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For '98, it's an old story–more power, more speed, more technical wizardry.

BMW R 1200 C


- Buell
- Ducati
- Harley-Davidson
- Honda
- Kawasaki
- Suzuki
- Triumph
- Yamaha

Buying a motorcycle is an affair of the heart, plain and simple. That's why there's no demand in this market for the 2-wheeled equivalent of a dull gray 4-door family sedan. Still, that passion for the open road takes many different forms. The result is an industry of manufacturers offering products as different from each other as a Chevy Prizm is from a Chevy Corvette.
    Here, listed alphabetically by maker, are the motorcycle world's latest offerings.


With the release of two break-the-mold models in 1998, BMW may at last grow beyond its reputation for building machines that are renowned as durable and fine-handling but come up short in crowd-drawing appeal. Take the R 1200 C, the Bavarian company's first attempt at a cruiser bike. A radical departure from anything that's previously worn the company's familiar blue-and-white roundel, the controversial styling treatment has incited an enormous uproar among the BMW faithful. Gone is all the traditional BMW restraint, replaced by expanses of chrome and visually weighty bodywork that's undeniably, well, original.


    Perhaps the only cruiser convention the R 1200 C honors is that of the 2-cylinder engine, though here it's not a V-twin, but the classic BMW Boxer layout. It's been bored and stroked to 1170cc for a thundering 72-ft.-lb. torque peak at 3000 rpm. In our test ride, this engine contributed much to the bike's well-balanced personality, though it still requires adjusting to perennial Boxer quirks such as toasted shins in hot weather. Also new from BMW is the muscle-bound 130-hp K 1200 RS sports tourer with in-your-face styling.
    Both new motorcycles use BMW's unique Telelever front suspension, carrying the fork on a control arm pivoted from the frame. A standard antilock system complements a set of brakes on the sporty K 1200 RS, which we judged to be extraordinary. The antilock system is also available as an option on the cruiser.


Buell offers a unique combination: genuine high-performance sportbikes with classic American V-twin power. The company's credentials become even more impressive in 1998 with the introduction of a 101-hp version of Harley-Davidson's (H-D owns 49% of Buell) 1203cc V-twin for the S1 White Lightning, S3 Thunderbolt and S3T Sport Touring model. The 10-hp increase over last year comes with the installation of Buell's Thunderstorm High-Flow cylinder heads, featuring larger valves and redesigned combustion chambers, intake and exhaust ports.


    The $10,599 White Lightning is the latest offspring from Buell's Lightning series, distinguished by its icy monochrome paint treatment. Like all models in the Wisconsin-based company's line, it delivers dramatic styling by baring the mechanical components. Little is hidden by the minimal bodywork, so gawkers can readily see the bottom-mounted, extension-type rear suspension system and inverted front fork.


With their breathtaking Italian style and captivating mechanical intricacy, Ducati motorcycles are restoring the romance of riding for many enthusiasts. For 1998, Ducati adds to their line of afternoon-jaunt machines a more accommodating long-distance mount, the ST2 sports touring entry. The paint scheme is an understated gray and silver, the seating position is less crouched and a set of well-integrated saddlebags are fitted, but this is the real thing–right down to the famous Ducati 90 V-twin with desmodromic valve actuation (not just opened, but also closed by the overhead cams).


    The powertrain is a fuel-injected 944cc sohc variation using two valves per cylinder and liquid cooling. The frame is a steel-tubing trestle design, crafted with the attention to detail that has become the company's signature attraction. The resilient seat, intelligent ergonomics and roomy saddlebags (large enough to stow a full-face helmet) bring Ducati into a new realm of practicality.


There's probably never been a 95-year-old in such vigorous good health as the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. And the company's celebrating with a brace of anniversary editions, such as the Sportster XL1200S. This gets a power boost from new dual-plug heads that also feature a boost in compression. Hotter cams, a sophisticated ignition system and less restrictive exhaust all add up to a torque boost of 15% in the 2000 to 5000 rpm range. Also new for '98 is the Road King Classic, which builds on the success of the Road King, adding features such as a detachable windshield, two-up seat and ample leather saddlebags. Slant-cut mufflers, laced wheels and whitewall tires complete the "period piece" effect, tastefully celebrating an earlier era, while the electronic sequential port fuel injection delivers modern-day smoothness of operation.



