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BMW R1150R: 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, thanks to Tucson dealer Marty Cohen at Iron Horse Motorcycles. 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.
Three powerhouse machines that won’t let you down
Ducati 900SS 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 (at least, after 1993) were cloaked by Kawasaki’s muscular 903cc Z-1.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.US imports were often shipped with smaller carbs and restrictive exhausts, but owners soonchanged that. Stockers are rare.
BMW went from technical also-ran to industry leader with its Oilhead engine, wrapping a reworked flat-twin in a new spine frame then advancing the suspensions accordingly. It all works, starting with the oil/air cooled 1130cc 4v opposed twin that uses chains to drive in-head cams that connect to the valve train via pushrods. Over-square at 101 x 70.5mm the Roadster rips pleasingly through the change up yet retains enough bottom-end to leave the shifter alone. Fueling is spot on, the gear ratios are ideally spaced and it’s no shock to learn the the bike is outstandingly reliable. Parts are easy, but you won’t need many.
Good as the engine is, it’s the R1150R’s chassis that set it apart. The Telelever fork is memorable in the way it ignores pavement rips and ruts while providing exceptional feedback. It’s tough too, tougher than any conventional fork. Don’t ask me how I know. That Paralever monoarm eliminates pinion climb, allowing the Roadster to be equally adept at trackdays or interstate tours. The production run spanning between 2001-2006 makes finding one easy, and when you do it'll likely be cheap. A recent listing showed a 2004 1150R with 3000K 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.
Later, 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. No doubt I wanted one and still do, even if the allure of all that snob power has faded some.
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 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 sadly 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. Even with, as the experienced know, the 900s tortuous ergos. Few to no motorcycles offer the same amount of performance, spartan beauty and collectible value as the Ducati 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
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 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.
Built to better Suzuki’s legendary Hayabusa 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 it 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.
Kawasaki ZX-14R: My admiration (and desire) for this 1441cc bolt of lightning has grown unexpectedly, given it's a modern build. Hosted early in 2014 at University of Phoenix stadium, Cycle World’s annual IMS show held vast selections of new models, again, really not my bag, yet I always learn something new looking at stuff I know nothing about. 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, except admitting the emotional connection that formed as I snapped the angry looking “14”.
Under what looks like acres of plastic panels 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. Road trip. Now. 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.