10 Bikes for $10K

Ten ways to celebrate the power of 10

Once upon a time, $10,000 was a whole lot of money. It's still a healthy chunk of change for motorcycle magazine editors, sanitation engineers and other working stiffs gettin' 'er done on the average American family income of $47,000 with 28 years of mortgage payments left. That once-tidy sum barely gets you into the cheapest new car in America, affectionately known to devotees of life on the cheap as an '08 Chevy Aveo 5. But cheer up, boys and girls: That 22-pound pile of dollar bills goes a whole lot farther when you're shopping for two wheels.

Setting a hard five-figure ceiling in most showrooms still lifts you into the muscle and phat of the lineup. No bottom-line apologies necessary. Even a perfunctory Web-surfing expedition will reveal scores of alternatives. So, being the selfless public servants that we are, here's a comprehen-sible if less than totally comprehensive exploration of the sort of bang you can expect for 10,000 bucks. We went for bandwidth, whether skewed toward track days or cruise nights or somewhere in between. Let's take it from the top, starting with BMW's long-awaited F800S.

Your basic, do-it-all Bavarian streetbike slots in just under the magic $10K mark with belt drive, fuel injection and plenty of typically atypical engineering designed to lure buyers out of the usual four Japanese showrooms. There's nothing normal about Buell's big Firebolt. Erik Buell doesn't do normal. Adding the liquid-cooled 1125R to the '08 lineup slots the previous ber-twin XB12R neatly into this price bracket.

Yes, Virginio, you can put a real-deal Ducati in the garage without subjecting little Fabio to the slow social suicide of community college. New for '07, the 695 grew out of the popular 620 model, which was for years Ducati's best seller worldwide. It just may do more for less than anything else from Borgo Panigale. Perhaps you prefer pushrods to desmodromics? Flying low and solo, Harley's Nightster tells anyone with eyes in their head that the Sportster still knows how to do the nasty. More physically and financially accessible than its 1800cc brother, Honda's VTX1300 is 100 pounds lighter and leaves your wallet $3300 heavier, which you can blow on cheap hotels and horrific bar tabs in Sturgis.

You're welcome to spend more than $9499 on a sportbike, but it won't buy anything better than Honda's 412-pound CBR600RR. Moving through our alpha-betical order, K stands for naked, as in Kawasaki's chiseled Z1000. Undressed, but not at all stripped, it's unlikely to be mis-taken for anything but a heavy in the next Transformers movie. Suzuki's V-Strom 650 only sounds like an exile from the planet Cybertron. It's actually quite adept at just about any sort of two-wheeled terrestrial travel you carbon-based life forms can come up with, and better than its more expensive 1000cc sibling at most of 'em. Next?

Triumph's 1050cc Speed Triple is another practical set of sporting wheels likely to inspire some healthy fear and loathing in the corporate car park. For an encore you can strafe unsuspecting poseurs on Racer Road. Our little preamble winds up with a little good news/bad news state of affairs: Yamaha's superb new V-Star 1300 breaks the budget by a measly $90. That's OK if you've got the money, but rules, as they say, are rules. On the flip side, the V-Star 1100 Classic is Yamaha's best-selling cruiser for a reason: a 1063cc, eight-valve twin with dual front discs, shaft drive and faux hardtail rear suspension for $8899.

Actually, this whole thing is a gambit. A con. We fed our corporate overlords a load about taking the whole lot of 'em out on the road in the interest of science and the greater good. Going the extra mile for you, the loyal reader. The truth of it is we just needed a good scrape around L.A. As it turns out, we filled a few notebooks and learned some things in the process. Turn the page and tag along.

**BMW F800S
Gentleman's Express
WRITERS: Lon Rozelle, Tim Carrithers and Aaron Frank
PHOTOGRAPHERS: Kevin Wing, Doug Linnett and Jim Moy
**The sportbike for riders "of a certain age"
This new F800S is the most un-Beemer-like Beemer yet. And that's a good thing. Yes it has the civility typical of the German marque, but it's also a little rough around the edges. It's a bike that actually feels like a bike. A BMW that has-gasp!-character.

BMW has aimed the F800 series at re-entry riders, and to that we would add entry-level riders. While the S and ST boast a claimed 85 horsepower, that power is delivered in a warm and fuzzy manner that won't spook even a newbie. The S stands for Sport, but we'd tack a "y" onto the end of that. There's grunt all right, but gentlemanly grunt-you'll not likely be inspired to perform power-wheelies or other forms of hooliganism. This is a sportbike for grownups, thank you very much, and within that niche it excels.

