Top 10 Hottest Bikes of 2012

These 10 motorcycles are sure to make waves in 2012

story by Troy Siahaan/Staff, Created Jan. 05, 2012
Recession be damned, 2012 looks to be one of the most highly anticipated years in the motorcycle industry in recent memory. The economy looks to be stabilizing, people are in the mood to buy again, and many of the major manufacturers are introducing exciting new models for the 2012 model year. From the looks of things it would appear as though the bottom of the economic turmoil is behind us.

It couldn’t have come any sooner, as these ten new machines for 2012 have us here at excited for the year to come. Like last year, this list is heavily Euro-centric – just one Japanese motorcycle managed to crack our register. Similar, too, is the amount of sport (or sporty-ish) bikes on the countdown.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the presence of not one, but two electric motorcycles. One promises a lot of potential, while the other is a display of what happens when a major manufacturer dips its toes in the E-bike game.

So, here they are –’s 10 hottest bikes of 2012, in alphabetical order ...

Next Page... BMW and Brammo


BMW C600 Sport and C650GT

First introduced at the EICMA show in Milan, Italy earlier this year, BMW’s two new scooters – the C600 Sport and C650GT – represent a complete departure for the company. Built to fight the challenges of inner-city traffic, rising energy costs, and ever-tightening emission regulations, these two scoots look to bring the BMW brand to a whole new segment of two-wheelers.

Here are the numbers: 647cc parallel-Twin (don’t let the “C600” name fool you), 60 horsepower, 109 mph top speed, and, in the case of the C600, 0-62.5 mph in 7.1 seconds. Great numbers for a scooter. Suspension and running gear are equally impressive and point to both scooters being serious rides for serious riders.

2012 BMW C600 Sport and C650 GT side by side

As the names and pictures would suggest, the C600 Sport sheds some luxury amenities and places the rider into an aggressive, sporty position – perfect for embarrassing lesser riders on sportbikes. The C650GT, meanwhile, is perfect for riders looking to rack up miles on the odometer while doing so in complete comfort, and it can also attack a challenging mountain road should the situation arise.

Die-hard motorcyclists can scoff all they want at BMW’s latest entries, but everything we’ve seen, heard and read points to these scooters being the swift kick in the pants to the scooter world the S1000RR was to the sportbike wars. One thing’s for sure – we’re looking forward to riding them. BMW has yet to set pricing for either scooter, but we’re expecting a starting MSRP around $10,000 or so.

2012 BMW C600 Sport and C650 GT action

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Brammo Empulse

The high-performance electric sportbike from Brammo, the Empulse, was revealed more than a year-and-a-half ago, with the promise of production in the first quarter of 2011. Now, finally, Brammo says the Empulse is slated for production in early 2012.

What makes this electric sportbike special is Brammo’s claim that the Empulse 10.0 is capable of reaching 100 mph, as well as boasting a range of 100 miles on a single charge. Those numbers are halved, at most, in even the best current model production electric bikes on offer from other brands.

2012 Brammo Empulse left

Also highly innovative is the Empulse’s six-speed transmission. Most manufacturers of electric motorcycles (including Brammo) use a power controller unit that allows the rider to modulate power via a traditional twist throttle, thereby bypassing the complexity of multi-gear transmission. Powered by a 57-hp motor with a liquid-cooled 10-kwh battery, the Empulse claims a charge time of 10 hours from a 110V outlet. Brammo will also offer a 6.0 and 8.0 version with smaller batteries and lower price points.

In our July 2010 Empulse Preview we learned that the three production versions have estimated curb weights of 370 lbs for the Empulse 6.0, 390 lbs for the 8.0, and 410 lbs for the 10.0. The higher-performance bikes will weigh more because of their higher capacity batteries. Empulse MSRPs are priced in order of performance at $9,995, $11,995, and $13,995, respectively.

2012 Brammo Empulse action

Although a production-level Empulse is long overdue, Brammo has been involved in electric motorcycle racing from the beginning. The Ashland, Ore., company took third place in the inaugural Isle of Man TT TTXGP in 2009, following up with the 2011 TTXGP North American Championship on a race version of the Empulse.

The Empulse is impressive enough that it’s even caught the attention of mainstream media. In November 2011 the Empulse was chosen among 100 winners to receive a “Best of What’s New” award from Popular Science magazine. Of the 11 awards in the automotive category, the Empulse was the only motorcycle.

2012 Brammo Empulse right

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Next Page... Ducati and Erik Buell Racing


Ducati 1199 Panigale

How much more hype can we give to the new Ducati 1199 Panigale that hasn’t been done already? The successor to the popular and successful 1098/1198, the Panigale is more than just a significant update, it defines what we moto-journos mean when we talk about revolution vs. evolution. Many of the technologies on the new Panigale will break from the mold we’re so used to seeing on sportbikes.

