The finest motorcycles of 2011

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 11:40 05/01/2012
Honda's CBR250R single

HONDA'S CBR250R SINGLE: One of the smallest, but as well as being the best commuter/learner bike for 2011, the wee Honda also takes the overall award for being the best of the 2011 bunch.

GILERA VXR200 RUNNER
GILERA VXR200 RUNNER: The best scooter for 2011 just loves tight, twisty roads.
Kawasaki's ZX-10R
KAWASAKI ZX-10R: Best sportbike of 2011 is refined and faster than ever.
Suzuki GSR750.
SUZUKI GSR750: Best streetbike of 2011 is an exciting performer.
BMW R1200GS
BMW R1200GS: 2011's best touring bike is an explorer with verve.
Harley-Davidson FXS Blackline
HARLEY-DAVIDSON FXS BLACKLINE: American iron takes the best cruiser gong.

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Take a look back at the best rides in 2011.

Here's a category-by-category roundup.-

Best commuter/learner bike: Honda CBR250R

At $7495, this Thai-made single is cheaper than rival twin-cylinder bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 250R and Hyosung GT250R. It also thumps them for access to mid- range torque, and travels more kilometres per litre. Qualities such as affordability, ride-ability, and frugality appeal to the logic of prospective buyers, but the Honda is capable of tugging the heart strings as well. Its ability to slice lines through corners has the potential to generate more grins than could be found inside the National Party HQ on the night of the 2011 election. Commuters, learners, or those with restricted bike-buying budgets have never had it so good.

Best Scooter: Gilera VXR200 Runner

A tag of $7790 might sound a bit rich for a 200cc single-cylinder scoot, but the Gilera wears one of the most famous brands in Grand Prix motorcycle racing, and is arguably the best-handling bike of the sector. The lockable underseat storage might not cart a supermarket trolley's worth of groceries, but there is room for a full-face helmet in there when the Runner is parked up. Those short of leg might find the lofty seat height a bit of a stretch, but it is a small price to pay for the serious lean angles the Runner is capable of when cornering. For this is the scooter most proper motorcycles must fear when riding down tight and twisty roads.

Best Streetbike: Suzuki GSR750

The Suzuki GSR750 is arguably the best affordable streetbike ever, from a brand that has made its mark in this country by selling bargain-priced all-rounders that perform a wide range of duties well. The GSR is therefore the spiritual successor to popular Suzukis here like the good-but-oh- so-ugly GSX400 Impulse (aka the Repulse), the GSX1200, and the Bandit in both its former 600cc and 1200cc formats. At $14,995, the GSR is priced well within reach of most of the new bike market, yet it delivers exciting performance courtesy of one of the most refined and willing inline four-cylinder engines I had the pleasure of sampling in 2011, and a chassis that provides a near-perfect container for it.

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Best Cruiser: Harley- Davidson FXS Blackline

Harleys Softail range has long been a favourite, not just of mine, but a vast mob of Kiwi riders in this country. The Blackline is a new version that is arguably the best-looking American bike ever, and it weighs in 30kg lighter thanks to a new frame that better isolates the rider from engine vibration. However, what really makes the Blackie stand out from the Softail pack is the way the rear indicators also do triple-duty as taillights and brake lights. It is an innovative design feature that cleans up the look of the bike along with the paint-it-black-then- lacquer-it theme of the powertrain and other components. If a cruiser's appeal is always to be judged on its looks first and foremost, the $28,300 Blackline will never disappoint.

Best Tourer: BMW R1200GS

BMW might have added a new fully-equipped 1.6 litre, six- cylinder tourer to its catalogue in 2011, but the twin-cylinder R1200GS would still be my first choice for any inter-island trip around this country. Lighter, more agile, and more tolerant of variations in road surfaces, it still is capable of carting lots of stuff with its well-designed hard luggage, and the weather protection bears comparison with its more expensive new showroom rival. Adaptable electronic suspension, a revised boxer-twin engine that both sounds and performs better, and a long list of options (sat-nav, spotlights, kitchen sink and so on) make the $28,302 R1200GS a bike capable of performing a wide range of exploration duties with considerable verve.

Best Sportsbike: Kawasaki ZX-10R

The Japanese fightback for sportsbike supremacy starts here, with a resurgent ZX-10R that is as rideable and refined as its forebears were vicious, demanding and treacherous. The complete about face in the manners of Kawasaki's flagship sportsbike hasn't come at any loss in performance however.

The Ten is faster than ever, with a 190+bhp engine to propel its reduced mass, and terrific brakes and suspension to match. However, the real progress is found in the increased ease with which the rider can extract the Kawasaki's performance.

Best of the best?

The little Honda, for the CBR250R brings some much- needed spark to a sector of the bike market, where mediocrity and stodginess have become the accepted norm.

- The Press

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