My Best Bikes of 2019 – Michael Mann

 

As we roll into a new year and a new decade, I’ve had time to reflect on how the past 12 months have panned out in my motorcycling world. This time last year I wrote about looking forward to riding the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory and BMW S1000RR in 2019 and for those that read my equivalent article looking back at 2018, you’ll know that bhp is my nectar. I love a sports bike!

Not only did my Christmas wishes come true but I had more than one chance to ride each of these fine machines. BMW Motorrad UK offered me several months’ worth of use of their top spec M Package rocket while Aprilia’s 200+bhp winged beast was mine to ride on the press launch at Mugello, up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and again at the R&G 20th anniversary track day at Cadwell Park. Then, several weeks later, at our Bennetts Customer Track Day at Oulton Park I put them head-to-head alongside TT legend John McGuinness.

The moral of the story is two-fold. Firstly, I understand how fortunate I’ve been this year to ride some impeccable examples of automotive engineering; some of which are unique, some are simply excellent value. But also, I wonder if I’ll be as fortunate if I pen a couple more extravagant wishes here – if you don’t ask, you don’t get, right?

Back to 2019 though and the list of machines have made my year. The criteria are simple; which have been the most memorable bikes or the most memorable circumstances – although in one example, I didn’t even ride it. So, in alphabetical order:

 

 

1. Arch KRGT-1

Keanu Reeves famously doesn’t use a car in Hollywood, instead riding a creation from the brand he co-owns, Arch Motorcycle, for test riding purposes as well as an ideal way to get to the post office, bank, shops, castings and whatever else an A-lister does on a daily basis.

The KRGT-1 is a pristinely engineered, 2-litre S&S V-Twin powered monster. It dominants the road, the senses and the bank balance (available from £90k) and you can all but guarantee one won’t pull up next to yours at the lights. Hugely specced, the high-quality feel of the Arch matches the unique riding experience especially when rumbling around Leicestershire’s back roads, eagerly pushing the sportier credentials of the so-called ‘Performance Cruiser’. Smirking like a Bond baddy until I realised this thing costs £90,000 and was one of only two in the UK!

Read the full review here

 

 

2. BMW S1000RR

I feel a bit sorry for BMW. They unveiled a generation-dominating litre sports bike to huge accolade then let the world’s media lose on it at a damp Estoril circuit with favourable outcome. Yet that was February and other than a handful to have made it to race teams and dealerships, those on the waiting list are still waiting.

My five-month, 3,000-mile relationship was incredibly rewarding, I felt proud. Every ride from the 10-mile commute to the track days and the hours of motorway spent heading home from the Festival of Speed were all momentous – well, maybe not the last 50 miles of the latter journey with a set of leathers on!

The electronics package of the BMW is outstanding – underneath the fairings hides a plethora of cables each with a role to make the rider more engaged with the machine with a simple to operate display. As an in-line four, notoriously lacking in soul versus a V4 for example, the S1000RR is smooth as silk yet as ferocious as a rabid wolf when needed. Fitting a full Akropovič system was a masterful move, thanks to Performance Parts, and it just increased the bike’s desirability, performance and sound. Yes, there are a few niggles but for a riding experience that I can live with time after time, this is as close to perfection as I’ve ridden.

Read the latest long-term review here

 

 

3. Ducati Hypermotard 950SP

“Sometimes it’s not about looks, it’s about the way a bike makes you feel,” I wrote in my review of the 2019 Hypermotard 950SP, and if you want to throw all forms of practicality out of the window and enjoy a hilarious ride instead then the Ducati is for you. It’s one of those bikes you wish you had alongside another in your garage. Not as your one-and-only ride but as you weekend fling. Let your inhibitions in the garage and fire this thing towards your nearest set of twisties and the repayment comes with that lovely fuzzy feeling inside.

