Church of MO: 2012 Literbike Streetfighter Shootout - With Video!

John Burns
by John Burns

Ten years ago, Tommy, Trizzle, and the Duke were feeling their oats as they manned about town on a trio of naked torpedoes. “When it came to forming a mental picture of riding one or the other, we also agreed the sexy Speed Triple will pick up more chicks than the Aprilia. The Tuono’s manufacturer claimed it was for “the rider who, given the chance, would use a race bike just to go for a coffee.” Meanwhile, the MV Agusta’s combination of short wheelbase and mid-range torque keeps the Brutale’s front wheel in the air, aided by the shortest overall ratios in the first two gears. `It leaps off the line like a hot poker was stuck up its gorgeous pipes,’ raves Duke… “for those who appreciate its tight tolerances, beauty of design, historical namesake and can disregard the practicality of purchasing the other bikes, the Brutale remains an appealing and exotic Italian option.” Picking a winner was, as always, a fight to the end.

Aprilia Tuono V4 R APRC vs MV Agusta Brutale R 1090 vs Triumph Speed Triple R

Photography by Alfonse Palaima Video by Aldo Lihiang

Last year’s edition of our annual literbike streetfigher shootout pitted three competent, albeit plebeian, naked bikes to battle for supremacy — Honda CB1000R, Kawasaki Z1000 and Triumph Speed Triple. This year we’ve assembled the aristocrats of the class — Aprilia Tuono V4 R APRC, MV Agusta Brutale R 1090 and Triumph Speed Triple R — to determine the hierarchy of the naked elite.A double-R version of the Brutale exists, but its $19,000 MSRP is $2,500 more than the most expensive bike here, pushing it out of retail pricing contention. At $16,500 the Brutale R remains the priciest of this group ($15K Tuono and $16K S3R). We did invite the $19K Ducati Streetfighter S to join the fray, however the unavailability of a 2012 model kept it from competing, though, like the Brutale RR, its lofty price would only have hindered its ranking among the assembled bikes. Perhaps later we’ll pit the expensive Duc against the equally exorbitant MV in a platinum cage match.

Our 2012 naked bike ménage à trois includes three exotic and very sexy streetfighters.

The R designation of last year’s winning Speed Triple brings with it significant upgrades over the standard model including an Öhlins NIX30 43mm fork and TTX36 rear shock. Brembo monoblocs replace the two-piece units, and ABS is standard. The S3R rolls on forged, five-spoke PVM wheels, reducing unsprung weight by 3.75 lbs. Also improved is the Speed Triple’s transmission by way of new internal shafts and shift drum, and an increase in shift dogs from four to five.

Oozing top-shelf components but powered by the same inline-Triple of the standard model, the Spreed 3 R arrives to this year’s naked bike party sweating its streetfighter title.

What Triumph didn’t massage is the Speed Triple’s powerplant, leaving it producing the same horsepower and torque figures of its R-less counterpart. While the S3R generated enough acceleration to best its Japanese competition in 2011, its Italian combatants are outfitted with more potent munitions.

Boasting go-fast hardware including traction control, a slipper clutch and a quick-shift transmission, Aprilia’s Tuono V4 R APRC is the most technologically advanced of these three streetfighters. Aprilia also saw fit to pluck the engine from its World Superbike-contending RSV4 and insert it, practically unchanged, into the new Tuono V4 R.

Potency in the from of 154 rear-wheel horsepower and an arsenal of electronic gadgetry, the new Aprilia Bumblebee Transformer… er, Tuono is a naked bike like no other.

Aprilia touts the Tuono V4 R as a bike for “the rider who, given the chance, would use a race bike just to go for a coffee,” and this proclamation isn’t far from the truth. An undeniable fact is, at $15K, the Tuono is the most affordable bike of this threesome by a margin of at least $1,000.

Like the Aprilia, MV Agusta’s Brutale R 1090 also is a new model for 2012. This da Vinci-esque masterpiece of Italian motorcycle design is a rolling testament to tight tolerances. It’s 1078cc inline-Four is the most capacious engine in MV history, while its included traction control keeps it current with modern sportbike technology.

What would you rather stare at, a picture of the Brutale R 1090 or the Mona Lisa? Is that even a contest?

Power delivery from the radial-valve engine is, for lack of a better term, brutal. It has so much grunt that keeping the front end on the ground in the first two gears is practically impossible. Because of this, it can be said the MV epitomizes the hooligan attitude, and you’ll get no argument from us.

