Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Motorcycles | 0 comments

2014 Motorcycle of the Year Awards

http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/features/2014-motorcycle-of-the-year-awards/?dom=fb&src=SOC

Motorcycle of the Year

KTM 1290 Super Duke R

The Naked Bike Done Right

Naked bikes look so simple, at least compared to sophisticated superbikes or option-plus adventure-tourers. Just wrap slinky bodywork around—not over—a big-block engine, anoint it with a threatening nickname, and watch buyers beat feet to wrap their wrists around one.

In reality, a sublime streetfighter is something more complicated. First, the motor—many repurpose an already-amortized sportbike powerplant, but “retune” too much and risk being labeled weak sauce. Don’t soft-pedal the chassis development either—these aren’t funny-shaped cruisers; most are ridden hard and fast. Styling is another pitfall—it’s a fine line between sinister and silly. And there’s no algorithm for that X-factor that turns the throttle into a thrill meter.

KTM has always excelled at this type of bike (see our 2007 Motorcycle of the Year, the KTM 990 Super Duke). With deep roots in off-road racing, performance is always KTM’s priority, and with no sportbike to rip off (back then, at least), the Super Duke was always purpose built. Most importantly, KTM is an enthusiast-run company where everyone, from engineers to executives, rides hard, so that X-factor never lacked.

It makes sense that in 2014, unofficially Year of the Naked Bike, our MOTY choice is KTM’s all-new 1290 Super Duke R. The naked class has shifted from its no-frills, urban-warrior roots to become sophisticated-but-versatile sportbikes for grown-up performance connoisseurs. There’s no better example of this evolution than the latest SDR, simultaneously the most savage and most civilized streetfighter yet.

KTM started by out-displacing the competition with a 1,301cc V-twin that throws down an astounding 92.7 pound-feet of torque, enough to confidently loft the front wheel in almost any gear. Pavement punishing bottom end and a thunderous finish on top, this is a V-twin done right. The steel trellis frame is light and narrow, while world-class WP suspension and Brembo’s best M50 brakes manage any pace. And KTM’s signature Kiska design, all hard edges and aggressive angles, defines an authentic badass look.

But the rider aids make this Duke so Super. Last-generation KTMs were bare-bones essentialists and proudly—some might say painfully—analog. Here (as with its Adventure series) KTM developed category-leading electronics that make all this outrageous power and performance accessible to an even wider wedge of the riding public. Toggle Street mode, and tiptoe this friendly kitten to the café; dial up Sport mode, switch TC off, select the Supermoto ABS setting, and you’re staring down a ferocious tiger ready to eat your face. A streetfighter that can scare or snuggle, KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R sets a new standard for the naked-bike class.

No company has come farther faster than the recent KTM. Many still think of the Austrian manufacturer as a boutique builder of high-end dirt bikes, but last year the firm sold almost 110,000 motorcycles, thrusting it ahead of BMW, Ducati, and Triumph in terms of full-size motorcycle production. More surprising, almost 50 percent of that output was streetbikes. KTM’s all-street Duke lineup now spans from 125cc to 1,300cc and is central to KTM’s global emergence as a full-line motorcycle manufacturer. As the flagship of the Duke family, it was critically important that the Super Duke R stand out as a halo product to increase desirability of the entire Duke line. The Super Duke R had to be a magnificent motorcycle. KTM marshaled all of its resources to ensure that it was.

This is what makes a Motorcycle of the Year: a fantastic machine that not only extends our concept of the category it belongs to but also our perception of the brand and the abilities of the team that brought it to life. This is KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R.

Photo: Ismael Ramirez

Motorcyclist of the Year

Steve Menneto

Reviving Indian The Right Way

There were so many ways it could have gone wrong when Polaris announced just three years ago its intention to revive the Indian brand. The Minnesota-based powersports giant was the latest in a very long line of interested investors—some honorable, many not—who had endeavored to “revive” the once great and proud brand since the original Indian Motocycle company was liquidated in 1953. None were very successful, and after almost six decades of being leveraged to sell everything from leaky Brit bikes to overpriced T-shirts to fake Harley-Davidsons, the Indian nameplate was looking decidedly second-hand. Many of us wondered if anyone, even a company so savvy as Polaris, could save the Indian name.

