2014 Super Streetfighter Smackdown + Video
Unclothed & Uncorked
What we have in these five bikes: BMW S1000R, Ducati Monster 1200S, Kawasaki Z1000 ABS, KTM Super Duke R, MV Agusta Brutale 1090RR, is an assemblage of pretenders to the throne. What throne? The literbike streetfighter throne upon which Aprilia’s Tuono V4R APRC ABS has comfortably resided since its introduction in 2012. Truth is, two of these five have a real chance of dethroning the reigning champ on-track, so once we’ve identified the most worthy contenders in this shootout, first and second place will get a chance to meet the Tuono on the field of battle.
To separate the wheat from the chaff we spent a day at Chuckwalla Raceway scraping pegs and destroying tires. It was a good day that clearly distinguished the performance hierarchy of these motorcycles.
Next, we’ll determine if these fine motorcycles can perform as well within the legal limitations set forth by society as well as fulfill mundane tasks such as commuting. But for now, it’s all about going fast. So let’s get going.
KTM 1290 Super Duke R
There’s been quite a bit of hype surrounding KTM’s new Super Duke, including from MO’s editor of all things naked, Tom Roderick ( 2014 KTM Super Duke R Review – First Ride). A day at the track hasn’t done anything at all to make us conclude that any of it was overblown. Nobody was keeping lap times, but every time our happy little group got together on the track, whoever was on the KTM seemed to have an easier time easing away from the pack – a pack that contained not a single slouch.
For one thing, the KTM’s 1301cc V-Twin produces a stupid amount of corner-exiting torque that recalls the company’s dirt-bike roots, before finishing off up top with a 180-horsepower hit (at only about 9000 rpm) that leaves all the other bikes gasping to keep pace. The MV and BMW can hang on, but it requires more skill from the rider to do it. The Diavel-powered Monster seemed to squirt out of corners just as hard, before we realized that’s really mostly because the KTM is riding on Dunlop SportSmart tires (Europe only, apparently), which maybe don’t have the outright grip of the Pirelli Diablo Corsa Rossos on the Ducati, BMW and MV. Halfway down the straight, the rear Dunlop would stop spinning, pick up the front tire an inch or two, and stretch the KTM’s lead. Ridiculous. And thanks to the bike’s traction control, you really don’t have to be Valentino Rossi to pull that off. Like Editorial Director Sean Alexander says, “It’s a good thing the Super Duke R wears a harder compound rear; you’ll be going through them in a hurry. Even so, it seems like a small price to pay.”
Whoaing down at the end of those straights is no problem either. Though all the bikes here are great brakers thanks to having handlebars (as well as great brakes), the KTM’s even more upright, near-adventure-bike ergoes make it supremely confident in Chuckwalla’s heaviest downhill braking zone. And even though it feels to have a bit more suspension travel than the others or maybe just sits a bit higher off the ground, excellent damping seems to give it even greater road feel than the others – which also means beautiful, confident one-finger trail braking into Chuckwalla’s fast sweepers. The KTM’s motor has a way of making it want to overshoot the orange cones you’re aiming for, but its great brakes and excellent cornering clearance let you reel them back in and start abusing its rear tire all over again. We are not worthy of a bike this good.
Then there’s the simple fact that the thing just seems to fit everybody, from 260-pound 6-2 Sean to little ol’ 155-pound 5-8 me and everybody in between. In spite of excellent cornering clearance, the KTM’s got the most legroom. The grips are right where you want them, the tank’s a great shape for hanging onto and off of – and it even holds 4.75 gallons of fuel.
At the end of the day, I needed a bike to ride three hours back to Costa Mesa. I picked the KTM. It was a lovely ride, though I did need to switch on the heated grips for the last hour.
Kawasaki Z1000 ABS
The Kawasaki Z1000 ABS gets two awards in this shootout. The first, The Biggest Surprise Award, is for having such a massively entertaining engine. All of the gang (except for that curmudgeon, Burns) rated the engine highly. Sean said the engine “feels like a giant electric motor that pulls smoothly – and hard – everywhere,” while chief female helmet tester, Kevin Duke opined, ”Overall, it feels like a cut-rate S1000R, which isn’t faint praise.” The inline-Four, although wide and, ultimately, contributing to the Z1000’s lack of ground clearance, pulled hard at the corner exits, making the other, more powerful inline-Fours work for their dominance. Ironically, the lower powered Kawasaki mill may have hurt its chances at nipping at the other bikes’ heels a little more by being the only bike tested without TC (which is probably the primary source of Burns’ dissatisfaction).
