Top 25 Ultimate Motorcycles
Model year 2016 has been very good for motorcycling. We don’t go into our planning for our Ultimate Motorcycles story with a set number of bikes to honor, and for 2016 we have ended up with a list of 25 essential machines.
You’ll see a very broad mix of bikes, so putting them in a strict order is an exercise in arbitrary decision-making. However, our rankings do reflect how important each bike is to its genre and to motorcycling in general in 2016.
1. Honda RC213V-S
The incredible Honda RC213V-S is arguably the ultimate street motorcycle of all-time. Taking a bona fide MotoGP bike and making the minimum modifications required to make it street legal, Honda has given us a breath of some rarefied air. American buyers will have two problems—sourcing the HRC Race Kit, and riding it to its potential. “The 2016 Honda RC213V-S is a truly remarkable machine, and lives up to the corporate slogan— The Power of Dreams,” is how UltimateMotorcycling.com President Arthur Coldwells described it after riding it at Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Valencia.
2. Triumph Thruxton R
Long a relatively underpowered café racer in the Triumph line, the Thruxton was pumped up from 850cc to 1200cc this year. With the R version, you get Showa and Öhlins suspension, and the result is a great handling retro bike with a grunting motor good for a hugely satisfying 112 ft/lbs of torque before it even hits 5000 rpm. This beast is a beauty. “Combine those aforementioned elements,” Associate Editor Nic de Sena reports, “along with the magnificent ergonomics, and you have something that is quite special.
3. BMW S 1000 XR
As big fans of the S 1000 RR superbike and S 1000 R sport bike, we eagerly anticipated the adventure sport touring S 1000 XR, which shares many of the sporting attributes of its brothers. Only nominally an adventure bike, the S 1000 XR is an amazing sport-tourer with outstanding ergonomics, flawless handling, and the tremendous inline-4 powerplant. “The S 1000 XR does, indeed, make one feel like a conquering hero hurtling through a glorious universe of trees and tarmac,” according to UltimateMotorcycling.com Editor Don Williams.
4. Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR
Free from concern over WSBK displacement rules, Aprilia pumped up the already impressive Tuono V4 motor to 1077cc for its street-going sportbike. A staggering 175 horses are on tap for the pleasure of the speed demons, and 89 ft/lbs of torque at 9000 rpm means that those who crave acceleration will be fully satisfied. Relating how serious of a sportbike this is, Coldwells wrote, “Never forget the Tuono V4 is also a snarling, savage beast; it is the most committed upright superbike out there, and ready to go into attack mode on-demand.”
5. Yamaha XSR900
We were already big fans of the Yamaha’s 847cc triple-cylinder powerplant, thanks to the FZ-09 sportbike and XJ900 sport-tourer. For 2016, Yamaha created the Heritage Sport line, with the XSR900 as its newest asset. Rather than just re-skinning the FZ-09, the XSR900 has firmer, more adjustable suspension for superior handling, and the ergonomics are both comfortable and traditionally sporting. “If you think the XSR900 looks like fun,” Williams taunted, “just wait until you ride it!”
6. Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro
There’s no question that the Multistrada 1200 platform is a potent one. However, despite its adventure positioning, earlier versions weren’t something we’d really want to take off-road. Although the Multistrada 1200 Enduro is ready to play in the dirt, our test bike lacked full protection, so we stayed on the pavement. Regardless, we fell in love all over again with its sport-touring and pure-sport capabilities, and the huge aluminum boxes gives the bike the adventure look that cries for a ride around the world. “I’m not asking myself what I ‘can’ do with a motorcycle,” de Sena said. “The question is flipped on itself—What ‘can’t’ I do with this bike?”
7. Suzuki GSX-S1000
Sometimes, simplicity is exactly what you want. Using a motor based on an earlier, legendarily torquey version of a motor found in the GSX-R1000 superbike, the GSX-S1000 isn’t about the latest in electronic gadgetry, though it is the first Suzuki sportbike with a full suite of TC and (optional) ABS. Instead, this is a few-frills sportbike that makes going quite fast completely intuitive. Plus, at less than $10k, the price is exceedingly tempting. “It’s a good thing Suzuki offers an unlimited mileage warranty,” Coldwells noted, “because you will be putting on plenty of miles.”
8. Harley-Davidson Roadster
We weren’t sure what to make of the Harley-Davidson Roadster when we first got a look at it. The bars looked strange on a Sportster, but we did like the stout front end—beefy triple tree, inverted forks and dual discs. After riding it, though, we were hooked. It’s not so much a café racer as it is a great café rider. “The Roadster is fun to ride in the city and on backroads, as well as on the freeway,” Williams noted, “and it represents well on the boulevard as a brilliantly conceived package.”
9. Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin DCT
The big hint that Honda was serious about the Africa Twin came via its model number—CRF1000L. CRF is an off-road designation, so that meant dirt was possible. As we found out, the Africa Twin is a great adventure-touring bike and, with some real knobby tires installed, it worked as a dirt bike. And, yes, we prefer the DCT version. “Thoroughly impressed by the manual-transmission version of the Africa Twin” Associate Editor Jess McKinley wrote from South Africa, “I skeptically throw a leg over the auto-clutch DCT model with bated expectations, and was completely blown away!”
10. Husqvarna 701 Supermoto
In recent years, supermoto bikes have almost disappeared from showroom floors. It’s disappointing, as they are hugely fun motorcycles to ride in the canyons and through the city. Husqvarna has single-handedly restarted the genre with the 701 Supermoto. UltimateMotorcycling.com Contributor Hugh Warren, a former supermoto racer, was thrilled: “If you are lucky enough to live near the right sort of roads, there are few machines of any size or price that can match this motorcycle’s pace and love of pure fun.”
11. Indian Scout Sixty
You might expect that taking eight cubic inches and a cog in the gearbox away from the standard Indian Scout might make for a lesser bike. As it turns out, the Scout Sixty actually works better around town, as the motor remains powerful and rev-happy, but has less of an edge to it. The chassis is unchanged, which means you’ll want to budget for aftermarket shocks, though that’s the only mandatory modification you will need to make. From there, it’s just an issue of personalization. “Did Indian make a better Scout and charge $2300 less for it?” Williams asked himself. His answer: “I would say so.”
12. Ducati XDiavel S
Sporting a new Testastretta DVT 1262 motor that cranks out over 156 horsepower and nearly 100 ft/lbs of torque, the XDiavel S is serious about cruising. Being a Ducati, of course, it’s also fanatical about handling. If you see an XDiavel S in the canyons, make sure you’re a much better rider than whoever is on the Ducati—you might be shocked. In town, it’s a scorcher from stoplight-to-stoplight. Poetically, de Sena captured its dual appeal: “The new Ducati XDiavel [S] can be summed up in what it represents—the eye opener, the mentor that broke down ideological walls with suggestion and, when it has to, a fist.”
13. Yamaha FJR1300ES
For years we have been yearning for an FJR1300 with six-speeds. Yamaha made it happen in 2016, and we couldn’t be happier. The new FJR1300ES is now faster, as well as more relaxed, at high speeds. Adventure bikes have stolen the sport-touring spotlights from purpose-built bikes like this, but the latest FJR1300ES shows that sport-tourers are still relevant. “It is an ideal sport-touring mount,” Williams wrote, “understanding the balance between sport and touring, as well as allowing you to shade it in the direction you need at any particular moment.”
14. Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes have repeatedly shown that the Ninja ZX-10R has World Championship capabilities. For 2016, Kawasaki upgraded the 2016 with improved handling (credit the inertia-reducing pound lost from the crankshaft), in addition to an impressive suite of electronics and high-end Showa suspension. Track guys will love the new cassette-style transmission that can be easily swapped out and in. “Although it looks almost identical to the previous model, in reality it has been completely changed,” Coldwells wrote from Sepang, “and that can be felt throughout every aspect of the bike’s behavior.
15. Harley-Davidson Low Rider S
The standard Low Rider was an instant success, and the new Low Rider S gives you more power to go with its good looks and solid handling. The Screamin’ Eagle 110 motor is a barn burner—115 ft/lbs of torque at just 3500 rpm can get quite a bit done. With good rubber and impressive lean angle, the Low Rider S is ready for the canyons, yet its appearance—gold wheels and bullet fairing—speak to the urban set. As de Sena points out, the Low Rider S is “nothing short of an instant classic.”
16. Honda VFR1200X DCT
Yet another DCT success story for Honda, the VFR1200X DCT is straight up sport adventure. You won’t want to take it on anything more challenging than a dirt road, but it’s a blast to ride over long distances and take on the twisties. The 1237cc motor has all kinds of torque, and all you need is the optional hard luggage to start on your cross-country trip tomorrow. Inexplicably, the tourer lacks cruise control. “The VFR1200X DCT is simply a joy to ride, whether you are popping down to the shops,” Coldwells observed, “or exploring all four corners of this amazing country of ours.”
