Ten Best Bikes is both easy and hard. Easy because we're looking for the top machines of the year. Hard because the pointy end of the market has some great bikes. But there are also many machines of note that either don’t fit typical categories or stand out for reasons that don’t fit a normal top 10.
Having read your review on the Triumph Thruxton R after just getting home from a Northern California BSA Club ride where a rider showed up on one, I agree with you on how Triumph nailed it in making a thoroughly modern retro bike. There is only one place where they missed the mark: There needs to be a tickler on the fake Monoblocks that dribble a little fuel on the outside of the carb bodies when they are depressed.
A bike with a cult following leaves an empty void when absent from a manufacturer's model lineup. Such is the case for Suzuki's beloved SV650 middleweight sport twin. Since its inaugural launch in 1999, the versatile and affordable platform has been produced in a variety of faired and naked versions that have appealed to entry-level and experienced riders alike.
After introducing an all-new KX450F last year, Kawasaki left its smaller brother, the 2016 KX250F, relatively untouched aside from a few minor improvements. For 2017, the KX250F has received a full makeover, with a new chassis, improved suspension settings, increased power delivery, and comfortable ergonomics.
Keen eyes will have noticed that, in the past two issues of Cycle World magazine, our testing staff has been wearing 6D’s new ATS-1 sportbike helmet. Those not familiar with 6D’s technologies or the ATS-1's dirt predecessor, the ATR-1, were probably curious why there was an unusual helmet in the photos and if it was different from the ones we normally wear.
It’s okay to be a hothead beneath the helmet with the iXS Buster ($45) balaclava. Made of Dryarn microfiber material, a fabric said to be fast drying, it is breathable, lightweight, and resistant to electrostatic charge. Its ergonomic shape, central flat seam, and wicking effect on mouth and ear openings make for improved comfort as well. (561) 571-1900 ixsusa.com
Venture Heat Heated Insoles
A first step to ensuring cold-weather comfort is keeping your feet warm. Skiing socks might help, but inserting Venture Heat Heated Insoles ($69.99) into your boots is strides better. The micro-alloy fiber heating elements are positioned from heel to toe, and the insert's leading edge can be trimmed to fit. A fused battery harness is Included. (310) 412-1070 ventureheat.com
Tourmaster Synergy 2.0 Electric Vest Liner with Collar
Maintain your core temperature when riding in cold weather with the Tourmaster Synergy 2.0 Electric Vest Liner with Collar ($179.99). Featuring lightweight flexible steel fiber heating elements and expanding side panels, the 12-volt-powered vest provides warmth without bulk beneath your jacket. A water-resistant dual thermostat control is included. tourmaster.com
Z1R 938 Glove
Not all cold-weather gloves need to look like a mountaineer’s mitts. The Z1R 938 Glove ($34.95) offers a cool and casual appearance while keeping the digits warm. Available in men’s and women’s sizing, the short gauntlet glove is made of premium deerskin leather and features a snap wrist closure as well as 3M Thinsulate lining for warmth and comfort. z1r.com 5
Lucky bastards like me don't have to worry about jumpstarting our vintage British bikes. Magneto! Yep, my ignition self-generates, no battery required. And yet. When I need to call a friend with a pickup truck, or I need to make a plea to bystanders on social media complete with a video of my bike not starting when I kick it...but my smartphone is dead, I do need extra power.
CLOSE CALL COLLATION LIVING AND LEARNING IN AN ALMOST WORLD
Painless lessons are available if you know where to look
Chris Pens and Ben Walters won the last two WERA Heavyweight Endurance National Championships on the Army of Darkness BMW S1000RR. In those two years, they never crashed the black Beemer. They won every race they entered, except one in which they took second place, and were consistently the fastest riders at every endurance race.
Want a random sampling of public opinion regarding motorcycles? Tell a non-rider or non-motorcycle enthusiast that you make your living from two wheels. Their response will speak volumes on our PR problem; bikers are often viewed as Satan’s mechanical henchmen or as suicidally inclined.
