Editor’s Choice: Top 22 Motorcycles I Rode In 2018
One of the best things about my job is that I get to ride lots of different motorcycles, including a wide array of new ones. Having said that, I don’t end up riding everything that’s new every year.
I tend to steer clear of superbikes and motocrossers, as we have specialist riders who handle those narrow-focus motorcycles far better than I do. Plus, there are simply some motorcycles that don’t make it into the Ultimate Motorcycling garage in any given year for a variety of reason.
So, with those caveats, here is my Top 22 list of new motorcycles I rode in calendar year 2018. That means there are a few 2019s thrown in the mix, and ’18s I rode in ’17 don’t make the list (most notably H-D’s new ’18 Softails).
Rather than trying to rate such a diverse list of motorcycles in what would essentially be an arbitrary order, I’m going to list them from least- to most-expensive.
1. 2018 Benelli TNT 135
As a fan of the open-class Benellis, I’ve been frustrated the last few years that Benelli motorcycles haven’t been available in America. Well, the big bikes made in Italy aren’t, but the Chinese-made Benelli TNT 135 is available here. A direct competitor to the Honda Grom and Kawasaki Z125 Pro, the Benelli TNT 135 is a fantastic little motorcycle. It will go over 70 mph, and handle great in sweeping turns at full throttle. I can’t vouch for its long-term reliability, but the motor sounds good and the performance—motor and handling—is exceptional. This motorcycle is all about fun, and it delivers at an unbelievably low price. Price: $2499.
2. 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
I always liked the Kawasaki Ninja 250, even though it was too underpowered for the freeway. The Ninja 300 solved that problem, and was a much better motorcycle. Now that the diminutive twin has grown up to a 400, the little Ninja is more practical than ever. The handling and the motor puts a smile on any rider’s face—from novice just learning the sportbike ropes to grizzled vets who have an appreciation for a small, light bike that you can ride extremely hard. Happily, Kawasaki has retained the semi-upright riding stance, making the Ninja 400 as fun in-town as it is in the hinterlands. It’s an amazing bike for less than $5k, though I’d spend the extra $300 to get ABS. Price: $4999.
3. 2018 Yamaha XMax
This midsize scooter flew onto the market under the radar. Yamaha didn’t make a big deal about it, though I’m not sure why. It has a strong 292cc motor that makes it fully viable on the freeway. The compact chassis is stable at high speeds, in addition to being a great machine for getting around town. Handling and suspension are much better than you would expect, and I was inspired to take on some urban twisties any chance I got. Yes, scooters are practical, and the Yamaha XMax shows they can be lots of fun. Price: $5599.
4. 2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401
Husqvarna returned to the street bike world this year with three models. Two of them—the Vitpilen 401 and 701—were sportbikes with clip-ons. I didn’t get quite enough time on them to develop a strong opinion one way or the other, but the upright Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 is a blast to ride. It has a compact chassis with nice suspension, plus an aggressively torquey 373cc thumper motor. It’s not just fun to ride in urban areas—you also get lots of positive attention due to its unique styling. It is comfortable and fun for riding in the city, and has the handling and motor chops to lay waste to the twisties in rural areas—even with the fashionably knobby tires. Welcome back to the street, Husky! Price: $6299.
5. 2018 Gas Gas Contact 250 ES
This hybrid of a trail bike and a trials bike has a narrow audience, as it’s neither fish nor fowl. However, if you like extreme trail riding and aren’t interested in high-speed riding, the Gas Gas Contact 250 ES is an appealing choice. It’s extremely light for a 250 two-stroke, and has gobs of torque. The trials-based suspension keeps your speeds down, though it is perfect for the most technical terrain. It’s a serviceable trials bike, should you want to compete, and the electric start makes it accessible to a wider variety of riders. Price: $6399.
6. 2018 Beta 125 RR
While four-strokes and mid-size two-strokes rule the trails, there is still something to be said for small-displacement two-strokes. Although designed for cross-country and enduro competition, the Beta 125 RR also makes for a viable trail bike. Low-end power is a bit lacking compared to the 150s from Husqvarna and KTM, but this is a motorcycle designed specifically for racing in the 125 class. Regardless, the 125 RR is torquey enough that you can trail-ride it and enjoy the benefits of ultra-light weight. I especially liked the way the Sachs suspension worked on the 221-pound Beta. Price: $7999.
