Best of 2009 - Motorcycles of the Year
A sagging economy hasn't stopped the flow of amazing motorcycles
While we enjoy ripping on substandard motorcycles, crappy bikes are hard to find these days. Take a look at any of our comparison tests from the last couple of years and you'll find only marginal differences between our declared winners and their competitors.
With so much high-quality product to choose from, culling the field down into our Best Of winners was an arduous task. But that didn't stop us from coming up with our favorite stuff from the class of '09! Introducing the first-annual Motorcycle.com Best Of awards. And the MoBo goes to...
Motorcycle of the Year
Triumph Street Triple R
Triumph had a good thing going when it unveiled the sweet Street Triple 675, a pared-down streetfighter version of the beloved Daytona 675 sportbike. The Street Triple’s finest feature is its soul-stirring three-cylinder engine that boasts a broad powerband and a symphonic exhaust note. The motor, re-tuned from the Daytona, has a predictable but powerful output that makes it accessible and unintimidating to riders of all skill levels yet is satisfying for even the saltiest veterans. Comfortable ergos – including a reasonably low seat height – and an eminently toss-able nature made it a staff darling, but we were a little disappointed it had some bargain-minded bits to keep the retail figure low.
But like a dream come true, the Street Triple R was introduced just last year, replete with the Daytona’s up-spec fully adjustable suspension and potent radial-mount Nissin brake calipers, alleviating all of our concerns. The result is an invigorating and versatile roadster that stickers for less than $10K. Lofting the front wheel is a snap, and before you know it you’ll be drifting out the back end like an inspired Brit hooligan. And on your favorite twisty back road, its friendly yet potent character is almost unbeatable, proving that no one really needs triple-digit horsepower peaks. Now that Triumph perfected the Street in our eyes, it became the perfect Standard. And it's our favorite motorcycle of 2009.
The middleweight class's relatively low buy-in results in the largest amount of sales among sportbikes, so there isn't a segment of motorcycles more keenly contested among manufacturers. Costly (to the OEMs) updates to the 600s arrive every two years in a never-ending quest to one-up their rivals. And it's for these reasons why the ZX-6R is so redoubtable. Kawasaki has built a motor that handily out-guns its 600cc rivals, but just as impressive is a 22-lb lighter machine that handles like a champ, aided by Showa's fabulous new Big Piston Fork. Doubly impressive is that the Ninja took top honors on both the street and track – no mean feat. Triumph's Daytona 675 gives the ZX a run for its money, but among four-cylinder middleweights, the nasty and nimble Ninja stands clearly at the top of this ultra-competitive heap.
Honorable Mention – Honda CBR1000RR
If you want a literbike that handles like a 600, the lightweight and whippet-quick CBR is for you. It's as light as some 600s but has a burly midrange that out-muscles its 1000cc rivals Already a year old in '09, to win our annual literbike shootout in the face of high-profile new challengers from Yamaha and Suzuki is remarkable.
Ducati Monster 1100
The Italians followed up the lively new Monster 696 with this 1100cc version of its revered air-cooled Desmo V-Twin, and it knocked our socks off with its all'-round versatility, rich character and a huge grin factor.
The big Monster has cozy ergos that welcome urbane commuter duties, as a proper standard should, but it also has the capable chassis and grunty power to terrorize repli-racer sportbikes on a twisty road. Low-rev neck-snapping performance combines with neck-snapping Italian good looks. Ducati's mondo Streetfighter model is much more powerful, but the M1100 is at least as much fun and is thousands cheaper.
Honorable Mention – Harley-Davidson XR1200
When Harley-Davidson announced in summer 2007 it had created a new model called the XR1200, but that it was a Euro-only unit, everyone here in the States asked why we were left out. Then, after listening to the loyal masses, the Motor Company conceded and made it available for the U.S. as an '09.
Ergonomically the XR1200 strikes a good compromise between aggressive canyon attacker and sensible, upright everyday ride. And the potent Nissin brake calipers are crazy powerful. The flat-tracker look-alike styling is a head-turner, and the reliable 1200cc Sporty Twin has been massaged to yield the most horsepower of any air-cooled mill ever to emerge from H-D. Our only criticism is limited lean angle on the exhaust side impeding super-aggressive cornering, but you have to be the fast guy in your crowd for that to be a concern.