ADDRESSING THE STEERING-STIFFENING EFFECT OF KEY COMPONENTS ON A MOTORCYCLE
Attitudes toward weight have changed, but the heavy stuff is still there. People now know that a "brochure weight" of 396 pounds can mean more like 450 to 475 pounds, ready to ride. And some racing classes have minimum weights (in MotoGP it’s 346 pounds) to discourage use of costly light materials.
A TALE OF PILGRIMS AND INDIANS ON THE LOOSE IN BARBECUE, BLUES, AND BAYOU COUNTRY
If you’re the sort of motorcyclist who likes to “strafe corners,” a trip down Highway 61 from Memphis to New Orleans will probably save you a lot of money on ammo. There are a few gentle curves along the Mississippi, but most of the corners in this land of bayous and cotton fields are crossroads, both literally and figuratively.
Going exceptionally fast doesn’t need to be an exercise in terror, and Yamaha’s R1 is proof. In a category saturated with all-powerful engines and the latest electronic wizardry, the R1 outpaces its competition with an unparalleled combination of great suspension, strong brakes, and a chassis that instills confidence in riders of varying skill levels. Its comprehensive electronics package makes the riding experience safer (and faster) through predictable and seamless intervention, while the engine, with its sultry snarl, makes abundant usable power throughout the rev range. The lower-spec R1S keeps entry price down, and the sexy, electronically suspended R1M adds a feeling of exclusivity. The standard R1 finds a happy medium, delivering class-leading performance and, more importantly, a feeling of excellence, track or street. Pick whichever you like.
It’s pretty easy to dismiss small-displacement bikes as “entry” machines for people who just don’t know how to ride, something you’d throw away just as soon as you figured out the clutch, etc. But the 390 Duke is so much more. Yes, it’s really easy to ride. It’s also lightweight and compact. Which are all excellent qualities for any rider. The 390 Duke’s real trick is taking that easy-to-ride nature and sliding in a major dose of great power (40 hp on our dyno) and a chassis that works great even for an expert-level rider. This one-bike solution also comes with a great price. For the second year, this KTM tops the class.
There are a massive number of killer bikes that fit the “Standard” hole. Ones that have specs to die for. But then there’s this Triumph. Before riding it we were skeptical. Liquid-cooling? Less peak power? Would it be less retro-Bonneville than the last one and slower? Nope. The Street Twin’s new power curves give it all the pop and sizzle you want, right where you want it. It sounds glorious—deliciously, perfectly louder than its big-bro Thruxton R. And it’s like the perfect spiritual extension of a vintage Triumph, just way better performing: all the eagerness to turn, the narrow, light feeling, the fundamental rightness. The joy of riding a pure motorcycle is found right here in this 900cc parallel twin.
Yamaha has pulled off the hat trick with its versatile and affordable 847cc inline-three sport-standard platform. On the heels of taking Best Middleweight honors in its debut year, the venerable FZ-09 was shuffled to Best Standard of 2015. Keeping with current styling and technology trends, Yamaha has treated its alloy-framed sport naked to a fresh form in the neo-retro-inspired XSR900. Beneath the modern café appearance is a very sporting powertrain featuring refined multi-mode power-delivery profiles, traction control, improved sporting suspension calibration, and ABS brakes. Sport Heritage is what Yamaha has termed a new multi-model segment within its street line. Unassuming performance and versatility for the price is what we call the XSR900.
WE IMAGINED A SMOKY ROOM 40 years ago where founding publisher Joe Parkhurst, then-executive editor Allan Girdler, and the rest of the CW crew were hard at work looking for the Next Big Idea and came up with Ten Best Bikes. But under the heading: There are No Truly New Ideas, Girdler says he “borrowed” the 10-best notion from a now defunct car magazine and had applied it with success at his old job with CW’s counterpart car publication, Road & Track.
