New Motorcycles – Best of 2015 | Editor’s Choice
It’s time to look back at the 2015 calendar year and select my favorite new rides for the year (returning models don’t count). Given the release dates of bikes, my Editor’s Choice of Top 15 New Motorcycles Ridden in 2015 is a nice combination of later-released 2015s and early 2016s. From custom sport-tourers to dirt bikes to raw naked sportbikes to cruisers, 2015 made it another great year to be Editor of Ultimate MotorCycling.
1. 2016 Motus MST. This motorcycle is magic. For the price of a luxury class tourer (think H-D or Gold Wing), you can have a hand-built American sport-tourer with an incredible V-4 motor. Called the Baby Block by Motus, the liquid-cooled 1650cc pushrod powerplant cranks out a monstrous 123 ft/lbs of torque at just 5000 rpm. Spin it up to 7600 rpm, and you’re looking at 165 horses. While those numbers may sound a bit intimidating, the delivery is anything but. Plenty of flywheel means that nothing happens unexpectedly, and you can ride the Motus aggressively without undo concern for the throttle. The MST lacks modern conveniences such as traction control and ABS, so you’ll have to decide if that’s part of its back-to-basics charm. After all, the Baby Block motor is intended to mimic American muscle cars. The reality of the Motus MST is that it handles quite well (after a bit of familiarity is developed), and the motor gives you the confidence that anything is possible. When I was test riding this bike, all I could think about was how much I wanted to ride it from Malibu to the East Coast–right now! UMC Motus MST Test.
2. 2016 BMW S 1000 XR. Do-it-all motorcycles are something special, and the BMW S 1000 XR truly has no boundaries. With the 160-horsepower S 1000 motor, it is undoubtedly a sport bike, and the seating position is perfect for extensive sport touring. Is it also an adventure bike? For me, it’s not something I’d comfortably take in the dirt, though a dirt road is fine. The versatility is outstanding, and the ergonomics can be simply described as “motorcycle.” If someone has no idea what a motorcycle is about, you could get him on an S 1000 XR and he would understand quickly what it’s like to be on a motorcycle. As with any upright sport bike, the view of the road allows me to ride to my highest capability safely, and few bikes are less fatiguing on a long ride than the BMW S 1000 XR. Simply put, this is a great motorcycle. UMC BMW S 1000 XR Test.
3. 2015 Suzuki GSX-S750. The GSX-R750 has long been the Gixxer of the cognoscenti, and the GSX-S750 takes the mid-size concept and makes the most of it. Built to a price (MSPR: $7999) but never feeling cheap, the GSX-S750 is an absolute blast to ride. The inline-4 hides its 463 pounds ably, and it feels incredibly agile in the most technical canyons. It’s fun to rev the motor up to the five-digit redline, and let the chassis (even with non-adjustable suspension) do its thing. Suzuki’s engineers got the settings right for a wide variety of riders, and the GSX-S750 turned out to be a favorite among a wide range of riders here at Ultimate MotorCycling. Comfortable, good looking, faster than you’d think, and better handling than the spec sheet indicates, the GSX-S750 is a great motorcycle. Its biggest drawback–the Suzuki GSX-S750 is not California-legal, except for journalists. Sorry! UMC Suzuki GSX-S750 Test.
4. 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure. 2015 was the year of the adventure-tourer, and the KTM 1290 Super Adventure sits at the top of the genre (which KTM calls “travel enduro”). With a displacement of 1301cc and 158 horses on tap, this is a motorcycle that can be ridden in any number of ways. Feel free to cruise all day at 100+ mph, as long as you aren’t concerned about a ticket. If you see a dirt road you like, take it as far as you dare — if you filled up at the last gas station, the tank has nearly eight gallons of fuel. When I was making time on Cabrillo Highway along the California coast, the fully adjustable ABS and traction control made sure I was always as safe as possible. The semi-active WP suspension is absolutely flawless, and brings the level of riding pleasure to new heights Large panniers meant I could bring whatever I needed, and even a slog through city traffic in 100-degree weather didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this incredible machine. Be warned — if you ride this bike, you’ll want to buy it, as one of our test riders did. UMC KTM 1290 Super Adventure Test.
