BeFOre the test, i thOUGht the Aprilia would be outclassed. it was updated in 2019 with new semi-active suspension from Öhlins, but it is essentially the 2015 bike (which is when it first jumped up to 1,100 cc capacity). On the dyno the Aprilia recorded a true 159 hp, which isn’t bad, but down on the competition. i thought this comparatively ‘old’ model with the least power would struggle, especially at the track, but i was very wrong.
the fuelling is excellent, the best of the bunch, which allows you to dial in the power with precision. the clutch-less gear changes are also perfect, again the best of the group. the sound, the way the V4 revs, are lovely — like a fine wine, the tuono has matured into an excellent super-naked.
when you wind up the pace to push for a lap-time, the Aprilia is hard to criticise. the braking is consistent and excellent and you wouldn’t know it has ABs. even when braking devilishly late, the Brembo stoppers show no sign of fading. corner speed is impressive, ground clearance isn’t an issue, and the wide, relaxed riding position allows you to throw the bike around with relative ease. the chassis is excellent, too, the feedback forensic, and only the KtM super duke has more accurate steering. i didn’t think the Aprilia would perform this well, but it did and it was far easier than the MV and ducati V4 s to ride at speed.
in race mode, the Öhlins semi-active suspension is on the soft side. there is a little understeer during heavy braking or when you’re rolling into a fast corner with a closed throttle, which could be because the front is a little soft or the rear is fraction high and overextending.
where the Aprilia lacked was in outright power, which sounds crazy on a bike with 159 hp at the back wheel, but both the ducati and MV make over 175 hp. the Aprilia was the second slowest from 60 to 180 km/h and to take second spot on track in this highly contested category is impressive for a bike with the least power and it demonstrates just how good the chassis is.
Our GPS data clearly ShOw the ducati’s dominance on track. It was nearly a second quicker than its closest rival, the tuono, 2.5 seconds faster than the KtM Super duke, and it smokes the roadbiased Kawasaki by eight seconds, which is emphatic. having previously sampled the ducati on track, I knew it was fast, but I didn’t think it would be that far ahead.
In terms of top speeds, the MV ran the V4S close, but the rest were significantly behind and for acceleration is was again another dominant victory for the ducati with only the supercharged Kawasaki getting close. Finally, its max lean angle (53.3 degrees) is huge and a clear leader with only the KtM getting close.
On the dyno, the ducati and MV both recorded 177 hp, but the ducati is backed by far more torque than the MV, as you’d expect with a larger capacity V4. we weighed every bike on Pirelli’s scales and the ducati came out the lightest (178 kg) 11 kilos less than the KtM and 52 kilos lighter than the Kawasaki. despite its supercharged power, the Kawa never really stood a chance against the ducati on track, given that it’s carrying the equivalent of a pillion.
On track, you really feel that power difference and lack of weight — it is so fast. the ducati is on another level, especially in the fast stuff. when the KtM and aprilia run out of puff, the ducati just keeps revving for another 2,000 rpm and more.
like the engine, the brakes are phenomenally strong. the ducati was the king of the late brakers and you can hold the lever up to the apex thanks to brilliant electronics and aBS. electronics on the way out of corners are equally impressive and, despite that excessive power, you can trust the electronics and the grip generated by the Pirelli slick to generate immense drive.
If I were to be picky, the ducati is the hardest bike to ride fast because it’s very physical. you sit hight in the wind, bracing yourself against a 250-km/h wind blast, and you can’t tuck out of the way. after five laps, I was exhausted, whereas on the KtM I could have kept going all afternoon. Furthermore, the quick-shifter is very sensitive and I did miss the odd gear on occasion.
each bike is good in one or two aspects: handling is the KtM’s forte, power and drive the Kawasaki’s, fuelling and ride quality belong to the aprilia, racy stance and revs to the MV. But equally they all have weaknesses like poor aBS or too much weight. On track, the ducati scored high across the board and had few faults apart from the physicality of riding a superbike with no bodywork.
