe exhaust which conspire to produce decent but not overwhelming power. The chassis layout is the same as the F4 on which it is based, i.e., chrome-moly frame tubes with an aluminum single-sided swing-arm. Front suspension is courtesy of 49mm upside-down Showa forks and rear suspension is handled by a Sachs shock. Front and rear suspension are both fully adjustable. The Brutale is slowed by six-piston Nissin calipers that put the pads to 310mm discs. The wheels are beautiful, polished aluminum five-spoke units.

The Brutale is much more than muscular eye candy. It is a whip sharp motorcycle that does almost everything well. It's a visual stunner that is also eminently functional with one caveat. It's tiny. Pay attention ya'll because we're talking 9/10-scale model of an actual dream bike. Since it is very compact, anyone over 5'10" or so is going to have a hard time getting shoe horned into a relaxed riding position. The Brutale is set up for a tight fit and I couldn't get my knees to fit into the sculpted cutouts in the tank sides, due to the short distance between the seat and pegs. Not only did this mean I had to ride down the road with my knees splayed way out to the sides, (not the way you want to drag a knee in a corner) but I also struggled to move around on the bike in wring-it-out mode. I like to shift position when I'm flogging a bike and the Brutale cramped my style (and my legs) a little. Even with this handicap, the Brutale went around corners like a slot car, (our bike was equipped with Pirelli's excellent Diablo Corsa tires which seemed especially well suited to this model) so ergonomics are at least par for the course. After all, none of these bikes are Gold Wings. Buzz who fits on this bike well, was able to make it haul ass through the twisties. Salute!

The local "Talent" thought the Brutale was "Purty"...All of the controls on the Brutale are intuitive and the information display is very easy to read. Brakes, shifting, throttle response and clutch action are as precise and glitch-free as one should expect from a piece of rolling sculpture (yes, Virginia, this is a swipe at spendy custom boat anchors, er, I mean, choppers). The Brutale doesn't lack a thing in the motivation department. We're talking some major giddy up and go here. A prior strafing run down Rosamond Blvd. suggests to me that you are probably not going to be embarrassed by any pesky 600's or big standards on this thing. Yowsah! (I'm 100% certain a ZX-6R or FZ-1 will blow the Brutale's doors clean off. -Sean)

So the Brutale is beautiful, functional, cool, sexy and generally the best thing since nickel night in a Thai brothel. Nirvana? Well the sun don't shine on a dog's ass all of the time and the nadir here is the view rearward. The mirrors are a waste of sheet metal and glass and are even less useful than those on the Ducati 999. Must be an Italian thing. Generally, on a bike this fast what is behind you isn't much of a concern unless, it's Sean Alexander on a Concours - in which case it is a very good idea to be able to reconnoiter the lay of the land for a full 360°. That aside, the Brutale is as full of moxie as any sane rider could possibly want, it really wants to get on down the road and handles great while doing it.

Though all three of these bikes were attractions wherever we stopped, the Brutale was definitely the winner of every beauty contest. The Brutale is the best combination of looks and functionality I've encountered in motocycledom. It's a Ferrari with two wheels. Hell, it's damn near sex on two wheels. I think I may have to start strong-arming little old ladies, just so I can get a Brutale for myself. -Martin

Buzz on the MV Agusta Brutale S: If there is a prettier, more sculpted bike on the planet, I haven't come across it yet. I still stare at it daily, and I own it! Never have colors, shapes, and textures blended so harmoniously with real world usability.

... and Buzz never washed his seat again.The Brutale needs to be kept on the boil for good thrust. However, that's easy to do with the short gearing and excellent transmission (Unlike the Aprilia, you can actually find neutral on the MV). The howl of the intake warns you that objects will shortly be closer than they appear. It is a bit harsh and "busy" for sustained freeway riding though.

The MV is compact like the Buell and changes direction quite easily. The stiff throttle can become a challenge at times but the Brutale really rips through the corners. It's almost as smooth as the Buell, but not quite. She needs a bit more suspension fiddling to be perfect.

Wheelies are still easy on the MV, they just take a bit more effort than the other bikes. You need more RPM and then she just takes off, so your wheelies are generally of the high speed variety. -Buzz

George on the MV Agusta Brutale S: The first time I saw the MV Agusta Brutale in person, it made my jaw drop. I think it made everyone's jaw drop. From the moment Buzz pulled up with it in his pickup, I stared at this bike. It's beautiful. Pictures don't do it justice. Looking at all the angles and curves, and how they all come together perfectly to form this rolling artwork, you wonder how they did it. But they did. When we rolled this beauty off the truck, and parked it next to the other test bikes, it took less than 5 minutes for 3 people to come wandering over for a look. It was that way everywhere we went.

