It's been an interesting year for motorcycles, for it saw the return of Lambretta to the scooter fold, the resurrection of Husqvarna as a road bike maker, and the advent of the Learner Approved Motorcycles Scheme (LAMS); plus a huge onslaught of new products that mostly sported European brands.
Click on photo at left to view Paul Owen's best motorcycles of 2012.
MV Agusta F3
If you believe the cheesy ads, good things take time, and that's certainly true of the F3. For it took 12 years, and the sudden injection of cash that came with Harley-Davidson's brief ownership of the company, for MV Agusta to make the F3. The bike was certainly worth the effort as it is the closest thing you can ride on the road to a Grand Prix racer. The bike's sophisticated 129bhp 675cc three-cylinder engine uses a backwards-rotating crankshaft to reduce steering inertia with amazing effect, placing new entrant, MV Agusta, right at the head of Supersports class for handling dynamics. Until the even more affordable Brutale streetbike version arrived in New Zealand showrooms this month, the $22,490 F3 also lowered the entry price to one of the most aristocratic brands in motorcycling.
Ducati Monster 659 LAMS
At $17,490, the most affordable Ducati isn't cheap, but nor is the riding experience that it supplies.
Detuning and down-sizing the engine of the existing Monster 696 to meet LAMS approval resulted in only a slight drop in performance, and the Monster is the bike many learners will keep long after they've graduated to a full motorcycle licence.
The big-‘aitch' bought a whole raft of fuel-saving tech to the bike sector this year, using lessons learned in the car business. The PCX therefore featured an offset engine cylinder to reduce friction, highly efficient fuel injection programming, and a world-first for bikedom in the form of the two-wheeled sector's first automatic idle-stop system. The result was a well-made (in China) scooter that was exceptionally parsimonious with fuel. At $4995, the PCX150 is way cheaper than a Toyota Prius, is considerably cheaper to park in a CBD, and can make a litre of fuel go twice as far.
BEST ADVENTURER TOURERS
Suzuki DL650 V-Strom and Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer
It's a hard call to separate these two well-crafted bikes with a similar focus on all-surface versatility and long-distance comfort. Really it is your body weight and size that will decide which of these two bikes is best for you. Those of smaller stature will find Suzuki's comprehensive recent upgrade to the DL has sharpened both its looks and handling, while engine revisions have improved both refinement and fuel use. At $15,000, the DL is also excellent value.
At the opposite end of the rider size and price spectrum lies the $27,995 Honda Crosstourer, a spacious shaft-drive heavyweight that retains all the values of quintessential adventure bike, the BMW R1200GS, and coats them with an extra layer of rider comfort. A thumping V4 engine plus a full suite of electronic riding aids to tame it, help fulfil the Honda's aim of becoming the first of a new breed of adventure super tourers.
Aprilia Tuono V4R
If forced in a court of law to name the bike that encouraged the naughtiest ride of the year, my mechanised accomplice would be the Aprilia Tuono V4R. For this streetbike is basically the V4 Factory sportsbike that formed the basis of Max Biaggi's successful 2012 World Superbike Championship with some of the bodywork removed and a pair of higher handlebars fitted in place of clip-ons.
The Tuono therefore joins existing white-hot streeters like the Ducati Streetfighter S at the upper end of the segment for performance. However instead of inhabiting a premium price position like the $37,000 Duke, the Priller only costs $25,995. The money buys a 163bhp engine that barks as well as it bites, and a whole raft of electronic riding aids to help you control it. Just leave enough in your biking budget to pay for the fuel. For the Tuono is the Aussie V8 of the streetbike sector.
Triumph Thunderbird Storm
The Storm model lifts the worthy-but-bland Thunderbird parallel-twin in two key areas - looks and performance. An extra 100cc of capacity and a more distinctive design made it the cruiser I was most reluctant to hand back in 2012. Only $25,690.
BEST OF THE BEST?
The $39,909 BMW R1200RT deserves mention as it remains the best all-round motorcycle on the market in my mind.
However it does price itself out of contention as a Bike of the Year. The award therefore goes to the F3.