2003 Model Year Bike Reviews
Mark Tuttle Jr.
December 28, 2002
Filed under Aprilia Motorcycle Reviews, BMW Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on BMW Motorcycles, Ducati Motorcycle Road Tests & Reviews, Honda Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Honda Motorcycles, Kawasaki Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Kawasaki Motorcycles & Sportbikes, KTM Motorcycle Reviews, Moto Guzzi Motorcycle Reviews, Suzuki Motorcycle Reviews, Triumph Motorcycle Reviews, Yamaha Motorcycle Reviews
(This article was published in the December 2002 issue of Rider magazine.)
By Mark Tuttle Jr.
Hope you’re hungry! There’s a veritable feast of new motorcycle models rolling out of the kitchen for 2003. Some are here already, others are on their way to dealers across the country. Most of the manufacturers waited for the September 2002 dealer shows or big Intermot consumer show the same month in Munich, Germany, to unveil their 2003 tidbits, though as usual a few lifted the lid a bit earlier.
In addition to bubbling pot-fulls of returning, early release 2003 models, back in the October 2002 issue we showed you Harley-Davidson’s 100th anniversary motorcycle line and the new Buell Lightning XB9S, and revealed Victory’s new-for-2003 Custom Order Program as well as its sexy new Vegas cruiser. Kawasaki’s wild new Z1000 naked sportbike, huge Vulcan 1600 cruiser and racy Ninja ZX-6RR and Ninja ZX-6R (now with a 636cc engine) sportbikes were unveiled last month, and we’ve already tested several new-for-’03 models in earlier 2002 issues. But as you can see on the following pages, all of those bikes were merely appetizers on a huge menu of tasty treats for 2003. Here are the rest of the new motorcycles that will be coming to the good ol’ USA.
Despite a slump in small-displacement scooter sales in Europe, its core business, Aprilia is coming on stronger than ever for 2003. And not just with its own line of motorcycles and scooters, but with an obvious degree of positive influence upon the Moto Guzzi brand it now owns.
At the top of Aprilia’s range are the RSV Mille and RSV Mille R supersport bikes, both of which have received a number of improvements for 2003. Radial front brakes and a fully adjustable titanium-nitride Ohlins fork have been added to the lighter racing R model, and new bodywork, close-ratio six-speed transmissions and burnished exhaust systems are now found on both machines. These silky sportbikes are powered by the hottest 130-horsepower version of Aprilia’s Rotax-built, liquid-cooled, 998cc, 60-degree V-twin with a dry sump and EFI.
Taking a cue from journalists and the public, who thought the limited original a tad extreme, Aprilia has also created a better-looking and less expensive production version of the Tuono naked sportbike called the Fighter. Based upon the same raucous RSV Mille V-twin and alloy frame with only minimal engine and suspension tweaking, the Tuono Fighter has a fairly upright seating position and is ready to take on bikes such as the Yamaha FZ-1 and new Kawasaki Z1000 in the naked sportbike battle. Specially designed intake manifolds and specific EFI computer mapping help make the bike more rideable at medium revs, though it still barks out a claimed 126 horsepower at full song.
The Aprilia SL1000 Falco and RST1000 Futura sport-tourers and ETV1000 Caponord and Pegaso 650 adventure-tourers will also return for 2003.
BMW had a very strong lineup for 2002, all of which returns for 2003 with the addition of the F650CS single we tested back in the July 2002 issue, and the new R1200CL boxer touring cruiser we recently rode cross-country (see page 34). At Intermot BMW also unveiled a more touring-oriented version of the K1200RS called the K1200GT, which adds more hand and leg protection to the big sport-tourer as well as an electric windscreen, matching side cases and a new seat with optional heating. The liquid-cooled, 1,171cc in-line four with six-speed tranny and Telelever and Paralever suspension systems is otherwise unchanged from K1200RS spec.
BMW also kicked its Boxer Cup racing program into high gear with the launch of the R1100S Boxer Cup Replica, painted like the original and bearing Randy Mamola’s signature on the fairing. The R1100S BCR also has the machine’s optional sports suspension package and extra-wide 5.5-inch rear wheel and 180/55 radial tire as standard. The International Boxer Cup season opener will be at Daytona Beach during Bike Week in March 2003, right before the Daytona 200 on Sunday.
