This is something I’d thought of doing for a while; a comparison of big-bore nakeds. They don’t comprise a huge market segment, and over-all sales are actually pretty low, but they are quite popular with some of us “more-mature” riders. Quite a few regular readers own bikes in this category. (And I have one myself!). But it was one of our readers buying a bike a while ago that inspired me to finally do the comparo. Russell was looking to up-date his bike and said that, compared to what I was riding, he would be looking for something “a bit lighter and with some form of fairing.” I told him that had been my ideal too, when I was looking for a bike, but I bought the bike I did because I found it the most comfortable and pleasurable to ride. A few days later, he wrote to say that he had just taken a Suzuki GSX1400 for a test-ride. He said, “You might recall I was looking for a lighter bike with some fairing, but the wind on this was not a problem; and the weight is very low so is not felt, unless you run out of petrol and have to push!” He also found that insurance was much cheaper than a typical sports-tourer. So he ended up buying it. That was a kind of reminder to me (as if I needed it!) as to just how practical these bikes are.
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 as Russell found, insurance can be cheaper; and 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. I discussed the issue of image versus reality in my test of the Yamaha XJR1300. 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 – 80kW range. By comparison, the Triumph Sprint ST produces 93kW. 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!” To the more pragmatic amongst us though, we like to be protected from mother-nature. We like to sit in comfort at highway speeds, and not feel like a flag clinging to a pole. So we like fairings. 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!
So, considering all that, I thought it was time I did a comparison!
WHAT DID I INCLUDE?
Well, firstly a definition of “big-bore”. It’s hard to draw a definite line I suppose, but there had to be some sort of cut-off point. So I reckoned on 1200cc as the “bottom-line”. Of course some 1200cc engines can actually be a bit smaller than 1200cc, so I included engines that were called “1200” but had an actual capacity of 1100cc – 1200cc.
I’ve already mentioned the Suzuki GSX1400, and with its stonking big 1400cc engine and clean retro styling it really is the quintessential big-bore naked. So of course it was in.
That other “quintessential big-bore naked”, the Yamaha XJR1300 (which I’ve also mentioned already) was another must-have inclusion.
Back at Suzuki, they’ve taken the fairing off the Bandit (not there was that much to take off!) and voila; they’ve got two entrants in the big-bore naked class!
There should’ve been entrants from the other two big Japanese manufacturers, but for reasons you’ll see below, there aren’t.
Harley Davidson are really in a category of their own. When you buy a Harley, you generally buy a Harley, not an entrant by Harley in a particular market-segment. But “big-bore” and “naked” are terms that apply to quite a few Harleys, and now there is a bike that is less “Harley Davidson” and more “Harley’s entrant in that class”, the XR1200. So it’s in.
Turning to Europe, there’s the Moto Morini 9½. At the time of writing this, the availability is under question, because the importers (of these and Benelli) went out of business. But negotiations are underway with another company and dealers are hopeful that “normal service will be resumed shortly” as they say on the TV. I checked with a couple of dealers and there are still some models in stock. And I’d tested one anyway, so it’s in.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS?
A quick mention of some I didn’t include. Firstly, the Honda CB1300. When I was trying to find one to test I discovered that it had been discontinued. At the time I began this, mid 2009, there were still a few unsold bikes in stock at some dealers, but the model was actually not being made any more. It’s a pity really, because the big Honda has been a popular bike – and for good reason. It’s comfortable to sit on, performs well, and does all the things that these big-bore nakeds are supposed to do. So if you’re in the market, it could still be worth checking out; if you can find an unsold example at a dealer somewhere. But, being a discontinued model, I didn’t try to get a demo to include in this comparison.
A similar story befell the Kawasaki ZRX1200R. When I was trying to find one to test I discovered that this too had been discontinued. Well, in Australia anyway. In Japan a new model has been released (with fuel-injection replacing the previous model’s carbs), but Kawasaki Australia decided not to import it. That’s a shame, because the ZRX1200R was a good thing. A dealer I spoke to, who has been to Japan, reckons the latest one’s an even better thing; but we aren’t getting it.
I really wanted to include the BMW R1200R. In fact I originally did include it, but I couldn’t find one to test-ride. Even late-model 2nd-hand ones were thin on the ground (or a long way away). But it’s a bit expensive really. At a retail price of well over $20,000 it’s really in a price class above the rest of this lot, so I suppose it isn’t really a competitor to the rest of the group here. So, sadly, I took it off the list. It’s a pity, because I’ve long admired these naked Beemers. I still hope to get a ride on one sooner or later though, so “watch this space,” as they say.
