Every autumn the Motorcyclist staff sits down to reflect on the year and hash out the candidates and, eventually, the winners of our annual Motorcycle of the Year awards. Determining the best motorcycle—and motorcyclist—of the year is a challenge and an honor, and without fail we find ourselves in awe of the diversity of the motorcycling world we live in today.
Our MOTY conversations don’t just focus on hardware. We also discuss the shifts in the industry that certain motorcycles have created or been affected by, personalities that have had an impact, and the new flavors and genres of bikes that have developed or evolved in the preceding months. Some winners are easy to crown, and some debates are more heated than others. In the end, we pick one motorcycle.
In considering the experience of motorcycling as a whole, the technological advancements in the sport, shifts in culture, and how our most beloved pastime is changing, we of course must recognize the companies, products, and people that have contributed over the past 12 months. Whether it’s a perennial survivor or a fresh new idea, the different tastes of our industry are given the nods we feel they deserve. The variety of motorcycling is more alive than ever, and we champion the idea of an arm-stretching Grand Prix prototype sharing the pages with a decades-old workhorse that still warrants respect. In the following pages you’ll see old favorites, fresh faces, and some combination of the two.
These are our MOTY awards.
2016 Motorcycle of the Year - Triumph Street Twin
All-new & entirely authentic
Motorcycle manufacturers weigh risk and reward with great, almost obsessive, care. Especially the big boys playing with high-volume models. When you completely redesign your best-selling motorcycle, there’s always the opportunity to screw it up. And if that design is as broadly successful as the modern Triumph Bonneville, even a minor miscue can damage both reputation and profitability faster than you can say, “That looked great in design.” The Street Twin getting named as our Motorcycle of the Year should tell you how well Triumph pulled this off. Everything about the new Bonneville lineup is new: fresh engines, new chassis, recast styling that’s both more modern and yet even more “authentic” to the Bonnevilles of the 1960s. Indeed, the entire lineup is noteworthy, from the high-performance Thruxton, through the mainline T120s, down to the entry-level Street Twin. So it should be obvious that we admire the new Bonneville lineup, but we’re calling the Street Twin the MOTY for very specific reasons: It’s amazingly good both as an entry-level streetbike and as a screaming good deal. A full-size, fully featured modern motorcycle with standard ABS and traction control should never be this good for $8,700. So many bikes intended for newer riders get stripped down to something below the essentials, but aside from the lesser displacement (900cc versus the larger bikes’ 1,200cc) and one fewer gear ratio, the Street Twin feels fully equipped and thoroughly featured. More than that, the Street Twin is a delight to ride. Light feeling, agile, with strong off-the-bottom power, the Triumph is a compact, easy-to-manage bike that never feels dumbed down. Its charm is never veneer-thin or cynical. Baked in, not slapped on at the end of the production line. They’re real roadsters with few affectations, genuinely good performance, and a level of fit and finish good enough to make their overt nakedness work. In a world struggling to define the term “authentic,” the new-age Bonnie lineup sticks the landing.
Check out this comparison test with the Triumph Street Twin
2016 Motorcyclist of the Year - Andy Goldfine
The Gold Standard
Motorcycling in America is really a pleasure sport. For most riders, it’s not a necessity, not treated as pure transportation. For Andy Goldfine, the man behind the Aerostich one-piece textile suit (and the consistently entertaining catalog of the same name), that’s a shame. “I discovered motorcycling as a kinesthetic activity. The movement is soothing and calming,” Goldfine says. “There’s definitely a neurologic benefit to riding.” For a man who connected riding with a form of physical and mental therapy, the idea of creating a product to make motorcycling easier and more accessible wasn’t a huge leap. “What we did with the first Roadcrafter was to buy time,” he says. “If we could save 15 or 20 minutes a day for the commuting rider, that was a big deal compared to what was available at the time.” That was 1983, when even sport riders in the US rarely wore more than leather jackets and sturdy jeans.
