Next year is shaping up as a champagne vintage for bike buyers as a host of aspirational and highly-desirable two-wheelers enter our showrooms.
Here, in alphabetical order, are the five bikes that I'm most looking forward to test-riding during 2014:
BMW R NINET
BMW appears to have captured the minimalist spirit of the original boxer twin, the 1923 R32, in this homage model built to celebrate 90 years of making motorcycles based on powertrains with a horizontally-opposed twin-cylinder engine and shaft drive. The R NineT eschews the latest partially liquid-cooled 125bhp version of the boxer engine (which will make a further debut powering an all-new RT touring bike in 2014) in favour of the older 110bhp 1170cc air-cooled unit, possibly because it allowed the designers to have a freer hand in shaping the bike. This definitely puts a full-stop on the production of the R NineT, as the engine will no longer meet new emission rules that come into force in 2015. BMW bike distributor, European Imports, expects to price the limited-edition model in mid-$20K territory, and the first examples will touch down in New Zealand showrooms in February, accompanied by large range of model-specific merchandise and factory accessories.
DUCATI 899 PANIGALE
Kiwi sportsbike enthusiasts will no longer have to fork out more than $34,000 to access the jaw-droppingly good looks of a Panigale in 2014. For the new 899cc version will arrive in February, wearing a price-tag of $24,990. A new "Superquadro" engine developing 148bhp and 99Nm powers the more-affordable Panigale, and with the bike said to weigh just 169kg, performance won't be that far behind that of the 1199cc version. The array of electronic riding aids mirrors that of the base 1199 Panigale and includes a multi-mode ride-by-wire throttle, ABS brakes with three selectable calibrations, adjustable traction control, and Engine Brake control.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON "PROJECT RUSHMORE" TOURING SERIES
The motor company's new 2014 four-model touring range first reached New Zealand showrooms in September, and has already attracted a steady stream of customers. However the press get their first chance to ride the bikes on New Zealand roads next month, and the $41,495 Electra-Glide Ultra Limited will be the first to be reviewed by your humble scribe. I'm looking forward to sampling the new ‘twin-cooled' engine of the first big-block Harley twin to ever use radiators. Other "Project Rushmore" highlights include a new frame and front end that evidently improve steering precision and ride comfort, better attention to aerodynamic detailing to reduce turbulence, and new panniers that are a lot more spacious and user-friendly. The range consists of $35,750 Road King, the $37,750 Street Glide, the $40,495 Electra Glide Ultra, and the aforementioned Ultra Limited. Only the latter two get the twin-cooled engine, as the leg shields of the Electra Glides make great places to hide the radiators.
MV AGUSTA RIVALE 800
MV Agusta has established a reputation for making uncompromising machines tailored for hardcore riders, but the Rivale could be the first model to widen the horizons of the brand. Equipped with the same 800cc triple as the Brutale streetbike and a new-for-2014 F3 800 sportsbike, the Rivale will still pack plenty of punch, while the engine's MotoGP-inspired contra-rotating crankshaft should also enhance its steering. Where the 130bhp Rivale changes course for MV is with the use of long-travel, hopefully plush suspension, and ergonomics tailored to sustain rider comfort over long terms in the saddle. Could this be the first MV Agusta test ride of recent years where I can leave my trusty kidney belt behind? Expect the Rivale to reach NZ showrooms in February, with pricing set around the $26K mark.
It's probably wishful thinking that I'll ever be able to swing a leg over this $14,990 limited-edition design exercise, but the Italian company has announced one-off production runs in the past, then reneged and made more once the initial stock ran out. Officially, there are just 26 of the sexiest-looking scooter ever created coming to these shores, and most are already accounted for. One Vespa dealer in Auckland has already delivered five, and holds an order book for 10 more. Seems plenty of folk are prepared to pay $15K for a handmade 125cc scoot when it's as stylish and potentially head-turning as the 946.
Evidently it makes a great garage mate for the Lamborghini, is far easier to park, and uses way less fuel.
* This article has been edited since its original publish after earlier incorrectly calling the Harley-Davidson release, Mount Rushmore, when in it is Project Rushmore. Pricing errors have also been corrected.