MT-10 T RACER TAKES ON THE BIG BOYS
There aren’t many bikes that really let you have your sports-touring cake and eat it. Most are a compromise of sorts. Sure, you could argue that you can tour on just about anything and that most motorcycles can be ridden hard and fast, too. But is there a one-stop-shop machine that can do it all – on a trip to the Nürburgring, for example?
We want to find out if there’s a bike that can be ridden in complete comfort on the motorway from MCN’S HQ in Peterborough down to the Channel Tunnel and when it pops out the other side, along through France, Belgium and into Germany. I’m talking zero sore wrists, neck, hips and knees.
Then can that same bike handle the perfect curves and pristine tarmac of the magical B258 to the ’Ring with a smile? And could it go on to conquer the most fearsome circuit in the world: the 12.9-mile Nordschleife?
The kind of sports tourer we’re searching for today needs to ooze comfort and hit every single one of the dizzying circuit’s apexes. But most of all it has to make you grin like you’ve won the lottery. Forget sports tourer, we want a fun tourer.
We think we’ve created that bike. We’ve taken Yamaha’s new MT-10 - the first Japanese machine to bloody the nose of the European super-naked brigade - and decked it out with official Yamaha touring accessories (see right). We’ve made our own MT-10 Tracer.
If Yamaha ever decide to build an official MT-10 Tracer there’s a danger it could be dumbed-down in its transformation to tourer. But the beauty of our Tracer is it’s still the same maniacal, mono-wheeling track lunatic we’ve quickly come to love, with the added practicality that comes with a screen, heated grips, a deeper-upholstered comfort seat, panniers and a tank bag. We’ve also fitted Yamaha’s brilliant quickshifter, to help us slice through the MT’S slick six-speed ’box with ease.
For our 1000-mile trip, we’ve also brought along four challengers: BMW’S K1600 GTL is the ultimate luxury tourer, but it satisfies the need for speed with its screaming six-cylinder engine. The Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally comes with a booming V-twin motor and semi-active suspension, Kawasaki’s iconic ZZR1400 has a turbine-smooth engine a power station would be proud of, and finally we have the new KTM 1290 Super Duke GT - the craziest sports adventure bike of them all.
On paper the KTM ticks all the boxes on our fun tourer wish list. It’s comfy, practical, crazy-fast and steers as crisply as a superbike. But here’s the strange thing: in its transformation from super-naked to fun tourer, we’ve actually turned the Yamaha into the KTM, albeit one that’s nearly fivegrand cheaper.
The similarity between the Austrian and Japanese contenders is uncanny. Both are light, sporty and flickable. They have the same spacious, natural riding positions, equally ok-ish screens (but not the last word in wind protection), luggage space, and have characterful, exciting engines. They both purr at cruising speeds, deliver wild acceleration and don’t run out of breath around the Ring.
Exiting the triple-apex set of final turns at the Ring and on to the long finish straight the Super Duke GT and MT-10 are neck and neck as they creep towards their rev limiters in top gear.
It’s the first time Yamaha’s inline four-cylinder crossplane motor has
‘Most of all it has to make you grin like you have won the lottery’ ‘You could do a whole lap of the ’ Ring in sixth on the KTM and still set a hot lap time’
lived in anything other than an R1 superbike or M1 Motogp missile. Sticking it in a naked (or semi-naked as it is today) is a stroke of genius. Making a true 152bhp at the back wheel, the MT-10 is packed with easy grunt, a linear spread of power and a wailing soundtrack straight from Rossi’s tailpipe.
Over on the KTM, its 173bhp (around 156bhp at the back wheel) V-twin motor is just as impressive. With the power of a Blade or GSX-R1000 it’s not slow, the throttle response is beautifully smooth and there’s a limitless ocean of torque to dip into whenever you desire. The Super Duke GT is easy to ride fast and you could do the whole of the Nürburgring in sixth gear and still set a hot lap time.