In recent weeks we took this streetfighter trio to Chuckwalla Raceway so each motorcycle could stretch its proverbial legs and showcase the limits of its performance capabilities. We also visited our favorite twisty canyon haunts and commuted, attempting to recreate the real-world treatment to which these bikes will most likely be subjected.

You can’t go wrong with any of these motorcycles, but when it comes to 15 large (or more), spec sheets aren’t enough. That’s where we come in.

There’s a convincing argument for purchasing each bike in this group, but not many enthusiasts possess the resources for such extravagances. So let’s examine where each model excels and why, then conclude reasons for owning one over the other.

At The Track

Putting an outside pass on a supersport — piloted by a wannabe racer with visions of grandeur — with a streetfighter lacking fairings, and handlebars instead of clip-ons, is admittedly fun. And that’s why, if you purchase or already own one of these models, we implore you to take your bike to a track day.

We signed up with the friendly folks who operate Motoyard Track Days for a day out at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. CVR is a fairly recent addition to the SoCal landscape and a perfect testing ground for our streetfighters because it lacks any long straightaways.

When allowed the room to fully open up the throttles, the Tuono’s V-4 destroys the engine in any other streetfighter with a sensational top-end lunge that bests even a Honda CBR1000RR or Yamaha YZF-R1. Note also the Speed Triple’s much lower rev limit.

Greg Nulman, an expert-level racer, runs Motoyard as a way to get speed junkies onto the safe confines of a racetrack. He runs a fun ship with an emphasis on track time – no lunch breaks here, just lots of riding with amiable, like-minded riders. We also like how Motoyard offers free snacks, fruit and drinks for its riders, as well as its relatively cheap prices on a variety of tracks in Southern California, starting at just $125.

They may be called streetfighters, but these three R-model nakeds are bred with racetrack performance.

Never been to a track day? Motoyard offers a free track session to its new riders, with instructors to lead you around for a bit before you finish the session on your own. If you want more of that exciting racetrack goodness, just sign up to continue riding.

Motoyard’s track days also include optional tire and suspension services, the latter delivered by Ed Sorbo of Lindeman Engineering. Sorbo, a former 250cc Grand Prix racer, ably helped dial in the suspensions of our bikes for track work.

The naked bikes here are equipped differently, but each produces more than adequate horsepower and torque figures and is outfitted with chassis, suspension and braking components that make easy work of lesser riders aboard more capable machines.

#1 Aprilia Tuono V4 R APRC

Its resume of competition-based technologies hinted to the Tuono as the best track weapon among this congregation, and our track day confirmed everything to which the Tuono’s spec sheet alludes. While the Tuono gives up some bottom-end power to its rivals, the 65-degree, 999cc V-4 engine leaves the other two inhaling exhaust fumes as it screams up to its 154 rear-wheel horsepower at 11,700 rpm.

“Engine, and lots of it,” extols racerboy editor, Troy Siahaan. “Definitely the best engine in the group, by far, and it sounds awesome to boot.”

The Tuono V4 R is a wolf with little clothing. The bike’s a streetfighter more at home on the track than the other two nakeds. The V-4’s combination of traction control, a quick-shift transmission and slipper clutch are pure thoroughbred technologies.

Engine dynamics are determined by Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC), offering three settings (Road, Sport, Track), eight levels of traction control, wheelie control and a quick shifter. “Electronics are superbly customizable, with traction and wheelie control available in multiple settings or simply switched off,” notes kingpin editor, Kevin Duke.

The Tuono didn’t project immediate rider confidence and required a longer adjustment period than the MV or the immediately familiar feeling Speed Triple R. We received the Tuono with a rear tire noticeably worn in its center, and this caused it to require an unnerving amount of inside bar pressure to keep it leaned over in corners during our early testing. However, when fitted with fresh rubber, the Aprilia steered smoothly and naturally.

We weren’t pleased with the Tuono’s seat. While roomy, the material is slippery against leather, and there’s nothing preventing a Tuono pilot from sliding fore and aft under hard acceleration and braking forces. The yellow seat material, while it may look cool in brochure photos, was soiled by the end of one day’s ride.

Besides the lack of fairing and handlebars, the Tuono V4 R differs from the RSV4 by way of 0.5-degree increase in rake, 2mm added trail, a 0.3-inch longer wheelbase, an engine mounted 5mm lower, a 1200-rpm lower redline, 20mm longer intake ducts, heavier flywheel, shortened gearing (gears 1-3) and different valve timing.

