WRIST: Aaron Frank
MSRP (2013): $19,520 (as tested)
MODS: 2200 miles worth of squashed bugs
BMW's globetrotting GS has topped my dream-bike list since forever, so when Cook offered me our 2013 long-termer—the first water-cooled Boxer in the 90-year history of that engine configuration—I jumped at the chance. There was just one condition—my first assignment would be to ride the bike from the U.S. press launch in Valencia, CA, to my home in Milwaukee, WI, 2200 miles away. Because that launch happened at the tail end of our "Class of" test that already had me away from home 5 days, I was forced to make my return trip in just 2 days. I had done a similar trip a decade ago, on a Yamaha YZF-R1, and it was one of the more miserable experiences of my two-wheeled life—one I wasn't looking forward to repeating. But less than 50 miles into this ride, reveling in the next-generation Boxer's newfound power along the two-lane Pearblossom Highway just south of Willow Springs, I knew this ride would be different.
An LED headlight—not just a running light, as on other bikes—is part of the Dynamic option
I've said it before about BMW's K1600GT and this also applies to the GS, which delivers an even more comfortable riding position and only sacrifices some wind protection: This bike makes the Iron Butt Association's "SaddleSore" contest irrelevant. Anyone who can stand upright can comfortably click off a 1000-mile day on the GS, especially one equipped with the $620 Comfort Package that includes handguards and heated grips, which I appreciated over Colorado's snowed-in, 34-degree Loveland Pass, and excellent cruise control ($350) with a slick toggle to precisely adjust speed up or down.
The best option on this bike, however, is the $2100 Dynamic ESA that lays BMW's revolutionary semi-active damping system over electronic suspension adjustment that allows push-button preload adjustment (for different passenger and luggage loads), as well as Soft, Normal, and Hard suspension profiles. ESA is more than a novelty—it's fairly remarkable to glide over torn-up interstate wallowing in the long-travel comfort of the Soft setting, then, with just the click of a bar-mounted button, instantly tighten the ride for a twisty side road. It was especially illustrative to jump on the GS after spending four days on BMW's HP4 superbike that features Dynamic Damping Control without ESA. The dynamic advantages seem even more evident on the GS: ESA makes fairly radical changes to chassis attitude and feedback, but suspension action and reactivity remains remarkable consistent—and nearly perfect—across the many settings.
Cross-spoke wheels ($500) have nipples at the hubs and heads outboard of the rim bead, all
There are also four ride modes—Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Enduro (the latter, for off-road riding, is only available on Dynamic ESA bikes). Each mode alters not only power output and delivery, but ASC (traction control) and ABS strategies as well. Because my tester was delivered without an owner's manual, it took most of my first day to figure out how to navigate the various handlebar buttons to alter the electronic parameters—and disable ASC's obnoxious wheelie-abatement!—to suit my whims. A big part of my first weeks will be devoted to learning the nuances of these many systems.
Like I mentioned in my Megaphone column that appeared in our August issue, I'm going to resist the urge to modify this bike too much. With a more powerful engine and some of the most sophisticated suspension and engine-management technology ever fitted to a motorbike, there's little performance improvement to be gained, anyway. Instead, I'm just going to ride. The GS is already proven capable everywhere from Dakar to Dawson City to the Darien Gap. My ride home was mostly interstate, but a few miles of fire road in Utah's Fishlake National Forest—a touch of slickrock, too—got me dreaming of knobby tires, crash bars, and other "necessities" for exploring the off-highway potential of my new best friend. I'm looking forward to an adventurous year.
WRIST: Dave Sonsky
MSRP (2012): $14,699
Unfortunately for me, Kawasaki recently noticed a rather conspicuous absence from its press fleet, and has asked for the ZX-14R back. This bike has been a riot on a daily basis and has consistently delivered, regardless of what I've asked it to do. Our time together hasn't ended on bad terms, nor have I had my fill of the '14, either. In fact, I've already started shopping for softly crashed examples in hopes of purchasing one for a more significant project. It's not surprising that there are few to choose from. This isn't a bike folks tend to flip—not literally, thanks to standard traction control, or figuratively, in the financial-gain sense. There just aren't many disappointed ZX-14R owners who are desperate to get rid of their bikes. Good for Kawasaki, bad for cheapskates like me. Having clocked 8800 miles over the past 10 months, it's fair to say I've learned a lot about the bike. The '14 has hauled me to trackdays and drag strips, toured two-up, and commuted, all without a single issue.
