Brands like Aprilia, BMW, Ducati and Triumph haven’t slowed the launching of new models, and this forging ahead in the midst of a storm has resulted in gains of market share. It’s also provided us with several interesting new bikes to ride. Perhaps most interesting of all are the bikes in the paradigm-shifting electric motorcycle movement that’s rapidly gathering momentum. Progress in this category will come quickly as new technology takes great leaps forward.
Although the two-wheel market isn’t what it once was, this is nevertheless a fascinating era in the evolution of motorcycling. The best motorcycles and machinery of 2010 are seen below.
Motorcycle of the Year
After years of incremental increases in performance among sportbikes, along comes a fresh player to shake things up in the literbike world in a way we haven’t seen for more than a decade when the first-gen R1 debuted. BMW stepped into the fray against long-established Japanese players which have been building big transverse inline-Fours for decades. But the German brand came out swinging with a stupendous 175-plus horsepower at its rear wheel, blowing its Asian veterans out of the water by resetting a very high bar. The potential of BMW’s RR is best displayed in the World Superstock championship (closer to stock than World Superbike) where it has gone undefeated and has already wrapped up the class title.
This leap in power is momentous on its own, but at least as impressive is the S1000RR’s retail price of $13,800, marginally costlier than the Japanese competitors, and much cheaper than anything from Europe. And if you ante up an extra $1,480, the Beemer gets endowed with a sophisticated electronics package that includes traction control, ABS and selectable-on-the-fly engine mapping modes. Its surplus of power and state-of-the-art electronics combine with a sure-footed chassis and enviable brakes to create a mind-bending sporting package that stands out as the most impressive motorcycle of 2010.
Honorable Mention – Ducati Multistrada S
Even just a few years ago, who could’ve imagined a world in which BMW introduces a full-on sportbike that leads the literbike class, while at the same time Ducati debuts an adventure-touring-styled all-‘rounder like the Multistrada. Ducati has long been the purebred source for hardcore sporting cycles, almost always at the expense of comfort and versatility. But the Multi’s flexibility and usefulness gives it broadband appeal unavailable from any of Bologna’s other bullets.
The Multi can’t rival BMW’s iconic GS in any off-road environment, but it excels on any other road condition. It performs with élan whether dodging commuter traffic or back-road scratching or sport touring over a long weekend. And its retuned V-Twin is easier to manage at lower revs despite a considerable 135-horse top-end wallop. At $14,995, the base Multistrada includes multi-mode engine mapping and adjustable traction control. An upgrade to the S model gets standard anti-lock Brembo brakes and Öhlins’ first electronically adjustable suspension, which allows setup changes at the touch of a button. The MTS ain’t cheap ($19,995 for the S Touring that includes hard-shell bags, heated grips and a centerstand), but it has the best combination of sport, touring and commuting that we’ve ever experienced, potentially paring down a three-bike garage to just two wheels.
BMW Motorrad’s S1000RR crushed this year’s Literbike Shootout by setting precedent upon precedent. As the engineering-driven company’s first stab at the heart of highly evolved Japanese superbikes, it delivers nearly 23 more rear wheel horsepower than the next most powerful competitor, along with fantastic suspension, chassis, and brakes.
This base combo by itself is class leading, but BMW also brewed in an unheard-of alphabet soup of electronic aids to make good riders faster, and faster riders into heroes. Like ‘em in principle or not, optionally available Dynamic Traction Control, Race ABS, and Gearshift Assistant further increase the competence of a machine that – despite packing in more hardware – weighs less than three of its Japanese rivals. And let’s not forget how competitively BMW priced its superior superbike – even the fully-optioned $16,480 version – for much less than Ducati kindly requests for an 1198, or KTM asks for an RC8. In fact, the $13,800 base S1000RR is within 6% or less of its 2010 Japanese rivals. Talk about knocking the ball out of the park on your first swing. Most impressive, BMW.
