Church of MO: Top 600s, 1997 Sportbike Shootout

December 10, 2017 John Burns 0

And in those days each Japanese manufacturer built an inline 600cc Four-cylinder sportybike, and so it made it natural to compare them, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose. And if any bike should smite the eye of the other three, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; then that bike shall go free and prosper in the marketplace. Or that was MO’s story, anyway.

Top 600s, 1997

1997 600cc Sportbike Shootout

Forget 750s or open-class sportbikes, the real battle for supremacy is waged in the 600 class — these are the best-selling sportbikes made. Here, manufacturers pump huge amounts of money into research and development to produce the quickest, fastest, best-handling machines possible. This space-race for the 600 title has led to machines that out-perform liter bikes of just a decade ago. But which 600 is best, and more specifically, which is best for you? Read on, and join us for a thorough thrashing of the world’s best 600cc sportbikes.It was the best of times, for sure: Motorcycle Online recently rounded up the best 600cc Sportbikes produced, dusted off our leathers and fired checks out of the corporate account like a cheap six-shooter, appropriating funds to rent Los Angeles County Raceway’s quarter-mile drag strip, Willow Spring Raceway’s Streets of Willow, as well as taking over Graves Motorsports’ shop for the better part of a week to have the bikes dyno’ed and track prepped. Lastly, we brought in AMA Superbike star Shawn Higbee and reigning Willow Springs Formula One Champion Chuck Graves to assist Editor-in-Chief Brent Plummer and Associate Editor Gord Mounce in the testing. The point? To carve as many canyons as possible, shred a bunch of tires and fry three clutches at the drag strip? That’s what the four of us thought until Managing Editor “Big” Tom Fortune brought us all back to reality: “This is a street bike test. Remember, tens of thousands of people around the world are going to plunk down their hard-earned money on one of these machines, and in many cases, it’ll be their only bike that they have to live with for years to come, through various conditions such as sport touring, commuting and canyon riding. And less than three percent of the machines will ever see a racetrack. You will evaluate these bikes with that in mind!” That said, we headed to Palomar Mountain, and the testing began…


The testing Begins: Kawasaki ZX-6R

Shawn Higbee gets down to business on the Kawasaki at Willow Springs: "To keep up with Graves when he was cruising on the Suzuki," Higbee tells us, "I had to ride the wheels off the Kawasaki, power-sliding it out of turns."
A pressurized air box fed by two large "ram-air" scoops helps the ZX-6R's already impressive top-end power.
Chuck "I'm going to smoke all you clowns" Graves on his way to an incredible 10.79 second run at 126.78 mph. We only made 11 passes before the clutch fried -- Chuck felt the little ZX could've done better.

When these four sportbikes of the apocalypse began assembling for our shootout, early predictions rated Kawasaki’s ZX-6R as a likely victor. We had all enjoyed the ZX6 tested last month, so the 6R’s shorter wheelbase, fully adjustable suspension and 29 fewer pounds promised to make for an even better ride. So how did the Kawasaki come to find itself relegated to fourth place?The answer lies in the vague feedback offered by the 6R’s front end, a problem that is compounded by the low-profile stock Bridgestone tire that gives poor traction at full lean. The cumulative result is a front end that “pushes” and “tucks” in corners. Having a poor connection with the front destroys confidence, which in turn slows lap times and canyon cornering speeds. How bad is the feedback from the 6R’s front forks? “I knew that the front was there,” quipped Graves after his first track session on the 6R, “because at the end of the straight you pop up and hit the brakes, and something slows you down.” Higbee also found the ZX-6R’s front lacking: “Even at a moderate street pace I had trouble keeping the front tire from sliding out under me, which isn’t my idea of fun.” This lack of front end feel was responsible for five of our seven testers (Graphic Artist Billy Bartels and Guest Commentator John Slezak also participated in this test) picking the 6R last in this comparison.

Handling manners improved after the Metzeler MEZ1 race-compound tires replaced the stock Bridgestones for testing at The Streets of Willow. Now we had more confidence that the tire would stick, but feedback and turn-in manners remained poor. This led Higbee to question the 6R’s geometry: “The front end feedback told me that it was turning in too much, a sign that it needs more trail. I also noticed that the triple clamps are narrow, which might explain why the 6R refused to turn properly — there’s not a lot of leverage there.”

