Close your eyes (but keep reading). Envision the perfect motorcycle. If you're like most of our readers, it's got a tourquey motor, has a comfortable riding position, not much plastic, and can handle and brake with the best of the supersports on the market. Also, it should look cool and not cost a fortune to buy or maintain.
Open dem' peepers, Charlie! What you envisioned is the category of machine that we at MO like most of all; the open-class standard. You can call it a "Big Naked" or a "Hooligan", but it all means the same thing: a plus-sized motor, minimal bodywork and a semi-sporting chassis combined with an upright seating position. It's a bike that harkens to the good ol' days when you had a full head of hair and a robust sperm count (or almost all your eggs), when the "Universal Japanese Motorcycle" roamed the Plains in great numbers. They were bikes that could do it all; tour, commute, race or knock about the twisties on a nice, sunny day.
Most American motorcyclists don't see it that way, though. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of streetbikes sold in the USA annually are hard-core sportbikes or cruisers. Open-class standards make up a very small part of the market, somewhere between 20,000 or 30,000 a year. Is it build it and they will buy or buy it and they will build? Who knows?
In any case, the faithful OEMs keep hope alive by building a variety of interesting, entertaining bikes. Some have been around for a long time, some are new. For 2006, we found a couple of old hands to pit against some new kids to see who would come out on top. Which bike did we like the best? The answer may surprise you.
Pull out your windbreaker and bell-bottoms and get the Pet Rock out of your bottom drawer: it's time for Motorcycle.com's 2006 Hooligan Shootout! This class is populated by a large number of machines, but we wanted to focus on four of them. A call to Honda procured us a 2006 919, the grand old man of the class, little changed since its introduction in 2001. Our friends at Buell made haste to replace tires shagged at the 2007 Buell line-up press introduction on a brand-new 2007 XB12Ss Lightning Long. The Boys in Green made with a 2006 Kawasaki Z1000 in a tasty shade of matte blue, and Yamaha put down their black-and-yellow paintbrush long enough to prepare a new-for-2006 FZ-1 for our abuse and enjoyment.
We had the bikes, but we were short a body. Aside from the usual suspects-Senior Editor Gabe Ets-Hokin, Managing Editor Pete Brissette, and Executive Editor Alfonse Palaima, we needed a fourth hooligan to properly evaluate these beasts. Fortunately, Pete knows plenty of hooligans from his many years plying the LA basin as a motorcycle messenger. A missive through the grapevine produced Dave Lidstone, a displaced Brit who has spent most of his life working as a messenger and being a hoodlum and hooligan in general. He packs miles on his bike like a long-haul trucker, but still finds the time to do track days and even leisure riding in the canyons near his home. Superbike? Superbiker!
Manned and ready, we needed to figure out where to ride. We picked a circuitous route around the periphery of Greater Los Angeles, for the maximum variety of roads, altitudes, terrain and barbeque restaurants. From the ocean to the mountains, from the orange groves (OK, stucco subdivisions where there used to be orange groves) to the deserts, we saw it all. We also spent several weeks commuting, riding the canyons and having a good ol' time on these machines, so we can now have an informed opinion about what we like-and don't like-about the crop of hooligan bikes. After spending some serious time in the saddles and hashing out our votes, we present to you our results, in last-to-first order.
About that so-called "order" of our evaluation system: here at MO, we have one standard by which we rate the motorcycles we test; which bike would our testers buy if they were to spend their own money? It's a good way of cutting through all that hemming and hawing and wishy-washy-ing about which bike is more comfortable or which gets better fuel mileage or whatever. It's simple enough: which bike is good enough that you would shell out the price of admission to buy it with your own hard-won bread? Its how we've always done it, and it gets the most interesting results. So what did we discover this time?
More Hooligans! More Hooligans!
As the saying goes, "You can never have too much of a good thing." This couldn't be truer when it comes to generators of tomfoolery like a trusty, hooligan-natured motorbike. Unfortunately, MO has limited resources of time and editors so we couldn't possibly include all of the potential contenders. Here's a group of mischief-makers that we think should be on everyone's wish list.
The Tuono has quickly become an icon, household name or instant classic depending on whom you ask. Call it what you will, one thing is for sure and that is that this bike is always at or near the top of rider's picks for an all-out bad-ass streetfighter straight from the factory. With the RSV1000 as the basis for this high- handlebar racer, the Tuono shares the same powerful, 60 degree V-twin, magnesium-side-cover-wearing mill found in its road-racer brother. What this means to anyone who straddles this beast is that the bikini-faired front end will be clawing at the sky with ease.
If ever a brand of bike were to be thought of as the polar opposite of hooliganism, BMW might have been the one. We say might have been because with the introduction of the K1200R in 2005, BMW seemed ready to start embracing an edgier image. Like the Tuono, the K1200R , is another example of marketing and design wisdom. BMW has squeezed blood from a stone and created another bike from an existing model; in this instance, the K1200S. The R uses the same frame and transverse-mounted inline-four as the S model, with one of only a few exceptions between the two being a slightly smaller airbox on the 1200R.
Visually, the R has a love it or hate it quality with its oddly shaped headlight/bikini fairing. Aesthetics aside, the K1200R has won the hearts of many and even garnered "bike of the year" from at least one bike publication. One wouldn't think of a shaft-driven bike as being hooligan-natured, but this Beemer fits the bill for us.
Ducati S2R and S4RS
Ducati brings its "A" game to the table with the S4RS. Ohlins suspension is the most obvious visual cue that indicates this bike is some type of special trouble maker, but what sets this hellion apart from all other Monsters is its Desmodromic four-valve, liquid-cooled, 998cc L-twin power plant that inhales through cavernous 50mm throttle bodies.
As Yossef said in his assessment of the S4RS, "If it sounds like this an extremely fun Ducati to ride, then you read right."
KTM 950 Supermoto
Think a prominent dirt bike maker can't build a machine to qualify for hooligan status? Then you don't know about KTM's 950 Supermoto.
