The biggest difference between next year\'s production Panthers and the Mastiff - other than the dramatically different looks - is that the feline is to have more rake than its canine brother. But since ours was the prototype, it had the same trail as the Mastiff.
The MuZ Black Panther is a Super Motard design of bike. It has the frame of an off-road motorcycle but is fitted with 17-inch spoked rims and serious sportbiking tires. On the Mastiff, the front fender is mounted on the fork sliders just above the tire so that it floats with the front wheel, but on the Black Panther, it is attached to the bottom of the lower tripleclamp. Whereas the Mastiff\'s looks are dominated by its mix of colors, the Black Panther is, of course, black. I\'ve personally never been a lover of black bikes, but this thing is remarkably elegant.
On the Panther, the oil tank is in the frame and access to it is through a small opening in the steering yoke, the cap of which doubles as the dip-stick. In order to properly top off the reservoir, one must use a long-necked funnel. Unlike the Mastiff, the Panther has no tachometer and the headlight is a single, square unit rather than the dual round eyes of the Mastiff, and it is shrouded by a little fairing.
A fully adjustable White Power shock handles the rear end\'s motion. The forks are not adjustable but the rear shock is a very nice, fully-adjustable unit with a threaded collar for preload adjustment and remote reservoir with a knob for compression. For our tastes the forks were too soft and so were the front brakes. If either are stiffened, the forks must be addressed before upgrading the brakes, otherwise the bike will do forward flips. I\'m not sure if it was due to the feel of the front brakes or not, but the Black Panther was the first bike that got me to use the rear brake with both regularity and confidence. Using both ends to slow the machine just seemed right.
The Black Panther has a long seat for two adults and we can claim to actually putting two adults on the bike. Well, alright, two giant kids who look like adults. For those used to power on demand, no, there wasn\'t lots of it there to deal with our combined 350 lbs. of live meat. But the bike went forward without complaint, and we blazed down the expressway two-up and violated the speed limit with no trouble at all.
Comparing the Skorpion Sport Cup and Black Panther to each other is almost impossible. There are things that are nicer on one than on the other, but because of the distinctly different designs of the bikes, there is no way to take the best from one and try to apply it to the other. It\'s quite remarkable how these different chassis make for two completely different motorcycles even though they each use the same power unit.
The Skorpion Sport Cup feels just like the sportbike that it is. Yes, it has little power when compared to big bore bikes but that should be assumed from the start. The place where the Scorpion shines, as does the Black Panther, is where the road gets tight. Even riding in Southern California we couldn\'t find a road tight enough for these two bikes. Even Route 1 up the coast to Monterey wasn\'t tight enough. Every turn entered on these bikes causes a moment of disbelief and distrust, but it\'s mostly only because they perform better than expected. In other words, it\'s almost impossible to brake too late on either of these machines.
The Black Panther would also be one of the best big city bikes were it not for the wide bars; simple enough to solve. Being ultra-narrow otherwise, and with steering as quick as a scooter, the thing cuts through traffic and 90 degree corners effortlessly. If you live outside California, you can\'t split lanes anyway so the wide bars don\'t really matter.
The steering of the Black Panther, as we tested it, is actually a bit too quick. On initial turn-in the bike falls faster into a corner than is comfortable but, once there, it is predictable and confidence-inspiring. It\'s just that first instant of doubt that tests a rider\'s trust. This should all be fully taken care of through the previously mentioned increased rake of the production Black Panther. We\'ll let you know. The fact that MuZ has bothered to think through this detail of the bike\'s steering and is pro-actively addressing it is impressive.
The Skorpion Sport Cup\'s steering is sort of like the Black Panther\'s in reverse. It has a moment of uncertainty, too, but it is because the steering feels initially too heavy instead of too light. But this is all illusion. As soon as the bike is pushed into a turn the seemingly logyness of its steering disappears and the bike carves a tight line with certainty and agility. It\'s not really that the bike is heavy steering, rather it\'s that it feels locked into whatever path it is initially on. The truth is, the Skorpion steers more like a Ducati 916 than any other bike we\'ve tested. Once a rider understands the character of the machine, confidence will grow.
We took these two bikes on a rather long trip which is clearly not the intended use of either machine. But other than revealing the stiffness of the Panther\'s seat, both bikes surprisingly measured up to the task, especially once we got off the expressways and onto tight roads. Before we started out on the trip my first thought was that we were going to look like a couple of low-rent bikers who couldn\'t afford "real" machines. These little toy sportbikes would give us the appearance of amateur wanna-bes lost far from home. But the handling performance of these bikes showed us that those fears were ungrounded and that these bikes are just a lot of damn fun. On a tight road, both of these machines will embarrass big sportbikes.
