Bare Necessities - Naked 1000s

Niall, Gus, Jon and Daryll get back to nature and dabble in a bit of group nakedness

Giving Niall, Gus and Daryll big capacity naked bikes is roughly equivalent of casually mentioning to your missus that you find her sister quite attractive. As soon as you've done it you know there will be fireworks, but it's still bloody funny to watch.

Although to be fair Niall did manage to make it almost ten yards before hoisting the front of the Z1000 and performing a very graceful stand-up wheelie down the road. Gus did slightly better, he managed all of 15 yards before repeating the trick on the SV1000, while Daryll on the Fazer was somewhere between the two markers when the clocks appeared over the top of his helmet. Well, if you can't beat them, I thought as I dipped the clutch of the Hornet.

This year the spotlight has been well and truly on the supersport 600 class. Which isn't that surprising when you consider that four of the five bikes, six if you include the Ducati 749, are brand new machines.

But for many riders 600cc sportsbike are just too extreme. And while there is no denying bikes like the GSX-R1000, R1, FireBlade are amazing machines, riding them on the British roads often isn't a very enjoyable experience. I mean, we are talking about bikes that will break the national speed limit in first gear, wheelie off the throttle in second and hit over 180mph in a very short space of time. After taking one for a ride you often feel more relieved that you have survived the journey with both your limbs and licence intact rather than buzzing at the enjoyment of riding it.

Which is where naked bikes come in. By removing the fairing and race riding position you instantly limit their top speed, and with it the potential for disaster. But added along with the flat bars and single front headlight is bags of fun and loads of hooligan potential, if you want it.

The naked bike market itself is about as varied and diverse as David Beckham's hairstyles. As well as being able to choose from just about any type of engine configuration and from almost any manufacturer on the planet you also need to decide which style of bike you want. Do you want a naked muscle bike, a naked retro bike, a large capacity naked bike or a small capacity one, a semi-faired or naked naked bike? Confused yet? We were.

So to make matters a bit clearer we decided to stick just to the Japanese naked bikes for this test, and large capacity ones at that. So it was the Yamaha Fazer 1000, Honda Hornet 900, Kawasaki Z1000 and Suzuki SV1000 that found themselves at the mercy of the TWO test team.

Continue the Naked 1000s Test

P2: Honda Hornet 900, Kawasaki Z1000, Suzuki SV1000, Yamaha Fazer 1000

On specs alone you would have expected these bikes to be quite uncontrollable beasts. Every one has an engine donated from what were at one time their respective manufacturer's top sportsbike, with the exception of the SV. The Hornet 900 uses an engine from a 1999 FireBlade, the Fazer 1000 has a 2001 R1 motor, the Z1000 is a big-bored ZX-9R lump and even the TL1000 derivative SV1000 motor was pretty sporty in the TL1000R. But things are never that simple.

Whenever a new naked bike is launched you always hear the expression "re-tuned for better mid-range." What it should be is "the heart has been ripped out and with it most of the bike's character." What it boils down to is the Japanese manufacturers are basically too scared to put an all-singing-all-dancing sportsbike motor in a naked bike. Aprilia proved it could be done with the brilliant Tuono but the Japanese have failed to follow suit.

Although sometimes this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take the Fazer 1000 for example. The R1 motor has received the old "re-tune" treatment and power is down from the usual R1's 140bhp to 121bhp while torque is also reduced from to nearer but, and this is a big but, the Fazer 1000's motor is much nicer to ride because of it. From low down the power builds up in a lovely smooth surge until the revs hit around 5000rpm when the surge develops into a bigger rush as the power becomes even stronger. It never feels breathless anywhere and just has solid drive everywhere in every gear.

The Hornet's motor is similar but where the Fazer feels chunky and solid when it drives the Hornet has a buzz about it, like its smaller brother the Hornet 600. The 919cc motor is from the FireBlade before it received it's big bore in 2000 to 929cc and is a powerful motor. We dynoed it at 96bhp and of torque which isn't that bad, and it's only when compared to the lovely smooth Fazer engine with its extra power you notice the difference.

It just doesn't feel as though it accelerates as hard or as fast off the throttle and there is a definite vibration through the mid-range, but this can be put down to character. But what is impressive about the Hornet's motor is that it never feels underpowered. Like the Fazer you never feel as though you are in the wrong gear and you don't have to rev the motor to get it working, unlike the Z1000.

Kawasaki chose to give the Z1000 its tried and tested ZX-9R motor, but with an added kick. The Z1000 not only gets fuel-injection but also a big-bore, taking it to 953cc. Now you would have thought that this would have made it quite a potent powerplant, but it doesn't. The ZX-9R we tested earlier in the year made 134bhp and of torque, but the Z1000 only manages 119bhp and of torque. And that's with a bigger motor! Alright, these aren't exactly low power figures but where the Yamaha and Honda have drive all the way through the mid-range the Z1000 feels decidedly weak in comparison.

