Motorcyclist's Road Test Ratings: What Is A 10? | COOK'S CORNER

Rantings and Ratings: A definition of the Motorcyclist 1-10 road test rating system.

What separates an eight from a 10? As far as we’re concerned, it’s more than just lap times or dyno charts.

Like it or not, acknowledge it or don't, but we consume information differently than we used to. The "electronic age" has condensed important topics into 140-character tweets, 140-word web posts, or 140-second intellect bites. Something we have done at Motorcyclist for a long time is to offer a basic verdict and "star rating" for our road tests, first rides, and product evaluations. This is simply a way of condensing the information into a sort of executive summary for quick consumption.

In an effort to make the ratings more relevant, I’ve decided it’s time to skew them back down. Starting now, a product that is the dead center of the expected range of quality and value earns a five.

We grind a lot of teeth, spill some coffee, and break a few pencils coming up with our star ratings, which also underwent a sort of inflation last year to go with our graphical redesign. Now instead of a maximum of five stars with half stars possible, it’s a score out of 10. So now we have ratings from one to 10, but what do they mean? As a staff, we have a finely calibrated sense of relative quality, where a particular motorcycle or accessory or piece of apparel fits into the big puzzle. (Calibrated, but still sometimes controversial, I know.) But we have also had a bit of grade creep, where we offered up a lot of four-star (or eight-bar) ratings because, well, pretty much everything in motorcycling is pretty darn okay these days.

In an effort to make the ratings more relevant, I’ve decided it’s time to skew them back down. Starting now, a product that is the dead center of the expected range of quality and value earns a five. It’s the opposite of giving everyone who shows up to play some kind of trophy. We’re talking about your money, not little league.

A 10 will win any comparison test it appears in. Tens should be rare. But we want to reserve the number for that mythical bike that sends us all swooning.

Every bike has to be graded inside its own category and, to a great degree, within a narrow price window. Obviously, a 500cc cruiser will have different performance benchmarks than a 1,000cc supersport or a full-dress tourer. Sometimes bikes with similar performance and intentions have widely different MSRPs. We consider carefully which bikes are cross-shopped as well.

A bike that rates a 10 is a no-doubt home run, clearing the fence to land at the outskirts of the parking lot. The bike leads in every category: power, handling, braking, actual performance, amenities, and refinement (if that's the goal). A 10 will win any comparison test it appears in. Tens should be rare. But we want to reserve the number for that mythical bike that sends us all swooning.

A 9 is essentially the perfect bike, one with very few faults—the kind we have to be really picky to even register—making this bike perhaps one or two nitpicks away from being a 10. It would win any comparison without a 10-scoring bike in attendance. I would like this score also to be relatively uncommon. This is a bike we tell friends, "Buy one now or you'll regret it later." Think KTM 1290 Super Duke R or BMW S1000RR.

An 8 is still a very good performer, well above average, and a bike we would recommend to friends without hesitation. It's likely that bikes slightly lacking in performance or slightly too expensive to be nines will be scored eights. Or you might find models with middling performance and a very good price. In other words, we'd be happy to own an eight and recommend one to friends. Think BMW R1200GS, Kawasaki Versys 650, or Yamaha FZ-07.

Giving a bike a rating of 7 means it is still above the class standards but either falls to them or below in more than one area. This is a tough point of distinction, and I expect we'll have plenty of internal battles about it. Be prepared for some really nice machinery to fall into this slot for slight performance miscues, lagging value, or age.

A 6 misses being a five because it in some small way exceeds expectations for the class. The distinction here is when we find a bike that has just one or two elements—price, features, some small measure of performance—above the average, the bike gets a six.

A 5 is average for the class. Expected performance for displacement, the standard level of amenities for the money. Basically a good, defensible motorcycle that represents the class but doesn't stand out in any way. Think Suzuki V-Strom 1000.

A 4 has obvious misses in the design or execution but nothing so severe that we would be deeply embarrassed to own that model. Especially if we could get a screaming good deal on leftover examples. Chances are, a four is a decent bike that time and development has left behind.

To get a 3, the bike will have multiple areas of performance or execution well below the class standards and/or is egregiously overpriced for its actual capabilities.

Any machine getting a 2 rating should be given a wide berth. It's one step away from being unpleasant to ride and potentially expensive to own. Or maybe just embarrassing. I expect a two rating to be rare.

A bike getting a 1 rating should be avoided. This is a machine that we have found to be comprehensively lacking in major ways. Frankly, we'll be shocked to ever award a one, but it could happen. Stranger things have around here.