Instead, there were so many ways this revival went right. It started with the usual tropes (“respect and honor the proud heritage of America’s first motor-cycle brand…”), but this time the rhetoric was backed by a series of increasingly inspired—and inspiring—results. First came the Thunder Stroke 111 V-twin engine, all new, thoroughly up to date, unmistakably Indian. Then the “Spirit of Munro,” a breathtaking, hand-built streamliner honoring Burt Munro of The World’s Fastest Indian fame, the most original and unexpected factory custom in years. The first motorcycle—the Chief—appeared next, an absolutely on-point update of Indian’s most legendary model. Now, just one year later, we witness another all-new platform—the Scout—a middleweight cruiser powered by a 100-hp liquid-cooled V-twin, showing the reborn Indian wouldn’t just coast along on its past but also forge an innovative future.

It takes a tribe of dedicated designers, engineers, manufacturing specialists, and marketeers to make a motorcycle, but Steve Menneto is the chief who directed this lightning-fast, laser-focused revival of the Indian brand. It’s no coincidence his promotion to vice president of Polaris’ Motorcycle Division, overseeing both the Indian and Victory brands, corresponded precisely with the Indian acquisition in April 2011. Although he is quick (and constant) to credit the entire Indian staff, it’s his clear-eyed leadership that made Indian what it is today.

A lifelong motorcycle enthusiast and former Polaris dealer, Menneto joined the company in 1997 in a sales role and worked his way upward, a career track that produced the clear comprehension and internal connections he needed to leverage Polaris’ considerable engineering ability, manufacturing capability, and financial stability in the service of rebuilding the Indian brand. But to balance such nuts-and-bolts project management with the soft science of brand building takes both discipline and a delicate touch. Menneto exhibited both.

“Engineering, development, marketing—Polaris is really good at that,” Menneto says. “With Indian, the challenge—and the driving force—is acting as proper stewards of the brand. We take a lot of time to do things the right way, to make people proud of us, and I’m ecstatic about what we’ve done so far.”

Indian has been hard on the gas, delivering two all-new platforms in two years—a demanding task, even for a company as powerful and resource rich as Polaris. Menneto promises to keep racing ahead but without upsetting that careful balance between forward-looking innovation and simultaneously celebrating the brand’s past.

“What would Indian look like if it had operated continuously from 1953 to the present?” Menneto asks. “Indian was innovative. Indian was racing. Indian was supporting the military. That rich history has to be brought forward, but we have to make new stories too. We showed we would pay respect to our history. Now we’re going to blow them away. The innovation side of our brand history is strong too, and now we want people to realize and feel that.”

“With Indian, the challenge—and the driving force—is acting as proper stewards of the brand. We take a lot of time to do things the right way, to make people proud of us, and I’m ecstatic about what we’ve done so far.”- Steve Menneto.

Best Sportbike

Triumph
Daytona 675R

The Reason We Love Triples So Much

Nothing flatters quite like imitation, and ever since Triumph’s odd-man-out Daytona 675 debuted in 2006 there has been a steady rise in the super-middleweight category. There are multiple other 675cc and 800cc triples available from other companies, but we still prefer the original. The Hinckley firm does three better than anyone, and Triumph’s latest, shorter-stroke 675cc mill is the best yet. Smooth fueling and a lovely exhaust note will have you wondering why you ever bothered with a fourth cylinder in the first place.

Treat yourself to the up-spec R version of the Daytona, with Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes, a flawless quickshifter, and a tasteful touch of carbon fiber. High-end components and excellent ABS inspire confidence, while the throaty triple provides broad, satisfying power for the street or track. You might think 113 hp doesn’t sound like much. If you think it won’t be fast enough, the 10.5-second quarter mile and telepathic handling will almost certainly change your mind.