This bike needs at least 8K showing on the tach, and from there, the fun and the banshee wail take over the ride.Buzz and Martin started giving me crap about how I would be riding a 750cc wedgie. A closer look revealed a riding position very similar to the Buell's. Maybe a longer reach to the bars, but a quick seat check said all would be well with the MV and me. In town it wasn't a wedgie, but riding it was like wearing very tight briefs. All the equipment is in place, and it sure as hell isn't going to move around much. The bike has ONE riding position and that's it. Around town, the bike felt taut and responsive, and accelerated like stink when the revs were kept high. When the curves are tight, is when this bike becomes more than just another pretty face.

Twist the throttle hard, and the bike emits a howl that will shiver your spine. This is one bike that needs no after-market help in the sound department. It is easy to turn in, and tracks like it's on rails. For me it was like riding a mini bike on steroids. Crazy small and crazy fast. Grins under the helmet are coming faster than the curves. Brakes are one finger strong, and easy to modulate. The only damper on this fun is the throttle, which is stiff, and very hard to open initially, making it hard to modulate at partial throttle openings. Hell, just hold it wide open and that problem is solved. That will also solve the problem with the mirrors, as I can see about 1/4 inch from each end, but I get a great view of my elbows. This bike needs at least 8K showing on the tach, and from there, the fun and the banshee wail take over the ride. The really cool part, is after ripping through the curves, you can just park it and stare at the thing some more, which I kept finding myself doing. I could see leaving the wife and kids, and possibly make a deal with the Devil himself to have a chance at owning this baby.

Alas, reality waits. This Italian girl has a bad side. One rapid trip on the freeway will convince you that the twisties need to be very near indeed. All the things that make it turn corners so well, and put that unshakable grin on your face, soon communicate in no uncertain terms, why this bike is called the "Brutale". The stiff throttle annoys, the vibration puts appendages to sleep, and the riding position quickly makes you wish for more options. Furthermore, all this happens in a very short span of time. The bike is geared so low, that it's always turning 7 to 8K when moving rapidly. This has it howling like crazy, even when you want to chill. The suspension that felt so right when turning, now feels very stiff. At speed, you could run over a quarter with this bike and tell if it was heads or tails. All road imperfections are sent direct mail to the hands or the butt. I can't see a damned thing out of the mirrors either. Not a willing long distance friend, to be sure. Buzz says he can make about 150 miles on this bike before the pain sets in. I think I could make it that far too......if we stopped every 30 miles!

This is a bike for those of you who want the "coolest" ride in the group and intend to use it solely for sweaty Sunday morning backroad flings or Wednesday "Bike Night" gatherings.Like any Italian beauty, even when she unleashes her bad side on you, one look at her and all is forgiven. Did I mention this bike is beautiful? So the Brutale is a bike with a split personality. Supportive, willing and oh so much fun on the curvy roads, while being coarse and uncomfortable on the long and straight stretches. Of course, this bike could be terrible everywhere, and I would still want one. Even though it's the most expensive bike here, I could buy one just to put in the garage and stare at. Maybe I'd start it up to listen to the high pitched wail every now and then. The fact that it works so well, is frosting on the cake. The two things that hold this bike back from winning, are its lack of comfort and the fact this bike doesn't have a "bad" bone in its body. These are "Streetfighters", right? This one may be more dancer than brawler, but I like it. -George

Sean on the MV Agusta Brutale S: The guest testers have covered almost everything. However, I'd like to add a few observations as a (Cough!) "professional".

The Brutale is indeed a jewel of a bike. The closer you look, the more you expect to find "Faberge" stamped on its parts. However, its hideous headlight borders on obscene and its highway manners make me sorry I didn't take the car. The short wheelbase and stiff suspension conspire to make your ride a rough one, while the buzzy & frenetic powerplant has you feeling frazzled in short order. In other words, this is not a touring bike. That's a good thing, because you'd be lucky to get 100 highway miles out of the 26MPG Brutale. On the other hand, the Brutale is blessed with a planted mid-corner feel and though the cockpit doesn't allow for much movement from its pilot, the bike still handles well enough to allow for some serious canyon carving.

