The Best Of Motorcycling 2000

Every generation believes that it lives in the best of times. (Unless you're a teenager, in which case everything sucks.) And while you might judge your epoch by economic prosperity, world peace, popular culture or some other highly specious yardstick, we, not surprisingly, look at the motorcycles. Right now, friends and fellow enthusiasts, you live in a grand, expansive time. In real terms, motorcycles are getting better and better, with almost outlandish performance coupled with reasonable prices.

As this model year comes to a close and we get a taste of what's coming for 2001, we'll take a moment to reflect on the class of 2000. Not a bad turnout, actually, particularly if you recall that we entered the year worrying about massive computer shutdowns and whether the end-of-the-world predictions could possibly come true. Instead, we were treated to a host of wonderful motorcycles. By our count, in 2000 there were just shy of 20 new or significantly reworked motorcycles (or model families, like the Harley-Davidson Softail).

This bumper crop of two-wheeled greatness made this year's Motorcycle of the Year competition maybe the toughest ever. From a list comprising the year's all-new machines, we've culled the finest fruit down to just six motorcycles-bikes that significantly advanced motorcycling's state of the art and ones that set new standards. We've also resurrected our Motorcyclist of the Year award, and named the trophy-which we'll present annually-after our staffer Greg McQuide, who was tragically killed in June of this year. The effect Greg had on both our staff and the entire industry was upbeat, dedicated and positive...the exact attributes we used to pick this year's winner.

And there's more, too, including various category winners for bikes we think are worthy of praise-even if they're not new for 2000. Enjoy.

2000 Motorcycle Of The Year
Suzuki GSX-R750

From the early pips of information penetrating the editorial cranium to Burns's excited press-intro ride in Misano, Italy, word was that Suzuki's new-generation GSX-R750 was going to be a world-beater. And in the year we've had with this motorcycle, pitting it against bikes one-third larger in displacement-to say nothing of the daily grind and assorted track days-the Suzuki never failed to amaze.

Let's look at a couple of basic statistics, like 123 rear-wheel horsepower propelling just 426 pounds of fully fueled mass. Plug tack-sharp steering, unreal high-speed stability, wicked brakes and sumptuously smooth suspension into the equation and you've got a sporting tool that pushes street-going technology to a new level.

Performance is there in spades. At the racetrack for our Superbikes 2000! comparo [July 2000], for instance, the GSX-R was the only bike into the 12s on the Streets of Willow circuit. It also spanked the literbikes by three miles per hour during top-speed testing.

Suzuki has done a masterful job of making this bike light in weight but fully functional and beautifully finished. If you haven't seen one in the flesh, you owe it to yourself to head over to the local Suzuki shop and take a look. From the quality of the paint to the precision of the aluminum frame's welds, the GSX-R750 rates as one of the best turned-out motorcycles we've seen, continuing a trend at Suzuki of challenging Honda on the fit-and-finish front.

The Suzuki is an engineering tour de force in other ways also. The chassis' responses are immediate yet predictable. Thanks to the bike's low mass, Suzuki didn't have to resort to extreme geometry to make the bike nimble, or use racebike-stiff suspension rates to maintain maximum-velocity composure. Most of the bike's strengths stem from low weight and compact dimensions, and in this regard Suzuki has dramatically reset the standards of not only the 750 class, but also for sportbikes as a whole. Superbly done.

Mike Traynor
Seventeen years ago, a newspaperman named Mike Traynor saw what brain tumors did to little kids and wondered what he could do about it. Then the telephone rang.

It was Roger Edmondson, wanting Traynor to promote the Road Atlanta round of his new roadracing series. "I asked Roger what he had for a budget, and he said, 'Not a cent.' I told him I'd have to get back to him because I wasn't sure how to promote a roadrace with no money." Edmondson needed people at his race. Traynor needed a strong story to get the word out. Then the light went on in Mike Traynor's head.

Traynor, you see, was a motorcycle guy. Had been, in fact, since 1959, when the Army sent him to Japan, where he got involved with a certain little Honda motorcycle. He was the shorttrack Champion of Hokkaido on a Honda Dream, and finished 11th in WERA Medium-Weight Production on a Kawasaki GPz550 with his 17-year-old son as co-rider and his two younger sons as pit crew. The family recreation vehicle was a motorcycle, not a motorhome. Traynor the motorcycle guy knew the type of people he rode with-and knew they'd help.