First, the frame, or rather, lack of one. The monocoque design of the 1199 means the engine is the frame and the signature trellis design on past Ducatis is no more. This technology borrows directly from the company’s MotoGP experience. Considering how much trouble Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden had this season aboard those MotoGP machines, it will be interesting to see how the new 1199 performs.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S

Of course, the 1199 engine is also earning much attention, as its highly oversquare dimensions will deliver the highest revving liter-class Twin ever. The “Superquadro” engine of the 1199 also promises to be one of the most powerful V-Twin engines ever. If all the hype is to be believed, then we can expect horsepower figures close to 200 at the crank. Staggering.

That much power is hard to tame for even the best riders, so Ducati has graced the 1199 with an advanced electronics package that should set the bar pretty high for its competitors. We could go on and on about what is easily the most anticipated motorcycle of 2012, but we’ll whet the appetite with this little teaser. We’ll be riding it next month at an exotic location to see if the Panigale measures up to its intense hype.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S left

Pricing for the base Panigale starts at $17,995, the “S” variant lists for $22,995 and the Tricolore is set at $27,995.

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Erik Buell Racing 1190RS

Erik Buell has been kicked in the crotch more than any other industry player we know. Decades ago, it was the AMA eliminating a racing class just as Buell unveiled a game-changing new bike in that category. Then, in 2009, Harley-Davidson pulled the plug on its Buell Motorcycles subsidiary, leaving Erik and his dreams of building a world-class sportbike up a creek with no paddle, boat or water.

And yet Erik Buell refuses to be counted out. The awkwardly styled Buell 1125R has been thoroughly overhauled and transformed into the elegant and exciting Erik Buell Racing 1190RS. A Rotax-sourced V-Twin is the only carryover part, and even that has been comprehensively upgraded to deliver a claimed 175 hp.

2012 Erik Buell Racing 1190RS red and silver 

Nearly every other component is distinct from the 1125R, including its new aluminum frame, spidery magnesium subframe and built-in-the-USA magnesium wheels constructed with a new ablation casting method. Ohlins takes care of suspension duties, while the front brake’s 8-piston caliper uses trick cooling ducts.

EBR says it will produce a limited run of 100 1190RS models. The base RS retails for $39,999. A Carbon Package costs an extra $4,000. The price is high, certainly, but this machine is on the level of an American-built Bimota. Early reports from those who had ridden it are nothing short of glowing. We’re hoping to get a ride on it soon.

And further proof Buell ain’t dead yet. The company says it will be building three new models, thus far known only as the RX, SX and AX. We definitely haven’t seen the last of Mr. Buell!

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Next Page... Kawasaki and KTM


Kawasaki ZX-14R

The hyperbike category lacks many players, so a new R-spec version of the ZX-14 might not seem so relevant. But here’s what is relevant:

This is the quickest-accelerating production vehicle in the world! In its pure stock form at a slippery dragstrip, it posted uncorrected 9.7-second runs. For some perspective, consider that the $2.7 million Bugatti Veyron SuperSport can’t keep up in a quarter-mile with this $14,699 Kawasaki! We’re expecting 9.4-second runs when corrected for temperature and altitude.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R green drag

And, surprisingly for a land-bound missile, the 14R is a very comfortable sportbike and amazingly docile for a bike that can get from zero to 150 mph in less than 10 seconds. Distinctive and intimidating looks gives it street cred, and switchable traction control helps keep the tires under you. The Suzuki Hayabusa has had nearly a decade-long reign in the open-class sportbike category, but the new 14R has stolen that crown.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R blue

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KTM Freeride E

The notion that electric motorcycles are merely a passing fad no longer holds water. The Zero brand of electric motorcycles is only a few years old, but the company continues to build and expand its lineup, which now includes a total of five models. And if you need more proof that e-bikes are here to stay, then consider the two separate international roadracing series (TTXGP and FIM e-Power) dedicated entirely to electric race bikes.

This niche in the moto world is growing quickly, giving consumers more options each year. However, most of the electric motorcycles currently available are street bikes. While Zero does offer two models it classifies as dirt bikes, major OEMs stayed out of the market to provide an off-road-specific electric motorcycle.

2012 KTM Freeride E studio

But off-road giant KTM unveiled the Freeride E as a production-level dirt bike during EICMA 2011. A lithium-ion battery supplies power to a 300-watt motor that KTM says produces 10 hp, with a maximum of up to 30 hp. While battery life ranges from 20 to 45 minutes depending on use, KTM also says that total recharge time for the li-ion battery is only 90 minutes.

The battery and motor are carried in a perimeter-type frame made of aluminum and steel. A 43mm WP fork and a WP PDS shock provide approximately 10 inches of suspension travel front and rear. And the simplicity of an electric motor powertrain pays dividends in the form of keeping the bike’s weight down: KTM claims the Freeride E weighs 95kg (209 lbs).

In the right hands the Freeride E can sail through the air and tackle tough terrain with the best of dirt bikes, as witnessed by a KTM video of the Freeride E romping through industrial areas in and around Barcelona, Spain.

2012 KTM Freeride E jump

Part of what makes this electric dirt bike so appealing is that it’s likely well-built and designed since it comes from a major player like KTM, a brand that has a rich history of making off-road motorcycles. Furthermore, this new electric bike (as well as potential customers) will benefit from KTM’s established dealer network – a challenge that other e-bike makers have struggled with.

