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The best bikes we rode in 2016

By Marc Potter

Tested every new bike since 1994, loves anything on two wheels, runs Potski Media, ex-BikeSocial boss. Recently discovered elbow-down riding - likely to end in tears.



Top five bikes we rode in 2016

One thing first. It wasn’t easy putting together this list, and I’ve had just as much fun on some smaller, cheaper bikes this year as I have on race winning superbikes. But when it comes down to it, after tens of thousands of miles of testing and hundreds of bikes, these are the bikes and stories that really stand out this year.

Brough Superior SS100

It looks like a cruise liner cast from titanium, ship-wrecked in the middle of a small industrial estate in Saint Jean in the South of France.

But beyond the electric doors of the incredible looking factory are even more incredible motorcycles. This is Brough Superior and the new SS100. A titanium-framed, 1000cc, 130bhp V-twin motorcycle wearing the legendary moniker of the world’s most exclusive and expensive motorcycles. With classic Broughs breaking record at auction, £50,000 for the new SS100 (depending on current exchange rates) almost seems reasonable. Almost.

The brand is owned by English entrepreneur Mark Upham, but the bikes are built in France at the old Boxer and Voxan factory. What comes beyond the doors is a thing of beauty. I’d never imagined the Brough to be so stunning in its finished form. But even as a prototype test hack the new SS100 is extraordinary to look at. The frame is titanium, the tank harks back to the original SS100 and it’s all so beautifully screwed together.

But way more than that is how good it rides. You expect it to be finished like a Rolls Royce and you expect French supermodels to chat you up when you pull up to a restaurant, in my dreams of course. That funny front end feels odd at low speed, but get moving and it really works. It’s taut and accurate, the Beringer brakes are ridiculously powerful, but the motor is the real surprise. It’s punchy as hell low down and with a bark at the top too. With the optional race ECU and loud pipes it wakes up every sleepy French farmer in a fifty-mile radius and creates thunder out of corner.

Read the full SS100 reviewhere.

Keanu Reeves

Norton Commando 961 (with Keanu Reeves)

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in July, Castle Donington high street. On a Norton Dominator and Commando with loud pipes two riders sit waiting for the lights to turn green, the bass noise of the parallel twins reverberating off the walls. On the Commando 961 is me, on the Dominator is actual Keanu Reeves.

In a borrowed Norton Arai we nicked from the factory, a Norton leather jacket, Redwing boots and jeans is the bloke from the Matrix and a million and one films plenty of us grew up with. Nobody walking past picking their kids up from school knows that a Hollywood A-lister is riding round the East Midlands today.

But for all his fame, Keanu Reeves is a dude. He’s as down to earth as you and me, loves nothing more than riding motorcycles. He doesn’t own a car, just a collection of old Nortons so today he’s in his element, hanging at the factory, getting a tour of the TT bike, and going for a ride. He’s a massive TT fan.

And the bike? This is meant to be about bikes, right? The Commandos have moved on a long way in the last seven years and have been fully revised throughout, so they feel much more civilised and refined than the original bikes. And look, next time you see one at the lights it might just be a Hollywood movie star riding it.

Read all about Potski and Keanu's Excellent Adventure here.

Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro

Look at the size of it and you’d never believe what it is capable of, but the Multistrada 1200 Enduro is one of best tourers on the road, and it can hang with the best smaller adventure bikes when the going gets rutted.

If I had to pick one bike this year that has impressed me more than any other it’s the Multistrada 1200 Enduro. At 160bhp the power and grunt of the retuned Multistrada motor with variable valve timing is phenomenal. I’ve ridden one to Scotland and back and there are very few bikes I’d rather sit on for that journey. With a 30-litre tank the fuel range is massive, and the Ducati Skyhook electronic suspension can be adjusted on the move to make it soft on motorways or stiffen it up for a boast across the North Yorkshire moors, fully-laden or solo it takes it all in its V-twin stride. Off-road the size defies what it can actually do. I rode it extensively off-road on the press launch in Sardinia and it was quick and capable on gravel roads, and then revisited the off-road ability and its built-in Enduro mode in Tuscany on the Ducati Multistrada Enduro Riding Experience. There we tackled muddy forest trails, rode over see-saws, bottomed it out climbing over fallen logs, did endless laps of a field laid out as an enduro course and fell even deeper in love with the Multi E. Riding the Multistrada Enduro isn’t just a ride, it’s an event every time you fire it up.

See how the Multistrada Enduro compared to its rivals in our big adventure bike group test.

Honda Racing CBR1000RR Fireblade (at Goodwood) 

"That’s not a superbike," texts my mate from the BSB paddock. "It can’t be," he goes on to say, "they’re racing at Knockhill while you’re at Goodwood!" Wrong on both counts, because this Jason O’Halloran British superbike is the one that Honda Racing use to develop new parts on. It’s a test mule if you like, where they tested things like ride-by-wire throttle and developed the bike throughout the year. Honda Racing finished fourth and fifth in the championship with the basis of this bike, and at Goodwood Festival of Speed I got to ride it up the famous hill climb.

If you’re in any doubt it’s not a proper BSB bike just look at it. It oozes factory cool. The swingarm, those Nissin factory brake calipers, the intermediate Pirellis, the lightweight carbon bodywork, the factory Ohlins shock and forks, and the tuned BSB motor burbling away as it warms up.

Riding at Goodwood is always a special and unique experience, you’re surrounded by the great and good of motorcycling and motorsport from F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg in the holding area, to TT legend John McGuinness, GP God Freddie Spencer, past and current world superbike stars. And me. With no tyre warmers and intermediate tyres, plus a green track with little grip, one squirt of the throttle too much gets the rear wheel spinning and leave you in no doubt of the BSB horses lurking beneath the tank. To be honest, you only just get out of third gear at Goodwood on a pukka race bike, but the Blade is so easy to ride. Its power is manageable, light and easy as long as you respect. Don’t get me wrong, it revs so quickly it will still hurt you and flip you off the back if you get it wrong. But I reckon it would be a fantastic road bike in this trim. It was an honour to ride it in such esteemed company.

Check out our full feature from Goodwood here.

Harley-Davidson Low Rider S

The dragster style, low-slung engine and a seventies vibe are a total throwback.

The team behind this bike admit they spent a lot of time in the Harley museum for inspiration, and the  FXR roots are easy to see. But the Low Rider S’s 110 Twin Cam engine (1801cc) is straight out of Screamin’ Eagle and hits hard. It’s a powerhouse of torque, making a claimed 115ft-lb and makes the best induction noise through its side-mounted Screamin’ Eagle air intake.

I rode it from Marseille to St Tropez back in April. It’s no tourer, but it’s big and comfortable enough with a long reach to the bars and feet forward riding position. That magnesium colour front wheel seems a long way away and corners have to treated with care. Get the bike in slowly then power out using every one of those big thumping pistons and it will put a smile on your face, guaranteed.