Triumph Speed Triple vs. Aprilia Tuono vs. Kawasaki Z1000

Three of the best naked bikes of recent years. And all could be yours for under £5k.

So there we were, wheeling a 2004 Kawasaki Z1000, 2004 Triumph Speed Triple (the 955i variety) and a 2007 Aprilia Tuono out of the van. And I’m stood there thinking we might as well go home because the Aprilia’s won it. It’s barely two years old, looks like it’s been carved from a block of granite and wears its digital dash, radial callipers and upside-down forks like a Welterweight boxer’s glistening belt. It makes the other two look like the sportiest thing they’re capable of is a game of pub darts.

All three bikes are great examples, the Z1000 and Speed Triple may look expensive when sat next to a Tuono that’s over two years fresher but it’s a testament to their re-sale value and a worrying insight into how much someone’s lost on that Tuono in just two years..

Click to read: Aprilia Tuono owners reviews

So first up the Tuono. I set off and was instantly reminded of the first Tuono I rode back in 2003 when they were launched. For naked bikes they were a revelation, but so stiff and sharp, gone was the plushness of naked bikes like the Ducati Monster. This was a Sambuca shot to the Monster’s Mojito.

Then the Tuono Racing came out, a totally bonkers Tuono featuring carbon-fibre bodywork, lightweight Marschesini wheels and a race-chip. The Tuono Racing was like holding onto a German Shepherd that’s just seen a squirrel run up a tree. And this 2007 standard Tuono I was riding felt exactly the same, it was going to be trouble, I just didn’t know quite when.

It’s an all-or-nothing bike, with super-sharp throttle response, rock-hard suspension and an even harder seat. Don’t get me wrong, the Tuono is a buzz, it’s precise and instant, sporty and aggressive and you may think “Yes yes, these are the things I want” but I’m not so sure.

There’s a tense rigidness to this bike, it feels anxious and needs to be calmed down. You notice it most the moment you get back on the gas out of a corner; it sits up, jerks forward and demolishes the revs - the motor doesn’t appear to be stressing, there’s no progression of power, just instant on-and-off delivery. And as if this chassis needed any help, the massive bars means the merest millimetre of direction change on the bars puts you on a different side of the road, let alone a different line. Perhaps popping a couple of Valium in the tank on the next fill-up would do to calm it down.

But in all seriousness, I got off the Tuono with a post-rollercoaster like buzz. Glad I was alive. I think if I owned one, I’d return from a Sunday blast and probably want to smash things up in my back garden. It doesn’t do anything to chill me out. I like my nakeds relaxed and - for a seriously capable bike - that’s one thing the Tuono can’t do.

Click on Next Page below on the right to view the Z1000 review.

Kawasaki Z1000 used review

Click to read: Kawasaki Z1000 owners reviews

Next up, the Z1000. This 2004 model is in pristine condition, I wish I could look after my bikes as well as this. Just 5,900 miles in 5 years – I’ve covered almost that in a month around Europe. No wonder it’s looking fresh.

It’s the first time I’ve ridden a Z1000, so I’m quite excited by it. We stopped after 10 miles and my exacting analysis of it was ‘It’s just like a big Z750’. No shit Sherlock, you might think, I know the other two road-testers were. But I’ve never ridden a bike that replicates it’s bigger, or smaller, sibling. The Fireblade is nothing like a CBR600RR, the V-Strom 650 unlike the V-Strom 1000. So if you’ve ridden a Z750 and know what it’s all about, you might as well skip this next part.

When you see the Z1000 parked up you expect its brutish looks to be backed up by a grunty, blunt engine with loads of torque, but the Z1000’s motor fizzes away, not delivering much down low but more than making up for it once the revs hit the sky, which consequently is shortly followed by the front wheel in first and second gear.

If you were riding a ZX-9R at the same speeds at the Z1000 down twisty country roads, somewhere in the back of your mind you’d be picturing an air ambulance landing in a field next to you and your friends removing bits of hedge from your teeth but the Z1000’s riding position and wide bars soak up some of that speed and make you feel more in control.

It’s pliable and smooth, no lumpy dollops of torque to upset your line, you can feed in the power precisely and it makes the Z1000 rewarding to thread through a good set of bends. It’s nowhere near as precise as the Tuono, but instead of bombarding you with feedback, the upside-down forks deal with the day to day stuff, letting you concentrate on what’s around the next corner, rather than preparing yourself for the front to tuck, or run wide, or jar over another bump or a myriad of tit-bits of feedback you get from the Tuono that you neither want or need.

Our version had a funny-looking official Kawasaki fly-screen fitted, which made it good for just over 140mph. You can cruise at 100mph no problems, and I reckon you could chip halfway into France in one hit and not need too much of a massage afterwards.

I like the Z1000 but I wouldn’t buy one. Why not? Well it’s too rounded, nothing stands out and I love a bike with character. It’s like your family Labrador; easy to live with, reliable and you can feed it on Pedigree Chum. On second thoughts, that was a crap metaphor. If you want to fire it up and fuck off for an hour, a day or a week, you know the Z1000’s going to do it all. But unless you tuned it for more low-down grunt, it’ll never be the bike it should have been, the bike that after you’ve ridden it, you want it to be.

Triumph Speed Triple used review

Click to read: Triumph Speed Triple 955 owners reviews

So finally, the Speed Triple. The poor old Speed Triple. In this company it looks dated, not just the silhouette but it’s non-LED rear light, analogue dash and right-way up forks. Like an aged pop star still trying to be cool; this company could be a step too far for the Triumph.

That said, this one’s in mint nick and with just 9,000 miles on the clock it’s hiding its age well.  

Straight away the Speed Triple’s riding position feels right and the lack of fuss infront of you leaves you to focus on the road ahead. The Tuono’s clocks resemble the sort of sight I imagine a 747 captain would see on his readouts as a bird strikes one of the engines, while I can’t get away from the fact the Z1000’s clocks look like they’ve been lifted off my washing machine. The Speed Triple, whether it intended to or not, has a refreshing lack of data being fired at you from the speedo unit, just revs and speed.

But it’s not short on feedback from the front-end. It feels light and agile, much more compact than the Z1000 and less rigid than the Tuono. Direction changes are where you can really feel what the front end’s up to on any bike, and while the Tuono changes the moment you think about it and the Z1000 has a slightly lazy reaction, the Triple feels precise without being over-eager.

And I love the engine. I’m a twin man at heart and love the very first moments of the pokey delivery from the Tuono but the Speed Triple builds up power with no surprises and more subtlety than the Tuono could, it’s like the Z1000 but with added torque low down. Seeing as you’re going to be nipping from 40mph to 100mph, you don’t need that smash-your-face-in grunt of the Tuono or the oh-yeah-now-we’re-going-but-we’re-doing-90mph of the Z1000.

So as we started off on this test, for me, the Tuono had won before we even started. With that spec, at that price it just had to. But it felt like it would be more at home peeling into Paddock Hill Bend than your local pub car-park after a good-old country lane blast.

And what makes the Speed Triple even better is that while you’re not going to get a much better deal than £5,000 on a 2007 Tuono, and you may pick up a Z1000 for £3,500, you could get an early model Speed Triple for well under £3,000.

As the most involving, the most interesting and the best value for money – especially if you pick up an older model – the Triumph Speed Triple is my choice.

However, you can read the full report in next month’s issue of Visordown magazine, out 24th August to see Jon Urry’s full verdict.