Comparison test: fun on the country road
Winding country roads are the crowning glory of every motorcycle tour. But how much fun on public roads depends on the right motorcycle concept?
No, we’re not doing it again. Don’t compare pears to apples. This time we even go a step further and compare raisins to pumpkins. No problem at all, because this comparison has a very specific motto: fun on the country road. No more ?? and nothing less. And since this fun depends not insignificantly on the external conditions, such as blue sky, grippy road surface, endless winding curves and last but not least a good coffee with milk or a delicious lunch, MOTORRAD relocated this comparison to the north of Spain.
In the winter season, it offers almost everything a biker’s heart desires. In the mountainous hinterland of Calafat there are endless, tightly looped asphalt strips, which are presented in the most varied of quality classes. From super-fast corner passages that any Grand Prix track would honor, to pistes that seem made for a special rally stage with their frost breakouts and unpredictable surface changes.
The list of participating bikes is no less varied. The Funbike department sends the KTM Duke II into the race. Yamaha’s TDM 850 represents the all-rounder. The naked bikes will be represented by the character actress Ducati Monster S4, the travel enduros by the BMW R 1150 GS. As a sports tourer with Italian charm, the Aprilia Falco wants to defend the honor of its class. And last but not least, the Kawasaki ZX-9R, as a super athlete as strong as a bear with known good everyday qualities, should show that high-tech is not always the most important thing – but it doesn’t hurt either.
Let’s start with what is believed to be the weakest link in the chain. The aggressive appearance of the KTM Duke makes it clear: practical or comfortable is not. Seating position, chassis tuning and engine characteristics only serve one purpose: to organize Halli Galli. Sometimes on the rear wheel, sometimes on the front wheel, sometimes straight into the corner, sometimes out again. No type of game is alien to Duke, she masters the entire repertoire of the dazzling super moto scene. Equipped with the xx hp, 625 cm3 engine from the 640 LC4 models, the single cylinder pushes quite powerfully even at surprisingly low speeds. In the lower three of the five gears, the lively drive can easily defend itself against the competition, which is clearly superior in terms of performance. In the draft, she even steals the show from some. Thanks to the short overall gear ratio and a weight of only 161 kilograms, it ranks easily in the middle of the field. Only at higher speeds does the Duke chauffeur either have to let himself be left behind, or squeeze his base up to the red area. But just wait: the next labyrinth of curves is sure to come.
And this is where the KTM can fully exploit its advantages. Super handy and agile, the Duke scurries through the tangle, can be decelerated almost to the point despite only one brake disc in the front wheel and shoots out of the hairpin bends on the tightest possible radius with a light front wheel. However, all of this only works if your driver has mastered the fine art of motocross or off-road driving. If you do not force the KTM through the corners with force and with your upper body raised and you are almost sitting on the narrow plastic tank, you will experience the light-footed speedster as wobbly and stubborn and you will miss clear feedback from the chassis , especially the front wheel. The upside-down fork in particular is too tight for a strolling pace and is too stucky.
Another disadvantage when traveling with the Duke in a group: After 130 kilometers you run out of juice. Now it’s time to switch to reserve and quickly find a petrol station. A welcome opportunity for Duke pilots to relax their densely packed seat and let the vibrations in their hands and feet subside.
From the perspective of the driver of the Yamaha TDM 850, the next in the sextet in terms of performance with its measured xx hp, an unnecessary interruption. With a range of around 330 kilometers and almost sedan-like comfort, the entire test crew quickly saw it as a serious contender for the title. Jurgen Fuchs, ex-Grand Prix driver and recently a prominent co-tester of MOTORRAD, can hardly control his enthusiasm. "It’s unbelievable how easy and natural motorcycling can be." Said it and drove away from the group with an ecstatic grin.
"Sorry," he grins the next time he changed his vehicle, but with such easy handling, the super comfortable suspension, perfectly adjustable brakes and a drive with an electric motor character, he just had to let it run. If you disregard the sometimes quite violent rolling movements during a very, very fast journey on the well-developed stage in the idyllic Ebro Valley, the TDM outshines all others in terms of good-naturedness. No matter how fast the group is, the TDM is always to be found in the front line. And there is always enough time and reserve to enjoy the wonderful landscape with one eye.
