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Easy Riders: These Middleweight Sportbikes Bring All the Motorcycle Muscle You Need

This trio of sub-1,000 cc bikes from Ducati, Yamaha and KTM balance power with comfort and maneuverability.

KTM 890 Duke Courtesy of KTM

Nobody forgets the adage “less is more” faster than somebody shopping for a new motorcycle. Especially today, given the frequent high-profile salvos from our escalating engine-output arms race.

But even skilled bikers can have a hard time wringing the most out of a 200 hp rocket on fast, twisty asphalt, let alone a closed course. And no one wants to be stuck using an expensive motorcycle to chase the cheap thrill of gunning it in a straight line between red lights. Most bikers, in fact, will find more enjoyment from smaller machines with lower displacement engines, and with excellent sub-1,000 cc models on the market from manufacturers as varied as Triumph, Yamaha, Ducati and MV Augusta, it’s proof the modern middleweight sportbike competes in a sporting division indeed.

Yamaha YZF-R6

The Yamaha YZF-R6.  Courtesy of Yamaha

Among the very best is Ducati’s $16,459 Panigale V2. Aesthetically modeled after the ferocious, 214 hp Panigale V4, the V2 carries a hefty 155 hp. But with half the number of cylinders, decreased engine displacement (955 cc, down from 1,103) plus a more compliant chassis and exceptional brakes, the smaller bike can be pushed harder without veering into clear-and-present-danger territory—then harder still thanks to the full suite of rider aids, including traction-and wheelie-control systems. While the feisty V4 can feel like a fistfight even for experienced riders, the V2 is a fast dance partner who won’t step on your toes.

Yamaha set a new benchmark when it created its 599 cc YZF-R6: Even 21 years after the first generation’s production debut, the model remains one of the sharpest cornering scalpels around. The inline-four’s modest 115 hp pushes just 419 pounds of bike, with minimal nannies save for traction control and ABS, though Yamaha’s electronic throttle and chip-controlled induction system sound glorious when wide open. The $12,199 R6 is a precision tool and highly communicative, as the suspension interacts seamlessly with the frame to tell the rider what’s happening underneath at all times.

Ducati Panigale V2

Ducati’s Panigale V2.  Courtesy of Ducati

A personal favorite in the category is the 890 cc KTM 890 Duke R, priced at $11,699. It’s naked, light and loud, and offers far greater bang for the buck than its more muscular 1290 Super Duke R stablemate. With 120 hp, 366 pounds of dry weight and an upright configuration, the 890 also provides comfortable ergonomics and loads of ground clearance. Delightfully hell-raising looks aside, the 890 Duke R, like the rest of the bikes on this list, is a smart argument for taking it down a notch.

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