It's been a half century since Soichiro Honda started his piston ring business–which eventually grew into the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer–in postwar Japan. Besides being an engineering powerhouse, Honda has a knack for versatility. Just look at the Shadow Aero, the latest addition to their big-bore V-twin cruiser series. It's retro to the bone. Chrome accents are poured liberally over the extended-wheelbase chassis, the throaty exhaust ends in a fishtail tip, and white sidewall tires are mounted on the wire wheels. Its sohc 45 V-twin has a 3-valves-per-cylinder layout.
    Honda's VFR sportbike celebrates the company's 50th anniversary with the revival of the Interceptor nameplate first used by Honda in 1983. There's also a new generation of the silky-smooth V4 engine, now fitted with ceramic/graphite-impregnated cylinder sleeves and electronic fuel injection. More daring is the "pivotless frame" design, a term Honda chose to point out that the single-sided rear suspension swingarm now pivots at the engine case for lighter weight and isolation of the suspension gyrations from the frame.



For '98, Kawasaki has birthed a touring cruiser, the Vulcan 1500 Nomad (actually called a '99 model). The 88-cu.-in. megacruiser is outfitted for open-road duties, though with a straightforward windshield (rather than full-coverage fairing) and hard saddlebags (but no rear luggage case), it's no cross-continent specialist. Over on the sportbike side of the showroom, Kawasaki's new-from-the-ground-up ZX-9R is the Ninja master's answer to Honda's ultralight CBR900RR. Kawasaki is not fooling around: The engineers claim to have carved off an astonishing 77 pounds in the makeover. The cylinder bore was increased (and stroke shortened) to allow installation of larger valves. Further breathing assistance comes in the form of Kawasaki's Twin Ram Air system, engineered to pack increasing amounts of oxygen into the 40mm carburetors as ground speed increases.



For '98 comes the TL1000R, powered by the same basic 996cc engine as the S but now wearing a flashy full-coverage road race fairing. The frame of the R model is entirely new, a twin-spar design built up from beams of extruded aluminum. The rear suspension is noteworthy for using a rotary damper mounted separately from the spring. Up front, an inverted fork–with the slider portion at the bottom rather than the top–carries a pair of Tokico 6-piston brake calipers. The engine is also tuned for 135 hp. Also new is Intruder LC, a retro-styled V-twin monster displacing 1462cc, tuned for peak torque at a lazy 2300 rpm. The wide, comfortable seat is just over 27 in. off the asphalt, and the handlebar/foot control relationship has been worked out for a relaxed position. The veneer of throwback styling conceals plated-aluminum cylinder bores, a single-shock rear suspension and cast-aluminum wheels.


Even those riders too young to recall the heyday of British bikes have to be grateful for the revival of the Triumph name in 1990.

Triumph Thunderbird Sport and Sprint Executive
Yamaha YZF R1

For '98, the Triumph line broadens with the Thunderbird Sport and Sprint Executive. Each is powered by Triumph's 885cc inline Triple backed by a 6-speed transmission, though the T-bird is tuned more for midrange punch and the Executive for top-end thrust. The Thunderbird Sport draws its appeal from the traditional mechanical layout and construction details (wire-spoke wheels, reverse-cone mufflers). The Sprint Executive, meanwhile, is fitted with a half fairing and integrated saddlebags.


Yamaha is in sync with the competition for '98, releasing both a new open-class superbike and a cruiser model. The V-Star cruiser slots in above the smallest Virago and the brute-force Royal Stars with an air-cooled, 649cc V-twin. Available in two styles–Classic and Custom–the newest member of the Star family carves its own market niche by offering full-size accommodations (64-in. wheelbase) at a downsized price level. At the other end of the scale, Yamaha's YZF-R1 shows no restraint in its design. Bold red and white graphics and a menacing twin-headlight front view announce a worthy new contender for the Top Gun of sportbikes. The 988cc Four uses a new generation of Yamaha's signature 5-valve design to crank out 150 hp at 10,000 rpm, while the wheelbase and weight have been cut for a 170-mph top-end potential


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Revised: October 17, 1999.

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