And others? Well, yes, there were lots more I suppose I could’ve included. You could probably argue that what I’ve selected is a fairly specific bunch, but I reckon they still cover a diverse range of styles, and to diversify even further just wouldn’t be practical. Anyway, I’ll list some others I thought of, and say briefly why I didn’t include them.
Benelli TNT 1130. There are a couple of different models of these. The cheapest is well over $20,000 and the most expensive well over $30,000. That straight away puts them in a different market area to what we’re looking at here. And that’s if you can get them!
BMW K1300R. Oh yes, I would’ve liked to include one of these! With 127kW from its 1293cc in-line 4-cylinder motor, BMW proudly claim it to be “The most powerful naked bike BMW have ever built.” Yeah, man! But demo models of these were a bit hard to find too; plus they cost around $25,000 which again puts them in a different market area to the others here. Also, they’re a sports-bike, and the riding-position is more sporty than the bikes we’re looking at here.
Buell XB12S. Well, yes, I could’ve included one of these, but it’d be a bit pointless – it would never win! Sorry, but Buells have too many issues that would prevent them from getting anywhere near being my top choice in this group. Yes, I know they look cool, and they do go very well, but things like the horrific vibration, the uncomfortable riding-position, and the heat from the exhaust, would all rule it out for me. So I just didn’t bother!
Moto Morini Corsaro 1200. This is the sportier version of the Moto Morini, and has a bit more power, but the 9 ½ is the more practical of the two. That’s why I chose it to test-ride rather than the Corsaro. And that’s why I chose it to include in this comparison. So not much point including the Corsaro really.
Suzuki B-King. There are two Suzukis in this lot already; and they’re both more popular than the B-King. So that was enough. Also, the B-King is a more specialised type bike, really. So we’ll let the GSX and Bandit represent the big S.
Yamaha MT-01. Like the B-King, I think this is a kind of “out-there” special type bike. At just under 1700cc, it almost goes beyond “Big-Bore Naked” and onto “Huge-Bore Naked”! Yamaha actually put it (and the V-Max) into a separate category they call “Torque Sports” – as opposed to just “Sports” where you’ll find the XJR. It would’ve been good to include, but I’m not sure how relevant it is to people in the market for the rest of the bikes here.
Yamaha VMAX. Same situation as the MT-01; only more so! Actual engine capacity is about the same as the MT-01, but the V-4 pumps out a massive 147kW (that’s 200bhp in the old money!). Oh yes, I’d like to include that one! Or maybe not. All fueled up it’s around 310kg. And it’s getting pretty expensive too. But if these bikes appeal to you, (and if the budget stretches far enough), then they would be worth including in your list to look at.
Okay, onto the comparison. As usual with these comparisons, I’ll list and describe the bikes in order of price. In the description of each will be a link (usually the name, high-lighted in blue) to the original test-report. I’ll go into a fair bit of detail here, but if you read the original report you’ll get a more complete description of the bike and more details of specifications.
The descriptions here are, in most cases, a bit different to the original reports. Some have the benefit of having had more experience with the particular bike, and all are different in the sense that they are not being looked at in isolation, but in comparison with other bikes. And that does tend to put a different perspective on them.
As usual, at the end I’ll pick what, in my opinion, is the winner.
Okay, let’s get to them!
The naked version of the Suzuki Bandit is exactly the same as the semi-faired one; except they’ve taken the small fairing off. And they've fitted a round headlight. But that’s it; everything else is identical. Even the instruments are the same.
So I didn’t bother trying to get a ride on one. I’ve looked at them and sat on them, but as for the riding, well, everything you’ll read in the test-report of the faired one applies exactly to this. Except there’d be slightly more wind. Oh, and the colour; you can have any colour you like as long as it’s a rather dowdy plum-red. (The ABS version is a much better-looking silver).
It’s hard to know why they even bothered with this. I mean, there wasn’t much of a fairing anyway, so removing it wasn’t going to make much difference.
