Europe Strikes Back!

Just the lastest bit of evidence that nobody does scantily clad sportbikes like the Italians

MV Agusta Brutale 910
This is the big brother to MV's Brutale 750--the craziest Italian hooligan of all--yet I haven't pulled a wheelie or smacked the rev-limiter in nearly an hour. Both Brutales appear essentially identical. Chassis and suspension are the same, but this big one feels totally different.

The big news is a 909cc inline-four that's gained displacement from more bore and stroke: 76.0 x 50.1mm vs. the 750 engine's 73.8 x 43.8mm numbers. (The taller 1000S engine is too tall for the Brutale frame.) Adding 160cc, 13:1 compression and lightened internals imbues the 910 with a claimed 136 peak horsepower at 11,000 rpm--nine more than the 750 at peak. More importantly, the Big Unit makes 29 more horses at 8000, where maximum torque (71 pound-feet) lives.

Unmistakably light and racy, it's tiny for a big-bore nudist and cramped if you're tall. MV's biggest Brutale makes less low-rpm power than Triumph's new 1050cc Speed Triple. Although happiest above 4000 rpm, the 910 is easier to ride than its peaky 750cc sibling. Marelli fuel-injection is typically smooth, as is the six-speed gearbox. There's plenty of top-end stomp once the road straightens out. Keep the throttle pinned in top cog and the digital speedo heads for 160mph if your neck muscles are up to it.

Mr. Maximum Brutale packs more midrange punch, but it's lost some of the 750's addictive, rev-crazy charm. The bigger motor also vibrates more, discouraging life near its 11,000-rpm redline. Combined with the lack of wind protection and relatively low gearing, those vibes make freeway travel a pain. Practicality isn't a Brutale strong point.

Despite a 120/70 front tire that slows steering a bit, the chassis encourages hard riding. The 910 is agile yet stable thanks to its rigid frame and top-notch suspension. Six-pot Nissin calipers and 310mm rotors give heaps of stopping power. The MV's blend of handling and braking make it a match for just about anything on the street.

In the end, choosing between this and the Brutale 750 is harder than expected. I'd assumed all that extra midrange muscle would make the bigger bike demonstrably better. If that's what you like, it is. The 910 is easier to ride and slightly faster, but it's also lost the smoothness and barking-mad bluster that make the 750 so much fun. Although most people will probably opt for the $14,500 910 when it arrives in America this fall, I'm not convinced. Bigger, in this case, isn't necessarily better.

Moto Morini Corsaro 1200
Moto Morini--Bologna's other bike firm--is out to steal some Ducati thunder with a stunning musclebike called the Corsaro--Italian for pirate. Architecture is classic Bolognese: an 1187cc V-twin in a steel ladder frame surrounded by curvaceous bits. Drawn by Milan-based Marabese Design, those curves are plenty distinctive. And with a maximum output of 140 bhp from its DOHC eight-valve motor, the Corsaro has enough firepower to thoroughly frighten Ducati's aging Monster.

Morini's tradition is V-twins. Designed by Franco Lambertini, 61-year-old creator of the 344cc 72-degree twin in Morini's lineup more than 30 years ago, the Corsaro engine is built by Morini co-owner Franco Morini Engines. There's fresh thinking in this fuel-injected twin. Its four-valve cylinders are 87 degrees apart instead of the archetypal 90. It's shorter than a comparable 90-degree unit, but doesn't need the balance-shafts of a narrow-angle Vee. Cylinders cast with the crankcase create a more rigid structure. Moving each 107mm piston through a 66mm stroke lets it rev. And if Morini's claimed horsepower number pans out, it'll be nearly as strong as Ducati's 999.

Lambertini's latest twin spins up quickly, making smooth low-rev power and 91 pound-feet of torque at 6500rpm--20 more than a Brutale 910. From there, blistering top-end power makes blasting past traffic effortless. The engine is also reasonably smooth, with only a bit of tingling coming through the pegs at higher revs. The Corsaro is dead stable beyond 100 mph, and handling is impeccable for a 436-pound (claimed, dry) twin. Steering is more cutlass than lightning-fast dagger, but wide bars provide enough leverage to keep this Pirate-ship tacking rapidly on firm, well-damped suspension. Brakes have the perfect blend of power and feel for a naked bike.

A few glitches turned up. The gearbox is slightly notchy, low-rpm power delivery could be smoother, and the fat Termignoni exhaust restricted cornering clearance. Still, Morini Technical Manager Corrado Cominetti had a solution in the works for every criticism: impressive.

