Best Motorcycles of 2012

Spectacular bikes despite fewer new models

story by Motorcycle.com Staff, Created Aug. 24, 2012
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Whoever you are and whatever kind of riding you do, there’s a perfect match out there in the dealership just waiting for you. Class categories continue to get re-sliced to finely hone in on key markets, creating distinct products for sub-classes. This specialization is offset elsewhere by a renewed focus on motorcycles that can do it all, and do it at a price that won’t break the bank.

The past 12 months have seen fewer new-model announcements and debuts than we fondly remember from five years ago, but there are several motorcycles that really stoke our fires and encourage us to mount up and ride.

It’s again that time of the year when we select Motorcycle.com’s Best Of choices – our annual MOBO awards. Surf along as we look back at the standout motorcycles of the past year. Click here to see our results from 2011.

Best Motorcycles of 2012

Motorcycle of the Year
Kawasaki ZX-14R

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R

Let there be no doubt the ZX-14R is a special motorcycle. It’s the quickest accelerating production vehicle in the world, able to dust off even a 1200-hp Bugatti Veyron Super Sport down a dragstrip. The $2.7 million Veyron takes 9.9 seconds to get through the quarter-mile sprint, according to Road & Track. In our testing, a bone-stock 14R shredded the strip in a paltry 9.36 seconds. And keep in mind that, at $14,699, you could nearly buy three ZXs for the price of just one set of the Veyron’s tires!

But the ZX-14R is more than a one-trick pony. For a record-setting speed king, the biggest Ninja can be an astoundingly docile tool when dealing with everyday traffic situations. Throttle response is silky, and its agility is excellent for a bike of its 540-pound (tank-empty) size. And on the highway, the 14R becomes the world’s fastest sport-tourer, gliding serenely through the air with only a whisper of vibration from the 188-hp engine. Your only concern will be where to pack your clothes. Add a traction-control system that’s smart enough for a dragstrip and can be switched off if you dare, and you’ve got one of the most impressive motorcycles we’ve ever ridden.

Soon you’ll be able to read our shootout between the ZX-14R and Suzuki’s Hayabusa, so you’ll have to stay tuned to find out exactly how this duo compares and what sets them apart from each other. But now you already know the outcome…

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R Action

Related Reading
2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Review - Video
2008 Hyberbike Shootout: Hayabusa vs. ZX-14
2008 Kawasaki ZX-14: First Ride
2006 Kawasaki ZX-14 Model Introduction

Motorcycle of the Year Honorable Mention
Ducati 1199 Panigale

The Panigale is a seriously impressive piece of sportbike kit, with major advancements in construction and technology sprinkled from end to end. Despite its 1199cc, the sexy new Duc is the lightest “literbike” available today thanks to its monocoque chassis design and clever engineering details like the engine’s automatic cam-mounted decompression device that reduces the weight of starter and battery by more than 7 pounds. And that all-new, highly oversquare Superquadro engine delivers more power than any V-Twin to ever enter mass production: 162 horsepower to the rear wheel.

After riding the sexy and sensational Panigale at its racetrack intro, we were 90% certain it had a lock on this year’s MOBO. It proved to be more comfortable, more agile, more powerful and, to some, sexier than its predecessor. However, when ridden in the harsh light of day on public roads, the erotic Panigale reveals its shortcomings. Its suspension feels like it’s sprung for a racetrack, its rear cylinder throws off furnace-like BTUs, and its jumpy throttle response makes its rider feel jumpy when trying to carefully dial up more fuel on a bumpy road. 

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale

So, although the Panigale fires most of our key synapses, it needs a few rough edges polished off before we can give it our full endorsement.

Related Reading
2012 Ducati Panigale Review - Video
2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale Superquadro Engine Details
2012 European Literbike Shootout - Video

Best Sportbike
BMW S1000RR

This is starting to get repetitive. In 2010 we awarded the S1000RR with top sportbike honors because of the statement it made in the category. In typical BMW fashion, the S1RR perfected what sportbikes should be. From its incredibly powerful engine to its advanced electronics, the 2010 S1000RR was simply amazing, especially considering its price just marginally higher than its Japanese counterparts.

Not one to rest on its laurels, after just two years BMW has updated its class-conquering literbike to once again win our Best Sportbike award for 2012. What’s been changed? At first glance it would appear the same, but as Editor Duke notes in his first ride review numerous changes have been made to improve handling.