At the time it was first released (late 2008) there was a rumour that the GSX1400 was being discontinued; so by removing the fairing from the Bandit, that would still give Suzuki a big-bore naked in their model line-up. But the GSX1400 stayed on, so now they have two big-bore nakeds. Engine sizes between the two differ by less than 150cc, and the weight difference is only a few kilos. So why bother? Yes, I know, stop shouting, I can hear you! The answer is, in a word, “style”. Specifications might be very close, but the styling is worlds apart; or perhaps I should say, “decades apart.” The GSX is pure retro, while the Bandit is a naked modern-style bike. In that sense, it’s like the naked version of the Yamaha FZ1; except that the Yammie has a lot more power (even though the engine is much smaller) and is much sportier, so it’s not really a competitor. Oh well, just put it down to style and marketing tom-foolery!
As for the actual bike, it’s a beauty! I’ve been a fan of the Bandit ever since I threw a leg over the 2006 model and headed off into the country. It does everything well, it’s easy to ride and it goes well. It’s a great all-round bike!
The engine is a beauty! It’s smooth and tractable and goes like a rocket! Low-speed torque is an attribute of most of these bikes, and the Bandit is superb, pulling strongly from 2,000rpm, even in the higher gears. In fact you can drop it down to 1,500rpm and it’ll still pull away without complaint. So it’s easy to toddle around town at low revs and not have to worry about being in the wrong gear. But get it out on the open road, give the throttle a handful and it really starts to boogie!
Like all of the bikes in this category, the gearing is quite high, so relaxed cruising is the order of the day; if you want it to be. At 120kph the engine is doing just 4,000rpm.
Handling too, is good. It’s easy and accurate to steer, and goes exactly where you point it. It responds easily to counter-steering and gives a “running-on-rails” feeling in corners.
It’s happy to adjust its line in corners, and it always feels totally stable; at anything from low speed around town, to back-road sweepers, to highway cruising.
Back-to-back comparisons are difficult, of course, but I reckon it’d be just ahead of the retro bikes when push came to scrape.
Sadly, it’s not all good news though. For me, the ride is a bit firm. No doubt this helps the good handling, so it depends on where your preference lies in the whole handling / ride equation. The suspension is adjustable, but only for preload at the front, and preload and rebound at the rear. So you won’t be able to do too much to improve the ride. This, I suppose, is one trade-off for a bargain-basement price. Most of the other bikes in this group (the Harley is the other exception) have fully adjustable suspension at both ends.
The other issue I have with comfort is the seat, which again, is too firm for my liking. (Other testers have commented on this too).
Despite these things though, it really is a great bike; and it’s terrific value! If you like this style of bike, and if comfort and ride quality aren’t as major issues for you as they are for me, you’ll love the Bandit!
The Suzuki GSX1400 looks almost like it’s been around since the 1970s, but it was first introduced in 2002. It got the retro styling, but it got the benefit of more recent technology. Right from the start it had fuel-injection, as well as a 6-speed gearbox. That was in contrast to the Yamaha XJR, and even its stable-mate, the Bandit, which until 2007 ran carbies and a 5-speed box. (The XJR still has a 5-speeder). Retro style or not, I think it’s a good-looking bike. I like the blue and white, but the plain black brings out the slightly angular lines; looks good!
The riding-position is typically very up-right and roomy, with just a gentle lean forward to the bars. It’s very similar, of course, to the Yamaha.
The seat is superbly comfortable! It’s wide and plush, and feels almost like a gel seat in the way its softness pampers your posterior, while remaining sufficiently supportive.
It’s the second-heaviest bike here (the Harley is the heaviest), but it feels lighter when you rock it side-to-side, or lift it off the side-stand. It obviously carries its weight quite low. This feeling of being lighter than it is continues out on the road.
Suzuki claims the GSX has, “the largest displacement in-line 4-cylinder engine in its class.” And at 1402cc, it’s the biggest engine of this lot. It puts out a couple of kW more power than the Bandit and XJR, and significantly more torque; the highest torque of all in this group in fact. So there’s performance aplenty!
Although, as I said in the test, you’ll sometimes need a down-change to really make the most of the performance. That’s not due to any lack of power, but because the GSX runs noticeably higher gearing; the highest of all these bikes. This higher gearing, to me, gives it a slightly different character. It isn’t quite as “sporty”. Of course you can easily hold it in the lower gears, and it’ll take off a like a rocket; but you tend not to, because these big engines encourage you to change up and just ride the torque. And when doing that, it isn’t quite as responsive to the throttle as bikes running lower gearing. For example, on the XJR the difference between “just cruising along” and “having a blast” is simply how much throttle you use. On the GSX it’s a matter of how much throttle and which gear you’re in. So it feels different. But I do like high gearing, and I think if I owned the bike I’d prefer it this way. Cruise along in a high gear, or change down and go ballistic!
