Saturday, July 22, 2006

Red Army: Ducati 999R

The Ducati 999R - the best Italian V-twin superbike ever!

The biggest problem with the Ducati 999 is that it comes after the 916 and its various evolutions. The 916 to 998 series of motorcycles from Ducati were so beautiful, so perfect of form and proportion, that it would be difficult for any motorcycle to surpass their poetic symmetry. And yet, motorcycle design must move on, and we have the 999. Styled by South African designer, Pierre Terblanche, the 999’s lines grow on you with time. It is, you might say, the two-wheeled equivalent of the BMW 7-series – designed to shock, to make you think, to make you take a second look. And once you’re done with looking, you find out that this one goes as hard – or harder – than its predecessor.

Ducati has worked on rider ergonomics, so the 999 is more comfortable than, say, a 998R. And to help things on the track, weight distribution (with the rider on board) is now claimed to be an ideal 50/50, front and rear. The engine, which is where the action is, is a 999cc V-twin with a pressurised airbox, and produces an honest 124 horsepower. So okay, that isn’t enough to work the kind of insane straight line lunges that, say, a ZZR1400 is capable of, but being a twin, the Ducati’s engine has more ‘grunt’ (torque, in the lower reaches of the rev range) than most inline-fours. And the scalpel-sharp handling, in the best Ducati tradition, is to die for. It may not match up to the old 998R in the looks department, but in all other ways, the 999R is a worthy successor to that iconic motorcycle.

Power: 124bhp
0 to 100kph: 2.7 seconds
Top speed: 270kph
In a line: The two-wheeled equivalent of a Ferrari 430

Right click and download a roadtest video of the 999R here

Friday, July 21, 2006

Flexi-flyer: Suzuki GSX-R750 (1985-87)

The very first GSX-R. The repli-racer-for-the-road saga begins...

This, the first GSX-R, was definitely was a head-banging, hell-raising, outlaw. The bike was very light for its time, what with Suzuki using an aluminium alloy chassis and magnesium bits in the engine. The bike featured oil cooling (called SACS – Suzuki Advanced Cooling System) for more efficient heat dissipation, stout, 41mm front forks, twin 300mm dia brake discs at front and those twin round headlamps which later became such a Gixxer styling trademark.

The bike’s 749cc, DOHC, 16-valve inline-four was peaky and made most of its power only in the higher reaches of its rev range, which made it a bit of pain to use around town. But then the GSX-R was never made for drop-the-kids-to-school or fetch-the-groceries duties. It was meant for the dedicated, hard-core sportsbike rider who was more interested in getting his knee down than cruising down some Euro-boulevard desperately trying to look cool. Back then, the metrosexual male hadn’t been invented yet and women only rode Vespa scooters. Twist the throttle hard and the GSX-R delivered, waking up at 7000rpm and then screaming all the way up to its 10,500rpm redline, by which time you’d be doing more than 200km/h.

As you would expect, the first GSX-R wasn’t anywhere near perfect. In trying to reduce weight, Suzuki had, perhaps, gone too far – the ‘perimeter’ alloy frame couldn’t cope with the power and was prone to flex, as were the rather skinny wheels of that era. There wasn’t a great deal of feedback from the chassis, the rear shock was too soft and had inadequate damping, and at times, the brakes could be a bit temperamental! But while all this made it tough to pretend you were a Barry Sheene for the road, there’s no getting away from the fact that this first GSX-R was a landmark machine. Future generations of motorcyclists would thank the Gixxer, and Suzuki, for the current, 180bhp, open-class two-wheeled rocketships we see today.

