BMW’s retro-modern RnineT blurs the lines between throwback café racer and contemporary naked bike, combining the Oilhead boxer engine and up-to-date components with styling reminiscent of a ’70s-era Slash-6. Just like the vintage Beemer, the RnineT was almost universally praised for its versatility. “If this lineup were a baseball team, the RnineT would be a valuable utility man,” Mark Gion said, “able to do everything well and look good doing it.” The BMW RnineT received high marks for its urban manners, mostly thanks to the genial personality of the torquey boxer motor and easy low-speed handling provided by the compact wheelbase and low center of gravity. Our testers were less enthusiastic when the pace increased, however, faulting suspension that was too softly sprung and over-damped, resulting in unrefined chassis movements over rough pavement. “The suspension moves around a lot on twisty mountain roads,” Dennis DiFeo said. “I only weigh 155 pounds; I can’t imagine what it’s doing under the big guys.” But aggressive sport riding isn’t what the RnineT was made for (if that’s your game, see the similarly priced S1000R). Clean, classy, and calibrated for everyday riding situations, this was the bike that felt most at home putting around downtown Salzburg or Prague.
BMW’s overachieving S1000R was for many testers the most-anticipated bike of this bunch, and it didn’t disappoint: “The S1000R isn’t a jack of all trades,” Tom Bentley said. “It’s the master of all trades. It’s insanely fast with superbike handling, but it’s docile enough to ride at a relaxed pace too.” This unbeatable combination of time-bending performance from the 152-hp, 999cc inline-four coupled with rider-coddling conveniences like electronic suspension, cruise control, heated grips, and an electronic “shift assistant” resonated with most testers. “This bike’s limits can only be approached by expert riders, but it still allows average riders to enjoy its capabilities,” Mark Gion said. “It’s non-condescending in its superiority. Anyone can enjoy this bike.” Some testers judged the S1000R too sporty for the category, however. “The BMW is the best bike I wouldn’t buy,” Dennis DiFeo said. “Power was abundant but never scary, and it did everything well without drama. But it was maybe a point sportier than I would like for open roads, a bit buzzy through the bars, and geared a tad short.” None of these were deal breakers for Brooks Trotter, however: “I’m ordering a 2015 S1000R as soon as I get back to Texas,” he announced at the end of the trip.
DUCATI MONSTER 1200S
The Ducati Monster 1200S was another highly anticipated test ride— Ducati’s Monster is the original naked streetfighter, and three of our testers had Monsters back home. The Testastretta motor received high marks all around for power, personality, and especially its great sound, though snatchy throttle response at low rpm, especially in the full-power Sport mode, tempered that praise. Most agreed that it was one of the best-looking bikes of the bunch, too, resplendent in its blood-red paint set off with golden Öhlins suspension components and carbon-fiber accents. Our testers were less enamored with the newly revised rider ergonomics. “A torture rack for your legs,” Mark Gion said, “with footpegs that twist your ankles and engine heat that just cooks your right thigh. Uncle!” Dennis DiFeo agreed: “There’s no excuse for that poorly designed passenger peg bracket.” Testers were also disappointed with less-than-confident handling, though, to be fair, this was mostly due to the badly cupped front tire our testbike was delivered with. Brooks Trotter echoed the feeling of most testers: “I felt the least confident on the Monster during hard cornering, especially in tight, low-speed turns where I had to keep pushing on the bar, which was tiring. Even as a Ducati [Diavel] owner, it’s near the bottom of my list.”
“The Honda was the biggest surprise for me,” Tom Bentley said. “It wasn’t even on my radar, but what a tremendous bike in the twisties.” It’s fair to say the CB1000R wasn’t on any of our radars; when one guest tester asked if this bike was still sold in the US, even your dedicated Motorcyclist staffers had to think for a second before confirming that it is, for $11,760. Whatever the CB1000R lacks in flash, it makes up for with user-friendliness. “The CB1000R was the real sleeper of the bunch,” Tom Chambers said. “The easiest for me to turn in, with great torque out of corners.” Rob Cooper, the newest rider of our group, also praised the “little Honda,” calling it the easiest bike for him to ride fast. Powered by a detuned CBR1000RR inline-four, the CB delivers exactly the sort of accessible, broadly appealing performance Honda is notorious for, which is both its greatest attribute and its greatest downfall. “The Honda did everything well but nothing superbly,” Brooks Trotter said, echoing a familiar refrain. “Smooth, refined, and easy to ride,” Dennis DiFeo noted. “But it doesn’t stand out for any reason. It’s a really good bike, but it just doesn’t give you that ‘giggle in the helmet’ feeling like a good naked bike should.”