The Corsaro will sell for 12,000 euros in Italy--about $14,600 and slightly less than Ducati's Monster S4R. Assuming Morini can smooth its rough edges, the Corsaro will be right there with the S4R and Aprilia's Tuono. Trouble is, the Corsaro won't be coming to the States right away. Still, Morini hopes to be ready for the U.S. in a couple years. That's disappointing, but probably a good call. If the latest from Bologna's other brand is any indication, the Corsaro will be worth waiting for.

Bimota DB5 Mille
Bimota's new DB5 may be the perfect bike for a hot day on Spain's relentlessly twisty Valencia circuit. At a claimed 344 pounds dry, it's the lightest open-class sportbike on the market. Making 92 bhp at 8000 rpm, the newest Bimota is allegedly 51 pounds lighter than Ducati's Supersport 1000, which happens to be the donor for the DB5's engine. The result is quick enough to be fun while allowing a short rest on Valencia's main straight.

The air-cooled 992cc twin is unchanged, save revised intake and exhaust bits. The chassis, however, is a distinctive blend of aluminum plates and steel tubes that mount a multi-adjustable hlins shock. Up front, neatly finished triple clamps hold a stout, 43mm hlins fork. Bimota's own radial mounts carry Brembo four-pad, four-piston calipers.

This Desmodue twin delivers a moving Italian soundtrack, but its Magnetti-Marelli fuel-injection simply was not right at Valencia. The DB5 pulled crisply from about 6000rpm, but all five bikes at Valencia had a flat spot between 7200 and 8300 rpm. Chief engineer Alberto Strada said the problem would be cured before bikes go on sale. Let's hope he's right, because that glitch marred an otherwise impressive engine. Shifting easily through the six-speed box, it put 130mph on the digital speedometer in fifth gear.

Handling was good, and would have been excellent with some tuning. But with 20 riders sharing five bikes, there was no time for that. Still, steering geometry is typically sporty--24 degrees of rake and 100mm of trail--with a 1425mm wheelbase that's 30mm longer than the Ducati SS1000's. The DB5 turns with a relatively light touch, if a bit heavier than the specs suggest, and tracked flawlessly through Valencia's fast, third-gear turns. There's no faulting the grip of Dunlop's super-sticky D208RR rubber, or the perfectly fierce braking from Brembo gold calipers and 298mm discs.

The bike would be even happier on the road, where its relatively modest engine performance would be just right. Its mirrors are hopeless, but everything else works well. The DB5 is beautiful and unmistakably Italian, with the potential to be brilliantly enjoyable on both road and track. It might also restore Bimota as a pre-eminent high-end marque. Whether it fulfills that potential depends largely on whether its injection system is perfected when U.S. spec bikes arrive in October.

If so, the 300 DB5s to be built this year should draw a small but devoted audience despite a price of $39,800. But any modern superbike must come sorted from the factory, especially one that costs twice as much as most and makes half as much power. In this case, Bimota's future depends on it.

In yet another of the increasingly common mega-mergers that tend to boggle the minds of consumers, U.S. powersports manufacturer Polaris has acquired a 24-percent stake in Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM. The deal, initially for a period of two years, will see the two companies retain their separate identities while pooling distribution, manufacturing and R&D; resources. With a combined annual revenue of $2.4 billion and a presence in all segments of the motorcycle market as well as the ATV, snowmobile and 4x4 utility-vehicle markets, the alliance will result in the single largest powersports entity outside of Japan. KTM has been hit hard by the poor euro-to-dollar exchange rate of late, so the influx of capital is much needed -- and will hopefully allow the company to fund U.S. homologation of the Super Duke 990 and eventual production of the RC8 Superbike.

First, Ducati had Paul Smart. Now, Triumph has Paul Smith. As part of the launch of his autumn/winter '05 collection, the famed British clothing designer customized nine Bonneville T100s. The bikes proved so popular that Triumph has decided to offer two models to the buying public. The Limited Edition Triumph Bonneville T100s by Paul Smith go by the names "Multi-Union" and "Live Fast," and feature hand-painted bodywork and "mock-croc" (think faux-gator) leather seats. Fifty individually numbered examples of each will be produced at $10,999 per, with orders taken at Triumph dealerships on a first-come, first-served basis and delivery to commence in March of 2006. For further information, visit or MC