Three Naked Euros
Aprilia TuonoR :: BMW R1200R :: MVAgusta Brutale 910S
Airborne! This is not grandpa's BMW roadster, no sir. Pete was as surprised as the rest of us when he felt the bike's prodigious power; there's "plenty of linear power and smooth torque -- surprisingly so -- from the boxer twin." Getting up to freeway speeds -- not to mention slicing through city traffic -- is a snap. Suddenly there's a standard-styled boxer twin that feels as nimble as a Supermoto; Gabe says "very nice!" in his best Borat voice. The transmission has well-spaced gear ratios, and sixth gear puts the motor in a nice vibration-free zone for 80mph-plus cruising.
Too bad the teensy flyscreen ($215) offers just barely enough wind coverage at those speeds for the diminutive likes of Gabe and Pete; bigger folks might want more wind protection. However, the R1200R, like all BMWs, is a decent touring mount, with a comfortable seat and room to stretch the legs. The heated grips ($235) are a nice touch for winter, and of course all the amenities like the accessory electrical outlet and trip computer help the miles pass by more comfortably. Good thing, too: with the computer indicating about 42mph regardless of how the bike is ridden, and a 5.6-gallon tank (including a gallon of reserve), you can go well over 200 miles. We hope your bladder is extra-stretchy; at 70mph, that's over three hours of riding time.
After a break, it's time for some twisties, and the BMW holds even more surprises. Although the mostly un-adjustable suspension can feel squashy on rough road or at high speeds, the sophisticated front suspension works as intended, isolating the rider from bumps and braking action and keeping the bike stable in all kinds of conditions. Buzz noted that "the BMW is the easiest to ride quickly when the pavement is less than perfect" and Gabe said that "suddenly, the Telelever suspension made sense. It lacked that vague, heavy sensation prior systems have had and instead felt like a magic carpet, floating over the road without feeling out-of-sorts braking, steering or accelerating." Pete characterized the bike as "stable", even though he noted that "it doesn't turn in as quickly as the Brutale or Tuono." However, those wide, high bars mean that precise steering is still easy, if not fast.
For those of you who think Telelever is some kind of over-complicated gimmick foisted on us to boost BMW's profit margin, confine your conspiracy theories to the Tri-lateral commission; it really works. On one memorable chunk of canyon road, Buzz, mounted on the BMW wound up ahead of Pete -- trying out his new roadrace leathers on the Brutale -- and ex-roadracer Gabe, on the 120hp TuonoR. Pete and Gabe turned up the pace, pushing the two Italian bikes into the tight, bumpy corners harder than they usually ride. Buzz, in the meantime was expecting to be passed at any second; he said Gabe and Pete "are both much faster riders than I'll ever be", but instead he had no trouble staying ahead, sitting bolt upright and relaxed on the Beemer's broad, comfy seat. Gabe experienced the same thing on his regular Sunday ride back home on the same bike; the narrow, bumpy road he rides on "suddenly seemed smoother, less curvaceous and a whole lot shorter." The BMW's technology is unusual among sporting motorcycles; unlike 150hp motors and five-way adjustable suspension, it actually improves a novice's skills, rather than give the top riders a tiny edge over their rivals.
Braking is just as good. A strong pull on the adjustable lever halts the bike macht schnell, with just a bit of judder to remind you the ABS is doing what it should. The functionality of the partial-integral system is undeniable; the rider feels firm and linear braking, with minimal dive from the front end. It just hunkers down and stops, regardless of speed or surface conditions. It's a much more "natural" feel, according to Pete than the older BMW systems, which had a delay as the power assist would kick in. In fact, none of the testers said anything about the linked aspect of the brakes, which is what motorcycle braking engineers have been after -- unsuccessfully -- for a long time now.
So if this bike is so good, why did we vote it last place (or second-to-last, in Gabe's case)? Chalk it up to the schizophrenic nature of being motorcycle journalists. We spend a lot of time riding a lot of different bikes, so just because a bike is incredibly competent everyday transportation, it has to do more than be competent to stand out and be the object of desire. "The trio is like Charlie's Angels and the BMW is Kate Jackson" said Buzz. "Not the hottest of the bunch but very do-able if Jaclyn and Farrah aren't around." Unfortunately, Jaclyn and Farrah just happen to be here. The BMW just didn't excite us enough to be declared the best.
