Best Bike to Send Tea-Baggers Into a Tizzy: Vincent Black Eagle
Best Reason to Wrap Yourself in Red-White-and-Blue: Buell XB12S
Best “Has-Been” Superbike: Suzuki GSX-R1000
Best Little Big Dirtbike: Honda CRF250X
Best Buzz Out of Austria Since Red Bull: KTM990 Duke
Best Big Jugs: Kawasaki Vulcan 2000
Best Non-Motorcycle: Suzuki Burgman 650
Best Bike for 1000 Really Smart Riders: Honda Interceptor
Best Near-Life Experience: Norton 952 Commando
Best Reason for Ducati to Buy Moto Guzzi: Griso 1000
EXCLUSIVE CLUB, THE TEN BEST BIKES, and tough to get into. By loose count, there were some 350 distinct streetbikes, dirtbikes and scooters that made up the 2004 model year. Winnowing out the Ten Best from that lot takes 12 months, thousands of test miles, tanker loads of $2.50 a gallon gasoline, more than a few traffic tickets, a get-off or two-and more fun than any job this side of double-stick tape at a Miss USA pageant.
“WHAT ARE THOSE THINGS LIKE?” I asked my friend Lee Fleming, nodding toward a brand-new black Kawasaki Concours. “I know they’ve been around forever, but I’ve never had a chance to ride one.” We were standing just outside the showroom of Champion Motorcycles, Lee’s dealership in Costa Mesa, California.
ALTHOUGH WE ALL LOVE ENGINES AND the beautiful parts that whirl unseen within, it is in fact tire technology that has done the most to give the modern motorcycle its outstanding performance. For this reason, any further advance in the tire art is cause to rejoice.
Regarding the Hotshots letters proposing a boycott of the Sturgis Rally as a means to “pay back” South Dakota for ex-U.S. Representative Bill Janklow’s lenient sentencing, I don’t get it. Janklow lost his congressional seat, he’s persona non grata throughout the state; his reputation is in the toilet.
What do you, Mr. Joe Average, have in common with five-time World Champion Valentino Rossi? The XR-2, that’s what. The brand-new design was developed using AGV’s “Core System Technology” and boasts X-Vent airflow intakes and extractors, a removable, washable Cool-Max liner, and an anti-fog/scratch shield. Choose from five schemes: Rossi, MotoGP (shown), Rossi 500 and World Champion for $500, and the Limited Edition for $50 more.
AGV Lazer USA
Ride like a Pro-or try to, at least-with new off-road suspension components from Ohlins. Available for late-model Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki and Yamaha motocrossers, the 48mm fork ($2083) features external high- and low-speed compression damping adjustments, and comes with .41 and .45 kg/m springs. The oil-reservoir-equipped shock ($686, KTM PDS $836) also features a full complement of damping adjustments, as well as spring preload, but is sold sans spring.
AGV Lazer USA
Goin’ riding? Don’t forget your Track Pack. The 54-piece kit contains 8.8-grade steel duplicates of the hardware dirt riders replace most often. Throw one in your toolbox for $16.
AGV Lazer USA
Matrix Billet Twin Cam Top End Kit
Show and go? That’s the concept behind the Matrix Billet Twin Cam top-end kit. Designed for late-model 95- and 103-cubic-inch Harley-Davidson V-Twins, the carburetor- and fuel-injection-compatible kit consists of 6061-T651 aircraft-grade-aluminum high-flow heads (with stainless-steel valves), cylinders and pistons. Bolt ’em on for $3295.
AGV Lazer USA
Kushitani K1 and RT jackets
Is $700 too much to pay for a jacket? Not if the garments in question-Kushitani’s K1 and RT-are produced from smooth, supple Japanese Holstein leather, and feature patented, roadracing-derived Punch Mesh across the chest plus body-molding K-foam protection in high-impact zones. For cooler conditions, the K1 can accommodate an optional Gore-Tex Windstopper vest. Both jackets are available in black only, in sizes S-XXL.