Changing gear is no problem, because the gearbox is delightfully easy to use. In fact all the controls are light and easy to use.
Especially for such a big bike, the GSX handles very well. Again, it feels much lighter than it is, and quickly inspires confidence. It’s remarkably easy to steer, and with just gentle counter-steering it’ll point exactly where you want to go. It’s easy to adjust your line through a corner too. This easy handling starts at town-speeds and continues right up to high speed on the open road.
There’s a flip-side to this light easy handling though. The bike doesn’t feel quite as solidly-planted-on-the-road as some of the other bikes here. No, it never feels unstable or shakes its head or anything like that. It’s just that most big bikes, like the Bandit and the XJR for example, have a running-on-rails, glued-to-the-road feel. By comparison, the Suzuki feels a bit like a very stable mid-sizer. That said though, it’s still a good-handling bike; and I’d put it in front of the Harley, and for an old grandad like me, even the Moto Morini.
The ride is very good. It’s helped by the plush seat, of course. As I said in the test, sometimes bumps could be felt more through the hands than through the back-side. The suspension is fully adjustable at both ends, so you can fiddle with these to tailor the ride to what you want. As it was, some sharper bumps got through a bit, but over-all, I thought it rode very well. I remember thinking that, with the great seat and comfortable ride, this is a bike that you could go a long way on!
A couple of times minor bumps in corners seemed to unsettle it a bit. This could be a further example of that “not-as-firmly-planted-on-the-road” feeling I was talking about.
But it’s something that I didn’t really encounter with the others; except for the Moto Morini. For example, I remember hitting a bump quite hard at high speed in a sweeping corner on the XJR, and it stayed perfectly stable.
I said at the beginning that over-all sales in this segment are fairly low, but the big Suzi is the exception to that. It was the third best-selling naked bike for the first half of 2009 (behind the Triumph Street Triple and Triumph Bonneville). None of the other bikes in this comparison even made it into the top-10.
Okay, time to ‘fess up! If you don’t know already, I should say now that, at the time of writing this, I own one of these. (Check the “Who Am I?” page). After a long and arduous search (click here for the story of that), in late 2008 I bought a 2nd-hand (as-new) 2007 model. So you might accuse me of bias; but I’ll try to be objective. I’m basing my comments here mostly from my test, rather than from my ownership. But, of course, having owned one for almost a year does give me greater experience and insight into the bike.
My own bike is, apart from the paint, the same as the 2008 model I tested;which is, again apart from the paint, the same as the current 2009 model.
For 2009 Yamaha turned the bike into a tribute to Valentino Rossi, by painting a yellow number “1” on the sides of the tank and on the tail. Why use the XJR for this? Well, apparently Rossi rides one. Yes, I suppose he would own a Yamaha, but he chooses this over the other two-wheeled toys he has in his garage. He says, “It’s more relaxing to ride on the road than my R1, which is too fast.” I also read a quote a while ago where he said the XJR, “Makes good (wheel)spin.” Yep, he loves his XJR!
But I reckon you’d have to be a real big Rossi fan (or have a very high opinion of yourself!) to want to ride around with a big “1” on the side! Apart from the number though, I think the silver and black paint and gold wheels look terrific! It’s also available (without the “1”) in plain black.
Like the GSX1400, the XJR looks like it’s caught in a time-warp from the 1970s. Bikes like these appeal to buyers who appreciate their retro style and character. Although I have to say that it wasn’t the retro styling that attracted me to the XJR. I bought it because of the way it rode, not because of the way it looked. Having said that though, I do think the XJR is a great looking bike! And my own bike attracts attention just about everywhere I go. I think the engine is one reason; the Yamaha’s engine is all silver and polished alloy. By contrast, some of the others seem to almost subdue the engine’s presence; while the Yamaha makes it a prominent styling feature. Sometimes this approach doesn’t work, but on the XJR I think it works well.