2010 BMW S1000RR Review
2009 S1000RR Preview
2009 BMW S1000RR – A Closer Look
BMW S1000RR Superbike [video]
2010 Literbike Shootout: RSV4 R vs S1000RR vs CBR1000RR vs ZX-10R
2010 Literbike Shootout: Aprilia RSV4 vs Ducati 1198S vs KTM RC8R
BMW S1000RR Promotion for US Military
Honorable Mention – Aprilia RSV4
Objectively, Aprilia’s thrilling new literbike shouldn’t be in this position. It Is outpowered by most of its four-cylinder competition, it’s kind of heavy, and it’s definitely expensive. That said, it also gets enthusiasts’ blood pumping harder than any literbike available for mass consumption. Its V-Four engine sounds like an opera of machine guns, rising and falling like a splendid Italian aria that makes the hair on your neck stand at attention. The compactness of its melodious engine also allows the chassis to be scaled down into something approaching a 600cc sportbike, jump-starting comparisons to a street-legal MotoGP bike. And its finish quality is as good as it gets in production-line sportbikes.
The RSV4 experience starts at $15,999 for the base R version, which is plenty enough to inspire stupid levels of creative financing. But as long as we’re dreaming, we’ll take the delectably exotic Factory version ($21K) with its Öhlins suspension, lighter forged-aluminum wheels and variable-length intake snorkels, which steers and handles with greater fervor. While it’s not ultimately the best or most cost-effective literbike, it arouses our lust like nothing else available in 2010.
In our Oddball Sport-Touring Shootout the Z surprised even us as to how well it performs when placed into a role where it isn’t expected to excel.
Its nod to the streetfighter style means an open, upright riding position with little to shield the rider from the elements. Yet rarely does a rider feel cheated by a lack of a substantial windshield. An easy reach to the one-piece handlebar, roomy cockpit, humane seat height and a 481-lb wet weight combine to make the Z a friendly, manageable motorcycle. Smooth, linear power from its liter-class inline-Four paired with excellent throttle response enhances the Z1000’s user-friendly nature. But with over 123 hp at the wheel, an agile yet stable chassis and good brakes, the Z is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The naked Kawi’s numerous admirable qualities mean to us that this bike is capable of filling many roles, making a case for itself as a new UJM. From commuter to canyon-carving sportbike slayer, from a lightweight tourer to everyday transportation, the Z’s got it covered. It even makes more horsepower and torque than MV Agusta’s $4,500 costlier Brutale 990R. The Z1000 does all this for the modest sum of $10,499.
Honorable Mention – Triumph Street Triple R
For our motorcycle-oriented sensibilities, we can sum up many things to rave about Triumph’s Street Triple R, and precious few undesirable things to criticize. That’s why we chose it as Motorcycle of the Year in 2009. A grunty powerband joined by an unrivaled exhaust note from the bike’s 675cc inline-Triple offers excellent everyday usability mixed with a healthy measure of fun. Its Daytona 675-sourced mill has plenty of power in reserve, making it an ideal trackday candidate. The ST-R is a hooligan’s turnkey dream machine: Hoisting the front-end for blocks-long wheelies or doing Dave Sonsky-approved stoppies is child’s play for the Street Triple R.
BMW’s stellar S1000RR killed all hopes for any other bike to make Motorcycle of the Year in 2010, and the Z1000’s roomier ergos make it better suited as an all around platform when compared to the Triple R’s more compact dimensions. Otherwise, we loves us some Triumph Street Triple R!
Victory Cross Country
When Victory unveiled the Cross Country late last year, it was apparent from the its bold styling that Victory intends to keep breaking new ground as a forward-thinking American cruiser manufacturer. However, the Cross Country is more than just cruiser avant-gardism.
A beefy cast-aluminum frame provides sure-footed handling in most situations, and the revvy-for-a-cruiser 50-degree 106-c.i. V-Twin supplies plenty of power and twisting force – like 102 ft-lbs and 85 hp worth. Impressive stopping force from dual four-piston calipers, and responsive steering round out the Cross’ excellent performance package. Roomy saddlebags (largest in class) cue off the fork-mounted fairing’s style. Big floorboards, a sculpted, low-to-the-ground saddle and easy reach to the handlebar are just a few elements of the CC’s comfortable rider environment.
