It's a town bike. No, it's a mile-muncher. No, it's a back road missile. No, it's a track tool. Meet the bikes with more split personalities than a room full of schizophrenics
Every year at the NEC show there is always a concept bike. These bizarre creations are more often than not the brain child of a bunch of design students at some university you have never heard of who have been given the task by an over expectant tutor of designing the "ultimate motorcycle".
Usually the end result looks like something that even a Blue Peter presenter would be embarrassed to claim responsibility for and is about as likely to ever turn a wheel as George "itchy trigger finger" Dubya is to be awarded the Nobel Peace prize.
Why? Simple really, they try to make it too complicated. In an effort to impress their markers the students try to incorporate every latest bit of gadgetry into their creations instead of actually concentrating on making something that may actually work. It's the golden rule, KISS... Keep It Simple Stupid!
If you want to design a bike that is as good at dodging city congestion as it is devouring motorway miles while still being fun on the back roads and a competent track day tool, then there are a few easy rules to follow:
So there we have it, and here we have four bikes that attempt to fulfill these criteria in very different ways.
First up is the Ducati Multistrada. Well, what can you say? When it was launched most people's first reaction was "what the hell is it?" Looking like the bastard love child of a Dyson up-right Hoover and a supermoto, the Multistrada really is like nothing else. You almost get the feeling Ducati put down a set of criteria, stuck all the bits together in a pot and waited to see what came out. Reaction to the latest offering from Ducati chief designer Pierre Terblanche, the man who also designed the 999, has been mixed to say the least. But everyone who has actually ridden the bike has really warmed to it and most launch reports have been very favourable.
Next up is the oddest of all odd balls, the Buell Firebolt. Last year Buell attempted to shed its image of being a bit old fashioned by launching the radical Firebolt. With its fuel in frame, oil in swingarm and rim-mounted front brake it uses technology that even the Japanese have shied away from putting on a road bike. And it worked. The Buell has proved to be a cracking back-road bike with some track potential and will now form the basis of a whole range of new Buells.
Triumph, on the other hand, took the easy route to making a multi-purpose bike. The Speed Four is quite simply a TT600 minus its fairing with two lights stuck on the front, a new seat unit and a slightly re-tuned engine for more mid-range at the expense of top-end. Like the Multistrada when it was launched, the Speed Four received some stick for its looks, the beam frame from the TT isn't as attractive as the Speed Triple's tubular affair, but the little Triumph quickly won friends for its excellent handling. It may be 400cc down on the competition but the little trumpet can still surprise a lot of bigger bikes.
Last, and by no means least, is the Kawasaki Z1000. Over the last few years big K has come under fire for being boring. Well, in 2003 the giant stirred and hit back at its critics. The 2003 ZX-6R was the first 600 to come with radial brakes and inverted forks and was quickly followed by the Z1000, a big-bored naked ZX-9R with four pipes and styling straight from a Japanese Manga comic.
So there we have it, four very different bikes that all aim to be everything to every man. So to put them through their paces and really test their metal we took them into London to see if they could handle traffic, then up the M1 to Leicester to test their motorway ability before attacking the back roads of Northampton and caning the living daylights out of each around Donington Park.
Continue the Multiplicity Road Test
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