It’s on days lIke these that I have to remind myself this is a job and not a dream. In perfect conditions, on a stunning location in sicily in the foothills of mount etna, riding expensive exotic super-naked bikes with my Italian buddies… seriously, does it get much better than this? as we stopped half-way up the climb of mount etna, surrounded by the volcanic landscape, I had to take a moment and reflect on the view. apart from the smoky volcano in the background, just look at this collection of beauties.
almost every manufacturer has chosen a different route, especially kawasaki and ktm, who haven’t stripped back a cutting-edge sports bike by removing the bodywork, instead built a purposeful hyper-naked from the ground up.
kawasaki’s obvious selling point is their unique supercharged in-line four-cylinder motor. It’s big and brash, the most roadfocused bike in our group, and, thanks to the chirp of the supercharger, one of the most loved.
the ktm is again built from the ground up because, simply put, the austrians don’t have a superbike they can strip back now that the old Rc8 is gone. this arguably gives ktm an advantage, for they are not inheriting any problems from a donated bike and can create a specific naked bike.
the three Italians were, once upon a time, superbikes: the mV based on the F4 1000, the streetfighter a Panigale, and the tuono an RsV. all three have opted for semi-active Öhlins suspension front and rear, as opposed to manual suspension on the ktm and kawasaki. the ducati and aprilia are the most similar, both using V4 engines, whereas the mV is a
traditional high-revving titanium rodded in-line four-cylinder.
Interestingly, only mV and ducati have incorporated aerodynamic wings to help with downforce, which reduces wheelies, often a problem on powerful naked bikes.
when you compare styling — and, obviously, price — this is when the bikes differ hugely. they all stand out but for different reasons. the kawasaki is arguably the most understated of the five — still of extremely high quality, but actually the cheapest bike on test at £15,149 (Rs 14.39 lakh). the base ktm comes in at £15,699 (Rs 14.91 lakh). It’s very individual, unmistakably a ktm, and certainly eye-catching. next in the price war is the aprilia, which, although attractive, is beginning to show its age and, at £17,199 (Rs 16.34 lakh), you wouldn’t think about looks alone. It was the third most expensive bike on test. at £19,795 (Rs 18.80 lakh), the ducati is serious money, the lightest, most powerful bike on test and, as our track test proved, the fastest, but is it beautiful? yes, it’s desirable, it says ducati on the side after all, but is nearly £5,000 (Rs 4.75 lakh) dearer than the kawasaki. Finally, the very expensive mV, at an eye-watering £27,290 (Rs 25.92 lakh). Personally, I love the look of the mV, but some of my more stylish Italian buddies were unsure. however, as much as I like the unique, exotic style, I can’t defend it being £7,000 (Rs 6.65 lakh) more expensive than the ducati and, wait for it, £12,000 (Rs 11.4 lakh) more than the kawasaki.
but enough splitting hairs. let’s forget about price and peak power for a moment to ride on the road, the environment these motorcycles were designed for.
EvEn on thE road, it’s all about thE EnginE; no normal aspirated engine gives you the same feeling like the supercharged Zh2. the impeller, with a 9.2 ratio impeller-to-crank speed, is quick enough to break the sound barrier and create a brilliant chirping sound from around 6,000 rpm and upwards. it is most noticeable when you close the throttle at high rpm, and it becomes highly addictive. Even after a week of riding the Zh2, it was still making me smile. the immense power of the supercharger will even take experienced riders by surprise, especially if they’ve not tasted supercharged power before. on the road, it feels awesome. When the others are tapping back gears in search of peak power, you’ve disappeared on the Kawasaki.
but it’s not just the supercharger. Flick into one of the softer rider modes and the Kawasaki is one of the easiest of the bunch to live with at low speeds. the throttle response is smooth and even a relatively new rider could jump on the Zh2, ride to the shops and back without feeling intimidated.
obviously, with so much power, Kawasaki had to heavily invest in up-to-date rider aids and they have delivered. there are four rider modes: sport, road rain, and a specific rider mode which lets you pick and mix the rider aids and settings to your personal taste. You can even turn off the traction control if you’re brave enough and everything is clearly displayed on the latest tFt full-colour dash, one of the nicest and easy-to-use dashes of the bunch.
on track, its weight, 230 kg measured, felt considerably more than the others and you feel this on the road, too, with changes in direction requiring more effort. but there is a plus side; the weight gives stability and security, and the ‘soft’ suspension, which struggled on track, gave a plush ride on the motorway. the Zh2 is certainly more road bike than race bikes — and it shows.