THE BIG-BORE NAKEDS - UP-DATING MY PICKS
Big-bore nakeds really are a practical type of bike. They're comfortable, easy to ride, and have good performance. Costs of consumables, like tyres, chains etc, can be higher than, say, a mid-size bike, but insurance can be cheaper than the mid-size sports-bikes. Maintenance costs are generally low due to the fairly basic nature of the bikes and their ease to work on. These bikes are often referred to as “muscle-bikes”; and their image is of big bikes with huge amounts of raw power. The reality, though, is somewhat different. In terms of horsepower, any decent 1,000cc sports-tourer will put out as much, if not more. For example, power figures for these bikes generally fall within the 70kW – 90kW range. By comparison, the Triumph Sprint GT produces 96kW. Go to something a bit more overtly sporty, like the Yamaha FZ1, and you’re looking at well over 100kW. Having said that though, the power is certainly there; and you’re not ever going to be left wanting for power with these bikes! You see, it’s not so much about the numbers. Power figures are one thing, but it’s the way the power is applied to real-world riding that makes the difference. These bikes go some way to validating that old adage that, “There’s no substitute for cubic-inches!” Even a moderate amount of throttle away from the lights will see the following traffic become just dots in the mirrors. Nail the throttle at 100kph (no need to change down) and before you can blink twice you’ll be doing 140kph. And they’ll treat even the steepest mountain road almost like flat ground. These engines are all about torque. The low-down, pull-like-a-train-from-idle type torque. Personally, I love that sort of power! I don’t like an engine that you’ve got to have screaming to get to where the power is. And I think it’s this low-down torque that adds to these bikes’ appeal to most oldies. The young ‘uns might like to play boy-racer and crouch down on a race-replica, red-lining it in every gear, but I reckon most of us older types are done with that. We prefer something that is comfortable to sit on, easy to ride, and where we don’t have to work too hard to get the performance. And this is exactly what these big-bore nakeds are all about. Plus, in some cases, a healthy dose of nostalgia to remind us of when we actually were boy-racers! Of course there are downsides to these bikes. The main one is the lack of wind-protection afforded by a fairing. To some people though (young and old) not having a fairing is a good thing! It’s a style or image that they like. Some older riders might remember back when men were men and bikes didn't have plastic coverings all over them. “Gimme a big donk, a pair of wheels, and somethin’ to sit on; that’s all ya need!” The more pragmatic amongst us though, might prefer to be protected from mother-nature; to sit in comfort at highway speeds, and not feel like a flag clinging to a pole. But there is a down-side to fairings too. While they are great for highway cruising, they make for a hotter ride at lower speeds and around town. And as many of us tend to do shorter distances as we get older, going for something that provides greater comfort for the majority of our riding conditions can be a better option. That was my thinking when I bought my bike; and I suspect the thinking by many others when choosing this type of bike. See, I did say they were a practical type of bike! And that was what inspired me to do the original comparison. Firstly, if you haven’t read the original, click here to have a look at that. This is an up-date to that comparison, so to put it in perspective you should really look at that first. Although you could just read this one; hopefully it still makes sense read in isolation to the previous one. So in that light, firstly some general comments along the line sof what I said last time. It’s not really practical to up-date a comparison like that; but I didn’t want to leave it there, forever locked in 2009 either. So I thought I'd up-date it as much as I could. One reason why a proper up-date isn’t possible is that I haven’t ridden all the models I’ve listed here. But, well, I thought I’d give you my my thoughts anyway. When I was first putting that comparison together I excluded some bikes, mainly because of price. It’s not really fair to compare a bike costing $12,000 with one costing twice that much. Others were excluded because they were a bit more specialist than simply “big-bore nakeds.” So I’ve done the same now: I’ve left out ones that are too expensive, or too specialist. And probably a couple that I just didn’t think of! Okay, so lets’ look at what’s changed with the bikes in the original comparison.