The nail in Kawasaki’s coffin comes from the price tag. At $8299 it’s $500 more than the second most-expensive bike, Honda’s CBR600F3 — and a whopping $900 more than Yamaha’s YZF600R.

In the 6R’s defense it did post the quickest quarter-mile time of 10.79 at a smoking 126.78 mph — and at 92 bhp its engine swings the biggest stick. It sounds better than its challengers too, with a deep and throaty howl that belies its displacement. Comfort was excellent with a fairing that directs wind past the rider’s shoulders and creates a calm pocket of air behind the screen. Seat quality is also very good for a sportbike with a wide, flat platform that allows several hours to pass in comfort.

There is always some poor kid who is the last to get picked for baseball, and that kid is the ZX-6R. It is a great bike with bad front geometry. Unfortunately in this tough crowd that is enough to relegate a bike to last place.

3. Suzuki GSX-R600

Associate Editor Gord Mounce posted his best time at the racetrack on the race-ready GSX-R600.
The Suzuki's radical riding position starts to make sense at the track. On the street? It's painful.

We’ve been anxiously waiting for Suzuki’s new GSX-R600 ever since we all fell in love with the GSX-R750 last year. Would the 600 be the same knockout combination of awesome power and light weight, or would it be a sleeved-down, overweight dud like the last GSX-R600? Speculation and rumors abounded.

Last month, when Pascal Picotte topped the SuperSport field during tire testing at Daytona on a GSX-R600, we knew that Suzuki had done their homework. But after finally getting our greedy mitts on a GSX-R we were initially disappointed. Midrange power was terrible, and excessive driveline lash made street riding a chore, both made worse by excessively lean low- and mid-range carburetion that “lean surges” the bike at cruising speed. Further limiting the fun was a riding position that folded the Suzuki’s pilot into a pretzel to fit the uncompromising riding position.

At the dragstrip the Suzuki’s wimpy midrange power and vague clutch dropped it to last in the rankings with an 11.31 pass at 123.1 mph. Dyno testing shows the problem — at 8,000 rpm the Suzuki trails the Honda by a staggering 12 bhp. Even at the top end it fails to top its competition with a peak of 88.7 bhp.

Four-piston calipers and a conventional fork are fitted. The GSX-R750 uses upside-down forks and six-piston brakes, costing about $1300 more.With its full-on race approach, we thought the GSX-R would rule in the canyons. But a full day spent reducing the world’s supply of knee-sliders left us questioning the Suzuki’s purpose in life. An F3 is a match for the GSX-R when things turn twisty, but it won’t beat you like a rented mule on the ride home. And at $7,799, the Honda is only $100 more than a GSX-R.

So why put up with all of the Suzuki’s shortcomings? Because on the seventh day, MO raced (MO is what we call Motorcycle Online). And for once, we all agreed: it is the best track weapon. A faster circuit would have allowed the Suzuki to press home an advantage more than the tight and twisty Streets of Willow. Its light weight (435lbs full of gas), lets it carry the highest cornering velocity and greatest turn-in speed. Graves described the Suzuki as “feeling like the front was directly beneath your shoulders.” Higbee was even more kind: “It felt like I was coming near the limits of the Honda but the Suzuki had lots left. Add some new tires, a Yoshimura pipe for more power, have Race Tech do the forks, Fox rear shock and watch out Miguel Duhamel. If you can ride the Suzuki to its limits, you’ll win national races.”

2. Honda CBR600F3

Editor-in-Chief Plummer (on the CBR600) queries Managing Editor Fortune: "Where's the first turn, and what's the lap record?"
Plush, well-damped suspension and sticky stock tires make Honda's F3 an excellent all-around street bike.

What can we say about Honda’s CBR600F3 that hasn’t already been said? With its unbeatable combination of great speed, comfort and reliability, the F3 has ruled the 600 class for years. Honda is smart enough not to mess with the defending AMA 600 Supersport champion, and therefore their strategy for improving the F3 has always been one of refinement, rather than redesign.Honda has continued this trend in 1997, as a host of minor changes have brought the F3 to an even higher level. Power is up slightly over last year with a peak output of 90 bhp at 11,500 rpm. But what makes the Honda’s engine special isn’t its impressive peak horsepower, but the way it pulls strongly from idle to redline with no dips or flat-spots. That linear powerband helped the F3 post the second-quickest drags trip time of 11.00 at 124.61 mph.