GSX-R 750 (models F, G and H)
Years: 1985 - 87
Power: 80bhp@10,500rpm
Weight: 176kg
Top Speed: 205km/h
0 – 400m: 12.65 seconds

Other GSX-R stories:
Twenty years of the Suzuki GSX-R
Late 1980s/early 1990s GSX-Rs
GSX-R1000 vs Westfield XTR4 video!
Late 1990s GSX-R
Limited edition GSX-R Phantom

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moto Morini Corsaro 1200: The comeback kid

The very fast, powerful and stylish Moto Morini Corsaro 1200

Only an Italian motorcycle company could have done this. Though the Moto Morini name has significant heritage (the company was established in 1927, and Giacomo Agostini himself once rode for Moto Morini…), nobody knows where they were hiding for the last twenty years. Now, suddenly, they are back with a bang, with a 1200cc streetfighter called the Corsaro. And it’s so damn good, we all want one!

Powered by an 1187cc, liquid-cooled, eight-valve V-twin, which makes 138 horsepower, the Corsaro 1200, styled by Marabese Design, is no shrinking violet. On the contrary, it’s a rough, gruff and startlingly energetic machine that could land you in trouble if you aren’t careful with the throttle. With a top whack of around 240km/h, it is, like other 1200cc sportsbikes, not for newbies. That said, if you’re capable enough, the bike is an absolute blast to ride – it’ll explode out of corners, shrink the straights, spin the rear, lift the front and generally be your perfect partner in speed-and-stunt crimes. The exhaust pipes bellow in a most convincing fashion, the trellis frame works well, suspension is very well sorted and Corsaro remains stable under hard braking and acceleration.

This is one extremely good-looking motorcycle that’ll do whatever you ask of it and if what you ask of it is slightly illegal, so much the better! Fit and finish is good, the stance is just right, the multi-function display is modern, and hell, even the mirrors work! Elegant, powerful, agile and sporty, the Corsaro 1200 is right on the money. Welcome back, Moto Morini!

Engine: 1187cc, liquid-cooled, eight-valve V-twin
Power: 138bhp@8500rpm
Top speed: 240km/h
In a line: The mother of all comebacks!

The Morini 500 Sport, probably from the late-1970s/early-1980s (?)

...and the Corsarino Scrambler, from 1970

From Hell: Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. I WANT one!!!

Somehow, Kawasakis have always had more street-cred than other Jap bikes. When it comes to power, styling and performance, Kawasaki bikes are right on top. From trendsetting Z1s and turbocharged GPZs to ZX-10s, ZX-11s and ZX-12Rs, Kawasakis have been the strongest, fastest and yes, the baddest bikes on the block. And in keeping with Kawasaki tradition, the latest ZX-10R is the meanest Ninja around. It’s even overshadowed its big brother, the ZX-12R, which was the king of quick until the 10 came along. Kawasaki’s own ZZR1400 is quicker and faster in a straight line, but when it comes to handling and cornering abilities, few bikes can live with the 10R.

There’s a massive ram-air intake feeding a pressurised airbox which boosts power at high speeds, a slipper clutch, a heavily braced swingarm that holds a six-spoke alloy wheel (wearing 190/50ZR-17 rubber) and a titanium exhaust system with underseat pipes. Whereas most superbikes have their twin-beam frames wrapped around the engine, the Ninja’s spars are routed over the top, which results in a more compact, manageable motorcycle. At the front, there’s a 43mm, USD fork that’s multi-adjustable for damping and spring preload. The ZX-10R’s 293kph top speed might be some way off the Shinkansen’s (the famed Japanese ‘Bullet Train’) top whack, but the big Ninja will blow the doors off your neighbour’s Porsche.

0 to 100kph: 2.7 seconds
Top speed: 293kph
In a line: “So I just knocked down your pint and what’re you gonna do about it?”
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gunslinger: Suzuki GSX-R750 (1988-91 models)

The 1988 Suzuki GSX-R750 'Slingshot'

In addition to SACS and Hyper Sports, this Suzuki GSX-R also had ‘Slingshot’ emblazoned on its flanks. This came from the bike’s redesigned Mikuni carburetors, which had straighter intakes for better combustion efficiency. This GSX-R, with its then radical, all-new styling, looked menacing. Mess with it and it would kill you.