In other critiques of the engine, testers noted that the gearbox wasn’t as polished as the other bikes’. Additionally, when off-throttle, rolling the grip to bring the power back sometimes took a lot more twisting than one would expect when trying to return to either neutral throttle or acceleration. While this was not abrupt, the delay made it difficult to be precise as to when power could be applied mid-corner.
The Shooting Yourself in the Foot Award goes to the Z1000 by a narrow margin over the Ducati thanks to its limited ground clearance. Said Duke, “Its pegs drag relatively early, followed a little further by the exhaust shields.” Although we discussed cranking up the preload to gain some ride height, we decided against it because we figured it would only undo all the time we’d put in to dialing in the suspension’s myriad of adjustments. While the riders don’t suffer from a lack of foot placement options, as with the Monster, the lack of ground clearance brings an early ending to race track fun. That’s too bad, too, because the Kawasaki clearly has the front end feel and the power chops to hang with the other bikes. In its current form, the Z1000 drags peg feelers early and then follows with the exhaust shields. Sums up Sean, “The Z1000’s appearance at the end of a day on-track could best be described as beveled.”
The instrumentation received mixed reviews with Brasfield making positive comments about the white LED lights that act as the tach on the top of the cluster. The location helps the tach double as a shift light when the rider is tucked in and hard on the gas. Just in front of the instrument cluster, the headlight nacelle’s style was widely criticized but did have one or two defenders.
After much discussion about how much better the Z1000 would be with a suspension upgrade in the rear and a new exhaust, we decided that we may be in danger of designing the bike out of its desired market. In the end, we couldn’t help think that the Kawasaki would do better in the street test that will follow.
Ducati Monster 1200S
The Monster is the outlier in this group, as it was designed to be a sporty streetbike rather than a bare knuckle streetfighter. But since the demise of the 1098cc Ducati Streetfighter (leaving only the 848 SF), the new liquid-cooled Monster 1200S is the Italian marque’s highest-performance naked sportbike.
Street miles before our track session demonstrated the broadband appeal of the liquid-cooled Monster: a comfortable seat and riding position and an engine with stonkin’ midrange power. But when placed on a racetrack, the Duc’s street intent was put sharply in focus. It’s limited in racetrack pace only by ground clearance.
“Everyone was clearly frustrated by the lack of foot positioning options on the Ducati, thanks to a set of passenger peg brackets (and the right-side exhaust) that encroach into the heel room behind the rider’s pegs,” notes Alexander. “That lack of foot movement made it very difficult to rotate your leg out for a corner, let-alone hang-off the bike, and because of that, the Ducati quickly runs out of ground clearance. On the track it’s a glaring error, which is a real shame due to the Duc’s otherwise stellar performance.” Bumping up the compression damping improved the Duc’s issues with dragging, but not enough to come close to matching the corner speeds of the BMW, KTM or MV.
Yes, there are plenty of positive elements to the latest Monster. The S model’s Ohlins suspension held up well on the track, feeling nicely controlled in its motions, and its Brembo monoblock brakes are as good as anything else in this class. And its motor, although down on top-end power, was a delight to squirt hard out of every corner.
“Its midrange power is intoxicating!” Brasfield raves. “Following Burns while he was leaving big darkies exiting the corners made me laugh out loud.”
“The engine’s midrange lunge is particularly impressive on a medium-speed track like Chuckwalla,” Alexander remarks. “Even the mighty KTM would briefly lose ground on the Monster at corner-exit.”
However, the Monster’s upper-end power isn’t quite monstrous, so the bikes that the Duc left behind at the corner exit could catch it at the end of the straight.
The other issue our testers had with the Ducati is its new style. The air-cooled Monsters always looked wonderful, with simple and airy elements that spoke to the engine-with-wheels design ethos. This liquid-cooled one, with the addition of a radiator and its attendant cooling hoses, isn’t nearly as clean.
“The Monster’s fat python exhaust headers and stout red trellis frame are very appealing,” Alexander opines. “All those cooling and vent hoses… not so much.”
So, in a racetrack setting, the Monster falls short next to its sportier rivals. It would’ve ranked much higher if not for its major ground clearance and footroom issues from the low-mounted pegs and gargantuan space-stealing passenger-peg mounts. Look for it to claw back significant ground when we test this group on the street – where the Monster was actually intended to be used.
MV Agusta Brutale 1090 RR
Like any supermodel, the gorgeous MV Agusta Brutale 1090 RR can be a little intimidating. Evans summed it up by saying: “Get it angry, and it’ll rip your head off.” He’s actually got a point there, in a couple of ways. For one thing, the MV might easily be dismissed as a lifestyle accessory for the wealthy poseur, but in reality, it possesses an engine which is more than happy to deliver on those sexy promises made by its exotic curb-appeal… it’ll launch you into next month.
