Here we are with another year coming to an end. It was another great year in motorcycling for 2017. Yes, even with all the doom and gloom from “industry insiders” tirelessly trying to understand why don’t millennials like motorcycles, and low sales numbers from some of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world, it was still a great time to be a motorcyclist.
At Motorcycle.com, we always try to have a positive and optimistic outlook for the future of motorcycling. Part of our job is being the first to sample new motorcycles as they are released throughout the year. We then do our best in communicating to you, our readers, information about the new model, from drastic overhauls to slight nuances in styling. Our well-considered first-ride impressions are stated to help MO’s readers develop their own opinion about new motorcycles. Not a bad gig, right?
We attend domestic and international motorcycle launches and events throughout the year, which culminates into an impressive list of First Rides from far-off exotic lands to the serpentine roads of our home in Southern California.
We collaborated to come up with this list of our favorite five first rides from the past year. In retrospect, it may have been easier to herd cats rather than to get this team of miscreants to weigh-in on a single subject in a timely manner. We do it for you MO readers. So here we are, Motorcycle.com’s Best First Rides of 2017.
For this First Ride, we’ll let the man himself, Kevin Duke, explain. Take it away, Kev:
The launch of the updated 390 Duke was interesting for a few reasons. First off, I’m a big proponent of the little Duke after spending a few months on the first-gen version, advocating it as perhaps the best sporty entry-level motorcycle available in the U.S., with enough oomph and style to entertain even experienced riders. And it got even better with this sharper-styled version that includes improved brakes and suspension, plus high-end details like a ride-by-wire throttle, an LED headlight like its Super Duke brother, TFT instrumentation and backlit switchgear. It’s a highly desirable package for its modest $5,299 MSRP and makes for a wonderful backroad scratcher that flatters its rider. As I wrote in the review’s subheadline: The adorably playful puppy of sports roadsters graduates finishing school.
There was another aspect to this launch that made it highly memorable, and I’m not referring to how Air France lost my luggage and riding gear. The first part of our ride in Turin, Italy, included a detour to a 90-year-old retired Fiat car factory and up an amazing spiralling ramp system to an oval track on the roof of the building! After each Fiat was spat out the production line, it was tested on the track and its cobblestoned banked corners as a final quality check before being shipped out. Riding – and wheelie-ing – around this one-of-kind circuit overlooking Turin was a highly unique experience, to say the least.
John Burns, one of the great motojournalists of our time, found himself near Asheville, NC, for the introduction of BMW’s K1600B (B is for Bagger), the Bavarian interpretation of what a bagger is to BMW. John would get to sample this high-tech performance cruiser while winding his way through the Great Smoky Mountains, an area which would also become the “Zone of Totality” during their ride on August 21, 2017, the day of the solar eclipse.
John had this to say: “As my hairline goes gently into that good scalp, I appreciate bikes like the new BMW K1600B more than I may have in the past. Hats off to BMW for keeping track of my birthdays and knowing just when to build a bagger. And full props to them for inviting us to ride it during the first full solar eclipse in 107 years, in North Carolina under the Zone of Totalitarianism. Wait, totality. It was really nice to see that nobody actually shot at us when we got stuck in L.A.-like traffic and decided to ‘lane-share’ in a state where that’s illegal and mostly unheard-of; most people, with a few glaring exceptions, actually let us cruise right on through. Civility is not dead. And the BMW itself is the first bagger I’ve ridden that I’d be happy to live with happily ever after: It thinks it’s a big sportbike. I can’t wait for the big bagger-off we have in the works now.”
Managing Editor, Evans Brasfield, was careful in his wording of our first chance to ride the all-new Harley-Davidson Softail line. Brasfield would ride 20 motorcycles in a single day, 10 2018 models, including two 114-c.u. in variants and their corresponding 2017 model year counterparts, a feat that could have crumpled a lesser man. Rather than presenting individual First Ride stories, Evans gave us a comprehensive overview of the 2018 Softail line-up.
“Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Milwaukee to learn that the super-secret event I was attending was not about one new motorcycle but, instead, the entire swath of Harley Softails and Dynas,” explained Evans. “While we’d expected the Milwaukee-Eight to eventually work its way into the Softail line, seeing a clean-sheet approach to the redesign and the effort spent to improve every aspect of the bikes’ performance signaled that Harley is going to fight to maintain – and try to increase – its market excites me. Another part of this introduction that made it interesting was the opportunity to ride the 2017 and 2018 models back-to-back. This not only gave me the chance to sample how dramatically the Softail line had changed, but also allowed me to more than double the number of motorcycles I’ve ridden in a single day, bringing the total to 20!”
As Mr. Brasfield said when I asked him about his choices for this article, “Anytime I get to ride 20 motorcycles in a single day, it’s a good day.” We couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Evans, for putting your ass on the (Softail) line for Motorcycle.com.
Once again, we’ll let Duke take over about why the Gixxer launch was special for him.
There were several reasons the Gixxer 1000 launch was momentous, important and informative. It had been eight long years since Suzuki last updated its GSX-R1000, and everything from the engine to the frame to the electronics and suspension had been given a ground-up overhaul based partly on MotoGP technology. With a six-axis IMU, variable valve timing, auto-blipping downshifter, ride-by-wire throttle, a finger-follower valvetrain and Brembo monoblock brakes, it’s easily the best Gixxer Thou ever.
It was also particularly special to me because it was held at the fabulous Phillip Island GP circuit in Australia, which was one of the few bucket-list racetracks I had yet to ride. With significant elevation changes along 2.76 miles of twisting tarmac and an average speed on MotoGP bikes of more than 110 mph, it exceeded even my lofty expectations. Dodging a goose that flew in front of me while I railed through Hay Shed corner at more than 100 mph only added to my excitement, and seeing 180 mph on the speedo as the L7 Gixxer shrieked to 14,500 rpm down the front straight was unforgettable.
If that’s not enough to make the trip noteworthy, the launch was preceded by a trip to Japan to inspect Suzuki’s Ryuyo Motorcycle Development Center, the Takatsuka engine manufacturing plant, and the Toyokawa factory where Suzukis are assembled. It was fascinating to witness the care and precision that goes into each bike’s development and its production. Marvelous launch, Suzuki!
Maybe this one made the list because of the amazing motorcycle being tested in an exotic locale, or maybe it’s here because I personally own the previous model, or maybe it’s on the list because I keep the video on my bookmarks tab so I can watch my boss huck himself off of a sand dune in Peru every time he gets on my nerves. JK… maybe.
Sean Alexander put it all on the line for MO readers during his time on KTM’s 2017 1290 Super Adventure R while in Peru’s Nasca Desert to bring us a thoroughly fleshed out (pun intended) review of the new bigger adventure bike from Austria. Any video review closer from a wheelchair automatically makes the list.
“Almost 10 months later and I still have a large hole in my left leg,” Sean relates. “I also still love the 1290 Super Adventure R, leg-chopping grab handles and all. One day we’ll get the budget to actually purchase dedicated AV equipment here at MO, but in the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun shouting over the wind roar while making behind-the-bars first-ride stories. No other bike on the planet offers the combination of heights KTM has attained with this monster ADV tourer’s outstanding all-day comfort, epic motor, and most importantly its genuine off-road capabilities which far exceed anything else in its size / price / performance range. The 1290 Super Adventure R is quite simply the pinnacle of the travel-adventure motorcycle genre. I feel quite lucky to have gotten an opportunity to properly crash one in the desert.”