At the top end above around 7000rpm it takes off and has a decent amount of drive but below this it just feels gutless compared to the Fazer and Hornet and you find yourself changing gear more often because of it. There is some talk that the very attractive four into four pipes are something to do with this and that junking them for less aesthetically pleasing pipes will liberate a load more mid-range but as standard it's just a bit disappointing.

The SV1000, on the other hand, is bursting with low down power, but that's what you would expect from a large V-twin. At low revs it feels quite brutish as it pulls hard from virtually no revs and you can almost feel the huge pistons thumping up and down in the cylinders, but once up the rev range it smooths off while still retaining the same amount of pull. If you like your bike's engine to have character then look no further than the SV1000. So it ain't no TL1000, but it's still a good strong V-twin.

Luckily the SV is also very different to the TL in terms of handling. With its conventional shock arrangement the SV is a very nice handling bike. The new chassis, which like the new SV650's is vacuum cast as a single section then mated to the headstock and swingarm area, is very stiff and balanced and through corners is more than up to the job. In fact the SV feels the sportiest of all the naked bikes we tested and was the only one that refused to touch anything down during the test.

Continue the Naked 1000s Test

P3: Honda Hornet 900, Kawasaki Z1000, Suzuki SV1000, Yamaha Fazer 1000

Where the SV uses a more sportsbike style chassis the Hornet, Z1000 and Fazer all use the traditional naked bike steel cradle chassis. Instead of wrapping around the engine the frame runs over the top of the engine so there are no nasty frame rails blocking the view of the motor, which is good in terms of styling, but the downside is that this kind of frame is not as stiff as a sportsbike chassis.

The Fazer's frame is a perfect example of this. It shows off the R1 motor beautifully, but introduce it to a corner and the chassis wobbles and weaves like Jordan's knockers in a discotheque. The suspension shares some of the blame here and winding up just about everything can make a difference, but the basic problem is that the frame just isn't stiff enough to deal with the powerful motor and when the pace picks up the Fazer drops behind and leaves most of its footpegs on the road surface.

Kawasaki's Z1000 is a similar story. It feels shorter than the Fazer, which helps it turn faster into the corners, but once there it also has a habit of wallowing a bit. It's not as bad as the Yamaha, and feels like more of a soft suspension problem rather than the frame lacking stiffness, but it still isn't very planted. Having said that the Z1000 does come with better quality suspension than the slightly budget Fazer so I'm sure much of this wallow can be eliminated. One thing that was slightly worrying was that once you started to hustle it through corners a bit it wasn't the hero blobs that went down but a jubilee clip on the exhaust - which was a little worrying.

The Hornet, however, proves that you can have a bike with a cradle frame that can still go around corners well. It was on a par with the SV when it came to the handling and felt solid and very reassuring in the corners without any sign of a wallow. It still left most of its hero blobs behind, mind you, but this was more of a case of good handling allowing you to push harder than normal.

Having spent a day riding these bikes we were left with a bit of a dilemma - none of us could pick a winner. Usually when we test bikes there is one that stands out above the rest, but with these four it wasn't the case. The problem is that they are all very good bikes that were great fun to ride and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The Fazer has a great motor, was easily the comfiest and was the bike we would all have picked if we were going to go any distance on. But on the twisty back roads its wobbly handling made it no real fun at all.

Honda's Hornet also has a lovely motor and handled brilliantly on the twisties. But its lack of fairing and engine vibration rules out any long-distance riding. As a town bike or for back road madness it's great, but not for riding for any length of time.

The Z1000 is easily the best looking of the four but the motor is lacking in mid-range, handling through faster corners is a bit wobbly and the ground clearance worrying. And despite it having a small screen to deflect some wind over the rider it doesn't really do much.

And the SV has a strong, lumpy motor with character and is probably the best handling of the four. But its seat isn't very comfortable and it failed to really set our pulses racing. It's a very good bike, but for some reason wasn't as much fun to ride as the inline fours.

Sorry to be so indecisive but in truth none of us would be upset if we bought any of these bikes over the others. They all have their own merits and pitfalls. If you want to go touring or cover a lot of motorway miles pick the Fazer, just don't complain when it comes to the corners. If you like V-twins then go for the SV, you won't be disappointed. If you want to pose then get the Kawasaki, just be prepared to change gear more often and if you want handling and a strong motor go for the Hornet, and learn to put up with the vibrations from the engine.