By switching the shock absorber to the hard position ?? simply remove the seat and deactivate the additional spring by hand with a small twist? the TDM is not only ideally equipped for pillion rides, but also gains significantly in stability when riding solo. The fork, on the other hand, is uncomfortable on the block. Hard braking maneuvers are not one of their strengths. Nevertheless, the narrow 110 front wheel never has any problems with wheel control. The Yamaha remains a model of neutrality even on the roughest roads. You can almost forgive her that she was the only one in the test that did not have adjustable hand levers. However, it is difficult to overlook the design of the cockpit. The huge interior paneling made of black plastic is more reminiscent of a fruit bowl than a modern motorcycle component.
After so much well-being at the TDM, a real challenge now follows. Monster S4, Ducati’s new shocker with the now legendary 916 engine. Looks like the seduction turned metal and already pushes out of the speed cellar like the devil. The otherwise toothless Brembo brakes seem miraculously healed, grab like a pit bull and convince with excellent controllability and a crisp pressure point.
Elsewhere, however, the Italians have exaggerated with improvements. Measured XXX PS, that’s a whopping XX more than promised in the papers. The engineers should have dealt better with the poorly responding fork, the murderously stiff, hydraulically operated clutch or the correct suspension setting. Because what the S4 delivers at the beginning of the test drives is simply disappointing. “I’ve just forgotten how to ride a motorcycle,” Jurgen Fuchs remarks dryly as he steps off the Monster. "As soon as it is no longer perfectly level, it does what it wants with me in the bends." The Ducati has an extreme self-steering behavior, behaves annoyingly even when braking, does not want to turn in spite of great effort on the wide handlebars, misses every targeted point and can be thrown off the track by several hand widths on bumps.
Only raising the rear by a good 20 millimeters using the push rod on the shock absorber and drastically reducing the fork damping bring about improvement. Nevertheless, the monster’s driving behavior remains miles away from what its visual appearance promises. Of the handiness it suggests, little is noticeable at speeds above 60 km / h. In addition, the steering angle that is far too low is annoying when maneuvering, and it shouldn’t be the case that the V2 goes out in idle as soon as the side stand unfolds. Especially since the idle is difficult enough to find anyway because of the jerky gearbox and the miserable clutch. And while we’re grumbling: The dipped beam makes the pilot poke completely in the black due to an extreme light-dark edge, especially in left turns.
The BMW R 1150 GS sheds light on the matter. Not only thanks to its smart lighting system, which can be lowered for pillion rides by flipping a small switch behind the front panel. Not even because of the heated grips and ABS, both of which are subject to a surcharge, or the practical two-way seat height adjustment and the rear shock absorber that can be adjusted from the outside using a handwheel. The real strength of the BMW lies elsewhere: in its incredible lightness.
Once in motion, the thick ship with the mighty boxer pipes turns out to be a real toy. Accurate, light-footed and super-fast, the GS chases through the narrow valleys. The slight rocking movements of the bolide are more calming than disturbing. Thanks to the Telelever front wheel guidance, there is always enough spring travel reserves available even when braking hard. And the four-valve boxer does what it can? he’s fighting his way through. Not spectacular, but brave. With a handicap of 263 kilograms there are no big leaps to be made. The gears of the six-speed gearbox could rest a little more precisely and the sixth gear, designed as overdrive, robs the GS of any liveliness on the country road. But still, if it weren’t for the breakdown of the windshield, which, moved into the distance, causes annoying turbulence and for pilots under 1.80 meters for a completely distorted view, the BMW would have replaced the Yamaha as test favorite.
The second Italian in the group is now trying to conquer the hearts of the six test drivers of the most varied of colors. She throws the whole charm of her cultivated V-Twin into the balance. And by the way also his XXX racy horses. No question about it, if the Falco wants to, it simply accelerates the whole group at the exit of the curve. The good-naturedness of the two-cylinder and the perfectly controllable power input make it possible.
There is only one catch. If you accelerate faster, you inevitably become faster and have to reach the irons a lot harder before the next corner. In terms of dosage and braking power, they are in no way inferior to the excellent Ducati stoppers, but such a driving style causes unnecessary stress? and dwindling wellbeing. In addition, there is a previously unprecedented adjustment problem for the rear shock absorber. While the Falco is neutral and precise as usual on the brakes and at the entrance to the curve, it really kinks in at the rear as soon as the gas is applied at the apex of the curve. Feels like a creeping flat foot, but is due to a spring of the shock absorb that is too soft and, above all, far too little pre-tensioned, which means that the ability to adjust the pressure level is sorely lacking. Only after tedious tinkering with the hook wrench and the resulting lifted rear end does the Aprilia find its way back to old virtues.
