Welcome to Motorcycle.com’s 2021 Heavyweight Naked bike Shootout. If you haven’t noticed, 2021 has been the year of naked bike shootouts here at MO. We’re dubbing it Motorcycle.com’s Naked Summer, and it has all been building up to this moment – seven of the biggest, baddest naked bikes on the market today. We’ve teased the bikes on our Youtube channel for days now, and we’ll also assume you’ve already seen the specs for these seven monsters in our Spec Sheet Shootout, expertly crafted by Dennis Chung.

The players? Well, check them out for yourselves:

  • Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory: New and improved for 2021, the bones are still the same basic bike we’ve loved for over a decade.
  • BMW S1000R: We’d yet to ride this updated version of Bavaria’s naked missile, and with all the changes done to it, a strong showing looks promising on paper.
  • Ducati Streetfighter V4S: I mean, it has the word fighter in its name. It was meant for this test.
  • KTM 1290 Super Duke R: Whenever there’s a battle royale, KTMs are ready to party. None more so than the 1290 SDR.
  • MV Agusta Brutale 1000 RR: A rolling sex symbol, if its performance can match its looks, then the MV will be a runaway hit.
  • Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS: The most focused and aggressive Speed Triple to date, Triumph has finally bulked one of its most popular motorcycles to compete in this class.

For those following along, you may have noticed that’s only six bikes. What’s the seventh, and final, bike? None other than the Kawasaki Z H2 SE (standard version linked here). Some might call it an outlier, and maybe it is, but it’s a naked bike, priced similarly to the others and features similar components. Most importantly, it has something none of the other bikes here offer: a supercharger. Don’t threaten us with a good time, Kawasaki because yes, we will let them roll.

These seven motorcycles are as trick as they come in the 1000cc (and above) heavyweight naked bike field, and it only makes sense that we save the best test for last. With the most horsepower, sharpest chassis’, and most sophisticated electronics available in the category, this is the cream of the crop for those who enjoy the performance of a big sportbike but want the all-day comfort and usefulness of a naked.

Before we go any further though, let’s address an elephant in the room: Yamaha’s MT-10. Or rather, the lack of one. Since it hasn’t won any previous versions of this test, nor has it been updated for 2021 (which is not the case for the recently announced 2022 version), the difficult decision was made to leave it out this time around (despite my objections, let the record show…).

The Yamaha MT-10 didn’t make the cut this year, but with an updated version coming in 2022 (shown above), we might need to do this test all over again.

So, enough with armchair quarterbacking based on a bunch of numbers and figures. It’s finally time to ride these seven bikes to see exactly how they shake out against each other. First up, the street portion.

The Test

As usual, Ryan took each bike and put them on MO’s digital scales with a full tank of gas. We also put each bike on the dyno, this time courtesy of Jamin Mathis, owner of Wrench Motorcycles and owner of the MotoAmerica Twins Cup team by the same name. Jamin warned us his dyno reads lower than most, which appears to be true when we compare these numbers relative to other dynos we’ve used. Nevertheless, all the bikes were placed on the same dyno, so the results should be relatable to each other.

Our pal, dyno operator, MotoAmerica Twins Cup team owner, and all-around good guy Jamin Mathis. He really enjoyed putting the Kawasaki on the dyno.

Since this is the street portion of our shootout, we followed the same protocol as we did with all of our other naked bike tests this year. We made multiple runs through our 100(ish)-mile test loop, complete with city slicking, freeway drumming, and of course, canyon carving over a variety of pavement conditions. This would prove a good test of the bike’s comfort as well as its chassis and suspension. As an added bonus, all but two of these bikes are equipped with electronic suspension. The semi-active function of these suspenders are tailor made for conditions like this, so it will be interesting to see how they work in the real world.

On the horsepower front, the Ducati ultimately takes top honors, but the KTM trounces all the others until 9600 rpm. The BMW and MV Agusta falter in the lower revs, but when you ride the BMW it doesn’t feel sluggish off the bottom.

Unlike our route, which has remained the same over the course of our various naked bike tests, the cast of testers looks a little bit different than before. In addition to myself, Evans, Ryan, and John, Mike Vienne, proprietor of Championship Cycles, joined us for the ride as well. A skilled rider who also builds bikes that are as much go as they are show, his opinions on these seven examples of exotica are not only valued, but also come as an interesting contrast to our jaded outlooks.

The Results

As usual, we kept mental tabs on how the bikes performed, and also kept written tabs on things like weight, price, fuel mileage, and more. Those specific metrics can be found on the Spec Chart Shootout and also at the bottom of the page. After putting each bike through its paces on public roads, talking amongst ourselves about things we liked and didn’t, it was time to tabulate our scores on the trusty Motorcycle.com scorecard. Ranked in a number of both objective (price, weight, power, etc.) and subjective (engine, suspension, grin factor, etc.) categories from 1-10 (except the Engine category, which is rated from 1-20), the scorecard came through this time with some surprising, and not so surprising results.

Once again, the KTM blasts out of the gate on the torque graph until it hits its early redline. The Kawasaki and its supercharged engine give a plateau-like torque curve, while the Aprilia, Triumph, and Ducati all remain close together in the streetable regions of the rpm range.

