Duke's Den – Award Season

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

I invent my own damn awards!

The film and music segments of the entertainment industry use the early months of the year to celebrate themselves with Oscars and Grammys and whatnot. For the moto industry, it’s late summer when we look back at the last 12 months of motorcycling and determine the outstanding products in the two-wheel world.

For Motorcycle.com, it’s our annual Best Of series, what we affectionately refer to as our MOBO awards. We break down the motorcycle market into 12 categories and determine which motorcycles are the most impressive or the most influential in each, based upon the many decades of experience of our estimable MO staff editors. Depending on personal predilections, the winner isn’t necessarily the same for all riders, so we also serve up an Honorable Mention selection for each category to make sure each class of bikes is adequately covered. You can see the entire MOBO list at the bottom of this article.

And yet sometimes that’s still not enough to thoroughly recognize all the goodness currently offered. So, because this is my editorial and not something from the MO editorial We, here comes a handful of awards I invented to highlight some of my favorite moto things – or ones I personally believe are significant in some way.

Manufacturer On Upswing: Royal Enfield

Did you know Royal Enfield sells more motorcycles than Harley-Davidson? Yep, it logged nearly 453,000 sales in 2015, which is 186,000 more than Harley’s total last year! Granted, almost all those bikes went to Enfield’s domestic sales in India, with only 8,285 bikes making it to export markets, but the company has announced it is building additional factories and is preparing to launch new product, so there’s lots more on the horizon for RE, which is owned by India’s bus and commercial vehicles manufacturer, Eicher Motors.

Enfield has said in public documents that it intends to become a leading player in the midsize global moto market, and part of its plan is apparently to staff the company with experienced Western players. Our curiosity was piqued a few years ago when we learned that noted designer Pierre Terblanche (formerly and most famously at Ducati) had been hired by Royal Enfield. After all, the Chennai, India-based manufacturer hadn’t had much Western influence since the 1960s when production of Royal Enfields in England ceased.

More recently, longtime Triumph product manager Simon Warburton was hired by Enfield to work out its facility in Leicester, England. In addition, RE is building a new facility at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds that is expected to be operational by the end of the year. And the latest addition to the Westerner influx is American Paul Ventura, who starts his new product development role at Enfield next week after leaving Bologna, where he worked as product manager with Ducati for the past four years. That’s some heavy hitters (even if it’s true that Terblanche recently left the company) signed up for an Indian company with a relatively small share of the Western world’s moto market. Keep an eye on these guys!

Best Manufacturer In Turmoil: MV Agusta

The boutique Italian OEM has so much cool product in its lineup, but yet again, it seems to get knee-capped whenever it looks ready for the big time. Click this link from March to see the latest official word about MV, which outlines the company’s debt despite increased sales. On this side of the pond, MV’s American arm is still operating without a general manager or a bike fleet on the West Coast. The latest rumor says there will be developments about the company’s financial state to be revealed in September. Cross your fingers we learn some positive news…

Best SV650 With Less Than Two Cylinders: KTM 690 Duke

Suzuki’s SV650 is one of my all-time favorite motorbikes, and our SV650 Takes On The Competition shootout proved three important things: First, the SV650 and its rivals offer up nearly everything a street rider could want from a versatile yet sporty motorcycle. Second, the best SV650 currently on the market is a Yamaha FZ-07, which handily won the shootout based on its strong motor and light weight and its ease of use for riders from beginner to expert.

And, third, the 690 Duke is the best single-cylinder sports roadster ever offered to contemporary riders. It was previously a super-fun but rough-edged streetbike with dirtbike roots, and now its redesign for 2016 has dramatically upped its refinement, smoothed out its engine and endowed it with a host of contemporary features like ride modes, traction control and ABS. With 70 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque at its rear tire, it’s a stout package for a single-cylinder Thumper. Also, at just 345 pounds full of fuel, it’s by far the lightest bike in its displacement class and lighter than almost any full-size motorcycle currently on the market. Retailing for $9k, the 690 Duke is a reasonably priced slice of Euro exotica that can handily take you from work to the canyons in unique style. And its name…

Best Motorcycle Not Yet Officially Announced (tie): KTM 790/890 Duke; Triumph Street Triple 800

Okay, so we know for sure KTM is developing a new platform with a new parallel-Twin engine, as we ran pictures of a prototype several months ago, that will be the basis of a new Duke model and will also underpin a mid-sized Adventure model. We’re not sure of its displacement, but we’re confident it will be somewhere between 750cc and 900cc. And unlike KTM’s 390 series which is built in India, I’m told this new platform will be produced in KTM’s Austrian facilities.

And then there’s the long-rumored Triumph Street Triple 800, which I expect to see unveiled at the EICMA show in Milan this fall. The existing 675cc Street Triple is already a gem of a sporty roadster, but its engine might be a little too long in the tooth to meet tough Euro 4 emissions regulations. Whether Triumph boosts the Street to 800cc or not, I’m confident in saying it’s going to be a ball to ride, just like its progenitor (see below).

Best Honda Superbike Not Yet Officially Announced (tie): CBR1000RR; RVF1000R

I’m confident Honda’s going to unveil a new liter-sized sportbike this fall, but I still don’t know if it’ll be another inline-Four CBR or a more exotic V-4-powered RVF. Or both. More details, such as they are, can be found in this Ask MO Anything article published earlier this week.

Best Adrenaline Rush: Kawasaki H2R (Main image)

Okay, so some of you might scoff at a $50,000 Kawasaki, but I don’t think you would if you had a chance to point one down an empty airstrip. If you don’t believe me, please check out this article I wrote about chasing 200 mph at the Oregon Airstrip Attack. Not only is the H2R blindingly fast (170-mph wheelie, anyone…?) but it also exudes fit and finish quality well above what we’ve come to expect from Japanese manufacturers. An instant collector’s item.

Best Used Motorcycle For My Cheap Ass: Triumph Street Triple R

If I had a dollar for all the times I’ve been asked which motorcycle the asker should buy or which bike is my favorite, I’d probably have enough money to buy a clean pre-Gladius SV650 and update my bathroom. Or, more to the purely moto point, I’d be able to purchase a well-maintained Street Triple R, MO’s 2009 Motorcycle of the Year, and a bike I’m always happy to park in my garage or recommend to friends.

The ST-R stacks on cool points over the SV, and its three-cylinder engine spits out nearly 100 ponies to the rear wheel and sounds like an opera held at a Sunoco station. I’d cheap out further by finding an early edition, the ones with the round headlights and undertail mufflersseen in the picture above, not because it’s a better bike, but just because I prefer the way it looks – and it’s my damn invented award, anyway. The playful Trumpet performs excellent around town, it’s able to competently do some light touring, and it’s a gigglefest at a trackday. It’s all the bike I’d need, so if I ever get hired by Needlepoint.com or Tractor.com and no longer had access to a fleet of motorcycles, I don’t think it would be long before a Street Triple R would find its way into my garage.

Motorcycle.com Best of 2016 Categories
Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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2 of 12 comments
  • Gabriel Owens Gabriel Owens on Aug 14, 2016

    Best motorcycle for the end of the world?(what would Daryl Dixon drive)

  • Ian Parkes Ian Parkes on Aug 28, 2016

    Yep Royal Enfield is getting serious. It also bought Harris Performance in England who have previously designed and built grand prix and world superbike race bikes for Yamaha and Suzuki. They designed the new Royal Enfield Himalayan.