AGV Lazer USA
Push-and-go pit scooters are all the rage these days, but none look-or perform-anything like the BMW SlideCarver. Sister product to the award-winning StreetCarver skateboard introduced a few years ago, the 26.5-pound folding flyer features nifty hydraulically actuated rear disc brakes, grippy low-profile slicks and an innovative 5-series automobile-derived steering mechanism for quick turn-in and superior stability. Although there’s no suspension to speak of, the wood-and-fiberglass deck does offer some give. Recommended for ages 12 and up, the SlideCarver retails for $695.
FORGET WHAT YOU MAY have heard or read elsewhere: Italian bike-maker Aprilia is alive and kicking, having weathered several serious financial storms, caused by, among other things, owner Ivano Beggio’s impassioned purchase of fabled marque Moto Guzzi.
Better late than never! Kawasaki may be making a belated entry into the 450cc four-stroke motocross game, but having had plenty of time to study the competition, the Japanese manufacturer should be in a good position to shake up the field, not to mention a few of its own traditions.
New motorcycle sales are up for the 11th straight year-and so are average prices. So how best to ensure you get a good financing deal? Through www.capitalone autofinance.com, bike buyers can fill out a no-charge online application, and 15 minutes later receive a reply.
THE FIRST-EVER GRAND Challenge, laid on by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), was a flop, at least for the only motorcycle entered in the desert competition. University of California Berkeley industrial engineering graduate student Anthony Levan-dowski, along with fellow students, created the Ghost Rider Robot, a Yamaha TT-R125 employing all manner of electronics intended to allow the machine to navigate the approximately 142-mile course from Barstow, California, to Primm, Nevada, autonomously.
Where might motorcycling take us in the future? If Swedish-born designer Tommy Forsgren were given the go-ahead, the Honda Hermes would be one possible option. The 29-year-old says his self-balancing, hydrogen-powered “Intuitive Driving Machine” was developed with a facedown, headfirst body position to enhance the sensation of motion and freedom.
Suzuki’s GS1000L graced the cover of this month’s issue, along with the words, “You asked for it, you got it...Suzuki,” a play on Toyota’s then-popular advertising slogan. “The finest superbike made grows longer, lower and wider for the American rider,” said the editors of the Japanese bike-maker’s latest spin on its long-running air-cooled inline-Four.
CONTINENTAL MAY NOT be the most widely recognized brand to motorcyclists, but the German company happens to be the fourth-largest tire manufacturer in the world with a history that stretches back to 1871. Its newest two-wheel application is a zero-degree, steel-belted radial dubbed the “RoadAttack.”
Open a Harley’s throttle at 1500 rpm and you get impressive thrust, the result of large displacement and short valve timing. But as the engine revs up, the shortness of valve timing causes cylinder filling to fade and the torque curve to fall.
UP: To drag-racer Steve Johnson, for finally snagging his first Pro win as a team owner. Using the MRE AMA/Prostar National season-opener in Gainesville, Florida, as a warmup for the opening round of the NHRA Powerade Pro Stock series, Johnson out-ran all comers on his Vance & Hines-built Suzuki, posting a best pass of 7.16 seconds at 186.56 mph.
THE HISTORY OF LUXURY motorcycle touring in America is littered with the discarded remains of models that dared go head-to-head with Honda’s mighty Gold Wing. Yamaha Venture Royale, Suzuki Cavalcade, Kawasaki Voyager XII, all come and gone.
Forget everything you know about K-bikes, this one's completely different
BMW HAS A NEW SPORTING FLAGSHIP, and it’s got nothing in common with anything yet produced by the Bavarian Motor Works. The 2005 K1200S is a clean-sheet design with an across-the-frame four-cylinder engine and a high-tech chassis that share not one single part with previous K-bikes.
Before there was Duolever, there was Norman Hossack
Is BMW’s Duolever just a modern girder fork? No. In a classic girder, the suspension links and suspension unit steer with the fork. All motorcycle engineers know that front-end stability increases as steered mass decreases. Therefore BMW’s design steers only the wheel and its “upright”—the modern analog of the old girder.
A little more than 20 years ago, I was having dinner in a pleasant outdoor café in Nice, France, with Stefan Pachernegg, the Austrian-born chief engineer for BMW motorcycles. Pachernegg, who passed away unexpectedly only a few years later, was one of the most forthright and outspoken chief engineers I’ve ever met-not the type to parrot the corporate line.