UP-DATES – AND COMMENTS – ON THE PREVIOUS CONTENDERS
The main difference is paint. The one in the original article was dark red, and in 2013 it’s now a bronze type colour; which I reckon looks better. The headlight has had a re-style, but other than that, there’s not much difference. The Bandit is a great bike! As I said before, I’ve been a fan of the Bandit ever since I threw a leg over the 2006 model and headed off into the country on a test-ride. It does everything well; it’s easy to ride and it goes well. It’s a great all-round bike. Click here for the full test. The naked version is basically a normal Bandit without the small fairing. (In fact I haven’t ridden the naked one, because it’s just like the normal one, but with a bit more wind). In the original comparison it was almost the odd-man out in terms of style. All of the others (except for the Moto Morini) were retro style with twin shocks at the back and big engine up front. The Bandit looked more like a modern bike with no fairing. That’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s probably good, as it presses home the point that this is a modern bike, with fuel-injection, liquid-cooling and so on. You can even have ABS for a small (extra) price. My main complaint was in the comfort and ride department. To me, the seat was a bit hard, and the ride also on the too-firm side. And with only basic adjustment available, there isn’t a lot you can do about that. The answer, if you’re interested in this bike, is to try one for yourself – your preferences may well be different to mine! The flip-side of the firmness thing was that it handled like it was on rails! Performance is excellent and it is wonderfully tractable too – a great engine! It’ll lug away from idle, just like a big-bore should, but it’s also a blast if you give it some revs and give the throttle a good twist. In other words, it’ll do what a big-bore naked should do! Price is $12,090, which maintains its position as the cheapest bike in this comparison. And that, I reckon, makes it the best value bike here too.
Sadly, this has been discontinued. It was a popular bike, within this category, and of course was the one I picked as the winner in the original comparison. But no more.
The Yamaha is a kind of “last-man-standing” in terms of these retro-style big-bore nakeds. The Honda CB1300 and Kawasaki ZRX1200R were both discontinued just before I wrote the previous comparison, and now the Suzuki GSX1400 has gone. So it’s kind of unique, now, in this category. Not that a big-bore naked has to be retro-style; modern styling is good too, even preferable perhaps, so long as it fits the role of the bike. It really comes down to what it’s like to ride and to its character. I think the Yammie exudes character, and on the road it proves the practicality of the UJM design. For 2013 it continues as before, with just the paint being different. (Click here for the original test). But the new paint is a worthwhile improvement: I reckon it’s the best version of paint they’ve had! The plain coloured ones looked a bit odd around the rear suspension mounting point; almost as if it’d hit a big bump and the shock had bent the bodywork up. The graphics, which have been used on previous models, solve that little optical issue; but on this model there’s just something about the way they integrate with the whole bike and the now black-painted engine unit, that really makes it look great. The bike in the photo above actually belongs to a reader, Thierry. Now, I might be biased (because I own one of these – although an earlier model), but I reckon the Yamaha is the epitome of what a big-bore-naked should be. (Which is not, I might mention, why I bought one). The retro style and the big engine up front are, for many people, what big-bore nakeds are all about. But it’s not just about style. Looking the part is one thing, performing like a big-bore naked is another: and that is something I reckon the Yamaha is exceptionally good at! It will lug away from under 2,000rpm with no trouble at all; it climbs the steepest of hills almost like they’re flat road; and overtaking never requires the gearbox, you just twist the throttle and go. I love that low-end torque, but if you rev it out there’s even more big-engine grunt to bring a smile to your wind-blown dial. It’s not a sports-bike – none of these are – but it gets pretty lively when the revs are up, and provides plenty of powerful performance. Handling is limited a bit by the weight, of course, as is the case with any of the big-bore nakeds really; although to varying degrees. The Suzuki is probably just a little sharper; although the weight is similar. But if you have the suspension on the Yamaha adjusted on the firm side, then there wouldn’t be much in it. (I have adjusted mine in the interests of a more comfortable ride). And right there is a big advantage – to me anyway – of the Yamaha; the suspension is fully adjustable (preload, compression and rebound damping, at both ends). So you can get it riding or handling just the way you want it to. At $13,999 it is second-cheapest in this lot; and that makes it good value. In fact, I reckon the extra quality you get in the components with the Yamaha (the fully adjustable suspension, with quality items like the Ohlins units at the back), plus the general feel of quality about the whole bike, make it worth the extra dollars.