Ergos are pretty much perfect. Bars and pegs are set to give a slight racer tuck, but not too much so. The seat is typically BMW cushy, and an optional lower saddle is available. The cockpit is nicely laid out and relays more information than the Hubble telescope. With the optional onboard computer, average speed, average fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, distance until fill-up, ambient temperature, digital gear indicator and tire pressures are at your fingertips. Other options include heated handgrips and an anti-theft alarm. One thing we continue to dislike about BMWs is the turn-signal arrangement: Having to turn either signal off with your right thumb is counterintuitive.

Anti-lock brakes were fitted as an option on our testbike, and while ABS can help prevent accidents in some situations, the F800S has a lower-spec version than the R and K models. We purposely tried to lock the rear wheel, and when the computer sensed this it released the brake entirely, shooting the bike forward. It definitely doesn't have the same level of sophistication as the higher-priced spread.

Fueling is very well sorted on the F800S. Shifting is smooth, if a bit clunky. Final drive is via belt, which while being easier to maintain than a chain means you can't change gearing. Suspension works well in most situations, with the shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping, and the fork non-adjustable. A steering damper is fitted, yet steering remains relatively light, the bike never feeling heavy. Mirrors are clear and give a decent rearward view, except directly behind. Some buzziness sneaks through the bars and seat, especially between 5000 and 6000 rpm.

Where this bike shines is on the open road. There it's rock-solid and feels as though it's riding on rails. Wind protection is good from the standard windscreen, and an optional higher screen is available. Gas mileage is very good, ranging from 42 to 55 mpg.

BMW has given the re-entry rider a serious alternative to Japanese and other European mid-size bikes. Yes, it's pricey, but it has a level of refinement and array of options that many others don't. Despite its Sport moniker it's not a track-day tool, but it should prove just the ticket for those of a certain age who want to get the adrenaline pumping without having to purchase knee pucks. This bike ought to be called the GS: Gentleman's Sport.

Price: $9900
Engine type: l-c parallel-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 798cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 85 bhp @ 8000 rpm
Claimed torque: 63 lb.-ft. @ 5800 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: 43mm fork
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring
preload and rebound damping
Front brakes: Dual four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 265mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone
Battlax BT014
Rear tire: 180/55-ZR17 Bridgestone
Battlax BT014
Seat height: 32.3 in.
Wheelbase: 57.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 401 lbs.
Contact: www.bmwmotorcycles.com

Honda CBR600RR
More than a Middleweight

Honda's meticulously refined 600cc solution has all the right stuff to rule the world Smaller, lighter, shorter, stronger, slipperier and more expensive: There's your basic blatant oversimplification of the 2007 CBR600RR design brief. It is, as you may have gathered personally or vicariously by now, more than that. For Honda, this is a breakthrough. The lightest production 600cc supersport yet devised and the most dominant CBR since the '87 Hurricane. To the people who still can't figure out why Mel Brooks shot Young Frankenstein in black and white, it's expensive for a 600. But after beating on one for a few thousand miles, we figure it's the best sportbike $9499 can buy. Depending on whom you ask around here, it may just be the piece of pavement-based two-wheel sporting technology currently for sale at any price.

This just in: 600s have grown up. Not so many years ago they were an affordable stop on the way to liter-land. Now? Still relatively cost-effective, the 412-lb. (wet), 105-bhp CBR is good enough to rattle the heavy hitters. Despite being designed in parallel with Honda's ill-fated RC212 MotoGP weapon, the CBR is at least as good on the street as it is on the track. Unlike anything else with a 15,000-rpm redline, this one shows signs of midrange life from 8000 rpm upward. And it just keeps on pulling till the aforementioned peak ponies show up at 13,500-500 rpm later than on the '06 RR. After losing 19 lbs. in the off-season and undercutting Triumph's Daytona 675 by 5 lbs., it feels wispy for a modern middleweight. Improbably so for the bike that started out as the brunt of pitiless fat jokes by coming to camp carrying nearly 26 lbs. more than the other kids in '03. Honda got it all right this time.

Despite the fact that most of the bike's vitals are smaller as well as lighter, taller bars and a humane seat make 150 or so miles of assorted pavement almost painless. A minor shortage of seat-to-peg room invokes the caveat, and then only for lanky types. Beyond that, Honda managed to transplant most of the old F-spec CBR600 into the sharpest RR version yet without blunting its track-day edge. Aside from some whining about the lack of a slipper clutch for this kind of cash and a bit more buzz between 6000 and 8000 rpm than we'd like, the R&D; boys leave us with precious little to complain about. Fueling is essentially flawless. Brakes are stellar, smokin' hot or stone cold, and the best six-speed 'box in CBR history requires as much effort as the average computer keyboard.

