When shopping for a new bike, it’s easy to get caught up in big-name brands like Honda, Harley-Davidson, and BMW. In fact, if you were looking for help from Consumer Reports, you’d find the research team zeroed in on these three motorcycle makers (plus Yamaha and Suzuki) in drawing up the publication’s first guide to reliable bikes on the U.S. market.
Beyond these mainstream stalwarts, lesser known manufacturers continue to raise their profile with bikes that win over critics and riders alike. KTM, the parent comany of Husqvarna and Husaberg, was the fastest growing bike company in the United States last year — yet it’s a name known mostly to enthusiasts. Here are five thrilling bikes from companies like Moto Guzzi and KTM that tend to fly under the radar in the mainstream bike market.
1. 2014 MV Agusta Brutale 675 ($11,988)
Meccanica Verghera (MV) Agusta dates back to 1945 in Milan, yet the manufacturer has been bought and sold by several owners in the last decade. In the Brutale 675, the bike maker presents a 678 cc engine that delivers heart-racing excitement off any stop courtesy of 108.5 horsepower and the total weight of 368 lbs. Top speeds veer toward 140 mph.
On top of the power this agile bike delivers, the Brutale 675 delivers that industrial chic style that turns heads on the road as riders go flying by. This bike has no reason to fly under the radar, but that’s the state of its reputation in many circles.
The parent company of Aprilia Motorcycles may be Piaggio, but the scooter maker can’t boast any machines like the Caponord 1200. After disappearing from the U.S. market for several years, Aprilia brought back the 125-horsepower 1200 for the 2015 model year. Sporting the Aprilia V90 liquid-cooled 1197 cc DOHC engine, the Caponord offers riders a lot of juice out of the gate with 84.6 lb-ft of torque.
This U.S. model features a travel pack ready for touring as soon as it drives off the dealer’s lot. In terms of summer tourers from the lesser known brands, the Caponord 1200 is tough to beat.
3. Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom ($15,490)
Touring bikes like the Indian Chief line and Victory cruisers may get a lot of press, but the Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom has impressed critics and riders from both sides of the Atlantic. The 11380 cc engine provides the energy of 89 lb-ft torque to get a rider’s blood pumping, but standard equipment like the ABS, ride-by-wire throttle, and cruise control keep the trip from slipping out of control.
This attention to detail and overall balance made Motorcycle USA name the California 1400 Custom its “Best Cruiser of 2013.” You may not look to Italy when you think about classic American cruisers, but there’s plenty of reason to trust Moto Guzzi’s judgment on this bike.
4. Ducati Streetfighter 848 ($13,495)
Ducati rarely skimps on aggression, and the aptly named Streetfighter 848 has a look that’s as menacing as anything you’ll find on two wheels. Packing the 848 Tetrastretta 11 degrees engine (max 132 horsepower) based on the 848EVO superbike powerhouse, the Streetfighter delivers a great deal of torque at low revs that makes the bike a true thriller at a price point below $14,000.
Every bike Ducati makes — from Multistrada machines to the Diavel and Panigale — get its fair share of attention, but the Streetfighter sits in a class of its own and deserves a close look from any thrill-seeker on the market.
5. 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R ($16,999)
KTM may not be a household name in the United States, but data released by the bike maker showed the company with the strongest sales growth of all through November 2013 (compared to 2012 figures.) That means there’s a ground swell of interest and support building for KTM, and its 1290 Super Duke R may explain why its motorcycles are gaining momentum.
The KTM 1290 Super Duke R sports a 1,301 cc engine capable of cranking 180 horsepower to go from 0-124 mph in 7.2 seconds. If that’s doesn’t deliver the thrills a biker needs, it may be time to experiment with rocket ships. This bike’s debut occasioned a great deal of hoopla from KTM, which backed up the talk by increasing the stroke (by 2 mm) and bore (by 3 mm) to get the 901 cc engine to its current displacement. This bike may fly under the radar for a brief spell, but it has the stuff to become a legend.