When Bike Social asked me to list the two bikes I most wanted to ride next year, I couldn’t. So here are five instead...
Just look at it. The Norton V4 SS is straight out of a catalogue full of parts that you’d want to put on your own road bike, if only you had the imagination, resource and your own motorcycle factory to build it. Thankfully Norton have all of that and a large slice of Government backing, imagination and investment to build it. This is a massive step for Norton and a big jump in the firm’s history, and that’s why the bikes are always going to be great investments.
From the carbon bodywork to that stitched seat, the massive full colour screen, and the swingarm that’s milled from 71kg of aluminium, the V4SS is beautifully finished like a Bentley. It has the aggression and stance of a race bike, the size of a Triumph Daytona 675, and styling to match that of any of the world’s hottest super exotica. Yet it’s somehow uniquely British too.
Weighing in at a claimed 179kg dry (claimed) and putting out 200bhp from its all-new Ricardo and Norton designed and engineered motor, the Norton V4SS was undoubtedly the star of Motorcycle Live at the NEC last month, and not just for me.
Every time I walked past the Norton stand it was absolutely mobbed so much so you had to queue to get to the V4s.
The Norton V4SS takes Norton’s successful TT campaign knowledge, which was topped off with a seventh place in the Superbike TT, and bolts it on to a new hand built frame based on the TT bike, a full six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit suite of electronics, carbon-fibre wheels and a beautiful new Norton 1200cc V4 motor. Despite bedroom warriors saying it’s an Aprilia engine, it’s not. The motor is an all-new 72-degree V4 developed and designed in the UK by Norton’s team and Ricardo. It’s currently under development, and currently all sold out. Thankfully, Norton has blessed us with a slightly cheaper version called the V4 RR which uses cast aluminium frame parts in places like the swingarm, and is on sale at £28,000, instead of the SS’s £44,000 price tag. Either one would do for a test ride early next year if you’re listening, Norton?
This is the bike that I wanted the Ducati Scrambler to be the whole time.
On the standard bike (the Icon) it feels just a bit cheap in places, the suspension is soft, there’s not much ground clearance and, at 6' 4", the Scrambler’s low 790mm seat height was never going to feel right for me. But I loved it. Loved the simplicity of the bike, loved the way it felt like an old school Monster should – a simple bike with a Ducati V-twin engine and a big trellis frame.
Yet with the Desert Sled, its 860mm seat and pukka scrambler looks, Ducati has taken the whole Land of Joy concept and given it a whole dose of seventies desert racer Californian cool. The first person to recreate Steve McQueen’s famous Husqvarna jump shot from the cover of Sports Illustrated wins a prize from me.
With taller suspension at 200mm and travel up 50mm from 150mm of travel front and rear on the Icon, a fully-adjustable 46mm front forks and fully-adjustable Kayaba rear shock, a twin-sided beefed-up swingarm and new super-cool looking Pirelli Rally STR tyres, the Desert Sled looks like it will put the Scrambler back into Scramble. Thankfully we won’t have to wait too long to see if it’s living the California dream as I’m testing the bike at its launch in in the desert near Almeria on January 17. It had better be though, as I might actually have already ordered one…
Insiders reckon the new £72,000 Ducati 1299 Superleggera and its carbon-fibre frame is so expensive because getting the frame right on tolerances is so hard that if it’s not 100% perfect the frames go straight in the bin.
Add in a motor that I’m told, when fitted with race pipes, makes more mid-range than than the full-blown world superbike on which Chaz Davies won the last six race wins of 2016. Suddenly this bike and what it means all becomes clear. No wonder I’m gagging to ride the world’s first full carbon-fibre framed production motorcycle. Making a claimed 215bhp and weighing in at 157kg, the Superleggera isn’t just a 1299.
The monocoque frame itself uses a quality control system used in MotoGP and includes high-strength carbon-fibre with a resin system resistant to high temperatures, and 7075 aluminium alloy inserts co-laminated into the composite structure. It weighs 40% less (or 1.7kg less) than the standard Ducati 1299 Panigale’s monocoque frame.
All in, a standard Ducati 1299S Panigale weighs in 190.5kg wet, while this 1299 Superleggera weighs 167kg wet, some 23.5kg lighter. This is the nearest you’ll get to experiencing the power and weight figures of a MotoGP bike, let alone a factory superbike. It’s a carbon-fibre Ducati 1299 from another planet. Tell me why you wouldn’t want to ride one? Ah, yes, it’s £72,000 and they’re all sold, you say? I get it.
The chances of getting on one, even for Bike Social, are slim. But I’m a firm believer in never say never…
I’ve always had a soft spot for Fireblades (who hasn’t?), having run most models over the years and even owned an original 1994 bike, which I had to sell for curtains and blinds when we moved house a few years ago. That was one of those 'wish you hadn’t sold' bikes.
But this is 90% new from the ground-up over the previous model and builds on the Fireblade’s concept of next stage what Honda call 'Total Control'. What that means is that Honda hasn’t gone all out for beating its 200bhp rivals. Instead, the new Fireblade makes 189bhp, or 11bhp more than the outgoing bike, and comes in at a claimed wet weight of 197kg, that should make it lightest in its class. Some claim when you’ve got the R1, ZX-10R, S1000RR, 1299 and the new Suzuki GSX-R1000R in the same class.
A first for Honda on a full production superbike is the use of proper electronics. They were first seen on the Honda RC213V-S MotoGP replica, but now we can all get to play with them too. I had a quick early look round the dash of the new Blade SP with the British superbike team boss Havier Beltran, and it also appeared to have a final rev ceiling of 16,600rpm. He was amazed too. But it’s not just that. It has so many settings from its five-axis inertial measurement unit system that no other Blade or Honda before it has had. It all seemed really easy to use too. And that is likely to be the Blade’s ace card, along with its weight.
I interviewed the project leader of the Fireblade at EICMA Show in Milan, Mr Masatoshi Sato. He wouldn’t admit too much about the bike’s rivals, but I got the sneaky suspicion from what he said, and the way he smiled when I asked that others may be faster on outright lap times, but on the road it’s the Fireblade that we have to watch out for. We’ll be testing it in January, watch this space.
I hated this bike when I first saw it. I mean, what does Bobber stand for? A cut-down motorcycle that has had everything removed to reduce weight, and cut down so it’s ‘bobbed.’ It looked stupid, like a pointless Bonneville. I mean, Bobber? How could that apply to a standard production bike I thought? Yet the more I see it (especially with accessorised ape hanger bars fitted), the more I like it. It’s a grower, not a shower is this bike.
I’m also buoyed by the most cynical bunch of motorcyclists you could ever want to have the joy and (mis)pleasure to hang around with – UK motorcycle journalists – and their feedback since the launch last week.
Universally every single one of the UK journalists on the launch has been magnanimous about the Bobber. They may be cynical, but they also know a thing or two about bikes. And that made me listen.
The motor appears to be a retuned T120 Bonneville motor with more mid-range and low-down stomp and putting out 76bhp. Rather than a massive tractor tyre at the back there’s a more sensible 150-section Avon, and the more I walked past it at the Milan, Cologne and Birmingham bike shows the more I wanted to ride it.
Superbikes are incredible, adventure bikes are incredible, and I love riding them. But the older I get the more I want a bike to just get on and ride without having to work anything out. A bike I can throw a leather jacket and jeans on and just ride for the hell of it. The Desert Sled appears to be just that, as does the Bobber. We’ll bring you a group test soon.