Speaking of the engine, it pumps out almost identical power to the Bandit and GSX1400,although as I’ve mentioned, the bigger Suzi has more torque. The Yamaha produces these figures higher in the rev-range than those two, but don’t let that fool you; this engine is amazingly tractable. Like the Bandit, it will pull easily from 2,000rpm, or lower, even in top gear. In fact, from these revs it’s even smoother than the GSX. It’s so tractable that most of the time I don’t ride mine above 4,000rpm; there’s just no need. Oh sure, I’ll often give it a blast through the gears, and occasionally run it in a lower gear just to get the revs up. But while there is more urgency to the power higher up, there seems little point in running it there, because there’s more than enough power if you change up a gear and drop the revs back.
In my test I said that the engine feels a bit like a V8 in your family sedan; it feels strong and powerful. Fire it up and, just like the family V8, there’s a healthy throb. You can feel the vibes through the bike, but they’re soft and not unpleasant. They’re still there at higher revs too, but the whole thing is very smooth. The only criticism I have is that there’s a slight harshness around 4,500rpm (which, strangely, has been the case with a couple of Yamahas I’ve owned).
Of course, it goes! 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 it treats even the steepest mountain road almost like flat ground. Yes, I used those last couple of sentences as a general description of bikes in this category, but I was thinking of the XJR when I wrote them.
The gearbox, as I’ve mentioned, is still a 5-speed. But that’s okay, because you’re never left wanting for more ratios. You just don’t need a close-ratio box with engines like these. As one tester commented, “It could probably get away with a two-speed Powerglide!” Top gear runs at just over 27kph / 1,000rpm, so at 110kph the engine is running at 4,000rpm. That’s slightly higher revs than the other bikes here, but it’s still quite relaxed. And this was my point with the GSX’s gearing. The Yamaha still feels relaxed at highway speeds, but the lower gearing means that it’s more responsive to the throttle. Sure, if you change down, the big Suzi will take off just as quickly as the XJR (or even quicker!); but it’s that changing-down that makes it feel different, less sporty, than the Yamaha. And high-speed cruising (even if you could do it legally, which you can’t!) is not what these nakeds are all about anyway, so you don’t need the legs to be overly long.
The gearbox is easy to use and very smooth, and it’ll handle clutch-less changes easily; in fact I often don’t use the clutch for up-changes to top.
The XJR is very easy to ride. It’s easy in the traffic, and also easy on the open road. It quickly inspires confidence.
It handles well. No, it's not a sports-bike as such, but for it's style and weight it's great. A gentle push on the bars is all that’s needed to get it swinging through the turns. It always feels totally stable too; whether carving through corners or running at high speed on the highway. It has that solidly-planted-on-the-road feeling that I found a bit lacking in the GSX.
Each time I rode the XJR I was impressed with the ride. I’m not a fan of twin-shock rear suspension – I’d much prefer a good mono-shock system, with its inherent greater travel – but as I said in the test, these Ohlins must be good things, because the XJR rides very well; and I went looking for bumps to try it out!
The suspension is fully adjustable front and back (preload, compression and rebound), so you can fiddle with these to further tailor the ride to your liking. (I’ve softened mine up to get the ride even smoother and more compliant).
At $14,699, the Yamaha is $1,400 more than the Suzuki GSX1400; and almost $3,000 more than the bargain-priced Bandit. It’s a significant difference; and probably the main reason why the GSX1400 is the third-best selling naked, while the Yamaha doesn’t even make it into the top-ten. It’s not that the XJR is over-priced or poor value-for-money; it’s just that the Suzukis (both of them) are such bargains! With the GSX, arguably, you get more bike for less money.
The Yamaha can, in my opinion, go some way towards justifying its higher price by the quality of its components; like the Ohlins rear suspension units. And, to me, it has a solid feel of quality about it. Now, I admit that might be a slightly biased view, but it’s a view I had before I bought my bike, and which owning the bike has only confirmed. (Although to be fair, both the Suzukis have a good reputation for build quality and reliability too).
Oh, and if you want any more reason to choose the XJR, just remember that Valentino Rossi rides one!
The Harley Davidson XR1200 might seem a little left-field perhaps. After all, you buy a Harley because it’s a Harley, not because it’s a “big-bore naked”. But, as I said at the top, this Harley fits the category very well. It has “normal” type riding position, it has plenty of clearance for cornering, and it goes well. This bike has performance and handling to finally match the “Sportster” name. Even the iconic twin pipes have been changed – to a combined double-pipe affair that is angled up, rather than being down low, in usual Harley fashion.
It’s also a bit retro, being a kind of tribute to the old flat-track racing Harley Sportsters.