BMW also announced that it would be suspending production of its exotic C1 covered scooter (see Rider July 2000) this fall. The slump in small displacement scooter sales in Europe has been tough on the run-of-the-mill offerings over there, never mind BMW’s pricier and rather specialized “safety” scooter, which has a built-in cage and seatbelt and could be ridden helmetless in many European countries.
Ducati had perhaps the biggest rollout of new or revised street bikes of any manufacturer for 2003, with 12 models, all 90-degree desmodromic V-twins. If one wasn’t found drooling over the new 999 and 999s sportbikes at Intermot, they were probably over by the Multistrada imagining all of the fun places and ways it can be ridden but completely unable to categorize it.
For the racetrack superheroes out there, in addition to the new extreme 999 and even racier 999s Testastretta V-twin sportbikes, Ducati unveiled 749 and 749s Testastretta machines modeled upon their larger siblings, all of which look like they’re going a million mph parked on a rotating stand. I won’t go into too much technical detail on these liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valve-per-cylinder racebikes-with-lights, but you may be interested to know that the 999 has somewhat adjustable bars, footpegs and seat—I could even sit on one without first requiring a massage. The company will also continue to offer the previous 998 and 748 for 2003 for the merely fast.
Among Ducati’s other new eight-valve water-pumpers for 2003 is an ST4s ABS sport-touring model with anti-lock brakes, a first for Ducati. The Brembo- and Bosch-designed system is said to maximize braking performance under normal conditions while adding a degree of safety in adverse ones. The standard ST2, ST4 and ST4s models return as well. But the most exciting bike after the 999s and 749s is the new Multistrada, which has been revised and restyled since the controversial prototype was revealed last year. Citing the need for user-friendly power and torque, this sportbike with “real-world comfort and versatility” is powered by an all-new Dual Spark air-cooled, 1,000cc V-twin with two valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. The bike’s upright ergos, optional hard bags and sporty chassis and suspension should make it a blast on tour and in the twisties, and its new styling licks bring it more down to Earth. The Multistrada is scheduled for March 2003 production, so we may see it here by next spring.
Other new 2003 Ducatis include Monster 800 and 1000 models based upon the new air-cooled Dual Spark engine technology in addition to the existing Monster 620ie and S4 models. In the middle of the sportbike line are new 800 and 1000 Dual Spark Supersports as well as entry-level 800 and 620 Sport machines, though we’re not yet sure if all of these will be offered in the U.S.
The rumors that Honda would replace its CBR600F4i sportbike in 2003 did not come true. Instead, Honda launched a radical new CBR600RR rocketship that will be offered in addition to the popular CBR600F4i. Inspired by the RC211V five-cylinder bike currently dominating the MotoGP series, the CBR600RR features an all-new liquid-cooled, 599cc in-line four with a 15,000-rpm redline, Dual Staged fuel injection with two injectors per cylinder and a center-up exhaust system under the seat. The unit Pro-Link rear suspension and swingarm share the RC211V’s design, and a centrally located fuel tank keeps the frame compact and centralizes mass. The CBR600RR’s Line Beam headlight uses a unique three-piece reflector design that Honda says is the first in the world. The addition of this new Honda, a revised Yamaha R6 and two new Kawasakis to the 600 class mean it will really heat up in 2003.
We’ve already covered Honda’s other big 2003 news in road tests of the new ST1300/ABS touring bike and VTX1300S cruiser in previous issues. Not to be outdone, though, Honda caused quite a stir by revealing two significant 2004 models at its September 2002 dealer show. The real wowzer is the 2004 Valkyrie Rune, a wild custom with a 69-inch wheelbase based upon the GL1800 flat six. In addition to its rad styling, the Rune (any of the oh-so-mysterious alphabetic characters sometimes believed to have magic powers used by ancient Germans and Scandinavians like those hairy Viking guys) has a diamond-shaped aluminum-alloy frame, RC211V-inspired rear suspension, a trailing link in front and the largest disc brakes ever fitted to a Honda motorcycle. If you saw Honda’s T2 concept bike in the May 2001 issue of Rider or at one of the consumer motorcycle shows in 2001/2002 the Rune will strike a familiar chord. Look for it in limited numbers late next year.