A 95 horsepower, liquid-cooled, four valve, 75 degree V-twin sourced from their Adventure is the basis for this orange and black stallion.
Although KTM may have been a little remiss in their choice of using constant velocity carbs, the rest of the bike is outfitted superbly with great WP suspension and radial-mounted Brembos that munch down on 305mm floating rotors.
Wrap it up with a good chassis and the Supermoto is a streetbike killer. And if Gabe (of all people) can do a wheelie and a stoppie, than this bike is a hooligan by default.
MV Agusta Brutale 910
"An icon of desire..."
Now there's a way to describe a motorcycle. Ducati still makes some expensive machinery, but they may have lost a little bit of their mystique by virtue of the fact that you can see them just about anywhere.
Thankfully there are still a few exotics that are still, well, exotic like Bimota and Benelli. MV Agusta is also a moniker that smacks of "hard to come by" and their Brutale 910 is most relative to this crowd of rabble-rousers.
As naked as a naked bike can be, the Brutale is a striking machine to behold as the inline-four dangles from its red tubular steel frame and the aggressively angled headlight matches perfectly with the fast lines. With a retail price tag of just under $14,500, the 910cc bike pumps out a claimed 136 hp and begs for your consideration as a hooligan. [MO test of the Brutale S is here.]
The larger brother of the iconic SV650, the SV1000S is a hooligan at heart. With heaps of torque from the word go, an extremely stable chassis and more than sufficient brakes, it's easy to see why this bike has been popular for so long.
Although little has changed about the 996cc water-cooled, 90 degree V-twin in the past few years, the SV1000S is still a worthy competitor. If nothing else, it has an awesome exhaust note and intake snort.
Truimph Speed Triple
If there is any other bike that both plays the part and looks the part better than Triumph's Speed Triple, MO doesn't know about it. Born in the Motherland of MotorBike Hooliganism (that's the UK to you wankers who don't know any better), the Speed Triple sports the classic trademark look of large, twin spotties that bug straight out and dismiss the notion that a bad-to-the-bone machine needs something so silly as wind protection.
With the time-tested three-cylinder inline configuration as the heart of the beast, this bike may well be the OG (original gangsta) of all mass-produced streetfighters. It's a bike that has been near and dear to Triumph's heart since 1994, and it should be around for a long time.
Suzuki Bandit 1200S (faired) /1200 (un-faired)
Gone but not forgotten. Some bikes are born a hooligan, others have hooliganism thrust upon them. A good example of bikes born as hooligans would be the Speed Triple or Tuono. And a good example of a bike that morphed into a streetfighter by virtue of its raw and simple nature would be the now-defunct Suzuki Bandit 1200. Commonly referred to as a "gentleman's express", El Bandito was a classic example of a manufacturer making the most of what was on hand to create an understated but much-appreciated parts-bin bike. Starting with the antiquated mill from the GSXR1100, Suzuki punched it out to 1,157cc, wrapped it in a tubular steel frame and took many of the remains of the short-lived RF900R to complete a great, cost-effective, all-around motorcycle.
"A favorite of streetfighter builders the world over, the Bandit is adored for its simplicity and rawness..."
The engine was often referred to as "bullet-proof" and the bike's parts-bin nature means that it is flexible in terms of replacement parts availability and it's open to a wide array of hop-ups.
The Bandit began life in 1996, saw cosmetic and various parts revisions in 2001 and finally ended its production run in 2005. Fortunately, you can still purchase a good, used Bandit for less than $2,500.
A favorite of streetfighter builders the world over, the Bandit is adored for its simplicity and rawness and has spawned countless Internet resources. By today's standards 110-115 horsepower and less than 80ft. lbs of torque in stock trim from a liter bike is almost pathetic (but would do well in this test). Nevertheless, the Suzuki Bandit will always be true hooligan.
2006 Honda 919
Last but not least
There are no winners or losers here, just different shades of "good", OK, Honda? We all like your bike, but to like is not enough to part our testers from their mythical money.
Everybody knows Honda has meticulous build quality and reliability. We've all heard about the 300,000 mile CBR900RR. The 919 is no exception: it's well-made and pleasant to ride, even fun. So why wasn't that enough to bring home some bacon, eh?
The first 919s sold in the US were painted a cool Asphalt Black color that gave them a mean, gritty edge. For 2006, the 919 gets a rich, deep coat of Candy Red paint. In such a civilized color scheme, the styling looks dated and almost stodgy compared to the other machines. However, looking over the bike reveals typical Honda build quality and attention to detail; carefully covered hoses and cables, deep, rich paint and chrome, and a substantial, finished feel overall. Fonzie had a dissenting opinion, noting a "cheap-in-parts" feeling, although he was a lone voice in the wilderness.
Climbing on board, our testers mostly enjoyed the Honda's comfortable seating position and good ergonomics. There's an easy reach to the ground from the low seat and the bars are close at hand (although one tester thought they placed his elbows too high in the air). The seat itself is soft, but supportive enough that nobody complained after a day of riding. The pegs are low enough to give comfort to old, creaky knees. Passengers are even provided for with a neat little grab handle, too. However, nobody doubted that the 919 was a comfortable place to spend a day of riding.
How comfortable can you be with the legendary 900RR/Fireblade motor nestled inches from your reproductive organs? As it turns out, very comfortable. The 919cc motor is the second-softest here, 12 hp more powerful than the Buell's ancient, push-rod design.
"How comfortable can you be with the legendary 900RR/Fireblade motor nestled inches from your reproductive organs?"
However, it is incredibly smooth and definitely powerful enough to be entertaining; wheelies are not a problem, top speed is moot with the upright seating position and what Al called "minimalist wind diversion" and sixth-gear passes on the freeway are undramatic events. The transmission is of course Honda-silky, with a short throw and a smooth, positive feel.