This is a bike for those of you who want the "coolest" ride in the group and intend to use it solely for sweaty Sunday morning backroad flings or Wednesday "Bike Night" gatherings. If you want a multi-purpose tool, I'd suggest you look elsewhere. -Sean

How We Voted:
  Sean Martin George Buzz
Aprilia Tuono: 2nd 2nd 1st 3rd
Buell XB-12S: 1st 1st 3rd 2nd
MV Brutale S: 3rd 3rd 2nd 1st
Buell XB-12S - 1st Place
Aprilia Tuono - 2nd Place
MV Agusta Brutale S - 3rd Place

Page 22nd Place: Aprilia Tuono 1000 R

Martin on the Aprilia Tuono 1000R: Unbelievable. The Tuono, for all intents and purposes, is the same muscular, rev-happy 120 hp 60° 997cc V-twin propelled rocket we tested back in March, sans some bodywork and plus racer esque clip-ons. Since it is naked from the waist down, you get more of an opportunity to ogle the luscious liquid cooled, double overhead cam, dual spark plug, funky gear/chain cam drive equipped, four valve per cylinder engine up close and personal. Just to make up for having to run around au naturel below the waist, the Tuono is sourced with lots of carbon fiber bits scattered about and a trick handlebar and mount that looks to have been boosted from a wayward CR500. Add a small upper fairing and some minor engine management tweaks to boost midrange torque, and you've got your basic mostly naked monster.

There is simply nothing about the Tuono that doesn't exude power, sophistication and illegal antics. To put things even further over the top, this Tuono R came equipped with the factory racing muffler. The cacophony that erupts from the single silencer at full-tilt boogie, is what I always imagined you'd get from bolting a pipe on a warp-drive engine. When Sean started the Tuono in the MO garage, I remember glancing outside at the Brutale and Lightning and thinking someone ought to let those poor schmucks know that Godzilla was coming.

The initial impression when approaching the Tuono for the first time is of a large bike, almost like a big traille, but with none of the puppy-dog friendliness that a DL-1000 or TDM posses.The initial impression when approaching the Tuono for the first time is of a large bike, almost like a big traille, but with none of the puppy-dog friendliness that a DL-1000 or TDM posses. Nope, this is a Stihl 056 chainsaw in a knife fight. As you prepare to throw a leg over the Tuono's tall seat, you can almost hear the gallery snickering, "Ya got to be able to saddle your bronc before you can ride it, son." Once underway, the focus shifts immediately to shifting - it's darned near impossible to find neutral in the tranny (a very slight tap down from second was what worked for all of us), then on the earth-sky, earth-sky cycle that accompanies the first few throttle tweaks, much like a large thumper on steroids.

The Tuono is by far the most powerful bike in this trio, with lots of power and torque everywhere between 4k and the 11K rev limiter. As much as the triple clamp on the RSV Mille R wants to smack you in the face at the slightest provocation, the Tuono is even more prone to lofting its front wheel. Grab a handful of throttle anywhere above 4,000RPM, and you're instantly rewarded with an uncluttered view of the clear blue sky.

Shortly after this photo was snapped, the Tuono towed the Queen Mary clean off it's concrete bed. The Tuono's handling is a little less razor sharp than the Mille R, but that is certainly more due to the diluted feedback afforded by the wide bars and the lack of connection to the front end than from the inverted 43 mm Showa forks. Although Buzz and Sean complained of a wonky rear tire/suspension, the Tuono felt as good to me as any stock setup ever feels, i.e., Other than a very slight bob and weave when pushed hard on sketchy pavement, I noticed nothing really untoward except for the long-distance feedback on an iffy connection from the front end. Unless of course, I got a little overeager with the throttle on a corner exit, in which case direction change became the providence of whatever camber thrust could be supplied by the rear Michelin.

We commented on how good the Mille R's brakes were back in the spring, and the same four-piston front Brembos put an authoritative squeeze on the Tuono's twin 320mm rotors, with great sensitivity. Modulation is crisp and the standard braided stainless steel lines enhance feel. I'm sure that the rear Brembo probably works great too, if you ever have cause to use it for anything besides lighting up the rear tire.

My only complaint about the Tuono's handling is that it was the hardest of the three on which to perform a righteous stoppie, due to the tautly sprung forks and rear weight bias. Gotta work on that. Clutch pull is stiff, but it isn't a distraction other than in traffic jams. The instrument cluster is a little hard to read compared to the Brutale or XB-12, but nothing to worry about. The mirrors work well and the seat is quite plush for an ICBM.