In another way, this motorcycle appears to be fairly sensitive to suspension tuning, its stout chassis bucking and stealing confidence until you get the forks and shock adjusted into their sweet spots. But adjust its dampers and pair the MV with an experienced pilot and – POOF! – it transforms into an extremely rewarding and highly effective racetrack weapon. It is so good, in fact, that a couple of our testers even rated it ahead of the BMW on-track.
I was particularly impressed by the MV’s on-track pace and composure. Much like the BMW, the harder I rode the MV Brutale the happier it was; it exceeded my expectations in just about every way. However, unlike the BMW, it did it all with an added dose of sexy excitement and delicious noises. However, at 45 years old, 6’2” and 260-pounds, I’d gladly trade a little of the MV’s excellent cornering clearance for a little more legroom, and while we’re at it, let’s make the shifting a little easier.
Duke noted that the MV’s pegs were the slipperiest of the bunch, and although nowhere near as compromised as the Ducati’s pegs, he did struggle a bit with limited heel room behind the right peg, which soured his impression of the bike in right-hand corners. However, that particular issue wasn’t echoed by the rest of the testing staff, probably due to us not having recently re-broken our own right ankles.
MV Agusta’s fuel injection tuning has been no stranger to criticism from Motorcycle.com’s editors in the past, although their latest software updates seem to have solved the vast majority of our earlier gripes. However, the Brutale 1090RR does seem to still struggle with an overly abrupt response to off/on throttle transitions. This issue was especially apparent around the apexes of low speed corners where it could upset the chassis slightly. That abruptness was somewhat exacerbated by a slight low-speed surging which we really only noticed while re-entering the pits after a session. Hopefully, the next download will remedy those minor remaining annoyances.
The MV Brutale 1090 RR’s upmarket exotica – those gorgeous wheels, its steering damper, etc. – pays dividends. Duke notes: “Its narrow and swept-back bars don’t offer tons of leverage, but the Brutale’s steering quickness is aided by lightweight forged aluminum wheels on this RR version.” Like the other editors, Duke also noted: “What feels like a stiff chassis responds better the harder it’s pushed.”
Of course, all that exotica comes at a price, an $18,998 MSRP to be exact. Considering that price, Duke lamented: “the Brutale’s motor feels a little underwhelming. It’s got the most displacement of the four-cylinders in this group, but it doesn’t feel like it’s got a significant power advantage.”
I wasn’t so put-off by the MV’s engine, though, believing it sounded much more exotic and musical than the other bikes to my ears and found the engine’s nature at high-rpm suited my riding style when trying to carry momentum through the longer corners without shifting. Despite its high price, even Duke conceded: “A bike’s appearance is always a major factor in a purchasing decision, and, to my eyes, the Brutale is easily the prettiest bike of this bunch.” And to that, every one of us agreed.
So torn was I, personally, between the BMW and the KTM I couldn’t write a single word of this shootout before consulting the MO ScoreCard. After having input my numbers, the ScoreCard told me that I chose the BMW over the KTM by 1.15% or by a score of 124 to 122.5. However, if I had a wad of cash in my hand and both bikes before me, I still can’t say I’d purchase the BMW.
As good as the S1000R is, it just doesn’t push our moto-buttons the way the Super Duke R does. But, me being a Gemini, it’s always a battle between the left and right sides of my brain, and my right side is telling me this.
For $15k what you get with the S1000R is a bike with more technology than the KTM, an insanely fast engine and ergonomics that make riding to and from a trackday a reasonable proposition. Like its full-faired counterpart, the S1000RR, the naked version does everything with Germanic clockwork precision that’s hard to fault.
I’m a lackadaisical twit when it comes to suspension adjustment. So, I’m predisposed to love the dynamic damping control of the S1000R’s semi-active suspension; Soft, Normal, Hard is only a button push away and changes the suspension personality enough for me to go fast at the track or ride comfortably away from it.
What we were surprised to find with the BMW was a lack of cornering clearance, as the pegs began touching down long before those of the MV’s or KTM’s. With all its technologies BMW engineers forgot to give the S1000R something as simple as adjustable footpegs.
All is almost forgiven, though, when you twist the throttle to its stop and the rush of power throws your ass to the back of the rider’s seat, your arms straining to hold on against the sudden increase in windflow. BMW says its massaging of the streetfighter’s engine lowered max engine revolutions by 2,000 rpm, from 14k on the RR to 12k on the R, and increased low- and mid-range power, culminating in 82.6 lb-ft of torque at 9,250 rpm and 160 hp at 11,000 rpm.