The best motor is no good without good handling to make it fun, and the 919 doesn't let you down, even if it wasn't distinctive enough for most of us to rave about. Like all these bikes, the broad bars and short-ish wheelbase allow easy turning, but the bike's bulk and moderate steering geometry lend it stability in the turns. Stunter Dave liked the 919's handling the best, and Al might have had a few glasses of Bushmills when he wrote that the 919 felt as "nimble as my own hand on solo date nights." Hmm. But Pete didn't like the "falling into corners" feel the 919 has, and Gabe was inclined to agree, especially when he was inclined.
Braking is late-90's high tech, with sufficient feel and power, although we found the brakes required a bit more effort and planning than post-Clinton era binders do. Fast Fonzie even boasted of burning up the brakes and noting some fade when the temperatures in the High Desert soared past the century mark, but not to worry; the Honda will stop you just fine.
Suspension is as high-quality as the rest of the bike, with a supple, controlled ride on the backroads or highway.
Honda pays plenty of attention to making things feel good out-of-the-box, and the 919 is no exception. But it's adequate, not fantastic. Like most things about the 919, it gets the job done but doesn't inspire passion in many.
In general, the 919 is a very good all-purpose motorcycle.
It's comfortable and easy to ride in town with its low seat and torquey motor, good on the highway with the comfortable seating position and solid midrange, and fun in the twisties with competent handling.
It's also value-priced at $8,399, just $1,000 more than its slightly-wheezy 599 little brother. But does "good enough" and "adequate" make you want to run out and purchase a bike as a hooligan machine? Us neither, apparently, and although it's a very good bike, there's better choices for us.
Honda 919 Tech Talk
The 919 was first introduced in the USA in 2001 as a 2002 model and has received few updates since then. Like its smaller 599 brother, it is popular in Europe, where the "naked" thing has always been popular. What makes it tick?
Honda started with the second-generation CBR900RR motor, which was a long-stroke 919cc four-cylinder, liquid-cooled, dual-overhead cam affair with four valves per cylinder. Honda of course tuned it (say it together, children) for torque, using various tuning tricks to reduce horsepower to 102.7 (down from the 113 that the CBR900RR made the last time we tested one in 1999) and bump up torque to 66 foot-pounds (from the RR's 60.8). It emits dreaded carbon into the atmosphere via a trick-looking four-into-two-into-one-into-two high-mount exhaust that won't burn you passenger's legs thanks to prodigious heat shielding.
That motor is located in a tube-steel chassis with a big, rectangular backbone. It's smooth enough to be solidly-mounted to lend extra rigidity to the chassis.
Suspension is handled by conventional 43 mm forks that are now adjustable for preload and compression damping. rear shock works through a linkage and is also adjustable for preload and rebound damping. It's got seven preload positions, 16 fewer than Paris Hilton demonstrated in her latest video. Good Night Everybody! Tip your waitress!
Braking duties are handled by standard late-90's four-piston calipers and 296 mm rotors. There's a good ol' fashioned steel gas tank ready for five whole gallons of your favorite fossil fuel. Wheelbase measures in at 57.5 inches and the entire red-painted enchilada tips the scales at a claimed 427 pounds dry. Pricing is $8,399, only $400 more than it was priced at in 2001.
2007 Buell XB12Ss Lightning Long
Hey, Who Let That Guy In Here?
"We've got to keep the Buells out of these comparisons!" said Pete, and there are many of you in our peanut gallery ready with a hearty "yeah!" The problem is that Erik's Wisconsin Wonders are just so darn fun to ride you're willing to overlook wonky details, hefty price tags and underpowered engines, giving the pushrod-motored things a leg up on the competitors. Many of you last year squealed like little pink piglets when the Buell won our Value Supersports test not because it was faster, cheaper or better looking, but because it was simply the most fun to ride.
For this test, we decided to give the Lightning Long a whirl. With extra passenger room and a longer wheelbase, the XB12Ss might lose a little hooligan character, but because it's a Buell, we figured it would still be a fun ride.
Approaching the distinctive-looking red bike, the build quality is different from the Japanese competition, although not necessarily better or worse. There is less plastic and more unplated, rough-looking hardware, but the overall effect is nice; the Buell is a finished and high-quality product.
The motor hangs front-and-center as you look at the bike; "heart-shaped", as Fonzie says. It's brutal-looking and purposeful, and it gets plenty of attention wherever you go, as well as acceptance from the sportbike and made-in-America cruiser crowd alike, so you can walk in both worlds.
The Lightning Long's ergonomics are remarkably normal. There is a nice reach to the bars with just a hint of forward lean. The seat is higher than some and lower than others, but it is very narrow at the front, so short folk like Gabe can get their feet flat on the ground. Said seat uses good, supportive foam for comfortable all-day riding.
"...the grunting barnyard animal of a powerplant refuses to lurch or bog, regardless of gear."
If you're "still a V-Twin lover" like Fonzie, you will appreciate everything about this motor, from the way it bounces up and down in the frame at idle to the way it revs quickly (and loudly) to the 6,800 rpm redline.
Carburetion isn't perfect-it has dips and flat spots-but it works. It works well enough to do burnouts, wheelies or to just enjoy the most torque of any of these motors, as the front wheel comes up off of bumps and the grunting barnyard animal of a powerplant refuses to lurch or bog, regardless of gear.
Fonzie still found it a "narrow powerband and hard to keep exactly on those revs in the tightest of twisties", but when the road starts to flow it feels very good. It's a good thing you don't have to shift too much, because although the gearbox is better than previous Buells, it's still Soviet-era compared to even the 13 year-old Honda's design.
It's clunky, requires a firm throw and has more neutrals than a busload of Swedes.
Luckily the clutch works smoothly, and you do get used to the whole tractor thing after a while. With 60-plus foot-pounds of torque available at just 2,000 rpm, who needs to shift?
OK, you've shelled out an extra $1,500 to experience Erik Buell's vision of sportbike perfection, so how well does all that high-tech chassis stuff work? Well. None of us could truly fault the handling of this bike. The chassis is unflappable and very precise, and the steering is light and easy. It's a rider's bike, one that makes all kinds of corners and pavement seem smoother and more flowing. However, this longer-wheelbase Long seems a little bland for a Buell, more like a Japanese standard than other models.
