The “Best” bike in this category could be quite an elusive target. Who is asking? Is “best” the best bike in hardcore eastern Enduro settings? The best two-up on the interstate? Best at hitting some sweet jumps? Best at attacking a twisty mountain road? You see, every observer is going to mix their pavement and dirt a little differently, so no single on-off-road capable bike could really be the best for everyone. Understanding that, the ultimate “BEST!” On-Off-Road/Adventure motorcycle available in 2017 is unquestionably the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R! (Your mileage may vary, void where inhabited by short people, consult a Dr. for erections lasting more than five or six years.)
While we had no doubt that an all-new CRF450R was on tap for 2017, we wondered if Big Red would do what it took to raise the CRF450R’s engine performance level up to par with the raw power of other machines in its class. We’re stoked Honda responded with a new version of its Unicam engine that boasts more compression, a more radical cam, a finger-follower-style rocker arm and a new cylinder with a downdraft intake layout that gives the incoming air charge a straighter shot to the CRF450R’s valves. While the new engine doesn’t dominate the class in terms of sheer output, it more than makes up for that by providing the most exciting power delivery of any 450cc motocrosser available.
Not since the heady days of the 600cc sportbike wars have we witnessed competition between manufacturers as fierce as it currently is between Aprilia’s and KTM’s super streetfighters. With the arrival of the Super Duke R in 2014, the monstrously torquey V-Twin-powered hooligan has been in a lock step dogfight with the Tuono and its rip-roaring V-Four. So enamored were we with the SDR it won both Streetfighter and Bike of the Year awards in 2014. For 2015 the SDR retained its streetfighter of the year title over the Tuono, but in 2016 an updated Tuono took away the SDR’s streetfighter crown by virtue of offering a nearly equally equipped but more affordable RR model alongside its top-of-line Factory version. The Tuono duo also claimed honorable mention for motorcycle of the year in 2016.
It’s easy for moto enthusiasts to fall in lust with pricey motorbikes, but it’s much more difficult to feel ardor for inexpensive machines – plastic and steel just isn’t as intoxicating as billet and carbon fiber. But that’s why KTM’s 390 Duke is such a special motorcycle.
If this has been a hard year for scooters (sales are down in the category and there were but a few new models), it’s a harder year for me, the sole self-proclaimed scooter expert here at MO. I’ve ridden a lot of scooters – maybe too many – but if you ask me what’s the best scooter on the market, I’m going to try to find a gap in the conversation so I can slink unnoticed from the room. Editor Duke tried to spear me by demanding a direct answer – I responded with some wishy-washy gibberish about how great a job the Taiwanese scooter industry is doing in this market, so they should all get the prize, but he wants one specific scooter. This job was fun until it got hard.
The truly all-purpose do-everything electric motorcycle still hovers just out of range (due to lack of range), but for those fortunate enough to own more than one motorcycle, and a job with a non-ridiculous commute, an electric bike is a fantastic way to go. Plug it in when you clock in in the morning, plug it in again while you swizzle your martini when you arrive back at the estate. Ride right past gas stations and all the naysayers who bray that electricity production burns fuel too. In 2016, nearly 10% of California’s energy came from solar; the goal is 33% by 2020.
TFT displays are a type of LCD flat-panel display screen in which each pixel is controlled by one to four transistors, which can combine to yield full-color readouts. Not only does this type of display offer great resolution, it allows manufacturers full customization of how the user interface interacts with the rider. In more performance-oriented bikes, we see normal street-riding displays, while more track-focused screens can be made available at the push of a button. Track-specific screens generally focus on tachometer, lap timers, and gear indicators to give trackday enthusiasts an easier intake of information that is important while spinning laps.
Triumph’s efforts at reinventing the Bonneville platform (which includes the Street Twin and Thruxton along with the T120 Bonneville) deserve huge kudos. It’s one thing to create a terrific new motorcycle that meets contemporary emissions and performance standards, but it’s another to do so while making the bikes look almost like they stepped out of a showroom from 50 years ago. They appear more authentically retro than the previous air-cooled generation, which is a massive accomplishment for bikes with contemporary liquid-cooled motors.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s what’s happening here with Yamaha’s FZ-07, the winner of our Best Value award for the third straight year ( 2014, 2015). The 07 continues to impress due to the simple combination of its punchy 689cc, 270-degree parallel-Twin, sub 400-pound wet weight (397 lbs), and $6,990 price tag – the same it’s been since 2014. It makes a great companion for the everyday commute and is a joy to play with in the canyons. It’ll start to protest when the going gets super aggressive, but that’s not unexpected from a $7000 motorcycle.
Twenty fifteen was a big year for sportbikes, with the new Yamaha R1 and a heavily revised BMW S1000RR and Aprilia RSV4 RF making their debuts – the two European weapons motoring their way to the Best Sportbike and runner-up awards, respectively, in last year’s Sportbike MOBOs. With the proverbial load being blown that year, there wasn’t much excitement in store for 2016, save for the new, heavily revised Kawasaki ZX-10R. The Green Machine is a good literbike, no doubt, but it still wasn’t a match for the year-old Aprilia RR (the “base” model RSV4) when we put the two $17,000 machines against each other.
Okay, get out your pitchforks! Indian’s won Best Cruiser for the second year in a row with a Scout. This year, however, the kid brother, the Scout Sixty, takes home the prize. How could that be? The Sixty is only a sleeved down version of the bigger Scout with less shiny parts, right? Well, that would be half right. The other half is that, for a MSRP of $8,999 (or $300 more for white and red color options), Scout Sixty riders get a motorcycle that twists out 95% of big brother’s torque at a 20% discount. The horsepower curves are quite close to each other up until about 5,000 rpm, in the meat of the torque curve where cruisers spend nearly all of their time.
The touring segment is slow to change. Honda’s Gold Wing is always a contender and could easily take the win or the runner-up, and so too could numerous full-dressers from cruiser manufacturers. But in our opinion, nothing matches BMW’s K1600GT/GTL when it comes to combining all the comfort and amenities expected of modern mileage gobblers, with the performance and handling capabilities of more nimble sport-tourers. We even included the GT model in our 2014 Heavyweight Sport-Touring Shootout and the Beemer crushed ’em.
When we learned that Triumph had revamped the engines in its Bonneville line, we had high hopes for what modern power would bring. However, we had no idea how substantial the result would be. Take the Triumph Street Twin, utilizing the smaller of the two engine sizes created in Hinckley, the Street could be looked at as Triumph’s entry-level bike. Although it is, that would be missing the point by a mile down your favorite winding road.
Okay, this makes it three years in a row for BMW’s venerable RT, which actually isn’t all that venerable since it got the 1170cc oilhead Boxer just two years ago. Venerable, though, in that BMW just continues to build amazing motorcycles atop the shoulders of all the great ones that came before.