I like the Tuono. It has attitude, sound, handling, sophistication and statuesque Gina Lollobrigida good looks. It's so fast that I half expected it to lift off the ground each time I whacked the throttle open. It's definitely its own bike -like a shot of KY bourbon at a wine tasting-. In similar fashion, it will flat out blow the doors off most of its competition. May I have mine in Ohlins spec "Factory R" trim please? -Martin

Buzz on the Aprilia Tuono 1000 R: This thing is just ridiculous. It's ear rattling loud and just makes power everywhere. You have this stupid grin on your face every time the throttle is twisted. Sean warned me when I climbed aboard for the first time, "It's faster than anything you ride." He wasn't kidding.

Buzz won the "Coolest T-Shirt" Contest The Tuono ain't much to look at, unless "just crashed" is your cup of tea. It does have a menacing appearance though, attitude seeps from every angle. Perhaps one could paint a couple of teardrops just under one headlight to give it a "just got out of prison" look.

I'm willing to give the Tuono an incomplete because I believe something was really wrong with the suspension. It was as if there was no rebound damping in the rear or front. It bounded like a pogo stick in the faster corners and I had to back off because the rear end started sliding around. This Italian Stallion needs some better legs (Turns out our test unit had a carcass defect in the rear tire. -Sean).

It will wheelie whether you want to or not. You just need to be mindful that this thing makes big power and a fun wheelie turns into an "OH SHIT!" wheelie in a hurry. The MV and the Buell definitely have to be a 2nd bike, because they're not practical enough for every day use. However, you can actually commute or sport tour on the Tuono.... IF you stay out of jail long enough. -Buzz

George on the Aprilia Tuono 1000 R: Stepping into the MO garage, the Tuono caught my eye right away. It has a really bad ass look about it when dressed in black as this one was. It's got that "just crashed the fairing panels off" look that simply oozes "streetfighter". Some bikes can talk the talk, but fall short when the ignition key is turned. When it comes to the naked streetfighter game, the Tuono can walk the walk. This one came with the factory "off road only" muffler attached, so it was a bit of a cheater compared to the others. But what a cheat it was! Fantastic sound from this thing. It made Sean blip the throttle mindlessly enough to reminded me of a (GASP!) "Harley Guy"! Truthfully, we all did it. You just can't help twisting your right hand to hear it bellow. This thing made the others sound positively anemic. It had that big bore 4-Stroke dirt bike sound that was really cool. It was a sound you could FEEL as well as hear. Sit on the bike and it feels much larger than the other two. Its upright bar and flat seat reminded me of a big dirt bike.

The Tuono felt like the most powerful bike here... The best part of this bike is snicking into gear and nailing the throttle. WOW! Power right off the bottom, the front end gets light and things go fast-forward in a hurry. This boy has a powerful punch. It felt like the most powerful bike here, and it probably was. Suspension is taut, without being harsh and it's not a bad place to spend lots of time. Around town, the bike is responsive, fast and stable. Just the ticket for being nasty in the city. The only fly in the ointment, was a stiff gearbox, and the hunt to find neutral at every stop. I imagine that with more miles, the tranny will loosen up a bit. Brakes were perfect, with a decent initial bite, and a progressive feel to them.

When the road turns curvy, the Tuono doesn't disappoint. The bike turns in easy with that big bar and holds a line well with its solid suspension. However, with the thrust that is available with a simple twist of the wrist, a bit of restraint is needed to keep things sane. Trouble is, that incredible exhaust note just keeps prodding you to twist the throttle harder and faster. No real need to make too many trips through the gearbox when the road gets tight. Just twist and go. The broad power band will pull like a freight train all the way from the bottom of the rev band. I did detect some instability with the bike when pushing it hard in the tighter stuff, and I thought it might be caused by my inputs. Buzz noticed the same thing on his ride, and we suspected all might not be right with the rear shock. Still, on every other area of the ride, including fast sweepers and full throttle blasts, the Tuono showed nothing but complete stability.