“At first only a handful of riders ‘got it,’ including motojournalists, who were on bikes every day,” Goldfine recalls. “And even then we were made fun of.” In time, the suit’s relentless and intensely well-considered practicality won friends, especially when, bowing to customer requests, Aerostich developed a two-piece version and, later, a dedicated line of jackets and pants.
Some of Goldfine’s approach is intentional: “We were shooting for a simple, functional garment.” And some were a matter of circumstance: “When you have a lot of resources, you can do a lot of things. Some you don’t really need to. We didn’t have those resources. We had sewing machines and [costly] American labor. You know the old story that when all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. That’s us.” Ultimately that’s more blessing than curse, keeping Goldfine and his crew focused on incremental improvements rather than trendy features.
Many people have developed innovative moto clothing. Goldfine is our Motorcyclist of the Year for reasons that reach beyond that. For one, he’s an evangelical advocate for motorcycling. “It is a social good,” he maintains. And he’s optimistic. “I think the generation of Millennials’ kids will find motorcycling the way I did, as something very different from their parents’ interests, something simple and elemental, eventually an important part of their mental health.”
Goldfine, through his attitude and his company, has been influential in motorcycling for 33 years. He’s made motorcycling better for you even if you’ve never used any of his products. For that (at the very least), we salute him.
2016 Best Sportbike - Yamaha YZF-R1
The R1 is not the most powerful bike in the class—not even close, actually—nor is it the lightest, and it’s not exactly a plush streetbike. So how is it the best? By being a technological marvel, for one, offering the most advanced electronics available in an easy-to-use interface with loads of adjustability. On the track it is without doubt the sweetest-handling superbike we’ve ever tested. It’s easier to ride than any of its competition, and at the end of the lap it’s also faster. The R1 will make you feel like a better track rider, period.
On the street, the suspension is stiff and the riding position is aggressive. Then again, complaining about the ergonomics is actually kind of hard considering it’s a race-bred machine designed not to make any compromises. The seat is wide and pretty comfy, and mellower ride modes allow you to dial back the hair-trigger throttle if desired. Add to all of this that the R1 experience is bathed in the warm, dulcet tones of the crossplane engine, and our heart is won. Last year the R1 changed the way we see superbikes, and one year later it is still very much the king of the class.
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // BMW S1000RR
In many ways, BMW’s S1000RR is the anti-R1. First of all, it’s viciously fast. Like, 185-hp-at-the-wheel fast. It’s also relatively heavy and difficult to wrangle on the track. Mostly though, it’s positively delightful as an everyday superbike. Electronic suspension? Check. Heated grips? Check. Cruise control? Check. Road trip? Blast off!
2016 Best ADV Bike - BMW R1200GS Adventure
Yeah, yeah, get the fat jokes out of the way now. We won’t deny that a 35-inch seat height and a full-tank weight of 593 pounds makes for an enormous motorcycle, but we also will not deny the R1200GS-A’s phenomenal capability. As a sport-touring machine, it is simply stellar—good aerodynamics, light (yes, light) handling, stunning brakes, electronically adjustable suspension, and luggage options that’ll swallow a mobster’s secrets. Inevitably, it’s when we wander off the beaten path that this GS-A surprises us the most. Nearly 8 gallons of fuel tank is somehow never in the way, standing or sitting, and the turning radius makes us feel like we could U-turn in an airplane bathroom. The new-for-2013, 1,170cc liquid-cooled engine is tuned nearly to perfection and the suspension (somehow) never bottoms out. The balance and poise that the R1200GS Adventure shows in the dirt utterly defies the spec sheet. It is the original adventure touring machine. And still the best.
Featured here in On Two Wheels
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // Honda Africa Twin
Honda’s new CRF1000L Africa Twin deserves a nod. This is an extremely well-designed motorcycle, on road and off, with traction control adjustable on the fly, an excellent chassis, and a refreshing MSRP of $12,999. It is simpler than the cutting-edge ADVs from Europe, but that doesn’t mean it’s worse.