The new Harley is, as you’d expect, based on the existing 1200 Sportster, but with a few tweaks. For example, while the frame is similar to the XL, the steering has been sharpened up to make it turn quicker, and the suspension has more travel at both ends, with the inverted front fork being from Showa. There are different (Nissin) brakes up front. The engine is basically the same, but has also been given a few tweaks to produce more power.
The big feature of the XR is its handling. This is the best handling Harley I’ve ridden! Harley claim that it’s, “The best-handling production Sportster that’s ever been built.” It is, and by a long way! I enjoyed punting it along a twisty mountain road; and that’s something I didn’t think I’d ever say about a Harley!
Performance is good too. Look at the specs and you’ll see that it’s the least-powerful of the bikes here, and also has the least amount of torque; although it’s not too far off the mark. Despite that, it still goes well. As I said in the test, it’s not brutal, but it is quick. There’s heaps of torque, although it does prefer to have the revs up around the 3,000rpm mark. And yes, this Harley has a tacho! In fact it’s the most prominent dial up front, with the speedo being a little digital thing that looks like it was put on as an after-thought.
Anti-pollution and noise legislations mean that exhausts on all modern bikes are pretty quiet. The Harley is quiet too (especially by Harley standards), but it puts out a healthier sound than most of the others here.(The Moto Morini being the notable exception!). It’s another thing that adds to the pleasure of riding the XR1200.
I enjoyed riding the Harley. In fact, as I mentioned in the test, it’s the best Harley I’ve ever ridden! However, the bike is a bit of an anachronism. Come back to the engine for a moment. I said in the test that it feels powerful despite the design of the engine rather than because of it. A closer look at the specs might explain. Despite running fuel-injection and a 10:1 compression ratio (higher than other Sportsters, and higher than the GSX and XJR), the valve-actuation is by pushrod OHV, a system last seen in the Morris Minor! (Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but you know what I mean – it’s very old technology now!). Perhaps that explains the relatively low red-line.
Handling and ride continue the anachronistic nature. While the handling is certainly good, the bike weighs about 30kg more than the others here; and eventually that’s going to make its presence felt. You’d have to ride it harder than I did for it to be a problem, but when I say it lives up to it’s “Sportster” name, don’t expect to go blowing off R1s with it! Put a good rider on any of the others here and I don’t think you’d blow them off either. With the ride, I thought it rode fairly well; but perhaps because it was better than I expected it to be. Other testers have criticised the ride as being firm, and I did say in the test that bigger bumps bounced me off the seat a couple of times. So while on reasonably good roads it’s okay, ultimately the stiffness inherent in its more sporting intention will bring it undone.
The XR is a Harley; and it has the usual Harley characteristics - the good ones and the bad! The engine still shakes the bike at idle, and always retains a degree of harshness. If you try hard enough you can get the gear-change smooth, but it’s always clunky, and usually there’s a bit of a jerk with each change. And it’s in these sort of areas that the bike is most noticeably different to the others here. The Japanese, especially, flow along in smooth efficiency; while the Harley, as one tester described it, “judders and shudders beneath you.” I described it as “an involving ride.”
But, as I said, this is a Harley; and this is all part of the image and the character. And there is no doubting the image.
Owning a Harley is more than image – it’s almost a life-style. And a lot of the things that people (like me) criticise, to others are what gives the bike its character.
The Harley XR1200 is a good bike. It’s appeal lies firstly in the fact that it’s a Harley, and secondly in that it’s a Harley that goes and handles unlike any other Harley. You know the old adage about there being many copies but nothing is quite like the original, well, I guess that’s the thing with this. But in this case, buying a Harley doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in corners!
There’s something pretty special about riding a famous Italian brand sports-bike; even if it is a kind of re-birthed name. After all, the great Agostini began his racing career on a Moto Morini. So if you want a big-bore naked with pedigree, look no further than the Moto Morini 9 ½!
Now you might think, by the name, that it shouldn’t be here; you might assume the engine is 950cc. But it’s not; the engine is the same size as the Moto Morini Corsaro 1200. The confusing name comes from it being a kind of tribute to the 3½ machine of the 1970s.
The Corsaro has a bit more power than this one, but I reckon this bike is the better choice as an all-round bike. The Corsaro is a true sports-bike; this is more sports-bike all-rounder. And as such, it’s pretty comfortable.