2006 MV Agusta Brutale 910S
$14,495 (2006 model) 121.41hp 65.04 ft-lbs 407.9 pounds (claimed dry weight)
The MV Agusta Brutale reminds us of the reality TV show where Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie had to work on a pig farm in Arkansas* for a week. The Brutale 910S is so exquisitely beautiful that flogging it around like it's a messenger's battered Honda CBR600F2 seems shameful. But hey, it's a living, right? And when you get down to it, the Brutale puts its metaphorical pants on one leg at a time like every other bike. It's an expensive, exclusive bike that stops onlookers dead in their tracks, but just a motorcycle all the same.
The Brutale first appeared as a 750 model, and we tested (Buzz actually donated his personal ride) it back in 2004. Designed by Bimota (which he co-founded), Ducati 916 and MV Agusta F4 genius Massimo Tamburini, the Brutale is a triumph of design, with incredible shapes demanding your eye's attention no matter where you look. From the molded, flowing headlamp to the gorgeous single-sided swingarm, the bike is a rolling illustration of how far Italian designers will go to make everything they shape beautiful.
But that beauty isn't just skin deep. To give it better street performance, displacement was bumped up to 909.1cc by increasing bore and stroke to 76mm and 50.1mm, respectively. Compression in the dual overhead cam four-valve head (with the valves arranged radially in the hemispherical combustion chamber) is a zesty 13.0:1, and although this motor's basic architecture dates back to the early 1990s, it still produces a healthy 121.4hp at 10,600 rpm on the MO Dynojet Dynomometer. It's detuned from the 1000cc F4, but 121hp is 121hp. If that's "tuned for torque", we'll take it. The motor gets a wet clutch, a six-speed cassette-style gearbox and chain final drive, and fuel injection and ignition is the latest in Italian electronics.
If you think Tamburini would use any material but chrome-moly steel tubing for the chassis, you must be crazier than he is. That material forms a sexy trellis frame, with aluminum alloy sideplates and an incredible swingarm that doubles as a chain guard. Doubles as a chain guard! Every part on this bike, it seems, is designed to complement and work perfectly with every other part. The wheels are delicate-looking aluminum affairs with huge hollow axles, and the forks -- 50mm inverted and fully-adjustable Marzocchi cartridge units -- look like surgical instruments. The rear shock is also fully adjustable, with high and low-speed damping circuits and a progressively-wound spring. Wheelbase is a reasonable 55.55 inches.
The brakes are just as unusual and lavish as the rest of the bike. Two six-piston calipers grab full-floating 310mm discs, and when was the last time you rode a bike with a four-pot rear brake caliper? We like to think the Cagiva engineers put it on just because it's cool. Braided-steel brake lines all around are expected and welcome touches.
The bike is finished with all the flair of its basic components. The five-gallon fuel tank has huge cutouts to keep it slim, and there's a big aluminum handlebar perched behind the beautiful digital instrument cluster. A tiny seat for the rider and even smaller one for a passenger ("look honey, we both can ride it!") are impossibly close to the front wheel, and sensuous mufflers jut out behind the passenger footpegs. Every part is embossed with the MV Agusta label and should have a little loop on it so you can wear them as jewelry.
It goes without saying that we all loved the styling and visual presence this bike had. You just want to stare at the thing. Pete thinks the "funky styling will probably turn a few people off", but we never ran into such a person. Al wanted to take it into his studio with one of his sleezy $10 per hour nude models, but we were afraid of stains.
You can only look at it so much, so we cast a leg over it to see what it's really like. Pete noted the "cramped quarters, ergos and riding position", and Buzz said the "tiny seat and slippery handgrips make the Brutale feel like it's going to shoot out from under you so it can go out alone to find chicks." Gabe was surprised by how tiny it felt -- even to 5'6" him -- but thought it was a perfect fit, even if the seat was just too high for both feet to reach the ground despite the bike's narrow waist. The footpegs are high, but not as high as the Tuono 1000R's, and the bars are at a perfect height for comfortably controlling the bike.