The KTM and Yamaha both have electronic rider aids, good and bad. In standard trim the MT-10 has cruise control and a super-safe traction control/anti-wheelie system that intrudes only when you need it and lets you have fun when you don’t. The accessory quickshifter, lifted off the R1, is useful for fast and slow work and is as slick as the best competition systems.
The Yamaha also has three power modes: A, B and C. The first two make the throttle snatchier and unuseable, whilst C smooths things out - so that’s the one we stuck with.
Cruise control and heated grips are standard on the KTM, but a quickshifter isn’t. The traction control is a constant source of frustration - it cuts the power any time the front wheel gets beyond a hover, so you never get to enjoy that great engine or the full force of acceleration the GT is capable of.
Of course, you can turn the KTM’S electronics off if you’re at a stand-
‘ There’s a limitless ocean of torque to dip into whenever you desire’
still, but the controls are fussy... and then it resets every time the engine is switched off.
Through the corners the KTM feels every inch the race bike and has a firmer chassis set-up than the Yamaha’s. The semi-active WP suspension not only gives a plush ride, but also delivers crisp steering, and sensational feeling for grip at big lean angles. It comes on Pirelli Angel GT sports-touring tyres, which are great for all-weather distance work, but fit something sportier and you’ll turn the KTM into a genuine fast group trackday runner.
The Yamaha has a slightly softer set-up, but it still handles predictably. At the Ring it gets into a bit of a wobble under hard acceleration and lacks feedback at the front. The threegeneration-old OE Bridgestone S20 sports tyres are responsible for some of the vagueness, so more capable tyres would give a big improvement in grip, stability and confidence. A seriously sporty rider might also consider an uprated shock to sharpen the handling.
Braking performance is fine at normal speeds, but woolly at the lim- it. That’s more down to the way the Japanese set their new electronic ABS systems nowadays. The brakes on the KTM are sensational, even running the latest cornering ABS system.
At the pumps, the KTM is the most frugal of all our fun tourers (50mpg) and the Yamaha the biggest drinker (41mpg). With its 17-litre fuel tank, the MT can go the least distance between fill-ups (the fuel gauge flashes around 130-miles, or less), but to be fair it’s still a super-naked beneath all that soft luggage. If Yamaha ever decided to build a real MT-10 Tracer we’re sure it would have a bigger tank.
The Yamaha and KTM are the most fun and easy on your body over a long distance. They were our favourites at the Ring, but when it comes to highspeed opulence, look no further than the BMW. It lets you devour huge distances with such ease you’ll barely notice the miles drift by in their hundreds. The first-class riding position is the last word in comfort and there’s toys aplenty to keep you amused: a stereo, cruise control, electric screen, heated grips and seat, multi-function dash… the list goes on.
Weighing a hippo-like 348kg, the K1600 GTL is surprisingly light on its feet in the corners and capable enough to duff up Porsches and the odd steady superbike at the Ring. Push a couple of buttons to stiffen the electronic suspension, set yourself up early for corners and the BMW wafts through with barely believable accuracy and stability.
But the Beemer is all about its masterpiece of a 1649cc six-cylinder engine. The silky 158bhp motor a produces 129ftlb, which is more than the ZZR1400. It accelerates with venom and wails like a tuned racing car, which is probably why former F1 driver Martin Brundle loves his so much (see right). But the gearbox is slow and clunky.
Its sheer bulk makes it a bit hairy filtering in heavy motorway traffic, but it never gets left behind. Short-legged photographer Joe stayed away from the BMW for the whole test. The bars on this GTL model are too close to the rider, so the flatter bars on Brundle’s GT make more sense, leaning you forward into a less slumped posture.
Aprilia’s Caponord 1200 Rally is a much-overlooked gem and confidently ticks the practical and fun boxes. It’s spacious, smooth, has strong brakes and confidence inspiring handling on the road and the track. Its electronic suspension gives a smooth ride and the traction control and anti-wheelie systems work well, even if the dash and controls feel a little cheap and unrefined.