HARLEY DAVIDSON SPORTSTER XR1200.
Sadly, this one has been discontinued too. I say “sadly”, because I reckon it was the best Harley I’ve ridden! It was more like a “normal” bike; which might be why it was discontinued. To me, it rode like a big-bore naked, not like a Harley; if that makes sense. It was, of course, a tribute to the old XR750 race-bike. It didn’t really measure-up to the others in the comparison, when judged objectively, but it was a good bike.
MOTO MORINI 9½.
This one has gone too. The main problem was with the distributor, and while I think the bike might still be available overseas, it isn’t being imported here. A wonderful sounding bike, and a classic iconic Italian brand, but it was a bit lacking in quality-control when I looked at it.
As I mentioned in the original article, the BMW R1200R is getting up in price a bit (around $21,000 as delivered to most dealers), but as I also mentioned, I would’ve liked to have included it in the comparison. The main reason I didn’t was that I hadn’t ridden one. Well, now I have ridden one, so I can comment on how it compares to the other bikes here. (Click here for the full test). It’s good to include it, because it has the big-bore naked thing happening and adds a bit of prestige with European flare. The first thing to say is that I reckon it’s a good-looking thing – even more so in 2013 guise where the instruments are more traditional twin analogue dials, rather than the lop-sided stacked dials of the test bike. (This is the test-bike pictured here, but the new one is the same, apart from the dials). I liked the riding-position, which I thought suited the naked style; being reasonably up-right with wide bars. I was less impressed with the seat though, which was a bit hard and not a particularly good shape. BMW do seats very well, but they also do seats that are surprisingly bad: this is not one of their better ones. The characteristics of the boxer engine with its longitudinal crank take a bit of getting used to. The bike tends to rock sideways when you apply and release the throttle. Now, I’m sure you’d get used to that, but for me, it was at times a bit disconcerting. For example, closing the throttle on entry to a corner made the bike tend to rock to the right, then applying the throttle would make it rock to the left. Having it wobble around like that in corners was, as I said, a bit disconcerting at times. Admittedly, I haven’t ridden a lot of boxer BMs, but this rocking-sideways motion was more pronounced than on others I have ridden. The engine itself produces some good power; in fact it’s at the top of the ones I rode here. It’s very smooth too. Sadly though, its characteristics, combined with the gearing, don’t suit its naked role. The engine is tractable enough, but isn’t really happy until you get it to around 4,000rpm. At 5,000rpm it really sings and is in its element. Now, in top gear that 4,000rpm relates to about 120kph, with 5,000rpm bringing up a not very naked-friendly 150kph. That engine-gearing combination is great for high-speed highway cruising, but that’s not what naked bikes are mainly about. So with a less than comfy seat and engine-gearbox characteristics that are better suited to a sports-tourer than a naked, I think it just falls a bit short of what it tries to be.
HARLEY DAVIDSON CUSTOM 1200.