If there’s one downside to the 675R it might be that the 420-pound package is too compact. The ergonomics are decidedly sporty, and the wind protection is minimal. But for a pure sportbike, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Alternative Take

BMW S1000RR

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If you have extra money in the bank and an unquenchable thirst for mind-blurring speed, BMW’s S1000RR is the superbike you need. Not only does it make more power than you can use in any public space—just shy of 170 at the wheel—it’s all-day comfortable with impeccably civilized manners, a perfect balance of performance and poise.

Best ADV Bike

BMW R1200GS Adventure

The Once and Future King

It would be painfully easy for BMW to fall into a “printing money” mode with the big GS, especially the Adventure model. (Which will, we’re told, account for just more than half of the GS sales in the US this year.) After all, the GS is an institution, and it’s assumed that buyers will line up for new ones no matter how good they are.

But that’s not BMW’s tack with the GS Adventure. Launched a year after the new water-cooled engine debuted in the basic GS, the Adventure has so many tweaks, updates, improvements, and just plain old differences that it could almost be considered a new model. Heck, BMW did more in the GS-to-Adventure update than many manufacturers do for whole-model updates. That’s how serious BMW is about the GS platform.

Valid points all, but they pale next to how good this bike is both off the road and on. Yes, it’s a biggun’, but it sheds apparent heft very quickly, handles rough roads and rutted trails with equal aplomb, and has all of its electronic aids calibrated to perfection for the vast majority of ADV owners. The GS has always been good. This one is great.

Alternative Take

KTM 1190 Adventure R

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We love the fact that KTM recognized a natural bifurcation in the ADV market. Some riders want to go off road; others are terrified of it. By creating an off-road-ready R variant of the new 1190 Adventure, KTM was able to work around compromises made for street-going owners and give those with a dirty bent a genuinely good big ADV machine. Kudos!

Best Touring Bike

BMW R1200RT

The Ultimate Touring Machine

Elephant in the room time: At this writing, BMW is still in a “no ride zone” with the new RT because of a supplier problem in the Dynamic ESA. No doubt, RT owners are steaming, and competitors are saying how unreliable BMWs are. Doesn’t matter—especially since you know BMW will get this sorted out and has already stepped up to compensate owners for the temporary loss of their shiny new toy.

And what a magnificent toy it is. Adding the new liquid-cooled, 1,170cc Boxer engine to the long-running RT framework takes the model from adequately entertaining to a full-grin hoot, thanks to more power, very good electronics, and a welcome dose of pure, old-fashioned character. But that’s not all: BMW made the RT more compact, so it feels much more like a motorcycle than the mammoth, sedan-like K1600GTL. It has very good reflexes and the functional beauty of Dynamic ESA along with the expected comfort and convenience items to make a 1,000-mile day almost routine.

Not many motorcycles can make that claim and be fun on a Saturday morning squid hunt. The R1200RT is that machine.

Alternative Take

Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

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It’s easy for naysayers to dismiss Harley’s Project Rushmore bikes as putting lipstick on a pig. That’s an attitude only for the haters. If you know about Harley’s FL series, you’ll realize just how the dozens of detail refinements make this one of the ultimate long-distance tourers. Water in the heads is almost the least impressive aspect.

Best Naked Bike

BMW S1000R

Brutal, Fun, Sophisticated, and Cheap?

We’ve come to expect savage power from today’s open-class naked bikes, but what’s most amazing about BMW’s S1000R isn’t just how freakishly fast it is (10.30-second quarter-mile run, anyone?) but how refined and utterly rideable it is too.

Three years in the making, the S1000R is the “roadster” version of BMW’s world-beating S1000RR. This bike provides performance by the bucketful, but the S1000R isn’t just for speed freaks. It’s got all-day-comfortable ergos and inexplicably good wind protection, plus suspension that goes from racetrack firm to freeway soft with the push of a button. You can even get one with cruise control and heated grips.

Tame and electronically restrained if you want it to be or frightfully vicious if that’s your thing, the S1000R’s extensive suite of electronics—including TC, ABS, ride modes, a quickshifter, and optional dynamic suspension—plus a ridiculously robust power spread make it adept at commuting, canyon carving, and trackdays. BMW unleashed its R&D juggernaut on the single-R project, and it shows.