The Cross Country is a big step in the direction of a cruiser that does it all while breaking out of the traditional cruiser mold. Victory has somehow managed to endow the Cross with all those admirable traits while keeping its $17,999 MSRP well below that of its very stiff competition.
Honorable Mention – Triumph Rocket III Roadster
If the “bigger is better” mantra is something you live by, then Triumph has a cruiser that’s sure to give every cruiser out there displacement envy (except, of course, a Boss Hoss. But does a car-engine-powered motorcycle belong in the same class as any other bike?)
The Rocket Roadster is the latest incarnation of the massively displaced Rocket III line of Triumph cruisers. This big boy offers the most torque output (163 ft-lbs claimed crankshaft) of any mass-produced cruiser we’ve yet tested: The RIII Roadster churned out peak torque of 136.0 ft-lbs at the rear wheel during our dyno testing. Big, roomy ergos match the bike’s big power. The Roadster’s menacing looks, big power and 800-pound wet weight belie what is otherwise a docile machine. This giant cruiser doesn’t require giant efforts to steer, is stable during mid-corner handling and comes to a stop without big-fat-bike-slowing-down drama.
We wanted to once again honor the Triumph Thunderbird this year – last year’s Best Cruiser winner. However, the Roadster weighs only 61 lbs more than the T-Bird, has similar handling and stopping qualities of the Thunderbird, makes heaps more torque, and yet at $13,999, costs only $700 more than an ABS-equipped Thunderbird. In light of all those high points we couldn’t overlook the Roadster. At least we kept it all in the family this time.
Since much remained the same in the touring segment between last year and this year, our Best Touring selections from 2009 still make sense for this year.
The BMW R1200RT’s trim dimensions (compared to most touring barges) means it’s well suited as a daily commuter, yet it’s comfortable enough and offers enough luxury to keep most tourists blissful on cross-country trips. The RT is updated for 2010 with a re-designed cockpit that includes analog road and engine speed dials, and a central screen with coolant temperature, fuel level, and gear indicator. The R1200RT also gets a new audio system featuring an optional “multi-controller” interface installed to the inside of the left handlebar grip. But perhaps most impressive are new cylinder heads derived from BMW’s racy HP2 Sport.
2010 BMW R1200RT Revealed
Honorable Mention – Honda Gold Wing
If ever there were an icon of motorcycle touring, the Honda Gold Wing is it. It’s a motorcycle that car people would like.
Modest but attractive styling is complemented by high-end office chair-like comfort (for the passenger, too!). It has a big windshield and plenty of storage capacity in its saddlebags and trunk. In the right hands, the Wing’s flat-Six powerplant and aluminum-framed chassis possess enough performance to embarrass novice sportbike pilots. And when you pass Racerboy you can jam your favorite tunes from the GW’s sound system.
We knew Ducati had something special on its hands after we rode it at its press introduction, displaying a level of versatility not seen on any previous Duc. This automatically opened up ownership to a more diverse audience, greatly expanding Ducati’s reach. Exotic Italian styling gives it a distinctive look that stands apart from me-too conformity. Bravo, we said.
And then we started riding the MTS in the company of other very capable motorcycles, first in a faceoff with BMW’s venerable R1200GS, then later in an Oddball Sport-Touring Shootout against Honda’s new VFR1200F and a Kawi Z1000. What we found was a superbly confident sport-tourer by any standard, feeling much more agile than anything else in the increasingly bloated S-T class. With comfortable upright ergos, effortless acceleration and sporting thrills, it has all the basic S-T needs covered. Add in convenient keyless ignition, comprehensive instrumentation with a trip computer, factory hard luggage and longer (15,000-mile) service intervals, and the do-it-all Duc turns out to be a favored touring platform for the sporty minded riders among us.