It's as good as the other Buells, but it somehow lacks the edge that makes the short-framed bikes so much fun. Luckily, nothing was done to the suspension, so Buell buyers can enjoy the fully-adjustable goodness that is the Buell's suspenders. You never miss the linkage in the rear shock, although Gabe dialed some more rebound damping (half a turn, if you're curious) into the front forks like he does with every Buell he rides. After that, the front end didn't wallow or flounce over the bumps or dive too much on the brakes.
Those brakes work well, although not as well as you'd think. Aside from looking really cool, the brakes work about the same as the other machines', which is remarkable in itself, as the Lightning is spotting the other boys a whole disc and caliper. What is noticeable is the light front end made possible by leaving out a lot of stuff the other bikes have, like a heavier wheel and the sprocket carrier. That means faster turning and acceleration. Good engineering produces multiple benefits with one solution.
Riding around town on the Buell is great; it's like having the world's biggest, fastest, loudest BMX bicycle. It wheelies with ease (although not as easily as some other Buells we know) stops with little drama, and has the torque you need to drag race 'busas (at least for 20 feet). On the freeway, it has more wind protection than you might expect, and is comfortable for a longer time than the Honda or Z1000. With the extra inch of passenger room, you might even persuade a friend to join you for more than 20 minutes.
So why the third-place finish? Good engineering, good handling, comfort, a passable motor, and that unique made-in-USA aura are outweighed by that blandness imparted by the longer chassis, a motor that runs out of steam too quickly and the premium price. We all liked it, but not enough to unseat the remaining two.
XB12Ss Lightning Tech Talk
Maybe you've heard of the AC Cobra? Take a hot-rodded pushrod big-block V-8 and cram it into a small, race-derived chassis. The result? A fun, powerful car that breaks all the rules and creates a legend.
Maybe a souped-up Sportster motor isn't exactly the Epic of Gilgamesh, but what makes the Buell XB-series motorcycles special is a host of special engineering solutions to create a unique bike designed for cynical but discerning enthusiasts. You can read much more from Gabe's 2007 Buell intro report, but we'll try to give you the fast skinny.
Buell starts with the motor, like everybody else. However, this one is odd; it looks like the Sportster motor of yore but is loaded with techno-trickery that allows it to pump out more horsepower--more reliably--than Grandma's Sporty.
"Buell designed the XB-series frame from scratch..."
Basic geometry is the same, sure: it's an air-cooled pushrod 45-degree V-twin with self-adjusting valves, but almost every part is different from the bike's Harley-Davidson cousins.
Compression is a heady 10.0:1, and the 3.812 inch stoke is filled with a 3.5 inch bore; not what we'd call oversquare. Fuel is squirted in by way of a 44mm downdraft injector controlled by digital electronics. It all adds up to about 91 hp at the back wheel on le dynojet du MO, with 73 foot-pounds of torque, enough torque to pull a stump-pulling tractor away from a stump. With electronic fuel injection and ignition, hydraulic self-adjusting valves and a zero-maintenance belt drive (that really doesn't have a replacement interval, according to Mr. Buell), annual service costs should be only a little more than what Mel Gibson spends on Israel bonds.
Torque, shmorque if it's in a crummy chassis; am I right, ladies? Otherwise we'd just buy cruisers. Buell designed the XB-series frame from scratch, enlisting the aid of Verlicchi, frame-builder to the stars (or at least Honda, BMW, and Ducati, among others). It's a pretty innovative bit of tackle, using the frame's massive box-section spars to store 4.4 gallons of fuel in the slightly longer XB12Ss. The swingarm is similarly massive, and doubles as the oil tank.
Suspension is pretty standard stuff; fully adjustable 43mm inverted Showa forks in front with a linkage-free fully-adjustable Showa damper in back. The wheels and brakes are not so usual. Because of the ZTL (zero torsional load) front brake--which mounts the disc to the rim rather than the hub--the front hoop can be a spindly, super light affair. That disc is a large-pizza-sized 375mm and is grabbed by a six-piston caliper. Luckily for the steering head bearings, there's only one disc up front.
The XB12Ss was released in 2006 to address criticism of the XB series bikes being too compact for long rides. It has a slightly bigger frame to give customers an extra inch of room, resulting in a lazier (for a Buell) 54-inch wheelbase. It's finished with cool plastic bodywork and a teeny bikini fairing. Buell claims a skimpy 400 pounds for dry weight and sells the bike for a not-so-skimpy $10,495.
2006 Kawasaki Z1000
The Devil on your shoulder Kawasaki Z1000
Bad, bad, Leroy Brown. That's how we think of the Z1000; Fonzie thinks of it as a "true transformer toy for adults, capable of changing the ride from commuter to hooligan with a twist of the wrist." Kawasaki excels at putting powerful motors into comfy frames; look at the GPZ1100 or the ZRX1200. This bike is better yet; how can a 127 hp motor in an upright bike be bad?
The styling is controversial, to say the least. Some of us missed the cool paint schemes of the early Z1000, but none of us liked the funky four-into-whatever-into-four exhausts and wished Kawasaki would just replace it with a single muffler (Looking at the sneak pictures of the 2007 gives a perfect illustration of "be careful what you wish for"-Editor). There are numerous little plastic shields and covers on this bike; combined with the "spray can" paint job, the bike had a slightly cheap appearance to some of us, but others liked the edgy, aggressive look.
The seating position is OK, but not as nice as the other bikes; the saddle slopes forward and the bars are positioned awkwardly. The pegs are low, and the bike is low enough to allow a smaller person like Gabe or Pete to enjoy such a big, bad machine. The seat is soft, but the foam packs down too quickly and isn't as comfortable as the other machines.
"Who cares about that stuff anyway; there are some serious ponies down there starved for affection."
