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Memories of riding through Europe come to mind when I see the R1150R. A high-mile rental provided the power for my first trip to Italy in 2001, and just before that a loaned Roadster was Moto-Euro magazine’s first test bike. During my years at M-E, it seemed like every local, national or international assignment I landed put me in the saddle of another R1150R, and that was fine by me. With or without luggage, in rain, snow, or roasting across the Sonoran, the Oilhead forged ahead as reliable transport in a package that was unfazed when working hard.
The three can’t-miss motorbikes listed all come with varying amounts of personal experience, yet providing that critical element of objectivity is the fact I’ve never actually owned any of them. Where knowledge grew thin, the research mixed published market reports, owner evaluations and/or interviews with service professionals. That’s my way of selling these machines as certified exceptional, but none in the same way. Motorcyclists come in diverse groupings , and the market has followed.
The other side of the Ducati’s superstardom are well-known mechanical miseries including expensive maintenance, premature wear, production inconsistencies and a certain amount of experience needed to service the engine’s unique Desmo valve system. There are more firms offering repairs and restorations than ever before, but the best leads require some dedicated involvement. Produced into 1981, original examples of the 900 Super Sport are rocketing in value, and because of that many are no longer being used. Most enthusiasts will appreciate a working runner, and keeping things reasonably stock will insure a waiting list of willing buyers. Few to no motorcycles offer the same amount of performance, spartan beauty and collectible value as the Ducati’s 900 SS Desmo, and collectors know it. If you’ve always wanted one and can make it happen, the Desmo is a no-risk, big reward investment. And one very, very cool ride. Nolan Woodbury
Ducati 900 SS Desmo
Thank the Honda 750 for the Desmo and every other Euro bike larger than 750cc. BMW and Laverda both showed remarkable timing with new 750s in 1970, Guzzi, Benelli and Ducati all caught up soon after, yet many of these fine sports rides were cloaked by Kawasaki’s muscular 903cc Z-1 after 1973. Building upon the sporting success of 750cc Super Sport, in 1975 Ducati upped the ante with an updated, performance tuned 864cc L-twin engine fashioned with square-styling but retaining the original’s Desmo valve actuation. Long, low and 140-mph fast, the 900SS became
the new standard of excellence, often bettering the Asian fours for pure speed and embarrassing all but the best Euro rivals in sporting composure. First available in 1976, the Desmo would remain motorcycling’s best pure-sport weapon well into the next decade.
BMW went from technical also-ran to industry leader with its Oilhead engine, wrapping the new flat-twin in a new spine frame then advancing the suspensions accordingly. It all works, starting with the R’s oil/air cooled 1130cc 4v opposed twin that uses chains to drive in-head cams that connect to the valve train with via pushrods. Well over-square at 101 x 70.5mm, the Roadster rips pleasingly through the change up, yet retains enough bottom-end grunt to leave the shifter in place. Fueling is spot on, the gear ratios are well-spaced and it’s no shock to learn the Oilhead’s outstandingly reliable. Parts are easy, but you won’t need many.
These Powerhouse Machines Won’t let you down
It’s surprising how often people ask which motorcycle they should buy. Perhaps less surprising is more of these questions come from people I’ve never met. Perhaps the rest assume they already know what my answer would be, but predictability is boring. A bike is only great if it provides what the owner expects, and most of the ones I’ve spoken with want style, value and performance.
Good as the engine is, it’s the R1150R’s suspensions that set the machine apart. The Telelever front is memorable in the way it ignores pavement ripples and ruts while providing exceptional feedback. It’s tough too, tougher than any conventional tele fork. Don’t ask me how I know. That Paralever monoarm eliminates shaft lift, allowing the Roadster to be equally adept at track days or interstate tours. The production run spanning between 2001-2006 makes finding one easy, and when you do its likely be affordable. A recent listing showed a 2004 1150R with 3000-miles and priced at a no-haggle $2800. That’s a lot of machine for a few pesos, and there’s scores of BMW authorized accessories for it too. For those looking to get in quick, the R1150R can’t be bettered.
When everything is right, the Desmo twin is a treat with smooth, fluid-like reserves of torque and a surprising top-end snarl. A quick list of special engine details includes polished connecting rods (like the 750) unfiltered 40mm Dell’Orto carbs and opened Conti exhausts. Peak power is roughly estimated 70-hp at the rear wheel. The five-speed transmission is well spaced, even if some of the early linkage transitions were a bit awkward. Narrow, like the engine but supremely strong and effective, the Desmo’s load-bearing frame is made of thick-wall tubing that offers ideal load patterns to remain composed during hard cornering, braking, or both at once. Beefy 38mm Marzocchi forks, light rims from Borrani or FPS and Brembo braking components highlight a specification list that seems rather unremarkable, yet is almost magically effective.
Under that angry looking plastic marks the point of Kawasaki’s big-bore technology. It must be a pretty good point, considering the majority of the ZX 14 is unchanged since making its debut in 2006. The sturdy alloy perimeter securers a Uni-Trak shock on one end and a beefy 43mm USD fork on the other, that set at a very steep 23-degree angle. The twin 310mm rotors and caliper clamping all fit in with modern practice and are stunningly effective at slowing the 190-mph (limited) rocket down from the supersonic. What else do you need to know besides the engine’s widely over-square dimensions (84 x 65mm) digital FI with four, 44mm (!) throttle bodies, 4v per cylinder and 12.3 compression? 190-hp @ 9500 rpm. The machine looks huge and at just under 600-lbs it is, yet the wheelbase is only one-half-inch longer than an 850cc Moto Guzzi.
My admiration for this 1441cc bolt of lightning grew unexpectedly. Early in 2014 at the University of Phoenix stadium for Cycle World’s annual IMS show these vast selections of new models really isn’t my bag, yet I always learn something new. This would be no exception. After dropping a chilidog and viewing the vintage bits, I spotted the sinister black with green Kwacker as I followed my pals to the exit. There was no explaining it then and that hasn’t changed, but I admit a strong emotional connection was formed as I snapped the budging “14”. At the privacy of my
desk I scoured the interwebs for the ‘fastest ever’ conformation I was expecting, then visited dealers to meet various owners and technicians. I’ll admit it; I wanted one badly and still do, even if the allure of all that snob power has faded some.
Built to better Suzuki’s legendary Hayabusa four, the ZX14R carries on a performance tradition that’s nearly fifty-years old. Kawasaki is simply not satisfied unless it holds current bragging rights, but Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki have all built a following chasing the same performance crown. Clearly more sport-touring than pure sport, one could never experience the Zed’s intense, explosive acceleration and still enjoy the machine tremendously. The Ninja has earned praise for its near bullet-proof reliability; made more impressive by the number of owners who pin the throttle routinely. This is a motorcycle for the confident seeking to add an outlandish power advantage to new bike virtues of comfort and reliability. My inclination would be to buy new.or used from a trusted seller.