This bike is the one that does what you want, when you want it. It's light, responsive, and powerful. It's also pretty comfy, especially for a big rider such as myself. Compared to the other bikes, this one is a luxo-tourer. I rode the Tuono on our freeway blast back to L.A., and that's where I was introduced to the art of lane splitting. The Tuono was comfortable when going fast. It has a flat, supportive seat, with plenty of room to move around. That small fairing up front deflects more wind that it should, and helped to keep the windblast down at higher speeds. Even with the fairing, the Tuono's sheer acceleration makes you feel like you are being blown off the bike. The suspension is tight, but never harsh. It's a wonderful lane splitter too. Narrow with lots of torque on the bottom. Cars in the way a bit? Just blip that throttle a few times and you WILL get attention. Who needs a horn? Loud pipes saving lives again? Doubt it, but it sure sounds good. So, the Tuono is the one for me. If I was going to the racetrack, I would choose this one, and if I was going on a long freeway haul, I would also choose this one. This bike sounds so good and has the versatility that the other bikes just can't match. The Aprilia Tuono is the real deal, it's got bad boy looks, and a monster motor with the chassis to back it up. -George

Sean on the Aprilia Tuono 1000 R: First, let me start by saying that the Aprilia Tuono is well known as "Sean's all time favorite streetbike". Therefore, its second place finish came as a shock to me. I've tested five different Tuonos on three separate occasions and never experienced the issues that cropped up with this particular test unit. I sincerely expected the Tuono to dominate this test. However, four issues raised their ugly heads often enough to relegate the Tuono to a 2nd place ranking.

I've ridden a lot of motorcycles, and believe me nothing comes close to the Tuono's level of rider giggles and satisfaction Fortunately, two out of my four complaints are easily explained and easily rectified. One: Our test unit was fitted with the Aprilia Accessory "Race" muffler. This made the bike sound awesomely strong, but created a flat-spot and stumble just off-idle and a torque dip between 4,500 - 5,500RPM. This caused a jerky throttle response at low-mid RPMs and required 3,500+ RPM for a smooth (yet noisy) getaway. I suspect a simple re-programming of the ECU will rectify this issue. Two: It seems that there was a carcass defect in the Michelin Pilot Sport on the rear of our Tuono. This defect manifested itself as a hitch or wobble in medium to high speed left corners. Sometimes the problem was so acute as to make you think the tire was sliding. A few days after the test, the tire was swapped-out and our mysterious left-turn handling gremlin disappeared.

Unfortunately, my third and fourth complaints run a little deeper and would take considerable time and money to rectify. They are: Three: This "standard" (non-Ohlins) version of the Tuono seems to suffer from an overall lack of suspension damping, which we were unable to adjust out. This meant that uneven pavement caused the bike to pogo more than it should and sloppy wheelie landings often resulted in a rebound-bounce into an unintended second wheelie. Overall, the suspension just felt un-sorted, and I'm hoping it was a problem with this unit and not indicative of a change in tuning for all base model Tuonos. Four: The gearbox was quite notchy and finding neutral was difficult, without rocking the bike and hunting for it. A delicate tap-down from second gear worked most of the time, but other times, it was so difficult that I just sat holding the somewhat heavy clutch against the bar.

Day two's lunch stop turned into an impromptu photo shoot, when the waitresses took note of our cool bikes. Man, I love my job!After reading those last two paragraphs, I wouldn't blame you for thinking that the Tuono wasn't worth all the hype it's received from the press. However, you need to ride a Tuono to truly appreciate just how "Good" these bikes really are. I've ridden a lot of motorcycles, and believe me nothing comes close to the Tuono's level of rider giggles and satisfaction. This thing turns your mundane commute into a three-ring circus and your weekend canyon blasting into Nirvana. It also possesses the uncanny ability to transform normally polite and responsible riders into first class window rattling @-holes. Bobby the Intern, Fonzie and I were lined up at a red light, as a couple of teenaged school kids walked past in the crosswalk. Something about the girl's look made me think she had an "attitude" and the little red devil on my shoulder named "Tuono" whispered in my ear that it would be funny to rip the throttle open and bellow some "For Race Use Only" V-Twin thunder at her. All three of us laughed like @-holes, as she jumped half way out of her skin and ran for the opposite curb. Honestly, I'm not normally that kind of guy, I try to be a good ambassador for the sport whenever I can.... Honestly.