Power was up to a real world 92 horsepower and the bike was capable of doing more than 230km/h in a straight line. The new, shorter stroke 749cc inline-four got a new bottom end (adapted from Suzuki’s own GSX-R1100), revved quicker and higher than the old model’s engine and was less peaky. While the older GSX-R didn’t wake up at all before 7,000 revs, the new one started making its grunt from 5,000rpm onwards – a big improvement for low speed, city riding. In a surprise move though, the M model went back to a longer stroke engine (perhaps to improve rideability and further reduce peakiness…?), which also made a genuine 100bhp for the first time.

The bike’s chassis was a strengthened, beefed-up version of the first GSX-R’s perimeter alloy frame, and steering geometry was made more radical in order to quicken the steering. The M version was the first production motorcycle to get upside-down (USD) front forks, which are now almost ubiquitous on all sports machinery. The ‘Slingshot’ GSX-R also got wider wheels, stickier rubber and higher-spec, multi-adjustable suspension – all of which helped in making it a better tool for the racetrack, where a lot of these bikes ended up being used. With its near unburstable engine and its proclivity for wheelies, stoppies and other acts of assorted two-wheeled hooliganism, this was a ‘proper’ Gixxer and a worthy successor to the first bike.

GSX-R 750 (models J, K, L and M)
1988 - 91
Power: 92bhp
Weight: 208kg
Top Speed: 235km/h
0 – 400m: 12.22 seconds

Right click and download a roadtest video of the 2006 Suzuki GSX-R1000 here

An old sketch of the Slingshot GSX-R, which I made in 1992
This video shows 20 years of evolution of the GSX-R...

Troll Road: Ducati Monster S4R

Stylish, racy and well-endowed - the Ducati Monster S4R

It’s the Ducati Monster that started the very trend of modern-day streetfighters, and even today, the bike looks good. Ducati have, over the years, given the Monster some engine upgrades as well as styling tweaks, keeping it fresh. This is one Monster that’s growing old gracefully…

The S4R is an exuberant troll – snap the throttle open the front end will reach for the skies. And why not. The S4R’s V-twin engine is the same one that used to do duty on the 996 superbike. The 996cc Desmoquattro engine produces 113 horsepower, and enough torque for the aforementioned wheelies to be completely effortless. The bike uses Marelli fuel injection system, which makes for optimum throttle response and perfect fueling at all times. The exhaust note is relatively muted, but slap on a set of Termignoni pipes and that should be cured right away.

Given its lack of wind protection, very high straight line speeds are not the Monster’s thing – it’d rather cruise along and look good. But yes, it’ll take all hard cornering you can throw at it. At the front, the 43mm USD forks are fully adjustable and the rear spring is adjustable for preload and ride height. The chassis and the suspension go hand in hand to provide you with a wonderfully stable, quick-steering machine that handles, yet also remains comfortable most of the time. Powerful, stylish and fun – that’s the Monster S4R for you.

Engine: 996cc, Desmoquattro, 8-valve, V-twin
Power: 113bhp@8750rpm
Top speed: 220km/h
In a line: The haunt is on…

Right click and download a roadtest video of the Ducati Monster S2R here

Honda CBR1000RR: The Mighty Fireblade!

The 2006 CBR1000RR - a proven cure for any mid-life crisis... :-))

Like all Honda products, the CBR 1000RR is smooth. It is, perhaps, the most refined 1000cc superbike in existence. Think of it as early-1990s CBR 900RR Fireblade, that’s been to finishing school. And while it was at it, also to the gym – pumping some serious iron and gulping some serious steroids. The 900RR was the first open-class sportbike of the modern era – the legendary Tadao Baba left no stone unturned in his quest to build the lightest, most powerful and the best-handling motorcycle ever – and the 1000RR is a worthy successor to the late, great 900RR. It’s been “inspired” by Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP championship winning racer – the RC211V, no less.