In a break from tradition, however, the results you’ll see below come from our subjective scoring as opposed to our overall scoring which tallies both objective and subjective scores together. Why? Because with the exception of the $33,800 MV Agusta, we think that once you’re willing to spend 20-large on a motorcycle, a little bit here or there won’t be a deal-breaker (We wouldn’t know. We’re poor). Instead, the bikes should speak for themselves. So, without further ado, here’s how each stacked up:

Seventh Place: Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS

This one doesn’t seem fair. Triumph has made arguably the best Speed Triple so far and here it’s mired down at the bottom of the pack. This just goes to show how fiercely competitive the class is. That Triumph, arguably one of – if not the OG – of the class brings up the rear of this field should tell you something. However, just because it didn’t rate highly here doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to love about the new Speed Triple.

Personally, I loved the way the Triple roars once it gets high in the revs. The fuel mapping was one of the best in this test, and that signature three-cylinder sound and personality are as lovable as ever. Also lovable is its neutral ergos and fairly nice seat. This is a bike you wouldn’t mind riding as your daily because it can do a little bit of everything, keeping it true to the original. Being the lightest here at 432 lbs, it’s easy to toss into turns and move it around as you wish. Light is right, and the Speed Triple is a perfect example. It changes direction nicely and steers with confidence.

So why did it rank near the bottom? Well, for one, the quickshifter on our particular test bike was malfunctioning. That was a bummer but obviously doesn’t reflect on all Speed Triples. More importantly in this company of amazing motorcycles, the Speed Triple didn’t stand out from the crowd. It didn’t do anything necessarily wrong. The others simply did them better. That’s how cutthroat the class is.

Evans:

Although Triumph has said repeatedly that the Speed Triple is a street bike first, the stiff suspension says otherwise. It’s hard to explain how one factor can make such a big difference in riding experience, but it does. I don’t think that these issues could be tuned out without new springs and possibly revalving. That unpleasantness aside, the Triumph steers nicely, and the engine is supremely capable but just isn’t as flashy as most of the others. Consequently, I ranked the Speed Triple near the bottom of the list on the street.

John:

In a bunch of motorcycles with big personalities, the Triumph just seems a bit staid, and boring isn’t the word, or is it? I mean, in no way are any of these bikes boring, but it’s all relative, and there’s just nothing about the Triumph that stands out besides its lightness – and that’s not really obvious from the saddle. It is a comfy freeway traveler if that’s important. I never got over when they plucked out the bug-eye headlights.

Ryan:

The Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS is an excellent example of the level of refinement the British-based manufacturer has been delivering as of late. For a bike to live with, the Speed Triple delivers a smooth ride in terms of throttle response, power delivery, and chassis character. The suspension is set decidedly sporty and firm from the factory, but the Ohlins units offer plenty of adjustment. Whether bouncing around town, commuting, or blasting through the canyons, the Triumph delivers. In this class of fierce competition though, the Speed Triple’s overall performance doesn’t quite stack up to the top four. Six out of the seven bikes we tested here are bound to make any performance-minded nudist blush.

Mike:

I had high hopes for the Speed Triple – according to Triumph, it’s the most technologically advanced, fastest, most powerful Speed Triple to date- a clean-sheet redesign. In the past, it’s been a favorite of mine both for its usability and its uniqueness. Unfortunately, I felt that the previous R bike suffered from an overly stiff suspension that even the wailing banshee of the 1050cc motor couldn’t make up for. Triumph carried over many excellent traits from the previous version (slim, comfortable ergonomics, respectable fit and finish) however the suspension still feels harsh and the new 1160cc motor just doesn’t punch the way other bikes in this class can. I wish Triumph had rewritten the script for the Speed Triple, but instead, they seemed to have just cribbed from it.

Sixth Place: MV Agusta Brutale 1000 RR

If looks translated into performance, we could stop right now and call the MV Agusta Brutale 1000 RR the winner by a landslide. Alas, we actually have to ride the bike, and that’s where the MV starts to falter. To put it bluntly: the Brutale was absolutely uncomfortable to ride in so many ways. Combined with its $33,800 price tag, the highest here by a mile, and its overall last-place showing starts to make sense. Surprisingly though, despite the fact it was the bike all of us tried to ride as little as possible during our street ride, its stunning looks were enough to just edge it out of last place on our subjective rankings, Evans and Mike so enamored by it to give it a 4th place ranking.

The MV oozes sex appeal, and its inline-Four is an example of how to make this engine configuration sound cool.

To be fair, the Brutale does boast some great advancements. At least for MV Agusta. You have radial, titanium valves, for one. While not a new thing for MV, it’s still impressive. Speaking of titanium, the connecting rods are made from the same material. MV makes sure you know this with the emblem on the case cover stating as much. For what it’s worth, the 1,000cc inline-Four, despite its lack of mid-range, sounds absolutely thrilling once it’s spinning. It loves to rev, it sounds great doing it, and its soft rev limiter fools you into thinking it’ll rev forever. That is until you’re met with the reality that it’s not making power anymore and you need to shift. There’s a quickshifter here in both directions, which is a big plus, but it’s ragged and notchy either way you flick the lever. If you’re looking for smoothness, this isn’t the one for you.