Honorable Mention – BMW K1300GT
Winner of this category in 2009, the GT version of the K13 platform remains a supreme place to traverse many miles swiftly. In fact, for riders whose sport-touring paths cross wide-open spaces at high speeds, the K-GT can’t be beat. It combines class-leading power with enviable agility among its 1300-1400cc rivals, along with the most extensive list of desirable comfort and safety options available. The K1300 platform is exceptional, proudly displaying BMW’s engineering prowess in thoughtful touches like adjustable seat, handlebars and windscreen. For taking a long trip and doing it briskly, the GT is an excellent choice if its price doesn’t intimidate.
Best On/Off Road
This is another category with a repeat winner. Although BMW gave significant updates to the venerable R1200GS this year, few other changes came to this segment. Considering the various reasons we choose BMW’s F800GS as last year’s winner in this category, we still like the F800GS as the Best On/Off Road machine for this year, too. The 800’s smaller overall dimensions and lighter weight compared to its bigger brother, the 1200GS, make the 798cc parallel-Twin-powered bike a more welcoming package for less experienced adventure seekers. However, the F800 is fully capable of treading tough terrain: In 2008 the F800GS carried the six-man American team to victory in the inaugural International GS Trophy Challenge, a 10-day event held in the rugged, sandy wilds of the Tunisian desert.
2009 BMW F800GS Review
Honorable Mention – BMW R1200GS
Apply the metaphor of your choice – Swiss Army Knife of motorcycles, a Humvee on two wheels, etc. – to describe the wide-ranging capability of BMW’s R1200GS, and the metaphor will probably fit.
Updates for 2010, like DOHC, and radial-valve technology on loan from BMW’s racy HP2 Sport, along with various other refinements, keep the world-traveling GS leading the way for BMW sales, as well as leading sales in the entire Adventure-Touring segment. The go-anywhere, do-anything GS celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2010 – an outstanding milestone for one model. If the 1200GS were a little less pricey we would’ve put it atop the On/Off Road category this year, but the F800GS represents a little better value for most folks. However, if money’s no object for you, by all means, get yourself a big GS! You’ll thank us for it.
Yamaha may not have invented the reversed cylinder head, fuel injection or top-mounted airbox, and Yamaha's physicists didn't come up with the concept of mass centralization. But it is the first mainstream manufacturer to apply that technology to a readily available motocross bike. The eagerly awaited 2010 YZ450F impressed our testers of all skill levels with its great suspension and light feel on the track. Hoisting it up onto the work stand takes more grunt than we'd like, but once it's there the bike has proven to be exceptionally easy to maintain and tune.
The YZ450F is not only a great hardcore motocross bike, but it’s also a motorcycle that also works very well off the track with just a little EFI tuning. Ben Rego showcased the big Y-Zed's versatility when he rode his bone-stock (right down to the suspension!) YZ450F to an amazing seventh overall at the brutal Xtinction Extreme Enduro in the Badlands of Alberta, Canada, last weekend. If the YZ450F is the future, then the future is good!
Honorable Mention – 2010 KTM 300XC-W
Contrary to popular belief the two-stroke is not dead. Far from it, the 2010 KTM 300XC-W has electric start, pulls hard enough to hang with the 450Fs yet remains mellow enough to be rideable anywhere. The bike of choice for enduro and endurocross racers, the 300 KTMs also make awesome vet or ladies class motocross bikes. If you need something simple, reliable, light and with proven performance, this is a great choice.
2010 KTM 300 XC-W Review
There are a number of values in motorcycling today, but the TU is an excellent example of a darn good deal. The bike’s 30.3-inch seat height, upright riding position and 249cc single-cylinder powerplant make it an ideal first bike for new riders. But beyond the TU’s unintimidating characteristics that attract newbs, this throwback to the UJM era is simply a great lil’ bike, regardless of rider skill or experience. The TU’s neutral, light-effort steering is an asset for slicing up traffic-clogged city streets, or for spirited rides on winding back roads. Furthermore, the attractive TU250 boasts (excellent!) fuel injection – a relative rarity in this price point where most motorcycles are still carbureted. All these qualities, and more, combine with a humble MSRP of $3,799 to make the Suzuki TU250 one of the best deals in years to hit motorcycling.