2012 BMW S1000RR

The already powerful engine was left alone, but a new frame accommodates a slight geometry change front and rear, while suspension bits get updated as well. Electronic tweaks here and there make the bike more rideable. All told, each individual change was rather minor, but as a whole the updated S1000RR is clearly a better motorcycle than before, handily winning our European Literbike Shootout this year. With such impressive dominance, it was the clear choice for our 2012 Sportbike of the Year. And with the recently announced 2013 S1000RR HP4 due out soon, the competition’s chances already look grim for next year.

Related Reading
2012 BMW S1000RR Review
2012 European Literbike Shootout - Video
2013 BMW HP4 Revealed – A Lighter, Track-Oriented S1000RR with Dynamic Damping and Launch Control

Best Sportbike Honorable Mention
Ducati 1199 Panigale

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale Track

What?! The Panigale isn’t Best Sportbike?! Sorry, Ducatisti, but we couldn’t sleep at night if we named it Best Sportbike of the year considering it didn’t even win our 2012 European Literbike Shootout. However, that’s not to say we don’t respect the technology and outside-the-box thinking Ducati have done with its new flagship. It’s for this reason we give the 1199 an honorable mention.

From top to bottom, the Panigale changes the way we think about sportbike design. First and foremost, kudos goes to Ducati for bringing a mass produced monocoque chassis to market. This trickle-down technology using the engine as the major structural component of the frame itself is direct from MotoGP. Speaking of the Superquadro engine, the highly oversquare (112.0 mm x 60.8 mm) V-Twin revs high like a four-banger and is one of the most powerful V-Twins ever produced.

Lastly, helping keep everything in line is perhaps the most impressive electronics package fitted to a production sportbike. With adjustable suspension, engine braking and ABS available, the Panigale’s tech is simply in a class of its own. But, as we discovered in our shootout, the Ducati falls a little short when ridden on public roads, with oppressive engine heat, stiff suspension and snatchy throttle response. It thrives on a racetrack but is unpleasant on the street.

Related Reading
2012 European Literbike Shootout - Video
2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale Review - Video

Best Standard
Aprilia Tuono V4R

If you’re feeling a little dull inside, an instant fix is available from your Aprilia dealer. The new V4R, in the opinion of Editor Duke, “is simply the most exciting motorcycle on any showroom floor.” Its 1000c V-Four engine is deliciously powerful and emits a sound that tantalizes the eardrums of any gearhead. And don’t dare call the RSV4-derived mill “detuned,” as “retuned” is more apt for a bike just a few horses shy of its superbike origins.

How good is it? Well, in our Literbike Streetfighter Shootout, it was able to outgun two of our other favorite streetbikes, Triumph’s Speed Triple R and MV Agusta’s Brutale R 1090. All three of these machines are remarkably easy to live with during mundane street duties, but they really excel when unleashed in the canyons, responding like a pure sportbike while supplying accommodating ergonomics that keep you spry on your way back home through the city. And these “standards” also shine on a racetrack.

2012 Aprilia Tuono V4R

Of this stellar trio, it’s the Tuono V4R that stands out for its most powerful engine, its complement of electronic rider aids and, most importantly, its visceral riding experience that is more life-affirming than any machine we’ve ridden this year.

Related Reading
2012 Literbike Streetfighter Shootout - Video
2012 Aprilia Tuono V4R Review - Video
2011 Literbike Streetfighter Shootout

Best Standard Honorable Mention
Triumph Speed Triple R

2012 Triumph Speed Triple R

If we’re honest, the R version of Triumph’s handsome Street Triple makes for a better all-‘round streetbike than the Tuono. This is a one-bike-in-the-garage tool that can handle everything from commuting to sport-touring to trackdays. Its three-cylinder 1050cc motor produces an amazingly robust torque curve and emits a soul-stirring soundtrack, just as the non-R Speed Trip. Adding an “R” also adds PVM forged-aluminum wheels, consequetly subtracting several pounds of rotating mass in doing so; plus it supplements the equation with Ohlins suspension componentry that is as responsive as anything else on the road.

However, the R designation also comes with a $1000 price premium over the delectable Tuono V4R, at $15,999, solidifying the Aprilia’s top-dog spot. For anyone shallow of pocket, the standard S3 retails for $4000 less and is a solid choice. But we’re talking “best” here, and the S3R is one of the best streetbikes on the market today.