The Tuono’s incredibly light clutch pull requires recognition as do its wide bars, widest of this group by 0.5 inch. “The nature of the handlebars doesn’t put you in the best posture for track riding, but it’s a great overall position if you were to have only one motorcycle,” says Troy.

When it comes to setting fast lap times the Tuono can’t be beat, and that’s what matters during track testing. So, our apologies if it comes as no surprise, but the Tuono has no streetfighter equal on a racetrack. We don’t even see how the $4,000-more-expensive Ducati Streetfighter S or MV Agusta Brutale RR 1090 could best the Tuono on a closed circuit.

#2 Triumph Speed Triple R

Producing the least amount of horsepower (122.3) and the second most amount of torque (76.3 ft-lb), the Speed Triple was, in terms of engine performance, slightly disappointing for an R model. This didn’t stop the S3R from hanging with the faster Tuono at a flowing track like Chuckwalla that doesn’t emphasize the superior qualities of the Triumph’s brakes and suspension.

Stellar brakes and suspension, lighter wheels and improved shifting but no increase in engine performance over the standard Speed Triple. When it comes to producing an R version, Triumph must have missed that memo.

“It feels like its torque curve is a long plateau, providing effortless thrust until its top end that trails off far earlier than the others” comments Duke. “It hits its rev limiter at 9,500 rpm while the others have 2000-plus revs to go.”

Given a tight, stop-and-go track, the Speed Triple R’s superior torque, brakes and suspension will give it an edge over the faster Tuono.

To which Troy adds, “On a tight course, the S3 can hang with the Tuono because of its wide torque. Once the Tuono is allowed to scream, it takes off.”

Equipped with ABS, instead of TCS like the other two streetfighters, the S3R’s Brembo monoblocs are strong, with a linear feel throughout lever stroke. “The best compliment I can give the Speed Triples’ brakes,” says Duke, “is that I regularly forgot they had an anti-lock system.”

Indisputably the best bike in terms of suspension and brakes (with the heaviest clutch pull of the three), but even with increased engine performance, the S3R would still have fallen behind the Tuono V4 R and its arsenal of go-fast electronics.

#3 MV Agusta Brutale R 1090

Does it matter that we’re ranking the MV Agusta Brutale R 1090 last in the track comparison when you look this good going slow? And slow certainly isn’t the right word as the Brutale capably circled Chuckwalla in lockstep with the other two streetfighters.

While hot on the heels of the other two streetfighters, the MV exhibited the most drawbacks to cutting quick lap times.

Endowed with adjustable traction control the Brutale is better equipped for the track, technologically speaking, than the ABS-equipped Triumph, but its close, upright seating and narrow bars don’t lend to easy transitioning.

“Narrow handlebars are a little strange, though the chassis has a very neutral feel,” remarks Troy. “Turn-in isn’t as light as Triumph, but easier than Tuono.”

Duke says of the MV’s brakes, “Although not of the monobloc variety, the radial-mount Brembo front binders have great loads of power and an aggressive bite.” He didn’t favor the Brutale’s slippery footpegs or the notchiest gearbox of the group.

Like the rest of the Brutale, its ergonomics are compact, which lends to its mass-centralized, neutral cornering feel.

The slash-cut exhaust, while good looking, “dramatically cuts into room for a rider’s right foot, especially when carrying weight on the balls of your feet,” says Duke.

The Brutale produced a few more horsepower and a few less ft-lbs of torque than the Triumph for a close match-up. But while its inline-Four exhibits excellent mid-range thrust, the motor begins wheezing past 10,000 rpm when compared to the super-stout Tuono.

And then there’s the omission of compression damping adjustment on the Sachs shock. Sixteen-five for a sportbike with no compression adjustment?!? Come on, MV, really?

On The Street

Urban mischief, canyon strafing, bar hopping, profiling and the occasional passenger are foremost on a streetfighter’s itinerary. Off the track (where it’s only illegal if you get caught) is the element of the naked two-wheeler, and it’s where we had the most fun with these bikes.

More so than at the track, streetfighters rule the tight ribbons of asphalt wending through canyons and around mountain tops. Tons o’ leverage from wide handlebars increase flickability beyond that of the common repli-racer. This portion of the shootout entails much more to consider than simply which bike sets the fastest lap time.