Surprisingly stable despite its steeper rake and nearly 1-inch-shorter wheelbase than its predecessor, the latest RR goes from straight up to knee down about as quickly as you can think. Set it up properly and stiffer suspension works with the newly recalibrated electronic steering damper to inspire only confidence, even in rough corners. Still, one big problem project boss Norikazu Maeda and his team left on the table: What is Honda going to do for an encore?

Price: $9499
Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 599cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Measured horsepower: 105.2 bhp @ 13,750 rpm
Measured torque: 44.1 lb.-ft. @ 11,250 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: 41mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Front brakes: Dual four-piston calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire:120/70-ZR17 Dunlop Qualifier
Rear tire: 180/55-ZR17 Dunlop Qualifier
Seat height: 32.3 in.
Wheelbase: 53.8 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal.
Weight (tank empty): 383 lbs.
Contact: www.powersports.honda.com

Honda VTX1300C
The Goldilocks Effect
Not too big or too small, Honda's 80-inch VTX is just rightNobody has to know you didn't buy the big one. Aside from a few subtle cues-staggered duals in place of the bigger twin's single muffler, a conventional fork, one front disc and slightly less majestic cylinders-the VTX1300C is pretty much a dead ringer for its more intimidating big brother. It won't light the 170/90-15 rear tire at green lights, but the 77 lb.-ft. of torque that come online at 3000 rpm generate persuasive forward motion, along with enough lightly sanitized thumping and thudding to let you know there are two sizeable slugs at work down there. One urban U-turn and you develop an endearing appreciation for the 1300's more manageable mass for such a sizeable lad.

Before Honda started the displacement race five years ago, a 1312cc V-twin was big. Unless you buy the my-what-big-pistons-you-have brochure copy that insists we need two liter-sized cylinders to measure up, it still is. Flanked by a pair of balance shafts that cancel objectionable vibes, the 1300's single-pin crank stirs up the timeless, off-kilter cadence. Roll up to freeway speeds and Honda's 52-degree V-twin is a pleasant blend of character and all-day smoothness. It lunges from 60 to 80 mph in just less than 5 seconds with the five-speed box in top cog-quick enough to preclude an unseemly shift to fourth.

Size matters most in the saddle. Climb aboard and the 80-inch VTX feels huge. Enormous. For all intents and purposes, colossal. There's plenty of room to stretch out and watch 140 miles or so of tasty scenery slide by between fuel stops. And when it's time for fuel, this interpretation of the big twin digests mid-grade unleaded as happily as super. That saves 50 cents every time you fill 'er up. A lone 38mm carburetor prepares said fuel for combustion instead of fuel injection, which means thumbing a choke lever on cold mornings and turning a tap to reserve to unleash that last gallon. But if Wyatt and Billy didn't need EFI, do you?

Masters of the obvious will have already surmised this ain't no sportbike, but the shift linkage grinds hard enough in left-hand corners to convince the less perceptive. And slowing 689 lbs. (wet) of motorcycle with one 336mm disc takes time and effort and carefully premeditated corner trajectory. Still, it's a nice enough ride for leisurely backroad trolling. Make that smooth backroad trolling: The only genuinely painful concession to that almighty bottom line is a harsh ride from cheap, short-travel suspension bits. If your significant other is coming along, let's just say a pair of quality shocks is a small price to pay to prevent domestic discourse. Or chiropractic care.

Nobody here expects Pearl White perfection for $9699, but Honda delivers a whole lot of motorcycle for the money. At that rate, there's enough in the budget to put back what the accountants left out, with enough left over for a weekend excursion or two. That really ought to get the neighbors going.

Price: $9699
Engine type: l-c 52-degree V-twin
Valve train: SOHC, 6v
Displacement: 1312cc
Transmission: 5-speed
Measured horsepower: 60.3 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Measured torque: 77 lb.-ft. @ 3000 rpm
Frame: Tubular-steel double cradle
Front suspension: 41mm fork
Rear suspension: Twin shocks with adjustable spring preload
Front brake: Two-piston caliper, 336mm disc
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 296mm disc
Front tire: 110/90-19 Dunlop F246
Rear tire: 170/80-15 Dunlop K555
Seat height: 27.5 in.
Wheelbase: 65.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal.
Dry weight: 641 lbs.
Contact: www.powersports.honda.com

Ducati Monster 695
Hidden Hero

One of Ducati's most impressive models is also its least assuming Ducati has an impressive model lineup, but one standout is its entry-level Monster 695. Priced to be competitive with offerings from the Far East, the 695 offers an entre into a rich motorcycling history and sports gobs of character that the others can only lust after.