Related Reading
2012 Literbike Streetfighter Shootout - Video
2012 Triumph Speed Triple R Review
2011 Literbike Streetfighter Shootout

Best Cruiser
Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two

Harley-Davidson is masterful at crafting new cruisers from its many existing model platforms, and it seems the company has a wellspring of material to work with in its Sportster line. For several model years now Harley has routinely looked to the past when adding new bikes to its stables. With the introduction of the Seventy-Two earlier this year the Sportster 1200-based bike’s ‘70s-era motif continues Harley’s retrospective styling themes.

2012 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two Profile Right

As a modern representative of the early chopper scene, the Seventy-Two bears some key chopper cues, like its 2.1-gallon peanut, round air cleaner cover, solo saddle, side-mounted license plate, mini-ape hanger handlebar, staggered dual exhaust, wire wheels rolling on white-wall tires, chopped rear fender and of course, metal-flake paint. Purists (and cranky old dudes) might argue that the Seventy-Two is more false pearl than carbon copy of an original chopper of the time. But we say H-D did an excellent job of seamlessly pressing signature chopper elements of yore into a modern machine. The base MSRP of this semi-custom is only $10,499, cementing the Seventy-Two as a genuine bargain not only from The Motor Company, but in just about any segment of cruiserdom.

Related Reading
2012 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two Review
2012 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two and Softail Slim Preview
2010 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Review

Best Cruiser Honorable Mention
Victory Hard-Ball

2012 Victory Hard-Ball Right Profile

Victory’s big leaps in sales volume the past few years owes heavily to the likes of the Cross Country and Cross Roads models. This pair of baggers each rides on an aluminum frame that’s remarkably responsive yet stable, have comfortable rider ergos that include the biggest floorboards in the class, the most voluminous hard saddlebags in the category, excellent suspension performance and a big V-Twin that makes more power than any standard model Harley.

This year Victory simultaneously expanded its Cross and Ball platforms with the new Hard-Ball, giving riders the option of having the performance levels and touring capacity of a Cross bike while sporting the stripped-down, ruffian look of the price-conscious Ball line of cruisers.

The Hard-Ball’s all-encompassing matte-black finish and ape-hanger handlebar create a look that’s in stark contrast with most every other bagger on the market. The rear of the bike, with its tall, LED tail light splitting the valanced metal fender, beveled exhaust tips and toothpick-thin blinkers is an exercise in stylistically edgy design. With brake rotors and lines, engine cooling fins, stanchion tubes and a small variety of parts as the only shiny bits on the Hard-Ball, Batman would surely appreciate the bike’s blacked-out treatment. 

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2012 Victory Hard-Ball Review - Video
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2011 Victory Cross Roads Review
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Best Touring
BMW K1600GTL

More than a year after the K1600GTL hit the scene, the rest of the touring segment continues to bob in the wake left by the introduction of BMW’s über tourer. In 2012 the K16’s combination of engine power, unflappable chassis performance, comfort, and high-end tech remains unparalleled. An added bonus is the unmistakable exhaust note produced by the K’s sweet inline six-cylinder.

Dunlop Roadsmart II BMW K1600GTL

Take your pick of the numerous aspects that make the K1600GTL the ultimate touring machine: more than 120 rwhp, and 105 ft-lb of torque, pushbutton electronic suspension adjustment, engine mode selection, handlebar-mounted multi-controller for the bike’s many functions, corner-carving handling, 7.0-gallon fuel tank, a comparatively light weight, electronically adjustable windshield; and the list goes on. Icing the cake is a starting MSRP of $23,200, making the big K bike a value against many of its contemporaries.

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2012 BMW K1600GTL vs. 2012 Gold Wing Shootout
2012 BMW K1600GTL Review [Video]
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Best Touring Honorable Mention
Honda Gold Wing

2012 Honda Gold Wing

Although receiving notable revisions in 2011 (as a 2012 model), Honda’s Gold Wing hasn’t seen sweeping change in what seems like forever. Yet, the Wing remains an iconic figure of touring motorcycles. Despite weighing more than 900 pounds, the Gold Wing steers with ease and effortlessly and confidently drags footpegs through corners. The GW possesses little technological advancement compared to the array electro-gadgetry on the BMW K1600GTL, but the Honda’s comfort levels are unmatched, and its tried and true flat-Six produces lots of smooth, predictable power, making the Gold Wing an ideal choice for the two-up long haul. Now if only Honda would give this bike an electronically adjustable windshield…

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2012 Honda Gold Wing Review - First Ride
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Best Sport Touring
BMW K1600GT

Designating a touring motorcycle is fairly straightforward, but defining a sport-touring motorcycle always seems a more contentious task and is a debate we’ve ‘rassled with many times. But when BMW’s performance-driven K1600 machines came along, choosing a class-leading sport-tourer became much easier.

