Yamaha GTS 1000

When it comes to bringing technological innovation to mass produced motorcycles, Yamaha leads the way with its revolutionary GTS 1000. The GTS was the first mass production Superbike of the present age to use a front suspension system that didn’t employ a couple of telescopic forks and a chassis that doesn’t run more or less in a straight line from the steering head to the swingarm pivot.

Motorcycle manufactures have long searched for a method of suspending the front wheel of a motorcycle that doesn’t rely on conventional telescopic forks. ‘Teles’ are unsatisfactory for several reason, they are prone to flexing under braking and when corning, and then cause the front end of the bike to ‘dive’ under braking. The search for a realistic alternative has been the Holy Grail of motorcycle engineering.

Yamaha’s alternative front end, as featured on the GTS 1000, in a solitary sided front swingarm with hub-centre navigating not unlike one front wheel of a car. Separating the steering purpose from the suspension should, in theory, produce a bike that steers, corners and brakes better than a bike with conventional forks.

The GTS’s Omega chassis is different from that of a conventional bike because the front suspension removes the necessity for a headstock. The aluminium alloy frame is a squat box shaped affair which wraps around the engine, on to which are bolted the front and rear suspension systems, as well as the sub-frames necessary for the steering, seat and bodywork.

The result is a bike that has most sophisticated front suspension systems in production. The bad news is that, in the case of the GTS at least, this kind of suspension system offers no significant improvement over conventional telescopic forks. Being designed as a sports touring motorcycle the GTS is too long and carries too much weight to reap any benefits from the hub-centre steering other than the elimination of the front end drive under braking.

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Triumph 900 Speed Triple

When Triumph rejoined the motorcycle manufacturing fray in the early 1990s the two wheeled world was impressed. And old and revered name had been applied to a thoroughly modern range of motorcycles and was being sold at prices that allowed Triumphs to compete directly with the Japanese factories.
A few years down the line Triumph have expanded and revised their range, dropping models that didn’t sell well and introducing new ones they hoped would. The speed Triple is one such machine, one which has been received with open arms by the motorcycling fraternity.
Whilst some manufacturers have gone all out at the retro market, aiming traditional looking machines at the born again biker, Triumph have taken a different approach. With speed Triple they have taken an existing Superbike from their range, the Daytona 900, taken off the fairing, and tidied up what is underneath to the point where it is aesthetically pleasing (not an easy thing to do with a modern water cooled motorcycle). The result is one of the leanest, meanest looking bikes around, a café-racer for the ‘90s, not a lash-up of bits and pieces designed to look like something from the mid-1970s.
The engine of the Speed Triple is the same excellent unit that powers a whole variety of Triumphs, from the Trophy 900 to the Daytona 900. it is a water cooled DOHC 12-valce in-line three cylinder that puts out 98 bhp and 60 lb/ft of torque, enough to dispense with one of the usual six gear rations. Not massive numbers for a 900, but sufficient to give Speed Triple a top speed of 140 mph.

Ducati 916

To many, Ducati’s 916 is not merely a Superbike, but the Superbike. Part motorcycle, part fantasy, part erotic art, few motorcycles of the past 20 years has aroused such passion amongst the motorcycling public.
Just look at it. Is there such thing as Repetitive Strain Injury of the desire muscles? There is now. Within nanoseconds of its UK launch in late 1993, a whole generation of bikes had instantly put the 916 top of their list. Practically overnight, every one of the 200 destined for Britain in 1994 were sold, and the first 100 due in ’95. Even at $11,800 apiece, it seemed cheap.

Not only does the 916 have looks in abundance, it has pedigree. Essentially, it is a racer, with almost desultory addition of lights and a number plate. It is more than a spin-off from World Superbike regulations which insist that if you can’t find the same frame, engine castings and induction system in the shops, you can’t put them on the track, either. For this reason, Honda would probably never have built their RC45 were it not for their Superbike racing ambitions. Ducati, on the other hand, almost certainly would have built the 916 – because they are Italian and Italians are into that sort of thing.
The 916’s predecessor, the 888, had already won the World Superbike crown in 1990, ’91, ’92. Hot off the drawing board, the 916 followed suit, taking Carl Fogarty to memorable victory in the 1994 title chase. By the time you read this, he will probably have won it again. And if Fogarty doesn’t, another 916 almost certainly will.
Despite the leanness of its lines, the 916 is an extraordinarily complex box of tricks. That slim fairing hides an engine which may ‘only’ be a twin, the latest in a line of Ducati V-twin dating back to 1972. But the latest Dukes have four valves per cylinder, four camshafts, six gears, liquid-cooling, computer-controlled electronic fuel injection and desmodromic valvegear.

All this advance technology makes the 916 quite unlike most racing engines. Instead of a diet of pure, giddy revs, the twin pours out irrepressible, visceral urge almost from tickover. Solid, hard power begins as low as 3000 rpm, and from 6000 upwards the universe is thrown into reserve. Top speed is a blistering 160 mph.
In 955cc Superbike racing trim, the ‘916’ develops the thick end of 150 bhp. As a roadster it claims 114 bhp at 9000 rpm, but feels even stronger, more usable. The spread of power is so immense that almost any gear will do. And the booming roar when downshifting into corners is one of the joys of motorcycling.
The Ducati’s chassis, too, is of the highest class. Compared to the 888, the 916 is shorter, more agile, and more racer-like. The Japanese Showa suspension offers a huge array of setting, but there is very little wrong with the Duke straight out of the crate. With its short wheelbase and its lively geometry, it is in its element through turns – blindingly fast sweepers and hairpins alike.

Anyone buying the 916 takes custody of a dream as much as reality. As a practical street bike it has its faults, not the least of which is comfort. In a racing crouch – what it was designed for, all – it fits like a glove. As a tourer, it makes a good plank. This is not a practical motorcycle, and every red-blooded rider in the world should want one.