The 2004 VTX1300C is slated to debut in early summer 2003. It’s basically a hot-rod-styled version of the VTX1300S similar to the original VTX1800C, with shorter dual exhaust, footpegs instead of footboards, cast wheels and more abbreviated fenders.
We showed you the rest of Honda’s 2003 lineup in the August 2002 issue with the exception of the new 2003 NPS50 Ruckus, a 50cc scooter with fat tires and a rugged design that reminds of us of the lawn-mower-engined machines we built in our youth. The Ruckus will probably start reliably, though, and you won’t have to jump off it when the police come the other way….
KTM is a force to be reckoned with in the single-cylinder dirt bike and Supermoto markets, though it’s still building momentum on the street bike side. That could accelerate rather quickly with the official launch of its first multi-cylinder engine, a liter-class V-twin called the 950 LC8. This liquid-cooled, 75-degree, DOHC engine will enter production in spring 2003 in the 950 Adventure S, an “all-terrain roadster enduro” with a windscreen, 35.5-inch seat height and 6.6-gallon fuel tank. It’s likely to compete with the BMW GS-series bikes in the adventure-touring category. KTM also unveiled its wild-looking 115-horsepower street-bike prototype with the powerplant called the 950 Duke, which may see the light of production for 2004.
The KTM 640 Adventure LC4 single we tested earlier this year and the 640 Duke naked sport will also return for 2003 with more power and hydraulic clutches, among numerous other improvements.
Italian maker Moto Guzzi has benefited greatly from its new ownership by Aprilia in the form of major updates to its venerable air-cooled, fuel-injected, 1,064cc 90-degree “flying” V-twin (the basis of the model line, really) and renewed R&D on an all-new engine for the future with the same basic layout. Although the company only showed one new production model, the 750 Breva standard (and the 750s don’t usually make it as far as the USA), it wowed the worldwide audience at Intermot with a pair of concept bikes as far removed from Moto Guzzi’s traditional mold as possible without sacrificing its trademark engine layout or shaft final drive.
At the heart of both the muscular Griso sport standard and racy MGS/01 sportbike is a restyled, fuel-injected version of Guzzi’s 992cc, four-valve-per-cylinder powerplant with six speeds from earlier sportbikes such as the Daytona 1000. Both machines are experiments in fresh directions for the company from Guzzi’s newly formed Style Laboratory. The Griso has a new “90-degree” frame and single-sided swingarm, while the MGS/01 sports a box-section-steel single backbone frame, aluminum swingarm and underseat exhaust. Guzzi says it will gauge public reaction to the bikes to decide whether or not to put them into production someday.
For the present Moto Guzzi has added some variations of its existing sportbikes and cruisers to the 2003 line. The V11 Le Mans Rossa Corsa joins the standard Le Mans with suspension upgrades and engine updates for more power, smoothness and decreased emissions, namely a higher compression ratio of 9.8:1, exhaust crossover pipe and catalytic converter. The top-line V11 Scura and more basic V11 sportbikes also return for 2003. Moto Guzzi will also offer six variations of its good-handling V-twin cruiser, including new Touring versions of the California EV and Stone with windscreens and hard saddlebags.
In a bid to protect its class-leading position, perhaps, Suzuki has updated its animal-like GSX-R1000 sportbike introduced in 2001 with more performance, less weight and a sleeker, more aggressive look for 2003. Engine changes include the use of two sets of double-barrel throttle bodies in its dual throttle valve system, which also has an updated electronic control computer. A new titanium exhaust system reduces weight, and the bike’s appearance and aerodynamics have both been upgraded with items like vertically stacked headlights and reshaped front and inner fenders. The bike’s chassis, brakes (now radial in front) and suspension were also gone over. Suzuki says the 2003 GSX-R1000 is about 4.4 pounds lighter than the previous model—it will list for $10,499.
As rumored Suzuki also unveiled a pair of big brothers for its popular SV650s, themselves back with new styling and frames for 2003. The SV1000 and SV1000S are based upon the liquid-cooled, 90-degree TL1000S sportbike V-twin currently found in the V-Strom. This fuel-injected, DOHC, four-valve-per-cylinder engine is wrapped in an all-new, aluminum-alloy truss frame with fully adjustable suspension at both ends. Like the smaller bikes the SV1000S model has a half-fairing, clip-on handlebars and dual headlights, while the naked SV1000 uses a single round headlight and a tubular handlebar. The best part is the prices—the SV1000S will list for $8,599, and the SV1000 for just $7,999.
