Naked Motorcycle Shootout
For many of us, the rise of the upright sportbike market has been a long time coming. Whether it is because we cut our teeth on sport bikes when they were all upright, or we shied away from uncomfortable track-ergonomics — even if it meant taking a huge hit in power, handling, and suspension — we’ve always loved uprights.
Those days are gone. While superbikes still rule with an iron hand at the track, the rise of uprights with exceptional performance has been something for everyone to cheer about.
Part of the increasing popularity of uprights means that we have a wide choice of manufacturers and engine configurations. For this open-class comparison, we have a V-4, an inline-triple, and a V-twin—two of them with racing heritage, and the other immaculately conceived for hooliganism.
All three are, not-coincidentally, from Europe — Austria, England, and Italy, where naked sport bikes have a long history of market acceptance. We had a fantastic time taking to American city streets and the most demanding rural roads to get to know these motorcycles, so the countdown begins — 4-3-2-results!
Aprilia Tuono V4 R ABS
Even though the Aprilia Tuono V4 R ABS offers only subtle changes this year, the latest Tuono might well be everything one would care to have in a naked, street-oriented version of the RSV4 superbike.
It is a considerable package, with Aprilia passing its entire arsenal of electronic goodness to this model, including the full Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC) electronics suite and ABS.
The force of character of this machine is outside the scope of those who have never ridden a bike with this level of performance. Although some might call it one of the perfect hooligan bikes, that label serves to dull its brilliance, as the term has been used to describe too many lesser machines.
However one may choose to ride the Tuono at any given moment, it is just about perfection in so far as moto amusement is concerned. A ride to town becomes an exercise in traffic ballet, with mechanical accompaniment, as the bike is more than happy to go at whatever pace you choose.
Engine architecture is the big difference between marques, and this is where Aprilia’s one-liter motor shines so brightly. Its World-Superbike bred high-and-free revving V-4—with a claimed 82 ft/lbs of torque and a staggering 167 horsepower— gives you a uniquely energizing power delivery.
If you want a thrill, apex the Tuono at around 5500 rpm and give the ride-by-wire throttle a twist on corner exit. The front wheel controllably lofts a couple of inches as the bike charges ahead, yet the bike remains completely neutral and behaved. The front end sets down gently, and the rush to the next corner can be startling.
Old school throttle control by wrist is a habit and a favorite, and it usually works. However, there is a lot of confidence instilled in the rider, and an extra margin of safety, with traction control (eight levels, paddle-shifted) and wheelie control (three levels, off the menu).
The APRC electronics have your back, and a safety net isn’t a bad idea with the amount of energy on tap. Power comes on quickly and effortlessly, and speed is gained so blindingly fast, that any thoughts that electronic aids aren’t important never enter one’s mind.
There is an elegant rawness that makes the Aprilia’s motor so special, insisting I go out of my way to saw back and forth through the revs. I find myself luxuriating in the sound and texture of every delicious decibel emanating from a relatively small attractive muffler that is louder than you would believe could pass EPA testing. The Aprilia Quick Shift electronic shifting aid makes this a particularly enjoyable exercise.
When ridden through your favorite canyon, thoughts of most bygone rides are eclipsed by the performance and rideability of the Tuono. The upright seating position is about perfect, and most of the time the bike asks for the rider to push hard, just as its RSV4 brother is known to do. Manners are impeccable and power delivery through the brushed aluminum chassis to the pavement is always predictable.
The Sachs-suspended front end, along with superb track-ready Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires, offers more feel and confidence than almost anything available.
The V4 has three built-in fuel injection maps to tailor its power delivery to prevailing conditions. My favorite is Track, which is easily modulated with about-perfect linear responses and no dead zones, despite being the most aggressive.
Sport seems to have a slow reaction to throttle inputs when asked for power and is a bit flat off apexes when rolling on. We find Rain to be nice, smooth, and still very fast, especially around town.
Aprilia three-level (plus off) ABS braking system, developed with hardware-supplier Bosch, adds Rear wheel Lift-up Mitigation (RLM) to the algorithm. The system recognizes the type of braking scenario you are encountering, whether touring, sport riding, racing, bumpy road, or panic stop, and adds its magic to the fully radial Brembo braking system.
Personalization is a huge part of the Tuono’s appeal.
If you spend the time to properly set up the ABS, traction control, wheelie control, fully adjustable suspension, and power modes to match your style and the roads you ride, you will be very richly rewarded with a motorcycle that feels custom-made for you.
The Aprilia Tuono V4 R ABS is a thoroughbred by any measure. It delivers performance in every category and, what’s more, has that elusive and hard-to-define heart, soul and character that is often talked about but rarely delivered in full measure.