Who cares about that stuff anyway; there are some serious ponies down there starved for affection. The fuel-injected motor starts up easily, with no need of the fast-idle lever. At lower RPM, it's smooth enough, with that characteristic Kawi sound from the airbox. Snap the precise gearbox into first and let out the smooth clutch and it responds with crisp, spot-on fueling. Give it too much throttle and it responds with less civility. As the revs climb, vibration sets in and the front wheel is suddenly aloft.
Clicking through the gears and keeping on the gas has you going very fast, very quickly. Like a lot of Kawasaki products, the Z1000 is a rolling trophy case for a very powerful engine.
How is it on that twisty road? It's not remarkable performance-wise, but it's not too bad, either. As with all these bikes, the upright, wide bar and sporty chassis allows for quick steering, although Gabe noted a "top-heavy feel". Overall, this bike doesn't really stand out in the handling department.
Ride quality is competent, but unremarkable. The forks-which look sourced from the ZX-9R-have only provisions for rebound damping (and then in just one fork leg), but offer up a smooth, if squishy ride.
The rear shock is similarly non-descript. What can we say? It works, but doesn't really shine. Brakes are a lot like the 919's; late 90's four-pot jobs that lack the feel and bite of more-modern equipment but still get the job done. Jeez! Damming with faint praise, aren't we? How does this thing become runner-up, besting Honda's overall quality and competence as well as the Buell's slick techno-fripperies?
Did Sean (now doing PR for Kawasaki) send his man-servant Abdul over to rough Gabe up?
The fact is that the Z1000 has what is needed for a hooligan bike; attitude and character. It's got the edgy looks combined with wacky amounts of power needed to make riding it a memorable experience, whether on a two-lane backroad chasing your pals or going down to the store to buy some metal polish for your wife's bowling trophies (Gabe recommends MAAS silver polish for the easiest, best shine). It vibrates wickedly, isn't the most comfortable bike, and is frankly getting long in the tooth. But do you have your dog euthanized because his breath is a bit smelly and he has diarrhea on your coffee table?
Nor would we. The Z1000 goes as good as it looks, and will make you happy every time you ride it. The vibration is only an issue when you are having so much fun surfing on all that horsepower anyway. At lower speeds, it's quite civil, with acceptable comfort and wind protection. The passenger seat isn't so awful, either. It's not a polished, refined road missile capable of tackling any street task you throw at it, but who cares? It's fun, and that's what motorcycles are for.The Letter of The Day Is...
Z is a heady letter around the Kawasaki bench, and it all goes back to the original gangsta of hooliganism, the Z1 of 1973. That bike had a 900cc motor in a tube-frame chassis and was horsepower champ for a long time.
Apparently Kawasaki likes the good ol' days. The Z1000 uses a 900-something cc motor in a tube-frame chassis and is pretty close to being horsepower champ of its class, too.
Kawasaki introduced this model as a 2003, basing it on their now-defunct ZX-9R sportbike. They took the 9R's motor and bumped displacement to 953cc, replacing the downdraft head with a sidedraft one. Fueling is by EFI and 38mm throttle bodies assisted by a 32-bit CPU from the Xbox 360. (just kidding!) They also changed the cam profiles to improve low and mid-range response, but unlike some manufacturers we could name, the bored-out motor loses nothing on top to the ZX-9R; the last ZX-9R we dynoed made 128.6 hp; the Z1000 made 127. Torque is pretty much the same at 69 foot-pounds, although the Z makes over 50 foot-pounds at 3,500 rather than 4500 rpm.
It must have been expensive buying all those Xboxes on eBay, because Kawasaki had to save money with the chassis. Maybe it's just nostalgia; a black-painted tube-steel frame was good enough for Uncle Irv's Schwinn and the original Z1, so it's good enough for the Z1000, too. At least the motor gets used as a stressed member-rubber mounting is for wussies-to get some rigidity.
Also rigid is the 41mm inverted Kayaba fork, which pairs with modern linkage-type suspension and decent four-piston brakes to bring everything up to speed. The suspension isn't very adjustable-there's only preload with a single rebound adjuster on one leg-but at least there are cool polished wheels with modern radial tires.
Kawasaki tops it all off with a big metal 4.8 gallon tank. Wheelbase measure in at a tidy 55.9 inches, and it weighs in a claimed 437 pounds. Do you like shiny black or red paint, Billy? Too bad; Kawasaki only sells Formula Z in a matte blue finish in its twilight year, but at least the price is still $8,499; the same as it was when our dear Mr. Burns tested it in 2003.
2006 Yamaha FZ-1
Even Leroy Got His Ass Kicked Occasionally
When the FZ-1 was first introduced in 2001, we genuinely loved it. However, it wasn't what we really wanted. Instead of an R1 with the fairing removed and a superbike bar slapped on, we got something else, more like an edgy sport-tourer, or a 120 hp commuter. It was big, squishy and heavy, and felt it. Still, it was a successful model, and worked well as a street bike.
Gabe's drool-buds went into full production when he found out about the all-new for 2006 FZ-1. This bike had the next-generation R1 motor, an aluminum frame, and plenty of other updates. At the intro, he was impressed by the bike's good quality and nice looks, but it still wasn't the insane, edgy bike he'd hoped for.
Visually, the new FZ-1 makes quite a presence. With a big, blacked-out aluminum frame, gold-anodized upside-down forks and creased, futuristic styling, it's guaranteed to not be a wall flower. Build quality and attention to detail is typical of Yamaha's big sportbikes; very good. Fonzie found it to be "tall and narrow and kind of long in the fork", and it does have the biggest visual presence of all the bikes here, taking away some of the hooligan-osity.
Unlike many hooligans, ol' Dai Ichi makes a good first impression. Gabe found the seat a little high, but otherwise liked the broad, comfortable saddle and "almost perfect" reach to the bars. The pegs are low as well, ensuring a very comfortable ride. Instruments are clear and readable, with lots of information on a big LCD display. Controls and other features-like adjustable instrument lights and passenger grabrails-reveal more attention to detail that is much appreciated.