The smaller SVs got their fair share of upgrades for 2003, too, including digital fuel-injection with Suzuki’s SDTV dual throttle valve system and all-new aluminum-alloy truss frames similar to that on the larger new SVs. A restyled fairing on the SV650S and new instruments on both bikes round out the major changes. The SV650 will go for $5,899 and the SV650S for $6,299 in 2003.
American Suzuki will also jump into the big-bore scooter market in the USA along with Aprilia and Honda with the introduction of two new Suzuki Burgmans (Burgmen?), the Burgman 650 and 400. The former is powered by a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 638cc V-twin and has a special electronically controlled, continuously variable automatic transmission with three modes—normal, power or manual shift. The Burgman 400 is powered by a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 385cc single and has Suzuki’s Combination Braking System. Both scooters offer large, protective fairings and windscreens and huge underseat storage bins with their futuristic bodywork. The Burgmen will list for $7,699 for the 650 and $5,599 for the 400.
Proving there can be a silver lining behind every dark cloud, Triumph was able to modernize and improve efficiency in much of its 11-year-old British factory following a devastating fire at the Hinckley plant in March 2002. Rebuilding is complete and production restarted in part in mid-September 2002, with 100 percent production expected by Christmas 2002. The company’s first priority is filling orders for models in high demand such as the Bonneville America cruiser (see Rider, December 2001), or those that were introduced just prior to the fire like the 2003 Speed Four 600cc in-line four-cylinder naked sportbike, so it did not introduce any all-new machines at Intermot.
Presumably to help fill out the line and demand for Triumph-badged motorcycles, the company did release or bring back some stylish variations of its base models. The Speedmaster, for example, is based upon the Bonneville America with its low-slung look and raked front end, but has a tougher look and more aggressive riding position thanks to flatter bars and a gunfighter-style one-piece seat. The Speedmaster also comes with cast wheels instead of spokes. A variation of the standard Bonneville, the new T100 sports twin bar-mounted instruments and rubber knee-grips on a two-tone finished fuel tank with engine covers finished in chrome. Finally, the returning Thunderbird Sport is a sportier version of the Thunderbird that marries a classic flat-track look with a more road-oriented focus. It fits between the Thunderbird and the new Speed Four. The rest of Triumph’s lineup returns unchanged for 2003 except for colors.
Yamaha’s big 2003 news, depending upon your point of view, is either the FJR1300 sport-tourer we tested back in the August 2002 issue, or the new YZF-R6 sportbike unveiled last September. Despite the latter’s class-leading performance in 2002, the 2003 YZF-R6 wasn’t merely upgraded but given another complete redo. The bike has more aggressive, freshened styling, and is eight pounds lighter with three more horsepower for a total of 123 at the crank, says Yamaha. An improved ram-air system, larger airbox and reduced friction and pumping losses are responsible for the power gain, while the new engine design and a 50 percent more rigid, lighter frame and swingarm and new wheels brought most of the weight savings. The rest of the improvements to the YZF-R6 are too numerous to list here—suffice to say it’s essentially an all-new bike that’s once again a serious contender for the 600-class crown.
Other than new flame paint jobs for the Road Star Warrior, YZF-R1 and YZF-R6, we showed you the rest of Yamaha’s 2003 lineup—including the limited-edition Road Stars—in the September 2002 issue. Of final interest, though, is the 2003 FJR1300 that Yamaha Europe introduced at Intermot last September. Yamaha USA declined to comment, but keeping in mind that the U.S. 2003 FJR1300 here now is essentially Europe’s 2002 model, the 2003 FJR1300 shown at Intermot will probably become our 2004. And it had a number of improvements and is available in a version with anti-lock brakes. Both bikes have larger-diameter dual front discs and a new front master cylinder, uprated front and rear suspension, a new taller electrically adjustable windscreen with more slope and new integrated front turn signals. A one-liter storage compartment has been added to the inside of the upper cowl, too. These refinements address very nearly to the one the nitpicks we had with the bike in our road test—the ABS would be icing on the cake.