It’s hard to believe, but if you count the bikes that are significantly changed, for the 2017 model year the world’s major motorcycle manufacturers added more than 115 new models to their U.S. lineups. Wow! Very few were dropped, too, creating an unprecedented selection of new bikes from which to choose. For adventurous types, BMW, Ducati, Honda, KTM and Suzuki all have new or updated ADV bikes, and this year’s touring and sport-touring motorcycle lineups are better than ever. All six serious sportbike makers have honed their liter-class offerings to a razor’s edge, and a veritable flood of factory retro customs, scramblers and bobbers means there’s something for every fan of new-old machines with classic style and modern performance.
Picking one of these machines for our top honor is usually a difficult decision, but happily one manufacturer simplified the task this year by introducing a game-changing line of bikes that made our vote unanimous. As always Rider chose the Motorcycle of the Year from the list of all new or significantly changed motorcycles designated 2017 models, some of which are included in the contenders section. The winner is usually the one motorcycle we think succeeds best at its intent and lengthens the list of history’s truly great motorcycles…but this year we bent the rules by choosing an entire family of bikes. As you’ll see, it made sense.
Manufacturer production and test bike availability varying as it often does, we may not have had the opportunity to ride every 2017 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 2018 models that might be available at your dealer before it’s time to select the MOTY—the BMW K 1600 B, Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and Yamaha Star Venture, for example—since they’re not 2017 models they’re not eligible for this year’s award, though we will include them in next year’s considerations.
No matter who wins, every new bike just means more potential for great rides and adventures. Congratulations to all of the manufacturers for bringing this year’s grand parade of bikes to market. Here are some of the top contenders for Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year, followed by the winner.
BMW R nineT Scrambler (November 2016)
The first of BMW’s R nineT variants takes a simpler, less expensive approach that also cleverly addresses the current retro custom craze with Scrambler style. A higher handlebar, skinnier right-side-up fork and upswept exhaust—and a lower price—distinguish the BMW Scrambler from the standard R nineT, and we love its powerful 1,170cc boxer twin, versatile performance and off-road potential.
Ducati Multistrada 950 (March 2017)
By taking the Testastretta 11° 937cc L-twin from the Hypermotard and new Supersport and wrapping it in a tighter, simpler adventure-bike package with a 19-inch front wheel, Ducati’s new Multistrada 950 provides a lighter, lower cost alternative to the 1200 DVT that still offers plenty of power and features for sport-adventure touring and even light off-road work.
Honda Rebel 300/500 (July 2017)
Honda’s new Rebels have some big shoes to fill, since the venerable Rebel 250 has taught generations of new riders how to negotiate the mean streets since 1985. Based on the 471cc parallel twin in the CB500F and the 286cc single in the CB300F, the new Rebels are a mix of old- and new-school style that offer new and returning motorcyclists a practical, comfortable and fun entry into street riding.
Indian Roadmaster Classic (May 2017)
Almost as central to the Indian legacy as those deeply skirted, curvaceous fenders and a big V-twin is the presence of leather. The Roadmaster Classic’s seat and luggage give cowhide a starring role, complete with fringe, conchos and studs. Combined with the bike’s Thunder Stroke 111 torque-monster V-twin and comprehensive Ride Command System infotainment, the Roadmaster Classic epitomizes luxury cruiser touring.
KTM 1290 Super Duke GT (April 2017)
We loved to dirty dance with KTM’s “Beast,” the 1290 Super Duke R, but the GT is the version we could take home to mama. Higher, wider handlebars, wider, cushier seats, lower footpegs, a bigger tank and a nicely sized adjustable windscreen and hard bags ready the 1290 GT for long days at warp speed, all powered by that stellar 173-horsepower V-twin, which is retuned for better touring manners.
Suzuki V-Strom 650 (September 2017)
The Wee Strom has always been one of our favorite bikes, and this year’s updates just enhance its cuddly likeability and ADV chops. More horsepower and torque, a new beaked fairing with a vertical stacked headlight, traction control, standard ABS, better ergonomics and optional integrated luggage plus a luggage rack make the comfortable, upright V-twin even more ready for adventure.
Triumph Bonneville Bobber (April 2017)
Big kudos to Triumph for having the chutzpah to build a genuine factory Bobber—even more so for nailing the styling, souping up the 1,200cc Bonneville T120 parallel twin to make 10-percent more power and giving it a new frame, suspension, handlebar and fuel tank to create one of the best looking and handling Bonnies in the bunch. The adjustable seat is icing on the cake.
Yamaha FZ-10 (July 2017)
We all want the performance and handling of Yamaha’s potent YZF-R1 sportbike, but the racetrack ergonomics, not so much. What happens when you wrap it in a more comfortable, less expensive naked sport-touring package? You get the FZ-10, complete with a 998cc in-line four derived from the R1, standard cruise control, traction control, ABS and styling that won’t be mistaken for anything else.
And the winner is…
When Harley-Davidson relaunched its Touring family of bikes in 2014 under the Project Rushmore banner with a large dose of customer-driven enhancements and precision liquid-cooling for the Ultra Limited, we were impressed by the bikes’ more powerful engines, nice new features like hydraulic clutches, better lighting and latches and more comfort, and how much cooler its flagship touring machine was between the knees. Little did we know the best was yet to come for 2017 with a new engine for the Touring family, the Milwaukee-Eight. Named for its birthplace and the total number of valves, the ninth generation of Harley’s big twin had to meet a lot of demands, not the least of which are more stringent emissions requirements here and abroad, now and in the future. Competition is also heating up in the touring arena, and Harley’s customers were demanding a new V-twin that has more power, runs cooler, vibrates less at idle and is narrower, yet still has that famous Harley-Davidson iconic look, sound and feel.
The new four-valve per cylinder Milwaukee-Eight V-twins meet all of these demands and more, yet stay true to that gorgeous traditional style. Bikes without fairing lowers like the Road King, Street Glide and Road King Special get the air/oil-cooled Milwaukee-Eight 107ci engine, and the 107 V-twins in the bikes with lowers like the Road Glide Ultra and Ultra Limited have oil and precision liquid cooling. All get new front and rear Showa suspension as well. At this stage we’ve ridden and dyno tested most of the 10 regular-production Touring models, and can happily say that they make more power and gobs more torque down low, with ample pulling power for two-up touring or just flying down the highway. They also shake less at stops, don’t heat up your legs and are narrower to make it easier to get your feet down at stops. The new suspension helps them handle better than before and improves the ride, too.
The refinement and development timeline that began with a new chassis for the touring bikes in 2009 is now complete, resulting, as we said in our December 2016 issue, in a truly integrated package, one that honors the past, embraces the future, offers more performance and makes the rider’s and passenger’s comfort, safety and enjoyment a top priority.
Congratulations to Harley-Davidson for the Milwaukee-Eight Touring Family, Rider‘s 2017 Motorcycle(s) of the Year!