7. 2018 Suzuki Burgman 400
Sitting between the touring-focused Burgman 650 Executive and the urban runabout Burgman 200, the Burgman 400 straddles both worlds effectively. I loved running it through the gauntlet of city traffic, as well as covering long distances in huge bites. This is a scooter than you can use to traverse city streets on a daily basis to work, or take for an overnighter on the weekend. People have their stereotypes about scooter power and handling—the Burgman 400 with its DOHC motor, twin front discs, and plush suspension crushes those preconceptions. Price: $8099.
8. 2018 Yamaha WR250F
The Yamaha WR250F has been a long-time favorite of Associate Editor Kelly Callan. I’m a big fan, too, and the WR250F was all-new—from the motor to the frame—for 2018. Kelly liked the soft low-end power that allowed her to work through technical sections more easily. There is still a bit of that in the latest WR250F, so it’s a great motorcycle to ride through the toughest terrain. The great news is that it is more powerful than ever, handles precisely, and the suspension settings are spot-on for serious trail riding—the WR250F even got Dunlop MX3S rubber. It was the only Green Sticker motorcycle in the 250 class in 2018, but Yamaha didn’t use that as an excuse to slack off—instead, Yamaha upped the ante. Price: $8099.
9. 2019 Triumph Street Twin
Triumph hit a sweet spot with the Street Twin. Despite the power and engine-speed enhancements to the torquey, low-revving 900cc parallel twin motor, it remains a docile powerplant that caters to newer riders. That friendliness makes it an enjoyable mount for an experienced rider who wants to go places in style without putting in too much work. Handling is neutral, whether in the city or out on twisting country roads, so the compliant motor is perfectly matched to the chassis. The Street Twin is simply a fun motorcycle to ride, and people love to check it out wherever you take it. Price: $9300.
10. 2018 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200
While it shares its name with its older little brother, the Iron 883, the bigger Iron 1200 is definitely its own motorcycle. The Iron 1200 has more relaxed ergonomics, a more upright seating position, and a trendy headlight cowling. The styling is pure AFM-era, and it is simply a fun motorcycle to ride. The V-twin has great low-rpm power, and the rubber mounting lets the motor do the shaking rather than the rider. Sure, the suspension and cornering clearance are limited, but the Iron 1200 is still very much an elemental motorcycle that reminds you why you ride. Price: $9999.
11. 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS
We all want to look cool riding motorcycles, and few retro-styled motorcycles fit the bill better than the Z900RS. With styling directly lifted from the debut Z1—you have to get it in the brown/orange color combo or don’t bother—it’s a certified head-turner. The good news is that you don’t have to compromise on performance. The Z900RS has the same punch inline-4 as the standard Z900 sport bike, and high-quality suspension—the somewhat stylistically incongruous single-shock/inverted-fork combo. The ergonomics are good for long days in the saddle, either out on the road or running around town. Price: $10,999
12. 2019 Triumph Street Scrambler
A close brother of the Street Twin, the Street Scrambler boasts the coveted scrambler styling with up-pipes and high bars. While not nearly as off-road capable as the new Scrambler 1200, the Street Scrambler is still happy to make its way down high-quality dirt roads. If you desire that functionality, or simply want to look like you’re Steve McQueen as you head to the local Coffee Bean, then the Street Scrambler is a great motorcycle for casual cool. Price: $11,000
13. 2018 Vertigo Lampkin Replica 250
I’ve been riding observed trials motorcycles almost my entire off-road career, and there’s never been a brand as challenging as Vertigo. The Spanish company makes expensive trials bikes that cater to the most skilled riders, which generally leaves me out as I’m a committed Intermediate. However, the 250 tries to meet me halfway with noticeably less aggression than the 300 edition. Even though I sometimes feel a bit over my head with its ultra-responsive handling and power, it’s still a pleasure to ride a thoroughbred. Price: $11,200
14. 2018 Honda CB1000R
With its distinctive Neo-Sports Café styling, the Honda CB1000R gets more attention from passers-by than most Hondas, which tend toward conservative styling. Definitely, it is a cool futuristic-retro design. The best part is that it’s a motorcycle that is easy to ride fast in the twisties. The suspension is nicely adjustable, so the CB1000R can accommodate those who like a plush ride, or those who want the stiffness needed to eke out that extra performance in the canyons. Honda also allows you to control the power delivery, engine braking, and traction control, so the ability to personalize the experience is there. I like the medium power delivery and traction control, along with maximum engine braking, though go-fast UM President Arthur Coldwells has his own ideas. Price: $12,999.
