BEST DREAM BIKE
What blasphemy is this? How could we pick the Ducati 1098R as Best Dream Bike when there are Desmosedici RRs to be had? Two reasons: 1) Built in greater numbers at a cost of $39,995, the 1098R is a slightly more attainable dream for most; and 2) we picked the sold-out $72,500 Desmosedici last year. And then there's this: Based on our highly unscientific, seat-of-the-pants riding impressions at different racetracks, we're willing to bet that the Superbike-spec 1098R would beat the MotoGP-derived D16RR in a straight fight. (If we could find a couple of willing owners, we'd volunteer to settle that score.) The key is one feature the 1098R has that every other sportbike doesn't: traction control. It's easy to talk smack about electronic rider aids until you've whacked open the throttle at the apex and felt like you've been shot out of a cannon--every turn, every lap. Better living through technology!
The notion of a Harley-Davidson as Best Dream Bike isn't at all far-fetched. But a Sportster?! Allow us to explain: The XR1200 is the very dirttrack-style streetbike we've been clamoring for since the demise of the iron-barreled XR1000 two decades ago. Ironically, it's being built solely for the European market, so for the moment at least, Americans can only dream of owning one.
BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK
KAWASAKI NINJA 250R
Hard to believe, but there have been years when the humble Ninja 250 has been Kawasaki's best-selling model. What's the appeal? Low price, low weight, low seat height ... and did we mention the low price? Seriously, for some small-in-stature sportbike enthusiasts, it's the only bike they fit. So it came as big news when the little Ninja received a major makeover this year after a two-decade-plus run. The most obvious difference is the more modern look, with a full-fairing patterned after that of the Ninja ZX-6R and 10R, 17-inch wheels and petal-disc brakes. But the transformation wasn't purely cosmetic: The 250cc parallel-twin now revs to 13,000 rpm while delivering improved low-end and midrange power thanks to revised cam timing and a new 2-into-1 exhaust. The bargain $3499 machine also gets exceptional fuel economy--as much as 80 mpg if you believe the Internet message boards. No wonder they call it Team Green.
Like the Ninja 250 and Concours, the KLR650 got a long-overdue makeover this year. First produced 21 years ago, this venerable dual-purpose machine received a number of upgrades to improve its roadworthiness, including a larger fairing, luggage rack and gas tank, plus a more comfortable seat and shorter-travel suspension. At $5349 it's inexpensive, and it's also cheap to operate thanks to its miserly fuel economy.