"My first impulse was to help these kids," Traynor says, "but I wanted very much to show people that the motorcycling community was more than what they saw on television." He's done both. Since that first ride he organized in Atlanta in June '84, the motorcycling public has revealed the size of its heart by raising more than $10 million to stop childhood brain tumors-tumors that are fast becoming the leading cause of cancer deaths for anyone under the age of 34. The people who build motorcycles proved they had a heart also when American Honda came aboard as a corporate sponsor in 1991. Could the cause have come as far as fast as it has without Honda? "Not in a million years," says Traynor.

Anyone helping kids in trouble gets back much more than they could ever give. "In 1999, Ride For Kids generated 94 million media impressions," Traynor says, "and almost every single time in a story mentioning the motorcycling community coming together to do something positive." Still, the most positive thing is the progress Traynor and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation of the United States have made in their fight to save children's lives.

A kid with a brain tumor in 1984 had a life expectancy of five months. Today, thanks largely to research funded by the Ride For Kids, that same kid has a life expectancy of more than three years. The power behind that difference is a story that has become all too rare; one person who saw people in pain and did all he could to ease it. Deep down, Mike Traynor knew something else in 1984 that's been proven 10 million times since: Once they see these kids, thousands of other motorcycle people will do something to help them.

Traynor's work is helpful, inspiring and positive. Which makes him the perfect recipient of the inaugural Greg McQuide Motorcyclist of the Year award.

To learn more about the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and the Ride For Kids, call (800) 253-6530 or visit www.ride4kids.org and www.pbtfus.org on the Web.

Significant Others
Best Sportbike: Yamaha YZF-R6

What can you say about a bike that rushed to the top of the hotly competitive middleweight supersport category and fended off the charge of the revamped Kawasaki ZX-6R-all in its sophomore year? For that matter, how can you criticize a bike that eats its classmates for lunch at the racetrack (in stock form) and fails to have any major shortcomings as an everyday motorcycle? Well, we say it's the best sportbike of 2000. You might argue in favor of a 929 or GSX-R750 (the Suzuki would have taken this category had it not walked off with the MOTY honors), but middleweights are some of the best sporting tools around, with the added bonus of giving equal opportunities to hardened back-road chargers and newbies alike.

Best Cruiser: Harley-Davidson Softail Deuce
Plug the new Twin Cam 88B engine into the most popular chassis Harley's ever built, slather it in cool, out-of-the-lines bodywork, and you get what we think is a breakthrough Hog. For the first time, the Softail goes as well as it looks and that's no small achievement given the constraints of its standard-Harley architecture. The millions of dollars poured into the company's Product Development Center are finally showing some return on the investment.

Best Naked Bike: Kawasaki ZRX1100
Is it a naked bike? A retrobike? A musclebike? All of those, actually. Kawasaki unwittingly tapped into a huge well of sentiment for the universal Japanese motorcycle of the '70s and '80s with the ZRX1100. Maybe it took the lime-green, Eddie Lawson-Replica paint or the only mildly detuned ZX-11 engine to do it, but the ZRX was the first of its kind to really capture the hearts of aged enthusiasts. (Remember the Zephyr? Kawasaki would rather not.) What sets the ZRX apart, of course, is that it really performs; building an ELR-replica with a wheezy motor and floppy suspension would surely have doomed the model. Instead, the ZRX turns, stops and goes like a modern motorcycle, which is as it should be.

Best Fantasy Bike: MV Agusta F4S
Run your hand along the fairing. Brush lightly against the semiperforated-plastic body accents (a direct thumb-in-the-eye to the carbon-fiber craze sweeping Italobikedom) and get a whiff of the sweet, castor-oil smell trailing behind the tidy radial-four-valve engine. Gently polish the wicked, four-outlet, underseat exhaust. Ah, yes, a feast for the senses. There is no motorcycle this side of a factory World Superbike contestant that seems as trick or as casually outlandish as the MV Agusta F4S. For every wide-eyed sportbike rider who wins the lottery, upon this is undisputedly where the first dollop of cash would be spent.

Best Tourer: BMW R1100RT
Touring bikes are big, like Gold Wings and Ventures, and carry everything you ever thought you needed from the house and garage. They're slathered in chrome and festooned with doodads, right? Not in our book. Our predilection toward finding sinuous roads between points A and B leads us to one of the only rational touring bikes we know-the BMW R1100RT. It's considerably more comfortable and tour-ready than the R1100RS or R1100S yet agile enough to make BMW's big lug, the K1200LT, feel like it's rolling on flat tires. For most of us, this is as big and creature-feature-laden a bike as we'll ever need (though Honda's ST1100 is a close second here). Rumors suggest that BMW will update the RT with the S/GS-spec six-speed transmission and some additional displacement for 2001 or 2002.