You also have an IMU and all the benefits that come with it, most importantly lean-sensitive traction control. You’ll also find electronic suspension here as well. Theoretically, this should be a must-have feature for street riding, but we found it to be utterly unbearable unless every damping circuit was set to its softest setting. Even then it was still pretty harsh.

The MV’s seat wins on style points, but when it comes to comfort it loses out wildly.

We really wanted to love the MV, especially since it’s been a while since we’ve tested one, but wacky intricacies like the passenger pegs forcing your heels in awkward positions, the incredibly stiff split seat, and the overly aggressive riding position make it hard to rank very high. At least for a street bike. If we wanted to be hugely uncomfortable on a sportbike, well, we’d just get a sportbike. Add on the highest price tag here and the MV’s fate was settled.

Here’s what the guys had to say about it:

Evans:

The most committed, sportbike-like riding position. Same with the power delivery. This would be one thing if the lack of midrange was a precursor to the top end punching you in the face. But that never happens. It doesn’t like to maintain neutral throttle, either. Abrupt off-to-on throttle transition makes it hard to ride smoothly. The short chassis exacerbates this by pitching when it happens. On the street, the stiff suspension almost sucks the fun out of riding motorcycles. The problem is that in my slice of the world, roads are pretty bumpy, requiring some damping from the suspension. On the positive side, the MV responds to steering inputs quickly and accurately.

John:

This one felt like, on the street, that it most belonged on the racetrack, thanks to its raciest ergonomics and suspension, and top-weighted powerband. Unfortunately, the whole raison d’etre of this class, if I may mangle some French, is to ride comfortably upright on a motorcycle that emphasizes midrange power and accelerates best at real-worldish speeds. My Midwestern upbringing won’t allow me to endorse something this impractical and expensive, but if I was one of the wealthy elites the MV is designed for, I’d love to have one parked up in the 8-car garage amongst the Ferraris and CVO Harleys for occasional blasts with my Masters of the Universe friends. That radial-valve Four-cylinder is still an animal though, with a fantastic wail, and above 6000 rpm you best be hanging on tight. In fact, there is no other way to hang onto the MV. I wonder if there’s a tune to pack more power a bit lower? I bet there is.

Ryan:

One could sit and look at the MV Agusta for more than a few three-fingered glasses of the finest and probably still find new bits and bobs of carbon and elegantly machined metal to admire. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I would rather do than ride it. Perhaps I’d just wheel it into the great room to look at and every once in a while have my butler chauffeur me and the Brutale 1000 RR to the bottom of my favorite road for a few quick blasts before being whisked away back to my Lake Como estate. What a fantasy. Back in the real world, commuting on the Brutale is just that, brutal. The 1000 RR is basically a sportbike with fairings swapped for wings. And not only ergonomically, but also in the way that its inline-Four makes power. It does, however, earn top marks for perineal cooling thanks to its stylish (but stiff) split seat and carbon fiber seat pan. But hey, commuting is for common folk anyway, and if you have the coin to foot the MV Agusta’s bill, you can forget the real world and get back to the fantasy.

Mike:

One can easily hate on the Brutale (insert brutal joke here) for its aggressive riding position (which feels better when you’re hustling it through corners), or its overly firm (read: plank-like) seat, or whinge about its “but I could buy 9.9 Groms!” price tag. I would also add that the motor, although glorious-sounding, could use some more (make that: any) midrange. I would guess different cams would go a long way towards picking up the flatness across the rev range. And the throttle mapping was a hair late to the input party.

But. That’s. Not. The. Point.

It’s stunning to my eyes (minus the tacked-on pillion seat). The quality, the overall aggressive stance, the construction, and the abundant carbon all appear purposeful and part of a cohesive design. The thing looks dynamically fast – even at a standstill! Which is exactly how I’d prefer to enjoy it.

Fourth Place: TIE Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory

A tie on the scorecard might be a first for us, at least as far as subjective scoring is concerned. Both the BMW and Aprilia came out dead even, scoring exactly 517.5 points apiece. In this scenario, we’ll turn to our overall scoring to break the tie, which puts the Aprilia Tuono as our fifth place recipient.

Wait, what? The Tuono in fifth? Anyone who has read Motorcycle.com any time in the past decade should know how much we love and adore the Aprilia Tuono and its various guises over the years. After riding all seven of these bikes, we were mostly at a loss about which ones would make up the middle positions. Technically, each bike has to land somewhere, so don’t construe the Aprilia’s ranking as a fall from grace. It’s just another illustration of how closely matched each bike is.

That engine is as lovable as it’s ever been.

The first thing you should know is the ferocious V4 engine has lost none of the character we’ve come to know and love. If you’re looking for a bike with soul, this one has it in spades. There’s plenty of accessible power down low and in the mid-range, which is where you want it on the street. And in the event you find yourself with a strip of pavement to let’er rip, it’ll be a while before the grin comes off your face.