Triumph Thunderbird 1600
It's been cruiser utopia for the last decade or so, with every major manufacturer jumping into the market to piggyback on Harley-Davidson's astounding success for the feet-forward crowd. Harley's iconic 45-degree V-Twin has spawned an endless succession of imitators, many of them excellent in their own right. But we don't think we're alone in seeing this genre as a little bit stale. That's one reason why Triumph's new T-Bird made such an impression on us, as its parallel-Twin (a zero-degree Vee) stands apart in a sea of clones. Its 270-degree firing order supplies the requisite thumpity-thump exhaust note, but both its character and layout are unique. This might be a moot point if the 'Bird wasn't blessed with clean, graceful lines that follow a well-worn formula yet are distinct. And for those of you who like cruising on curvy roads in addition to the straight ones on the way to the cafe, the Trumpet can cut an inside track as tight as anything in its class.
Honorable Mention – Suzuki Boulevard M90
Combine the look of a more powerful cruiser with comfortable ergos, handling and stability rarely if ever found in cruisers; grace it with a bigger Twin than any other bike in its class, then bring it at a price at or below the competition, and you’ve got yourself undeniable value. This is the exact scenario of Suzuki’s Boulevard M90. Looking a whole lot like its bigger, meaner M109 brother, the M90 gives power-cruiser fans the look they want matched to V-Twin power that surely has Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha scratching their heads at the M90’s $9,999 tag. In today’s economy, value makes the perfect partner to performance.
When it comes to piling on thousands of miles, we're not sure it's necessary to saddle up on a half-ton luxo-barge. The surprisingly agile RT is packed with comfort yet scales in at an easily managed 570 lbs with its capacious 7.1-gallon tank full of fuel. Prices start below $17K, but we highly recommend getting the optional “Standard Package” ($17,755) that includes such niceties as heated grips, cruise control and a trip computer.
2005 BMW R 1200 RT
Honorable Mention – Honda Gold Wing
If you want maximum luxury with a bottomless well of power, and you're okay with piloting around a 900-lb two-wheeled convertible, the venerable Honda Gold Wing has an unbeatable combination of comfort and versatile performance. Three excellent V-Twin touring-cruisers have recently been introduced, but they can't do everything as well as the superlative Wing.
2009 Luxury Touring Shootout
The Honda ST1300, Kawasaki Concours 14 and Yamaha FJR1300 are all terrific mile-munchers, which makes BMW's K1300GT win in our recent sport-touring shootout all the more impressive. True, a princely MSRP is attached to it, but it also has available a plethora of worthy options that are unavailable on its competitors. Combine standard equipment like adjustable seat and windshield with desirable options like cruise control, heated grips and seat, on-the-fly ESA suspension adjustment, Xenon headlamp and traction control, and the K13GT becomes your cross-country best friend. The fact that it has the segment's quickest steering, most powerful motor and excellent brakes only sweetens the deal.
Honorable Mention – BMW F800ST
If the sport part of the sport-touring equation involves unraveling the squiggliest parts of a map, the athletic F800ST is hard to beat. Accommodating ergonomics provide comfort during weekday commutes, while a lithe and obedient chassis encourages canyon strafing on Sunday rides. Optional locking luggage and heated grips give you the tools for inter-state touring, aided by decent wind protection, a maintenance- and lash-free belt drive, and torquey parallel-Twin motor supplying ample power. Its excellence became apparent after it won a side-by-side comparison with Honda's silky VFR800 Interceptor.
2008 Middleweight Sport-Touring Shootout
Best On-Off Road
“The GS for the rest of us,” was how Pete characterized the F800GS. The implication being that the latest addition to BMW’s renowned GS line of adventure bikes is at least as capable as the big R1200GS was at traversing tough terrain, but in a much more manageable package. The F800GS is closer to a big dual-sport than a Boxer-powered behemoth GS or GS Adventure. The 798cc parallel-Twin provides ample power for just about any situation imaginable for an adventure-touring rider, and its humane seat height and reasonable overall size open the door for many riders who’ve always wanted to tread the Sahara but were put off by the dimensions of the motorcycles that normally dominate the adventure-riding segment.
2009 BMW F800GS Review
Honorable Mention – Aprilia SXV/RXV 5.5
Stuffing in a compact V-Twin motor into an aluminum-framed dirtbike-style chassis has created one of the most grin-inducing rides we've ever experienced. With 62 excitable horses at the rear wheel galloping with a sub-300-pound burden, the supermoto SXV (and its RXV dual-sport brother) is an extreme thrill ride – it even won the recent Pike's Peak hillclimb. Its $9,499 MSRP ain't cheap and, as we noted in our test of the 550cc SXV, “It's as pragmatic as Paris Hilton,” but it's ultra-cool, quite exotic and as fun as anything on two wheels. We stand by the closing statement from our review: “If you’re a former or present dirtbike rider with a dominant yee-haa! gene, you can’t find a more exciting street-legal two-wheeler at any price.”