In the canyons the F3’s wide spread of power made fast cornering easier than on the Suzuki because the F3 pilot doesn’t need to do a gearbox tap-dance to stay in the powerband. Even more important was that the F3 could get to and from the canyons without hurting its rider. “There’s no reason for the GSX-R on the street because I can go just as fast on the F3 in comfort,” Higbee remarked after a day in the canyons.

Changes for 1997 include a redesigned tail section that still pops loose. Honda’s F3 posted the second-fastest lap time during our tire-shredding stint at The Streets of Willow, trailing the GSX-R by just eleven hundreths of a second. While it was almost quickest that day, Honda’s F3 did scrape more than its competition: “Just when I was getting serious about going fast on the racetrack the footpegs and exhaust canister started scuffing the asphalt,” said Higbee. However, both Higbee and Graves agreed that the F3 was the easiest to hop on and ride quickly. “It is the most user-friendly bike and most forgiving when pushing it to its limits,” Higbee said. Graves described the Honda as “rider-friendly and easy to slide and feel comfortable on.”

Honda came into this shootout as the reigning class champion. With subtle updates for 1997, the F3 looked like it might spend another year at the top. But Yamaha had other ideas…


1. Yamaha YZF600R 

Chuck Graves lookin' good on the YZF.
Editor-in-Chief Plummer went fastest at the racetrack on the YZF: "The YZF's excellent binders allow you to one-finger the front brakes and the torquey motor produces killer drives off corners."

Surprised? We were downright shocked. Yamaha’s YZF600R came quietly into this shootout with no one predicting it would win. At $7,399, we knew the price was right — but we doubted the bike’s ability to match the competition. Billy Bartels was first to heap praise on the YZF, as he lauded its comfort after a ninety-mile ride from Yamaha’s headquarters. Soon others began to take a shine to the bike. We all raved about the awesome front brakes and superior bottom end on the YZF.In the canyons Yamaha’s YZF was a capable, if not extraordinary performer. Front suspension rates were on the soft side and the stock Bridgestone tires behaved poorly at steeper lean angles (they’re the exact same ones that Kawasaki uses on the 6R). Also, at 482lbs full of gas the Yamaha is the class porker. That’s almost 50lbs more than the Suzuki, and was responsible for its slightly slower mid-corner speeds. To its credit the YZF’s torquey motor pulled strongly on corner exits, allowing a good rush to the next corner. Originally, we felt the engine lacked a real top-end punch, but at 88.5 bhp, it was only 0.2 off our Suzuki. The bike pulls so cleanly and strong from down low, it just feels slower — the top end hit, in relative terms, is less of a percent gain.

Dragstrip testing wasn’t the YZF’s forte either as its weight and grabby clutch left it struggling to keep up. Graves eventually clicked off an 11.21 pass at 123.02 mph, over four-tenths and three miles an hour slower than the Kawasaki. Not exactly the stuff that champions are made of. The Yamaha was, however, the only bike that didn’t fry it’s clutch at the drag strip. (Many thanks to Barnett for providing clutches for the other three on one hour’s notice.)

The stock Nissin calipers, pads and rotors on the YZF are the best OEM four-piston brakes we've ever tested.Racetrack testing threatened to drop the YZF to the bottom of everyone’s list, but here the Yamaha surprised us. Despite its weight, soft suspension and lack of top-end, the YZF proved to be a competent track weapon. Editor-in-Chief Brent Plummer actually turned his best time of the day on the Yamaha. Although it isn’t as precise as a GSX-R, all of our testers posted good times on the YZF.

Church of MO: Top 600s, 1997 Sportbike Shootout appeared first on

2019 KTM Super Duke GT Updated!

December 9, 2017 John Burns 0

Rumor filtering down through the ranks has it that when the new version of KTM’s not-so-old uber tourer gets here later in the year, it’s going to be sporting a swell TFT display like the one on brother Super Duke R, along with the other Dukes’ promiscuous split LED headlight and a new windscreen.

We are as nothing without a Thin Film Transistor display, like this on on Super Duke R.