I've lived with the littlest Monster for some time now, using it mainly as a daily in-town commuter with the occasional weekend blast. It's nearly perfect as an everyday thread-the-needle-through-the-SUV-stack tool. Its light weight and effortless steering get you through and around traffic with ease, and its grunty, 73-horse/45 pound-foot motor whisks you from stoplight to stoplight effortlessly. It feels every bit as punchy off the bottom as some larger Monsters, yet is much lighter and more nimble.

The 695 is a contender for the perfect beginner or female bike, featuring a super-low seat height of just 30.3 inches. Light lever action is accomplished via an Adler Power Torque Clutch, which doubles as a slipper to ease ham-footed downshifts. Brakes are strong, even the rear, which usually isn't the case with Ducatis. Suspension works well for the type of riding most will do with this bike, with the Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping and the Marzocchi fork unfortunately non-adjustable but well-sorted.

Ergos are typically Monster-strange, meaning the reach to the bars is long. There are numerous aftermarket cures for this. Pegs are set relatively high, but not uncomfortably so. The mirrors provide an excellent rearward view, with no blurring at sane speeds. Amazingly, this bike works quite well on the highway, with the windblast not nearly as bad as on some other nakeds. Ducati offers an optional bikini fairing for those who want more protection. While the bike can seem slightly twitchy at low speeds, it's very stable in the fast lane.

The only real niggle with the 695 is its fueling. There are some instances when, at small throttle openings, the motor backfires/coughs/hiccups. Checking the various Ducati message boards, this appears to be a fairly common problem. A tech at our local Ducati dealer told us this is due to the lean running required by today's strict emissions standards, and to be fair it's a problem that affects many fuel-injected bikes. An aftermarket exhaust and adjustable ECU is the way to go here.

Ducati has created a winner in the Monster 695. In these days of "bigger-is-better" mega-superbikes, the littlest Monster is all the bike you really need. It's small enough to squeeze through tight spaces where cruisers and sport-tourers fear to tread, yet big enough to thrill with a surprising amount of power when and where you need it. Plus, for our money, no other bike's exhaust note stirs the soul like a Ducati's. It's a bargain blaster-emphasis on blast.

Price: $7795
Engine type: a-c 90-degree V-twin
Valve train: DOHC, desmo 4v
Displacement: 695cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 73 bhp @ 8500 rpm
Claimed torque: 45 lb.-ft. @ 6750 rpm
Frame: Tubular-steel trellis
Front suspension: 43mm inverted fork
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual two-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Front tire: 120/60-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax
Rear tire: 160/60-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax
Seat height: 30.3 in.
Wheelbase: 56.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.6 gal.
Dry weight: 370 lbs.
Contact: www.ducati.com

2008 Harley-Davidson XL1200N Nightster
Old Skool Sporty

The Motor Company's cheapest chopper is also its coolestJesse James once remarked that the look of his custom choppers wasn't half as important as the riding position. If the customer felt like a Brando-grade badass in the saddle, James had done his job. According to the James Scale of Relative Motorcycle Hardness (one being a Honda Metropolitan scooter, 10 being a rigid '48 Pan), the Nightster ranks a solid 9.5. Slouching into a scooped-out saddle hovering just 26 inches above the tarmac and grasping a low-rise, flat-track handlebar, the sensation is pure Hell's Angel. The Nightster is easily the most attitude you can buy for under 10 Gs.

The Nightster's look should please the patch-and-vest crowd, too. The backstreet-inspired tail, with no discernible taillight (stop lights are integrated into the turn signals) and a folding, side-mounted license plate, has us wondering who H-D roughed up at the DOT. Old-school rubber fork gaiters, lightening holes in the belt guard and front fender supports, vintage "ham can" air filter, and plenty of matte and flat finishes (including the patented "Rawboned" treatment on the Evolution engine) give the Nightster fistfuls of curb cred.

Even after the improvements applied across the Sportster line in 2004 (which included rubber mounting a revised Evo motor in a stiffer frame), riding the 51-year-old Sportster platform is still a hardcore experience, especially on the Nightster. The solo saddle is thin and firm, and the shorty rear shocks make long trips an exercise in brutality. The slammed ride height also affects cornering clearance-Sir Nightster touches tarmac early and often, especially the front muffler mounting bolts on the right side. Rubber-mounted or not, you still feel enough Evo thrum through the saddle and footpegs to remind you that you're riding a piece of Americana, though clutch effort has been reduced substantially for '08, making it more pleasant to work your way through the industrial-strength gearbox and take advantage of the satisfying, 79 lb.-ft. of torque to blat from stoplight to stoplight. The 1203cc powerplant will even deliver you north of 110 mph, but you really don't want to do that with the arms-out riding position, lack of wind protection and the relatively unimpressive, single-disc front brake.