Honorable Mention – Kawasaki Ninja 250R
The Ninja 250R is to Kawasaki what the R1200GS is to BMW: a long-running, brand-supporting success story. The 249cc, liquid-cooled, parallel-Twin powering the 250R is friendly and welcoming of new riders, yet when matched to the rest of the “Ninjette’s” performance package, the Ninja 250R even attracts veteran riders. Heck, Willow Springs Motorcycle Club operating out of Willow Springs International Motorsports Park located in Rosamond, Calif., even runs a Ninja Cup class devoted entirely to the Ninja 250 (and EX250 – predecessor to the 250’s Ninja name).
In 2008 the 250R received a styling revamp, giving the bike a remarkably similar look to that of its bigger, racier brothers, the ZX-6R and ZX-10R. The Ninja 250R’s sharp new look and affordable $3,999 price tag help keep this motorcycle a darling of the two-wheeled world. Unfortunately, emissions-choked carburetors keep the bike from perfection. Barring any new creations from other manufacturers, we expect that whenever the U.S. version of Ninja 250R receives fuel injection – as it already does in Europe – while still keeping its MSRP comparatively low, it’ll find itself as our Best Value winner once again.
Scooter of the Year
Kymco Downtown 300i
This year the scooter market is still a bit punch-drunk from the economic uppercut we received in 2009, but from the looks of it the manufacturers are coming back to their senses with some new and exciting models appearing late this year. The scooter that brought the most excitement and gave us the most hope in 2010 was the Kymco Downtown 300i.
We got an early impression of the Downtown in May, riding it from Austin to the 2010 Amerivespa rally in San Antonio. The Downtown 300i excels in so many categories with its engaging aesthetics and masterfully balanced handling, there is little room for improvement (outside of the less-than gratifying seat). The Downtown 300i is sporting an entirely new, true 300cc fuel-injected engine that takes to the highways with conviction.
2010 Kymco Scooter Lineup Intro
Honorable Mention – Honda PCX
With its stylish new PCX, Honda has delivered a scooter that's comfortable, compact, sporty and, at $3399, not terribly expensive. Sure, like you, we'd like to have seen this as a 250cc Honda Helix replacement, but this little machine is pretty damned sexy with enough get up and go to push you around at a respectable 67 mph while maintaining miserly 100-plus mpg fuel efficiency.
2011 Honda PCX Review
Best Electric Motorcycle
Brammo’s Enertia is the most thoroughly developed example of a new type of motorcycle – the Electric Motorcycle – for which Motorcycle.com this year created an additional category on its home page. The Enertia won our first Electric Motorcycle Shootout in part because it comes with high-quality components throughout and costs 20% less than its next closest competitor, the Zero S/DS. While still catching flak by the uninitiated for its price-to-performance ratio, industry insiders openly wonder how Brammo can make a profit at $7,995, considering its uncompromised build list. The good news for consumers is, once they get past that debatably high price, they are free to discover this machine costs so little to own and operate, it makes a 100-mpg scooter look like wretched excess. Although it remains a niche product with its roughly 20 to 40-mile range, the Enertia nevertheless fits the needs of some suburban and city commuters, is gaining a loyal following, and is a positive first step that paves the way for more to come.
Honorable Mention – Native S
As a division of the self-funded Electric Motorsport company of Oakland, Calif., Native Cycles’ S model offers competent short-range transportation for some peoples’ needs, and is mentioned here because it represents a pioneering machine built by enthusiasts with a great ethic. The Native S was designed as an alternative solution for looming environmental and energy problems, while some other yet-to-be-sold electric motorcycles are being extravagantly designed, hyped, and priced primarily as toys for the rich. And while shameless self-promotion is not Native’s game, on its behalf, we’ll again point out in 2009 it was Native – not MotoCzysz – that was the first American OEM to win a race at the Isle of Man, since Indian did in 1911. While the Native S lacks the development of other bikes intended to combat OPEC with OPM (other people’s money), it shows what can be done with a little bit of smart component sourcing, plus a lot of passion from two-wheeled crusaders who hope to make a difference.
