Any bike nut who’s fascinated by performance loves sportbikes. But consumers often have a narrow focus on what makes for a desirable sporting machine, often opting for a faired crotch rocket rather than a relatively comfortable naked roadster. But while naked sporty bikes from Japan have almost never sold well in America (R.I.P. Suzuki SV650…), unfaired sportbikes from Europe are in relatively high demand.
Witness Triumph’s Street Triple, a 675cc three-cylinder naked bike that is so charismatic and fun to ride that we named the R version our Motorcycle of the Year in 2009. Triumph’s lil’ Triple formula worked so well that MV Agusta recently threw down with its F3 675 and Brutale 675 powered by identically displaced three-cylinder engines.
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But now MV has upped the ante in the middleweight streetfighter game by stroking its 675 to yield 798cc of three-cylinder power in the new Brutale 800. After experiencing its raucous 117 horsepower at the rear wheel (almost as much as Triumph’s 1050cc Speed Triple), we described the B800 in its review as weaponizing the middleweight naked sportbike class, feeling nimble like a 675 but hitting like a literbike.
But MV isn’t the only historic Italian marque plying the sub-liter streetfighter segment. Ducati debuted its 848 Streetfighter last year, and it impressed us with balance and grace the now-discontinued 1098 Streetfighter lacked.
Comparable But Quite Different
Italian engineers created both machines to perform essentially the same job duties, so it’s interesting to see the wildly divergent paths it took to bring them to life. Their personalities are amazingly conflicting. The Brutale 800 is like a feral animal compared to the lazier and refined 848 Streetfighter.
The most obvious distinction is their powerplants, both in their architectures and their power deliveries. The Ducati’s V-Twin is slimmer and longer than the Brutale’s inline-arranged three cylinders. As a result, the Streetfighter’s midsection is perhaps narrower than any other multi-cylinder streetbike, feeling almost as if your knees can touch. But its rangy 58.1-inch wheelbase is nearly 4 inches longer than the stubby Brutale’s.
The effect of these dimensional disparities is two-fold. Ergonomically, the Streetfighter is a slightly better fit for taller riders than the compact Brutale which is tighter on legroom.
“It’s lower to the ground than the Duc, with slightly less legroom from the seat to the footpegs,” observes 5-foot-10.5-inch guest tester Sean Matic. “It’s a better choice for very short riders than the Duc, and the Duc is probably better for big guys. The front of the Brutale’s seat is narrow, so after a while I did feel the edges of the seat base starting to pressure my seat bones a little.”
But it’s the Italian duo’s dissimilar geometry that paints the most vivid chassis picture. On its own, the Streetfighter is a nimble and responsive sportbike. But ridden back to back with the hyperactive Brutale, the Duc steers like a truck.
“The Streetfighter’s handling is a bit lazy but reassuring and steady,” Matic comments. “You could hit a bump cranked over on the Duc and not worry about the front end deflecting or wagging its bars.”
The MV’s nippy steering responses contrast greatly to the SF’s, especially noticeable in lower-speed situations.
“Its handling is super quick and responsive like experts-only downhill skis,” Matic elaborates. “Whatever additional input you put into the bars is instantly reflected in where the front wheel is pointed. I didn’t have any headshake or tank-slappers, but I could see how the potential was there, like when getting hard on the gas out of a corner leaned over and hitting a bump with the front unweighted.”
We both agreed a steering damper would be a welcome addition to the Brutale. Especially me, who suffered a butt-clenchingly terrifying tankslapper at 75 mph.
The Streetfighter’s train-like stability is preferable in higher-speed corners. While the Brutale feels on the verge of flighty, the Ducati expresses composure, especially in fast sweepers where you can feel the front tire scrubbing speed when entering corners. This is a streetfighter that would also perform well at a racetrack.
And it’s a similar contrasting story with regard to the powerplants of this pair. The MV responds to inputs with the jittery reaction of a crack addict. It’s both thrilling and frightening.
“The Brutale’s short gearing and light flywheel feel like the old 910s in that it spins up quickly, accelerates very quickly, and feels very aggressive,” says Matic, whose daily ride is a 2006 Brutale 910. He also helmed the video editing console for this comparo and our recent Exotic Superbike Street Shootout.
The dissimilarity in engine characteristics is remarkable. The Ducati feels almost ferocious on its own, but it turns into a pussycat relative to the appropriately named Brutale.
“The motor definitely doesn’t spool up as quick as the MV,” Matic observes. “The Streetfighter’s power builds in a smooth and linear fashion without any noticeable flat spots.”
In fact, we were convinced the MV’s motor walked over the Duc’s from top to bottom after our testing. However, the report we got from our dyno testing proved otherwise.
It was a shocker to see the Ducati’s dyno curve next to the MV’s, as we never would’ve guessed the Streetfighter’s mill outperformed the Brutale’s at most points of the rev ranges.
“The MV feels crazy fast and ferocious, while the Duc is stealthy-slow fast,” Matic describes. “The Duc has a lot more flywheel and taller gearing than the MV, so I think this also makes the 848 feel slower to accelerate and feel a bit slower in general. The sensation of speed is exaggerated on the MV and reduced on the Duc.”
So, if you’re looking for what feels like a superior engine, the Brutale is an easy choice. But you’ll need to be wary of exploiting its exuberance, as the B800 suffers the strangely disconnected ride-by-wire throttle response exemplified by several recent MVs.
“The connection between throttle input and what the rear tire is doing doesn’t feel as accurate as the Duc,” says Matic diplomatically, adding that the condition is compounded by how quickly the motor spins up and its light throttle-return spring that results in unintended inputs when riding over rough tarmac.
And, depending on your hooligan proclivities, you may be disappointed with the Brutale’s R-b-W throttle when pulling wheelies. The front end comes up astonishingly easy, but it’s next to impossible to carry a wheelie for any considerable distance because its throttle response is unpredictable.
