HOW CAN IT BE THAT 12 MONTHS HAVE passed since we last picked the year’s Ten Best Bikes, Cycle World's annual look at the best and brightest of motorcycling? Time sure flies when you’re having fun on other people’s motorcycles. As always, there are bikes that don’t quite fit the tight confines of our usual classes, bikes that deserve a mention—and occasionally maybe even a razzing.
IT WAS NOT A DAY UPON WHICH EVEN THE great Sherlock Holmes would have been out and about. Rather than tramping around the Grimpen Mire or spying on the Stapletons of Merripit House, he would probably have looked out his window at the solid, steady rain and retired to the fireside at Baskerville Hall, sipping tea with Watson.
THREE DROPS OF RAIN HIT ME BETWEEN the 250 GP race’s checkered flag and the last-grid call for the 500s. The previous day alternated between sun and heavy rain. Leather-clad German fans had crowded into the vast food-and-music arcade, eating and drinking, staying dry.
I received the August issue of Cycle World yesterday, and to my surprise the motorcycle I have been waiting to purchase is on the cover! The Suzuki Bandit 1200’s power characteristics, looks and handling are exactly what I expect in a bike.
The old adage, “You get what you pay for,” is particularly true when applied to motorcycle gear. Take, for instance, the Dainese Anchorage jacket from Lockhart Phillips (151 Calle Iglesia, San Clemente, CA 92673; 800/221-7291). Priced at $625, the water-resistant Gore-Tex jacket is designed for onand off-road use. It has a removable liner, an adjustable collar and waist belt, cargo pockets, and protective padding in the shoulders, elbows and back. The jacket comes in black, red or blue in chest sizes 44-60, and is available from motorcycle dealers.
Because flashing red lights should attract the attention of even the most distracted driver, Signal Dynamics developed BackOFF. Designed to work in conjunction with your motorcycle’s brake light, the $35 unit emits three short pulses followed by one long pulse each time the brakes are applied. Moreover, the signal repeats itself as long as the brakes are in use. For details, contact your local motorcycle dealer or Signal Dynamics, P.O. Box 350441, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33335; 800/785-1814.
When it comes to tire fitment, rider safety often hangs in the balance. Unfortunately, finding the right tools for the job can be a challenge in itself. Until now, that is, thanks to the Wheel-Balancing Rod from California Sportbike Racing (1604 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92627; 714/642-0104). Featuring adjustable, self-centering cones designed to fit most motorcycles, the $79 all-metal rod can be used with a stand or alone, and it accommodates both standard and metric wheel bearings.
VINTAGE MOTORCYCLE POSTCARDS
When you care enough to send the very best, chances are Hallmark won’t have a card with cool vintage bikes on the cover. Luckily, such postcards are available from JFF Enterprises (P.O. Box 637, Burnet, TX 78611; 800/583-2206). Imported from Germany, the postcards are available in 10and 15-card sets. The former depicts old German motorcycle advertisements, while the latter is a collection of vintage BMWs. Prices range from $10 to $15.
STIFFIE SEAT COVERS
Available in colors like Sugar Daddy Gold and Toxic Glow Green, Stiffie Old School Seat Covers give modern MXers a decidedly 1970s appearance. Cut from .30mm-thick vinyl, the covers sport a funky metallic finish, manufacturer logos and VW Bug seat-style material at high-wear areas. Honest. Carrying a suggested retail price of $60 from motorcycle dealers, the seats also come in Slick Back Black, Candy Sugar Blue and Rocket Burst Red. To order one for your bike, contact White Bros., 24845 Corbit PL, Yorba Linda, CA 92687; 714/692-3404.
Do your motorcycle travels take you far from cities and the convenience of hotels? If so, the Camp Sac from Elwood Specialty Products (2180 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, NY 14216; 800/445-8946) may provide an alternative night’s rest. For $500, you get a tent, two air mattresses, two sleeping bags and two pillows, all of which compress into a waterproof nylon pack. Measuring 12 x 20 inches, the Camp Sac attaches to most sissybars and luggage racks.