But going fast, or far, or even for long, is not the point of a chopper. These bikes are all about attitude and amplitude, and on those fronts the Nightster is better than brass knuckles in a bar brawl. Short of a used Sporty, a Sawzall and a can of Krylon Hamm-R tone, you can't beat the Nightster for under $10K.

Price: $9695
Engine type: a-c 45-degree V-twin
Valve train: OHV, 4v
Displacement: 1203cc
Bore x stroke: 88.9 x 96.8mm
Compression: 9.7:1
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 5-speed
Claimed horsepower: 64 bhp @ 6250 rpm
Claimed torque: 79 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Frame: Tubular-steel double-cradle
Front suspension: 35mm telescopic fork
Rear suspension: Twin shocks
Front brake: Single two-piston caliper, 292mm disc
Rear brake: Single one-piston caliper, 292mm disc
Front tire: 100/90-19 Dunlop D401F
Rear tire: 150/80-B16 Dunlop D401
Seat height: 26.3 in.
Wheelbase: 60.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.3 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 545 lbs.
Contact: www.harley-davidson.com

Buell XB12R - Ready, aim, Firebolt!
Thanks to the new, liquid-cooled 1125R, air-cooled XBS are now cheaper than ever
WRITER: Aaron Frank

Many fans of air-cooled Buells (and there are plenty) assumed the arrival of the new, liquid-cooled 1125R (see "Up To Speed") meant the end of the XB platform. Actually, the new model's arrival spells good news for anyone in the market for an old-school, air-cooled Buell, as the MSRP of the 2008 Firebolt XB12R has been reduced by $500 to $9995-just cutting it for this "10 4 $10K" storyline.

Other than pricing, the '08 XB12R is essentially unchanged with the 1203cc, 92-bhp V-twin still bolted into Buell's unique, fuel-bearing twin-spar aluminum frame. Budget priced or not, the parts are premium all the way with a fully adjustable Showa shock controlling movement of the aluminum swingarm (that doubles as an engine oil reservoir) and a similarly adjustable, 43mm Showa inverted fork keeping the front wheel in check. Mounted to that front wheel is Buell's own ZTL perimeter brake (said to save 7 lbs. over a conventional setup), and driving the rear wheel is a maintenance-free belt to eliminate driveline lash and provide instant forward acceleration. Buell delivers a lot of innovative (and functional) technology for 10 large.

The Harley-Davidson-derived air/oil/fan-cooled V-twin has plenty to offer enthusiasts, namely stone-axe simplicity, impressive torque (peaking at just over 70 lb.-ft.) and loads of muscular American character. It also has some less endearing traits: At-idle vibration borders on excessive, shaking the bike and everything attached to it (including you) like the front row of a Shakira concert. It's a rolling rotisserie, too, made worse when the air-raid siren/cooling fan kicks in and pulls the heat away from the motor, and all over you.

Fortunately, this all disappears once you get underway. Engine vibration becomes a non-issue (as does ambient heat) and you're left alone to revel in a torquey, tractable, endlessly satisfying backroad bike. With the spec sheet showing just 52 inches between axles, you might expect the Firebolt to be a bit over-eager in the turns-it's not. A fairly solid bar push is required to initiate a turn, after which the Firebolt responds with unexpectedly stable mid-corner manners and none of the stand-up tendencies that we noted from earlier versions of this chassis-the sticky Pirelli Diablo tires prove an agreeable pick. The Showa suspenders are plenty stiff for spirited strafing, and the ZTL brake, although one-sided, delivers predictable, fade-free stopping power, even after repeated hard stops.

The Firebolt XB12R might not be the best choice for chasing supersports around the racetrack or commuting around town, but it proves practically perfect for chasing apexes on your favorite backroad and does it all with lots more attitude and rowdy presence than anything else out there-especially for under 10 grand.