Path-breaking features on the 1000RR include Honda’s Unit Pro-Link rear suspension, which has the rear shock-absorber unit contained entirely within the swingarm (instead of one end attached to the frame, as is normal practice) and the Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD), which is designed to defuse headshake. Both of these things promote stability at very high speeds. Which is just as well, for the mighty Honda is capable of hitting speeds of up to 285kph. Yet, like a docile like Activa scooter, the track-focused 1000RR’s fuel-injected motor is also content to putter along at ‘normal’ speeds, in city traffic and while it’s no cruiser, the riding position is not radical enough to kill you after a few expressway kilometers. It’s a Honda after all.

Power: 144bhp
0 to 100kph: 2.7 seconds
Top speed: 285kph
In a line: You used to meet the nicest people on a Honda!

Right click and download a video of the CBR1000RR here

Monday, July 17, 2006

German Hooligan: BMW K1200R

Born to be wild, mad and bad - the BMW K1200R

BMW bikes are dull, heavy and boring. They’re slow and they’re meant for pensioners. Yeah, right, take this! The K1200R takes all your notions about BMW motorcycles, turns them into mincemeat and chows them down without so much as a burp. This bike, quite simply, rocks. It’s aggressive, confident and funkier than a Pussycat Dolls music video. And it’s a BMW I love!

The K1200R is powered by a 1157cc, transversely mounted in-line four, which makes 165 horsepower. Open the taps and you’re blasted down the road on a thick, smooth wave of power. The acceleration will deep-fry your brain on adrenaline. Deeply addictive, totally satisfying. Oh, and it handles as well as it goes. Bad roads fail to upset the BMW’s suspension – paralever at the front and duolever at the back remain composed at high speeds, over the rough stuff. It’s wheelie and/or spin the rear if that’s what you want, but otherwise, it’s just relentless forward motion. It almost feels like it’ll steamroll all other road users into submission. It’s taut and nimble, changing direction quickly and confidently, yet also stable at high speeds.

At 230 kilos, it’s no lightweight, but the K1200R will still hit a top speed of 250km/h. Never thought one of motorcycling’s most badass hooligans will ever come from Germany, and especially from BMW, but the K1200R is it...

Engine: 1157cc, 16-valve, inline-four
Power: 165bhp@9900rpm
Top speed: 250km/h
In a line: Have you spoken to a doctor about this?

Here's a video of a K1200R being raced against a Z4 Coupe, on Der Nurburgring. Awesome!
More interesting BMWs: This supercharged BMW Kompressor Type255 is from 1939!

Also see:
2007 BMW G650 XMoto
2007 BMW K1200R Sport
BMW HP2 video

Moto-art: Bimota Delirio

The Bimota Delirio - what you ride if you're rich and style-conscious, in the year 2006

Makers of some of the most beautiful, best handling (and most expensive!) motorcycles anywhere in the world, Bimota don’t do things by halves. One look at the Sergio Robbiano-designed Delirio and you’ll agree that it looks superb. From its avant-garde chassis parts to its carefully sculpted bodywork and beefy running gear, it’s an achingly beautiful package. Okay, so its 1000cc V-twin only makes 85 horsepower (a Yamaha R1 packs twice as much!), but with its stiff chrome-molybdenum steel trellis frame, 50mm Marzocchi USD forks, and fully adjustable monoshock, the Delirio handles extremely well. And it looks just about the coolest thing on the planet.

Engine: SOHC, 992cc, air-cooled
Power: 85bhp@8000rpm
Top speed: 200km/h
In a line: Mine’s more expensive than yours…

The Bimota DB1 - what you rode if you were rich and style-conscious, in the mid-1980s

Update (23rd Jan, 2007): Bimota are reportedly in talks with Ducati, to buy an unspecified number of the new Ducati 1098 engines. Bimota may use these engines in an all-new superbike, which may even get hub-centre steering like the Tesi 3D.

Update (29th April, 2007): Bimota are now updating the DB5 and DB6 Delario models, replacing their older 992cc engines with the newer, air-cooled Ducati 1100DS v-twin. Expect a slight increase in prices...