By far the most outrageously styled (over-styled?) bike of this bunch, Kawasaki’s Z1000 had testers talking before we even fired the bikes up, and the chatter didn’t cease after the riding was over either. Nearly everyone enjoyed the powerful and playful motor, intoxicated by the combination of short gearing and howling intake noise that made passing maneuvers even more thrilling than you would usually expect from a 128-hp, 1,000cc inline-four. The handling, however, left our testers feeling less than enthusiastic. “The Kawasaki is one of the cheapest bikes here [$11,999 with ABS], and it feels like it,” Brooks Trotter said. “The suspension was rough, and on a bumpy road it really beat me to death.” Other riders noted what can only be described as severe engine vibration transmitted through the tank and footrests above 6,000 rpm and close-coupled ergonomics that especially cramped our testers who stood over 6-foot-2. It’s too easy to hate on the so-called “Sugomi” styling that’s intended to invoke a crouching predator ready to pounce; instead we’ll leave that task to Hugo Caballero, one of the few who appreciated the Z1000’s unique look: “I like the manga animation style. That’s the kind of bike I would love if I was a few years younger.”
KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R
Reminiscent of our all-staff naked bike shootout earlier this year, the same two bikes topped everyone’s test sheets here in Europe: BMW’s S1000R and this bike, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R. Riders accustomed to dirt bikes or adventure-tourers especially liked the shorter, more upright ergonomics of the KTM, and if you prefer the big-time power pulses of a big-bore V-twin, nothing beats the Super Duke’s potent 1,301cc, 75-degree powerplant. “I loved the Super Duke,” Dennis DiFeo said. “This was far and away the most comfortable bike for me, with everything in the right place. And I love the power of a twin—just dial in what you want.” Testers also praised the sure-footed handling, especially on degraded roads like those we encountered in the Czech Republic. “The rougher the road, the better the Super Duke felt,” Mark Gion said. “The dirt bike DNA comes out in the riding position and longer-travel suspension. And that motor just romps—it loves to play.” Some testers noted some finicky throttle behavior under 3,000 rpm, exacerbated in some of the tight Alpine hairpins by gearing that was maybe a few teeth too tall, but for the most part, the KTM was universally lauded as a confident and capable ride at any speed.
MOTO GUZZI V7 SPECIAL
We originally invited a Moto Guzzi Griso along for this ride, and with its 110-hp, 1,150cc V-twin engine that bike would have been a great fit for this group. When the rental agency was unable to provide a Griso and delivered a 750cc V7 Special instead, we had to do some quick recalibrating. With roughly one-third the Griso’s horsepower, the retro-standard Special was way out of its element, but we still enjoyed it as a calm, cruiser-ish counterpoint. “The Guzzi was a bike I looked forward to riding—once,” Dennis DiFeo quipped. “For those of you who miss the 1970s, this is the bike to buy. It puts you right back there.” DiFeo could have been referring to the air-cooled V-twin’s wheezy acceleration, reminiscent of an OPEC Embargo-era Z-28 Camaro, or wooden-feeling disc brakes that are barely improved over an old Eldorado’s drums—or perhaps the fact that we weren’t even 2 miles into our ride before the Italian Stallion shed its first part, a snap-on spark-plug cover that elegantly ejected itself into Berlin’s morning rush-hour traffic. On the other hand, Moto Guzzi nailed the That ’70s Show styling. Our testers universally loved the look of this bike, even if the low bench seat made even the most fashionable pilot look like he was sitting on a commode.
TRIUMPH SPEED TRIPLE
Just try to tell Tom Bentley that the Triumph Speed Triple’s bug-eyed headlights present one of the most iconic faces in modern motorcycling. “Who cares? What an ugly bike!” Talk to him after the first ride, however, and it’s a different story: “I wouldn’t have even thought of this bike; it’s so awful looking,” Bentley said. “It has outdated technology, or, in the case of the electronics, no technology… But it’s so neutral, so rider-friendly, and so easy to go fast on. If BMW hadn’t invented the S1000R, I would buy this.” The Speed Triple has long been one of our favorite streetfighters, proving once a good bike, always a good bike. Many testers singled out the 1,050cc inline-triple engine: “Triples rule!” Mark Gion said. “This is not a compromise between a twin and a four-cylinder engine but the best of both, with smooth, linear power delivery in a predictable but still exciting way.” Testers also gave the Speed Triple high marks for handling, even though our example was the base model, not the Öhlins-suspended R-version. “I wasn’t expecting much from the Speed Triple, one of the oldest designs in the bunch,” Tom Chambers said, “but it was one of the most fun bikes to ride. It’s flickable, light and easy to turn in, and always predictable.”