With the demise of the XR1200, I had to include another Harley. Harleys are, I suppose, really in a category of their own; but I’m sure that many buyers in the Big-Bore Naked market would be likely to look at the American iron when deciding what to buy, so I wanted to include one. But which one? The 1200cc Sportster range was the logical choice, but which of those should we choose? One of the retro models perhaps? Maybe, to stand up as a versatile competitor in this lot, it needed to be more widely practical than those; so I went for the 1200 Custom. I haven’t ridden the latest model, but I did take the 2009 model for a run. Click here for the test. The current one (pictured above) is different though, in that it doesn’t have forward controls or pull-back bars; so it’s less “cruiser” and more “normal” naked. It's a good-looking bike! The engine is the 1202cc twin that sees action in a few Harleys. No power figure is given, but torque is quoted at 100Nm. This is about the same as the bike I test-rode. (Note: When I wrote an up-date on the bike in 2011, I incorrectly identified the Dyna Superglide Custom as the then equivalent model, but it wasn’t). There were aspects about the 1200 Custom I rode that impressed me. There was a general feel of quality about it. The seat was quite comfortable, and the usual cruiser ergonomics didn’t seem to be as much a problem as on some cruisers I’ve ridden. Also showing some quality, and practicality, the speedo isn’t just a speedo but carries some more information; more than you might expect. There’s odometer, clock, dual tripmeter, low fuel warning light, low oil pressure light and engine diagnostics readout. Out on the highway, when running straight on a smooth road, I was appreciating that quality feel, and getting immersed in the whole Harley lifestyle / image thing. I was enjoying it! Dry weight is 251kg, but as with most Harleys, it didn’t feel that heavy. The weight is carried low, resulting in a low centre-of-gravity, which makes the bike easier to handle. Suspension is by the usual conventional fork up front and twin-shocks at the rear. As with most Harley Sportsers, the ride, on the one I tested, wasn’t great. There is some compliance there, but not much: in the test I said that it was rough over anything seriously resembling a bump. On the bike I rode the front was raked out, with the resultant reluctance to turn in. The current 1200 Custom still has the raked-out front, but comes with a more chunky front tyre; so that turn-in would probably be even worse now. So it was quite impressive – until it came to a bump or a corner. And it really is more cruiser than big-bore naked. Price is $17,995.
APRILIA DORSODURO 1200.
Aprilia list this as a road-bike, so I suppose we’ll take their word for it. But they also say that it is, “An explosively powerful, yet sophisticated hyper-motard.”It’s the same sort of thing Ducati have done with their Hyperstrada – combining a motard with some road-going gear to make a weird cross between motard and road-bike. So is it in the same market as the bikes I’ve looked at above? Probably not, but then there will be a bit of variety in what people looking for a big-bore naked might buy, so I’ve put it in. In appearance it’s, well, I reckon it’s ugly! From the front it looks like a nasty big insect about to devour you! Yes, I know, it’s a motard, so it’s not supposed to look pretty I suppose. Moto Guzzi reckons this is “The bad boy” of their range. They also say that it is, “Decidedly masculine and powerful”, (which is a bit sexist isn’t it?). So you can see where they are aiming it – right at the typical big-bore naked market! It looks like that’s where it’s aimed too. That big engine is a very prominent feature up front; and the big swing-arm, along with the huge brake rotors up front, give it a very serious look. This thing means business! But then Moto Guzzi have given it a swooping style bodywork that makes it look more sleek and modern than some of the others here. I think it looks great! The 1151cc V-twin engine puts out 81kW of power and 108Nm of torque. Dry weight is 222kg. That’s less power than the Aprilia, but in the same ball-park as the rest of the bikes here, or even just ahead. So it’s got the grunt to propel it along pretty quickly. Front suspension is a fully-adjustable upside-down fork, while the rear monoshock is adjustable for everything except compression-damping. Tyres are standard 120 X 17 at the front and 180 X 17 at the rear. Oh, and the seat is pretty comfortable too. Moto Guzzi usually does seats pretty well, going by the ones I've sat on. Price is $21,990, so it really is pushing the envelope of what we’re looking at here. But if we’re including the Beemer, then we should include this.
SO WHICH ONE WINS?