The Big Effin' Zed fires up with a characteristic R1 "vroom". Low RPM reveals the bike's main flaw; imperfect fuel injection. We can speculate about why it's not perfect out of the box, but speculatin' ain't journalism. But for whatever reason, smooth throttle work in low gears at low RPM is tricky, which can make low-speed, technical roads troublesome on this bike. However, once you've revved it good and hard the motor flows effortlessly towards five digits on the tachometer, delivering a strong head of acceleration along the way. Vibration is noticeable, even with a rubber-damped bar and pegs, but tolerable if you are used to inline-fours.
Transmission and clutch quality are very good. The gears almost shift themselves, and the clutch is smooth, positive and light. You don't really need to use it that much; there's good power on hand from 6,000 RPM all the way to over 10,000. Lofting the front wheel is apparently easy, judging from the photographic evidence (all obtained using professional riders on closed private roads, of course).
As the front wheel meets the pavement again and the road starts to wind, the FZ-1 demonstrates modern and civilized handling manners. That big frame and stout suspension gives the bike an unflappable feel in even high-speed corners, aided by the low bars eliminating that vague front-end feel some Supermoto and Naked bikes have. Yet, it's still somehow light and easy to steer.
"It's not a good first bike, but it might make a good last one..."
The suspension is a good balance of firm and supple, and offers plenty of adjustment capability to get it perfect. So we have quick steering, good suspension and a rigid chassis that loses only a little feel to the rubber-mounted bars.
Coupled with all that power, a good rider on that FZ-1 will go plenty fast on a curving road. She perhaps might struggle to keep up with a Buell-mounted badass in the very tight, technical portions of the ride, but as soon as things open up she can watch that small red bike get even smaller in her mirrors. When it comes time to stop, the FZ-1 boasts the most powerful brakes here, despite the extra weight of the big machine. Those tasty monoblock Sumitomo calipers aren't the very latest radial-mount design, but they are brutally effective, with so much power and feel Gabe thought they were radial-mounted. Shows what he knows.
With the largest windscreen in the test, it's no surprise that the FZ-1 had the best wind protection, although Fonzie found the wind blast to be a "bit choppy at times". That windscreen coupled with a spacious, comfortable seat means the FZ-1 is practically a tourer compared to the rest of the crew. Around town, the Yamaha doesn't feel so much bigger than the other bikes, but it can be intimidating to smaller riders unless they are very familiar with handling big bikes. Actually, that goes for all the bikes; this is no "best first bike"-style shootout.
It's not a good first bike, but it might make a good last one; the kind of bike you keep for 10 years because there is really nothing else with so much versatility. We all liked the FZ-1 fine, although it didn't really get us excited the way the Buell or Z1000 did. It's just so competent in every way that we all voted it either first or second when asked what we'd buy with our own hard-earned. When it's your own cash on the line, you want value, practicallity and fun. The FZ-1 delivers.
FZ-1 Tech Talk
The spring of 2006 heralded the re-making of Yamaha's much-loved FZ-1, which the manufacturer claims dominates the whole naked-sport category. How do you make a good thing even better?
They started with the current model (2004-2006) YZF-R1's 20-valve 998cc motor. They "altered" it with milder cams and a heavier crankshaft. The fourth and fifth gear ratios are shorter, as well. Fuel injection is courtesy of the R1's 45mm injectors, and there's an EXUP system to boost midrange and improve throttle response. Yamaha claimed 148 hp from the revised motor; we saw 129 on the MO Dynojet Dynamometer.
The chassis needed more help than the motor, so that's where the biggest changes happened. An all-new aluminum frame uses "controlled-fill" casting technology to be over 400 percent stiffer while weighing in 20 pounds lighter.
The swingarm is new; longer and stiffer, as is la mode these days. The wheelbase becomes a not-so-shabby 57.5 inches. It's topped off with 43 mm inverted forks and those delicious four-piston single-piece brake calipers (grabbing floating 320mm discs) we expect from Yamaha.
There's a slick new fairing on top, but alas, the svelte totally nude version is for the Europeans only. At least we do get a nice big 4.75 gallon fuel tank. Dry weight is claimed to be but 438 pounds, shaving nine pounds off the previous model. At $20.77 a pound, ($9,099) it's more money than good smoked salmon but still a good value.
What Did We Learn Here Today, Boys and Girls?
Here we have four bikes that aim to serve the same purpose-provide a practical bike that can be used for about any kind of street-riding task but still provide industrial medication-levels of fun-through very different routes.
Which OEM took the most righteous path? Honda, bubbeleh, we want so much for you to win something like this, but your 919 just doesn't have the edge. If it had 15 or 20 more hp-which is easy to obtain with some mild tuning, by the way-this would have been a different test, but when you do everything well without standing out, you get taken for granted.
Buell, you know we love you. In fact, it looks suspicious to our readers how much we love you (thanks for that case of Black Label, incidentally), but when you bring a bike to the table that is so short of horsepower-and long on quirks-we just can't get on board, unless we really like scotch. Which Gabe does, but he has but one small, hairy vote.
Kawasaki! That's more like it. Gobs of power, edgy looks and attitude; if only we could have tested the 2007 or if Yamaha hadn't introduced their 2006.
"Yamaha, you may stay on the platform. You have won."
Either way, the vibration and vanilla handling manners held you back. Next year you might kick some tushie, though. Yamaha, you may stay on the platform. You have won. The 2006 FZ-1, although it needs some sorting to reach perfection, is our favorite hooligan bike in this test. It's fast, smooth, good-handling and comfortable, plus it offers long-distance riding comfort. And if you want, you can save on front tires. It's a little pricey at $9,099, but it's like getting two or three bikes in one, and--to quote Gabe--"comes dangerously close to being that magic 'do-it-all' bike we're all looking for."
