Despite a shaky global economy, for the 2016 model year the world’s motorcycle manufacturers added more than 70 new models to the U.S. market. Very few were dropped, too, creating an unparalleled selection of new bikes from which to choose. Retro machines that are ripe for customization are trending this year, followed quite closely by bikes with rugged adventure styling and features. Several existing models were joined by or replaced with upgraded siblings that fill gaps in feature sets, too, like the now truly dirt-worthy Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro, a Yamaha FJR1300 sport tourer with a sixth gear and the Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra with liquid cooling and a new, more functional sharknose fairing.
Picking one of these bikes for our top honor is never an easy task, and this year was the most difficult in a long time. As always, Rider chose the Motorcycle of the Year from the list of all new or significantly changed motorcycles designated as 2016 models, some of which are included in The Contenders section that starts to the right. The winner is the one motorcycle we think succeeds best at its intent and lengthens the list of history’s truly great motorcycles.
Manufacturer production and test bike availability varying as it often does, we may not have had the opportunity to ride every 2016 model before we needed to pick one as the MOTY in time for this issue. And though we may have actually ridden several early release 2017 models that might be available at your dealer before it’s time to select the MOTY—the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, Suzuki SV650 and Victory Octane, for example—since they’re not 2016 models they’re not eligible for this year’s award, though we will include them in next year’s considerations.
No matter who wins, there are lots of terrific new motorcycles out there, so let’s get out and ride! Congratulations to all of the manufacturers for bringing this year’s bonanza of bikes to market. Here are some of the top contenders, followed by Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year.
Aprilia’s crossover 1200 V-twin gets all adventurey with a skid plate, brush guards, larger adjustable windscreen, 33-liter hard bags and spoked wheels, including a 19-inch front. Revised steering geometry ups its off-road worthiness, too.
BMW’s answer to the Ducati Multistrada is this supersport-adventure tourer that’s ready for the track and the road, with an S 1000 R-based 160-horsepower in-line four, sit-up riding comfort and precise handling.
Beefed up for adventure with a 7.9-gallon fuel tank, skid plate, spoked wheels (including a 19-inch front) and longer suspension travel, the 1,198cc Multistrada Enduro DVT V-twin is more capable off-road and for long distances.
A favorite for long-distance touring thanks to its aerodynamic, frame-mounted “sharknose” fairing, the Road Glide Ultra benefits from Project Rushmore upgrades and precision liquid cooling in its Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 V-twin.
The Africa Twin is designed to be just as capable off the road as on it, hence the “CRF” designation from Honda’s dirt bikes. We’ve ridden the 998cc parallel twin with its long-travel suspension and 21-inch front wheel, and think Honda nailed it.
For 2016, the lively 690 Duke single gets a big refresh, with a bigger, wider powerband, less vibration and better throttle response. Add that to a taut chassis, responsive suspension and upright seating, and the fun factor is through the roof.
Suzuki’s new sportbike for grown-ups—in standard, ABS and fully faired versions—offers a 999cc in-line four with a broad spread of torque in an aluminum twin-spar frame, stylish minimalist bodywork and an upright, civilized riding position.
Three of Triumph’s next-gen 2016 Tiger Explorers focus on street riding (XR, XRx and XRt) and two are setup for off-road adventure (XCx and XCa). Each has a marvelous 1,215cc in-line triple at its heart and scads of comfort and performance.
Fourteen years of refinement, a new sixth gear and assist-and-slipper clutch have led to a much better all-around FJR1300. The powerful 1,298cc in-line four is as smooth as ever, and the ES (electronic suspension) model gets LED cornering lights.
And the winner is…
Triumph Bonneville T120
Righteously Retro, Thoroughly Modern
Once owner John Bloor had re-established Triumph Motorcycles in Hinckley, England as a mainstream motorcycle manufacturer with its range of 3- and 4-cylinder sport and touring models, it was high time for a modern interpretation of the iconic Bonneville twin for which the original Meriden works was famous. The new Bonnevilles debuted in 2000 and immediately became Triumph’s best-selling model family. In the ensuing 15 years, the T100’s 865cc air/oil cooled parallel twin was adopted for the entire lineup, and the range grew to include the Thruxton café racer, high-piped Scrambler and the America and Speedmaster cruisers with their rumbly 270-degree crankshafts.
In recent years, Triumph has made gains with its exciting three cylinders like the Street Triple, Tiger 800 and Tiger Explorer. The first-gen Bonnevilles have held up well, but by today’s retro/café/custom standards the busy 360-crank twin lacks that desirable low- and midrange torquey character, and it doesn’t make quite enough power to compete outside its genre. With new Euro 4 regulations coming for 2016 requiring fewer emissions, a durability test and ABS as standard, in 2012 Triumph decided to completely redesign the line of twins, and you see two of the stunning results before you, the Bonneville T120, Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year, and its functionally identical, menacingly dark T120 Black sibling.
Now even more evocative of the original, Triumph’s engineers spent three years getting the T120 styling (and that of its Bonneville Thruxton/R and smaller 900cc Street Twin siblings) just right, more faithfully echoing the swinging ’60s in the T120, from its sculpted tank to the bench saddle, spoked wheels and throttle bodies reminiscent of Amal Monobloc carburetors. One might think that was an easy task given Triumph had the original to copy. But to bring the Bonnie up to date Triumph had to squeeze a larger, High Torque 1,200cc engine with liquid cooling and a 270-degree crank into the same dimensions as before, and add ride-by-wire with riding modes, ABS and switchable traction control to the list of existing modern features…none of which can really be on display. At the same time it managed to give the bike better handling, more manageability, better fuel economy and more power and authentic rumble in the low- and midrange where it belongs. While the Meriden Bonneville was the superbike of the ’60s, the modern Bonnies are roadsters built for practicality and performance with timeless style. The T120 accomplishes its mission precisely.