The battles have moved on, but Suzuki’s GSX-R750 returns better than ever
HOW QUICKLY DIES THE HAPLESS JAPANESE INSECT THAT wanders on frail, translucent wing across the 1.2-mile-long back straight of Suzuki’s Ryuyo Proving Ground, where groups of mad, wailing packs of 170-mph GSX-R750s utterly flatten every exoskeleton in their trajectory with a force that must be on the brink of beginning some kind of bug-scale nuclear fusion.
A SIDE FROM JOHN BURNS, I CAN’T THINK OF ANYBODY who would wear a wetsuit to a cocktail party. You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, either. Or maybe you do, but you won’t leave happy. So when we hit the road with this gang of five new middleweights-the Honda 599, Yamaha FZ6, Ducati Monster 620, Suzuki DL650 V-Strom and Moto Guzzi Breva 750-having the company of a fresh Suzuki GSX-R750 whose taillight continually disappeared into the distance in a cloud of tire smoke despite our best over-riding efforts underlined the point that these are sporty bikes, not sportbikes.
BROUGHT BACK FROM THE DEAD, our long-term 2003 Honda CRF450R is ticking like a clock-and that isn’t a description of the noises coming from its engine! After a costly oversight and resultant meltdown in the 24 Hours of Glen Helen, we decided to rebuild it as though we were going to race it again.
One hundred and fifty-five horsepower. Ten-point-one-two seconds in the quarter. One-hundred and eighty-three miles per hour. Four-hundred and eight pounds. No matter by what criteria you judge it, the Kawasaki ZX-10R is the new King of the Repli-Racers, and thus rightly deserves to wear the Best Superbike crown. Not since 1990 and the mega-motored ZX-11 has a Kawasaki reigned in this, arguably the most competitive and prestigious of all Ten Best categories. But through its scintillating performance, its racy appearance and the level of excitement it leaves in its wake, the ZX-10R settles that score. Whether in blue, black, orange or green, man, it’s mean!
Anything goes here, folks. Put a big motor in it, cut it loose on the streets, and if you’re having a good time, then you might just be riding the Best Open-Classer. BMW did just that with the all-new R1200GS, re-doing the big Boxer Twin and cutting us loose on the street. But they also cut us loose off-road. Result? Crazy good times, as the new engine spins out a free-revving 100 crankshaft horsepower, while at 500 pounds, the 1200 weighs a real 50 pounds less than the old 1150. Holy category-defying performance! Any more dirt-worthy, and it coulda won Best Dual-Purpose Bike. A coupla more ponies, and it mighta been Best Sport-Tourer, too! Sure, anything big can win this class, but the R1200GS tops it by being almost everything to everyone. If there’s ever been a bike that could win multiple classes, this is it. Eight Best Bikes, anyone?
Sportbikes have dominated the Middleweight category over the years, so it's somewhat predictable that this year's winner also took top honors in our 600 Supersport Shootout. In this game of leapfrog updates, Suzuki has gained a leg up on the competition with the introduction of an all-new GSX-R600 with sights set on reclaiming the AMA Supersport title it last held in 2002. Not only is the 2004 GSX-R600 the finest middleweight track weapon we've ridden this year, its high level of refinement makes it an excellent road bike as well. Perhaps the real clincher is that for all its technical advancement and improved performance, buyers are only asked to pony up a mere $100 more than last year's machine. Sold!
Suzuki's SV650 is simply a super-versatile motorbike that anyone can sit on and comfortably ride for hours on end. Completely revised for 2003, the unfaired middleweight serves its rider well in a variety of roles, whether it's his first bike or his 15th-and at a bargain-basement price to boot! Instead of having your pocketbook rung-out, you could be wringing out the SV's snappy, fuel-injected, four-valve-per-pot, 90-degree V-Twin. The SV strikes an uncanny balance between feel-good ergonomics, right-there power delivery and chassis compliance that works while either flogging backroads or bogging down the lane to wrangle some munchies at midnight. Call it a dependable best friend of a bike.
