The '06 rumor mill was spinning faster than Valentino Rossi's M1 at redline before the '05 calendars came down. Kawasaki had finally come up with something to shoot down the Hayabusa. Honda had stuffed a fire-belching V-five in the CBR1000RR chassis. Harley'd found Elvis passed out in a golf cart at Leisure World-he's the V.P. in charge of peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches.
Some rumors are more plausible than others.
The wild guess soon begets the official press release, which gives way to the press kit with digital photos, followed by the ever-popular Press Junket To Some Strikingly Unusual Locale, complete with weird indigenous appetizers, language barrier, jet lag and a road/racetrack that's either the most beautiful or horrifying thing you've ever seen. Once the bikes in question immigrate to the left coast of America, Shop Czar Michael Candreia braves hours of impenetrable L.A. traffic to fish one out of a loan pool.
Actual MOTY business starts somewhere between those press kits and the physical appearance of hard, cold motorcycles. This time, pulling out the bikes that were genuinely new culled the herd to 20. Physically, emotionally and logistically, that was too many. So, after another ruthless process of elimination, we came up with the 10 motorcycles you see here. All new. All different. All contenders for the coveted 2006 MOTY trophy.
The R1200S buries the idea that BMW builds motorcycles only a high-school calculus teacher could love. Put more power behind the lightest 1170cc boxer yet and people get out of the way. And it's comfortable enough to carve up roads in the next time zone if you're so inclined.
How about travelers who feel hemmed in by the pavement thing? What if you're after something that goes way past ordinary. Fresh thinking? Erik Buell's XB12X Ulysses is the first American V-twin you would aim down a dirt road on purpose. It's happy to take on just about any sort of road for the weekend or a week or all summer if you've got enough clean underwear and vacation time.
Has anyone ever done more with the essential idea of an engine, frame and wheels than Ducati's Monster? Pull the S4Rs' trigger just once and such questions fade into the contrail of beautiful noise behind you, along with any other nonessential brainwaves. On the Monster, there is only the Monster.
Harley's FXDI35 pays homage to the motorcycle that changed factory custom from an oxymoron to real steel: Willie G's Super Glide. The boat-tail rear fender got lost somewhere between 1971 and 2006, but Harley's latest 88-inch Big Twin is so much better than the original Shovelhead you won't care. Elvis loves his.
As it turns out, Honda hasn't rolled out an RC211V for the street ... yet. Big Red did, however, sharpen everything about the CBR1000RR for '06, starting with the bodywork. There's more of what we love-horsepower, stronger brakes and sweeter suspension-and less of what we don't-weight. In between, surgical chassis tweaks make Honda's big boy steer like a scalpel.
If more actually is better, Kawasaki's 176-horse heavyweight contender has to be the best. The new king of quick can clock 9-second quarter-miles all day long. Better still, the ZX-14 buffers that strength with enough civility, comfort and sophistication to let you ride it to church, even if church is two states away.
Some of the congregation might not understand KTM's 950 SM quite as well, but we love the thing. Motorcycling's answer to Vin Diesel isn't subtle or sophisticated. The 942cc twin goes like orange Austrian stink whether the pavement's smooth or not. It also tattoos a big stupid smile on your face. Sometimes that's enough.
But maybe your problems are more complicated. What if a 150-horsepower 1000 is too much of a good thing? What if even the strongest 600 just isn't enough? At that rate, Suzuki's 130-horsepower GSX-R750 should be perfect. If you're looking for the ultimate track-day tool, stop right here.
That's assuming you have the willpower to skip Triumph's Daytona 675. Can a lissome British triple really put the serious hurt on those nasty little Japanese 600s? When the triple makes big-time midrange and weighs less than the lot of 'em, the answer is yes. Few things this side of an F1 car sound quite this good at 10,000 rpm.
Those who claim to have this thing all figured out by now have overlooked Yamaha's YZF-R6. That's somewhat difficult when the only nastier-looking motorcycle sits under Signor Rossi. With this one the party starts at 10,000 rpm, and it doesn't stop until the tach strikes 14,000, at which point you've got 112 horsepower in hand. Shift into second and it starts all over again.
OK, so coming up with the 10 best motorcycles of 2006 really isn't that hard. The hardware here is truly staggering however you look at it. But picking one that does just about everything right and changes this two-wheel world for the better is tough. But we did it anyway. No need to thank us for suffering through all the tech briefings, track days, eel-roll appetizers, jet lag and general anxiety. All you have to do is turn the page ...