Ultimate Motorcycling’s Top 20 Essential 2017 Motorcycles
While 2017 won’t go down as a revolutionary year in motorcycling, it is still an important year for the sport. Honda and Suzuki updated their superbikes in significant ways, and the number of high-performance uprights continued to grow—great news for the cognoscenti. Fortunately, that’s not all.
Much has been done to attract the newer riders, including the new Honda Rebels, as well as the Kawasaki Versys-X 300. While the surge of retro bikes appeals to the old hands on deck, many new riders are enticed to two-wheels based on the romance of nostalgia and the appeal of a less antiseptic time.
Now it’s time to revel the Top 2017s. Only motorcycles that are new, or significantly upgraded, are eligible, so here are the Top 20 motorcycles of 2017 that we have tested.
Given that wide range of genres, don’t pay too much attention to the order—all 20 of these motorcycles (pedants will note notice that the real number is a bit higher) are important and essential to the 2017 motorcycling experience.
Enjoy our list and we welcome comments, critiques, and criticisms.
1. Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special. In a world gone bagger crazy, the Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special is a defining motorcycle. More real world than the over-the-top CVO version, The Special has a cleaner look that we like. Most importantly, the Street Glide Special has the new air-/oil-cooled Milwaukee-Eight 107 powerplant that offers serious street burning performance from the 111 ft/lbs of torque without going to the Twin-Cooled system. In addition to the stylish 19-inch front wheel and aggressive BOOM! Box 6.5 GT audio system, the Street Glide Special gets a Showa Dual Bending Valve fork. This means the Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special is as enjoyable to ride as it is to be seen on. Also, keep in mind that the rest of the Harley-Davidson Touring line gets the new Milwaukee-Eight powerplant, and enjoys the same upgrade in performance.
2. Suzuki GSX-R1000R. This is the first significantly new Gixxer 1000 in eight years, and Suzuki went all out with the R version of the venerable superbike. With a hair under 200 horsepower on tap and an impressively stable chassis, along with top-of-the-line Showa suspension, the GSX-R1000R is a fantastic track-ready superbike that the skilled everyman can ride with confidence. Features such as an up/down quickshifter, and Brembo calipers grasping 330mm rotors make it much easier to go fast, even on challenging circuits. Traction control and a rev limit of 14,500 rpm give you all sorts of throttling options, while corner-aware ABS helps you stay on the bike when mistakes are made. Add in superior feedback, and the confidence level the GSX-R1000R gives the rider will change how you approach a track.
3. Triumph Bonneville Bobber. We are seeing the name Bobber thrown around a lot in 2017, yet the Triumph Bonneville Bobber is truly something special. Triumph’s best selling new model, the Bobber has styling that looks more like a hardtail custom bike than a fully suspended production line machine. One could be forgiven for thinking handling is not the forte of the Bonneville Bobber based on its looks, but they would be wrong. The supple suspension works quite well, and the handling is astoundingly good in the twisties, thanks to more moderate geometry numbers than you’d expect. Power is not an issue, as the 1200HT vertical twin is all about real-world torque, putting out 78 ft/lbs at just 4000 rpm. There’s a full suite of electronics, which will surprise many, and it is more comfortable than it looks. The 2017 Triumph Bonneville Bobber is all about defying expectations, and redefining custom cruisers.
4. Honda CBR1000RR SP. While the semi-obtainable SP2 edition of the new Honda CBR1000RR may be the choice of racing teams, the SP is the bike most suited to those who ride on the street and live for track days. The reason we prefer the SP is the amazing Öhlins Smart EC semi-active suspension, which works magic for those of us who are less-than-perfect riders. It’s easily and intuitively adjustable, and that means you can dial in the suspension without having the skills of a WSBK rider and his tech. The CBR1000RR may not have set WSBK on fire this year, but out in the real world, the CBR1000RR SP is a stunning machine with incredible handling and a strong (though not the strongest) motor that makes for a fantastic riding package for the discerning sporting motorcyclist.
5. Yamaha FZ-10. A replacement for the aging Yamaha FZ-1 was a long time in the making, so the anticipation and expectations were high for whatever replaced it. As it turns out, the Yamaha FZ-10 is even better than we imagined it would be. Based on the latest version of the Yamaha YZF-R1 superbike, the FZ-10’s inline-4 has plenty of power to get you into more trouble than you want on the street. Handling is spot-on, yet forgiving enough for the average street rider. The power is manageable, and electronic adjustments make it even easier to tailor the ride to your needs. While the futuristic styling may be a bit controversial, there’s no doubt that the FZ-10 is a stunningly impressive upright sport bike that takes on all-comers without flinching.