That's it, isn't it? We all would like to simplify our lives, right? A big hooligan bike might just be the trick, a bike that you can ride to work, ride to the store, use two-up on vacation, even do an occasional track day with. Add 129 hp at the wheel and what more do you need, really? A taller windshield? Hard luggage? A tuna sandwich? Buy them and be done with it.
Even if they don't sell a lot of standards here in the land of the Sportbike and the Cruiser, this is still a hotly-contested class, with lots of new entries coming every year. That's because the enthusiasts at the OEMs who bring in the new bikes love to ride and favor the bikes they enjoy. The Yamaha sits on top of the hill now, but we're sure it will be challenged soon.
In the meantime, it's time to ride!
|Nits and Notes|
|The Kawasaki comes with a nice passenger seat that locks in place when the cover is removed. The lock itself is close to impossible to find. All these bikes had wide-set mirrors that provided a nice view aft. Big bikes, big tanks; none of these machines have a problem with 150-mile stints between fuel stops. Kawasaki must stop it with the weird circular bar-graph tachometers already or we will scream. Every bike except the Buell can use a magnetic tankbag (although it should be small and light for the Yamaha.) After a few wheelie passes, the Buell let us know it was time for a clutch adjustment by not engaging the clutch. Adjusting a Buell clutch requires removal of a cover secured by torx bolts, and the driver Buell includes wasn't quite as tough as the lock-tight-equipped screws. [Better suited for the airbox cover - Fonzie] Said hubris took a few hours out of our testing schedule as we milled about and fretted, not knowing what to do. Luckily we had over 115 IQ points between the four of us (with Dave holding at least half of those) and the day was saved by riding to the nearest auto parts store and buying a $15 tool. The FZ-1 requires a valve clearance check but every 26,500 miles. Who even owns a bike that long? According to Pete, in this day and age there is no way a bike should buzz as much as the Z1000.|
"For Our Money" Table
How the testers would spend their own money.
Dave "Skidstone" Lidstone
Al "Dente" Palaima
Pete "Scalopini" Brissette
Gabe "Linguine" Ets-Hokin
2006 Yamaha FZ-1
2006 Kawasaki Z1000
2007 Buell XB12Ss
2006 Honda CB1000
What I'd Buy
When I was but a lad, I would not have identified a CBR900RR as a "motorcycle". Instead, it would have seemed like some kind of unobtainable, exotic racing machine, useful only to those interested in pursuing the dangerous and costly habit of roadracing. Not a machine for daily living, but a thoroughbred suited only for the chase.
Nay, a motorcycle has two wheels, a handlebar and a big motor you can see, hence the term "motorcycle". I like that lean, mechanical look, and a standard-styled bike is what I will get when the time comes to purchase a new ride. Of course, by the time I've saved the thousand dollars for a down payment, the magneto-hover-suprabike that runs on lawn clippings and mulched copies of The Economist will be available, so this all may be moot.
But if that day were today, I would buy me a new Buell. Though a little more pricey than the competition (OK, a lot more) Buell offers buyers a lot of value, starting with the most incredibly hot-rodded pushrod V-twin you can buy on a new bike and ending with an exotic frame that handles wonderfully and doubles as a fuel tank. The brakes and suspension work well, and a Buell appeals to everyone you meet, whether they like sportbikes or cruisers.
It's also practical, with good reliability (I can hear you snickering, but the XB series has proved to have very good customer satisfaction and has a two-year warranty) and inexpensive maintenance. I can barely afford to adjust the valves on my Triumph 600 every 16,000 miles and it needs a new chain, but the Buell would give me neither of those headaches. That's $1100 right there.
The Yamaha is a close second. I was impressed at the FZ-1's introduction by the bike's smooth powerful motor, roomy comfort and small-bike handling. I was unimpressed by the slightly coo-coo fuel injection and mildly buzzy motor, but it has tremendous potential and comes dangerously close to being that magic "do-it-all" bike we're all looking for.
"How can a CBR900RR motor be stuffed in a naked chassis and feel like the two-wheeled version of an egg-salad sandwich?"
I wanted to like the Z1000, really I did. It's the coolest-looking bike, although the black and red scheme from the first model year was the best. The motor is a lot of fun, and it handles and stops well enough. Too bad it's buzzy, feels heavy and isn't that comfortable. Still, they're good values and can be had for a song on the used market. The poor old Honda is in last place, and it's undeserved. Smooth, refined, good-looking, fast enough and a solid value at $8,399, the Honda would make any motorcyclist happy, especially if he needed to put thousands and thousands of miles on it. I'd also like to add that it's surprisingly easy to ride and would be the most beginner-friendly of this group.
It does everything a motorcycle should, but lacks the style and panache the others have in spades. How can a CBR900RR motor be stuffed in a naked chassis and feel like the two-wheeled version of an egg-salad sandwich? I don't know, but let's hope a CBR1000RR-motored machine is in the near future, which would be more like deviled eggs. I can eat my own weight of those.
Sometimes choosing a "winning" bike is far more complicated than it seems on the surface. It's complicated, at least for me, by the little devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other shoulder. One side of me looks to the practicality and best value in a bike, but the other side is controlled by tugging on the ol' heartstrings. It's a purely emotional decision. You know what I'm talking about. It's that bike that makes you say, "Heck yeah! That's the one!" This thought happens in a fraction of the time that it does for any other bike that might be competing for your attention.
In this little shootout of ours, we originally intended to find out which of the four had the greatest hooligan factor. The shape of the test changed over time, but I stuck with that premise because I thought it was befitting of these machines.
Working my way up from the bottom, I found myself surprised by own selection. Normally you couldn't pry a Buell, especially a Lighting model, from my cold, dead hands. But in this instance the XB12Ss just didn't do it for me. I would have to say that in this instance, the Angel of Practicality and Value told me that this XB wasn't the path to enlightenment. I listened to the angel and understood that the Buell is one fun motorbike, but at nearly $1,500 more than the next most expensive bike in the bunch, the "weeeeeee" factor just wasn't enough to justify that price gap.