2016 Best Sport-Touring Bike - BMW R1200RT
When the water-cooled boxer engine debuted in 2013 we suspected BMW had the RT in mind, and sure enough it feels like a match made in Bavarian heaven. Cynics will say the ergonomics panders to bony, geriatric butts and backs. And to that we say, “Ahhhh.” Pure, sport-touring bliss is what you get in the RT’s riding position, feet under saddle, and the slightest of cants toward the massive dashboard. An adjustable (and optionally heated) saddle sits around 32 inches high, with an amazingly slim midsection and an easy reach to the pavement.
It checks all of the boxes a luxury tourer should—electronically adjustable windshield and suspension, power locks, heated passenger accommodations, and integrated GPS if you please—but it’s the sportiness that wins us over. Auto-blip shifting and a snarly exhaust note accent the RT’s low center of gravity and brilliant handling in a way that is, frankly, hard to describe. Put it this way: If it held 30 gallons of gas instead of 6.6 we would just ride it farther, happy as ever.
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // Kawasaki Versys 650 LT
So you want a punchy engine, excellent ergonomics, standard luggage, ABS, perfect commuter manners, and adjustable aerodynamics for less than $9,000? And you want terrific handling? And nearly 300 miles of range? Are you nuts?! Nope, you’re Kawasaki, and you built the Versys 650 LT.
2016 Best Touring Bike - Indian Roadmaster
Sometimes life isn’t fair. Like our touring category, which used to be one place to praise everything from sprightly sport-touring bikes to the larger, more traditional American-style highway mashers. Our sporting bias made life tough for the big rigs, so this year we’ve broken the category into two, allowing the Touring choice to celebrate the best open-road beast.
And that particular animal is the Indian Roadmaster. In the hard-swinging fistfight between Harley-Davidson’s ultra-popular various “Glides” (as in Road, Street, and Electra), the Indian staggers to its feet a bit less bloodied. The Roadmaster’s 111ci engine is relentlessly strong and the styling is about as American as it gets. It goes all out on features like central locking, cruise control, entertainment, heated this and that. In 2016, H-D had the advantage of an integrated infotainment system that Indian now offers for its 2017 models. For us, the clincher was the Roadmaster’s refinement—with better brakes and suspension and tidier manners than its competition.
That’s 2016, but as we look ahead it’s clear that this will be a battle renewed for ’17 with Harley’s new Milwaukee-Eight engine and Indian’s new infotainment package ramping up the competition. It’s a good time to be a fan of the classic American touring machine.
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // BMW K1600GTL
Our preference for outrageous performance and high technology keeps BMW’s amazing K1600GTL on our radar despite it being older and slightly less sophisticated than the nimbler, cheaper BMW R1200RT. But for the enthusiast unwilling to give up hair-raising performance for long-range comfort, there’s not much in the K16’s class. It has the ability to pinch apexes with the best of them, yet is so smooth and effortlessly capable of clicking off the miles that a 1,000-mile day could be an almost regular occurrence.
2016 Best Naked Bike - KTM 1290 Super Duke R
We strain at every opportunity to describe KTM’s 1,301cc, 75-degree V-twin in all of its glory, and we never quite succeed—but that won’t stop us from trying again, right now. KTM’s ability to encapsulate an industrial, diesel-like amount of torque and a mind-altering top-end rush into one, quick-revving and impeccably tuned powerplant constantly blows us away. The sheer volume of power on tap at all times defies logic and any other engine in the class. To top it all off, if you simply choose not to twist the grip very much you’ll be treated to a completely docile ’round-towner, puttering along as gently as you please. It is the science and art of engine design, balanced to perfection.