6. Honda Rebel 500 and 300. No doubt about it, the Honda Rebel 250 was getting a bit long in the tooth after 30 years on duty. It’s not that the little twin was a bad bike, but what worked in the 1980s isn’t what is needed in the 2010s. As fate would have it, Honda used a trick from the ’80s and took sport bike engines and put them into a shared cruiser chassis to make two all-new motorcycles. The Rebel 500 uses the DOHC twin found in three sporting flavors of the CB500, and the Rebel 300 lifted the DOHC single in the two CB300 variants. The results are two cruisers with an unorthodox modern flavor, both ripe for extreme customizations at a low price. The Rebel 300 is perfect for the new rider, while the Rebel 500 works for someone ready for a bit more power and has a few more dollars to spend. These two bikes will launch countless new motorcycling lives, and we love them for that.
7. Ducati Supersport S. Reviving the Supersport name yet again, the new Supersport S (and the standard version) take the excitement of the 937cc Testastretta 11° motor and puts it in a high-performance chassis that offers sporting comfort. Slightly raised bars and a sensible seating position mean that the Supersport S can do touring duty when you aren’t embarrassing supersport bikes in the canyons. With nearly 70 ft/lbs of torque ready to go at just 6500 rpm, the Supersport S is a formidable powerplant. Öhlins suspension, Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires, and a quickshifter, ensure that you will get the most out of that usable power. In addition to an array of electronic aids, there is also an adjustable windscreen, as well as a passenger seat under that cowl—yes, this is a workable two-up sport touring Ducati sportbike.
8. KTM 1090 Adventure R. Leave it to a dirt-oriented company like KTM to remind us that big ADV bikes can still work in the dirt. With a 21-inch front wheel and 18-inches in the back, the 1090 Adventure R is truly ready to tackle serious obstacles off-road, and it rides much smaller than it is. On the road, there are plenty of traction control, power delivery, and ABS choices to give you the customized ride that suits your style. Even the ergonomics can be personalized, as the footpegs, handlebar, and windscreen are all adjustable. For the serious off-road adventure riders, KTM Hard Parts will upgrade the dirt capability of the 1090 Adventure R further, and with a six-gallon fuel tank, any destination is attainable—the true meaning of adventure.
9. Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory ABS. It may be a handful on the street, but the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory is the ultimate naked bike, if you are fully committed to letting it loose. With a muscular 1077cc V-4 motor that cranks out a staggering 173 horsepower, this is not a motorcycle for the faint of heart. Sure, you can use the dizzying array of electronic aids to tone the Tuono down, but a big part of the magic is letting the motor spin up to 13,000 rpm while the incredible handling Öhlins suspension and Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires help you tame the beast from Noale.
10. Indian Chieftain Elite. Indian has been putting out impressive motorcycles for a few years now, and with the Indian Chieftain Elite, they step up to the big leagues. Intended to go head-to-head with Harley-Davidson’s revered Custom Vehicle Operations motorcycles, the Chieftain Elite gets a world class paint job, along with a deafening 200-watt sound system and LED lighting. Going the custom bagger route with a 19-inch front wheel like its less-expensive Chieftain Limited brother, the Chieftain Elite is a standout motorcycle visually and aurally, as well as on the road thanks to the now-iconic Thunder Stroke 111 powerplant. If you want to tour in style and power, the Indian Chieftain Elite delivers.
11. Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled and Café Racer. The original Ducati Scrambler—which Ducati seems to want to market as the Scrambler Ducati brand—arrived in a few modestly altered flavors, with the Icon positioned as the dominant Scrambler. That changes this year with the Desert Sled and Café Racer interpretations of the Scrambler. These are two premium machines ($2500 over the Icon) that get purpose-sourced suspension and tires to turn them into their namesakes. The Desert Sled is truly an off-roadable Scrambler and gets a beefier frame, while the Café Racer is more than able to sling you between watering holes in style, as well as speed and handling. The air-cooled desmo motor offers performance that will satisfy experienced riders without intimidating intermediates.
12. Kawasaki Versys-X 300. Adventure bikes continue to entice riders to take routes less travelled, and the new Versys-X 300 brings the genre to an all-new crowd. Far more touring friendly than any dual-sport bike in its displacement range, the Versys-X is truly capable of long-distance sport-touring for smaller solo riders, or for riders with less experience. The Ninja 300 based motor has enough power and durability to run at extra-legal speeds all day long on the open highway, and is more than maneuverable enough in the twisties. While it is not a serious off-road ADV bike, the Versys-X 300 is better on rough dirt roads than you might imagine, thanks to its relative small size and weight—just be sure to keep speeds down and recognize that it has a soft underbelly.
13. Triumph Street Triple RS. We have long been fans of the Triumph Street Triple. The 675cc triple was a magic motor and the bike was incredibly manageable, while also being blisteringly fast. This year, Triumph pumped the Street Triple up to 765cc and is offering even more compelling upgraded versions than in the past. The Street Triple RS gets the motor we’ll be seeing in Moto2 in 2019, along with a Showa Big Piston Fork, Öhlins STX40 piggyback reservoir shock, and Brembo M50 Monoblock front brake calipers. This makes the Street Triple RS a wonderfully aggressive canyon carver, as well as a motorcycle that is ready to build on its reputation as a hooligan’s hooligan. Yes, it has all the electronic aids you could wish for in a midsize naked bike, so this is a tremendous motorcycle for a wide variety of sport riders and urban toughs.
