The comparo I’ve been waiting for

Back in 2007, Kawasaki took the sport-touring world by storm with the introduction of the Concours 14. Ever since, it’s been the darling of the motorcycling press, and generally regarded as the king-hell sport-tourer. This year, though, BMW strikes back with the new bikes based on the 1600cc I-6 engine, and they’ve received rave reviews.

The thing is, when you ride a bike by itself, it often seems more impressive than it would by riding it side by side with something else with which to compare it. So, what would happen, and who would win, if some testers rode the Concours 14 and the K1600GT side by side? Well, thanks to Motorcycle.Com, we now know. They spent a couple of days riding the two machines side by side, and have written up their impressions, as well as providing some video.

We’ll get to the video down below. In the meantime, the key takeaway from this comparo is probably this:

Compared to the Kawasaki Concours 14, the K16 simply blows the doors off its Japanese counterpart from the word “go.” It’s astounding to say that the ZX-14 engine is weak by any means, but when stacked against this competition, the Kawasaki simply feels, well, slow.

The K1600GT is the motorcycle that made the Concours 14 seem slow. That says a lot right there. But there’s more. Apparently the K1600GT blew away the Kawi in several other areas, too.

Once above 5 mph, the GT changes direction with absolute fluidity and grace, though the K16 won’t be mistaken for an S1000RR in the weight department. That said, its linear steering and sporty chassis were a hit among both our testers, especially compared to the heavy-steering Kawasaki…

BMW claims the K16 (in both GT and GTL form) makes 70% of its available torque at just 1500 rpm. That’s quite a lot of power with the engine barely spinning. What that means in the real world is that no matter if you’re just leaving a stop or cruising on the highway in sixth gear at 80 mph, when the throttle is twisted, the Beemer moves…

Yes, only 123.4 horsepower. Dyno chart junkies might scoff at that number (especially compared to the Kawasaki’s 131.8 peak horsepower), but from the saddle the abundant amount of torque makes it easy to forget any horsepower disadvantage. What we didn’t expect, and what may be even more surprising, is just how smooth and well balanced the K16 engine really is. Propped up on the center stand and with the engine running, full-throttle blips produced no visual movement from the bike whatsoever. None….

ABS intervention from the BMW felt much less intrusive than the Kawi, to the point where you almost forget it’s working. It’s truly a step above where ABS technology was just a few years ago…Simply put, BMW has nailed the ABS on the K16…

We’ll just say it right now: we’re in love with the K1600GT as it does everything a sport-touring motorcycle should do, and it does it incredibly well.

Looks like BMW has a winner with their K1600-series bikes.

And now, video!

httpvhd://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpTPihOYMn4

BMW F800GS vs. Triumph Tiger 800XC

Comparo dyno charts

Motorcycle.Com has a head-to-head comparo between the two hottest mid-sized adventure bikes in the world right now. It looks like it was tough choice between these two, too. Just take a look at the dyno graphs.

It’s a fascinating comparo, because the two bikes are just so close together in features. Triumph even replicated the layout of controls and accessory power ports on the BMW. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.

At the end of the day, it seems the only difference between these two machines is their relative street/trail performance. Which one is best really depends on how you’re going to use it, but, as a practical matter, both are great.

There’s still something about that Triumph triple powerplant, though…

Michelin Pilot Road II vs. Pirelli Angel ST

I’ve gone through my first rear Pirelli Angel ST tire this week, and I can now report that, compared to the Michelin Pilot Road, the Angel ST just doesn’t get it done.

First off, the mileage was terrible.  My last mileage on a Pilot Road II rear tire was 6,800 miles when I replaced it with this set of Angels.  I burned through the Angel rear tire in 5,700 miles. The Michelin is a few bucks more than the Pirelli, but the extra 1,100 miles in wear more than compensates for the slightly greater cost.

In addition, the Angels, while acceptably grippy, and with better wet-weather traction, detracted slightly from the handling of the bike.  Certainly, the Angel ST provides much better handling than the leaden Bridgestone BT-021 OEM tires. Sadly, it also provides noticeably less sharper handling than the Pilot Road II. Granted, this may not be true for all makes of motorcycle, but it is certainly true of the FJR1300.