In their natural habitat these high-performance R-model streetfighters offer the best combination of performance, comfy ergos and edgy styling of any category of motorcycle.

#1 Triumph Speed Triple R

Sweater editor, Siahaan, says “the Triumph gave me the most overall satisfaction when riding on the street.”

The Speed Triple R regains some of its former glory by earning top honors in the street portion of our test. The STR is attractive, comfortable, user-friendly and easy to ride fast on bumpy, unfamiliar two-laners.

Says Duke, “The stiffer springs in the Ohlins suspension results in less pitching while braking and remains higher in their strokes over street bumps. It feels planted, more so than the regular Speed Triple.”

As much as the Tuono’s APRC helps it to quickly navigate a track and is still usable on the street, we feel the Speed Triple’s ABS is a more practical technology when navigating the hazards of freeways and surface streets, especially when it works as seamlessly as this. The STR also has the roomiest ergonomics, cushiest seat material and most usable mirrors of the group.

It should be noted that choosing the Triumph best in this category wasn’t unanimous. In a two-to-one vote Troy and I agreed the Speed Three was the most covetous whereas Duke had his reservations.

The unimpeded view of the single-sided rear swingarm and five-spoke PVM wheel elevates the STR’s aesthetics.

“I could make a good case for the Triple-R to be judged the best streetbike of this group, but I’d balk at paying $4K more for it than the non-R version,” says Duke. “For my weight, I could live with the standard suspension, so the only really covetous part of the S3R to me is the R’s lightweight wheels.”

But even Duke agreed the Triumph is the more user-friendly bike of the three. “The Triumph,” adds Troy, “feels the most familiar and is the easiest bike for me to get up to speed on.”

This is where subjectivity enters the contest. All three testers agreed the Triumph was a better-styled bike than the Tuono. The white on black with red highlights color scheme and distinctive styling of the Triple strikes a better profile while in motion or parked in front of your favorite cafe. When it came to forming a mental picture of riding one or the other, we also agreed the sexy Speed Triple will pick up more chicks than the Aprilia.

Bikes intended mostly for the street benefit greatly from power accessible at low revs and the three-cylinder Speed Triple can’t be beat in this regard. MV’s four-cylinder Brutale nearly matches the Triumph’s torque-rich Triple from 5000 rpm. The Aprilia’s V-4 can’t keep pace at the low end, but scampers away if it’s revved up.

#2 Aprilia Tuono V4 R APRC

The fastest production streetfighter ever produced may be reason enough to purchase the Tuono V4 R over the other bikes here.

If Duke had his way the Tuono would have won this segment of the shootout. Whereas the Aprilia’s APRC package isn’t as useful on the street as it is at the track, it remains a welcome assortment of technologies. For performance junkies, having these goodies on the bike may outweigh the overall well-rounded package of the Triumph. Then, of course, there’s the 154 rear-wheel horsepower on tap.

But even Duke conceded that “fueling below 3000 rpm feels a little soft, especially when cold, likely from a lean mixture to pass emissions standards,” he says. “I’m told throttle response can be significantly improved by fitting an Akropovic slip-on muffler ($1,544.95) from Aprilia’s accessory catalog, which includes access to the ECU’s ‘off-road-only’ race map.”

We already mentioned the easily-soiled yellow seat, but at least with textile pants or jeans the seat material is not as slippery.

Duke also noted that the Tuono’s “transmission clunks loudly when engaging first gear from neutral, feeling a little crude for such a sophisticated powerplant. Otherwise, it’s a very slick gearbox.”

Of the three (and no surprise from our previous outings with the RSV4), the Tuono V4 R is a gas hog. A recorded 35 mpg was our best result, but it averaged consistently worse than that, as little as 27 mpg. Aprilia also claims a 4.5-gallon capacity, which doesn’t seem to coincide with having 17 miles on the low fuel light and only managing to fit 3.5-gallons into the tank.

A benefit of the Tuono V4 R is the bike’s stock exhaust and the beautiful noise emanating from it. The growl is intoxicating and counts for an included bonus the other two bikes are lacking.

#3 MV Agusta Brutale R 1090

It may be poetry in motion, but for $16,500 we expect more refinement from the Brutale.

The MV Agusta Brutale R 1090 may actually embody streetfigher precepts better than the other models. The bike’s combination of short wheelbase and mid-range torque keeps the Brutale’s front wheel in the air, aided by the shortest overall ratios in the first two gears. “It leaps off the line like a hot poker was stuck up its gorgeous pipes,” raves Duke.

