As the UK’s most shallow road tester the best bike in the world is usually the last one I rode. So this list should simply be the last five bikes, right? Thankfully not. I’m (mostly) done with sports bikes, mostly looking for bikes that make me smile while being easy to ride and definitely looking for something I can use every day for any journey.
SP versions of bikes are supposed to be more focused, more sporty and usually turn out to be harder to ride well. The MT-09SP is certainly sharper and more sporty, but it is also easier to get the best out of than the standard MT-09. The latest MT-09 engine has all the power and character of the previous one, but the fuelling is now more consistent, which gives you the confidence to be brutal with the throttle and really get the best out of it. Last year I was disappointed with the MT-10SP’s aggression and inability to provide a suspension set-up that worked for me without dismantling the programming, but the MT-09 is the complete opposite. It feels like a very high quality, well sorted, high performance motorcycle for less than £10k. I much preferred it to Triumph’s Street Triple
Read all about it here
The first new Gold Wing for 17 years is smaller, lighter, much more rewarding to ride, but very much still a Gold Wing. Engine electronics, fuelling and safety systems have improved enormously in that time and the new Wing is faster accelerating, smoother when cruising and much more economical than the old bike. The screen is now electrically adjustable there’s a DCT semi-automatic gearbox option (adding £3k to the price, but improving the two-up touring experience immensely) and a new front suspension design that allows sportier handling while retaining the touring comfort. Luggage space is reduced and the sat-nav and music (no DAB radio) are already feeling dated, but the riding experience is superb. I did a week chasing sports bike around France on it and loved every minute.
Read about our jaunt to France here
There are other bikes that make 200bhp, other bikes that go insanely fast and other bikes that look like an outcast from Thunderbirds. But Kawasaki’s H2 SX SE does all that stuff so much better, you really believe that they meant it. The engine dominates; more specifically, the way it builds acceleration and how quickly it gets to three-figure speeds. Everything else is functional, but not exceptional. It’s not comfy enough for a sports tourer, but it does handle and brake very well indeed. Some of the styling and detailing is as cool as anything Japan has ever built. And then there’s the green anodised shock absorber, which, we assume is what happens when you let the boss’s nephew into the design dept in the school holidays.
Read my thoughts about the Ninja H2 SX SE here.
The whole supernaked class is daft, we know that. But there is something special about a simple, unfaired motorbike that feels small, light and nimble. More so when it has a ‘tuned-for-torque’ engine with real character that punches through traffic, goes faster than you’d expect on the back roads and can also do a lap of Europe at 50mpg in comfort.
BMW’s R1200R is far from the poster bike of their range, but if you can resist the gizmos and too many options at the dealer it’s a great value, simple performance motorcycle with exceptional real-world performance, plenty of comfort and the kind of personality that has you giving it a name. Not as cool as cool as pretty much every other big naked you can name, but a damn sight better to ride than almost all of them.
For further details on the BMWR1200R, click here.
If you were worried that motorcycling was getting a bit serious or sensible, then try one of these. The 790 Duke is condensed insanity – a lifetime’s worth of irresponsible and incorrigible riding, crammed neatly into one teeny package and available through your local KTM dealer for £8499 or less. KTM’s first parallel twin engine makes 105bhp but delivers huge blats of power on not-that-much throttle making it feel more exciting than the numbers suggest. The chassis is short and sharp, suspension has just enough control without needing any adjustment and there are more electronic gizmos than a ram-raid at Dixons.
But the 790 Duke is not about the spec sheet, it is all about the ride. Low speed fuelling riding through town is a bit clumsy and jerky, but everywhere else it’s just brilliant. Choose your moment and you might get a bargain – KTM dealers often knock big money off unsold bikes at the end of the year.
See our review of the 790 Duke here
Honourable mentions go to Yamaha’s Niken for being even better than I hoped it would be. It almost certainly would have been in my top five, but I haven’t done enough miles yet for a proper verdict. KTM’s 1290S Adventure really impressed as a too-tall-rounder in a spell over summer when I needed something that could do big miles three times a week with speed, comfort and put a smile on my face in the middle of some sad family times.
And the final honourable mention goes to my own 16 year-old Yamaha Fazer 1000, which sits unloved in the shed for much of the year while flasher, newer test bikes get the glory and the chainlube. And then they disappear, the Fazer gets dusted down and I remember what a flipping brilliant motorcycle it is. One ride in particular this summer, screaming across Lincolnshire, emotional and angry when my dad had just passed away. I needed a release, the Fazer indulged me and brought me home safely. Some bike.
I’m curious for a go on Kawasaki’s relaunched ZX-6R. We all forgot about middleweight sports bikes when the price went through the roof a few years back. The 636cc ZX-6R is still a lot of money at just under £10k, but compared to (almost) everything else it seems like good value now. And talking of sporty middleweights, there’s something about Honda’s new CBR650R that keeps me going back for another look. I like small bikes and the Honda’s mix of mischief and practicality appeals, especially now they’ve wrapped it up to look more like a Fireblade.