5. 2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra. It started with the updated frame and swingarm in 2009, and continued with the revolutionary Project Rushmore in 2014. The result is that Harley-Davidson touring bikes now have the power and handling to make them world-class performers. Notably absent since then had been the Road Glide Ultra, and that has been remedied for 2016. The Road Glide Ultra is arguably the finest of all the Harley-Davidson tourers. With the Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103, the RGU is significantly hot-rodded over its previous incarnation. Handling is outstanding, as are safety features such as ABS, linked braking, and Brembo calipers, giving the rider plenty of security. The latest Tour Pack is a pleasure to use, and the Boom! Box 6.5GT system has a convenient touch screen, GPS, and wired connectivity to your phone. I’ve never been a fan of the shark nose fairing, from a styling perspective, but there is no doubt that the frame-mounted fairing is the way to go for those Ultra long trips. This is how you tour in style. UMC Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra Test.
. When it comes to sport bike riding on the street, I’m a diehard for uprights–I can see the road ahead, which, in turn, allows me to ride faster than I can in the prone position of a superbike (the opposite is true on the track, of course). There’s nothing like the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR, which is the most powerful Tuono yet. Sure, I rarely need 175 horses on the street, but when it’s time to cut loose in some deserted canyons, it’s nice to have a stable like that at the ready. Aprilia didn’t skimp on the chassis (beefy aluminum frame and Sachs suspension) or the electronics (a full Weber-Marelli ride-by-wire suite), so the power is as controllable as it is exhilarating. The Aprilia Tuono has all that, yet it is still a fun in-town bike and an incredibly effective urban commuter. UMC Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR Test.
7. 2015 Beta 300 Xtrainer. Modern enduro bikes make single-track riding fun, fast, and easy. Ideal for the enthusiast who is serious about trail riding, but doesn’t need race speeds, the Beta Xtrainer trades away a bit of typically unused suspension travel and trades it for a lower seat height and lower center of gravity. Add to that a 293cc two-stroke engine that is tuned to trail-going perfection, plus a dry weight of just 218 pounds, and you have a machine that is a joy to ride. I’m not quite flatfooted with the 10+ inches of travel at both ends, but I’m close enough that I can ride confidently and effectively through the most technical terrain. You may not be familiar with GoldenTyre, but the Italian tire brand puts out some supple rubber that finds traction everywhere on the trail. Just a bit more compact than an enduro racer, the ergonomics of the Beta 300 Xtrainer make it a welcoming trail bike for riders like me who want to go everywhere. UMC Beta Xtrainer Test.
8. 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT. Some bikes just call for you to ride them from sunrise to sunset, taking care of you with perfect ergonomics, a smooth engine, and highly predictable handling. The Versys 1000 LT is one such motorcycle, and it’s a touring bike that yields to no other. The inline-4 is extraordinarily smooth and non-fatiguing, while still powerful enough to put the emphasis on ‘sport’ in sport-touring. Remember, underneath that protective fairing and convenient pannier combo is a Ninja 1000 sport bike. While the name Versys indicates an adventure bike, the 1000 LT isn’t any more suited to a dirt road than a Ninja. That’s not a problem, as it is a superb road-going sport-tourer that sings a siren’s song. UMC Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT Test.
9. 2016 BMW R 1200 R. Without being a retro motorcycle in any way, the BMW R 1200 R is all about the timeless essence of motorcycle riding. The classic ergonomics, mixed with the traditional boxer configuration (albeit with water cooling these days) takes you back in time while keeping both feet firmly planted in the present. With 125 horsepower on tap, the R 1200 R is both easy to ride and fast enough when you want it to be. While you can go with the minimalist aesthetic and get the standard model, the Dynamic ESA option is one well worth getting. Some might be drawn to the R 1200 RS for sport-touring, but the R 1200 R can be outfitted with sidebags, a top box, GPS, various seats, and your choice of four windshields, making it into a great weekend tourer. BMW makes many amazing motorcycles, and this may be the most friendly of all. UMC BMW R 1200 R Test.
10. 2016 Moto Guzzi Audace. Things have been a bit quiet in the cruiser market, so why shouldn’t the Italians use that as an opportunity to grab a few new fans? Before the California 1400 line, the Moto Guzzi cruisers were odd ducks — now, they are among the best cruisers made. The Audace is the latest Moto Guzzi cruiser using the muscular 1380cc air-cooled V-twin motor. Positioned as a hot rod, the Audace is faster than its numbers indicate. Neither horsepower nor torque hit 100, but the power comes on quite quickly (though still smoothly) if you’re in the sport mode (one of three). It’s just great fun ripping around town on the Audace, knowing that you’re on something that is different from the norm — and that’s not just because of the longitudinal V-twin or shaft drive. The only downside to the Audace is that the ergonomics focus on style over comfort, so make sure you schedule a few stops. I didn’t mind doing that, as it is fun to watch passers by gander at the big bike from Mandello del Lario. UMC Moto Guzzi Audace Test.