The K1600GT possess all of the K1600GTL’s engine power, handling prowess, and technological wizardry. But in the interest of appealing to riders that want all of the GTL’s performance, yet don’t want a cross-country ready rig (not that the GT isn’t capable of gobbling up hundreds of miles at a time), the GT ditches the GTL’s trunk box and employs a sportier windscreen shape (read: slightly less wind protection in some positions). Of course, the GT’s windshield is also electronically adjustable.

2012 BMW K1600GT

Just as the Touring category remains largely unchanged from last year, so, too, does Sport-Touring, thus the K1600GT easily wins this department for a second year. To repeat ourselves from 2011, the K1600GT is the Gold Wing that retiring track addicts would hope for.

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2012 BMW K1600GT vs. 2011 Kawasaki Concours 14
2012 BMW K1600GT Review

Best Sport-Touring Honorable Mention
KTM 990 SM-T

2012 KTM 990 SM T Action Left

When it comes to carving the most convoluted set of squiggly lines on a map, a supermoto motorcycle is the best tool for the job. However, the straight bits in between those squiggly lines are absolute torture on a sumo. That’s why we’re pleasantly surprised and impressed with the KTM 990 SM-T.

Think of it as a supermoto on steroids; its 1000cc V-Twin pulls harder, and is capable of higher speeds, than any single-cylinder sumo, but the short, closely-spaced gearing emulates that of dirtbikes which most sumo machines are based on. Mix in long-travel suspension, sticky tires on 17-inch wheels, and a wide handlebar providing ample leverage to flick the bike to and fro, and the SM-T thrives when the road gets twisty.

The beauty of the KTM is it’s much more than a canyon carver. Its upright seating position, roomy ergonomics and broad seat make burning miles a pain-free task. The inclusion of saddlebags (albeit small ones) makes this a true weekend-getaway bike. If it were us, we’d opt for a larger windscreen and bags, but as it sits, the SM-T’s split personality makes it one bike we wish we didn’t have to give back.

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Best On/Off Road
Triumph Tiger 800XC

It’s hard to imagine a BMW GS of some sort not topping this category, but for the second year in a row that’s that just what’s happened. Once again we’ve crowned Triumph’s Tiger 800XC the champ (admittedly, though, little has changed since 2011).

2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC

The Tiger can’t quite match the off-road prowess of BMW’s F800GS, but it fares well enough when the pavement ends and is the preferable on-pavement machine. With its higher comfort levels and ultra-smooth power from its endearing 800cc inline-Triple, the Triumph’s qualities make it a great all-’rounder. From lightweight tourer to mild adventurer to commuter, this Tiger still has the competition by the tail.

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Best On/Off Road Honorable Mention
Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS

The Wee-Strom saw a ground-up overhaul for 2012 – its first major update in years. Included among the upgrades and changes was a revised version of the 90-degree, 645cc Twin from the Gladius. Additionally, revised suspension settings improved handling as well as overall ride quality. The previous aluminum twin-spar frame was retained, but new style bodywork saw a narrower gas tank, which resulted in a slimmer-waisted V-Strom 650 for 2012. An all-new analog/digital combo instrument cluster, three-position windscreen, and a new saddle were among other improvements.

The fresh-faced V-Strom isn’t as adept at tackling the trails as many of BMW’s on/off-roaders are, but it ably handles gravel roads and just about any Forest Service-type road that doesn’t require motocross levels of suspension travel. However, it’s the SV650/Gladius-sourced middleweight Twin that remains the Strom’s most enchanting quality. This most-loved engine, along with comfortable rider ergos and standard ABS, makes the V-Strom 650 a brilliant choice as an affordable, multifaceted motorcycle.

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2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Review
2011 Suzuki V-Strom Review & 2012 Preview
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Best Value
Honda NC700X

For the second year running, Honda has captured our Best Value award. Last year with the CBR250R, this year the NC700X. The oddly-styled NC shines because it doesn’t try to fit within a pre-existing category, but more so because it blends them — all for $6999. With an eye toward practicality, affordability, versatility and fun, the NC styling hints at off-road worthiness but is really meant for a commanding presence on-road.