In direct comparison with Yamaha and BMW, the Falco naturally falls short of comfort, even though it is surprisingly good-natured for its sporty qualities with both driver and passenger. The co-driver will appreciate the good holding and support options on the Falco. The pilot, on the other hand, has his hands full despite the powerful engine if he doesn’t want to lose touch with the TDM 850 on the winding mountain roads.
The same applies to the Kawasaki. Performance can’t hurt, but it’s also not the panacea for every day. The XXX PS of the ZX-9R cannot be converted into an advantage even on the best developed roads in the Ebro Delta. Only a small part of the potential can be used on the highway, common sense says: That’s enough. And up to this point even the KTM can keep up.
The super sports car leaves a lasting impression. After all the other comfortably designed two-wheelers and the cautious expressions of life of the engines, one thing is immediately clear on the ZX-9R: This is the motorcycle with a "correct" chassis and a "correct" engine. Crystal-clear feedback, razor-sharp curve radii on good to medium country roads and, in an emergency, power and propulsion in abundance.
AT.Even more so than with the Ducati or the Cagiva, the following applies: Firstly, the super sports car requires a trained, experienced hand when driving briskly, and secondly, any attempt to put a heavy BMW or ship-rocking TDM on bad, tightly winding roads on the rear wheel is dreadful stick out in the purest stress. "It’s a bit like driving in the top group at a Gand Prix," says Jurgen Fuchs, who was visibly surprised. "You can’t afford to make a mistake there, otherwise you’ll be out of the window." Slows down and tries to get back to his real mission: to enjoy the country road, not to conquer it.
Comparison test: fun on the country road
Conclusion Aprilia SL 1000 Falco
The elegant stranger: The Italian was difficult to assess. Almost too sporty for the country road, its V2 is a bit uncultivated. But the Aprilia has made more friends kilometer after kilometer. The very good brakes, the powerful drive, the extremely precise chassis except for the weak hindquarters and, last but not least, the full two-cylinder sound put you in a good mood. However, the Falco demands a committed driving style that leaves little time to enjoy the landscape.
Conclusion BMW R 1150 GS
The original cattle with a heart: It amazes again and again how easily and casually this monster can be moved even on the most winding stretches. The comfort of the boxer, the advantages of the Telelever front wheel guidance, the low maintenance of the cardan shaft and countless useful details such as the main stand or seat height adjustment make the BMW a true queen of country roads. For which the dealer, however, also demands a royal price with all the extras such as ABS and heated grips.
Conclusion Ducati Monster S4
The bitchy diva: You might say that the Ducati is permanently uncomfortable in its seating position, the pillion transport is almost impossible, the dosage and manual force of the clutch are unreasonable, the chassis is badly balanced or the fork is too stubborn and the handling on bad roads is caused by that strong self-steering behavior leaves much to be desired. But as soon as the focus is on the engine or the brakes, any criticism is gone. But the Monster is not a country road tip.
Conclusion Kawasaki ZX-9R
The work tool for advanced users: It is reflected in the points evaluation that the Kawasaki has the best engine and the best chassis. So far so good. On the country road, however, that’s usually too much of a good thing. And through the razor-sharp, very direct steering behavior and the oven-cylinder, which bites grimly even at medium speeds, the brisk drive on narrow paths becomes a real stress program. A super athlete who is always looking for a challenge and a fight.
Conclusion KTM Duke II
The perfect third motorcycle. If you want to have fun with the Duke, you have to be able to understand fun. The well-behaved citizen who drives according to the regulations is simply out of place on this circus device. Only when the single cylinder is whipped around the corners with physical effort can it show its capabilities. Unfortunately, tight turns tend to be in short supply in everyday life. In addition, the fun bike clearly lacks comfort and range.
Conclusion Yamaha TDM 850
The anti-stress mobile: just drive and enjoy the landscape. The TDM suits everyone, has no likes or dislikes, can somehow everything and is free from annoying idiosyncrasies. Your two-cylinder runs smoothly, and although it lacks temperament, you can gain a lot from the character of the electric motor. The charm of the TDM is similar to that of a VW Jetta automatic, not a bad vehicle, in fact, only the fascination is a little neglected.
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