For example, when a wide-open throttle is quickly closed, power seems to continue for a few thousandths of a second, which is an acutely negative characteristic when nearing the balance point of a wheelstand. We love this engine, but we condemn its engine management.
In urban use, streetfighter-styled sportbikes like these make a lot of sense. A relatively upright posture is relatively comfortable and delivers a superior view of traffic. The Ducati demands a slightly further reach to the bars, good for tall riders and freeway/highway travel – cruising at 80 mph is surprisingly comfortable.
Unlike some past Ducatis, the 848 Streetfighter’s clutch is nicely progressive and easy to dole out power, although it requires a heavyish lever pull. Heavy, too, is the SF’s throttle spring, which gets tiresome over long highway distances. Power delivery is quite manageable, spoiled only by slight surging at part throttle and low revs. Its tidy instrument cluster looks nicely modern, but its low placement is inconvenient to read quickly.
The Brutale’s compact cockpit suits smaller riders best, and its pilots enjoy slightly better wind protection afforded by a slightly lower seat and its mini flyscreen.
The MV’s agility makes it slightly preferable in urban use, but we were surprised by the amount of heat thrown off by the engine/radiator when stuck in traffic, an issue mostly unnoticed on the Streetfighter.
With Brembo radial-mount calipers clinching pairs of 320mm discs, the braking performance from this pair borders on excellent. However, there were, of course, distinctions. The Ducati’s system was slightly preferable, likely due to its use of a radial-style master cylinder.
“The first inch or so of front brake movement on the Duc gave some actual braking force, unlike the MV,” Matic reports. “And the build in braking power was more linear, so it gave more feel.” We also preferred the Streetfighter’s rear brake, which is easy to modulate and less grabby than the Brute’s easy-to-lock binder.
A similar story with the suspensions. The MV is quite good, but it was the Duc that was judged slightly higher.
“The 848’s suspension setup was a pretty good compromise between highway comfort and canyon-carving firmness,” Matic discerns. “It handled those awful concrete joint seams on the freeway much better than I expected, and it felt a bit plusher than the MV setup, perhaps because of lighter spring rates or the effect of 4 inches more wheelbase. But it still rode fairly high in the stroke and never wallowed or pogoed when we were in the canyons.”
Let’s face it: Italians have a special knack with style. And this holds true with the duo assembled here, which we think are about as pretty as a modern naked sportbike can be. Common highlights include steel-trellis framework, single-sided swingarms and angular headlights. Mutual blights are evaporative emissions canisters bolted on awkwardly wherever an empty spot could be found.
The Streetfighter looks stripped and purposeful. LED position lights below its tidy headlight nacelle are distinctive and conspicuous, and its tail section is tidily faired in. Stacked mufflers look imposing and sound wonderful, with a wild crackle on overrun.
The Brutale counters with handsome lines of its own, using a blend of tubular steel and cast aluminum for its frame. However, the intermingling of various silvers and grays on our Matt Metallic Gray/Pearl White example is a little disjointing.
Rarely have two similar bikes felt so dissimilar as the Brutale 800 and Streetfighter 848. They are polar opposites in several ways, making a winner tough to choose.
In objective terms, it’s the Streetfighter that emerges as the winner. Its refinement is superior, particularly in regard to its throttle response, its engine is more powerful and smoother than its rival, and every coarse edge seems to have been filed smooth.
These are admirable traits, but Ducati may have gone overboard on its ironing of wrinkles. Simply put, it’s not as exciting to ride as the savage Brutale.
“Ducati has done a great job of smoothing out their rough edges and making the 848 Streetfighter more accessible,” Matic reports. “But perhaps they took a little too much of the roughness or excitement out for the hardcore rider. A race bike that feels slow while going fast allows you to go that little bit faster without scaring yourself, but a streetbike that feels slower while going fast is less grin-inducing for me.”
If we had the luxury of helping Ducati R&D with the Streetfighter, we’d like to test it with a shorter wheelbase and lower gearing, which would make the 848 SF feel faster, lighter and more entertaining. And while we were at it, we’d find a lighter throttle spring.
The Brutale 800 would likely be simpler to fix. Solve the abominable R-b-W fuel-injection issues and it’d be nearly perfect. Another couple of inches of wheelbase might be appreciated, but we’d be willing to settle for an electronic steering damper instead.
“The sound and feel of the short-stroke Triple was unlike any other bike I’ve ridden and very intoxicating,” Matic raves. “Between the lower gearing, the extra torque afforded by the longer-stroke 800 (vs. the 675) design, the light weight of the bike, and the aggressive geometry, I don’t really feel like I’d be missing the extra torque and horsepower of a full literbike much.”
Sean brings up a prickly point. As it stands, the B800’s $12,498 MSRP (including electronic quickshifter) undercuts the Ducati by about $800, which makes it a relative bargain.
However, those prices crowd the $14K range, a strata in which the sensational Aprilia Tuono V4 R, winner of our recent Best Streetfighter of 2013 award, resides. While the Tuono might not be as pretty as its compatriots, it does have an extra 40 horsepower to make up for it.
We’re spoiled for great choices among Italian naked sportbikes. It’s difficult to imagine a buyer being disappointed by any of them.
2012 MV Agusta Brutale 675 Review
2013 MV Agusta F3 675 Review – Video
2012 Ducati 848 Streetfighter Review: First Ride
2012 European Streetfighter Shootout: Aprilia Tuono V4R vs MV Agusta Brutale 1090R vs Triumph Speed Triple R
2011 Streetfighter Shootout: Honda CB1000R vs Kawasaki Z1000 vs Triumph Speed Triple
All Things MV Agusta on Motorcycle.com