Best of the Best 2007: Sportbikes
Kawasaki has been building big, 4-cylinder bikes for a long time, and all that experience and knowledge is apparent in the manufacturer’s latest flagship. The $11,899 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 (www.kawasaki.com) is the most powerful motorcycle the company has ever made, but that is only part of its appeal. It is also easy to ride, flexible, comfortable, and reassuring. And it is fast. You can reach 110 mph on the freeway without intending to break the speed limit, because the bike cruises along without a fuss. Despite the ZX-14’s size and weight, it steers willingly and corners with great stability. An aluminum monocoque frame provides a stiff platform for high-grade suspension components, and enough ground clearance for big-lean angles—although a motorcycle of this size performs at its best with carefully planned racing lines. As one would hope, three large brake rotors help contain the nearly unstoppable rush. Speed is an important part of the ZX-14’s character, but the elastic engine, comfortable seating position, and friendly transmission identify the ZX-14 as a gentle giant.
If Ducati invented the naked sportbike category in 1992 with its Monster, then the MV Agusta Brutale 910R (www.mvagustausa.com) represents the ultimate expression of the concept. Like a battleship, this machine displays its weapons in plain view, yet they are attractively integrated into the design. Packing a tractable 909 cc inline 4-cylinder engine with a Ferrari-designed radial-valve cylinder head, the Brutale 910R can produce as much as 144 hp when the optional racing exhaust is added. It is powerful, but the Brutale’s greatest strengths are its agility and head-turning street presence. It is equipped with sophisticated Marzocchi suspension components, Brembo wheels, and Brembo monobloc brakes. The seats are made from pieno fiore full-grain leather, the valve covers are red, and the unpainted surfaces are anodized black, titanium-finished, or hand-polished. It may be a design masterpiece, but at $17,995, the Brutale is considerably less expensive than a Titian—and you can ride it to the next gallery opening.
Racing classes for 750 cc motorcycles have become scarce, because the preferences for engine sizes have polarized between 600 and 1,000 cc machines. While the 600s are light and nimble, you have to spin their engines mercilessly to achieve any substantial acceleration. The liter bikes, in contrast, intimidate most riders with their ferocious firepower. The $10,199 Suzuki GSX-R750 (www.suzukicycles.com) is a three-quarter-liter motorcycle that offers the best of both worlds. Essentially a larger clone of the company’s 600, the 750 has a more sophisticated suspension, and its broad operating zone makes it easier to ride in most circumstances. But even after you grow accustomed to the GSX-R750’s flexible power delivery, the high revs will continue to take your breath away. This bike—which delivers approximately 130 hp to the rear wheel—is as fast as liter-class motorcycles were just a short time ago.