A beginner bike the Tuono clearly is not, but its electronics package works well in keeping you as safe as possible without you knowing it’s working in the background. However, another sign the Tuono might be showing its age (despite some updates this year) is the fact it didn’t win a single category on the scorecard. It was in contention for several, but never at the top. As far as handling goes, some people were caught out by its slow-speed handling, where it felt unstable and slow to steer. As if it had too much trail. However, this is typical of the Tuono (and, by extension, RSV4) platform. It’s Aprilia’s way of telling you to pick up the pace. Once you do, the Tuono responds with sure-footed precision and stability.

A slightly tall seat put some people off too, but the takeaway we came away with on our street test is the competition is finally catching up.

As for the rest of the peanut gallery…

Evans:

On the street, the Aprilia prefers the smoother, high-speed stuff to the tight-and-technical sections of the MO Test Loop (TM). At low speed on tight roads, you really notice the Tuono’s weight, which feels like it is up high. Get it up to speed, and your reward is the V4 siren song that is at its happiest when it is rushing towards redline. In a public environment, you have to satisfy yourself with charging out of a corner towards the next bend and then muscling the bike down to a reasonable entry speed before leaning onto the edge of the tire for the next apex. That is, however, my biggest issue with these heavyweight naked bikes. They appeal to my lust for power, and for those who lack self-control, they have an extremely high (-speed) cost of admission. As much as I’ve lusted for a Tuono over the years, I don’t know that the police would allow me to have one for long.

John:

She’s feeling a bit long of tooth, frankly. That V4 is still a pip, but there’s a new Italian V4 in town that’s even pippier. The Tuono ergos aren’t nearly as committed as the MV Agusta’s, but it does ask you to assume the position more than all the others. Yesterday I went in for a check-up, where I learned I now weigh 182 pounds, which I think makes me the heftiest of the MO testers this time [You‘re tied for first, John – EB]. She felt kind of soft and wallowy to me, which we certainly could’ve tuned out but didn’t. I still don’t understand how the passenger seat works, a long narrow pad bordered on both sides by sharp plastic fins. What’s the message there? Whatever it is, the Tuono’s been sending it for ten years.

Ryan:

Whether we were at the dyno, on comms, or piloting the Tuono, its overwhelming thunderous exhaust note elicited involuntary smiles and unabashed praise to everyone within earshot. There may be a stonkin’ new V4 engine on the scene, but the motor from Noale’s still got it.

By comparison (since that’s what we’re doing here), the Tuono doesn’t steer nearly as quickly as the Ducati, KTM, or BMW, but its stability at speed is hard to match. A stable chassis being propelled by a strong, progressive 65-degree V4 engine complemented by a newly refined electronics package makes the 2021 Aprilia Tuono a stellar all-around package, but with the current competition in the segment, the Tuono has slipped from the top step of the podium where it sat for many years.

Mike:

My initial impression was that the Tuono hadn’t advanced enough to keep pace with the rest of these contenders. The suspension felt “wallowy” and soft when cruising and nothing stood out as special. However, when you push the bike to perform – aka “flog it” – it comes back into its own. The semi-active suspension stiffens up, and the motor (while not the most powerful) still has that sweet V4 double hit of grin-inducing power plus an intuitive electronics package that seamlessly integrates it all predictably into what you’re looking for in this class. That is: a responsive, capable machine that will take you to the twisty roads comfortably, yet still reward you with a pretty exciting time when you get there.

Fourth Place: TIE BMW S1000R

Another of the new kids on the block, BMW’s updated S1000R made a strong showing for itself during our street testing, despite its ranking here. Immediately, we were impressed with its neutral and comfortable seating position. Once you sit on it, everything just falls into place as you reach your hands out. The bars are also on the wider side (but not too wide), to let you leverage it when you want to maneuver – whether it’s slicing through traffic or carving a canyon road.

The S1000R shares the same engine as its RR cousin, but doesn’t feature ShiftCam technology. Our test bike came with several options, including the Akrapovic exhaust.

The S1000R engine is derived from its RR superbike cousin, but it doesn’t have the ShiftCam variable valve timing technology. Still, BMW has retuned it to give usable power. I know, the term “retune” generally comes with a negative connotation, but people tend to forget that having thrust at the bottom and middle of an engine’s rev range is really the sweet spot for street riding. High RPM power is great for bench racing (or real racing) with your friends, but it’s annoying to tap into anywhere other than the track.

Real-world, usable power is where the BMW impresses. It’s healthy down there, even if it has an ever-so-subtle dead spot on/off throttle. Get the engine going and you’ll feel some buzz from the bars – another trait of the S1000RR-derived engine. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it also wouldn’t hurt if it had an extra counter-balancer. Thankfully, you can turn on the cruise control and shake out your hands if you need to.

Excellent ergonomics make the BMW a nice all-day ride.

Our bike came with the optional M, Sport, and Premium packages, which include forged wheels (not carbon fiber – that’s an additional addition), an Akrapovic exhaust, Shift Assist Pro (aka Quickshifter), Dynamic Damping (aka electronic suspension), and a host of other farkles that don’t really mean much – like a different M seat and a key fob.

Oh, wait. The key fob. Call us old school, but what’s wrong with a regular, run-of-the-mill key? While we can understand the appeal of a fob to some, your prissy MO testers kept forgetting to hand the fob over to the next rider – a mistake we’d realize each time the BMW rider pressed all the buttons they could find to try and turn on the bike, only to realize their attempts were futile without the fob. And what do you do if/when the battery dies?