Its 670cc parallel-Twin is a competent performer and gets excellent mileage (another plus in the value category), but more importantly, its forward-slanting cylinders allow the faux fuel tank area to be used as a 21-liter storage compartment, big enough for a full-face helmet. The NC is also a platform for Honda’s optional second generation DCT, or Dual Clutch Technology, allowing both upshifts and downshifts at the push of a button.

2012 Honda NC700X

We found the NC to be a comfortable and capable machine for all-day riding. The brakes and suspension are nothing to write home about, but they’re not worse than other bikes anywhere near this price. The standard transmission performs with typical Honda quality, but more impressive is the second-generation DCT. This version is lighter and more compact than the first gen seen on the VFR1200, while still maintaining clean, crisp and perfect shifts each time, all at the push of a button.

The NC700X doesn’t shine in any particular category, but when you combine its practicality, comfortable ergonomics, capable performance and affordable price tag for built-in-Japan quality, this year’s choice for best value is a no-brainer.

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2012 Honda NC700X Review - Video
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Best Value - Honorable Mention
2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650

With Honda’s NC700X and Kawasaki’s Ninja 650 winning both 2012 Best Value categories, displacement moves from 250cc bikes (Ninja, CBR and TU) of the past few years and refocuses on mid-displacement models. Experienced motorcyclists enjoy a bargain just as much as new riders.

Unlike the utilitarian nature of the NC700X, the Ninja 650 is a more sport-focused model appealing to newer, younger and performance-oriented riders. The revamped 650 entered 2012 in more aggressive fashion, taking cosmetic cues from its high-performance Ninja brethren. The Ninja’s 649cc, liquid-cooled parallel-Twin is updated with several small improvements to the intake and exhaust to deliver a modest bump in midrange torque and a claimed 10% boost in fuel economy.

For 2012 the Ninja 650’s MSRP only increased $300 to $7,499. Considering the complete visual redesign and performance improvements, that’s a mid-displacement bargain we can get behind.

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2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 Review: First Ride [Video]
2012 Kawasaki Versys Review
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2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650 vs. 2009 Suzuki GSX650F vs. 2010 Yamaha FZ6R

Best Electric Motorcycle
Lightning Motorcycles

With the arrival of the Lightning electric motorcycle, no longer do e-bike comparisons have to be prefaced with “for an electric bike.” The Lightning has the performance to stand toe-to-toe with any other sportbike out there, regardless of propulsion method. Powered by a 12kWh battery and a motor directly from a GM Tahoe Hybrid SUV, the Lightning flat out hauls.

Richard Hatfield, CEO and founder of Lightning Motorcycles, has been working tirelessly over the past six years to bring to market an electric motorcycle that can not only compete with gas bikes, but also emit a tiny carbon footprint in the process. The race team uses solar panels to charge their bikes, and those panels will be available to consumers should they want a truly green motorcycling experience.

Lightning Electric Motorcycle

On the performance side, Hatfield claims a range over 100 miles, more than double the torque of a Suzuki GSX-R1000, and the ability to reach 218 mph with a few tweaks, as it did at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Having finally ridden the $38,800 Lightning (albeit the racing version, which sports identical internals), we have no reason to doubt these claims. Combine this with the known performance capabilities from its top-shelf suspension and wheels, and this year’s winner for Best Electric was no contest.

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2012 Lightning Motorcycles Exclusive First Ride – Video
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Best Electric Motorcycle Honorable Mention
Zero S/DS

2012 Zero DS

Having surprised us in the past with its performance and lack of any real competitors, the Zero S and its DS cousin take the silver medal this year. For the everyday rider/commuter not interested in breaking land speed records, both Zero models provide the same performance, comfort and practicality as a small-displacement motorcycle.

Both Zeros are available with six- or nine-kWh batteries, though the larger version is really the one to get when trying to navigate city streets, as its extra capacity comes in handy. With the DS model and more dirt-oriented tires, attacking challenging single-track is within its capabilities. And while the S model was never meant to be a racer, that doesn’t stop some people from trying, as our own Associate Editor proved by winning a recent race.