Well, that’s impossible to tell, isn’t it; because I haven’t even ridden all of them. But, be that as it may, I’ll give you my thoughts, for what they’re worth. Okay, cue the drum-roll! If I was shopping for a big-bore naked, and had plenty of money, then I’d be having a serious look at (and hopefully a ride on!) the Moto Guzzi. The big engine dominating the scene up front is just as a big-bore naked should be, but with its swoopy lines it also has a modern look to it. You see, I don’t think a big-bore naked has to look retro; they can look modern too – and this bike does. But it doesn’t just look modern; the technology is modern too. Of course it all depends on what it's like to ride. Gearing could be a big decider for me, as well as all the usual other aspects of what it's like on the road. But, presuming it measured up, I reckon it could be the one to pick. Moto Guzzis are still an acquired taste, I suppose, and have certain characteristics that make them unique and, well, different to other bikes – especially the Japanese. But being European adds a certain “exotic” type attraction too. So, as I said, if money wasn’t a consideration, then I’d reckon the Moto Guzzi might be the one. BUT WHAT OF THE REST? Well, to begin with another one I haven’t ridden, I reckon the Aprilia Dorsodura 1200 is just too “out-there”: it’s not really a big-bore naked as such, it is, as Aprilia state, a hyper-motard. Yes, it’s got a big powerful donk, and it is naked, but it’s not really what the person looking at, say the Moto Guzzi (or the BMW, or the Yamaha, etc..) would be considering. It could be a ton of fun for a short blast, but I don’t think it’s really what we want here. I haven’t ridden the Harley 1200 Custom either, although I have ridden one of its predecessors. As I mentioned above, I was impressed with the feeling of quality, the comfort of the seat, and even the ergonomics (in terms of a cruiser anyway). I was quite enjoying the straight-line highway type cruising, but when we came to some bumps, or corners, then the typical short-comings become obvious. And the wider front tyre on this compared to the one I rode would only make that worse. Yes, I know this is comparing apples to oranges – Harleys aren’t like other bikes and they’re not meant to be – but when we do compare their ride quality, performance and handling objectively with other bikes, they are going to fall short, just because of what they are. But if you like Harleys, of course you’ll no doubt love it. The main drawback with the Suzuki Bandit is probably that it lacks character. The old GSX1400 had that big “muscle-bike” character about it, but the Bandit doesn’t. To me, in terms of what bike I would personally buy, that would almost be an advantage; but viewed in terms of this comparison the Bandit looks a bit tame. Also, the seat and the ride were a bit too hard for my liking. It’s still a good bike, and is excellent value-for-money, but I don’t think it’s quite what people are looking for in this category. Its former stable-mate was – which was, partly, why it won – but the Bandit just doesn’t have the same image and character. The BMW R1200R looks good: and just being a BMW makes it a bit special. As I said, it has the big-bore naked thing happening and adds a bit of prestige with European flare. But as a package it just doesn’t feel right. The engine-characteristics, combined with the gearing simply don’t suit its role as a naked. Add in a couple of other niggles, like the seat, and mirrors that are too small, as well as that hefty price tag, and for me, it can’t be the winner here. And that – cue drum-roll again – leaves just the Yamaha XJR1300. No, it’s not the most sophisticated bike here, (that title would probably go to the Moto Guzzi or Aprilia), and it doesn’t have the European flare of the Moto Guzzi, Beemer or Aprilia, but I think that it does the job of the big-bore naked as good as, if not better than, the others. The naked design of these bikes does limit how much high-speed high-jinks you can get up to, so they need to operate enthusiastically at speeds up to the legal limit (or thereabouts). The Yamaha offers heaps of low-down grunt, but if you do hold the gears a bit longer, you can have some serious blasting around, all at reasonably legal speeds. Ride it more gently and it will do the practical job of the traditional UJM as well as, or better than, anything here; including the more exotic models. You can trundle around all day in top gear if you want to, and still get power on hills and quick over-taking: or you can rev it out playing hoon if you want to. It’ll even commute easily. So it really is good at all the duties a big-bore naked would be expected to perform. Readers who own these, such as Geoffrey, Thierry, Joe, and Terry, (who traded a Triumph Sprint on his XJR, and that’s his bike pictured above), would all agree that this is the choice of the big-bore nakeds. Although Jorge (see Feeedback, July 2013), who was looking for an XJR but bought a Suzuki GSX1400, and Sven, a riding acquaintance who looked at my XJR, loved the big-bore retro style but ended up also buying a Suzuki GSX1400, would probably agree with the result of that original comparison – if the bike was still available. (They both bought 2nd-hand). But in terms of what is currently available, I reckon the Yamaha is the pick of the bunch.
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