Aprilia’s RSV4 RR does a better job of keeping this year’s Best Superbike, the Yamaha R1, in its sights than any other literbike thanks to a rock-solid chassis and V-4 engine that now makes more power up top-all of which is great but not why the bike is here. Credit the looks, sound, and emotionally stirring feeling it gives you every time you throw a leg over it instead.
We are spoiled with choice when it comes to bikes designed to reel in distant horizons. If we had a Best Luxury Sport-Touring class, the BMW R1200RT would take the prize by a wide margin. It has a unique combination of long-road comfort and absolute cornering security. The 1,170cc liquid-cooled flat twin’s reassuring thrum at cruise is replaced with a wonderful ripping snarl when you whack open the throttle and makes winding-road performance so compelling you can hardly believe you’re this comfortable and that there are bags attached to your bike.
FE 501 S
If it wasn’t necessary to recognize a new significant player in the Enduro field, the big Husky dual-sport 501 would surely occupy that space in our Ten Best once again. At this point, the FE is the finest dual-sport in the open-class market. But look out because parent company KTM is updating its 500 EXC next year and wants its title back after loaning out a bit too much DNA to Husqvarna.
Derived from the much-lauded 2K5 GSX-R1000, the new GSX-S1000F offers sporting performance and handling in a more practical and comfortable platform ideally suited to the street. The GSX-S engine has been tuned to deliver gobs of lowto midrange torque. Selectable traction control, ABS brakes, and a chassis offering superb stability instill a feeling of super skills riding technical back roads or rush-hour traffic. All for a price that’s tough to beat.
CELEBRATING FOUR DECADES OF MOTORCYCLING’S FINEST, FASTEST, AND MOST FAMOUS
Excellence deserves recognition. Whether the subject is art, science, medicine, or any other meaningful field of endeavor— motorcycles included, of course—outstanding results merit a resounding tribute to that entity’s exceptional achievements.
FOUR MOTORCYCLES THAT ARE SOMETHING MORE THAN AN ACCUMULATION OF PARTS
I WAS RAISED TO BELIEVE THAT MOTORCYCLES ARE AN ACCUMULATION OF PARTS. My father, a racer in every sense of the word, has built countless examples of them. He pushed every last one to their limits and, on a bad day at the track, crashed them, all without forming an emotional connection with a single one.
Adventure-bike fans who also like Japanese motorcycles have had it a little tough over the past decade. While there have been some very fine offerings in the form of the well-balanced but more street-oriented Yamaha Super Ténéré, street-focused Suzuki V-Stroms, and bullet-proof-but-basic Kawasaki KLR650, Japan has lacked a hard-core, liter-class, go-anywhere adventure bike.
There is perhaps nothing more polarizing in “motorcycling” than an automatic transmission. Well, perhaps trikes, but that’s another conversation. Since Honda introduced its Dual-Clutch Transmission (which really isn’t an aotomatic—it just defaults to an auto function), motorcyclists have been squawking their opinions about it.
Q: I bought a 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 as a leftover, and I have a conundrum about the thermostat. I was told (by the dealer service manager) that this bike has a 180-degree thermostat, but while riding it rarely gets above 150. The first long trip I took it on it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside and after 100 miles on the highway the engine was at 135.
BASIC SPECS: A modern development of BMW’s venerable air-/oil-cooled flat twin displacing 1,170cc, featuring fuel injection, DOHC (introduced in 2010), four valves per cylinder, and a six-speed gearbox with tuning that emphasizes broad torque delivery propels this Bavarian-built tourer.
Michael Dunlop shatters the lap record at the Isle of Man TT, but it wasn’t without a vicious fight from Ian Hutchinson. How fast will they go?
The Isle of Man TT has a history of fierce battles, bigger-than-life personalities, and ever-increasing speeds on the 37.73-mile Mountain Course. But this past year’s TT set a new standard thanks to perhaps the fiercest battle ever: Michael Dunlop versus Ian Hutchinson.
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