BMW has the TFT display down, and the S1000R is no exception.

Since we’re talking about first-world gripes, here’s another: the Shift Assist Pro is possibly too slick. Is that a thing? By that we mean there’s very little mechanical feel when shifting between gears, to the point where the primary notification you’ve changed gears is the lower tone of the exhaust note. That’s a little bit of exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Perhaps its biggest “downside” is it exhibits the usual inline-Four character – which is to say it has none. It gets the job done, and it does it well, but you don’t hop off it feeling invigorated and alive. If we’re spending that kind of cash, is that too much to ask?

Evans:

My initial impression of the S1000R on the street was to notice just how comfortable the riding position is. I could commute on the BMW and wouldn’t mind riding it 350 miles to Laguna Seca for a track day. Refined would be what some might say, but I felt that the refinement is getting dangerously close to lacking character. On the street, the power feels fine, though not as awe-inducing as some of the other entrants. The same can be said of the brakes. Workman-like might be an appropriate term here for the lack of pizazz. Still, I could find a way to get in a lot of trouble on this bike.

John:

For pure sport riding and everyday usability, this BMW might be the best choice here, but it does suffer from a bit of the same problem as the Speed Triple and one that must drive the BMW factory crazy: Mike used the word “sterile” to criticize it, and it kind of fits. The longer you ride it, though, the more you understand how unfair that is. The R is comfortable, customizable, and has one of the best chassis (and lightest weights) here for serious cornering and track daying. It’s a solid choice if you’re a BMW person for certain.

Ryan:

I don’t know why I was so surprised by the BMW, but I was. In terms of quickness of steering, while remaining stable, the BMW is among the best. The fit and finish of the S1000R sits at the front of the class too with its tight tolerances delivering precise shifts and effortlessly smooth throttle control. With this latest iteration, BMW has managed to provide good low- to mid-range power from its inline-Four while delivering blazing top-end acceleration. Its wide-open steering also gives the best lock-to-lock sweep when making u-turns or navigating the urban wasteland.

Mike:

From my perspective, the BMW does everything very well on the street. From the chassis and motor to the brakes through to the electronics and even the riding position everything functions just so damn…well. In the looks department, it’s not ugly, but it’s not attractive either and perhaps that sums up my feeling about the S1000R in general. It’s competent, very competent in fact, to the point of being sterile to me. It is a very capable appliance and checks many of the boxes, but how often does one go into their garage and admire their water heater?

Third Place: Kawasaki Z H2 SE

The Kawasaki Z H2 SE goes to show just how much an amazing engine can make up for virtually any shortcoming. Any discussion around any of the H2 platforms, including the Z H2 SE, has to revolve around the supercharged engine. In short, it’s an absolute thrill ride. The rush of torque basically from idle to redline is jaw-dropping. Just twist the throttle and hang on, because it’s going to rip your arms off and give your neck muscles a proper workout. It’s that intense.

Everything you need to know about the Z H2 SE is right here in this picture.

Adding to the allure of the Z are all the glorious sounds it makes – again, from the supercharger. Standing beside the bike, whether at the dyno or just watching it make full-tilt fly-bys, the supercharger whine makes you feel as if you’re about to take flight. Then for the pilot sitting on the bike, once they let off the gas the unmistakable chirping as excess boost is blown away gets you excited to twist the wrist again just to hear the soundtrack play over and over on loop.

Simply looking at the dyno chart, the Kawasaki may not be very appealing. Don’t be fooled. Every tester had a huge grin on their face whenever they got off the bike because the experience that engine provides isn’t something you can quantify on a spec chart or dyno sheet. However, yes, the Z is clearly restricted. If we’re nitpicking, then there’s a dip in power up top that seems artificial – as if the ECU curtails the party because Kawasaki’s legal team stepped in. If ever there were a bike we’d like to throw a pipe and ECU flash at, this would be it.

If blasting into next week in total comfort is the goal, this is the bike to do it on.

Nonetheless, on the street, the Z H2 makes a perfect companion not just for its engine, but also for how comfortable it is. The Z isn’t a track bike. It’s a street bike first, and it shows. The seat is low-ish, the bars are up (albeit a little narrow), and the pegs fall just where you want them to be once you pick your feet off the ground. Combine this comfy position with its included cruise control and 5-gallon fuel tank – the largest in this test – and the Z’s purpose of pounding away miles, be them curvy or straight, is more apparent.

You’ve got electronic suspension on the Kawi, too, like most of the others. You can select your own settings for compression and rebound damping (preload is still manual) or choose from predetermined settings in the menu screen. Granted, getting to those screens and selecting what you want is cumbersome and complicated, but for regular street riding the normal and soft settings made for quite the pleasant ride going down the road.

It’s no surprise to learn this is the heaviest bike here by a fair margin over the rest. You feel it when the roads start to bend, but it’s not as big of a detriment as you might think. Besides, if your buddies on other bikes start to gap you, then snap that supercharger into action, and you’ll close the gap real quick.