Best GT: Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa
In the speed wars that never seemed to get out of the barracks this year, the Suzuki Hayabusa held the rear guard as the fastest production motorcycle we've tested. But that's not why we love it. No...it's because this bike transcends the missile-on-wheels category with uncommon comfort and flexibility to go with its mind-bending acceleration. It is not, by any means, a single-focus machine, nor does it pay the penalty for shouldering a big gun of an engine; get the thing above walking speed and it magically sheds weight and gains incredible poise.

Best Hooligan Bike: Triumph Speed Triple
Hooligan bikes make you want to be bad. Really bad. They'll tempt you into lurid burnouts and gravity-defying wheelies. And although there are plenty of good musclebikes on the streets-starting with the enduring V-Max and playing right through retro-rockets like the Kawasaki ZRX1100-none has captured the essence of the angst like Triumph's Speed Triple. Three largish pistons create an unusual cadence, part lawnmower part dragster, and the Triple's massive midrange torque rush makes it easy to rip away from stoplights like Rickey Gadson's racebike is in the next lane. What stokes our ardor is the Triumph's practical side, brought to you by an upright seating position and compliant suspension. It may not be all things to all riders, but the Speed Triple is plenty enough for us.

Best Rodney Dangerfield Bike: Suzuki TL1000S
Herewith awarded to the bike that sells poorly for reasons we cannot fathom is the Dangerfield trophy, given this year to the Suzuki TL1000S. It nearly unseated the Honda VTR1000F in our "Peep Show" in June '00, and was our unquestioned favorite for the most sporting of midrange sport-twins. Suzuki and its otherwise sanguine dealers admit the TL-S is a showroom anchor. Maybe the bike's early (and undeserved) reputation for tankslappers-a reputation we've never been able to make appear in real life-killed it. Still, this is a motorcycle we consider fondly, mainly on the strengths of its stonking engine and take-no-prisoners sporting focus.

Best Swiss Army Knife Bike: BMW R1150GS
Walk around the big GS and you're confronted with contradictory information. Those skinny tires can't be very good on the highway, yet their street-oriented tread implies that an off-road excursion would be pure agony. The upright riding position seems set for human-sail awards on long rides yet couldn't possibly be right when you're trying to make time on Highway 1. The bizarre techno-German styling seems at odds with sport riding, touring and fire-roading. And yet this brute of a motorcycle works so well at so many things the design borders on brilliant. Comfortable for extended rides, amazingly capable on twisty roads (particularly where high speeds aren't attainable) and rugged enough to handle pockmarked pavement with contemptuous ease, the Gelande Strasse amazes everyone who rides it. There's no way a bike that looks like this could work so well. But it does.

Best Sport-Tourer: Honda VFR800F Interceptor
Even three years after its introduction, we're still absolutely smitten with the VFR800F Interceptor. (It won Best 750 GT in 1998.) We'll agree the Triumph Sprint ST (and, to some extent, the RS) has edged into the Honda's market a bit, as has, to a degree, the BMW R1100S. That the VFR cannot be ordered with factory hard luggage remains puzzling. Still, no motorcycle we can think of does as much-and well-as the 'Ceptor. Commuting, weekend back-roading, longer treks with soft luggage-the VFR does it all, and does it superbly. Exhilarating, stable, nimble, trustworthy...that kind of mission-statement-speak surfaces when discussing the VFR, but the bike upholds its end of the deal. You could hop on one of these and go any place you have the time to see.

Best Entry-Level Bike: Kawasaki Ninja 500R
Sporting bikes make better entry-level models, we think, because they tend to have a lot more headroom (i.e., performance the newbie can gradually explore as he or she gains experience). Cruisers, though usually small and light, are often confining; literally because of "traditional" ergonomics and figuratively because of low performance. So we've come down in favor of the Ninja 500R, a bike that's been around for so long we tend to take it for granted. Yet it's consistently been a good seller for Kawasaki and seems to have a lock on smaller riders (and women) who shy away from cruisers. In many ways, this is the motorcycle the Buell Blast! is most trying to counter, which is an achievement in its own right.

Best Bang-for-the-Buck Bike: Suzuki SV650
Here's a category that's easy to understand yet difficult to design for. Really cheap bikes manage to feel, in some way or another, well...cheap. Somehow, though, not the SV650. At $5749, the SV is among the least expensive bikes on the pavement (that's only $750 more than the Kawasaki Ninja 500R, for cryin' out loud!) yet acquits itself like a much more expensive model. From the velvety cadence of the liquid-cooled V-twin to the excellent brakes and humane ergonomics, the little Suzuki carves smiles all around. Way beyond expectations, the bike has become a hit, in ways the erstwhile Honda Hawk GT never managed.