Piaggio MP3 400/500 i.e.
For the uninitiated, the MP3 is Piaggio’s three-wheeled scooter line with two wheels up front. The revolutionary parallelogram front end uses an automobile-like double-wishbone aluminum suspension system supporting two independent steering columns that allows it to lean like a proper motorcycle. The result is a fuel-injected scooter that brings along another contact patch for new-rider safety as well as salty-dog giggles. On the right canyon road, it’s like skiing through the trees, holding your line with your outside foot (wheel) instead of your inside leg’s ski edge. Back and forth is wicked fun, like skiing a giant slalom run. At booger-picking speeds, like when maneuvering in a parking lot, a rider feels the added balancing help of the third wheel. The 400 i.e. is the more economical and practical version, with more underseat storage, but the 500 turns us on for its capability of busting a ton on the speedo and while getting more than 50 mpg.
Honorable Mention – Vespa GTS 300
Also from the Piaggio Group is the recent Vespa GTS 300. It includes the curvaceous Italian styling that has made Vespa a legend in the scooter world, plus it's the biggest, fastest, Vespa ever made. New riders would be well advised to go easy on the light-action throttle for the first few rides, as the GTS can whisk you away with a surprising pace in near silence and considerable grace. In Fonzie's upcoming review, he calls it “the invisible hooligan.”
If standing out in a crowd is you’re cup o’ tea, you’re sure to be seen riding aboard the Can-Am Spyder Roadster! Although it can't lean like a motorcycle (or a Piaggio MP3), it’s got some open wheels and puts you in the wind all the same. Basically, it’s a “flipped around” three-wheeler, putting the two-wheeled part of the trike in the front. Packed full of technology as well as eye-catching appeal, the Spyder now comes in three colors and two transmission choices: standard foot-controlled shifting (SM5) or a version that is capable of being shifted by hand (SE5, a sequential electronic 5-speed). BRP has built in a lot of fun as well as safety. The coolest part of this machine is the licensing. When last we checked, if you live in California or Delaware, you don’t even need a motorcycle license to operate one on the open road. Aging and/or handicapped riders who still feel the need for speed and excitement they once received by ripping down the road on two wheels can again feel that old thrill on the Spyder, and it's also proving to be attractive to new and female riders.
Honorable Mention – Travertson V-REX
In the custom cruiser mien, it's not unusual to throw down $50K or more for something that stands apart from the hordes of other choppers trying to be unique. And yet they are all pretty much just variations on tired themes. But nobody will think that when you pull up on a V-Rex. Looking like a refugee from a sci-fi movie, the Travertson-built monstrosity is unlike anything you've ever seen. The swingarm front suspension is the first thing to blow your mind, but everywhere else your eyes rest will continue the squall on your brain, such as the bespoke cast frame, the single-sided rear suspension and the alien-looking nose. There aren't many $40,000 bikes we are willing to describe as a bargain, but for its incredible traffic-stopping countenance, V-Rex qualifies.
2008 Travertson V-REX Review
Kawasaki Ninja 250
Yeah, most of us know that new riders should hone their riding on a lightweight and modestly powerful bike, but no one wants to look like a dweeb while expanding their skill set. The little Ninja avoids the newbie-bike stigma by looking a lot like its more powerful Kawi brothers, appearing sleek and purposeful despite its easy-to-ride nature. Its twin-cylinder 250cc engine won't intimidate newbs yet has enough power to keep up with 80-mph freeway traffic, and its agile demeanor has the capability to embarrass larger machines on the right twisty road. At $4,000, it's a bargain, and you'll get most of that back on resale when it's time to trade up for a bigger bike.
2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R Review
Honorable Mention – Kawasaki KLR650
Last year saw the renovation of an all-time do-it-all motorcycle. The '08 model KLR put to rest a 20-year-old design but retained its simplicity in function, use and potential for roadside repair. With 50 upgrades in handling, power, comfort and styling, the new KLR is so much more than just minimal increases in horsepower and torque. With an MSRP of just $5,599 and compatible with many of the past 20 years of aftermarket products, you can ride to the equator and back with the money you’ll save over something from BMW. Fonzie knows cause he’s done it!