The S1000R ticks more boxes than any other naked bike on the market for a price that’s on par with (and in most cases just below) the competition, making it our clear choice for naked bike of the year.

Alternative Take

Honda CB500F

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Honda’s approachable and easy-to-ride CB500F is our favorite bike out of Big Red’s 500 trio, and it reminds us that naked bikes don’t need to be frightening to be fun. With docile power, roomy ergonomics, and comfy suspension, the CB-F is perfect for new or returning riders, and at $5,799, it’s a great option for anyone looking for amusing and affordable transportation.

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Best Dual Sport

Honda CRF250L

 

Pure & Simple Fun

Déjà vu? In a way, yes. For the second year in a row Honda’s diminutive CRF250L takes the crown for the best dual-sport bike money can buy. And one of the reasons is that it’s not very much money. True, it gets a $500 price bump for 2014, and it’s still made in Thailand, but $4,999 is hardly exorbitant.

Bopping around cities or suburbia is a breeze, with intuitive controls and a comfortable seat. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the 250L is that if you climb into the hills and find a set of twisty roads you will be amazed at how much fun there is to be had. Then when the pavement ends it won’t bat an eye. Plush suspension and thoughtful ergonomics make it as comfortable standing on the pegs to navigate rough terrain as it is anywhere else.

When we pitted the CRF against a crop of similarly priced dual-sports (“Backyard Adventure,” March, MC) it was a walk-away victor. Not only is it the best version of a small on- and off-road motorcycle, but it’s cheaper than almost anything on the market. There just isn’t anything else that compares.

The CRF250L is the complete package. It’s pure fun and wins the category this year for the same reason it won last year: You pay less, you get more.

Alternative Take

KTM 500 EX-C

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This is the other end of the dual-sport spectrum. No comfy saddle, no frills—not even a fuel gauge—just 510cc of pure dirtbike prowess, plus lights and mirrors. Eye-opening power and stellar suspension are best for serious riders, and be ready to pay around $10,000 and climb about 38 inches to clear the seat. Do this, however, and you’ll fear no trail.

Best Bang for the Buck

Yamaha FZ-09

The Beginning of Yamaha’s Value Resurgence?

To say that Yamaha’s FZ-09 outperforms its $7,990 price tag is a huge understatement. In terms of engine performance, it hits as hard as bikes costing half again more.

Yamaha’s frisky naked bike wheelied onto the scene earlier this year with an all-new 847cc triple residing in an aluminum twin-spar frame with an inverted fork and radial-mount brakes—no recycled, prior-model motor or chassis here. Fit and finish are excellent, and the bike even has a ride-by-wire throttle, engine modes, and a comprehensive instrument cluster. All for less than $8,000.

We love triples and the way they make power, and Yamaha’s creation is an especially sporty example of the layout. The engine cranks out more than 105 hp and more than 60 pound-feet of torque, with 50 pound-feet available right off idle. The FZ-09 clobbers other bikes in the price range in terms of power, delivering unprecedented bang for your buck.

The FZ-09 doesn’t shy away from the scales either. Its wet weight of just 417 pounds is in line with that of a premium supersport, helping make the FZ-09 an especially flickable machine. True, suspension and fueling aren’t perfect from the factory, but the FZ-09 makes up for its deficits with that enthralling and entertaining motor and a genuinely affordable price tag.

Alternative Take

Kawasaki KLR650 New Edition

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Kawasaki’s KLR650 is the cockroach of motorcycles—you just can’t kill this thing! Cheap, capable, and reliable as a rock, the KLR has been a great deal for more than 20 years, so it stands that this latest “New Edition” with its comfier seat and firmer suspension is an even better deal than before. At $6,599, it’s the least expensive ticket to adventure.