Even if electric motorcycles are not convincing some traditionalists just yet, it’s hard to argue against facts. 2010 was the year Brammo and Zero began hitting their stride, Honda, KTM and other major manufacturers announced stirrings from abroad, and we wrote the world’s first electric motorcycle shootout. Electric motorcycles can offer economy costs equivalent to 400-plus mpg – or pennies per mile, pick your standard – which means there are people willing to tolerate 20-55-mile ranges from yet-pricey, first-generation machines. This vote of consumer confidence is helping pave the way for technology advances, such as improved batteries in Brammo’s pending 2011 Empulse that could significantly increase existing ranges for other models to come. Couple this with government incentives plus social and political sentiment, and you have motivation for new American companies to form just when others are saying U.S. manufacturing is on its way out. Are electric motorcycles “the future?” Who knows? For all we know, they could become history, too, but this race isn’t over, nor does it appear to be slowing down.
Electric Motorcycles Primer
First US TTXGP at Infineon Raceway
2010 Zero S and DS Review
2010 Native S Review
2010 Brammo Enertia Review
2010 Brammo Empulse Preview
2010 Electric Motorcycle Shootout
World’s Smallest Electric Motorcycle [video]
Honorable Mention – Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)
This year Honda – the company that once developed 6-cylinder 250cc race bikes – again proved its miniaturizing prowess by introducing the world’s first motorcycle Dual Clutch Transmission. Sure, this purportedly performance-enhancing tranny was controversially launched not in a featherweight CBR, but a much-heavier VFR. Nevertheless, the accomplishment stands. Honda’s latest technology is the product of at least five years of R&D time, and could portend new performance horizons in models to come. We’ll remind you that several of the world’s elite sports cars only come with this type of gearbox, and this could be just the beginning for motorcycles and DCT. For now, the 22 lbs and $1,500 cost the DCT option adds to the $15,999 base price VFR is expensive but not exorbitant, and our initial impressions of that bike are that, comparatively heavy or not, it’s very entertaining indeed. Shifts have never been delivered as smoothly.
Best New Product
First there was leather, then armored leather, and now Dainese, Alpinestars and others are adding airbags into armored suits to protect the all-too-fragile human body during the moment of truth. Anything that takes us toward the crash resistance of the Michelin Man is okay by us! Dainese and A-Stars are developing highly sophisticated, fully wireless airbag suits. Although Spidi and a few others are working on tether-deployed suits, we are most impressed with the unencumbered gear now being tested on racetracks around the world by Dainese and A-Stars, as these appear to be the most elegant solution. Once these race-only suits are sufficiently developed, expect to see street versions to follow. Like any new technology, prices – which for now are predicted to be high, but “less than you would expect,” to quote Dainese – will eventually drop. And in the meantime, if one of these suits can prevent a debilitating injury, how much would that be worth to you?
2010 Dainese Lineup Unveiled
2010 Alpinestars Electronic Airbag Technology
Dainese Inflatable Vest
2010 Dainese Summer Gear Review
2010 Honda Gold Wing with Airbag Specs
Honorable Mention – Dainese’s Jacket Wave Pro 2
Combining four pieces of safety gear into one unified safety garment – including an innovative neck protector and thorax protector – the Jacket Wave Pro 2 doesn’t just make you look and feel like a superhero, it’s amazingly versatile. We’ve seen items like these before, but this one may be the best ever. The fact that you can separate individual components to use piecemeal especially gets our attention. This one jacket can serve the needs of dirt riders, motard pilots, and of course, street and track speedsters. The back protector, thorax protector, arm and shoulder armor is all tested and certified to high standards by Dainese. Worn as delivered, the Jacket Wave Pro 2 can upgrade any old jacket or suit. The list of uses for powersports and human-powered extreme outdoor sports could go on and on, but to summarize, we’ll just say it’s a lot of bang (protection) for the buck.