Ducati Desmosedici RR
MotoGP is the pinnacle of two-wheel motorsports, with the best riders in the world piloting the most exotic sportbikes ever seen on earth. So when Ducati unleashed a street-legal version of its 990cc V-Four GP bike, we were as giddy as Casey Stoner after winning his world championship. Our time aboard the GP bike with lights was brief – just part of a day at the racetrack – but it was a scintillating experience we won't soon forget. Blisteringly fast, it blows past regular literbikes like they are 600s. Abrupt throttle response and a race-stiff suspension makes you realize you're not worthy of its stratospheric potential, and its $72.5K price tag will have you thinking twice about shaving off seconds from your lap time. But it's the most exotic and outrageous sportbike we've ever ridden, causing us to consider selling our homes or our mothers to put one in our garage. If we do, we'll make sure to invite fellow D16RR owners Jay Leno, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise over to the coffee shop to talk about how cool we are.
2008 Ducati Desmosedici RR Review
Perhaps it seems a bit odd to label a Yamaha-built bike as an exotic, but consider its monstrous 200-horsepower V-Four engine stuffed in an aluminum frame, a ride-by-wire throttle, variable-length throttle intakes, bespoke radial master cylinders and hand-polished aluminum intake scoops. A lofty $17,990 MSRP keeps out the punters, helping to ensure its exotic and rare status. Mountains of power throughout the rev range is like engaging hyper-drive, and tire-smoking corner exits are delivered easier than anything else with two wheels. Yamaha has brought an icon back to life with the new Max, and it's crazier and more capable than ever.
2009 Star V-Max Review/Test
Best New Technology
Sportbike pilots usually have no interest in anti-lock brakes, believing they can do a better job of quickly bringing a motorcycle to a stop than a computer. But they probably haven't yet sampled Honda's new Combined ABS as found on the 2009 CBR600RR and CBR1000RR as a $1,000 option. With this new combined system, there is absolutely no mechanical link, or otherwise, between the front and rear. It is entirely up to the electronic control module to determine when more than one brake set is required. Not only does the ECM regulate pressure to each brake set, it also can “combine” front and rear brake sets based upon established parameters, and it does it seamlessly. We now have the first brake-by-wire system available commercially on sportbikes. Innovative!
2009 Honda CBR600RR C-ABS Review
Honorable Mention – Ducati Traction Control
While other more conservative manufacturers have been reluctant to fit a form of traction control to their sportbikes for fear of liability concerns, Ducati has forged ahead and delivered what will surely become commonplace in the future. When DTC detects the rear wheel is spinning faster than the front, the computer first retards the ignition then will cut fuel if wheelspin continues. The multi-level DTC is rider-adjustable from scaredy-cat invasive to pro-racer-boy hands off, providing a new level of security currently unavailable from any other OEM.
Best New Product
GoPro Industries has revolutionized the homegrown on-board YouTube video industry as well as Motorcycle.com’s own story and video quality with its Hero video camera, and it got even better this year with the addition of a wide-angle lens unit that rounds out Fonzie’s bag of tricks. Its diminutive design and versatile mounts result in a camera that will go where no human can go – dangling from footpegs, stashed under subframes or taped to Kevin’s kneepuck. The GoPro Hero camera can make everyone look like a star.
Honorable Mention – HJC IS-Max
With changing times come changing weather, so why not ride with gear that can adapt? Now that the age of looking goofy in modular helmets is waning, and we're getting used to seeing fighter pilot sunshades on motorcyclists everywhere, HJC brings us the IS-Max flip helmet. It's not only comfortable and reasonably priced, it is full of bells and whistles like high-flowing vents, an integrated sun shield, clean styling and well-balanced in the 'up' position. Its MSRP starts at just $199 for solid colors, while radical wine colors retail for a bit more. So stylish is the helmet that Harley-Davidson has adopted it into its accessory line to serve their image-conscious buyers. Subtly branded with the bar-and-shield logo and H-D name, the IS-Max only comes in black when bought from Harley for a $325 MSRP.
U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca
The USGP is the event we most look forward to each year. Not only is it our chance to see the world's best motorcycle racers up close and personal, it's held in one of the best motorcycle race circuits in the world. Adding to this irresistible allure is the opportunity to string together some of the best roads California has to offer.
2009 Red Bull USGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Honorable Mention – AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days
Taking the reigns once again, the American Motorcycle Association has pumped new energy in to the annual Mid-Ohio event with Grand National titling in both on- and off-road racing and supplied the 20,000 attendees with the world’s largest swap meet. Despite this year's rainfall, the event sparked many imaginations and memories with the relived glory and hundreds of classic bikes on display and for sale.