Naked Bikes Rule!

New-School Cool Takes On Old-School Cred. A Sideways Leer At The Naked Class, Circa 2005

By Charles Everitt, Photography by Kevin Wing

In the beginning, all bikes were naked, just like Adam and Eve. And it was good.

And lo, the naked bike begat the touring bike, the cruiser bike, the sportbike and then ... the naked bike.

And then it was all good.

An oversimplification, perhaps, but you get the picture, ironic though it might be that the bike through which motorcycles evolved is now considered a class of its own. The genre has a few distinguishing characteristics of its own, too: attitude and a general sense of naughtiness.

Such traits have made the naked bike class swell at an alarming rate, with new models arriving every year. This year is no exception, with longtime purveyor of attitude and naughtiness Triumph coming back hard with its totally revamped and blazing-fast Speed Triple. Then there's the previously staid, stodgy BMW, which has cut directly to the chase with its 140-bhp, in-your-face K1200R.

We thought it would be interesting to see how these latest two rude boys of motorcycling measured up against another pair of well-established naked nimrods, Yamaha's R1-derived FZ1 and the first production naked bike, Ducati's diabolical Monster, but in top-shelf trim, powered by the firm's previous-generation 996 superbike engine. Bad company, to be sure, each reflecting their countries of origin.

The setup alone would make it virtually impossible to declare one true naked-bike winner. On top of that, though, is that naked bikes are all about the right attitude and state of mind more than anything else-unlike sportbikes, for instance, where the criteria are all the same and all agreed upon. Instead, consider this to be a snapshot sampler of motorcycling's naked bike class circa 2005.

So join us as we take a lively, leering, lip-smacking look at how the ecdysiast all-stars have evolved in one of motorcycling toughest, newest-and oldest-classes.

Yamaha FZ1
Since it hit the beaches here in 2001, Yamaha's muscular FZ1 has been Japan's quintessential naked bike, and as such it set the formula in stone for almost all that followed: Take a first-tier sportbike-in this case the first-generation R1-then dumb it down ... that is, tune it for torque, build a more traditional frame, soften the suspension and take the edge off handling via increased rake, trail and wheelbase. It's been a successful formula for Yamaha, especially because much of the R1 still shone through.

Against the backdrop of newer competitors such as Triumph's Speed Triple and BMW's K1200R, though, the FZ1 has begun to feel a little soft. Indeed, you can tell a lot about this latest FZ1 just by parking your cheeks on the saddle. Right off the bat you know you're on something very different from other naked bikes in this bunch, as your fundament sinks into the soft foam and you note the FZ1's large, longish feel. Then perform the super-sophisticated suspension test, pumping on the fork and bouncing up and down on the saddle. The FZ strokes quickly through a lot of its travel, both ways.

Navigating the ravaged streets of downtown Los Angeles confirms those first impressions: The soft yet supple (and fully adjustable at both ends) suspension soaks up paving irregularities with aplomb, including those that would have you posting like a jockey on the Speed Triple. Urban riding points up a trait often associated with R1s-the lack of extreme low-end punch one associates with literbikes.

Indeed, the FZ1 has the slowest 0-60-mph time of the bunch. Tall gearing in first through fourth and the second-heaviest weight in the group conspire to hobble the bike at lower rpm. So does unremarkable power output below about 8000 rpm; the K1200R simply makes more power everywhere, and the Speed Triple slaughters the FZ1 until the Yamaha hits its top-end rush, peaking at 128.5 bhp at 9750 rpm. "Everyone thinks it's a midrange engine, but it's not," says Executive Editor Carrithers. "Try to go fast on it and it wants to spin past 8000 rpm."

Softish suspension usually means sloppy handling when you're scratching along back roads, but the FZ1 continues to surprise as it always has. The bike does use much of its travel, but in a well-controlled way, even after dialing in substantial amounts of preload and rebound damping plus less compression. Mind, this is no quick-flick machine; the weight, relatively long wheelbase and slow steering geometry ensure it. But the steering is neutral and precise, and the powerful brakes scrub off plenty of speed before you tip it in.

"The more you ride the Yamaha, the better you like it," says Editor Boehm. "The whole package just works. And the suspension feels really well balanced front-to-rear, though the softness means you don't feel remarkably connected to the road."

The biggest complaint voiced by every tester concerned the flat, high-rise handlebar, which made them feel as if they were hanging from a chin-up bar. But a handlebar is fairly easy (and cheap) to change, and the stocker's sit-up-and-beg riding position is far easier to tolerate for long distances than the near-racer-tuck so common today.

In fact, as Carrithers says, "The Yamaha is really comfy-arguably the best for covering ground out on the freeway. It's big and soft and there's plenty of room for a pillion. It's practical enough that you could tour on it. "There's not a whole lot of 'tude there," he continues, mentioning a key naked bike character trait. "Actually, it's sort of an anti-naked bike."

True enough. And as we mentioned up front, a proper naked bike has to have emotional content that stems from a particular attitude and state of mind. Stock, the FZ1 is big, soft, fast and polite-only one of those is a trait normally associated with a streetfighter-style naked bike.

But the operative word here is stock. By remaining virtually unchanged since its introduction, the Yamaha has the lowest price here, $6650 less than the BMW. That kind of cash can buy a valve kit for the fork, a quality rear shock, a pipe and jet kit, a handlebar, sticky tires and some extremely nice riding gear.

In short, Yamaha's FZ1 has performance and value in near-equal numbers. In which case you can supply any remaining requisite attitude all on your own.

By Charles Everitt
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