In the April 2015 issue we listed 60 all-new or significantly changed 2015 model-year motorcycles eligible for consideration as Rider’s 2015 Motorcycle of the Year. After two years of democratic elections with our People’s Choice Motorcycle of the Year (Honda’s F6B topped the voting for 2013, and BMW’s R 1200 RT won for 2014), for our 26th annual award the Rider staff’s executive powers have been reinstated.
The size and diversity of the 2015 field is impressive, with anywhere from two to nine new or updated models from each of 14 manufacturers in six different countries. There are cruisers, sportbikes, standards, sport tourers, luxury tourers and adventure tourers. Retro bikes like the Ducati Scrambler and Yamaha SR400, and futuristic bikes like the Honda NM4 DCT ABS. Beginner bikes like Honda’s 28-horsepower CBR300R and CB300F, and expert-only bikes like Kawasaki’s 300-horsepower, supercharged Ninja H2R. Enough bikes to scratch pretty much any two-wheeled itch.
Because we limit eligibility to current-model-year motorcycles, early release 2016 models you’ve read about in the magazine—the Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally, BMW R 1200 RS and S 1000 XR, Indian Chief Dark Horse, Suzuki GSX-S1000/F/ABS and Victory Magnum X-1, for example—won’t be eligible until next year. And, due to manufacturer production timing, some models originally announced for 2015 got bumped to the 2016 model year.
Choosing the Motorcycle of the Year is a nail-biting, blood-pressure-elevating process. Motorcycles today are so good in so many ways that picking the best one overall is harder than ever. The winner is the motorcycle we believe succeeds best at its intent, stokes our passion for riding and joins the ranks of truly significant motorcycles. Performance, handling, comfort, value, reliability and practicality are all important criteria, but there are also less tangible qualities, like character and soul. When a bike has mojo, you feel it.
Congratulations to all of the manufacturers for bringing this year’s bumper crop of bikes to market. We’ve whittled the list down to 10 contenders and one Motorcycle of the Year.
BMW R 1200 R
Updates to the roadster include the liquid-cooled boxer twin, a new telescopic fork (to accommodate the radiator), a bevvy of standard and optional features (everything from riding modes to Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment) and fresh styling.
Ducati Multistrada 1200 DVT/S
New Desmodromic Variable Timing delivers power smoothly across the rev range and boosts output to 160 horsepower. A Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit enhances the comprehensive electronics package, and S models get Ducati Skyhook Suspension Evo.
Channeling the spirit of its Scramblers from the ’60s and ’70s, Ducati’s modern version is fun, affordable and powered by a feisty 803cc air-cooled L-twin. Choose from the standard Icon or three factory customs–Classic, Urban Enduro or Full Throttle.
Harley-Davidson Street XG500/XG750
In need of a new entry-level bike for its Riding Academy, Harley created the light, agile, easy-to-ride Street 500 and 750, powered by the liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder Revolution X 60-degree V-twin. They’re affordable, too, starting at $6,799.
A year after the debut of its impressive three-model Chief lineup, Indian launched the all-new Scout, a compact, muscular cruiser powered by a liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve, 60-degree V-twin that makes 100 horsepower at the crank.
Kawasaki Vulcan S
One size fits all with Ergo-Fit, allowing buyers to choose from three footpeg positions, three seat shapes and two handlebars at no cost at time of purchase. This light, frisky cruiser runs the same parallel twin as the Versys 650.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure
KTM’s new-for-2014 1190 Adventure impressed us with its power, handling and world-first cornering ABS. The super-sized 1290 boosts power, increases fuel capacity and adds new electronics, semi-active suspension and lots of touring-ready features.
Suzuki V-Strom 650XT ABS
We’ve had a soft spot for Suzuki’s light, nimble, bulletproof Wee-Strom since its 2004 debut. The new XT version adds spoked wheels that run tubeless tires, an ADV-chic beak, enormous aluminum side cases, engine guards and a touring windscreen.
Based on the best-selling FZ-09, the FJ puts the same exciting in-line triple in a sport-touring package, with firmer suspension, a better seat, more legroom, a taller handlebar, a windscreen, standard ABS and TC, and optional saddlebags.
Hoping to repeat the success of its FZ-09 triple, Yamaha’s FZ-07 is smaller, lighter and less expensive. Powered by a torquey 689cc parallel twin that makes 68 rear-wheel horsepower, it weighs less than 400 pounds wet and costs just $6,990.
And the winner is…
Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT
When Kawasaki’s Versys 650 debuted for 2008, we didn’t know what to make of its unusual name (a mash-up of “versatile” and “system”) and quirky styling. But the Ninja 650-based machine’s back-road handling won us over, leaping through corners like an over-caffeinated gazelle. A liter-sized version based on the Ninja 1000 was launched for 2012, but only in Europe and Asia. Kawasaki thoroughly updated the Versys 650 and 1000 for 2015 (including all-new bodywork) and finally brought both to the U.S. It was worth the wait.
Part adventure bike, part sport tourer, the Versys 1000 LT is the best of both worlds. It’s tall enough for generous legroom and upright seating, comfortable enough for solo or two-up long hauling and powerful enough to satisfy our appetite for performance. Impeccably smooth with crisp throttle response and rheostat-like power delivery, its liquid-cooled 1,043cc in-line four sends 110 horsepower and 69 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel. And its stout twin-spar aluminum frame, compliant suspension and excellent Bridgestone Battlax T30 tires give the Versys terrific on-road manners. Factor in standard features such as ABS, traction control, an adjustable windscreen, hand guards, 28-liter saddlebags and a centerstand, all for $12,799, and the end result is an impressive, all-around touring motorcycle that lives up to the “versatility” in its name.
The Versys 1000 LT beat the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS and Yamaha FJ-09 in our comparison test because it offered the best performance, comfort, wind protection, saddlebags and value. But what makes the Versys truly special is how easily it won the hearts and minds of everyone who rode it.