– Jonathan Handler
- Helmet: Joe Rocket Speedmaster Carbon
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Speedmaster
- Gloves: Joe Rocket GPX 2.0
- Pants: Joe Rocket Speedmaster 5.0
- Boots: Sidi ST Air
Triumph Speed Triple R ABS
It has been around for some 20 years, and so the one time punk hooligan has matured. Its appearance is now a more muscular tough guy, and that is readily apparent when it is standing next to the futuristic Super Duke R or Tuono.
The original styling cues, including the twin headlights and the under seat exhausts remain. However, their looks have evolved and — dare I say it — the Speed Triple R is now admired for its elegant aggression, rather than the who-cares-delinquent persona of the past.
Beautiful carbon fiber radiator inner shrouds, front fender and tank cover, along with Matt Crystal White paint, top of the line Öhlins suspension, and Brembo monobloc brakes, mark this out as a serious machine to the aficionado; even the uninformed seem very impressed with its looks.
Swing a leg over the Triumph Speed Triple R and it feels, well, normal. If you are looking for an angry radical you will be disappointed. However, if you want a sexy machine that you can actually ride in comfort, then the Triple R is right there.
It is immediately familiar with a deeply dished seat and a tall gas tank in front that create the classic seated-in feeling. The bars are just the right height and width, while the footrests are quite high and rear set; the resulting leaned forward riding position feels natural and balanced. It also puts plenty of weight on the track-focused Pirelli Supercorsa SP front tire, so I quickly found confidence.
The 1050 motor has that typical low, throaty three-cylinder drone that makes it easy to underestimate the amount of power available. Of course, smack in the middle of the powerband at 7750 rpm is where the healthy 82 ft/lbs of torque is most plentiful.
Although this is where the peak occurs, it feels like the power keeps building; several times I hit the 11,000 rpm redline because, while the revs are limited, the power feels as though it is not.
That claimed 133 horsepower is very respectable; although the Triple R doesn’t have the enormous thrust of some liter-bikes, don’t take that to mean the bike is slow—it is anything but.
Interestingly, it’s not the crazy wheelie-prone machine of its reputation. Sure, you can loft the wheel easily enough, but it won’t surprise you, and it is even less likely to flip you over the back.
The six-speed gearbox shifts slickly, but lacks a quickshifter, and as for electronics, there are no alternate fuel maps. Traction Control comes from your right wrist, so the smooth fueling, predictable power delivery, and easy to modulate throttle are all very much appreciated.
Simply put, the Triple R is easy to ride fast because it is user friendly, and to many riders that is exactly as it should be. A skilled rider will find pleasure in getting the most out of this bike; it is accessible yet challenging—the Triple R is not a highly strung, skittish machine that takes huge effort to get the reward—just the opposite in fact.
The rolling chassis is a gem. It is defined as a “naked,” however it has a batwing flyscreen, belly pan, and seat cowl, which differentiates the R from its vanilla sibling.
At a claimed 467 pounds wet, it sits right in the middle of its class of machine. Still, the Triple R is incredibly agile; it has an aggressive 22.8-degree rake and, although the handling is stable and neutral, the Triple R will turn very quickly if asked.
The Öhlins NIX30 forks and TTX36 rear shock (acting on a single-sided swingarm) are both firmly sprung, and I reduced the compression damping to just one click in from zero to make the bike more comfortable over bumps.
Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers and radial master pump handle the stopping duties; ABS is standard, and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is available as an option.
A refined and tightly focused motorcycle with an edgy charisma, the Speed Triple R is also a real world machine that returns surprising fuel economy (over 200 miles from a 4.6-gallon fuel tank capacity) and an all-day riding position.
If you find a route with some serious twisties, the road will be your challenge, not the Triumph Speed Triple R ABS, and it is an intense and satisfying machine to exploit.
– Arthur Coldwells
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-V Rea-3
- Jacket: Dainese G. Laguna Evo Pelle Estivo
- Gloves: Dainese Druids S-ST
- Pants: Dainese SF Pelle
- Boots: Dainese Torque RS Out
KTM 1290 Super Duke R
It is safe to say that I did not consciously choose the KTM 1290 Super Duke R; it imposed its will upon me and made the decision on my behalf. Angular and aggressive, its minimalistic aesthetic intimates fierce pedigree distinguishing it from its rivals. Every design decision is aimed at achieving mind- blowing performance.
Gearing up to ride The Beast, I found myself experiencing the mental preparations I imagine a bull-rider goes through waiting for the gate to swing open—an uneasy confidence coupled with knee-buckling excitement.
The rapid-fire exhaust note affirms the brutish character that I gleaned from the technical data sheet — a 1301cc V-twin that outputs a wrist-stretching 177 horsepower and over 100 ft/lbs of torque, with the resultant power-to-weight ratio reaching stratospheric levels.
To my sheer astonishment, and after only a scant few miles feeling the bike out, I was ready to declare that The Beast is actually incredibly easy to ride!