15. 2019 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT
Traditional sport-touring motorcycles have taken a backseat to the latest adventure tourers, and the 2019 Yamaha Tracker 900 GT is a bit of both. Featuring an 847cc inline-3 motor based on the MT-09 sport bike, the Tracer 900 is not hurting for power. You can ride at extra-legal speeds all-day long without laboring the motor, plus the fully upright ergonomics are perfect for touring. While it doesn’t quite have a full fairing, wind protection is adequate, with handguards included. The sporting credentials are there, thanks to an aggressive 24 degrees of rake. The Tracer 900 GT is a motorcycle that makes exploring backroads pure pleasure. Price: $12,999.
16. 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS
The inventor of the hooligan class of motorcycles from the country that invented (or at least perfected) hooliganism, the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS is the best of a long line of Speed Triples dating back to 1994. The new 1050cc motor got a significant upgrade in power so it can compete in the challenging open-class for upright naked sportbikes. I enjoy the mix of torque and revability of the triple, and the chassis isn’t overly aggressive. Electronics are first class and the Öhlins suspension is fully adjustable, so you can season the experience to your taste. The chassis is forgiving—an important feature when 150 horses are at your beck-and-call. Price: $16,350
17. 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
This is one of my favorite rides of the year. Although I prefer dirt bikes and dual-sport bikes for off-roading, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is an incredible sport-tourer, with the ability for some light off-road duty. The big V-twin is magic, with an aggressive power delivery in the Sport mode to satisfy a hard-core sportbike rider. I usually went with the smoother Street setting for power, and then adjusted the semi-active electronic suspension on-the-fly as needed. It’s like having multiple motorcycles in one, and I love them all. You can go fast, or you can go far on the Super Adventure S. Even better, you can do both. Do note, though, that the bike as-tested had $1200 panniers and a $525 Travel Pack, so set aside $20k for the touring experience. Price: $17,999.
18. 2018 BMW K 1600 B
When BMW builds a cruiser, they don’t follow conventions—who can forget the R 1200 C? This time around, the inline-6 is the standout design feature. No doubt about it, there is no bagger like the K 1600 B. Handling is exemplary, and the motor flat-out hauls. Although it doesn’t quite have the creature comforts you would expect from a premium brand—the small dash display screen as an example—the ride experience is absolutely first-class. Its looks are polarizing, so this is a bagger that’s more about riding than profiling. Price: $19,995.
19. 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa
When I toured Wales in the summer, this was my mount. I absolutely cannot think of a better motorcycle for the ride I took. The tall saddle was perfect for enjoying the Welsh countryside, while the motor and handling were flawless. There are plenty of ride modes and suspension settings, so I was frequently pushing a couple of buttons to tailor the Tiger 1200 XCa to the kind of riding I was doing. Everywhere I rode, from the high-speed motorways to the rocky dirt roads of Brecon Beacons National Park, the Tiger 1200 XCa never disappointed. This is adventure touring at its best. Price: $21,750.
20. 2018 Kawasaki H2 SX SE
Okay, this motorcycle is just over the top. With a supercharged liter-bike motor, there is the nagging desire to ride up into the mid-100s. The acceleration is as addictive as it is smooth. Supercharging works so much better than turbocharging on a motorcycle, and Kawasaki got it perfect right out of the gate. It has all the electronic wizardry you’d expect, and it handles far better than you would expect from such a high-powered motorcycle that weighs 573 pounds. Kawasaki entices you to add bags (about a grand) and turn it into a sport-tourer, though I would also want slightly taller bars to go that route. Regardless, this is an incredible motorcycle. Price: $22,000.
21. 2018 Honda Gold Wing
I didn’t have a chance to ride the Gold Wing Tour or the DCT Wings in 2018, but I did ride the standard Gold Wing bagger with the manual-shift six-speed transmission. Suffice to say, the Gold Wing redefines what it means to be a bagger. The flat-6 is a tremendous powerplant, with lots more power for 2018, and the six-speed transmission exploits it nicely, even if I did have to shift. Handling is startlingly good, so you can either kick back and chill on the Gold Wing, or make serious time in the twisties. Other than the locked-in ergonomics, the Gold Wing is simply a flawless bagger for those who don’t mind being on something other than a V-twin. Price: $23,500.
22. 2018 Yamaha Star Venture
As much as I liked the old V-4 Venture, it had gotten very long in the tooth. The 2018 Yamaha Star Venture was a completely new motorcycle, and another great one. The big V-twin has tons of torque, so it’s a pleasure to ride, even with a full load. Although cornering clearance is limited, it handles great within its limits. I especially like its long floorboards; they allow me to reposition my feet as needed to reduce fatigue. I also greatly enjoyed the Venture’s bagger brother—the Eluder. Still, the Venture gets the nod from me as it just makes me want to go for a very long ride to nowhere in particular. Price: $24,999.