By: Dave Abrahams
Sabie, Mpumalanga – How do you compare a 260kg BMW R1200 GS adventure tourer with a Ducati Monster 1200S street-fighter that weighs only 209kg. Each has two wheels, a 1.2-litre, fuel-injected, two-cylinder engine and a six-speed constant-mesh gearbox.
In every other respect, they could hardly be more different.
They, and seven more wildly assorted machines ranging from 688cc to 1301cc and from 55kW to 132kW, made up the finalists for the 2014 Pirelli SA Bike of the Year award – and the main topic of conversation among the 14 motorcycle journalists who’d been co-opted as judges, at every stop over two days of almost nonstop riding across the highways of Gauteng and the twisty byways of Mpumalanga, was how to measure one against another.
The short answer is, of course, that you can’t.
The only thing all 14 of us agreed on was that each motorcycle had to be weighed against two criteria: how does it stack up against other, similar motorcycles that a prospective buyer might consider as alternatives (given a suitable weighting for price) and how much of an improvement is it over the model it replaces.
With two examples of most models available – which led to a number of comments along the lines of “The red one is faster than the white one!” – the judges were able to swop mounts at every stop along the N4 from Johannesburg and on into Mpumalanga’s world-renowned twisties.
And every bike produced a surprise of its own.
Long a sceptic when it comes to BMW’s elephantine GelandeScooters, I was forced to admit that the new liquid-cooled flat-twin engine is a quantum leap forward from its air-cooled predecessor in every respect, whether plonking down a jeep-trail at 37km/h or devouring the N4 at speeds too naughty to number.
Ducati’s 899 Panigale mini-superbike – unanimously voted the sexiest bike of the bunch - was unexpectedly comfortable on long straight roads but needed a hatful of revs to get its groove on, while its 1198cc Monster street-fighter sibling proved astonishingly agile on the glorious “22” between Sabie and Hazyview, and even better over the sweeping Long Tom Pass.
Who needs cruise control on a street-fighter?
Although they were almost identical on paper, the Kawasaki Z1000 was rough, vibratious, somewhat wayward and frankly, a little crude compared to the naked version of BMW’s S1000 superbike but I wasn’t alone in preferring its no-nonsense persona to that of the gizmotronic German machine.
The new Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom and both Yamaha street-fighters – the 688cc MT-07 and 847cc MT-09 - were woefully outgunned in this company, but impressed with their willingness to mix it with the big boys and their bang-for-buck compared to much more expensive machines.
KTM’s Super Duke R, by contrast, produced the biggest grins of the two-day evaluation with its great gobs of mid-range, responsive chassis and unexpected comfort levels over longer stretches than supermotards are designed for.
And the winner?
I’ve submitted my votes, along with the other 13 judges and, just like you, I’ll have to wait until the auditors have finished crunching the numbers to find out which of the nine finalists is the 2014 Pirelli SA Bike of the Year. The announcement will be made at the Amid Motorcycle and Quad Lifestyle Expo, on at Nasrec this weekend.