So far, Zero has the lead when it comes to building an infrastructure to promote electric motorcycles and support its customers. This alone is a major accomplishment. But ultimately, the S and DS successfully changed the minds of the Motorcycle.com staff. We no longer classify e-bikes as toys. They’re becoming legitimate transportation. 

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Racing Electric Motorcycles – Video
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Best Scooter
Honda PCX150

When it comes to affordable, practical and simple two-wheel transportation, scooters are hard to beat. And when you find one that allows you to extend your range with its ability to hop on the freeway, its value goes up even more. The Honda PCX150 checks all these boxes.

At $3449 it’s relatively inexpensive and is well suited for the college student or urban dweller. Its weight is distributed low in the chassis for solid, stable handling, and the cavernous space under the seat is more than enough for groceries, books or even a change of clothes. Oh yeah, it also gets 102 mpg. Or at least that’s what Honda says.

2013 Honda PCX150 Action

Most impressive is its engine. At 150cc, it has plenty of punch to keep up with traffic without making you feel like a sitting duck. It’ll do freeway speeds up to 70 mph, but no more. Despite this, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger bang for your buck elsewhere.

Related Reading
2013 Honda PCX150 Review

Honorable Mention
BMW C 600 Sport/C 650 GT

2012 BMW C 600 Sport

We want to give BMW the award for best scooter this year, but there’s one caveat holding us back: only Tor Sagen, our European correspondent, has thrown a leg over it. Until we’re able to ride and evaluate it for ourselves, runner-up status is the best we can give it. Still, what BMW has done is nothing short of impressive.

Just entering the scooter segment is a big step for the company, but the Sport and GT prove BMW isn’t merely dipping its toes in the water. From its spritely 647cc Twin, to its sportbike-like handling and generous storage space, both machines are capable performers. The spec chart says all the right things to make us believe both scoots are winners, but we’ll have to reserve final judgment until we test them on home soil against its maxi-scoot rivals. Best scooter of 2013, perhaps?

Related Reading
2012 BMW C 600 Sport Review
2012 BMW C 600 Sport and C 650 GT Scooter Preview

Best Dirt Bike
2013 Kawasaki KX450F

The winner of this category is the most easily and widely adjustable dirt bike ever to be released to the public. The KX450F features adjustments for riding positions, engine power delivery and – via a new KYB Pneumatic Spring Fork (PSF) – easy front preload alterations. Nearly two pounds lighter than a normal coil-spring fork, the PSF also produces less friction and therefore feels a lot smoother. It works amazing on the track, and its settings can be entirely changed in a matter of minutes.

The power delivery of the 2013 KX450F is strong yet very usable, the throttle response is quick, and the motor pulls hiccup-free all the way through the revs. Like the fork, power delivery can quickly be changed with three different plug-in ECU couplers that either deliver smoother throttle response or make the power hit harder.  Again, these changes can be made in minutes by the rider, and that gives a big advantage over the competition.

2013 Kawasaki KX450F

Factoring in all the adjustability, and just how good this bike works on the track, the 2013 KX450F is the winner of our best dirt bike honors.

Related Reading
2013 Kawasaki KX450F Review

Best Dirt Bike Honorable Mention
2012 Yamaha WR450F

2012 Yamaha WR450F

The 2012 WR450F is a very rider friendly motorcycle with a very smooth power delivery and plush suspension. The WR works well on trails, as per its design, but it also surprises by how well it can get around a motocross track, too. Since it doesn’t have an MX-style strong hit off the bottom end, the WR is very easy to ride and takes a lot less effort than the YZ450F. Yamaha also uses different frame geometry on the WR, and this helps the bike glide over small bumps.

Another asset of the WR is its slim feel. It’s very narrow through the seat and tank area, making it easy to slide forward even in the tightest corners you might encounter on the trails. It is also very easy to grip the bike with your knees and really use your legs to help steer the bike around. The brakes, shifting and clutch action are also very good and really complement the entire package. For a trails or enduro rider, the WR450F is our top choice.

Related Reading
2012 Yamaha WR450F Review

Best New Technology
Thin Film Transistor Displays

Thin Film Transistors (TFT) displays are changing the ways in which motorcycles communicate with their riders. These full-color readouts on bikes such as BMW’s K1600GT/GTL as well as Ducati’s Diavel and Panigale, make everything else look primitive in comparison.