The seat is comfortable, and the riding-position fairly up-right. It’s a comfortable bike, although it feels a bit “compact” perhaps. The bars are fairly wide, which offers good control, but they did feel a bit strange. Like several nakeds I’ve ridden, they seem to almost turn upwards at the end. No problem though; rotating them downwards would cure this. It’s a personal-preference type thing.
There’s some pretty good kit in the make-up of the bike. Front suspension is by Marzocchi, rear is by Paioli, brakes by Brembo, and exhaust by Termignoni. The frame is a very Ducati-ish trellis affair, and the whole show tips the scales at just 198kg.
It’s not all good news though. The mirrors are small and round. Silly! Also lacking a bit on practicality is the tail-light, which comprises a thin row of LEDs. Yes, I know LEDs are brighter than globes, but I reckon this thin strip of light would be hard to see.
But let’s get to the heart of the beast; that 1200cc Italian donk! Actual capacity is 1187cc, and it runs a compression-ratio of 12.5:1. It produces 86kW of power and 102Nm of torque. That takes it to the top of the list here in the power stakes. Most of the others beat it in torque; although not by much.
Start it up and the exhaust emits a wonderful sound! An angry sound. Blip the throttle and it’s like an angry tiger snarling at you; “Grrowl! Grrowl!” I love it! The Harley might’ve sounded a bit healthier than the others’ pollution-restrained cans, but this is glorious!
It goes too! It pulls well from low down, although prefers to be above 3,000rpm. Acceleration is good from pretty much anywhere, but get it up above 6,000rpm and the engine smoothes out and it really starts to fly! This is a sports-bike and it encourages you to ride it like one.
Being a sports-bike you’d expect the suspension to be fairly firm, and it is. Any reasonable-sized bump brought a thump through the bars and seat. Bumps mid-corner made it wriggle a bit too; although it always felt stable.
Handling is good, of course.(Would you expect an Italian sports-bike not to handle well?). It seemed to respond better to shifting your body-weight than it did to simple counter-steering.
Although it would take some getting used to; and would take a much faster and better rider than me to get the most out of it. That's why, for me, I prefer the handling of the others.
But all this sports-bike stuff doesn’t make it hard to ride around town. (Remember it is the more “all-rounder” of the two models). Through the traffic it’s pretty easy to ride. The only problem I had was with the gearbox; neutral was hard to find. Once on the move though, the changes were smooth and easy.
And speaking of the gearbox, the bike is reasonably high-geared. Around town I was often in 2nd or even 1st through the traffic. Top (of 6) is geared at 29kph per 1,000rpm, with 5th being just a tad lower at 27kph per 1,000rpm. You appreciate the gear-indicator on the dash!
Out on the open road the wind-pressure wasn’t too bad. It was windy, but no more than you’d expect. I had it up to about 140kph and the wind was still pretty good for a naked.
The bike I rode was an early-production model, and there were a couple of worrying quality issues. And this despite the Moto Morini rep telling me what wonderful quality-control the factory had! As an example he mentioned the bolts holding the throttle assembly. They’d found that the bolts had begun to rust; so they quickly ordered the bolts to be replaced with stainless-steel ones. Hmm, okay, but wouldn’t you think that something as simple as using bolts that didn’t rust would’ve been done from production-run number one? I mean, use alloy, or stainless-steel, or just give them a good coat of paint; it ain’t rocket-science!
But this wasn’t the only place where rust was visible. Down underneath the engine, the exhaust showed significant rust. I thought this was pretty disappointing; especially for a demo-model presented to impress those of us who were there to evaluate it and ride it!
So, to sum-up, a classic iconic Italian brand and a great all-round sports-bike. But there are issues. Despite being a more “all-round” effort than the Corsaro, the ride-comfort, and perhaps handling, say “sports-bike” more than they do “all-rounder”. And there are quality issues that just shouldn’t be there – especially in a bike that is at the top of the list in retail price.
BRIEF SPECS: Engine: 1187cc, 86kW, 102Nm. Weight: 198kg. Seat: 830mm. Price: $18,990. (Note: There are some ’08 plated models are around at discounted prices).
Well, there can’t really be a winner. These bikes are mostly quite different to each other; and different people will buy different bikes for different reasons. But you won’t let me leave it at that will you! So I’ll work through them and pick what I reckon is the best over-all package.