11. 2016 Yamaha YZ250X. While the rest of the Japanese manufacturers abandoned adult-sized two-stroke dirt bikes, Yamaha never did — continuously offering the YZ250 and YZ125 motocrossers. In the wake of the hugely successful YZ250FX four-stroke off-road racer comes its two-stroke counterpart, the YZ250X. Designed for GNCC and enduro competition, it is lightweight, bare bones, ring-ding that encourages you to adapt it to your needs. While it lacks a six-speed transmission (you only get five cogs in a wide-ratio set) and electric start, it has a mid-range bark that is straight from a motocross track, along with an 18-inch rear wheel and a more compact expansion chamber. The good stuff comes in the form of an aluminum frame, KYB speed-sensitive forks, Dunlop rubber, and tapered aluminum bars. I just rode it for fun on the trails, and the YZ250X is a blast. The beefy midrange encourages aggressive riding, and the chassis makes it fully possible. At 229 pounds with a full tank of premix, this is not a bike that will wear you out on a long, tough GNCC course. The Yamaha YZ250X is both capable and highly entertaining to ride.
12. 2015 Ducati Monster 821. Sure, there’s great appeal to the open-class Monster, but there are few places where the Ducati Monster 821 isn’t enough…and many where it is exactly what you want. Yes, the 112-horsepower Testastretta 11° motor will get left behind on mountain roads with triple-digit sweepers, but in town and in the tight canyons, the Monster 821 is magic with 66 ft/lbs of torque at 7750 rpm and a steep rake of 24.3 degrees. The Ducati Safety Pack is standard, and it gives all sorts of confidence, thanks to its highly adjustable traction control and ABS. Different power modes mean you have just the right engine for the situation. At 453 pounds at the curb, it is a bit overweight (just eight pounds less than the Monster 1200), but the Monster 821 is a balanced bike that never feels awkward. UMC Ducati Monster 821 Test.
ABS. While its little brother is a great value with its relatively bare-bones features, the GSX-S1000F ABS has more of the bells and whistles you expect from Suzuki’s upright sportbike flagship. Traction control and ABS are standard, and those are Brembo calipers up front, so you know you can get serious on the road. While some will prefer the naked version, I like the upright seating position and the fairing. Not just a canyon blaster, the GSX-S1000F is also ready for the most serious of sport touring with its fully adjustable suspension. Using an older, longer-stroke version of the GSX-R1000 motor, torque is plentiful. The tapered aluminum Renthal handlebars are just right, and the Dunlops inspire confidence at all levels of commitment. The Suzuki GSX-S1000F ABS is a bike that was long overdue.
14. 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS. A cruiser built from the platform of a sport bike (Ninja 650) and adventure bike (Versys 650) doesn’t necessarily sound like a great idea, but the Vulcan S has a secret up its sleeve — easy personalization via the Ergo-Fit system. When you buy this bike, you get fitted for the handlebars, seat, and footpeg location, to match your body type and personal preferences. I expected to go with mid-position on everything, but discovered that I liked the Reduced Reach bars. Once settled in on the bike, I found the Vulcan S to be a fun ride. Sure, it looks a little odd with a parallel twin motor, rather than a traditional V-twin, but that gives it something of a futuristic look. Power is good for a 650, but you won’t mistake it for a big-inch cruiser. At the same time, it weighs less than 500 pounds gassed up. That makes it a great urban cruiser, especially when deftly working your way through traffic is a priority. UMC Kawasaki Vulcan S Test.
15. 2016 Victory Empulse TT. I am an electric car owner (the Fiat 500e), so I’m definitely not prejudiced against using juice to go. Riding the Victory Empulse TT is a rush, as a twist of the throttle sends you shooting forward in a manner that is impressively quick, and at the same time fully predictable and controllable. No shifting means you are always in the right gear (it has an odd gearbox–ignore it) and you quickly learn how to exploit the advantages of smooth electric power. As much fun as it is to ride, the range is pitiful. It’s about 70 miles, round trip on Mulholland Highway, from my house to Neptune’s Net in Malibu. I think it’s reasonable to be able to ride the Empulse TT that far. However, if I’m on the throttle hard, it won’t even come close, so I’m still left disappointed. But, if you don’t mind being restricted to an hour-long ride before arriving back home, the Victory Empulse TT is still great fun. UMC Victory Empulse TT Test.