Long story short, the Z H2 is all about comfort and that amazing engine. The Kawi is so fun it easily makes up for its other shortcomings like weight, abrupt fueling, and its narrow bars. All of us rated it highly in the engine department, but throw cruise control into the mix, and it’s no surprise to learn Johnny Burns picked it as his overall favorite on the street.

Wider bars to better leverage the big bike around wouldn’t hurt.

Evans:

While everyone talks about the engine (and it is impressive), the Z H2’s suspension and weight tell you that Kawasaki designed this bike for street use exclusively. It’s plush and comfortable and would be more than happy to be commuting or sport-touring for days. Get it in the canyons, and the big Kawi prefers fast, smooth, flowing roads. If you find yourself in the tighter stuff, the throttle transitions get a little balky. Also, the comparatively narrow bars make tight corners a bit more work than on the other bikes.

That’s OK because this bike really is all about the engine. From as low as 2,000 rpm, if you twist the throttle, you better be hanging on tight. The table-flat torque curve delivered by the Z H2 is corrupting. You get used to instantaneous acceleration. Imagine what this platform could do if it weren’t the heaviest one in the shootout.

The Z H2 does have the unfortunate distinction of having a complicated menu screen to navigate. Both hands are needed to press various buttons.

John:

Conspicuously absent from the Ducati was a CRUISE CONTROL button, and for that reason but maybe not the only one, the mighty Z H2 eclipsed it on the JB Scorecard by exactly 0.62%. I won’t try to defend the Kawasaki’s looks against the Italian’s, but the proof is in the riding. Once you’ve experienced that supercharger boost a time or two, it’s hard to settle for anything less. So smooth, so otherworldly… really it’s the delivery. The Ducati comes on like all unsupercharged motorcycles: The H2’s power peak seems to be wherever the tachometer graphic happens to be when you decide to roll the throttle open. It’s kind of magical in a way the dyno can’t measure (the ram-air tube on the left side of the bike does add power when it’s not stationary). So what it’s not quite the quickest handling (that’s down to its extra weight). On faster backroads, whatever couple of feet the Ducati gaps it mid-corner, the Kawi gobbles right back up at the exit. Trust your KTRC.

Then, when it’s time to lane-split back home 1.5 hours down I-5, the Kawi is the most comfy and ergonomically correct of the seven, and if it doesn’t have the most range I’d be surprised. Climbing off the MV and onto the Z is like getting off the exercycle and back onto the couch. Sadly, the cruise control won’t set above 85 mph. Admittedly she’s heavy, but not that heavy. Big-boned.

Too bad about the no clear coat and lack of wealth signaling, but there’s the Missouri in me coming out again: I dig the reverse snob appeal and historical significance of the hottest Z ever. The Z is worth its weight in chirps.

With massive thrust comes the need for mega braking power. The Kawi’s got it covered.

Ryan:

“F*ck me,” I thought to myself as the corners of my mouth were pulled back into a joker-esque smile by the sheer acceleration of the Z H2 as I quickly caught back up with the crew after falling back to adjust my riding gear. The supercharged Kawasaki is ready at any moment to rip your arms off and slam your eyeballs into the back of your skull and we love Team Green for letting this beast loose on the world. What makes it manageable is how smooth and progressive the power comes on. If you find yourself bending time and space, you have no one to blame but yourself. It might be the heaviest in our group by a whopping 60 pounds, but its neutral rider triangle and heft lend it to probably being the best touring bike out of the lot, and of course, it has cruise control. The Z H2 lacks the overall performance of the other bikes here, but it could easily be the best motorcycle for a number of scenarios.

Mike:

With its “hand of god” thrust pushing you very quickly towards anything you’re facing, the Kawasaki Z H2 is undoubtedly a thrill. For me, it doesn’t have the intent that I prefer from this class. In the canyons with its swept-back bars, too upright riding position, and its general corpulence, I felt like I was asking a penguin to tango. Sure you could do it, but ultimately it’s just awkward for both you and the penguin. Instead, I’d suggest strapping some bags onto this beast, setting aside a few hundred miles, and reeling in the horizon with every twist of the throttle.

Second Place: KTM 1290 Super Duke R

At the end of our street testing, it was anybody’s guess as to which bikes would make up the bottom five positions. But the top two made themselves known very quickly and only by the slimmest of margins. Boasting the only V-Twin in this test, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R wowed us with torque, putting down nearly 100 lb-ft to the back tire. That kind of thrust gets your attention quickly.

The only V-Twin in this test, kudos to KTM for keeping it relevant. The 1301cc engine is an absolute beast.

In typical KTM style, the Super Duke lives up to the Ready To Race mantra. It’s aggressive in its attitude, with that raucous V-Twin bark, just the right amount of vibrations, and an eagerness to flick and change directions unlike anything else here. You’d think, with character like that, it would be a handful when you’re just riding around like a normal person, but it’s really not that bad. The SDR has the qualities that make the streetfighter category so appealing in the first place: it’s got power and handling, but wrapped up in an ergonomic package you wouldn’t mind riding for hours on end. Cruise control makes pounding out the miles even easier. When you’re trapped in the city, the relatively slim profile makes it easy to split between cars. Wide (but not too wide) bars let you slice through congestion or tricky situations with ease.