Over a long distance the Aprilia’s
‘The Yamaha and KTM are the most fun and easy on your body over long distance’
seat is the most uncomfortable here, but the Aprilia makes up for it with its urgent 123bhp V-twin engine and rumbling exhaust note when you turn off the motorway and head for the hills.
As capable as it is the Caponord is missing the X-factor of the other bikes here. It’s competent and sure-footed around the Ring, even on its dualpurpose Metzeler Tourance Next tyres, but doesn’t quite get the blood flowing, or the grin spreading across your face… unlike the Kawasaki.
If you were ever to get tired of feeling the unfettered acceleration dished out by the ZZR’S 197bhp 1441cc inline fourcylinder motor, we’d suggest checking your pulse to see if you’re still alive.
The ZZR1400 always was and still is savagely fast, it paints black lines on the tarmac under hard acceleration, while its snake-like nostrils greedily snort the horizon with the merest hint
of throttle. Despite oozing grunt, the motor is friendly and predictable, the throttle response is exquisite and the power is delivered in a smooth arc of barely contained fury.
Our test bike is the £2700-extra Performance Sport version, complete with a pair of titanium Akrapovic cans, a flip-up screen and an Öhlins rear shock that gives a plush ride and adds to the creamy-smooth riding experience.
Sure, the Kawasaki is long and heavy, but, like the BMW, if you set your course through a set of bends early the ZZR1400 will scorch through with surprisingly little fuss. Its weight is actually a good thing when you’re highspeed touring as it adds to stability and also helps to damp out any bumps in the road that you encounter.
But comfort isn’t up there with its rivals. The riding position and wind protection is no better than any current superbike and the Abs-assisted Brembo brakes lack power, feel and consistency. Like the Yamaha it also comes with five-year-old Bridgestone S20 sports tyres, so just fitting slightly more modern rubber would improve performance all round.
But for a trip like this the Kawasaki is superb. It has the kind of wide, thickly padded seat a sportsbike rider would pay big money for after a hundred miles and an engine that lets you out-drag anything on the road or track.
‘The ZZR’S power is delivered in a smooth arc of barely contained fury’
A trip from the UK to the Nÿrburgring for a couple of laps of the historic circuit is the ultimate test of a sports tourer
Yamaha MT-10 £9999
We’ve fitted Yamaha’s entire range of touring accessories (£2353 worth) to their funky new super-naked to create the MT-10 Tracer the Japanese firm hasn’t built... yet. Despite all the extra goodies, it’s still the cheapest here.
Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally £14,136
Powered by a 1200cc V-twin motor, packed with electronics and semi-active suspension, the big Aprilia is an oftenoverlooked sports adventure machine, but it’s a suave long-distance adventure tourer with a sporty edge.
On rubber-smeared hairpin bends, our sports tourers get tested to the limit
It’s competent and comfy, on track and off, but Caponord lacks character
‘Any idea where we are, lads? I’m sure the Nürburgring is around here somewhere...’
The Super Duke and MT-10 are fooling no one with those panniers...
The Performance Sport version of the ZZR1400 comes complete with an Akrapovic can
Dense German forests mean the Ring’s getting closer
Everyone wants a selfie taken with MCN’S Neevesy, even other road testers!
This €550 card is your ticket to 25 laps of the Nürburgring, just swipe and ride
Bruce’s stature is perfect for riding 250GP bikes, but he’s not so suited to the K1600
Feeling a bit drained of adrenalin, the test team opt for a little bit of put-put action
The half-hour Eurotunnel trip gives Bruce and Neevesy a chance to chat bikes
Set up your turn early enough and the K1600 is surprisingly sprightly
‘The BMW is all about its masterpiece of a six-cylinder engine... it accelerates with venom and wails like a tuned racing car’
Brundle regales the story about him beating Schumacher at Monza in 1992... again!
It may be fitted with a tall screen and comfy seat, but the MT-10 is still nuts!
Austria’s craziest export, the 1290 Super Duke is no less nuts for having panniers