Powerful, plush, panache
THE SPORTY DO-IT-ALL motorcycle is perhaps this magazine’s favorite conveyance, something for which we’ve rooted since the Universal Japanese Motorcycles (UJMS) of the 1970s began morphing into specialized hybrids. There are handfuls of great ones out there, from sportbikes to nakeds to sport-tourers, and even some ADVS. Call them what you will, here are four that pop to mind when we think “Gentleman’s Express.”
Honda’s VFR is perhaps the quintessential machine in this category, and the fourth-generation VFR800F (1998– 2001) is one of our favorites. Powered by a liquid-cooled V-4 with gear-driven cams, 16 valves, and nearly 100 rearwheel horsepower, the VFR offers loads of throbby midrange and a reasonably agile chassis, with plush suspension, great ergonomics, superb linked brakes, and neutral steering.
Problems are few, with regulator/ rectifier issues leading the way. Used prices are all over the board for this generation, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on mileage and condition. (Previous-generation VFRS—1990–’93 and 1994–’97 VFR750S, in particular—are also great buys, as is the VTR1000 twin.) Even toward that price ceiling, a lower-mileage, first-gen VFR800 is a steal. See if you don’t agree.
Although no longer in BMW’S lineup, the 2009–’16 K1300S was a Bavarian staple, the German equivalent of Japan Inc.’s best hyperbikes—think Kawasaki ZX-14, Suzuki Hayabusa, etc.—but with a whiff of practicality. Stable, smooth, and mach schnell fast, this maximum K-bike combined 170-plus four-cylinder horsepower with comfy ergos, keen aesthetics, well-sorted shaft drive, Duolever front end, available luggage, plus superb wind and weather protection. New, however, they were big bucks.
Price of admission for a pre-owned K1300S typically ranges from $7,000 to $9,000, which makes it a contender here. Early units had engine-stalling and switchgear problems, though most of those failings were fixed under warranty. What you’re left with, then, is a world-class, high-end GT for about the price of a brand-new F700GS. Many would call that a deal.
Slightly down the price ladder but still European, there’s the iconic Ducati 900SS. To many, the 900 Supersports from 1991–’97 are among the bestlooking Ducatis—elemental, emotional, and aesthetically stunning. Lightweight with a moderate riding position, solid handling, and relatively cheap buy-in, they are nevertheless brittle, finicky, and expensive to maintain and repair, especially if you buy one with lots of miles
and a questionable maintenance history. Failed cylinder-head studs, plus the usual valve-adjustment and cam-beltreplacement rituals at 6,000 and 12,000 miles, respectively, have all contributed to the lore.
Still, a well-maintained 900SS can make a damn fine budget exotic, even if it does take more effort to keep running. The ST2/3 that came later is more polished and has fewer nits but lacks the 900SS’S visceral look and feel. Expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000, depending on spec (Superlights and SPS, for example, go for quite a bit more than the stripper CR). Hint: A pre-purchase once-over by a Ducati tech is a smart move here.
If you love twins but want to minimize maintenance, Suzuki’s 2003–’07 SV1000S (which has links to the late 1990s TL1000R/S) is a great option and a sleeper in both performance and reputation. On paper and in action, the SV is a beast, pumping out nearly 110 rearwheel horsepower, running high 10s at the strip, weighing just 460 pounds wet, handling like a champ, and proving wonderfully durable.
Amazingly, the SV1000S never caught on like its lovable smaller sibling, the SV650. The good news is that you can pick up this open-class V-twin for next to nothing, as SV1000S sell for half (or even less) than their original $8,500 MSRP. Back in those days, the SV was considered by some to be a poor man’s Ducati. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
The high-tech K1300S boasted electrically adjustable suspension and other options.
Powered by an air-cooled, SOHC V-twin, the 900SS offered performance and style.
Suzuki’s SV1000S was a “sleeper,” often overlooked by press and consumers alike.