14. Moto Guzzi MXG-21 Flying Fortress. There has never been anything shy about Moto Guzzis—with the striking transversely mounted 90-degree V-twin always making itself visually prominent—but the new MXG-21 Flying Fortress takes the big cruising Moto Guzzis a step farther. The aggressive fairing, arched saddlebags, and flat blacked out color scheme isn’t enough—Moto Guzzi also gave the Flying Fortress bright red valve covers and front brake calipers, along with striking custom wheels. All of this is actually icing on the cake, as underneath the audacious styling is a high performance 1400cc powerplant and the excellent handling we’ve come to expect from Moto Guzzi cruisers. A suite of electronics that would seem more at home on a superbike gives the MXG-21 Flying Fortress even more sporting capabilities, in addition to its long-distance prowess.
15. Kawasaki Z900. Replacing both the Z800 and Z1000, the new Kawasaki Z900 offers a superb balance of outstanding horsepower, handling, suspension, and feel at an affordable price. Offering an alternative to the expected naked upright powerband that emphasizes low- and mid-rpm power, the Z900 is all about revving it up and letting the inline-4 scream. A side benefit of this powerband strategy is that the Z900 is docile around town, and perfect for dealing with the inevitable traffic you will find in urban areas.
16. Triumph Street Cup and Street Scrambler. Triumph took the already successful, but fairly plain vanilla Bonneville T100 platform, and kicked it up two different notches. Both new variants tap into hot genres—the Street Cup goes the café racer route, while the Street Scrambler is a primarily pavement, yet casually off-roadable, motorcycle. Both motorcycles have distinctive style, yet are powered by the same 900HT powerplant. The Street Cup gets you on a Triumph café racer for considerably less than the cost of the larger-displacement Thruxton, while the Street Scrambler replaces the old air-cooled Scrambler. They may look like retro bikes, but they have plenty of electronic aids and it comes down to taste which of the two racing-based approaches you prefer—they both perform great.
17. MV Agusta Brutale 800. With DMV issues in California, it has been a while since we have tested an MV Agusta. Certainly, the Brutale 800 is a great way for us to reacquaint ourselves with this highly important marque. The three-cylinder motor sings nicely, and the Marzocchi/Sachs suspension combo works once some of the stiffness is dialed out. As to be expected, the lightweight Brutale 800 is incredibly agile, primarily due to the short wheelbase. Goodies like a quickshifter are standard, and the gearbox is better than ever. Electronics such as traction control, power modes, and Bosch ABS mean you can set up the Brutale 800 exactly as you want it. At $13,498, it’s expensive for an 800 (though $4700 less expensive than the RR version), yet within the reach of many experienced sport riders and a great way to ride something that will stand out from the crowd.
18. BMW R nineT Pure and Scrambler. We were fans of the R nineT platform from the beginning. Two of 2017’s three new iterations of the R nineT remind us of how much we enjoy BMW’s venture into nostalgia. With all three sharing the classic air-/oil cooled boxer twin and basic chassis, it comes down to how you perceive yourself on a motorcycle. The Scrambler recalls the days of stripping down a street bike and racing off-road, while the Pure simplifies the R nineT design to make it more affordable and appealing to imaginative customizers. The Pure and Scrambler versions of the R nineT BMW are comfortable and enormously fun to ride, something we can’t say about the Racer edition, which didn’t speak to anyone on the Ultimate Motorcycling If you’re wondering where the Urban G/S is, well, it’s a 2018—wait ’til next year.
19. Suzuki SV650. Around since the 1900s, the Suzuki SV650 had lost its way in recent years, with the Gladius and SFV650 not encouraging us to put them on any best-of lists. That has changed with the new SV650, which has a more powerful motor and a lighter, slimmer chassis. Features such as the Low RPM Assist (that adds revs when engaging the transmission at low rpm), a low seat height, and impressively stable handling, all make the SV650 the perfect first sport-bike for riders who have established themselves on smaller machines. The styling of the SV650 is better than ever, and so is its performance—great news on an important gateway motorcycle.
20. Yamaha YZF-R6. Not much attention has been paid to the 600cc supersport motorcycle class in recent times, and that has allowed Yamaha to swoop in with an upgraded R6 that helps keep it up near the front of the pack. Adjustable traction control and ABS are the electronic enhancements for 2017, and they make the R6 much more rideable on the track and street for the typical 600-class motorcyclist—younger and less experienced. Another impressive update is the new 43mm KYB fork from the R1 superbike. Tuned for the R6, it has a great feel for the street and track. There is also an optional upshift-only quickshifter—get it.