DG HARD-KROME CRUISER PIPES
Japanese cruisers are growing in popularity, and DG Performance Specialties is making exhaust systems for them-specifically Honda's American Classic Edition and Kawasaki's Vulcan 1500 Classic. Said to improve exhaust flow and overall performance, DG's Hard-Krome Cruiser Pipes are available in slip-on form or as a complete system. Prices range from $200$300 from motorcycle dealers or DG, 1230 La Loma Cir., Anaheim, CA 92806; 714/630-5474.
TireAlert from Kisan Technologies (150 S. Wolfe Rd., Sunnyvale, CA 94086; 408/746-0500) gives new meaning to the phrase, “There’s safety in numbers.” Designed to monitor tire pressure, TireAlert features a cockpit-mounted digital display that flashes if tire pressure drops. Pressure transducers, signal sensors and a palm-size computer module are supplied. Intended for cast wheels, the kit costs $299 from motorcycle dealers or direct from Kisan Technologies.
Insulated with Dupont ComforMax, Vanson's Streamliner Vest is designed to snap into most Vanson leather jackets. Water-resistant, the machine-washable nylon vest has five pockets, a double storm flap and adjustable side laces. Sold through motorcycle dealers, the Streamliner comes in chest sizes 34-54 and costs $150. For more information, contact Vanson Leathers, 213 Turnpike St., Stoughton, MA 02072; 617/344-5444.
The old adage, “You get what you pay for,” is particularly true when applied to motorcycle gear. Take, for instance, the Dainese Anchorage jacket from Lockhart Phillips (151 Calle Iglesia, San Clemente, CA 92673; 800/221-7291).
VENERABLE GERMAN marque BMW is set to shed its stoic image with a racy new alloy-framed superbike and a fashion-conscious cruiser. When the curtain rises on the Cologne Motorcycle Show this October, the main new model on the BMW stand is expected to be the sporty K1200RS. Like the Aprilia-built F650 Funduro, this new machine is the product of BMW’s collaboration with an Italian company—in this case, Bimota.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON AND Buell announced their 1997 model lineups in early July, and once again, it was the smaller company with the bigger news. The only “new” Harley model is the FSLTS Heritage Springer Softail (see test, page 40). Other H-D motorcycles received refinements, though, and none more than the FL series.
With a cloud of dust and pounding hooves, the Pony Express delivered the mail in the early 1860s. Although the route has since been forgotten, the Pony Express Preservation Ride may remedy that. On October 1, motorcyclists Paul Golde and Joe Nardone will travel the 1999-mile trail aboard dual-purpose bikes.
HONDA WILL SOON CELEbrate its 50th Anniversary. This much we know. We also hear that the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer plans to celebrate in a big way, with new models across the board. The new-for-’97 CBR1100XX Super Blackbird (see story, page 28) is purportedly the first of these, but beyond that, it’s pure conjecture and speculation.
"When you’ve already designed and built two of the most exotic motorcycles in general production in the world today, what do you do as an encore?” That question began this month’s “No-Nonsense Road Test” of Honda’s all-new CB500. Smaller, quieter and easier to manage than the CB750, the sohc inline-Four won staffers’ hearts: “All told, the CB500 is perhaps the finest combination of superb engineering and deluxe features we’ve ever come across.”
EVEN WHEN IT COMES TO lightweight dirtbikes, there's no replacement for displacement. Kawasaki followed that popular hot-rodding school of thought this year when it upsized its KDX200 and KLX250 to create two new larger-displacement models.
Is ATK, America’s dirtbike manufacturer, poised to enter the sportbike business? Looking at this artist’s conception by Next World Design (who also penned ATK’s new 605 dual-purpose bike), you’d suspect that to be true. But the word is that while ATK has indeed discussed building a road-going Sound of Singles racer, the idea is unlikely to reach fruition.