The Panther offers little in the way of wind protection, but it\'s doubtful anyone who owned one of these would use it for touring. On the other hand, the nice thing about unfaired, lightweight bikes is that the rider\'s shoulders can be used to steer the thing. I found myself lowering a shoulder every time I pulled the Panther into a corner, using my body as a sail to aid the steering.
I\'d heard before we rode these two bikes that either can be used in the Skorpion Cup races, and I\'d thought that I would jump for the Black Panther first if I were to do one of those races. Now I\'m completely confused. Yes, they\'re each very different, but they each have remarkable handling abilities. And racers are doing well on both of them. (Well, actually on the Skorpion and the Mastiff since the Black Panther isn\'t on the market yet.) For the street, though, I\'d have to go with the black cat. It has the most potential for trouble. And other great news about these bikes is that they come with 2-year unlimited mileage warrantees, and the price has been substantially reduced because of the renewed strength of the dollar. The Skorpion Sport Cup is a screaming deal at $5,795, and the Black Panther is expected to cost around $6,195. Street or race, those are serious deals.
Well, before these two bikes, I had never been on a thumper streetbike, but I had ridden plenty of four-stroke single dirtbikes. I really had no idea what to expect with either of these bikes, but I was really excited to ride my first Super Motard machine. I have been watching the Super Motards increasing in popularity overseas, and I was ready to try one out. The Skorpion, on the other hand, just looked like a slow sportbike, and I had no real initial interest in it.
Peter and I were riding these bikes from Los Angeles to Monterey for the World Superbike race, which is about a 300-mile trip, and even though I had never ridden a street thumper, I knew enough to be skeptical about my personal comfort. We took off on Thursday with the bikes loaded up and immediately we had to do some substantial freeway miles. We switched off after I couldn\'t take the seat on the Black Panther for one more second, let alone the unfaired wind-blast. Imagine riding on a 2x4 for a few hours. So I finally get on the Skorpion and was in heaven. The seat is comfy and the wind protection is great. I look over at Peter on the Panther and realize that he understands. We still hadn\'t hit the fun part of the trip, which is Route 1, but up until this point, I\'ve decided that thumpers are not for me.
Later in the afternoon we hit Route 1 and, things change dramatically. The second we hit the curves of the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway between San Luis Obispo and Big Sur, the bikes find their element. All of a sudden I realize the purpose of these two bikes. Let me tell you that these bikes handle awesomely in the twisties - most other sportbikes would be eating these bikes\' exhaust. (Did any one mention the Skorpion\'s exhaust yet?) I really mean it; both of these bikes are so light and handle so well that, once in their element, I couldn\'t think of anything I\'d rather be on. What a difference a few hours makes! Both bikes were shod with the always-exceptional Metzler ME-Z1 rubber, and combined with fantastic handling capabilities, we were fearless throwing the MuZs into the corners. Even though neither bike has a whole ton of grunt, if you keep them on the boil, the handling more than makes up for it.
When it comes to choosing between these two bikes, it really comes down to chassis characteristics and aesthetics. We already know that the motors are exactly the same, and even though the gearing may be different, they perform very similarly. The Black Panther is just plain cool looking. The spoked rims, the dirt bike stature, it all looks just plain bad ass. The Skorpion is all function and no form however. I mean, the thing is a total blast in the canyons, but visually it doesn\'t do any thing for me. The other thing that really bothers me about the Skorpion is the exhaust. The only bikes that I think are louder are custom Harleys with straight pipes.
But this bike was set up for the Sport Cup series that MuZ sponsors in the States, which is a spec series similar to the Aprilia Cup Challenge. So I\'ll give it a little bit of slack, but only for track days; it needs a quieter pipe. This is the first time I have ever complained about a pipe, so believe me, it was LOUD.
The Black Panther is a bike I could own. Being so different from any other bike that I\'ve ever had is part of the appeal. The thing rips in the twisties, is awesome around town, and makes the morning commute a blast. The long travel suspension makes rough pavement something you look for rather than look to avoid. The only things I would change would be the brakes and maybe some stiffer springs in the front forks; I need more "stoppie" power. The only other complaints I have are due to the bike\'s lack of freeway comforts, but it was never intended for that, anyway, so I guess I don\'t have any real complaints, after all, other than little details. And these could be rectified through the aftermarket. But if you want something really unique and especially fun, this could be the perfect bike to add to your stable.