For Ducati, the technology first appeared in limited form on last year’s Diavel model. When Pete Brissette tested the Diavel at the press launch he lauded the technology’s usefulness. “The new TFT display is nothing short of a brilliant move by Ducati, as navigating the colorful GPS-like display is more intuitive than operating the Multistrada’s all-inclusive, colorless one-piece instrument panel.” On the Panigale the TFT display reverses background colors in low-light and changes the layout of information according to the riding mode selected.

Thin Film Transistor Display

So, how much of an advancement are TFT displays? Well, you can expect to see them on an ever-increasing amount motorcycle models as the years go on. If you’re old enough to remember PCs before and after color monitors, you’ll understand why we’re so excited about this technology.

Related Reading
2012 BMW K1600GT Review
2011 Ducati Diavel Review

Best New Technology Honorable Mention
Adjustable Engine Braking

Adjustable Engine Braking

The best street-legal sportbike electronic packages are the realm of the exotic such as MV Agusta’s 2013 F3 and this year’s Ducati Panigale. Both come standard with an adjustable engine braking function, along with an array of other electronic features, and both models are leaders in their respective class.

Rolling off the throttle restricts the flow of air to the engine making the engine work harder to suck air into its cylinders. A motorcycle’s ECU can reduce the effect of engine braking by electronically manipulating throttle plates to open slightly thus increasing the flow of air. By tempering engine braking in this way the end result is a slipper-clutch effect without the slipper clutch — which is one technology the F3 does not have but does not need. “In Sport mode the F3’s adjustable engine braking felt like an especially slippery slipper clutch,” said Kevin Duke at the bike’s press launch.

The great benefit of electronic engine braking lies in its adjustability. Depending on your preference for more or less engine braking, you can manipulate both the F3 and the Panigale between a choice of two and three settings, respectively. As this technology begins trickling down the ranks we expect to see greater levels of adjustability, much in the way many sportbikes offer various degrees of traction control.

Related Reading
2013 MV Agusta F3 675 Review - Video
2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale Review - Video

Best Product
Arai Signet-Q

The advancement of helmets is never stagnant, and just when you think they can’t get any better, five millimeters is enough to make a difference. With the Arai Signet-Q, a five millimeter elongation of the shell shape gives those with “long-oval” heads a reason to rejoice.

The Signet-Q brings back one of the most popular lines in the company’s history. The original Signet gained its popularity by virtue of being one of a few helmets long-oval heads could wear for long periods of time. The problem with other helmets (even others within the Arai family) is the distance front to back within the shell. This would eventually cause “hot spots,” or intense pressure, on a rider’s forehead.

2011 Arai Signet-Q

Arai found simply adding five millimeters total distance front to back in the shell was enough to alleviate the pressure point. The added comfort doesn’t just benefit long-oval heads, either. This slight adjustment was enough for 14 of 19 journalists who tried it to wear one whole size smaller.

But we like the Signet-Q for more than its unique fit. Its wide eyeport improves peripheral vision, it comes standard with a Pinlock-ready shield and the redesigned cheekpads cover more area while providing more comfort. We applaud Arai for remembering those who have trouble finding a comfortable helmet.

Related Reading
2012 Shoei RF-1100 Helmet Review
2011 Arai Signet-Q Helmet Overview
2010 Arai Corsair V Helmet Review

Best New Product Honorable Mention
Bell Helmets Transitions SOLFX Quick-Release Shield

Transition Face Shield

Although the SOLFX faceshield has been around for more than a year, it’s come to our attention that Bell Helmet’s Transitions faceshield is the best thing to happen to helmets since the introduction of air vents.

Like many of you, our riding days often begin with early morning sunlight and oftentimes ends long after the sun’s left our time zone — requiring the switch from a tinted to a clear shield. And probably like you, we either forget to bring a clear shield or simply don’t want to bother with the nuisance of packing one along for the ride.

Bell’s Transitions faceshield uses photochromic technology to adapt to changing light conditions without exchanging shields. The Transitions shield automatically darkens when exposed to sunlight and reverts to clear in low light. In fact, the shield goes from clear to full dark in 10 seconds. At $119.95 per shield, the MSRP isn’t cheap, but one shield replaces the cost and inconvenience of two separate shields.

Related Reading
Bell and Roland Sands Design Announce “Star Treatment” Contest
The Bell Custom 500 Helmet As Art [Video]
2012 Shoei RF-1100 Helmet Review
2011 KBC VR4R Helmet Review

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