Toppling a legend is always tough work-you not only have to be equal to the king, but demonstrably better. To best Honda's omnipotent Gold Wing, winner of this category an astounding 15 times, BMW had to get serious with its K1200LT über-tourer. Pumping iron (okay, camshafts, throttle bodies and intake tracts) gave the LT's fuel-injected laydown-Four the revability and horsepower it needed to hang with the Wang" performance-wise. Creature features abound, including the ultimate co-riders' sales closer, a heated seat und backrest. Add the smartest accessory ever fitted to a luxo-tourer, a self-deploying centerstand, and just like that, this year America's Best Touring Bike comes by way of Bavaria.
All-telling comparison tests-like the enduro shootout we printed last month-have a way of spoiling a Ten Best surprise, but this Husky will still shock and awe anyone who rides it. Back-from-the-dead Husqvarna marks its 101st year in business with a surprise overthrow of the established enduro hierarchy (read: KTM). The TE450E isn’t a detuned MX machine like most enduro bikes of years past, but a potently proper off-road racebike right from the start, one that can still handle trail riding comfortably. Quiet, green-sticker-legal and fast enough on the Left Coast yet agile while still being tall enough to keep its footpegs out of the nasty stuff Back East, we love this Husky. You will, too
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The CRF450R might have aced this class for the third year in a row with nary a change, but Honda took a gamble and refocused the CRF a bit, making it even more exciting to ride. Now even lighter in feel, the Honda is ever closer to swirling the best traits of Thumpers and two-strokes to stand atop the motocross podium for another year. You won’t find better handling; you can’t make much better power. How will it get any better? We don’t know, but we can’t wait!
Yes, a new and fitting category for the Ten Best Bikes, with unit sales going through the roof. Just what is a Playbike? Easy: It’s a non-competition-oriented dirtbike that brings new riders to our sport-the kids, your wife, heck, your crazy Uncle George! The keyword is “fun,” the reason any of us took up motorcycling in the first place. Among all these playbikes, from 50 to 250cc, there is no better machine than the Yamaha TT-R125LE. Easy to ride, stone reliable and a breeze to start. This push-button Yamaha inaugurates a Ten Best class responsible for launching a whole new generation of motorcycle riders—even if they have to get you off their bike first...
With so much motor, it’s amazing that Yamaha’s FJR1300 could be late. But last year it was, arriving not quite in time for the butchery we call Ten Best “balloting.” No such trouble this year, as the FJR returns in plenty of time with the same pavement-punishing 125-bhp, counterbalanced, fuel-injected mill we’ve loved from the very beginning. Yamaha upped the techno-ante with larger, ABS-equipped brakes, and basically killed our singular wind-protection gripe by installing a buffet-free 4-inch-taller adjustable windscreen. Ally these refinements with superb luggage, superbike power, fine handling and great riding position, and nothing can touch it for eating all the pavement you care to feed it at a rate that will embarrass any other bike with saddlebags. In fact, you might say it’s comfortably the fastest by quite a margin.
If at the heart of a cruiser beats a need to be noticed, then no other bike brings on the ooohs and ahhhs quite like the Honda Rune. More than simply an evolution of the GL-powered Valkyrie model, the Rune is the result of big dreams and intense focus groups. Breaking the mold of what people have come to expect of production-built Hondas, all 1832cc and 794 pounds of this $26,999 beast are about making a statement. For Honda, that would be proving its ability to enter the growing high-dollar custom market without sacrificing the reliability and serviceability its customers demand. As for Rune riders? The answer to what motivates a person to be seen on such a machine is something owners are sure to become very adept at delivering.
EACH YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, THE MEMO MAKES its way from on high. “Ten Best lunch, everyone,” Mr. Editor Edwards reminds us. “Gather your thoughts, review your test notes, be prepared to argue pro and con, and remember to check your sensibilities (and any firearms) at the front door.”
Ducati has portrayed the fresh-faced Multistrada as a jack-of-all-trades-versatile with a capital V, long of leg and balanced beyond imagination. Turns out, this difficult-to-pigeonhole machine isn’t all that. But it’s pretty damn good. Possibly the best part is the user-friendly engine, a lively two-valve V-Twin with two spark-plugs per cylinder and air-cooling. A full line of factory accessories means the Multistrada can be easily configured for track days, cross-country tours or nearly anything in between.