Coming in next from the bottom, but virtually tied for best value, is the tried and true 919. Good, old reliable Honda. I'm suspecting (but I most certainly could be wrong) that the 919 is one of the many bikes that Big Red will be changing for '07, if the murmurings in the industry are to be believed. Indeed, this bike is a great value, and not just because it's the least expensive in this collection. Everything works really well on the bike. The brakes are powerful enough, but the Buell and Yamaha out-perform it in this category. The engine is similarly situated among the others here, but again, it's not the best and it's not the worst. Suspension performance also wasn't lackluster but it didn't inspire me to run the bike to its limits when setting up for a challenging series of turns. Also, the EFI felt a little abrupt at times. In addition, the high center of gravity which gives that "falling into corners" feeling combined with peg-grinding ground clearance leave room for improvement. The 919 is basically a really good, stone reliable motorcycle, but it just kind of came out vanilla for me.
The newest kid on the block is the FZ-1. Totally redesigned from the previous generation, this Yamaha has a lot to offer. A screaming engine (albeit one that vibrates), a set of brakes that most others are still measured by, comfy ergos that were greatly enhanced by the rearward-angled flat handle bar, the best passenger accommodations here and a very stable chassis all combine to make this latest FZ-1 a bike that will undoubtedly continue to carry the heritage of a bike that should be with Yamaha for a long time. Yet, it too didn't "do it" for me. And coming in as the second most expensive bike in the pack, it narrowly missed out for my first choice.
At this point my emotional winner should be obvious. The Z1000 has a engine that vibrates so much that you can feel it in your soul. And it's not good vibrations. The suspension, as received from Kawasaki was all out of sorts. All the power in the world is useless if it isn't well-harnessed by good handling. Thankfully the suspension is fully adjustable, and an afternoon's worth of tuning would clear this up. The brakes were plenty strong enough to reel this mad machine in but they, like the Honda lacked some sensitivity. And getting back to that engine, even though it'll have the front end clawing for the sky, it vibrates so horribly that it rendered the mirrors all but useless.
"Or is it the way the front end protests with a series of mild shakes when you slam the throttle open and keep it pinned as you accelerate up the on ramp?"
Yet, for all its flaws the Z1000 got my pick for numero uno. Is it the aggressive, in your face appearance that says, "Bring what ya got punk!" from the minute you see it? That's part of it. Or is it the way the front end protests with a series of mild shakes when you slam the throttle open and keep it pinned as you accelerate up the on ramp? I liked that trait too. Perhaps it's the overall small, streetfighter sensation that I get when I climb aboard a bike that fit me perfectly from saddle to bars to foot pegs. It's hard to pin one thing down, but it just seemed to have that crazy-psycho edge that the others didn't.
Ultimately it's a combination of all those things (plus the way it wheelies)--both good and bad--that make me choose the Z1000. It also helps that all this emotional decision making is justified by the fact that my favorite of the four is only $100.00 more than the least expensive bike.
Now I can say, "The devil made me do it!"
Guest Evaluator and Wheelie-Boy
Out of the four bikes tested, on the bottom of my list is the Buell XB12Ss. First of all, at $10,495, the price is in the stratosphere for what you get. This is not to say that the bike is not innovative - fuel in the frame, oil in the swinging arm, belt drive, huge rim-mounted disc brake - they all add up to a low centre of gravity and a superbly-handling machine. It also sounds like a B-17 bomber when on song. Erik Buell has a lot to be proud of.
But the engine sadly lets this bike down. With a 7,000 rpm redline the revs run out all too soon. The vibration when idling is like 11 on the Richter scale and the oil cooler fan is extremely annoying; it's on way, way too much. Also, the transmission feels like a John Deere tractor compared to all the other bikes.
Third on my list is the Kawasaki Z1000. It has a very aggressive street fighter style with an angry stance even at stand still; a unique look among today's motorcycles.
It has also appeared in a wide variety of vibrant, shall we say, rainbow colors. This particular one was flat blue; it looked like someone painted it with a can spray paint. The engine has nice top-end power but the vibration in mid-range was very annoying. The vibes are worse at 70 miles per hour, where you are going to be cruising at mostly on the freeways but it pulls great from 9,000 to 11,000 rpm. The mirrors are great if you just want to see your elbows.
The Honda 919 is my runner up. It's typical Honda - excellent build quality with a beautiful engine, a rollover from the old CBR900. There's nothing to complain about there; bulletproof and smooth as silk with lots of usable power right where you need it. It's got good mid-range, perfect for the street. However, it's kind of dated and ugly to look at and on the small side, like an ugly red-headed stepchild with acne, and yet ... this bike will grow on you. It did me. I liked the deep maroon color paint scheme, and the more I rode this bike, the more I wanted to ride it. The positioning of the bars, mirrors and riding position just feel right. My only quibble is the very small read-out on the miles per hour on the gauges - they are just too close together. Also, there is a lack of adjustability on the suspension components. [Dave was under the illusion that the 919 still only offered limited suspension adjustment-ed]
And now, we get to my favorite. This is the one I'd choose out of the group. The Yamaha FZ-1 is an awesome do-it-all hooligan / sport touring machine. It annihilated the other three bikes in this test in terms of power and handling, which equals "fun factor." If you value your license, don't buy this bike. It's extremely easy to go fast on it and very difficult to push this engine to its limits on the street; if you do, you will be in the triple digits.
"If you value your license, don't buy this bike."
Yamaha has done an excellent job with the chassis; it slices corners like a hot knife through butter. The wide bars make hustling this beast around a cinch. This is a large, somewhat heavy and intimidating motorcycle, but once under way it feels as light and zippy as a Vespa. Braking was linear with excellent feel. My only complaint is the glitchy fuel injection delivered choppy on and off throttle when splitting traffic in low gears, although it smoothed out with acceleration. Also, I disliked the look of the rear fender. But these are minor quibbles; nothing a Power Commander and fender eliminator wouldn't correct for a few extra bucks. In conclusion, the best value for my money is the Yamaha FZ-1.