Best of the new road motorcycles

The motorcycle industry continues to feel the damage of the global economic slowdown and, locally, increased registration fees (ACC levies), but R&D continues, and there were some worthy new entrants last year, the most notable being Ducati's sector-busting Diavel and BMW's supertourer twins, the K1600 GT and GTL, none of them exactly at giveaway prices ($30k-$47k). Still, the former rewrites the rules for road legal drag bikes by actually going around corners, and acceleration is utterly ballistic - 0-100 in 2.9sec, would you believe? The noise emanating from the Diavel's pipes would gladden the heart of any auto enthusiast.

As an aside, Ducati is evidently up for sale, again, with Audi apparently doing due diligence and having first dibs, but other bike (India's Hero) and car companies are also said to be interested. The Italian maker of exotic road bikes is apparently mired in debt. Perhaps, in hindsight, they should have ditched MotoGP involvement after Casey Stoner won them the crown in 2007.

Anyhow, back to the new BMW supertourers which bring refinement, sheer brawn and the fascination of a large and torque-laden inline six-cylinder engine to the touring sector. In the past, bikes with across-the-frame sixes have generally been expensive and ill-handling. BMW's new K1600 supertourers tick the former box but not the latter. The 1600cc six is little wider than an inline four so the GT and GTL feel much the same to ride as the K1300S/GT, other than being more authoritative. The bikes are as much a technological tour de force as the S 1000 RR superbike was at its launch, introducing adaptive headlight technology (lights follow the corner) to the industry.

Mention of superbikes, only one of the Japanese bike manufacturers has had the temerity to release a new 1000cc inline four since BMW launched its giant killer, and Kawasaki's new ZX-10R represents a mighty effort from Team Green. It creates more power than the BMW, ostensibly 197 horses to the S 1000 RR's 193, and weighs 203kg wet, 4kg less than the S 1000 RR. Its three-position traction control, and ABS braking, along with a new chassis and uprated suspension, mean its steering, stopping and stability are up with the best. While the riding position will not suit everyone, even with the adjustable foot pegs, this is an almighty step forward for Kawasaki, as some of its earlier superbike efforts were described as "unrideable". Unfortunately, this has come along at a time when superbikes are losing their lustre, and cruisers and adventure bikes are in the spotlight.

Kawasaki also introduced a new version of its retro-twin, the W800, which adds a bit more power and refinement to what was already a pleasant, easy-going bike, the antithesis of the ZX-10R. And while still on bikes from the big K, its new sport-touring Z1000SX rides more like a comfortable sports bike, and recently won Bike of the Year from the influential US publication Motorcyclist. The unfaired version of it, the new Z1000, also had us fizzing. Each bike offers solid performance and handling, and both are unadulterated fun. They're well styled too.

Mention of these litre bikes reminds me of two more, both from Triumph. The new Speed Triple picked up a fresh frame, and an engine tweak, which saw the bike become more wieldy than before, with exquisite steering, brakes and a streetfighter attitude and price that made it hard to ignore, especially against the likes of the harder charging but less comfortable and more expensive Ducati Streetfighter. An R version of the Speed Triple has just arrived, with Ohlins suspension and Brembo monobloc brakes, adding $2500 to the price, $3500 if you also opt for ABS braking.

Honda had a quiet year, but did present two new bikes that intrigued. The Crossrunner uses mechanicals from the VFR800 and is a comfortable and competent all-rounder, if somewhat adventuresome in the styling department. Fresh into the 250cc market is Honda's new lightweight single, the CBR250R that features 'Blade styling and brings a touch of class to the sector at a good price ($7495). This too won a recent 250cc shootout in Motorcyclist magazine, and is NZ Autocar's 2011 Motorcycle of the Year.

And finally, a bevy of middleweights. Using a three-cylinder 800cc engine, Triumph launched its Tiger 800 adventure bikes, one essentially a road bike and the other a dual-purpose machine. Both look good, are comfy and handle intuitively, especially the XC, which acquits itself well both on road and off. And before leaving this capacity, Yamaha launched its FZ8, using technology from the FZ1. This bike impressed with all-round ability and value, as did Suzuki's GSR750, offering great performance for even less money. Both are aggressively styled naked bikes that represent good bang for buck. Add Aprilia's 750 Shiver GT to that list as well. Its characterful and sporting V-twin exhaust noise is hard to ignore.

Rounding out the new bikes, Suzuki's DL 650 (V-Strom) promises better performance and handling. This remains a difficult bike to pigeonhole, being neither an adventure bike nor a tourer. Perhaps a generalist then. And special mention for one of the stars of the year which is not really new in an engineering or styling sense, but is nevertheless significantly changed because of a safety upgrade. Ducati's stylish Monster 1100 Evo packs 99hp of air-cooled V-twin brawn into a 190kg ready to ride package that features both traction control and ABS, all for $23K. Great midrange, handling, braking, noise and aesthetics make every ride on this naked bike memorable.


And last but not least, this year's current standout offering to date, Aprilia's Tuono V4 R APRC. In essence, a thinly disguised superbike sans weather protection, with a wild V4 engine, a track-ready chassis and suspension, and safety bits like traction and wheelie control to keep it all real.

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