It’s not all about going fast, ya know? Sometimes you gotta slow down, and the KTM’s Stylemas bring the party to a halt quickly and with great control at the lever. Better still, the impressive electronics are easy to sort through on the bright TFT screen, including the KTM stalwart, Supermoto braking mode. Rear end slides make the immature teenager in me giggle, and it’s that playful nature that makes the KTM so fun. Of course, for the more mature amongst us hooligans, turning ABS on in the rear keeps the party in check. Lean-sensitive traction control is a no-brainer, and paddles on the left bar to dial the TC level – a la the Aprilia – is a nice touch.

Overall, it’s hard to find fault in the KTM. Though if we’re splitting hairs, the drop in top-end power requires a different riding style compared to the three- and four-cylinders here. And if we’re really splitting hairs, the KTM seems a little…agricultural. There’s this tone of planned unrefinement from the KTM’s exhaust to remind all who sit on it of its aggressiveness. The gearbox, despite its quickshifter in both directions, feels mechanical in its changes – a stark contrast to the electronic feel you get when flicking through the gears on the other bikes. If you like this kind of attitude, the Super Duke R will be appealing. Clearly, we did.

Evans:

The Super Duke R is the biggest delinquent in this bunch of hooligans. The Big Twin’s power delivery on the street is a celebration of excess. Only the extra engine braking delivered by those two massive pistons tamps down on the fun factor. Then comes the laser-focused maneuverability to polish out the hard edges of the engine. With an upright riding position and the widest bars of the bunch (I think), I’d be ready to do anything on this bike from commuting to the gnarliest of back roads to sport touring to a track day – possibly all in the same trip!

A maniac when you want it to be, and yet it’s still comfortable enough to be your daily.

John:

There’s a big gap from my bottom four bikes to my top three, and my top three form a tight cluster in the circle of Outstanding All-Around Excellence. The Superduke is a tremendously exciting and all-around competent all-weather lightweight fighter bomber transport, with pterodactyl torque and eye-watering power. But the V-twin’s kind of been done to death at this point, and its brute power approach seems a bit crude next to the engineering finesse of the Kawasaki and the Ducati. The royal we requires constant fresh amusement. In the immortal words of Yamaha’s advertising manager Bob Starr, “What else ya got?”

Ryan:

With each pulse from the Austrian V-Twin, I just imagine its concrete-cracking torque leaving broken asphalt in its wake. It is, in a word, immense. The 1290 Super Duke R has an excellent electronics package that allows the rider to tailor the Super Duke R to suit their taste whether it’s an exciting commute to work or an all-out assault on canyon roads. While the 2021 model isn’t as open and supermoto-esque as it once was, it still delivers one of the most comfortable riding positions for a variety of riders of different shapes and sizes. The KTM, along with the Ducati, are examples of very well-rounded machines that are able to be as ferocious as it gets while still being easy to live with.

KTM has come a long way in its electronics package.

Mike:

I like the Superduke – a lot. To me, it has the perfect recipe for what I think this class is all about. Here’s my list of favorite adjectives in no particular order:

Grunty, delinquent, torquey, beastly, raw, entertaining, incorrigible. Without the fancy semi-active suspension of most of the other bikes here, the big KTM still gets the job done, mostly in part due to a great chassis and that fantastic 1301cc brute of a motor. The TFT display is a bit basic and the level of fit and finish could be a fraction more refined, but who cares when you have Supermoto mode! Essentially, it’s a brawler in a bright orange tailored suit.

First Place: Ducati Streetfighter V4S

Before you go thinking the Ducati was going to be the runaway winner, think again. On the individual scorecards, Mike and I had the Ducati’s margin of victory over KTM at one solitary point. Ryan had the Ducati ahead by 1.25 points, and Evans gave the Ducati a 2.25-point advantage. John’s margin of victory, meanwhile, was the closest at 0.75-point – except he had the Kawasaki over the Ducati. This was not a slam dunk for the Ducati in the slightest.

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times. This V4 engine is good. Really good.

However, the Streetfighter V4S truly impresses with its ability to do a little bit of everything. It can be a docile companion at low revs and normal riding, yet when you want to wake it up and go crazy, a twist of the wrist is all it takes to unleash the V4 fury from the 1103cc engine. With the most horsepower in this test, its power superiority shows if you get a chance to wind it out. But even if you don’t, it’s still hugely impressive in the mid-range.

A flexible engine is meaningless if you don’t want to spend much time on it, and that’s also where the Streetfighter impresses. It’s surprisingly comfortable! The seat is well padded, the bars are smartly placed, and the pegs find that Goldilocks position of being comfortable without worrying about ground clearance. Whether you’re cruising or hauling, the Streetfighter is the place to be.

More than just an engine, the Streetfighter is also a remarkably comfortable place to be.

Like the KTM, the Ducati’s bars offer great leverage to toss the bike around a bend or through a gap in traffic, however, you can’t help but feel like you’re riding a wide motorcycle (comparatively speaking) on the Streetfighter. Maybe it’s the winglet’s fault?