The Michelin Pilot Road II is hands down the winner in comparison to both the ANgel ST and the BT-021. It transforms the handling of the FJR, making it noticeably more responsive and easier to steer just with body movement.  The extra mileage over both the other two tires also makes it a better value.

Unfortunately, my front tire is still good, so I had to match up the rear with another Angel.  Next, time, however, I’m getting the Pilot Road II, and I’m sticking with them. The only reason I got the Angels in the first place was that the shop was out of stock on the PRII.  if that happens again, I will go to another shop that does have them.

I’m sold on the Michelin Pilot Road II.

Bagger Cruiser Comparo

Motorcycle-USA did a comparo between the 2011 Star Stratoliner Deluxe, Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero, and Harley-Davidson Street Glide. It was close, but the Street Glide won.

Now, maybe it was a little unfair, because the Street Glide was not the standard model, but the one equipped with the “Power Pack” options package of the 103ci mill, and ABS. On the other hand, it was still the slowest bike in the comparo. So why did it narrowly win?

Comfort on long rides is second to none in every aspect. The seating position is upright and relaxed, and the saddle has the perfect profile, putting less pressure on your posterior than the other two machines in this test. Long days in the saddle are pain and ache free, which can’t be said for the Vaquero or Stratoliner Deluxe.  There is no better seat on a bagger than the Street Glide’s…

“Without a doubt the Harley is the most fleet-footed bagger in this test. It is lighter and it feels lighter. It has the shortest wheelbase and as a result is the most agile in the turns. The suspension is very good as well. On the highway it feels firm and doesn’t exactly float like you would expect. But then in the hills it feels taught and gives the best feedback of these three bikes.”

I would’ve liked to see how a Victory Cross Country would compare in a test like that.

Triump Street Triple vs. Yamaha FZ8

Motorcycle Daily has done a head-to-head comparo between the Street Triple and the new FZ8. Both are naked bikes, but that’s about the only thing they have in common, according to the MD testers.  Both of them felt the FZ8 was boring, unless the poor suspension was frightening the bejeezus out of you. But that really isn’t the excitement you’re looking for in a motorcycle, is it?

Most of the FZ8’s reviews have been generally positive, so this overall thumbs down for it is a bit of a surprise.

Sad, really, because there does need to be something between the 600cc and 1000cc displacement sportbikes, with an extra dash of rider comfort. Like a GSXR-750 that doesn’t have tortuous ergos. Or a lighter VFR800 Interceptor.

The new Ninja 1000 is close, but it’d be nice to get something down in the sub-500lb range.

The naked bikes are back

The American love affair with motorcycles, such as it is, has not extended to the naked bikes in recent years.  They sell like hotcakes to our cousins across the pond, but in the US…not so much.  We like our cruisers and repli-racers and sport-tourers.

For the 2010 and 2011 model years, that has changed drastically, with a whole slew of naked standards, big and small, coming back to the US in a big way, and from nearly every manufacturer. Kawi completely redesigned the big Z1000 for 2010, Triumph has been pushing the Street Triple, and now Yamaha weighs in with the new FZ8, while BMW is trying to recapture the magic of the F800ST with the new F800R.

Motorcycle USA has stacked up some of these bikes against each other in a new comparo. What makes this one interesting is that the three bikes chosen, other than being middleweight standards, are powered by completely different powerplants. The F800R is a twin, the Street Triple is–as the name implies–a triple, and the FZ8 is an I-4.

So who wins? Is it the thumpy Twin of the BMW, the silky smoothness of the Yamaha I-4, or does the Street Triple offer a sporty compromise between the two that makes is a superior bike to ride?

Apparently, there are a lot of things about the Street Triple that catches the testers’ hearts.

Shootout: Honda CBR250R vs Kawasaki Ninja 250R

Kawasaki Ninja 250 vs Honda CBR250R
Kawasaki Ninja 250 vs Honda CBR250R

One of the things the Europeans do as a matter of course, and we in the US do very rarely, is to ensure that beginning riders are restricted to smaller-displacement motorcycles to get some experience before stepping up to the big boy bikes. All too often, this results in a new rider purchasing a Gixxer 1000 as a starter bike.