RACE REPLICAS, PARTICUlarly those patterned after two-stroke grand prix machines, aren’t as popular as they used to be. In the late 1980s, all four Japanese manufacturers had 250cc sporting strokers in their lineups and upgraded them constantly.
UP: Again, to Wayne Stanfield, for almost winning the Great American Race. After becoming the first motorcycle rider to successfully solo the two-week, cross-country event last year, Stanfield finished in the runner-up position this year, missing out on the $50,000 winner’s share of the purse by a heartbreaking 1 second!
MACH 3.0 ON THE GROUND? THAT’S IMPLIED BY Honda’s choice of name for its new CBR1100XX: the Super Blackbird. The original Blackbird is Lockheed's 2100-mph SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft, the fabulous “Sled,” invulnerable to interception.
A DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS RED SPORTBIKE that just happens to be comfortable enough to tour on, is all. Honda's engineers went over the radical CBR900RR with a fine-tooth comb in an effort to tune the '96 model for real-world Sport riding. The fuel tank was narrowed, the handlebars raised and the footpegs lowered to improve the riding position; the frame spars were revised to allow for more bump-absorbing flex; engine displacement was boosted from 893 to 919cc to give it more midrange power. Yet the Double-R's newfound civility in no way diminishes the attributes that made it what it is today. Namely, 600-class weight and a down-to-earth price. Though it's also available in an Erion Racing Replica black/red/white paint scheme, we prefer red. Traffic cops be damned.
WHEN IT COMES TO superbikes, Light is Right, and what better way to celebrate that fact than to christen a 750 the Best Superbike of 1996? The new-for-'96 Suzuki GSX-R750 is the reigning power-to-weight champ, and a certified literbike-killer. During this year's Ultimate Sportbike Challenge, Ducati's 916 circulated the roadrace track in less time—barely—but the GSX-R is lighter, more powerful, quicker through the quarter-mile, faster down a straightaway and thousands of dollars less expensive. Remember when Suzuki down-sized the old GSX-R750 and wound up with an overweight 600 that bombed? No worries here: This new 750 already weighs less than every 600cc sportbike on the market. Yes, Honda's CBR900RR is just a couple of pounds heavier and makes comparable power. So what—the Suzuki spots it 150cc. If that doesn't make the GSX-R a superbike, what does?
IF ONE MORE PERSON refers to the VFR750 as a “poor man’s NR,” we’re gonna wind up and clock ’em. Because this is one bike that was alluring long before it slipped into its fashionable sibling’s scoop-necked red dress. The vaunted VFR has one feature not found in any other U.S. sport machine: a splendid four-cylinder Vee-motor with gear-driven cams, a seamless powerband and a soul-stirring exhaust note that is heaven-sent. This marks the seventh—count ’em, seven—consecutive time that the VFR has topped the Best 750cc Streetbike category, a Ten Best record. But it could be the last: If the rumors are true, the VFR will be bumped up to 850cc next year, making it ineligible for the 750cc class. Care to cast a preliminary vote for Best Open-Class Streetbike of 1997, anyone?
THE REASON IS RIGHT there in the class title: Best 600cc Streetbike. If we were voting for the Best 600cc Racebike, the result would have been different, because yes, other middleweights can get around a road course quicker. But back in the real world, where most 600 owners reside, the Yamaha YZF600R gets the job done no less effectively, and a lot more gracefully. Its roomy ergonomics and abundant midrange power make it feel much larger than it is, yet one pull on the awesome front brakes confirms that it's not at all heavy. If that's not enough, consider that when the YZF hits dealerships as an early-release '97 model this October, its price tag should undercut the competition's—most significantly that of last year's winner, the Kawasaki ZX-6R—by a comfortable margin. Our advice is to get in line now; this thing is going to sell out faster than Lollapalooza tickets.