Apart from the Tuono's un-paralleled Streetfighter "Bad Assedness", there are many other things that make it one of the most desirable two wheeled creations to ever wear a license plate. Namely, it sacrifices nothing in its transformation from racing superbike to street friendly "standard". It still has the chassis, brakes and engine of a racer, but blends-in the comfort and practicality of a "standard". Though not the absolute fastest "standard" (the Yamaha FZ-1 is probably slightly faster in a straight line,) the Tuono feels like the fastest bike on the planet, and if you're riding for fun, isn't "feeling" what it's really all about? Sure, there are better commuters, better track day bikes, better sport tourers, better mopeds and better econo bikes, but nothing delivers the fun you can have in almost any riding situation like the Tuono. The only reason I don't own one, is that my license would be Toast! -Sean

Page 3Da Winner: Buell XB-12S

Martin on the Buell XB-12S: It's got fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm, rim-mounted brake rotors, and an under-slung exhaust with its own home-grown version of a power valve. It's got a revved up Sportster engine that shakes, runs hot, and is cooled by a fan that sounds like it came from an air boat when it cuts on (which is a lot). The throw from first to second gear is about a yard. The seating position is so far out over the front end that it's like riding a unicycle. It's a rollicking redneck of a motorcycle that's as funky and discombobulated as a hot southern belle working on a plug of Skoal. It's my favorite bike of the three. Yeah, yeah, I can already hear the Buell bashing nimrods out there firing up their dialups to light me up for proclaiming that the Buell wins this test hands-down. Get a life boys, and then we'll talk. Oh yeah, and Johnny B. you are once again a sage in my book. I don't know what came over me.

In a word, this bike is FUN!I have previously had the opportunity to take an extended test ride of an XB9R Thunderbolt and liked it a lot. The XB9 is a torquey little monster that turns so quick, that I would swear it steered from both ends. The only issues I had with the 9R Thunderbolt were radical ergonomics (very high and rearward pegs and very low clip on's) and lack of adequate power for extended sorties on the open road. The Lightning variants - XB9S and XB12S have much more upright and humane ergonomics. Even though the Lightning is small, like the Brutale, it does not require as much of a custom fit from the rider. To address the lack go power in the XB9, the motor on the XB12 is a standard displacement version of the 9's de-stroked fuel-injected air and oil-cooled, 45 degree V-Twin. The 12 is the same motor, that's been re-stroked from 3.125 inches back up to 3.812 inches for a total displacement of 1203cc. The throttle body diameter was upped to 49mm on the XB12 and a stiffer clutch spring and new drive belt are bolted on to handle the demands of the bigger engine. The primary drive ratio was lowered a little, but the gear ratios in the five-speed tranny remain unchanged between the two models.

This little bike rocks! It has the best visual flow, the easiest to read instruments, the easiest to loft front wheel, the best brakes and the most attitude. In a word, this bike is FUN! While not quite Michelangelo's David on wheels like the Brutale, or in possession of the low-flying F-104 Starfighter motif of the Tuono, the XB-12S rises to the front of the pack based on overall competence, uniqueness, and a throw-down demeanor. This is the only bike of the three I'd buy with my own money and once I bought it, I wouldn't change a thing. The only concern that I'd have, is that the hot running motor may potentially grenade on down the road, but I'll take my chances.

The Buell's very short wheelbase makes for a bike that changes direction lightning quick - almost before you think about it. Amazingly, it's not only quick steering, but also stable as all get out, though every corner in which I stuck it. The suspension is well sorted no matter what one of our outsized testers maintained (remember, bro, right hand = go).

Back when he was welding battleship hulls, Clint never imagined he'd ever ride a true "Rebel" motorcycle The only thing that takes a little getting used to, is the initially disconcerting feeling that you are riding way out on the nose cone of a low-flying missile, since there is essentially nothing in front of you to interrupt the scenery. It's yet another unique feature of a very unique bike. More than any other motorcycle I've ridden, you sit almost completely on top of the Buell rather than down in it. There is very little rise to the cowl that covers the air box in front of you. The instrument cluster sits unobtrusively behind a vestigial fairing low on the horizon. The fact that the instrument cluster is unobtrusive, however, does not mean that it is at all hard to read. In fact, this bike gets major kudos for having the most intuitive and easy to read instruments of the whole lot. The mirrors shake a little (but then again so does the whole bike), but about the only time things get really blurry is when you let out the clutch a little too fast and the flywheel reminds you that it's there by propelling the bike forward in a manner reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon jumping into hyperspace.