This is an extraordinarily bad idea.  I do a lot of work with the US military, and  the number of kids who come back from the sandbox without a scratch, and then promptly smear themselves and their new Fireblade across the pavement is truly troubling.

And it’s not just kids.  Because I do a lot of work on a military installation, and ride a motorcycle as my primary transportation, I had to take an MSF course in order to ride my bike on base, as per DoD rules. One of the guys in my MSF course was a 40-something Navy retiree, who had decided to buy a motorcycle, after having never ridden before.  His choice for a first motorcycle: A Buell Ulysses.  He said he trucked the bike home, unloaded it, and decided to try it out on his residential street.  He started it, gave it some gas, then released the clutch…at which point he grabbed a handful of throttle and went on a very short but terrifying “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”, that ended a few seconds later in a crash.  He decided that maybe he should take the MSF course before getting back on.

The Ulysses is a great bike. Not a beginner bike.  And it’s tame compared to a literbike.

Beginners who are interested in sportbikes really do need to start off on the lighter, smaller, and more maneuverable bikes.  But, for years, the only really decent beginner sportbike was the Kawasaki Ninja 250.  Now, however, new riders have a choice, with the introduction of Honda’s new CBR250R.

Visually, the new CBR250R is a much more attractive bike.  Unlike the rather dated look for the Ninja 250, the CBR250  looks modern. Indeed, it looks like a miniature of the VFR1200F.  The Honda also has a linked ABS option, too.

So, how do the two bikes stand up to each other head-to-head? Well, Motorcycle USA tested them to find out, and the comparison makes for interesting reading.

Big Bagger Showdown II

2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom
2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom

Once again, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide shows up in a 2011 bagger showdown, this time being pitted against the Kawasaki Vaquero by Motorcycle.Com.  They compared the two bikes head to head and found out a couple of interesting things.

First up, is the issue of power.  If you shell out a cool two grand extra for the 103ci Harley PowerPak mill, then  the power and torque curves of the two bukes are practically identical. That tells us two things: That the PowerPak package from Harley-Davidson gives you competitive engine performance, while the standard 96ci engine is underpowered relative to other bikes in the class. Of course, we’re talking about heavy touring cruisers here, so power may not be your priority when it comes to purchasing.  And if it is, that $1995 premium for the PwerPak seems a bit…steep.

The other thing we learned is that Harley-Davidson’s new chassis and geometry for the baggers has really improved their handling quite a bit. The Road Glide has always been the best handling of the big Harleys anyway, so this improvement must be particularly noticeable. Having said that, the Road Glide’s suspension seems to still be a bit “meh”.

The big difference between these two bike is the price.  With equivalent engines and accessories, the Vaquero comes in at a miserly $16,499 compared to the lofty $22,149 sticker price of the Road Glide. That means for almost the price of the Road Glide, you could by a Vaquero for touring…and a Versys for commuting.

Big Bagger Showdown

2011 Victory Vision and Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra
2011 Victory Vision and Harley-Davidson Road Glide UltraPhoto Credit: Motorcycle USA, Ray Gauger

Motorcycle USA has published their head-to-head comparison of the Victory Vision and the Harley Davidson Road Glide Ultra.

Visually, these could not–except for size–be two more different-looking motorcycles. The Road Glide is a blast from the past, showing of the signature Harley-Davidson style that has been little changed since the 1960’s. Some say that’s a bad thing, demonstrating a lack of willingness to push their designs forward from Peter Fonda’s Captain America hippie-era. The Victory Vision, on the other hands, looks as if it comes to us from 40 years in the future, rather than 40 years in the past. Some say that’s a bad thing, too, making the Victory an exceptionally execrable example of Arlen Ness-iness gone wild.

Underneath the looks, however, both of these bikes are designed to do one thing and do it well: eat up the day by effortlessly cruising the highway.

Both bikes have their admirers and detractors, of course, but what’s surprising in the MotoUSA test is that they both do it equally well.  It seems that which bike to prefer really comes down to a matter of taste.  their that closely matched.