Respecting the bike's "do-all" nature, I tried to keep modifications to a bare minimum during the loan period to avoid disturbing its natural aptitude for handling all things speed related. It has been just the basics for the most part: a larger windscreen to improve wind protection; slip-on pipes to cut a considerable amount of weight and accentuate an already gorgeous exhaust tone; and a quickshifter for a touch of lazy luxury. These mild mods weren't necessary because the ZX-14R is quite exceptional out of the box, but they were budget-friendly and added a nice, personal touch.
Were it my own bike, I think it would be fun to dig in with more focus and make the Ninja a true street monster. It really wouldn't require that much cash, or effort. I'd capitalize on its strength (power), and concentrate on its primary drawback (excess weight). Carbon-fiber bodywork (painted Kawasaki green, of course), aftermarket suspension or at least stiffer springs, and a full exhaust with a fuel-management system would make the '14 an utter brute at the strip, a hoot at the racetrack, and generally a lot more nimble around town. No turbo or expensive wheel swaps necessary, just standard mods that most sportbike owners do anyway. Unlike "most" sportbikes, however, the foundation here is already so astonishing.
There is only one other option in the hypersport segment—Suzuki's Hayabusa—and having ridden it back to back with the '14 I can say there's really no comparison in ability to either stop or go. The ZX-14R surprised me ride after ride; it's outrageously fast, supremely comfortable, and draws groups of admirers even when standing still. In short, extremely hard to give back.
DUCATI MULTISTRADA 1200S
Wrist: Zack Courts
MSRP (2013): $19,995
Mods: Still none!
Okay, time to come clean. Even though I've been shouting from rooftops that the Multistrada is perfect the way it is, some tweaks here and there would probably make it better. Before I get into what I want to change, one more scoop of praise for the Multi. For a cool $20K, I really want a bike to hit the nail on the head, and I feel Ducati did that. I could easily be happy with this bike as my one and only without making any modifications. Sure, it's got quirks, but it also has loads of charisma and even more capability. As for prospective alterations, I'd like to start with one of the Multi's more annoying traits. Inexplicably, the tab used to deploy the centerstand is so tall that it hits my left heel as I'm riding. It's especially bothersome when I stand on the pegs, but fortunately I don't do that very often. All of my coworkers have the same complaint, and as far as we can tell all it will take to fix is chopping 2 inches off the arm and rewelding the tab back to the end. It could potentially affect the leverage of the arm to hoist the bike up on to the centerstand, but we're all confident that it will work just fine. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Another item high on my wish list is luggage that's a little easier to deal with. The stock Multistrada 1200S saddlebags offer decent storage and look sleek on the bike, but the triple latch system (combined with the locking mechanism) will wear a soul down. A recent experience with top-loading side cases reminded me what a pleasure it can be to have easy access, so in the interest of improving the Multi, I put an order in for a standard Ducati top case. Since it bolts directly to the stock rack on the tail, I think it could make for a good alternative to the standard bags—the benefits of top loading plus reduced cross section to help with LA traffic.
A little less important, but still on my radar, is tightening up the rear blinker and license plate assembly. Ari and I traded bikes recently during a day trip, and I was shocked to see the blinkers flapping around like a basset hound's ears. Upon inspection, the mounts appear secure but quite flimsy. Perhaps they're intentionally floppy to avoid breakage. Either way, I think we can do better. I've got my eye on a couple of aftermarket options that will also allow me to upgrade the rear signals, hopefully to match the brilliance of the large LED blinkers that grace the Multi's face.
Last up is wind protection. The Multi's stock screen is one of the best of any bike I've ridden, as is the simple and elegant "pinch and slide" adjustment system. Pinch the two tabs together to free the latch, slide to desired height, and release to lock. Beautiful. Since the screen delivers comfortable aerodynamics in basically all positions of adjustment, I'm planning to try both a shorter, sportier screen as well as a larger, more touring-oriented option. For the sake of experimentation, mostly, but maybe I'll be able to determine why Ducati settled on the size it did. More soon...