I was prepared to like the Buell, but not as much as I actually did, especially amongst what would seem to be overmatched company. However, the Buell excelled at everything I asked it to do. It is good on the freeway, good at quick direction changes, good in tight turns, stable in sweepers, stops on a dime, wheelies at the drop of a dime, and is a hooligan extraordinaire. I think the styling, color scheme and trim are all tremendous. Furthermore, it's far and away the biggest bang for the buck in this crowd. It's not well suited to be the only bike in your garage, but then again, neither are the others. I want one. -Martin

Buzz on the Buell XB-12S: I've ridden the old tube frame Buells and they always seemed like a kit bike although the old "manta ray" gas tank was cool. The new XB nails it on styling and in the details. There are no chinzy bits anywhere on this machine. Even the little things like brackets and clips and such are of the highest quality. The Buell feels purposeful and right the moment you swing a leg over it.

The Buell is so easy to ride fast in the twisties. The engine is quiet as a church mouse and the bike just tracks and sticks, you can lean it waaaay over and there is no drama whatsoever. The XB makes instant torque right off idle. With so much torque at such low revs, the Buell will wheelie standing still. It's just stupid fun to bump the front wheel in the air and you don't even have to clutch it up. Twist, wheelie, giggle. In the beginning, I kept banging off the rev limiter trying to keep up with Sean on the Aprilia. You have to remind yourself to run a gear taller than you think you should. The torque surge comes on strong at 2,000 RPM and catapults this little XB forward effortlessly.

The Buell is so easy to ride fast in the twisties. The engine is as quiet as a church mouse (this is a Harley?) and the chassis just tracks and sticks, you can lean it waaaay over and there is no drama whatsoever. I've read all the "stand up on the brakes" drivel and it never became an issue. Trust me MOFOs, your riding skills are much closer to mine and a lot farther from magazine hot shoes like Sean or Cycle World's Don Canet. -Buzz

George on the Buell XB-12S: This bike was an enigma for me. It was two bikes in one on this test. I really wanted to love this bike. Being a card-carrying member of the GPTB had me wanting the Buell to kick ass on the others. I had never ridden a Buell before, and was looking forward to wringing out this little hooligan. Looking at it in the MO garage, it just looks purposeful and high quality. Only the equipment necessary for forward motion is here, but nothing more. It's the proverbial engine and two wheels.

I was used to the longer throw of the shifter, so I never missed a shift, and the seating position was not as uncomfortable as I suspected it would be. It shakes a bit at idle, but the vibration at speed was only strong enough to know you had a motorcycle under you.The Sportster based mill looked mean, and ready. The first disappointment was when Sean started it in the parking lot. It sounded a lot like a weed whacker....with asthma. This was hardly the hooligan I'd imagined. I couldn't believe the bike sounded that lame at idle. This is practically a Harley, damn it, and I want some NOISE! Revving it up made it sound a bit better, but the Buell certainly needs big time help in the aural department. The next downer was the seat time I had on day one. I had ridden the other two bikes before I got on the Buell, and from the minute I got on the bike, nothing felt right. It was mostly some fast city streets with a freeway shot thrown in. To me, it seemed to wander and couldn't hold a line on the long, fast sweepers we were taking, and it felt very unstable. In chase mode, I was bouncing off the rev limiter in every gear, and I was just generally chafing at every contact of this bike and me. On a little freeway jaunt to Long Beach, I hit a sharp edged bump, and both feet flew off the pegs. By the time we stopped, I was telling everyone within earshot how much I disliked the Buell.

Some things that didn't suck, were the shifting and the riding position. I was used to the longer throw of the shifter, so I never missed a shift, and the seating position was not as uncomfortable as I suspected it would be. It shakes a bit at idle, but the vibration at speed was only strong enough to know you had a motorcycle under you.

Boys will be boys... So, by the time we reached Long Beach on day one, I wanted to hate this bike. "This thing sucks!" I snapped at Buzz. I calmed down a bit, and talked to the others about the Buell, and found out the little bugger really dislikes heavy guys with ham-fisted inputs. They advised slowing my inputs down, and giving it another chance on the mountain roads. Suddenly, on day two, the Buell started to come into its own, or did I come into my own? No matter. Out on the tight twisties and long sweepers, with a lighter input, and finally short shifting the beast, it started to handle, and ride, much better. It virtually disappears beneath the rider. The motor pulls from the bottom like no other here, and it ate up corners like a kid eats candy on Halloween. Nail the throttle at almost any speed and the front end gets light and the fun starts. The engine revs quickly for a big twin, and if you keep the shifter moving quickly, the Buell keeps pace with the others. It's the slowest bike here, but not by much. By the end of the second day, the Buell made me smile again. It seemed the more seat time I got, the better I liked it.