IS THE BUELL S1 LIGHTNING A STANDARD? NOT IF you ask Erik Buell; he insists it's a fairingless sportbike. The CW staff begs to differ. Like the Ducati Monster that topped this category in l993 we'd dare say that the S1 is helping to redefine the standard standard. No longer does the term "Universal Japanese Motorcycle" apply—not while Japan is in the throes of Naked Bike fever, and Supermotard racers are finding their way onto European streets. Practical is out, radical is in, so the time is obviously right for a jet-black musclebike powered by a 1200cc Harley-Davidson V-Twin. The Lightning is an elemental motorcycle, consisting of an engine, two wheels, someplace for the rider to sit and something for him to hold onto. What more could you want? "S1?" Stands for "sexy one," we suspect.
WARNING, CRUISER BUYER, the only "V" you'll find in Honda's Valkyrie is in its name. Unlike Harley-Davidsons and other Japanese mega-cruisers, the Valky is not powered by a Vee-motor, but by a huge, 1520cc flat-Six borrowed from the Gold Wing mega-tourer. And unlike the Japanese competition, which chose to detune its engines for boulevard duty, the Valkyrie's engine was hopped-up to the point that it produces more than 100 horsepower and a Sequoia-stump-pulling 100 foot-pounds of torque. No other cruiser comes close. A taut chassis, killer brakes and cushy, Gold Wing-derived seating position make the Valkyrie a bike you want to ride, instead of one you park and admire from a bar stool. If you're looking for the King of Cruisers, the list of nominees starts and ends with the Valkyrie.
WE GOT A LOT OF flak back in 1992 when we voted Honda's ST1100 Best Touring Bike. Gold Wing owners were especially outraged, seeing their beloved Ala d'Oro passed over in favor of her younger, svelter sister. Well, sorry again, two-wheeled Winnebagoers. This year, CW votes in favor of a touring bike with all the extras, but one that is equally happy on the interstate as on snaking backroads; one that is just as competent touring two-up as splitting through commuter traffic jams. BMW's R1100RT is one plush ride, yet it gives up nothing in sporting capability, thanks to its WunderBoxer motor, innovative Telelever/Paralever suspension and ABS-equipped brakes. The RT is the best two-wheeled park bench yet—a nice place to spend a lazy afternoon watching the scenery change.
DUAL-PURPOSE BIKES ARE, by their very nature, compromised—they have to work well in the dirt and on the street. Over the past few years, we've tended to overlook the latter half of this equation as land-closure issues spurred the OEMs into building dual-purpose mounts that are effectively street-legal dirtbikes. We welcomed the change, because to be honest, previous dual-purpose bikes worked awful off-road. But this year, Suzuki proved that the 50/50 ideal doesn't have to be a compromise. The new DR650SE works well everywhere, and its unique adjustable ride-height lets shorter folks put their feet flat on the ground; just think, no more stopping at curbs. Even better, lowering the suspension doesn't reduce travel significantly, and there's only a small reduction in ground clearance. Go ahead, call us soft—we'd prefer to think of ourselves as well-rounded. Just like the DR650.
GADS, A FOUR-STROKE as Best Enduro Bike? Not since 1992, and the Husqvarna 610, has that honor been bestowed upon a Thumper; in fact, the KTM 250 E/XC has claimed the title three out of the last five years. Yet Honda's new-for-'96 XR400R works so well, and has proven so versatile, that we just couldn't help ourselves. We're not alone in our assessment, either: We've seen XRs competing in motocross races, enduros and long-distance desert races, to say nothing of trail riding, which is where the majority of them will end up. Company spokesmen say that the XR was popular even before it existed—it was one of the most-asked-for models in Honda history. Simply put, there isn't a better all-around dirtbike on the market, two-stroke or four.
NO SURPRISE HERE, THE STANDOUT WINNER OF CW'S 1996 MOTOCROSS Comparison is a clear winner here, too. The Kawasaki KX250 has few competitors when it comes to winning motocross races from the Novice to Expert level. Sure, Yamaha's YZ250 is better-suited to beginners, and Honda's CR250 works best for high-flying supercrossers, but neither is as adaptable as the green machine. The KX's powerband is strong but not hard-hitting, its suspension is firm but not rigid and its handling is quick but not too quick. Add to that Kawasaki's ever-improving durability and attention to detail, and the KX triple-jumps its way to the Best Motocross Bike title for the third time in the last five years. 'Nuff said.