About 100 Europeans will get to take advantage of this emissions-less motocrosser sometime in 2012. Depending on how well those 100 units move, KTM says it will then decide whether to increase production or hold back and rethink its electric motorcycle plans. KTM hasn’t officially announced pricing or plans to import the Freeride E to the U.S., but we’re expecting to see SX and EXC versions before 2013.

KTM Freeride E Concept

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Next Page... MV Agusta and Norton


MV Agusta F3

Introduced at the 2010 EICMA show and our choice as one of last year’s hottest new bikes, the MV Agusta F3 is only now making its way to European dealers, with its U.S. debut expected later this year.

The 675cc, 3-cylinder counterpart to the in-line Four 998cc F4, the stunningly gorgeous F3 is recognizably MV Agusta. A choice of two, the $13,500 standard F3 will be joined by a limited edition Serie Oro for $27,900 of which only 200 examples will be made.

2012 MV Agusta F3 675

Boasting a dry weight of 381 pounds and producing a claimed 126 crank horsepower, the F3 is already setting new standards for middleweight sportbike performance. And then there’s its electronics package that incorporates adjustable traction control. If desired, a person can purchase other modules such as launch control, anti-wheelie and electronically assisted shift programing.

The Serie Oro features a host of unique upgrades including fully adjustable Öhlins inverted fork, TTX shock and steering damper, plus Brembo brakes with radial-mounted Monobloc calipers gripping racing discs. The front and rear mudguards, dashboard cover, air box side and intake covers, fairing inserts, both upper and lower chain guards, swingarm protector cover, sprocket cover, fairing lower, and stacked exhaust outlets are all manufactured from carbon fiber. The Serie Oro is distinguished by its menagerie of gold-painted and polished bits and pieces, not to mention a triple-clamp-mounted number plate.

2012 MV Agusta F3 Oro

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Norton Commando 961

For the last year Norton Motorcycles USA has been working through the red tape of bringing its revitalised 961 Commando model to U.S. shores. According to Norton USA president, Dan Van Epps, the new Commando will soon have its EPA certification with deliveries of the iconic motorcycle scheduled for early spring.

In production for the last couple years and available in a growing number of foreign markets, the 961 Commando comes in three iterations: SE, Cafe Racer and Sport. The three models share the same basic platform but differ from one another in the components with which they’ve been outfitted, such as the inverted Öhlins forks on the Cafe Racer or the BST carbon fiber wheels on the SE.

Norton Commando Sport cafe racer
2012 Norton Commando Sport

According to Van Epps, an initial 50 dealers will be concentrated in the most populated U.S. cities, with about 500 bikes being imported for the first year. By year five Van Epps forecasts approximately 2,000 Nortons coming to America. MSRPs should begin at $16,000 for a base model Commando to upwards of $20,000 for the SE.

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Next Page... Triumph


Triumph Speed Triple R

One of the more controversial picks on our list, you might be wondering what the Speed Triple R is doing here. If you’ve ridden the standard Speed Triple then this wouldn’t be much of a surprise. It’s no secret that we’re big fans of the bug-eyed wheelie machine from Hinckley. Its combination of sporty yet comfortable ergonomics, impressive handling and an intoxicating 1050cc inline-Triple engine has us fighting for the keys whenever one makes it into our fleet of test bikes.

This year Triumph has upped the ante even further with the R version of the ST. Like the Daytona 675R introduced last year, the uprated Speed Triple will receive an Ohlins NIX30 43mm fork and TTX36 shock, calibrated specifically for the ST-R. Combine that with four-piston, monobloc Brembo calipers, Pirelli Supercorsa SP tires, optional ABS and a redesigned gearbox, and the ST-R is sure to elevate a bike we already love to another level.

2012 Triumph Speed Triple R

U.S. pricing has yet to be determined, but we’ll guess it will list for less than $14K.

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Triumph Tiger Explorer

Triumph tripled its Tiger line-up in 2011 with the introduction of the Tiger 800 and Tiger 800XC. The new Tiger Explorer model makes a quartet of Tigers for 2012.

The 1215cc, in-line 3-cylinder Tiger is a big adventure-touring bike meant to go head-to-head with Yamaha’s Super Ténéré and the archetypal BMW R1200GS. The Tiger Explorer’s MSRP has yet to be announced, but outfitted with a comparable electronics package – including ride-by-wire throttle, switchable ABS, cruise control and traction control – to the $13,900 Yamaha and $18,600 BMW, expect the Explorer to carry a price somewhere between those two.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer right

Triumph claims the Explorer’s new triple produces 135 crank horsepower and 89 ft-lbs of torque which wallops the 108.5 hp of the Ténéré’s parallel-Twin and 110 hp of the GS’s apposed twin. With a curb weight of 575 lbs, the new Tiger is only five pounds less than the Yamaha but carries nearly a gallon less fuel.

Considering the successful design of last year’s 800 Tiger models, Triumph will likely have another winner for 2012.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer action

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