Top 10 Motorcycles of 2014
With the 2015s starting to make their way to market, it’s time for Ultimate MotorCycling Editor Don Williams to reveal his choices for the Top 10 Motorcycles of 2014.
Williams’ Top 10 features the best bike in each genre, and the picks are in no particular order.
Be sure to let him know what you think in the comments!
Luxury Touring: BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive
The BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive defines luxury. Effortless to ride, despite its 794-pound claimed curb weight, the Exclusive has the six-cylinder power and the handling to take you and passenger comfortably across the country without a second thought.
A long list of electronics look after you, allowing the rider to concentrate on the road and sights.
Almost infinitely adjustable, you can personalize the ride exactly to your liking and the prevailing conditions.
Practical features such as Hill Start Control and the adaptive xenon headlight push this bike over the top, along with the four layers of metallic high-gloss paint, and just the right amount of chrome.
Sport Tourer: Yamaha FJR1300ES
Updated for 2014 with electronically adjustable suspension, the Yamaha FJR1300ES puts the sport in sport-touring, and that’s exactly how I like it. Relatively light weight at a claimed 644-pounds ready to ride, the FJR1300ES is highly composed in the corners, even when ridden aggressive — and that’s something the DOHC 1298cc motor allows you to do.
Creature comforts are kept at a minimum, so little gets between you and the riding experience. Handling is predictable – though you do have to respect the weight of the bike and how fast it can be propelled – and reassuring.
Forgiving of misjudgments, the brakes are outstanding and there always seems to be a little more kept in the handling’s back pocket. Ergonomics are just relaxed enough that you won’t mind being in the saddle all day.
Bagger: Harley-Davidson Road King
If you haven’t ridden a Project Rushmore Harley-Davidson, then you haven’t ridden a Harley touring bike.
The improvement in the Harley touring line is staggering, and its power and handling are now up to par with its charisma and style.
A legendary bagger with years of credibility behind it, the Harley-Davidson Road King is tremendous to ride. The Twin Cam 103 motor spins up far faster than you’d expect, so you can enjoy a spirited ride when you want – especially with the great handling that comes with the new front end.
Riders who want to take it slow are equally rewarded, as the bike responds with a reassuring predictability and inspires confidence.
Big-Inch Cruiser: Indian Chief Classic
Companies have been getting rebirths of the Indian brand since the original manufacturer closed shop in 1953.
Polaris went against decades of defilement of the Indian brand and got it right in 2014. The Indian Chief Classic is a truly big-inch cruiser with it Thunder Stroke 111 powerplant that cranks out a gut-wrenching 120 ft/lbs of torque at just 3000 rpm.
Handling and braking is more than a match for the great slow-revving motor, as I don’t have to tell you how cool the Indian Chief Classic looks.
From the valanced fenders to the graceful tank, to the period-perfect motor, there are no missteps. This is a motorcycle that, literally, turns heads, and that’s what I want in a cruiser.
Small Displacement Cruiser: Star Bolt R-Spec
Using a previously existing 942cc motor that never really excited anyone – even though it was fully practical – the Star Bolt R-Spec is a perfect machine for urban cruising.
Handling and low-end power are spot on, and you don’t have to manhandle a monster bike in nasty traffic – the Bolt weighs in at just 540 pounds (claimed wet).
You can twist the throttle hard, if you like, without worry of something untoward happening. To be sure, the Bolt will get up and move, and if you’re out in the canyons, the handling and corner clearance is respectable.
I prefer the R-Spec, with the cool piggyback reservoir shocks, and you can customize this guy to your heart’s content. The seat is low and it’s solo. Nice.
Power Cruiser: Honda Valkyrie
A six-cylinder power cruiser with progressive (rather than retro) styling? Why not!
The Honda Valkyrie name returns with a brand new look, outstanding handling and suspension (you’ll never guess it weighs 752 pounds wet), and that magical boxer motor, which is fast, yet still tamed for easy riding.
It may look intimidating when you see it, but once you’re on it, the ergonomics are welcoming. The motor purrs to a start, and the fun begins.
The Valkyrie is docile at lower rpm, while it enjoys a bit of throttle jockeying, which will get you up to speed – 1832cc of wisely used muscle at its best.
Naked Open-Class Upright: KTM 1290 Super Duke R
Over 100 ft/lbs of torque and just over 416 pounds dry combine to make the KTM 1290 Super Duke R the ultimate in naked bike fun. With a narrow 1301cc V-twin engine with gobs of usable power, and a seating position that is almost supermoto-like (no surprise given KTM’s dirt bike heritage), it up to you how wild you want to get.
One can tool around town like you’re on a 400cc single, or you can go full-hooligan and do wheelies and stoppies until the police take you away.
In the canyons, the Super Duke R is incredibly responsive, but not even close to nervous handling. As strongly as it responds to aggressive riding, the KTM is fairly forgiving of mistakes, and the WP suspension can take on anything (even if the forks don’t have adjustable preload). Some people don’t like its Transformer styling, but I think it looks awesome. Go fast!
Superbike: Aprilia RSV-4 Factory APRC ABS
You can’t help but feel like a World Superbike Champion on the Aprilia RSV-4 Factory APRC ABS. More than any other superbike I’ve even ridden, the RSV-4 Factory goads me in to riding harder and harder.
If I push it harder than I expect into a corner, the RSV-4 responds by saying, “That’s nothing. Give me something more to work with.”
Adjustable on a World Superbike level, you can change things like the rake, swingarm pivot point, and engine position, but I’m happy with how the Factory comes from the factory.
All I have to do is adjust the suspension to what kind of riding I’ll be doing – street or track – and let the bike that Max Biaggi built work its magic.
Adventure: Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS Adventure
Adventure bikes come in a wide range of adventure-readiness, so picking one bike can be tricky. It’s my list, so I’m going with the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS Adventure.
It’s barely dirt worthy, but it’s so enjoyable on the street and that’s where most adventure bike spend their time. This new-generation V-Strom has a sweet 1037cc motor that makes riding completely effortless.
Sitting high, you can survey your surroundings nicely. Suspension is good enough for spirited sport riding, and the tires have a street-orientation that rewards in the canyons.
The updated styling means you can ride around with pride, and take it as far as you like with the nicely integrated luggage. There are far more complicated and performance oriented adventure bikes, but sometimes, simple is just what works.
Dual Sport: Kawasaki KLR650 New Edition
Like the Adventure class, the range of dual sport bikes is wide, and my favorite this year is the updated Kawasaki KLR650 New Edition.
Sure, there are race bikes with lights from KTM and Beta, but they are not great for the street. The 250s out there suffer from tiny fuel tanks that keep you too close to home.
Suspension and seat updates improve what is already a solid motorcycle that people feel comfortable riding around the world.
Simplicity still reigns with the KLR650, as evidence by the fact that it still runs a carburetor. Add bags (from Kawasaki or the aftermarket) and it becomes an outstanding small displacement Adventure bike. There’s just so many things you can do with the KLR650 and the New Edition makes me love it more than ever.