The Super Duke is also surprisingly comfortable for an open-class naked, in part because it wasn’t penned in by borrowing a chassis from a superbike. The clean-slate design allowed KTM to design precisely around the naked-bike ideology—upright enough for long days on a super-sport tour, yet narrow and aggressive enough for intermediate track use. In fact, it will take a quick pace on a racetrack before the Super Duke’s lack of precision is evident. Aside from that, it is nearly perfect.
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // Aprilia Tuono 1100
You want those superbike roots wholly evident in your naked bike? Look no further than the thunder of Aprilia’s 1,077cc V-4. For less than $15,000 you’ll get cosmic power, impressive athleticism at the track, a perfectly amiable streetbike, and the sound of the gods bowling every time you twist the grip.
2016 Best Dual-Sport Bike - Husqvarna 701 Enduro
Selecting a dual-sport bike is tricky. How much dirt and how much street do you want? We have no choice but to pick a machine that serves up a generous portion of both. With Husky’s new 701 Enduro, suddenly escaping our office park’s sterile and beige suburb became easier than ever, and when the time came to skip off the pavement and down some trails the 701E delivers all over again. At just less than 350 pounds it’s porky for a dirt bike, yet the 701 is agile enough to tackle rocks, roots, and steep drops and light enough to pick up if you get it all wrong. Bundles of torque from the KTM-derived 690cc engine make trail hopping a treat.
On the blacktop, the Enduro’s knobbies are a little out of their element and the saddle is mighty tall, but aside from that it’s a perfectly agreeable streetbike. Freeway travel is easy enough, as long as no wind protection and a narrow seat doesn’t grind your gears. Yep, it’s $11,300 for a trailbike with a 36.5-inch seat height. But you also get 11 inches of ground clearance, good street manners, and 60 well-tuned horsepower at the wheel.
Featured in On Two Wheels - here
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // Kawasaki KLR650
If the BMW GS is the ultimate Swiss army knife of motorcycles, Kawasaki’s KLR is the hatchet/hammer/bottle opener combo. Trail, grocery store, or around the world, the KLR will do it all and will not let you down. For that reason we fall in love with the trusty KLR, year after year.
2016 Best Bang for the Buck - Yamaha FZ07
If you read any moto rag in the last two years you will have heard journalists rave about Yamaha’s FZ-07, and it’s no accident that everyone loves it. For 2017, Suzuki’s SV650 revival creeps closer to the FZ-07 with one eye on the crown, but this category comes down to one word: bang. Even though there are much faster bikes on the block, nothing in the category offers up as much personality. The FZ-07 combines rambunctious character with friendly fueling and a sporty chassis that make the bike a blast to ride.
Building a motorcycle that is as much fun for beginners as it is for experts is no easy task, and the littlest FZ does it oh-so well. It’s 400 pounds on the nose with the 3.7-gallon tank full to the brim, while serving up a juicy 66 hp and 45 pound-feet of torque. And then, of course, there’s the big one. This category is also about delivering the most value for money—and with the same $6,990 MSRP as always there’s simply nothing in motorcycling that over delivers quite like the FZ-07.
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // Indian Scout Sixty
What is a Scout Sixty? Indian started with the excellent, mid-line Scout and brought the engine displacement down from 69ci to 61, dropped sixth gear out of the transmission, painted some parts instead of chroming them, and lowered the price by $2,300. That’s good value, friends.
2016 Best Cruiser - Harley-Davidson Low Rider S
Power to weight applies just as well to cruisers as it does to sportbikes. It is, after all, the hot-rod formula: Drop the biggest engine you have into one of the lightest chassis you can make. Harley-Davidson, wisely, followed this formula to get the new Low Rider S. Matching the non-CVO 110ci Twin Cam engine to the relatively svelte Dyna chassis creates unexpectedly good synergies.