I wanted to love this bike again, but wait. All was not perfect. I could still upset the chassis pretty easily, and I think I was just overwhelming the suspension. Taking a visual sag test, told me the bike certainly was not set up for me. I'm not sure if I could have gotten things to work better. I would have liked to play with suspension settings a bit, but alas, my time was up, and I may have to find more seat time on a Buell to satisfy my curiosity. I found out Buell is an acquired taste, much like a Guinness, or single malt scotch. They both are different and a bit harsh at first, but down a few more and all is well. I think the reason the Buells have such a bad reputation, is the rider just doesn't get enough time to understand how this bike works. It is certainly the best "Sportster" I ever rode. My opinion on day one was drastically different from day two. It was a tale of two bikes. If the Buell had the suspension setup that I needed, and an exhaust can that was capable of making the right noises, I might have rated it first. But it didn't, and I didn't. -George

Sean on the Buell XB-12S: Here boy! ::whistle:: come on boy! Aw! That's a good boy! Man this is a great bike I tell you. It feels like the world's biggest/fastest Schwinn Stingray. When you ride the Buell after the other bikes, it is amazing how smooth and easy the bike is to hustle. It's true that it doesn't want to rev past 6,750RPM and it's true that the gearbox is somewhat "agricultural", but the bike just plain "works" when you are deliberate with your shifts and you remember to make them before the rev limiter.

Buzz decided to test Sean's reflexes, so he parked his Brutale like a bicycle in the Editor's bike rack. That big Harley lump between the modern frame rails does shake the bike like a can of paint, but as soon as the revs rise above idle, the shaking mysteriously vanishes and the engine becomes every bit as smooth as more "modern" designs. The XB-12's fuel injection allows for smooth and linear power delivery, though the bike does stumble and cough on occasion when blipping the throttle from idle. Overall though, I'd say the tiny chassis and giant engine are a good match. Together, they provide a lively, responsive and most importantly a "fun" package to use on city streets and twisty backroads. Things aren't too shabby on the open road either, since the bike is quite stable and the riding position allows the rider to sit in a relaxed yet effective position. My only complaint for extended straight-line droning would be that the pegs fold your legs tightly under the seat, just like a full-on supersport.

Parking lot maneuvers and quick direction changes are a joy on this bike, thanks to a stiff and responsive chassis, coupled to an upright riding position and wide bars. The Buell gives its rider the impression of surfing over the asphalt, thanks to the fact that you can't actually see the bike underneath you. The bottom of a tall rider's line of sight falls immediately in front on the front tire and the total impression is like riding on a highly maneuverable magic carpet. The Tuono begs you to ride it, based on its good times hooligan coolness, while the Buell begs you to ride it for its friendly nature, effortless handling and general hop-on-and-go accessibility. If I had a multi bike quiver, I suspect the XB-12S would be the bike I choose for my around-town and tight canyon rides. -Sean

In Closing

According to the Votes, the Buell wins, followed by the Tuono and the MV. IF the Tuono hadn't suffered from an under-damped suspension and a wonky rear tire, it would have won, but not by as much as we first suspected. Even with a healthy Tuono, the outstanding XB-12S would have been nipping at its heels throughout this test. The MV on the other hand seems to be aimed at hard-core stunters and hooligans. However, "real" hooligans tend to ride ragged-out second hand GSX-Rs and CBRs, because they can't afford exotic Italian bikes. Looks like the MV is destined to be a garage ornament for the rich and famous.

Stay Tuned, for part two of Lifestyles of the Naked and Irresponsible, where we look foreward to pitting the victorious Buell XB-12S against the new Triumph 1050 Speed Triple and the ever practical Yamaha FZ-1. Triumph says the 1050s should be available in the spring.


Aprilia Tuono R Buell XB12S MV Agusta Brutale S
Liquid-cooled 60° DOHC V-twin four valves per cylinder

Air / oil / fan-cooled, 4-stroke, 1203 cc 45° Pushrod V-Twin

Liquid-cooled DOHC 16 Valve per cylinder Inline Four
Horse Power
118.27HP @ 9,000RPM

88.43HP @ 7,000RPM

107.19HP @ 10,750RPM
74.07LbFt @ 6,750RPM

72.08LbFt @ 5,750RPM

51.66LbFt @ 10,750RPM
$ 11,999

$ 10,495

$ 13,995



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