The winner of our little sport-touring comparo back in April already had all the performance hard- and software more than covered; not it will be even more avant-garde beautiful to boot.

The new headlight is a sexual harassment suit waiting to be filed. Don’t touch it. God only knows what else KTM may have up its sleeve.


2019 KTM Super Duke GT Updated! appeared first on

Is a Rocket-Powered Bicycle a Motorcycle?

December 8, 2017 John Burns 0

Frenchman Francois Gissy made this record run over three years ago at Circuit Paul Ricard, but it only came to my attention yesterday. Unsure what kind of bicycle wheels don’t fly apart at 207 mph (333 kph), a speed Gissy attained after using up only about 750 meters of the Mistral Straight thanks to hydrogen peroxide boost, but everything did indeed remain intact. The Ferrari running alongside the bicycle, okay starting out alongside it, puts that speed into perspective.

More craziness over here at

Is a Rocket-Powered Bicycle a Motorcycle? appeared first on

1972 Kawasaki Z1 900 vs 2018 Z900 RS Spec Chart Shootout!

December 8, 2017 John Burns 0

I was already tuned into motorcycles in 1972, but not MOTORCYCLES. The kid down the street had a Mini Trail 50, the couple with no kids had just bought themselves his and hers Honda Elsinores for Christmas – a 125 and a 250. They let us into their rumpus room to gaze slack-jawedly upon them in all their new-bike glory. I remember the nubs on the knobbies, and the fact that they looked huge to me. When you see an old Elsinore now, it’s tiny.

I was only thinking dirt bikes in those days; 16 years old and a driver’s license was eons away. And then Big Kev rolled past on his new Kawasaki Z1. Actually this must’ve been 1974, which I believe was the year of the striped gas tank and still my preferred Z1 livery. The basketball game came to a halt; 10 pairs of adenoids hit the driveway as one. It was the first big streetbike I remember ever noticing. It was really too big, beautiful and powerful a thing to even aspire to, like Ginger on “Gilligan’s Island.” Holey moley. Lookit those pipes man.

I like the striped ones, which began in late 1974 along with silver engines instead of black.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding one of the old beasts, but I’ve ridden bikes of the era. Basically everything happens slower, requires more effort, and gives less feedback – like aquarobics pretty much.

1972 was 46 years ago, though, and since we’ve only been building motorcycles since around 1900, I suppose you should expect quite a bit of progress: The Z1 got here about 61% of the way along our development curve. Given that, it’s slightly amazing how similar the new Z900 RS homage I’m off to ride next week is to the original. Let’s have a look at the specs, why not?


1972 Z1 2018 Z900 RS
Price $1,895

($11,372.90 in 2017 dollars)

$10,999 – 11,199
Engine 903cc DOHC inline air-cooled Four cylinder; 2 valves/cylinder 948cc DOHC inline liquid-cooled Four cylinder; 4 valves/cylinder
Bore x Stroke 66 x 66mm 73.4 x 56mm
Compression ratio 8.5:1 10.8:1
Induction Four 28mm Mikuni carburetors Digital fuel injection; four 36mm Keihin throttle bodies
Ignition Coil, points TCBI w electronic advance
Claimed horsepower 82 @ 8500 rpm 110 @ 8500
Claimed torque 54.2 lb/ft @ 7000 rpm 72.6 lb/ft @ 6,500
Transmission Wet multiplate clutch; 5-speed Wet multiplate clutch; 6-speed
Frame Steel double-downtube cradle Steel trellis
Front suspension 36mm telescopic fork 41mm inverted fork; adjustable rebound damping, compression damping and spring preload
Rear suspension Dual shocks; adjustable for spring preload Horizontal back-link swingarm;  adjustable rebound damping and spring preload
Front brake One 296mm disc, 2-piston caliper Two 300mm discs; 4-piston calipers, ABS
Rear brake Drum 250mm disc; 1-piston caliper, ABS
Rake and trail 27 degrees / 3.75 inches 25.4 deg / 3.5 in
Wheelbase 59.0 in 58.1 in
Tires 3.25-19 front; 4.00-18 rear 120/70 ZR17; 180/55 ZR17
Curb weight 546 pounds 472 lb
Seat height 32.0 in 31.5 in
Fuel capacity 4.7 gallons 4.5 gal

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online calculator says $1,895 in 1972 equates to $11,372.90 in October 2017, so prices are actually coming down! (And never mind that my personal limit of about $5k for just about any motor vehicle hasn’t changed in 15 years.)