During impromptu roll-on testing the Brutale simply left both the Triumph and Aprilia as if they were 750cc bikes. The S3R is hurt by the tallest overall ratio in sixth gear, while the Tuono’s peakier mill can’t match the grunt of its rivals.

The Brutale is also the looker of the three; its tight tolerances and sculptured design are well above average for a production motorcycle. It’s with the bike’s mechanical and electronic elements where the Brutale falls short.

Form over function: The sexy, slash-cut pipes dramatically cut into room for a rider’s right foot, especially when carrying weight on the balls of your feet as one does at the track. Even the passenger peg hanger intrudes on heel space.

“Its EFI seems a generation behind the latest systems,” says Duke, which Troy corroborates: “Harsh on/off throttle application, especially at slow speeds.” The dyno run at Mickey Cohen Motorsports also confirmed the Brutale’s imperfect fuel mapping.

The inline Four-cylinder emits high-frequency vibrations felt at all engine speeds, but — possibly more important in the company of a V-4 and inline-Triple — the MV’s engine lacks character. “Not that the MV isn’t exciting,” says Troy, “but for me it was the least exciting of the three. Maybe I’m so used to inline-Fours that this one kinda exhibits that same ‘Japanese inline-Four’ feel.”

“Resetting the tripmeter takes a bewildering combination of button pushes,” whines Duke. The two LCD panels display lots of info including water temp and gear selection in a small panel below the analog tach, while the larger, rectangular panel on the right contains a digital speedo, odometer, tripmeter, TC and mode settings. The problem is, there isn’t enough contrast built in to easily read the information.

And, lastly, its mirrors are next to worthless.


Top-shelf Öhlins suspension and Brembo monoblocs were born from racetrack competition and these components, combined with lighter PVM wheels and improved shifting elevate the Speed Triple to R status with a $4,000 increase in retail price. That $4K increase, however, makes the S3R $1,000 more expensive than the Tuono V4 R APRC.

This creates a serious conundrum. We like the Speed Triple R’s styling, seating position, grunty three-cylinder engine, familiar handling and ergonomics, and, of course, its premium brand components, but the technological trickery of the APRC-equipped Tuono and its blistering horsepower can’t be overlooked. And for $1,000 savings, the Tuono is the more affordable choice between the two.

For Duke, the Tuono unquestionably won this competition.

The Tuono, however, stands out as stylistically-challenged, especially when parked next the exotic MV and equally sexy S3R. So what you have to determine for yourself is the greater importance: outright horsepower and the technology to harness it, or a poised motorcycle built more for user-friendly street use and with a simultaneously aggressive and sultry style.

Troy and I wavered between the Tuono and the Triumph, but written in Troy’s notes was, “They’re all genuinely fun bikes to ride, but the Triumph gave me the most overall satisfaction.”

For Duke, and his need-for-speed persona, the Tuono was the obvious choice. For Troy and I, it wasn’t so clear cut. While we both understand Duke’s argument for the Aprilia, we couldn’t shake the lure of the STR and its savoir-faire. We can’t really call it a tie because these two bikes are dissimilar enough to attract motorcyclists looking to fulfill disparate requirements.

Too sexy for this shootout? We hate to disparage the great MV, but hopefully the Brutale R 1090 will return next year less the issues discussed here.

The MV Agusta Brutale R 1090 contains all the intangibles of a Harley-Davidson (If we have to explain, you wouldn’t understand). For its $16,500 MSRP (the most expenisve bike here), however, there’s a lot of rough edges, namely its unrefined fuel injection delivery and the buzzy nature of its engine. And, for as much presence as the Brutale exudes, it also lacks a unique engine character.

However, for those who appreciate its tight tolerances, beauty of design, historical namesake and can disregard the practicality of purchasing the other bikes, the Brutale remains an appealing and exotic Italian option.

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John Burns
John Burns

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Join the conversation
  • Mad4TheCrest Mad4TheCrest on Oct 18, 2022

    Was it only ten years ago we thought $19,000 MSRP pushed a bike "out of retail pricing contention"? What innocent times those were.

  • MikeD MikeD on Oct 22, 2022

    Give me the Speed Triple with the factory accessory headlight "Tiara", an ARROW low mount muffler and I'm set when it comes to motorcycles of this period.