Best Cruiser

 

Indian Chief Classic

An Authentic American Alternative, At Last

Not to take anything away from Victory, which builds a full line of great-looking, technically sophisticated, functionally capable motorcycles, but for the vast majority of buyers, the search for a heavyweight cruiser begins and ends in Milwaukee. No matter how competent, classy, or affordable Victory bikes are, they still can’t match the aura or allure of Harley-Davidson’s century-plus heritage. Victory remains the pragmatic choice, not the romantic one.

Now that Victory’s parent company Polaris has revived Indian—America’s first and oldest motorcycle name, pre-dating Harley-Davidson by two years—there is finally another American-made motorcycle that has the technical chops and the historic pedigree to stand toe to toe with the monster from Milwaukee.

The Chief Classic is a stunning first effort from this newly revived nameplate. The Thunder Stroke 111 V-twin dwarfs its competition in both displacement and power output with a rich character to match, and the chassis turns and stops better than any 800-pound, 68-inch wheelbase bike has a right to. But what really makes us love this machine is the authentic and inimitable Indian style captured by those graceful, deep-skirted fenders. Everyone notices this bike, and, more importantly, a surprising number—both young and old alike—know exactly what it is. The game is definitely on.

Alternative Take

Harley-Davidson Street Glide

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The market has spoken, and as the best-selling bike in Harley-Davidson’s best-selling lineup, the $20,399 Street Glide earns its place in this spot. This year’s Project Rushmore-related updates, a host of subtle styling, performance, and ergonomic updates, make the original bagger more comfortable, more capable, and all-around better than ever.

Best Dreambike

Ducati Superleggera

Super Light, Super Expensive, Super Desirable

Things are getting a little shaky for strict Ducatisti. The Italian brand is owned by a German car company. Il Mostro and some siblings are built not in Bologna but Thailand. And the general manager has even gone on record saying Ducati might consider making a scooter. It’s enough to make a purist take his Hailwood edition on a long ride down a short—very short—road.

Just when you start worrying that Ducati has sold its soul to the devil of profit and productivity, the boys from Bologna drop something like the Superleggera, the most exotic and exquisite production motorcycle since the Desmosedici RR. Don’t let the familiar shape fool you; this is so much more than a fancy-painted Panigale. The Superleggera has been optimized down to the last nut and bolt, no matter what the price or procedure. Precious metals are everywhere—magnesium replaces aluminum in the frame and wheels, titanium subs for steel in the exhaust, connecting rods, even the shock spring, and super-dense tungsten weights balance the knife-edged crank.

A claimed dry weight of just 342 pounds puts the “super light” in Superleggera, while a claimed 200 crankshaft horsepower gives this $65,000 special the highest power-to-weight ratio of any production sportbike ever, Ducati says. Fall asleep dreaming of that.

Alternative Take

Suzuki Recursion

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How about dreaming of something different for the sportbike of the future? Suzuki’s Recursion prototype—not for sale, not yet—tops a super-compact, 588cc parallel twin with a turbocharger and intercooler to produce near-literbike power from a lightweight, fun-to-ride machine that’s closer to a 250 in physical size. Yes, please, and make it look just like this.

Best New Technology

Ducati/Dainese

D-Air

The Next Frontier: Bikes that Communicate With Your Gear

It’s been decades since airbags forever altered the landscape of automobile safety, but in the motorcycling world, airbag integration is more complicated. In 2006 Honda introduced an airbag option for its flagship Gold Wing touring machine, and airbags are currently available in roadracing suits. In fact, we acknowledged airbag racing suits as Best New Technology in 2012, but it’s only now that we are beginning to see the gap between bikes and wearable bags being bridged.

Take, for example, this collaboration between Ducati and Dainese to create gear that communicates directly with the motorcycle. In this case, a Dainese street jacket holds an airbag vest that is linked wirelessly to a special version of Ducati’s Multistrada 1200 S Touring (called the “D-Air”). Using two accelerometers at each end, the Multistrada D-Air can detect a crash, signal the jacket, and deploy the airbag in about 45 milliseconds. There are other benefits of the bike and jacket sharing information, too, like the system not allowing the airbag to deploy under 10 mph. Neat.

The cost for all of this is high and actually only available in Europe at press time, but it signals a changing direction in the future safety of our pastime.

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