Your classic big double-overhead cam Japanese Four is still in place – DOHC was a first for a big Japanese bike – though now it’s liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, higher-compressing and 10mm shorter of stroke. Those changes result in 34% more power at, surprisingly, the same 8500 rpm, even though the new bike’s 36mm throttle bodies have way more intake area than the original bike’s 28mm carburetors; 34% more torque arrives 500 rpm sooner on the new bike. One extra pair of gears in the transmission allows you to shift gears more.

We’re still using round steel tubing for the frame, but in the new bike’s case that frame’s been designed using computers instead of men with slide rules, and welded together by robots instead of yet other humans.

Exhibit A, a slide rule.

You’d definitely be able to tell the difference between the old engine and the new one from the saddle, but those differences wouldn’t be as fundamental as the ones you’d feel between old and new chassis. In addition to its stiffer frame, the new bike’s inverted fork, “horizontal back link” rear suspension, and modern radial tires all work together to make those under age 40 feel like something fundamental is wrong when they climb on a bike like an old Z1. Did somebody forget to tighten something? Did somebody forget to tighten several things? People get used to imperfections when they love old things, though. Take my wife, please.

Horizontal Back Link Rear end, read all about it here.

As for the brakes, there’s no comparison between the old Z1’s single disc and flimsy caliper to the new bike’s dual discs and monoblock calipers; both power and feel are way better, also the front tire. Nobody knew from stoppies in 1972, not on big street bikes anyway. And nothing but maybe the Space Shuttle had ABS in 1972 – and it hadn’t even been invented yet.

Can you tell which is which? But for a small LCD panel between the clocks (and an anachronistic aircraft style filler cap), it would be tough from this angle. Old engine redlines at 9000 rpm, new one at 10k.

All those things are going to increase the bike’s overall stability, while letting it exploit its steeper rake angle, shorter trail (only 0.25-inch shorter, or 6mm) and inch-shorter wheelbase, to turn and burn much quicker than the old one. Its biggest performance advantage, though, will be its 13.5% weight reduction, the product of a 46-year diet program. Compared to the increases in accel and decel, that’s less than you might expect. Lightness is the most expensive thing: We’re still using steel, aluminum and rubber just like in 1972, albeit less of it.

I dug the new Z900, so I’m sure I’ll like the Z900 RS fine. But I’m still holding out for the 350-pound carbon-fiber and polymer-composite two-stroke Triple replica of the real H2. I hope I’ll still be able to lift at least one leg 32 inches when it gets here.



1972 Kawasaki Z1 900 vs 2018 Z900 RS Spec Chart Shootout! appeared first on

Meet Livia Cevolini, Founder of Energica

December 7, 2017 John Burns 0

While she was studying engineering in Italy, and spending some time with the Ferrari race team, people in the pits would ask her, “are you a journalist, or an umbrella girl?”

I think I’m slightly insulted.

I had no idea Energica, builder of high end electric motorcycles in Italy, was headed by the woman some like to call the Elon Musk of Motorcycles. Read the rest of a brief but interesting profile over here at Forbes.

Meet Livia Cevolini, Founder of Energica appeared first on News.

Mat Oxley on Johann Zarco

December 6, 2017 John Burns 0

If you’re a fan of MotoGP, your recommended weekly intel intake is incomplete if you haven’t bookmarked Mat Oxley’s column over at This week, Oxley dives deepish into what makes the straight-talking 26 year old two-time Moto2 champ / 2017 MotoGP Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco tick. Oxley’s boots have been on the ground as an insider racing journalist for decades. The wealth of knowledge he brings to bear doesn’t prevent him from working in a fun Rolling Stones anecdote.

Mat Oxley on Johann Zarco appeared first on News.

BMW Sets Out to Conquer the Battery World

December 5, 2017 John Burns 0

However you feel about electric motorcycles, they’re never going to be the next big thing until somebody comes up with a better battery – smaller, lighter, more powerful and  quickly rechargeable. BMW is down with all of that, and just opened a 200-million-Euro battery research facility in Munich to prove it.

