The past 12 months have seen motorcycle winds blowing in two different directions. From one direction are technological advances made to premium-priced high-end machines, mostly from European manufacturers like BMW, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta and Triumph. From the other side are new motorcycles intended to tap into newer, less-experienced riders looking for affordable ways to join our moto world, headlined primarily by Japanese OEMs like Honda and, to a lesser extent, Kawasaki.
This bi-directional energy makes logical sense. While the global economic downturn has forced many into austere measures to survive, those at the upper economic end seem to be doing just fine and are able to afford the best motorcycles on the market. So there’s pretty much something for everyone in the class of 2013. Of the motorcycles available in dealers by August 1, our deadline for inclusion, here are the best of the best.
Motorcycle of the Year: BMW R1200GS
The R1200GS in its previous form was not only a class leader, it had also become an icon in the motorcycle world and was the de facto bike of choice for far-flung adventures, making it also a leading choice among those whose escapades occur much closer to home.
So when it was revealed that the next GS would contain no parts of the older Gelande Strasse, GS-ophiles held their collective breath, fearing BMW might lose the plot with its new-from-the-ground-up replacement, including its new liquid-cooled Boxer engine.
Dread was unnecessary, as BMW has knocked it out of the park with its wasser-Boxer. The new GS has all the positive attributes that made its predecessor so venerable, but it’s also added nearly 15 horsepower (with no loss of low-end grunt) plus the incredible Dynamic ESA, a semi-active suspension system that automatically adjusts damping circuits to provide a magic-carpet ride in every possible situation.
It’s out on the road – any road – where the GS shines brightest. It excels wherever it’s ridden. It’ll scythe through traffic on your way to work, and it can play in the dirt on weekends. The GS will speedily cross state lines in comfort, and adding saddlebags from an extensive array of options will ensure you won’t have to leave anything behind. An adjustable windscreen deflects air to suit the rider and conditions, while nicely tuned traction control and ABS enhance safety. For its vast scope of capabilities in a ruggedly handsome package, it’s difficult to imagine a better one-bike-in-the-garage choice. And for these reasons, BMW’s R1200GS earns our Motorcycle of the Year award.
Best of 2013
Motorcycle of the Year Honorable Mention: Honda CB500 Platform
There isn’t another motorcycle manufacturer working harder to actively grow the sport of motorcycling than Honda. Big Red debuted a slew of new rider-friendly products for the 2013-14 model years, including the innovative, no-shift CTX and NC 700s. But none were more successful than the new CB500 platform. When it comes to performance, quality and value, the CB line of rider-friendly smallish-displacement bikes, including the standard F, the adventure-styled X and the sporty R500R, are likely to have the most mass appeal of any motorcycles released in recent memory – surely over the last decade.
The trio of CB500s is newb-friendly while also serving as a logical step up from the entry-level bikes in the 250cc range. And by virtue of a more powerful and torquey engine than anything in the quarter-liter range, they are sure to have a longer shelf life in a beginning-rider’s garage. Honda sweetens the deal by offering three distinct models to suit most any taste.
In a sport that’s considered intimidating and expensive, the well-built and presumably dependable CB line starts at a jaw-dropping price of $5,499 – relative peanuts. A highway-ready motorcycle that you won’t soon outgrow, backed up by the reputation of Honda. Now that’s a bargain.