Price: $9995
Engine type: a/o-c 45-degree V-twin
Valve train: OHV, 4v
Displacement: 1203cc
Transmission: 5-speed
Measured horsepower: 92.2 bhp @ 6750 rpm
Measured torque: 71.9 lb.-ft. @ 5750 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar with aluminum swingarm
Front suspension: Showa 43mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Showa shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Single ZTL-type six-piston caliper, 375mm disc
Rear brake: Single one-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo T
Rear tire: 180/55-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo T
Seat height: 30.5 in.
Wheelbase: 52.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.8 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 395 lbs.Contact: www.buell.com

Kawasaki Z1000 - Substance With Style
A Naked Bike That's Not Really Naked
WRITER: Brian Catterson
PHOTOGRAPHERS: Kinney Jones and Doug Linnett

Throughout their brief history, naked bikes have been just that: naked. They evolved from streetfighters-what the Brits called sportbikes after they'd crashed them, found out how expensive replacement parts were and simply stripped off the damaged fairing, bolted on a set of motocross handlebars and left them that way. Yet despite how stylish those bikes and their successors have appeared, none of them have ever really been styled.

None, that is, except the Z1000. Looking like one of the stars of the Transformers movie, Kawasaki's latest and greatest naked bike has enough folds in its origami bodywork and ray-gun mufflers to hold your gaze for a long, long time before you shut off the garage light.

The previous-generation Z1000 was a nice enough motorcycle, but it was universally panned for excessive vibration. Seldom has so much effort been expended on half-ass cures: Bar Snakes, Liquid Bar Snakes, foam grips, BBs and shotgun pellets have all been employed to damp the vibes. Kawasaki's cure is infinitely more effective-and odd in that there were few changes made to the engine itself. Instead, Kawi's engineers simply added a cast-aluminum subframe that connects the front downtubes to just above the swingarm pivot, and added another motor mount behind the cylinder block. Moving the motor mounts closer to the engine's center of gravity was found to reduce vibration.

It works! The new bike is indeed much, much smoother than the old one. Although the engine derives from the discontinued ZX-9R sportbike, Kawasaki is adamant that the Z1000 is a streetbike, focused on real-world performance. Thus the increased flywheel mass, smaller-diameter (36mm vs. 38mm) sub-oval throttle bodies, .5mm-smaller valves and new cams aimed at increasing low-end power. There's also a new transmission with revised primary and second-gear ratios and a few other changes aimed at improving shift action and longevity. Add to that an exhaust valve in the right-side pipe, plus no fewer than three catalysts.

The real challenge nowadays isn't to make more power, but to retain existing power while passing ever-tougher emissions standards. "It's easy to build a clean-burning motorcycle and it's easy to build high performance, but it's extremely difficult to do both," explained Product Manager Karl Edmondson.

Handling wasn't overlooked either, as the bike got a more upright seating position, new pressed-aluminum swingarm, optimized chassis rigidity and revised geometry aimed at increasing stability and speeding up handling.The suspension was also fine-tuned, with more progressive action than before. And last but not least, radial front brake calipers now grace the 41mm Showa fork.

Again, all of these change work, as the Z1000 is rock-stable at speed yet flicks quickly from side to side. But while the brakes work great, the bike tends to stand up under braking and resist turning in while trail-braking. More time to fiddle with chassis geometry and suspension adjustments would likely cure this.

Otherwise, the Z1000 is an absolute riot to ride. If you're looking for a street-focused naked bike with potent, real-world performance, look no further. And if you're looking for one with style, there really isn't another choice.

Price: $8649
Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 953cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 125 bhp @ 10,000 rpm
Claimed torque: 72.8 lb.-ft. @ 8200 rpm
Frame: Steel-tube backbone with aluminum engine subframe and swingarm
Front suspension: 41mm inverted cartridge fork with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual four-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 250mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
Rear tire: 190/50-ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
Seat height: 32.3 in.
Wheelbase: 56.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.9 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 451 lbs.
Contact: www.kawasaki.com

Suzuki V-Strom 650
Pleasant surprise

Even better than its bigger brother?
Seldom would we recommend a smaller-displacement motorcycle over its larger sibling, yet that's exactly what's happened here. Twice.

First came the Ducati 695, which is such a sweet bike that we'd seriously consider it over the other bigger (and scarier) Monsters. And then there was this little surprise: the V-Strom 650. Yes, Suzuki makes a V-Strom 1000; at $8999 it even fits within the confines of this "10 4 $10K" storyline. But the 650cc version of this wannabe adventure-tourer is so astonishingly fun and friendly that all but one of our staffers (no names mentioned, Tim Carrithers) found it more enjoyable.

Granted, the 650 isn't as powerful as the 1000, and won't torque up a monster wheelie when you give it the berries. It will pop a little wheelie if you dump the clutch, however, and in most real-world riding doesn't feel significantly slower. You just find yourself dialing in bigger handfuls of throttle.