Personally, if the day ever comes when I want to dip my toes in the cruiser well, the Road Glide will be my bike of choice.

Sadly, though, if I got rid of my FJR, my inner hooligan would incline me to look for something a little…faster. For instance, I certainly intend to personally test the new BMW K1600GT when it becomes available.

2010 Superbike Comparo

Motorcycle USA has published their 2010 Superbike Smackdown, pitting the top superbikes head-to-head on the track.  for this year, the contenders were:

  • HondaCBR1000RR
  • Yamaha YZF-R1
  • Kawasaki ZX-10R
  • Suzuki GSX-R1000
  • KTM RC8
  • Aprilia RSV4
  • BMW S1000RR
  • Ducati 1198 S Corse Special Edition

Please make a note of the last bike listed.  Ducati didn’t just bring a stock 1198 to the table, they produced the special racing edition ringer, probably in hopes of comparing well to the BMW S1000RR.

Nice try, but, apparently not quite enough, as the CBR1000RR took Second place honors, and the S1000RR edging past for 1st place.  Ducati merely took 3rd.

Here are the scoring results:

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2010 BMW K1300S vs Honda VFR1200F Shootout – Motorcycle.com

Motorcycle.Com has the results of their shootout between the BMW K1300S and the Honda VFR1200F.  On paper the bikes are a really close match with the Beemer putting out 146.8HP and the Honda throwing out 146.4 HP.  BMW has the edge in torque, though, with higher torque all along the rev line, except at the tippy top, and maxing out at 89.6 ft-lb compared to the VFR’s 82 ft-lb.  The BMW hit max torque 700RPM shorter, too.

On the other hand, they write that the Honda is easier to ride, more maneuverable, more comfortable, and carries its weight better than the BMW.  Both bikes sport about 5-gallon tanks, so neither one is all that impressive when it comes to touring range.

So, what’s the bottom line?

“Although the BMW may not have the utter refinement of the Honda, I wouldn’t be ashamed or regretful of having a K1300S in my garage if I’d purchased one and then later had the chance to ride a VFR1200F,” says Pete. “Furthermore, the practical techy options like anti-spin control, ESA II, etc, that have real-world application raise the K13’s’s price by only $1,800 more than the Honda’s, making a case for the BMW being the better value. Frankly, the BMW’s Premium Package option is simply worth the added cost over base MSRP, especially so if you amortize that $1,800 across the term of a loan.”

The price on the Honda is the kicker.  For what you get for the money, I’d agree that the BMW is probably a better deal.  You really do have to ride a BMW to really get how good the ESA is.  And the BMW cruise control really is excellent.

I really wanted to like the new VFR a lot, but this 1st-gen model doesn’t seem to quite have “it” at the price Honda’s asking you to shell out.

2009 Streetfighter Comparo

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Motorcycle USA has their comparison of 2009 streetfighter motorcycles online.  In this comparo, they put the Ducati Streetfighter, Buell 1125CR, and the Aprilia Tuono 1000R head to head, both on the track, and on the street.

You’d probably think that the Ducati Streetfighter would be a shoo-in to win this comparo, but surprisingly, they though it was too track-oriented to be a good daily ride.  They liked the Tuono, but thought it was just a tad too light in the torque/acceleration department.  The Buell, on the other hand, had a significant horsepower deficit.  When all the pluses and minuses were added up, Motorcycle USA concluded:

Never in a million years did I think the 1125CR could best the Ducati. But it did. And it isn’t because it’s the fastest or prettiest – because it’s not. Not even close. It’s top dog because it delivers the most important intangible sensation when riding: Fun. It handles so perfectly that you feel like the bike is an extension of one’s being. Its ergonomics are well thought out and while its engine isn’t the fastest, it still has character and delivers all the right sensations, albeit at a tad slower speed. In fact, our only real complaints are some very minor styling and fit-and-finish issues. So, if it’s the best handling, most fun, easiest-to-use Streetfighter that you’re looking for, look no further. Say hello to the 2009 Buell 1125CR.

It really is interesting how often the Buell 1125R comes out on top in these comparison tests.