The BMW Group Battery Cell Competence Center “aims to advance battery cell technology and introduce it into production processes.” BMW says it will invest a total of 200 million Euros in the location over the next four years, creating 200 jobs, and that the center will open in early 2019. Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony November 24, Klaus Fröhlich said: “International experts working in the new development labs and facilities will conduct important research to refine cell chemistry and cell design. We will focus on further improvements in battery performance, lifespan, safety, charging and also costs. We will set the benchmark for the industry.”

The Press Release goes on to say:

In the labs, research and prototyping facilities, which will make up the battery cell competence centre, specialist departments will analyse cell design and cell technology. They will also create prototypes of future battery cells, focusing on the chemical composition of the cells, use of different materials, how the cell behaves in critical or extremely cold conditions, charging and rapid-charging behaviour and evaluating cell sizes and forms. This in-house technological expertise is key to enhancing the battery, thereby enabling higher performance capabilities.

BMW is already doing well with its electric cars:

Between January and the end of October, the BMW Group delivered a total of 78,096 BMW i, BMW iPerformance and electrified MINI vehicles to customers worldwide – an increase of 63.7% on the previous year. With nine electrified cars currently available, the BMW Group is one of the leading manufacturers worldwide. The company is well on track to sell 100,000 electrified vehicles worldwide by the end of the year.

Those are the salient points, but you can read the entire BMW release here.

BMW Sets Out to Conquer the Battery World appeared first on News.

Whats it Like to be Worlds Fastest in 1/4-Mile, Larry McBride?

December 5, 2017 John Burns 0

The Spiderman broke both the top speed and ET records on his Top Fuel dragbike at the Manufacturer’s Cup Final at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Cecil, Georgia, November 20 – at an age where most people are thinking about retiring. One run set the ET record: 5.6111 seconds. Another one set the top speed record: 258.27. There’s an interesting story and short video of the Man from Poquoson, Virginia, trying to describe just what that’s like, over here at the Daily Press.

What’s it Like to be World’s Fastest in 1/4-Mile, Larry McBride? appeared first on News.

The Missing Linkage

December 5, 2017 John Burns 0

Dear MOby,

Say, what’s all this about linkage-type suspensions and non-link-type ones anyway, and what difference does it make? What’s the difference between a progressive spring and a normal one, and what’s all this rising-rate business?

Suspended Disbelief

Dear Suspended,

The Aprilia Shiver pictured above and lots of other bikes use a plain old non-link type suspension, wherein the swingarm is simply connected to the frame via the rear shock absorber. Its main advantage is that it’s simple, lightweight, has no bearings that need lubricating and doesn’t take up much space. On a bike that doesn’t need a lot of wheel travel, it’s perfectly adequate.

A disadvantage, in the Shiver’s case, is that its spring is just as stiff over small bumps as it is over bigger ones, since it’s a “straight-rate” suspension; the suspension doesn’t get stiffer as the rear wheel moves higher in its travel.

Old-fashioned dual shocks like the ones on this Harley Sportster are also “linkageless,” but H-D gets around the lack of a rising rate by winding these particular shocks with progressive springs, which are softer in the first part of wheel travel to soak up small bumps, and stiffer over larger bumps. The first bit of wheel travel mashes the tighter coils at the top of the spring together so there’s no space left between them, called “coil bind.” Once that happens, there are fewer coils to compress, which effectively makes the spring stiffer. Progressively wound springs are a cheap and easy way to achieve a rising-rate suspension, i.e., the further the suspension is compressed the stiffer it gets.

Linkageless suspension works well enough for KTM to use it on most of its motorcycles, including the highly praised Superduke 1290 GT, whose rear end you’re looking at here. It’s harder to see here, but that’s also a progressive spring, and the shock is bolted directly to the swingarm without a linkage. Again, light, simple, few moving parts – and on the Superduke, extremely effective in terms of providing a plush ride that stiffens up when needed.

I don’t remember who came up with the first link-type rear suspension, but just about every current serious sportbike, sport-tourer, and upscale motorcycle uses one. Instead of bolting the shock directly to the swingarm, a linkage system consists of a pair of levers or two, and other parts that connect the shock to the swingarm.

This is the Honda NC700X’s humble linkage seen from below.