If you prefer your big-bore naked to have modern styling and specifications, then the Suzuki Bandit would be your choice. The fact that it’s cheaper, by a fair margin, than anything else here sweetens the choice even more. So it’d be a done deal! For me though, I have problems with the suspension and seat; both of which are a bit on the firm side for my preference. But if you’re comfortable with that, and like the style, then buy it; it’s a great bike!
When it comes to this comparison though, the Bandit has a direct competitor in the same showroom; yep, the GSX1400. And I reckon that if you were in the market for a big-bore naked, and you walked in to the Suzuki showroom, the GSX would be the more natural choice. The bores are bigger, for a start, and I think it embodies the whole “big-bore naked” concept more than the Bandit does. So for our purposes here, I think it defaults to its (slightly) bigger brother.
If, however, you prefer to get naked with a European sporting flair, then you’d be looking at the Moto Morini. You’d get plenty of sporting flair too; accompanied by a sound-track that puts everything else here to shame! But it’s a bit too sports-focused to be my pick. Read my general description, at the start, of what I think these big-bore nakeds are all about and I think the Moto Morini misses the mark. But I did say that these bikes are bought by different people for different reasons; so this could still be the bike for you! Just not for me. And then there’s the questionable quality-control.
If you’re hankering after a Harley, then the Harley XR1200 will be your natural choice. There’s no doubting Harley’s image and style, and presence on the road; a Harley is a Harley! And you’ll revel in Harley Davidson’s new-found sporting abilities. But its appeal starts to diminish a bit when compared to the other bikes here. It’s the least powerful of these bikes, and while the performance is certainly good, it isn't as lively as the others. The ride I thought was good, but gets a bit harsh on larger bumps. Even the handling would ultimately suffer a bit from the bike’s weight. It still does everything the others do, just not quite as well.
One of our readers, who owns a Harley Electroglide, and who’s comments I quoted in the “Second Opinion” at the bottom of the test, summed it up well when he said, “Harleys have always been more a state of mind, and tend to suffer when examined objectively against other bikes.” He was defending the make against the somewhat disparaging comments I’d made on other Harleys, but it nicely sums up the reason why the Harley isn’t a winner here.
That leaves the two retros; the Suzuki GSX1400 and the Yamaha XJR1300. And if you’re still reading this, then like me, you’ll be thinking that the choice comes down to one of these two. The other bikes each have their own appeal, but when it comes to an over-all winner I think we have to choose the bike that’s best over-all. And I reckon that narrows the field to these two. It’s got nothing to do with the retro styling though. These two bikes rise to the top because they do everything so well. They’re comfortable, they’re easy to ride, they go well, they handle well, they ride well, and they even look good, albeit in that old-fashioned sort of way. Of course they aren’t perfect, no bike is, but there are no major issues to criticise. As I said, they do everything well!
So, which one do I pick as the winner? Well, you know which one, don’t you! Well, you might think so, but you’d be wrong! It’s ..... (drum-roll, please!) ..... the Suzuki GSX1400.
Click here to return to the front page. Click your BACK button to return to the previous page.
Having trouble deciding? Take a look at the price-tag! If you’re swapping between the Suzuki shop and the Yamaha shop, trying to make a decision, I reckon the saving of around $1,400 you’ll get by going with the Suzuki is enough to sway the decision. And, as I said earlier, I reckon that’s why it’s at third spot on the Naked sales charts, while the Yamaha is nowhere in the top 10. And that, ultimately, is why it wins here too.
P.S. After reading my report on the GSX1400, a reader who owns one, Tim, asked, “Does the Yamaha stay in the shed?” And now, as I’ve just given the winner’s gong to the Suzuki, you might be wondering the same thing. Well, yes, it does. I have no desire to swap! The Suzuki certainly has its attractions, but personally I prefer the Yamaha. However for the purposes of this comparison, and looked at objectively, the Suzuki deserves the win.
Mind you, as I’ve indicated above, these two are very close; and feature-by-feature they duke-it out pretty evenly. The Suzuki’s got the biggest engine – and that has to count for something in a comparison like this – and has the most torque. Although the Yamaha, in my opinion, has more character in the way it displays its power and applies it. With its lovely plush seat the Suzuki pips the Yamaha for comfort. The Yamaha, with it’s twin Ohlins (and both ends were tweaked in 2007 for better stability and control) has the better suspension. Both are surprisingly easy to ride, especially considering their size and weight, but the Suzuki just gets the nod as the easier of the two. The Yamaha has better brakes. The Suzuki’s engine is slightly smoother. And so on it goes.