With buckets of torque from the time you release the starter button until the rev limiter calls time out at a mere 5,500-rpm, the 110-inch engine has it all over the 103 it supplants. Although it’s bigger, it doesn’t feel any less willing to rev; indeed, it has much the same personality as the 103, just more power across the dial. Proving that H-D’s Big Twins just get better with displacement, the 110 combines this additional torque with superb drivability. Harley has its ride-by-wire programming flat figured out.
There are similarly powerful big cruisers in the world, but we gave the Low Rider S the nod in part because it hints at a level of suspension and brake refinement unusual by Harley norms. Although still relatively short in the travel department, the Low Rider S’s cartridge fork and emulsion shocks (both from Showa) dispatch road irregularities with ease, seldom topping out or bottoming harshly. So the Low Rider S is actually special—pleasingly quick, distinctively styled, and much more refined than we assumed it would be. We hope this points the way forward for Harley.
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // Ducati XDiavel
Just when you thought Ducati would stick to its comfort zone. Here comes the XDiavel, a shameless feet-forward cruiser with inimitable Italian style and the fizzy grunt of a big-inch 90-degree V-twin. The XDiavel’s performance envelope far exceeds that of most cruisers, as does the standard electronics package, which includes launch control.
2016 Best Dreambike - Honda RC213V-S
For many years, and with very few exceptions, grand prix motorcycles were a mystery to the public. For 2016 Honda Racing Corporation opened the vault just enough for the RC213V-S to slip out—a machine that sacrifices the seamless gearbox and pneumatic valve system but otherwise is spec’d identically to HRC’s racers. A MotoGP bike with lights, said Honda, for any and all to enjoy. As long as you were one of the first 250 people in line, that is, and have around $200,000 on tap.
A cool $184,000 gets the base bike—dialed-back performance for street legality, yet somehow just as drool-worthy and sweet to ride. Downright unassuming, really, with sublime throttle response and pleasant, usable power. If the resources are available to purchase the Race Kit for 12,000 euros the full, 215-hp potential can be released and you will find yourself aboard the closest slice of motorcycling to a MotoGP paddock since Ducati’s Desmosedici. As insanely satisfying as it is to ride, the real magic of the RCV-S is in the peek behind the HRC curtain. Some might even feel that Honda should keep mere mortals away from this most sacred of machines, that the mystique is earned and not purchased. Just for that, it is the ultimate dream.
We hit the Valencia circuit in Spain for this Video First Ride of Honda's MotoGP race replica
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // Yamaha DT-07
Not just an FZ-07 with sleek, racy bodywork, the DT-07 is an actual, purpose-built dirt-track prototype. It’s not opulent, but it is exquisitely designed and as far as racing culture in America is concerned, pretty much defines cool. Our fingers remain crossed that Yamaha builds it en masse.
2016 Best New Technology - 6D Omni-Directional Suspension
The helmet is a rider’s most important piece of protective equipment, and this year helmet technology took a massive leap forward thanks to 6D’s Omni-Directional Suspension.
ODS includes an inner and outer EPS liner separated by an array of hourglass-shaped elastic bumpers. The bumpers act as shock absorbers that deform the moment force is applied to the shell, meaning the 6D helmet is active at a much lower energy threshold than with traditional helmet designs. As impact energy increases the bumpers bottom out, the foam layers come together, and the EPS takes over as on conventional helmets. As a system ODS has been shown to effectively mitigate impact energy at low, medium, and high velocities. And because the EPS layers are free to shear omni-directionally, ODS works to reduce angular acceleration from oblique blows as well.
We all wear helmets to protect our brains, and 6D’s ODS promises to provide more protection over a wider range of impact scenarios. With any luck this system—and other technologies like it—will revolutionize head protection.
ALTERNATIVE TAKE // Held 2IN1 Apparel
If you’re tired of zip-out liners and packing layers, Held’s 2IN1 apparel deserves your attention. 2IN1 doesn’t use removable liners to deal with changing weather, it uses separate chambers within the garment. Slip between the two as needed—one offers warmth and dryness while the other offers maximum ventilation.