17. Indian Springfield
Expanding the Indian touring line, the Springfield has a classic leather-and-chrome appearance to go along with the epic Thunder Stroke 111 motor. You never have to worry about power when you have 119 ft/lbs of torque at your disposal. The gentle delivery of all that power makes the Springfield easy to ride anywhere, while the slightly aggressive geometry and Dunlop Elite 3 rubber tell you to head for the hills for some fun times. Ultimate Motorcycling Associate Editor Jonathan Handler noted that there are plenty of places you can go on the Springfield, saying it “is Indian’s American version of the Swiss Army knife.”
18. Triumph Street Twin
Although the move from air- to liquid-cooling for the new Bonneville line might upset some sensibilities, the function of the new Street Twin and its 900HT motor is a winner. Absolutely retro done right, the Street Twin is a great city bike. With plenty of torque and the authentic styling we desire, the Street Twin moves around town with the best of them. As Handler observed, “The people at Hinckley have done a splendid and comprehensive job.”
19. Ducati 959 Panigale
Sometimes bikes don’t need a category to be great. Certainly not a superbike, but more than a supersport machine, the 959 Panigale carves its own aggressive path. The L-twin has a five-figure redline and a staggering 157 horsepower—quite a bit more than the 899 it replaces. With high-end handling and suspension from Showa and Sachs, the 959 Panigale is just the right track bike for a large number of riders. “The beauty of this midweight is its ability to provide endless enjoyment at full throttle and full braking,” according to UltimateMotorcycling.com Online Editor Ron Lieback, “without the effort needed to harness a 200+ horsepower machine.”
20. Harley-Davidson CVO Pro Street Breakout
Ready to take on all-comers when it’s time for the light to turn green, the CVO Pro Street Breakout is a combination of raw straight-line performance and the elegance that comes with being a Custom Vehicle Operations machine. The fat 240mm rear Dunlop tells you to go in a straight line, and you’re well advised to listen to it. More than many bikes, the CVO Pro Street Breakout demands to be ridden on its terms. If you do that, it will bestow its rewards on you. “The thrum and vibration of a true-blue air-cooled V-twin still lives,” de Sena observes, “its signs of life dictated only by how much you’ll let it show the world with the throttle.”
21. BMW R 1200 RS
A much-loved classic returns to the BMW line, and it is absolutely better than ever. Effortless to ride and enjoy, the full feature version of the bike has a dazzling array of electronic options, including Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment. The 125-horsepower wasserboxer is just what the performance doctor ordered, and the R 1200 RS is a perfect example of what a sport-tourer was always meant to be. “It captures the roots of pure sport-touring like the original 1976 R 100 RS,” Lieback said, “without sacrificing comfort where comfort is needed most—at speed.”
22. Triumph Speed Triple R
Long associated with hooligan riding, the Speed Triple R received over 100 updates this year. The engine was reworked and the ergonomics improved, but the big change was where the Speed Triple R was lagging—electronics. The R version of the Speed Triple is a serious upgrade, with Öhlins suspension, plus carbon fiber bits and lots of machined billet. Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires are standard and impressive. UltimateMotorcycling.com Contributor Jeff Buchanan said the Speed Triple R has “the heart and soul of a Hooligan that exudes a rawness that continues to appeal to the senses.”
23. Yamaha YZ450FX
In the last two years, Yamaha has gotten serious about off-road racing. In 2015, we got the YZ250FX, and this year the impressive YZ450FX. Based on the YZ450F motocrosser, it’s a full competition machine with just the right tweaks to make the transition from closed course to cross-country racing (e-start being a big change). McKinley has been successfully campaigning it locally this year, and Warren says the YZ450FX “hit[s] the mark perfectly as a mixed terrain, off-road competition bike.”
24. Moto Guzzi Audace
We loved the line of California 1400 cruisers from Italy, but the hot-rod V-twin begs to be used as the basis of a pro-street style rubber burner. The Audace fits the bill, with lots of power in the Veloce mode, and two other power modes to satisfy when it’s time to cruise. The Audace is bad in black, and an imposing machine to ride and view. Handling is quite good, even with its 200mm rear tire and a generous amount of rake. “The 2016 Moto Guzzi Audace is a tantalizingly intriguing look into the future of a marque with an already enviable 95-year track record,” Williams pointed out.
25. Zero FXS
Although electric motorcycles still frustrate us with short ranges and long recharging times, when they’re filled with electrons, they can be hugely fun. The Zero FXS is a supermoto-style machine that, while reluctant to pull wheelies, is happy to do monster stoppies, and perform nearly silently. This allows you to ride like a hooligan in all sorts of places where you’d otherwise be shut down before you even got warmed up. “It’s impossible for me to curb my enthusiasm, so I’m going to blurt it out,” said McKinley. “I’m totally smitten by the new Zero FXS ZF6.5 electric motorcycle!”