Well, this one almost slipped by us. When Kawasaki announced the new-for-'07 Vulcan 900 Custom, it's safe to say that there wasn't a staff-wide arm wrestling sudden-death tournament to determine who got to ride it first. But, at Kawasaki's urging that I was really missing something, I skeptically agreed to give the 900 Custom a shot. Really, how exciting could a sub-liter metric cruiser be?
Suzuki's GSX-R lineup changed the world upon its debut. Well, the motorcycling world anyway. Launched (literally) in 1985/86, the first year saw the debut of a blue-and-white 750cc machine. Radically different from anything up until then, it matched a stunningly light weight with a high horsepower engine and a racer's ergonomics. In 1987, Suzuki brought forth a sibling--the 1100cc version complete with electronic anti-dive suspension and even more power.
Chalk one up for the power of the Internet. After learning I'd be the lucky long term tester of a 2007 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14, I immediately logged on to the manufacturer's website to become better acquainted with my options before embarking upon what will hopefully be a beautiful relationship with the “it” bike of speed fanatics everywhere. Months ago, I enjoyed quality time with a “Passion Red” 2006 ZX-14, which led me to wonder what sort of styling cues might befit its extraordinary performance capabilities.
A common observation our test riders have when getting off the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 is that the long-legged, big-hearted beast would make an outstanding platform for a high-velocity, long-distance sport touring steed. Clearly, enthusiasts in Kawasaki's engineering and marketing departments had the same idea. Thus, we are presented with the 2008 Kawasaki Concours 14.
Think of Victory Motorcycles and lean, flashy cruisers immediately leap to mind. The “other” American motorcycle company has been diligently carving out its identity since 1997 by providing forward-looking alternatives to the perceived stodginess of its Milwaukee-bred competition. Bold graphics, gleaming chrome flanks and the towering silhouettes of Arlen and Cory Ness lending the company line a bit of their bold custom DNA have become hallmarks of the Victory brand.
Buell has an enviable skill of making the most of limited resources. The company clearly isn't set to make each machine completely unique and independent, so they carefully peruse the parts bin to come up with something "new" and interesting. Case in point is the Lightning Super TT, a streetfighter/supermoto hybrid that delivers much more than you might expect at first consideration.
In the stillness of a high desert afternoon, we can hear the Yamaha YZF-R6 clearly as it makes a test run toward us. Considering the bike is still at some distance, the high-pitched wail cuts through the air with amazing clarity, and the gearshifts come in quick succession as the 599cc engine rips through the top end of its rev range in each gear. Close-ratio transmissions make that possible, and they are invariably fitted to high-revving engines, where the power band is comparatively narrow and crowded into the top end of the engine's usable rev range.
Seasoned riders will remember the Cushman scooters that inexpensively transported people and cargo from the 1930s until the mid-'60s. Yamaha has tapped the spirit of the Cushman for its all-new 2007 C3, which is something of a replacement for the best-selling Zuma scooter, as the friendly two-stroke has fallen victim to EPA emissions regulations. Christened the C3 (cargo cubed) due to its nine gallons of cubic storage space, the scooter is powered by a fuel-injected, three-valve, SOHC, air-cooled 49cc motor.
As dated as the air-cooled boxer twin motor may seem to the unconverted, BMW certainly feels there's a bit more that can be squeezed out of the configuration it debuted in the 1920s, even as we settle into the 21st century. Certainly, no one can argue that BMW hasn't successfully updated the concept. As tuned for the new R 1200 R upright Roadster, the flat twin now boasts four valves per cylinder, electronic fuel injection and 1170cc.
Moto Guzzi is once more taking the plunge into the fully faired sport touring market with the new Norge 1200. Powered by Guzzi's traditional transversely mounted air-cooled, two-valve, pushrod motor, the 1133cc Norge is a grand touring bike, with the expected accoutrements—a 6-speed transmission with shaft drive, 6-gallon fuel tank, electronically adjustable windshield, ABS and dual saddlebags.
Harley-Davidson fired a 1340cc silver bullet into the marketplace when it introduced the Softail Fat Boy in 1990. Crafted as a high-caliber response to the low-cost Japanese imports that swamped the U.S. market, the imposing “Gray Ghost”—with its metallic paint, winged USAF-inspired tank logo and solid disc wheels—made a muscular and unapologetically American statement. It helped Harley-Davidson recapture the sales leader mantle in the 750cc-and-up heavyweight division.
Several years ago, the motorcycling ether was finely misted with intriguing rumors of a man in Oregon embarking on the daunting task of creating a new American motorcycle. Industry press and curious enthusiasts ruminated on what the machine might be.
With motocrossers' designs in a maturation phase, the big changes in the dirt are happening off the closed courses. These three bikes reflect that reality.