The DL650 is based on the fuel-injected, liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin employed in the popular SV650, but equipped with a retuned exhaust (with a single muffler as opposed to the two on the 1000) and lower final-drive ratio for improved low-rpm performance. As a result, the first three gears are dispatched fairly quickly and the bike feels a bit buzzy at freeway speeds. You could be there for a while, too, what with the massive 5.8-gallon tank and thrifty fuel economy.

Around town, the V-Strom is a pussycat. Its crisp throttle response, light cable-actuated clutch, smooth-shifting six-speed transmission and minimal driveline lash make for effortless riding, and are a real boon to neophytes. Staff newbie Joe Neric wouldn't stop raving about how easy the DL650 was to ride. Helping matters further is the high, wide, dirtbike-style handlebar, which affords enough leverage that the bike feels even lighter than its claimed 427 pounds. The comfy, roomy, upright seating position offers the sort of view usually reserved for SUV drivers. But although the bike looks and feels tall, at 32.2 inches the seat height is surprisingly low.

Like the bigger DL, the 650 is equipped with all the latest acronym-happy technology (Auto Fast Idling System and Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve System in the EFI, plus Pulsed Air Injection in the exhaust), plus one other option the 1000 doesn't get: anti-lock brakes.

Complaints are few and far between. The (non-ABS) two-piston front brakes on our testbike were weaker than we'd have liked. The windscreen (height-adjustable over three positions) is so far forward that things tend to get a bit blustery behind it, buffeting your helmet. And the rear suspension is a tad soft for heavier pilots, which tends to make the 19-inch front tire feel skatey when the bike is ridden hard.

Other than that, though, it's pure bliss. The V-Strom 650 simply gets on with the business of getting on, making it a more-than-viable alternative to its 1000cc stablemate.

Price: $6699 ($7199 w/ABS)
Engine type: l-c 90-degree V-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 645cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 65.7 bhp @ 8750 rpm
Claimed torque: 47 lb.-ft. @ 7250 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar with aluminum swingarm
Front suspension: Telescopic 43mm fork with adjustable spring preload
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual two-piston calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 260mm disc
Front tire: 110/80R-19 Bridgestone Trailwing
Rear tire: 150/70R-17 Bridgestone Trailwing
Seat height: 32.3 in.
Wheelbase: 61.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 427 lbs. (437 lbs. w/ABS)
Contact: www.suzukicycles.com

Triumph Speed Triple - Three's a Charm
A triple-distilled shot of 100-proof performance and attitude in a pilsner world
WRITER: Mitch Boehm

At $9999, the Speed Triple bumps right up against our $10K price limit. Still, with typical discounting, it's easy to ride away from a Triumph shop on an S3 for 10 large out the door. And considering the bike's level of power, handling and moxie, that's a steal.

The Speed Triple has always been a stripped-down sportbike, though the early generation Daytona foundation from which it sprang in '94-when Triumph first returned to U.S. shores-wasn't what you'd call cutting-edge. Heavy, long and large, the first S3 was a decent motorcycle, but it was more about attitude than performance.

Not anymore. These days, the Speed Triple is a bona fide sportbike, sharing the latest-generation 1050cc fuel-injected triple with the also-new-in-'05 Sprint ST, and borrowing numerous chassis bits from the discontinued 955i Daytona. Thing is, it's way more rideable and livable than that last open-class Daytona, and not too far removed, comfort-wise, from the ST.

Jump into the Triple's cockpit and you know instantly you're in for some serious entertainment. There's no screen to cut the wind, just a pair of chrome, low-mount headlights and a tiny info-center featuring a conventional dial tach and digital speedo. The scooped saddle enforces a single riding position and the pegs are mounted radically rearward, but at least the seat is plush. The wide handlebar promises quick-flick steering, and once you light the Evinrude-on-steroids three-cylinder engine, click into the six-speed and get moving, that trait comes through unvarnished.

On the road the Triple scores plenty of points, its slightly cramped ergos notwithstanding. Control feel and fueling manners are excellent, with just the slightest touch of surging in steady-throttle mode. Steering is light and feedback-intensive, and the bike bends into corners with a balanced, progressive feel. Its fully adjustable suspension-sprung for riders 160 to 200 lbs.-offers that rare but wonderful blend of control and compliance, managing to erase most pavement nasties while keeping the chassis steady even with a large and/or fast rider turning the screw. Its brakes-anchored by radial four-piston calipers up front biting into 320mm discs-are phenomenal, with big power and above-average feedback.