“Those who decry the S1000R’s reduction in output from the 1000RR prolly haven’t ridden the R,” says Duke. “It’s incredibly quick and likely able to post similar lap times as its sportier brother around a tightish track like CVR. And I’d guess it would be quicker when piloted by a non-expert rider.”
The KTM does match the BMW with TC, ABS and heated grips, but let’s not forget that the S1000R was the only bike here with cruise control and a quick-shifter. Cruise control is a superfluous technology at the track, but I’m unwilling to dismiss the fact the S1000R has it. The quick-shifter, on the other hand, is a technology made for cutting quick lap times and this technology comes at a lower price threshold than the Premium Package demands.
Which to choose? Do I want to marry the supermodel-esque physical manifestations of female sexuality, who’ll for a short time fulfill all my dirty little fantasies, but could eventually make me a cuckold, followed by divorce and loneliness? Or do I choose the cute, faithful (Honda-esque) girl-next-door BMW with whom I’d have a long and loving relationship?
Why, God, do you bestow upon me the freedom to choose then present me with such options? Why?
Keeping in mind this was a track-only shootout and the fact that majority rules, the winner of the Smackdown is the KTM Super Duke R. With a score of 92.9% or 622.25 points the Super Duke R narrowly but undisputedly defeated the BMW S1000R’s score of 91.3% and 612 points.
2014 Super Streetfighter Scorecard
Ducati Monster 1200S
Kawasaki Z1000 ABS
KTM 1290 Super Duke R
MV Agusta Brutale 1090RR
All scores have a maximum of 10 except Engine which is scored out of 20.
“What can I say, this bike is WELL endowed!” says Alexander. “It feels like a V-Max motor that went on a diet without losing an ounce of muscle. Uncanny for its size and imposing presence, the KTM is actually a sweetheart to ride on-track. It is also extremely capable of actually lapping faster than just about any sportbike you care to mention. The irony here is that it is also a supremely comfortable motorcycle to ride, anywhere.”
And for the bridesmaid.
“What I liked was the BMW’s massive acceleration,” says returning to former racing glory editor, Evans Brasfield. “The shorter gearing and the quick-shifter – uh, excuse me – Gear Shift Assist or Girl Friday or whatever BMW thought would sound more original than quick-shifter. Anyway, the quick-shifter multiplies the fun factor quite a bit, particularly when it gave a pop out of the exhaust just like a real race bike.”
Coming in third was MV Agusta’s Brutale 1090RR with a score of 88.3%. Out of the gate the Brutale was working against a handicap of zero points due to its exorbitant price tag. At $19k for a 2014 model with ABS, it’s $2k more than the KTM, and while the bike is gorgeous and performs admirably, it simply doesn’t outperform the KTM or BMW by two-thousand greenbacks.
“Oh my, is this bike good looking. Nice legs, too,” says Brasfield. “Once the preload was adjusted to eliminate the excessive sag and move the travel out of the last (and most progressive) part of the stroke, the Brutale’s cornering manners improved immensely. Though coming up short on the list of electronic controls when compared to some of the other bikes, the MV had the vital TC and for 2014 gets ABS.”
Fourth place with 82.8% is Ducati’s Monster 1200S – a bike we knew from its initial launch a couple months ago ( 2014 Ducati Monster 1200 S – First Ride Review) will make for a great street naked, but has built-in limitations on the track.
“While a minimal nuisance on the street, the passenger footpeg bracketry had me bending my ankles into abnormal positions to keep from grinding through the toe slider, boot leather and eventually my toes (which Brasfield did just that),” says your author, Roderick. “I’m certain it’ll fare better in the street portion of our test, but as for a naked bike you can ride fast on the track the BMW, KTM and MV are far better choices.”
Rounding out the bottom fifth of this track competition is Kawasaki’s Z1000 ABS with a score of 81.6%. The saddest thing is that the Kawi could easily have scored and performed better had it not been for its self-imposed cornering restrictions.
“The Z’s highlight is its motor, which amazingly doesn’t feel outclassed by the other inline-Four engines here, offering thrilling upper-midrange thrust,” says Duke. “Its pace around the track was limited only by ground-clearance problems. Its pegs drag relatively early, followed a little further by the exhaust shields.”
Next: Street Testing
So, we had a glorious day wringing the necks of these hooligan machines at a racetrack, exploring their ultimate performance limits. Now we saddle-up to unwind twisty roads and slide past commuter traffic to see how they perform in public-road duties. Read the results here!
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