Among the advantages of a link suspension is the ability to tune in as much rising rate as you want by switching the lengths and shapes of the components. Through the magical power of leverage, link-type suspensions make it easy to provide a smooth ride over small bumps and a more controlled one over bigger bumps. The shock itself can be smaller, since the linkage can turn not much shock stroke into quite a bit of rear-wheel travel, and it can be tucked out of the way in what might otherwise be wasted space.

Though that wasted space could be on the left side of the bike just as easily, like where Ducati put the V-Twin Panigale’s man tackle.

Freddie Spencer says it was Honda’s Pro-Link suspension on his grand-prix racebike that made him the champ he is today. He may be exaggerating, but who are we to question? You can get as complicated as you want to with all this if you’re the mathematical type; for more detail, Graham Byrnes, PhD, seems to know what he’s talking about.

Send your moto-related questions to If we can’t answer them, we’ll at least do no harm in the time it takes to seek out a believable answer.

Recent Ask MOs:

Which Motorcycles Have Helmet Locks?
How Much Better are Tires Compared to 30 Years Ago?
Will I be Shunned If I Ride an Automatic Motorcycle?

The Missing Linkage appeared first on

Church of MO: .25-liter Beginner Bikes, 1997

December 3, 2017 John Burns 0

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these teeny motorcycles, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

For I was underpowerd, and ye gave me no more displacement: I was thirsty, and ye gave me 60 miles per gallon: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee upon a cheap 250, athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee, we thought you were just a rank beginner and would outgrow it?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. Giveth unto me the Virago 250, though, and maybe we can talk…

.25 Caliber Shootout

Three Japanese Fighters Whip Out Their Little Guns

LOS ANGELES, December, 1997 —You’ve got to start somewhere. And just as new pilots aren’t strapping themselves into multi-engine jets, beginning riders are ill-advised to start their career with their legs wrapped around a GSX-R750 or a Gold Wing.

New riders need to get a feel for it all: The wind, the road, the speed. But it’s got to be fun, too, and while you’re learning the intricacies of choosing a line through a decreasing radius turn, or just learning to stay the hell out of the way of the insipid nut who’s changing lanes right into you, you still want a bike that reflects your personality, accommodates your riding habits and will help you become a skilled rider. Motorcycle Online decided to put three “beginner” bikes through their paces in an effort to find motorcycle-Nirvana for the novice.

The little Ninja cuts a striking pose. Only the smaller size gives away its 250 displacement. The little Ninja cuts a striking pose. Only the smaller size gives away its 250 displacement.

Our test bikes were the Kawasaki Ninja 250R, the Yamaha Virago 250, and the Honda CB250 Nighthawk. We couldn’t have found three bikes in the same displacement category that were less like each other. What they did have in common was our main testing criteria: Lightweight, small-displacement, cheap.

The Ninja is driven by a 248cc liquid-cooled parallel twin. The short 41.2mm stroke is reflected in the 14,000 rpm redline that is indicated on the only tach present among the three bikes. With dual-disc brakes, a compliant suspension, and a six-speed gearbox shifting through a reasonably good power curve, the smallest Ninja of the family just barely edged out the Virago in our test.

Cruising in the sun through the canyons of Malibu. Sigh. The Virago knows its purpose.Cruising in the sun through the canyons of Malibu. Sigh. The Virago knows its purpose.

Which brought us to a surprising discovery: The Virago is a kick-butt little cruiser, designed and styled to fulfill its particular special mission. Sporting nice metallic paint, cool forward controls and wide handlebars, riding the Virago certainly didn’t look any different from riding any othercruiser, except that it is a bit smaller (and therefore a fraction of the weight). For the rider, though, the real pleasure started at the right wrist with the best power delivery and most sensitive throttle control of the group, by far. The 249cc air-cooled V-twin packed about as much torque as possible into those two little lungs and twisting the grip resulted in a pleasantly smooth and insistent tug while floating along on the soft but capable suspension. Top that off with a low seat height and a long wheelbase for a fine expressway cruise and you’ve got a fine trainer that nearly ate the whole enchilada but for one detail that, alas, is fairly crucial to first-time riders: Price.    Resting your behind on the Yamaha’s comfy seat will suck a full $1,000 more out of your bank account than will the Ninja. And, though the Ninja had some very real problems (more on those in a moment), it would be hard to argue in a straight 1-2-3 comparo that the Virago was $1,000 finer, especially for a bike that is destined to be replaced when the rider is ready for bigger, badder, faster.