Firing up the motor fills the air with a satisfying symphony of four-cylinder music. It makes a screaming sound that is unique, yet not obnoxious. The instruments are clear and legible, although the tripmeter resetting procedure is so hideously bizarre and complex that you wouldn't believe us if we tried to describe it to you. It involves switching off the key, switching on the key, holding down certain buttons in sequence and possibly the lighting of a candle to Saint Christopher (now officially downgraded to Mr. Christopher). We don't get paid enough to figure this out.
Who cares how far you've gone, anyway? That was in the past. The 910 snicks into gear with a light touch on the small, short-throw shift lever and the sensitive hydraulic clutch engages smoothly. Twist that skinny handgrip and understand why Pete screams "Holy fun bags, Batman!" If ever a bike was built to spend life on the back wheel, this is the one. Pete claims it "performs wheelies telepathically" and it's easy to see why, with the stubby wheelbase, short gearing, powerful motor and high handlebar. The 910 motor may be perfect for this bike, with less of the peaky characteristic that probably made Buzz sell his 750 Brutale. "The 910 Brutale has absolutely explosive acceleration" said the former MV owner. "The torque curve is much fatter at lower revs." That means blasting around town and making the rider behave like an idiot in general. Hey, it's a tiny bike with superbike suspension and a big motor. How can you possibly obey the law with something like this? Don't worry; just stick to big cities and traffic jams if you want to stay off the county work crews.
It's not much fun on the freeway, although it's surprisingly bearable. The seat is hard and places you close to the tank, and while the motor isn't exactly annoyingly buzzy in sixth gear, it's not as nice as a twin. (Buzz did note the vibration was actually more on the bigger motor.) Also, the Wright Brother's first airplane (yes, we know it's the 1903 Wright Flyer) had better windprotection for its pilot. Pete complained that the "seat is a little too slippery; I found myself slipping forward into the tank more than I wanted to" and Gabe made up some lame excuse when it was his turn to ride the Brutale on the freeway.
If you buy this bike for freeway droning there is something wrong with you that not even the finest pharmaceuticals can mitigate. What you need to do is take the bike to a twisty road somewhere, and that's just what we did. Once there we discovered a bike that would be at home in an expert's toolbox. Suspension is taut and infinitely tuneable, the brakes are strong and sensitive, and if you need more cornering clearance than this bike provides you probably have the FIM rules committee on speed dial. As noted above, the Brutale was challenging to ride fast.
Challenging, but fun. It's difficult to find a bike with a razor-sharp chassis and liter-class motor that isn't a fully-faired sportbike with clip-ons. Well, the 910S has the "traditional ballistic power" of a real superbike, according to Pete, but you have to keep the revs up while being smooth: "throttle response was on the touchy side; riding the Brutale on tight and technical roads was a chore at times, due mostly to the abrupt throttle response" The choppy ride from the short wheelbase and taut suspenders didn't help.
What we've got here is a very exotic, demanding bike that also happens to be a blast to ride around town. But it's definitely a bike for connoisseurs, a machine for serious riders to take out on perfect days. We found it to be built very well and had no problems with it during the month or so we abused it, but it would be a shame to rack up miles on a work of art like this. But if you wanted to, you could; it's a practical machine that is almost as affordable as the other bikes in this test.
However, it's just too demanding of its rider for daily use. Also, for 2007 only the 910R is available, which adds a few horsepower, lots of fancy extras and an extra $3,000 to the MSRP. If you like the way this bike looks and can afford it, send us 20 dollars and go buy one right now, but we just couldn't realistically make it our first pick.
2007 Aprilia Tuono 1000R
$12,999 120.8hp 69.73 ft-lbs 407.6 pounds (claimed dry weight)
Start with a hard-core superbike. Take off the fairing. Slap on a superbike-bend handlebar. Leave everything else the way it is.
That's the purest expression of what a "streetfighter" or "naked sportbike" should be, and yet we see precious little of it. Both the BMW and the MV Agusta in this test have been tuned for better low-down and midrange power, at the expense of overall top-end kick. Is Aprilia's formula more successful?