The front wheel volunteers to save a little wear and tear on your tyre all too regularly while the punchy, torquey 937cc twin cylinder motor and divine chassis with handling characteristics to match those twin-magnet Scalextric cars hoofs out of the corners with such desire to impress its rider, it’s like a Labrador showing its owner how big the stick it just found is. The SP is an expensive toy but it’s a bloody good one.

Read the review here

 

 

4. Ducati V4R

37 race victories across the World and British Superbike championships in 2019 surely underlines the performance capabilities of the winged-Ducati V4R. Designed as a race bike homologation special, the road bike is as fierce as your right wrist allows it. When not toying with 217bhp and attempting self-decapitation, the V4R is a more than capable road bike. Well, as capable as a thoroughbred sports bike can be but it should come with a requirement to pass some form of super licence before riding.

The riding position isn’t too obnoxious though warm inner thighs will be a guarantee. A rattling dry clutch noise allows the older generation to reminisce but the fear of dropping a £34,995 certainly is a worry, or trying to live up to expectations when pulling up at a track day on one.

Pootling around town or motorway below 8,000 rpm and you can be forgiven to think this is just another uncomfortable yet noisy rocket. It’s when you discover the full range of revs that the workout begins for mind, body and soul. An outrageous yet illegal incentive that was produced to win championships, not necessarily to make the commute any faster, the Ducati Panigale V4R is best served on track - John McGuinness rode his friend’s version at Oulton Park, and once his eyeballs had stopped throbbing he urged me to do a few laps and get as close to the 16,500rpm redline as I could… it’s a good job I was wearing ear plugs that day!

 

 

5. Honda CBR900RR FireBlade (1996)

This entry was just as much about the occasion as the bike. Celebrating 60 years of racing at the Isle of Man TT in 2019, Honda loaned me a 1996 FireBlade from their own Heritage fleet. Why? Because I wanted to take it on a lap of the TT Mountain course but not just any lap, a closed road lap as part of the Classic Racer Lap of Honour during the Bennetts Classic TT.

Even though it’s described as a ‘parade lap’, you still sit on the start line with the marshal’s hand on your shoulder thinking about the heroes who had sat in that exact position before, with a clear and mesmeric view down the Glencrutchery Road towards St. Ninian’s crossroads.

The FireBlade ran beautifully all the way around and you just can’t help yourself than to get off the line as fast as possible, you know the spectators will want it so I tried not to disappoint… nor stall. I gave it some wellie on the parts of the 37.73-miles I knew but waved during the bits I didn’t, metaphorically pinching myself that the closed roads of one of the most famous and revered race tracks was mine for a short while.

Read the TT blog here

 

 

6. Triumph Rocket 3

An interesting motorcycle. The physics of a 2.5-litre, 3-cylinder, 300kg+ motorcycle wouldn’t normally allude to a dynamic, well-crafted and vibrant ride but the time taken by Triumph’s engineers and development team has reaped rewards with a classy bike.

It’s one of the most eye-catching machines and it sure pulled in the crowds on the press launch and one which I thoroughly enjoyed flinging around the Tenerife hills. Its dexterity belies its size and the whole experience made the Rocket 3 as an obvious addition to my 2019 Top 10. I like riding a bike that doesn’t conform, and that divides opinion but I then fall foul of having to defend and justify it. You’d have thought the Rocket 3 would be an ideal target for the know-it-alls yet related posts across social media created a surprising amount of positivity. Seems as though I don’t need to defend my choice in this list.

Read the review here

 

 

7. Honda British Superbike (Andrew Irwin)

Firing a British Superbike up in the pit lane of a Spanish circuit with a full pit crew, sticky slicks in perfect conditions is the content that dreams are made of. Yet, in real life, there I was sat on Honda Racing’s very own Andrew Irwin race bike ahead of 2 x 20-minute sessions at Monteblanco before the 2019 BSB season. Squeaky bum time indeed.