But even all that chassis goodness pales in comparison to that engine, a powerplant one staffer labeled "the best in all of motorcycledom." It's powerful, pumping out a pony shy of 120 bhp at the rear wheel and hauling the semi-porky bike through the 440 in just 11.11 seconds at 121 mph. And it generates sonic, internal-combustion perfection while doing so, a guttural mix of V-twin throb and inline-four shriek that's more felt than heard. But what's hard to measure is how supremely useable the triple's power is, how much grunt it makes down low and in the middle, and how much white-knuckle rip exists on top.

And that's precisely why the Speed Triple is such a steal. Not only is it a multi-talented streetbike with gobs of attitude and bad-boy presence, the engine will put a grin on your face for years to come. That sort of entertainment is hard to come by for just $10,000.

Price: $9999
Engine type: l-c inline-triple
Valve train: DOHC, 12v
Displacement: 1050cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 131 bhp @ 9250 rpm
Claimed torque: 77 lb.-ft. @ 7550 rpm
Frame: Tubular-aluminum perimeter
Front suspension: 43mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Front brake: Dual four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Michelin Pilot Power
Rear tire: 180/55-ZR17 Michelin Pilot Power
Seat height: 32.1 in.
Wheelbase: 56.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.7 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 416 lbs.
Contact: www.triumph.co.uk/usa

Star V-Star 1100 Classic - Value-Oriented Vee
Settling for the middle ground doesn't mean skimping
WRITER: Mitch BoehmPHOTOGRAPHER: Doug Linnett

The only thing really wrong with Yamaha's V-Star 1100 is its riding position-and that's not the bike's fault. Sitting on your tailbone with your legs and feet stretched out in front of you-with neither able to support any of your weight-is not a recipe for riding comfort regardless of what the cruiser contingent tells you.

Yamaha's-oops, Star Motorcycles'-V-Star 1100 Classic is one of those cruisers that pretty much does everything well, stopping, turning and rumbling down the highway with a level of capability that never seems to intrude on the pure riding experience. Which is exactly what a "mid-sized" (1100 to 1300cc) Japanese cruiser ought to do, the category filled with bikes that bridge the gap between entry-level cruisers and the full-sized V-twin behemoths Japan Inc. is pumping out these days.

Star builds three versions of the 1100: the retro-styled Classic shown here, a more chopped version called the Custom and a more touring-oriented version with bags and windshield called the Silverado. The Classic is, well, classically styled, meaning fat wheels and tires, wide wraparound fenders, staggered dual mufflers, a wide pullback handlebar and more chrome than you can shake a spray can at. And then there's the flame paint job...

Within Yamaha's cruiser line, the 1100 represents life in the middle, the $8999 Classic slotting between the $6200 V-Star 650 and all-new $10,090 V-Star 1300. If the 1100 weren't so balanced and right, especially for more entry-level riders, we might push folks toward the 1300 and its new-generation liquid-cooled engine and swank custom styling, though the extra 75 pounds would be a detriment to newbies.

What makes the 1100 Classic so right is its combination of flexible, easy-to-use power, predictable and stable handling, compliant suspension (not a simple thing when you're dealing with a low seat height and 4 inches of wheel travel), and a relatively high degree of comfort via a plush saddle, well-designed ergonomics (for a cruiser) and a thorough lack of bothersome vibes from the 75-degree V-twin. That engine is especially sweet, providing a decent level of low-end and midrange grunt linked to perfect throttle response from its dual Mikuni carburetors. Cold-morning starts are simple and warm-up is quick, and the engine-based in part on the original '80s Virago 1100-works so well you tend to forget about it and simply stir the positive-shifting five-speed to keep you in the fat part of the rev range.

The Eleven's chassis is every bit as functional as its power source, feeling just a bit smaller and livelier than most of the 1300cc cruisers on the market, a good sitch for beginners. The bike is stable at all speeds, the brakes are excellent in power and feel, and there's especially good feedback during slower going, another boon for novices. The wide bar places your hands and arms in a comfortable position, though the floorboards and heel/toe shifter take some getting used to. At least shift action is positive.

Positive: That's a word that comes up often when we describe this mid-sized V-Star. Its performance makes it a great motorcycle, and its price makes it a great value for under 10 Gs.

Price: $8899
Engine type: a-c 75-degree V-twin
Valve train: SOHC, 4v
Displacement: 1063cc
Transmission: 5-speed
Claimed horsepower: na
Claimed torque: na
Frame: Tubular-steel double cradle
Front suspension: Telescopic fork
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring preload
Front brake: Single two-piston caliper, 282mm disc
Front tire: 130/90-16 Dunlop D404F
Rear tire: 170/80-15 Dunlop D404
Seat height: 28.0 in.
Wheelbase: 64.8 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal
Claimed dry weight: 593 lb.
Contact: www.starmotorcycles.com