The Tuono 1000R is basically Aprilia's RSV V-twin sportbike stripped of fairings. The only real change, aside from the addition of the handlebar and flyscreen, is the name.
The motor has been heavily revised from the last Tuonos and RSVs we tested. It's still a 60-degree V-twin, but it's got new cylinder heads which use dual overhead cams and a clever combination of gear and chain drive for a compact size. Compression ratio is 11.8:1 and mixture is fed through a pair of 57mm throttle bodies. The conrods are newer and stronger, and much of the dry-sump motor is constructed of magnesium to make it lighter than before. There's a "pneumatic power clutch" and close-ratio gearbox, identical to the superbike's, and final drive is by chain. A 16-bit ECU keeps everything working on time. It's all good for a claimed 133hp at 9,500rpm, which translated into just a tick over 120hp and 69.7 ft-lbs of torque on our MO Dynojet Dyno. We'll take it.
The chassis is pure racer, too. The frame is a big aluminum-alloy twin-spar job that weighs in at under 23 pounds, and it's bolted to an all-new "double banana"-style swingarm. Wheelbase is a stubby 55.51 inches between the 120/70-17 front Metzler Rennsport and 190/50-17 rear. Front suspension is by Showa, a three-way adjustable 43mm inverted fork and the rear shock is a Sachs unit that works through a linkage and is fully adjustable as well. The Brembo Gold brakes are radial-mounted four-piston calipers (with a separate pad for each piston) and 310mm full-floating discs in front, with a two-piston caliper in back. Brake lines are steel braided, of course (are you reading this, Japanese OEM people?). It's serious componentry that wouldn't be out of place on a racebike, because that's exactly where it's from. It weighs in at a claimed 412 pounds dry without the battery.
Aside from a flat, hard seat, a minimalist tail section and a 4.8-gallon tank (with about a gallon of reserve) there isn't much else besides that tiny nose-cone fairing and the instrument cluster. The digital display has immense capacity to store data, with speed, trip meter, fuel remaining, clock diagnostic functions and a lap timer. You can customize the display to your liking right down to language and brightness. We just wish we were bright enough to figure out how to work the thing.
We all agreed this was a good-looking machine, if a bit more industrial and less-integrated looking than the other two. However, it's the best-looking Tuono we've seen, and Pete said it's "hard to compete with visually...no matter what type of bike, naked standard or not. Plain and simple: it's a bad ass!"
The Aprilia has a tall and top-heavy appearance, and despite having compact dimensions, Pete still thought that it felt "like the tallest, biggest bike of the three". Gabe could just barely get his feet flat on the bike, and alsothought it felt bigger than the Brutale. This is good; we all found the bike to be pretty comfortable ergonomically, although Gabe thought the seat was too hard and noticed that the footpegs were very high.
It starts easily enough, filling the air with mechanical sounds and the flat chattering of the stainless-steel exhaust. The 60 degree V-twin doesn't have the sonic harmony of a 90-degree twin but replaces that harmony with an angry beat. It's a bit vibey while rewarding its rider with massive midrange thrust.
It sounds good and goes even better. Snap the transmission into first and let out the smooth hydraulic clutch; we found the gearbox a bit notchy and surprisingly unrefined. Pete even noted some missed shifts if he wasn't careful with the clutch, but at low speeds it feels intuitive and flawless, ready to perform any idiocy you'd care to engage in. The bike is fast and the wide bars let you mix it up with city traffic like a Star Boy, if that's what you want to do. (We do not encourage that behavior. We're just guessing that you could.)
It's surprisingly comfortable and easy to ride in city and freeway situations. The motor, although clearly racer-derived, is still torquey and well-fueled enough for it to be "everyday livable as well as a hooligan's dream" according to Pete; it makes "good power right where you need it." It's also surprisingly comfortable for the former motorcycle messenger; "one of the best seats I've planted my tender tuchis on", and Gabe found that after a few miles, the seat kind of grows on you somehow, becoming more bearable. However, it's no BMW. Still, Pete thought it was good enough for medium-distance touring, and nobody complained about the Aprilia's comfort during the test. Wind protection is noticeable, but still pretty vestigial.