Whatever, the V4S is great fun to ride no matter what the situation. We’ve waxed poetic about the bike in other stories and reviews, and now that we’ve had the chance to stack it up against its rivals, the accolades continue to be deserved. Despite its raw attitude, everything is just so…easy. The quickshifter is seamless through the gears, the IMU-assisted traction control has your back without you even knowing it, and overall the electronics are top-notch in their operation. Bonus points are awarded for a fairly intuitive TFT display and user interface to make adjustments. Being able to navigate it is surprisingly easy.

Top-notch electronics have been a Ducati staple lately.

With a name like Streetfighter, you expect it to be a brawler in the canyons, and it is. The fluid chassis is accurate and communicative, and the aforementioned bars let you toss it wherever you please. Then you get back on the throttle and the crisp fueling delivers just the amount of power your wrist is asking for. It’s really quite shocking how easy it is to ride quickly. Or slowly. Whatever. It doesn’t care.

There have been reports of exhaust heat wafting its way to the rider on past Streetfighters. Ours wasn’t so bad. Maybe the cooler weather we’re experiencing had a part to play. If we’re going to look for gripes, some may find the 33.3-inch seat height – the tallest here – a bit of a problem. But really, if that’s all there is to moan about, then the Ducati is in good shape. Well, there’s also the price. At $25,195, it’s behind only the $33,800 MV Agusta. But unlike the MV, if you have the money to spend, it’ll reward you with an ear-to-ear grin both on and off the motorcycle.

Evans:

The street ride was the first time I got more than a short stint on the Streetfighter V4S, and it didn’t disappoint. Where I expected unruliness, I got a more civilized demeanor – that is, until I pulled its tail. Then the Ducati became the bare-knuckled brawler I was expecting. Another revelation was how lightly the bike steered. Despite its linebacker looks, the Streetfighter is surprisingly maneuverable in the tighter sections of our test loop. Particularly when it was bumpy, I was grateful for the rider aids that kept the engine from launching me to the moon.

John:

I was prepared to diss this thing, but it was impossible to do. For one thing, it’s more comfortable than any previous Ducati outside the familia Multistrada – I didn’t even feel much heat at all wafting up from below. For another, it’s not nearly as peaky as the Panigale V4; it actually provides a big double shot of thrust not so far up the rev band. When it does get into the real powerband, you’ll be glad for the downforce wings and the DWC. Suspension is swell in all situations, and she steers almost as light and accurately as the BMW if not better; seat time on the Duc was hardest to come by during our test.

Ryan:

The Streetfighter V4 earned top honors in our subjective category from all but one (JB ranked it second) of our test riders. To put it plainly, the new naked Italian strutting its stuff down the block is the full package. Its V4 can be polite on the streets and a freak in the sheets, er canyons, while boasting world-class electronics and ergonomics that are just about as perfect as it gets when balancing a commanding riding position with comfort. The large swath of character between its Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature is what earned the Ducati Streetfighter V4 top honors overall in this comparison.

Mike:

“Keep an open mind,” I said to myself as I approached the Streetfighter. I like Ducatis in general – specifically their superbikes. And people who know me would presume I would clearly choose it as my favorite of the group, but I wanted to come at it critically, and initially, I had my doubts. First, you cannot miss the radiator/oil cooler arrangement that looks like the Streetfighter would prefer to carry on its 2-bag limit rather than check them. Coupled with its plastic bi-plane crop-duster wings and my skepticism was rising. But here’s the thing – those functional attributes melt away when you settle into the bike.

The motor can be docile even in sport mode, but click it into race and it’s game on! The chassis is great, as are the suspension and brakes. And surprisingly my right heel only felt a small amount of heat from the exhaust (even after winding it up and then sitting at idle for multiple photo passes). Thanks, massively oversized cooling system! Definitely, the electronics and counter-rotating crank were critical in keeping the front end planted, but those ugly little winglets I’m sure had a part in that too. And while the dash and electronics were intuitive and very well designed, the machine as a whole felt assembled with a high degree of quality and craftsmanship.

After riding this fleet of flagship nakeds I was prepared for the KTM to be my top choice – and it nearly was. Only in the end, after the final tally, was the Ducati (even with its considerably steeper price) able to just tip the scales by 1 percent. Top of the line.

The Big Takeaway

And there you have it. The Ducati Streetfighter V4S comes away the victor of this massive street fight. Some might have called this a foregone conclusion all along, but we assure you it was anything but. During our testing, it was a common theme for all of us to hop off one bike thinking it was our favorite, only to jump on another and immediately change our mind. The playing field is that close.

What it boils down to is which flavor is right for you? Does the Ducati tick all the boxes like it does for us? Great. Maybe the sexy, aggressive, and frankly impractical (at least in our opinion) MV Agusta is what you like. Also great. The point is, just like sportbikes have become so good it’s a matter of picking which design you like best, so too is the world of heavyweight naked bikes. Frankly, if we were forced to own any of these as a primary street bike, we’d be completely happy with…well… six of them.

However, we’re not done! The beauty of this category is being able to rip up the canyons or the racetrack – and we plan to do exactly that. Follow along for part two of our heavyweight naked bike test as we head to Thunderhill Raceway in Northern California to let all seven bikes stretch their legs. We promise the results will surprise you.


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