It’s a simple fact of life: More costs more. As in the Suzuki GSX-R750 costs more than the GSX-R600. And the GSX-R1000 costs more than the 750. Ditto displacement: Bigger slugs equal more power. More importantly, at least in this context, just how manageable is that power? Does it catapult you forward toward the next comer, or sideways and off-line? One thing is for certain, everyone who rides Suzuki’s all-new GSX-R750 comes away asking the same question: Might this, biking’s last 750cc repli-racer, be the finest sportbike in the world?
Long-time coming, those large, steel-and-rubber mounts that support the all-new 1203cc Sportster engine. Now, unlike in past years, the V-Twin’s movement is constrained to a vertical plane. As a result, vibration is minimized to a point where the rider no longer feels the need to visit his or her dentist on a bi-weekly basis for a filling check. Sad to see all that soulful shaking vanquished? Not us. This is a much improved, much more pleasant motorcycle. Yet at the same time, it retains the much-copied styling that made it a hit in the first place.
Middleweight standards come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Not to mention prices. Arguably the best bang for your buck in this popular, broadly focused category comes in the form of the Yamaha FZ6, an aluminum-framed all-arounder with a half-fairing, nicely padded seat, up-pipes and the 14,000-rpm zip of the YZF-R6 repli-racer’s fuel-injected inline-Four. Bonus points for the standard-issue centerstand.
If there weren’t such a thing as a Honda CRF450R, the Suzuki RM250 would be the bike. With the bark of a factory motocrosser but running on pump gas, Suzuki’s venerable two-stroke is as close to a works racer as you will find on a dealer’s showroom floor. Out on the racetrack, it feels as if Suzuki used titanium rather than steel for all the fasteners and wheel axles, and that its suspension components should be anodized funny colors. But it didn’t, and they aren’t. So, a true works bike the RM isn’t. But it sure works like one!
BENELLI HAS TURNED A PAGE AND started anew from an almost totally blank sheet, at least in terms of marketing policy: no more scooters, only high-level motorcycles, conceived and developed with more attention to the market. The new policy logically starts from the Italian company’s existing three-cylinder engine.
MZ first showed its twin-cylinder 1000S sportbike at the 2000 Intermot Show in Munich, but since then it’s been all quiet on the former Eastern Bloc front. Thanks to the fine folks at Continental, however, journalists recently had the opportunity to ride the yet-to-be-released machine in conjunction with a press introduction at the tire company’s proving grounds in Hanover, Germany.
PITY THE POOR POSTERIOR, ESPECIALLY if it’s plonked down on a stylish but skinny motorcycle seat, as Mr. Editor Edwards’ ass was asked to do in riding the magazine’s Project 100 Harley-Davidson the 2600 miles from California to Milwaukee last summer.
DIRTBIKE HANDGUARDS TYPICALLY come in two styles: a) lightweight deflectors that fan out from their attachment points near the brake/clutch lever perches, but are too flimsy to fare well in big hits; and b) wrap-around “bark busters” that attach at two points and close off the entire control area.
Even in retirement, Jeremy McGrath is a busy guy. Toy stores hawk action figures, remote-control two-wheelers and video games bearing the seven-time AMA Supercross champ’s name and likeness. He’s practically a regular on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” has been featured on “60 Minutes II” and “E Entertainment,” and appeared in last year’s action flick, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
JAY SPRINGSTEEN INTRODUCED HIMSELF TO THE AMA’s Grand National circus in a manner that defines his record and his character. A now-retired racer, whose name is omitted here because his record is better than this story makes him look, was out for practice on a mile dirt-track early in the 1975 season.
Look at the tremendous top speeds recorded at the pre-season MotoGP test at Catalunya, Spain-almost 216 mph for Loris Capirossi’s 2004 Ducati, not much less for the Hondas. Reigning series champ Valentino Rossi, having switched from Honda to Yamaha, was radared at 211 mph.
I currently own a Honda RC51 and previously had a Honda Super Hawk, and I’ve heard some people say that any rear tire wider than a 180 is not needed. I find this a little strange, because the “chicken strips” on my RC51, which has a 190-section rear tire, are a lot smaller than the ones that were on my Super Hawk’s 180 rear tire.