TRIUMPH SPEED TRIPLE R
WRIST: Ari Henning
MSRP (2013): $15,999
MODS: Replacement Ventura L-brackets, red reflective tape
I'm stacking on the miles. That's because 1) I love riding this motorcycle, and 2) I've had a few assignments outside Los Angeles County that I opted to ride to. Before I could shove off on my first overnight trip, I needed to reinstall my Ventura luggage system. Fine, except the L-brackets—the structural pieces that bolt to the bike's subframe and support the rack and Mistral pack—were bent in the crash. No problem, because Ventura (www.ventura-mca.com) sells components individually, allowing me to order up new L-brackets for $174.
Back with my rack and pack, I realized something that may have contributed to that rear-ender incident. There's no doubt the driver who hit me wasn't paying attention, but I may have been hard to see; the tail pack is tall enough that it obscures the big reflective stripe that spans the back of my Aerostich Roadcrafter suit. As a quick fix, I outlined a triangle in red reflective vinyl tape on the back of the pack. It definitely makes the bike more visible from the back, even in daylight, plus it matches the R's red subframe and rim strips. Nice! I don't want to look like a construction site, though, so I'll probably add some auxiliary LED brake lights as a more elegant, permanent fix.
I logged an easy 350 miles cruising to and from El Cajon, CA, to ride the Suzuki Hayabusa discussed elsewhere in this issue. With my MFW Vario footpegs offering more legroom and the Mistral pack serving as a backrest, the trip went down in comfort. After stepping off the 'Busa, the Speed Triple didn't feel quite as fast, but the upright riding position is more comfortable for longer rides, and I made the entire return trip to Santa Monica—about 150 miles—in one sitting, averaging an all-time high of 47 mpg.
Wrist: Marc Cook
MSRP (2012): $6999
Mods: SHAD comfort seat
Without a doubt, I've been a titch hard on the NC700X in my care. Not as in failing to take care of it or abusing it physically—as though you could abuse a motorcycle mentally—but in the way I've framed its performance capabilities. Bottom line: This is a crossover kind of bike, designed with a few key points in mind, including superb fuel economy, ease of operation, and the ability to take great care with riders fresh from the MSF course. That means it's not a fire-breathing beast, and definitely not something to keep experienced riders jonesing for more.
No, it's something else: a fantastic commuter/daily rider. If I seem a bit cranky just after a long trip or a weekend strafe of my favorite backroads, just the opposite is true at the end of my daily commute. I arrive where I'm going at ease, happy to have been conveyed there on a motorcycle instead of cooped up inside a box. (Although with summer here, I'm a bit jealous of air conditioning.)
As a transportation piece, the NC has few peers. The laydown engine runs so smoothly and produces such a spread of usable torque that you spend little time managing it. And that's with the manual transmission—had I opted for the Dual-Clutch Transmission autobox, it would be even more twist and go.
Even though Honda is ready to close the books on its model year-2012 testbikes out in the wild and so is calling for my NC to come home, I'm going to try one last mod. Reps from the U.S. arm of SHAD got in touch saying they had a new comfort seat set for the NC700X (www.shadusa.com; $399). Barcelona-based SHAD produces seats and luggage for a wide range of bikes, and even makes original-equipment items for several manufacturers, including BMW, Honda, and Triumph.
The company's one seat option for the NC comes with a choice of seam colors (gray or red) but no option for heating. (My timing is perpetually off. Once I got the heated Corbin in place, summer arrived with a sweaty thump.) SHAD's seat is dramatically softer than the Corbin—no surprise since I think the Corbin has a Rockwell number—and is even a bit softer than the stocker. It's a big improvement in that the seating surface has much more grip than the Teflon-like original saddle, and has much less of the forward rake that makes long trips uncomfortable. Right out of the box, the SHAD's fit is right up to OEM standards.
Comfortable? Yes, so I can say after a week's worth of commuting. But the stock piece felt fine that way, too, so I'll reserve judgment until I complete my one last long trip on the NC before Honda takes it back.