THE YEAR 1996 WAS A REALITY CHECK FOR MOTORCYCLING. Over the preceding decade, the major manufacturers had shifted their marketing philosophy from the old scattergun approach to the more calculating sniper method, wherein they targeted only carefully selected niche markets.
WHAT DO YOU CALL A DIRTBIKE THAT WAS CONCEIVED IN UTAH BY EX-Californians with styling from Ohio and an engine from Austria? Confused? Hardly. ATK's trick, new 605 dual-purpose bike features a computer-developed chassis that makes onlookers ask, "How'd they do that?" Rather than using a centrally located backbone, the innovative frame employs a drainpipe-sized tube that passes atop the left edge of the engine's cylinder head, like one half of a twin-spar sportbike frame. ATK's trademark linkless shock, a bolt-on aluminum subframe and stylish bodywork penned by Next World Design add up to a slim layout that begs to be flicked around. A reliable Rotax engine with an electric starter provides the finishing touch.
"REPENT, YE HEATHENS!" WE HEARD THAT A LOT AROUND THE CW OFFICES after we roasted the Bimota SB6 in a recent road test. But, hey, we just call 'em like we see 'em, and we unfortunately spent a lot of time looking underneath the SB6's fairing, trying to rectify its latest hiccup. But then along came the YB11, and our faith was renewed. The Yamaha YZF1000-powered machine touched us in places we probably shouldn't discuss in a family-oriented magazine. Its sensuously shaped bodywork could only have come from Italy, and its twin-spar aluminum chassis is, plain and simple, a work of art. When it comes to building functional, cutting-edge sportbikes, Bimota really does lead the league. We're sorry we ever suspected otherwise.
Vulcan 500 LTD
IT'S ABOUT TIME THEY GOT IT RIGHT. WE REFER, OF COURSE, TO THE LOOK. Specifically, the Made-in-the-USA look that overseas manufacturers have tried so hard to emulate, and never quite gotten right. Until now. The Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD is the first "Vee-less" cruiser from Japan, Inc., that doesn't sour our styling taste buds. (Remember Suzuki's Madura? That one's foul aftertaste is still with us.) The little LTD has a solid, unified appearance that is devoid of tacky, tacked-on accessories. The styling is built in, not bolted on. As an added bonus, the Vulcan's Ninja 500-derived parallel-Twin is as spunky as it looks. Shame it took 20 years...
MZ Skorpion Replica
HMMM... IF TWIN-CYLINDER DUCATIS ARE COMPETITIVE IN SUPERBIKE RACING with a 250cc displacement advantage, how big would a Single have to be? A frivolous question, for sure, but typical of the thoughts you'll have after sampling an MZ Skorpion Replica. This is one swinging Single. With a five-valve, 660cc Yamaha engine propelling a racing-derived chassis, this 378-pound Sound of Singles refugee offers up the strongest evidence yet that you only need one cylinder to rock 'n' roll. The Replica was a prime candidate to capture Ten Best honors, except for the fact that it doesn't really fit into any of the categories. Interpret that to mean it's in a class of its own.
PARDON THE TIME-WORN SCENARIO, BUT WHEN THEY WERE HANDING OUT horsepower, the Triumph Trophy 1200 must have gotten in line twice. There isn't another sport-tourer out there whose front wheel explodes off the pavement with the same ferocity, that blitzes through the quarter-mile in under 12 seconds or speeds to 135 mph. That ought to put the sport back in sport-touring, eh? Engine performance alone almost guaranteed the Trophy an honorable mention, so when you factor in its striking styling, classy British Racing Green paint scheme and general competence, it's a shoo-in. If the 1200 Four had the 900 Triple's howling exhaust note, it might even have topped the BMW R1100RT for Best Touring Bike honors.