The Nighthawk, leaning. Exhilarating, to say the least. The Nighthawk, leaning. Exhilarating, to say the least.

But what about Contestant Number Three? Well, the 250 Nighthawk was definitely there, we rode it, and we, alas, did not see the light. The excellent 750 Nighthawk’s little brother came off more like the stunted child than a chip off the ol’ block, with a power delivery that one of our testers precisely described as “ridiculously low”, even for a 250. A standard should be built with all-around competence in mind, but with cheesy 70’s-styled controls and switches, a suspension that left us wondering whether this bike’s designers had ever heard of or had just completely forgotten damping of any kind, and finally a front drum brake, we were left scratching our heads. Buying into this would only cost you $400 more than the Ninja. Hmm.  Well, a sunny Friday afternoon sun beckoned and we strapped on some lids, slapped on some gloves, and took these bikes out for a spin in the Malibu Canyons. Tests can not live on commuting alone. Twisties must be negotiated to unlock a bike’s inner truths.

An unlikely trio. An unlikely trio.

The Ninja devoured the winding asphalt with aplomb. A light, sporty 250 should turn like a French curve, and so the Ninja did, with fine braking into the turns supplied by a twin-piston caliper gripping the rotor up front, and a single piston binder grabbing a disc at the rear. Stoppies are possible on this motorcycle. And just like a sportbike should be, the Ninja was the essence of flickable and, more importantly for a beginner, confidence inspiring, holding on to most lines asked then coming out of the corners into a surprisingly stable ride.There were perhaps a few other surprises, not quite as welcome. Low to mid-rpm carburetion was glitchy at best and the bike was at times a little unsettled when driven deep into the corners. Where the Virago’s perceived power delivery was in a nice smooth curve, the Ninja was marred with uneven and sluggish off-idle power until about 5,000 rpm where things started to smooth out a bit. Furthermore, drive lash on this bike was quite significant, and while it could be argued that it would encourage newbies to learn smooth throttle control, the overall effect was rather unpleasant, and a sudden throttle change in a turn (not unreasonable to expect for a new rider) could be an unsettling sensation indeed, despite the rather soft suspension set-up.

The Virago suffered no such nonsense, simply responding as expected to minute throttle adjustments, flicking nicely into the corners and offering a ride that, although soft, was pretty much exactly what you’d want from a cruiser. Ground clearance wasn’t great and scraping pegs wasn’t difficult, but then this is a cruiser and wasn’t out of character.
Our Nighthawk was, well, again, the least fun of the three.

With what seemed like zero front end dampening and springs at both ends that were much too soft, flying through the kinks in the road became more a matter of slowing the hell down and just cruising, nice and easy. Except that it isn’t a cruiser and there is a zero cool factor. The Honda also suffered from a great gaping lag on the throttle coming off idle, and a very uneven idle at that. We just couldn’t see this little standard beckoning to the beginner for that Sunday morning out on the road. It was no fun in the turns and offered none of the general do-it-all capability that a standard should. And where the Virago sported a single disc up front and the Ninja had discs front and back, the Honda had that darn front drum brake. Braking was okay on the Nighthawk, but given Honda’s reputation for details, we would like to see them at least pretend they cared.

The choice for us was clearly between the Ninja and the Virago, and we did come to a split. We were all impressed by the Virago’s refinement, not only in the quality of the feel but also in the appearance and quality of the fit and finish. It not only accepted its cruiser role, but it fulfilled it very nicely, with no apologies for displacement. Unfortunately, it also did so with no apologies for price, and this is where the Ninja made up for its shortcomings. The cheapest of the three, the Ninja offered true sportbike capability and styling along with a good fit and finish, lots of little features like bungee hooks, centerstand, a tachometer, front and rear disc brakes and an all-around fun time. Of course, given the disparity of styling a choice between the two might come down to simple riding preference, sport or cruising, and either choice would give a novice a good platform to grow on and, most importantly, avoid that aforementioned nut inviting himself into your lane.

 View all Photos | VideosPHOTOS & VIDEOS





Church of MO: .25-liter Beginner Bikes, 1997 appeared first on