Ferociously fast in a straight line with brakes so powerful I thought my shoulders were going to meet my elbows, a seemingly solid set of suspension and an alien-to-me thumb brake, the racing ‘blade is unsurprisingly designed to be ridden in a specific style, not a track day or fast road-ride manner but where a recalibration of you mind is required. Its slow cornering ability messed with everything I’d learned on any track beforehand – it just didn’t want to be on its side and all of sudden, while worrying if something was wrong, you’re up and away at warp speed. Everything happens very quickly including my the two lots of 20-minutes I was permitted. My overarching reaction was to silently praise any rider to have stood on a BSB podium – the likes of Scott Redding can complain at being taken out but these riders have split seconds to react to a swarm of 25 other 235bhp all vying for the same few metres of tarmac.

Read the review here

 

 

8. JPS Rotary Norton (Robert Dunlop)

Every ride up the Goodwood Festival of Speed hill is an honour that I feel shouldn’t be bestowed on me. It’s almost embarrassing to wave to thousands of people who don’t have a clue who I am but thankfully those that know about bikes tend to know when you’re piloting a rather special one with some significant heritage.

Courtesy of the National Motorcycle Museum, I was invited to wedge myself in between the fuel tank and rear carbon seat unit of the iconic Robert Dunlop JPS Rotary Norton – the 588cc, 140kg race bike from the early 90s. The noise of the twin rotors and the accompanying race pipes was raucous, and I tried to let everyone hear it by keeping the gears low and revs high. 1.16-miles is over very quickly yet you do get to park among some famous riders and even more famous bikes. It’s a real treat.

Read the review here

 

 

9. Royal Enfield Nought Tea GT

Here’s the bike that even though I didn’t ride it, I still got to be involved in its build. Royal Enfield gave us exclusive access to their Research & Development centre to witness the process of taking a standard, homologated and road-legal 650 Continental GT, stripping it down and creating a special project machine to be unveiled at The Bike Shed London Show and later raced at their Festival at Lydden Hill.

Being among some passionate and creative minds when they’re let off the leash is an interesting place to be. All the things they’ve wanted to do with intakes, chassis geometry, power without restraint was now available. Race engine tuner extraordinaire, Lester Harris spoke fondly of the project and it seems Royal Enfield received some positive PR from the exercise. Maybe I’ll get to ride it in 2020!

Read the feature and see the video here

 

 

10. Suzuki Burgman 400 (2017)

Bet you weren’t expecting this! Like I said, sometimes it’s about the experience you have on a bike and the association with a good memory. I rode the Burgman for a competition when we pitched it alongside and an Address 110 against a Southern Rail train for a commuter’s journey from Haywards Heath to Harrods.

Despite the wind, rain and dark start, the Burgman’s comfort, weather protection and nimbleness were so well suited to the occasion. From a few M25 miles darting between traffic jams to the Putney Bridge to Knightsbridge world record breaking run that included front row starts at every traffic light, the Suzuki was a hoot to ride in that aggressive manner. You’ll have to watch the Top Gear-style video on the link below if you want to know the outcome but because of the adrenalin-fuelled last few miles of that journey alone, the Burgman gets a place in my Top 10.

Take a look at the feature here

 

 

Honourable mentions go to the Honda CB500X with tremendous value for money, the mini off-roader has a brilliant and buzzy motor offering versatility and practicality. Aprilia’s outrageous RSV4 1100 Factory and its full sack of power, cornering composure and cutting-edge electronics. Plus the beautiful and brilliant Ducati Panigale V2. OK, so it’s technically a 2020 model just like the Rocket 3 but I rode it in 2019 and it’s one of the most confidence-inspiring and easy-to-ride sports bikes I’ve ever ridden.

And what about 2020? RS660 and Fireblade aside, the naked fivesome of Z H2, Streetfighter V4, Brutale 1000 RR, 1290 SuperDuke R and Tuono 1100 Factory is going to be an interesting battle.

 

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