WHAT DO YOU CALL A DIRTBIKE THAT WAS CONCEIVED IN UTAH BY EX-Californians with styling from Ohio and an engine from Austria? Confused? Hardly. ATK's trick, new 605 dual-purpose bike features a computer-developed chassis that makes onlookers ask, "How'd they do that?" Rather than using a centrally located backbone, the innovative frame employs a drainpipe-sized tube that passes atop the left edge of the engine's cylinder head, like one half of a twin-spar sportbike frame.
FIVE YEARS AGO, WHILE REVIEWING THE TEN BEST BIKES OF 1991, THE CYCLE WORLD STAFF DECIDED TO ASK EDITORS OF foreign magazines to name their Ten Best. Today, it's a tradition. The foreign editors' opinions are intriguing for a number of reasons, not least of which is they sometimes get new bikes (Yamaha's new YZF600R and 1000R, to name two) a year or more before we do.
WHEN IT COMES TO SERVING UP NOSTALGIA, Harley has no peer. And even if it did, the 1997 Heritage Springer Softail would be the ultimate countermeasure. Harley introduced its first Softail in 1984, a nostalgic design with the basic look of the classic hardtail chassis, yet offering contemporary comfort of rear suspension.
First Harley-Davidson took on aftermarket engine suppliers, now it tackles knock-off stylists
HOT ON THE HEELS OF CONTINUING EFFORTS TO PATENT the sound made by its single-crankpin V-Twins (see CW, November, 1995), Harley-Davidson is seeking to trademark the design configurations for its Electra Glide, Heritage Softail Classic and Sportster motorcycles, and the FL-style front fender.
Return with us now to the age of D.W. Griffith, biplanes, dirt roads and the dawn of the American Century, when everything was new.
IT ALL STARTED OVER DINNER IN PRESCOTT, ARIZONA, after a hard day of riding on a sport-touring comparison test. A bunch of us were discussing old motorcycles we’d known and/or loved, when Editor David Edwards suddenly asked me, “What’s the oldest bike you’ve ever ridden?” I had to think for a minute.
THE WORLD'S FIRST MOTORCYCLE? EASY. GOTTLEIB Daimler's Einspur of 1885. But this wooden boneshaker was merely an invention, a crude way of testing an engine to see if it could be used to propel a vehicle. Right after the successful test ride, Daimler turned to putting his idea on four wheels.
ONE PROBLEM WITH TESTING EXOTIC, ONE-OFF WORKS bikes is that you can’t take them home. Moreover, seat time is usually limited, and despite an expensive collection of parts, the bike probably wasn’t designed for you—or your riding style.
SOME BIKES GROW ON YOU. OUR long-term BMW R850R certainly qualifies as one of those. In spite of its uninspiring nature, our Beemer is racking up miles quicker than Amtrak. Talk about reliable, we’ve only had two minor problems: A ham-fisted editor snapped off the flimsy flip-up fuel filler cap ($57.33), and the inspection cover on the shaft drive’s rear gearcase came loose, seeping fluid.
WHEN A HANDSOME YOUNG ITALIAN DECIDED to forego his beloved soccer one day to ride a 125cc Aprilia around the Vallelunga racetrack, Europe’s most popular sport lost a very remarkable character. In a few short laps, the impressionable and passionate Massimiliano Biaggi, just 17 years old, was instantly hooked on motorcycles.
Suzuki flew in a new “Bigger Bang” motor and a team of engineers from Japan just in time for the French GP. The engine is a refinement of the original Big Bang concept introduced by Honda and subsequently copied by the competition in 1992. The nickname refers to the fact that all four cylinders fire in close succession, almost like a big Single.
I have a 1993 Harley Fat Boy. Just recently, I accidentally dropped a two-by-four on it and dented the headlight. Dumb, huh? Then, when trying to remove the chrome panel behind the headlight to get at the light’s mounting bracket, I did an even dumber thing and tried to use a metric Allen wrench to remove the American Allen bolts, which quickly boogered up the button-head screws on the sides of the panel.