There is no denying the awesome strength of the power package. Naturally, the hulking engine defines the bike, but the electronics package is so seamlessly well integrated that it allows the rider to select the experience he is craving; the gamut runs from complete roid-rage, all the way to suave and stealthy.
Sport mode proffers up full power and the ability to predictably break the oversized purpose-designed Dunlop Sportsmart 190mm rear tire loose while exiting corners. Yet, the power delivery is still smooth and lightning fast — it is just not abrupt or unsettling as is often the case with other “fast” ignition mapping settings found on similar machinery.
The traction control allows for front-end lift, but limits the exhibition to only a few inches. When coupled with the hydraulic steering damper, this actually keeps the bike centered and stable when accelerating over the occasional crest or bump in the tarmac.
Our inner-hooligan personas should take note that traction control needs to be disabled in order to initiate huge, end- less wheelies.
Out on the lonelier stretches of twisty, back country roads, the end-to-end 1290 Super Duke R package really begins to coalesce. The upright riding position is comfortable for long-stretches at a time and the seat foam is surprisingly agreeable, which is a noteworthy improvement from the typically austere Austrian marque.
With a steering head angle of a hair short of 25 degrees and a wheelbase over 58 inches, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R is within normal street-fighter proportions; the turn-in feel is surprisingly light and agile, owing in some part to the additional leverage provided by the wide handlebars and the claimed wet weight of 445 pounds.
Negotiating back-to-back S-curves is exhilarating. The ergonomics afford a very comfortable experience when you transition from side to side, weighting the outside peg and counter-steering with the upper body.
The WP suspension is outstanding, with both high- and low-speed damping compression and damping adjustment on the shock, plus the customary rebound and spring preload adjustments. Rebound and compression dampening are split between the 48mm fork tubes, and they are good units. There is no preload adjustment for the forks, oddly enough, but lighter riders and stoppie specialists won’t mind.
A favorite feature of mine, especially when riding unfamiliar tarmac, is the slipper clutch, which works flawlessly and lets me concentrate on the front end and my approach to the corner, while it keeps the rear of the bike planted and linear.
The radially mounted Brembo M50 calipers grab 320mm floating rotors and offer strong deceleration; especially nice is the adjustable lever that allows me to customize my preferred setup—one finger articulation with the lever mounted as close to the bar as possible without hitting the rest of my fingers wrapped around the handlebar grip.
After racking up countless miles, from urban mayhem to back-road freedom, I can’t imagine a more athletic bike for day- long rides. My overall preference is Sport mode, with the BS and traction control enabled. This configuration allows me to spin up and slide around in a safe and controlled manner. When I encounter the rest of the human race, the big KTM can be smooth and docile as a puppy dog, preserving my driving privileges, as long as I resist the temptation, of course.
Dismounting the KTM 1290 Super Duke R, I stop and take a minute to soak up the aesthetic—bold and brutal, yet refined and sophisticated. Its ethos aligns with my split personality perfectly—the right bike for me, whatever my mood.
– Jess McKinley
- Helmet: Icon Mainframe
- Jacket: Icon Victory Hero
- Gloves: Cortech Accelerator
- Pants: Icon Automag Leather
- Boots: Icon Super Duty 3
Naked Shootout Conclusion
Although these three motorcycles are in the same general category, it is striking how differently they pursue the same goal—irrational exuberance.
Chasing the dream from three unique perspectives means that this comparison is one of discovery, rather than competition. The perfect bike for one street fighting man will be the last choice for his right-hand man.
If you are a Marquess of Queensbury sort of rider, the Triumph Speed Triple R ABS is a muscular choice. The grand- daddy of the class, it is getting a bit behind in the technological department.
At the same time, it has impeccable manners and impressive agility, due to having the shortest wheelbase and steepest rake of the three. You won’t want to get into any drag races, but if your rides are on tighter, more technical roads, the Speed Triple R is a stealth fighter.
There are those of us who just love spinning up a multi and letting the chips fall where they may. The Aprilia Tuono V4 R ABS has all the electronic wizardry you could want, along with superb suspension and a magical V-4 wail.
Power is plentiful when you get the revs up on the dramatically oversquare engine. Its superbike heritage shows in handling and power, and this is a seriously fast street bike for big-time throttle twisters.
The new kid on the block is also the lightest and most powerful. “All the people, they’d step back when the young man walked by,” as Mose Allison famously sang, and make no mistake about it—the KTM Super Duke R knows about swag. With all that power, easily accessible at low rpm, you might think The Beast would be a handful. Fortunately, if you have a careful hand or select the right power mode, the Super Duke R can be a puppy. Some people don’t like the KTM’s Transformer looks, but if you want to go fast on the street, nothing compares.
Take a good look at yourself and think about how you ride. When you do, the right motorcycle of the three will decisively step to the forefront.
Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For subscription services, click here.