The 2018 motorcycle model year started out strong with the launch of the Yamaha Star Venture in June 2017 at the big Americade rally in New York. From there the pace picked up with Harley-Davidson’s reveal of eight new Softails with all-new chassis, rear suspension and 107 or 114ci Milwaukee-Eight V-twins (the more recently released Sport Glide makes nine).
Then Rider traveled to Japan in October 2017 for a first ride on Honda’s new Gold Wing and Gold Wing Tour, the first major revamp of that iconic model since 2001, which now features a double wishbone front end, 90 pounds less weight, Apple CarPlay and more.
Most of the other manufacturers have been hard at it building exciting new stuff as well—by our count more than 100 new models were introduced as 2018s, including a pair of exotic Vitpilen singles from Husqvarna and the affordable Royal Enfield Himalayan ADV machine. Very few models were dropped from lineups, too, leaving us with an unprecedented selection of new 2018 bikes from which to choose.
Picking one of these machines for our top honor is often a tough decision, but thankfully one manufacturer simplified the task this year by introducing a grand new version of its flagship model 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 2018 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.
Manufacturer production and test bike availability varying as it often does, we may not have had the opportunity to ride every 2018 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 2019 models before it was time to select the MOTY—the Yamaha Niken, for example—since they’re not 2018 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 adds fuel to the riding fire and more potential for great rides and adventures. Congratulations to all of the manufacturers for bringing this year’s exciting selection of bikes to market.
Here are some of the top contenders for Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year, followed by the winner.
BMW G 310 GS
Big adventure sometimes comes in small packages. BMW’s mini GS is based on the G 310 R and has the same 313cc, 34-horsepower single, but it’s a doppelgänger of the larger globetrotting R 1200 GS.
Ducati Multistrada 1260 S Touring
Ducati’s largest Multistrada originated its “4 bikes in 1” concept for sport, touring, urban and enduro riding. For 2018 it has received a displacement bump from 1,198cc to 1,262cc in the Testastretta DVT L-twin, as well as chassis, suspension and running gear updates.
Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage Classic
The tourer among the new-for-2018 Softails, the Heritage Classic has a low seat height, is available with a 107ci or 114ci V-twin and comes with standard cruise control and ABS, a new detachable windshield, lockable, water-resistant saddlebags, more suspension travel and load capacity and a 5-gallon tank.
Indian Scout Bobber
The Scout Bobber takes a dark, less-is-more approach to styling, with less chrome and fewer shiny components, clipped fenders and a more aggressive riding position. The non-adjustable fork offers the same 4.7 inches of travel, but it now has a cartridge design for better compliance.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
Power-hungry sport-touring adventure riders need look no further. KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure S has the same 160-horsepower, 1,301cc V-twin in the off-road-focused 1290 Super Adventure R, but swaps the R’s spoked wheels for cast and gets a semi-active suspension upgrade to make it street-ready.
Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Suzuki’s big Strom trooper adventure bike has refreshed styling, Suzuki’s Easy Start and Low RPM Assist systems for 2018, and the new V-Strom 1000 also gets Suzuki’s “Motion Track Brake System” (a.k.a. cornering ABS).
Triumph Tiger 1200
For 2018 Triumph’s biggest Tiger loses the “Explorer” moniker as well as 22 pounds, and gains more power down low as well as cornering lighting, a new TFT display, all-LED lighting and more. It’s available in six adventurous flavors: XR, XRx, XRx Low Ride Height (LHR), XRT, XCx and XCA.
Yamaha Star Venture
Yamaha has jumped back into the luxury-touring game in a big way with the all-new Star Venture, which is loaded with comfort, convenience and buckets of traditional V-twin grunt from its air-cooled, 1,854cc V-twin, as well as 144 liters of luggage capacity, an electric windscreen, comprehensive electronics package and more.
And the winner is…
When Honda pulled the wraps off the new 1975 Gold Wing GL1000 at the Cologne show in 1974, the shock and awe must have leveled the room. Instead of the next salvo in the superbike war with Kawasaki’s 903cc Z1, Honda had followed up its game-changing 1969 CB750 with a liquid-cooled, 999cc flat opposed four with shaft final drive that promised unheard-of levels of smoothness, reliability and comfort.
It may have started out to simply trounce the competition, but instead Honda had created a new flagship for the company it believed was destined to be the “King of Motorcycles.”
Within a few years the Gold Wing did indeed become the king…of touring motorcycles. As more features were integrated and the engine grew in size and cylinders to a flat six, thanks to its combination of smooth, stump-pulling power, excellent handling for its size, luxurious, wind-protected comfort for two and class-leading convenience features, from the late 1970s until the new millennium Honda’s Gold Wing was by far the dominant force in the heavyweight touring category.
Over the years the Gold Wing also grew in size and weight, and its rider demographic aged, earning the bike a reputation as a “couch on wheels” and an “old man’s bike.” Sales leveled off and some were lost to faster and lighter competition and the rising popularity of traditional V-twin tourers. While the 2017 GL1800 still provides a stellar combination of two-up comfort, power and handling, the bike has been overdue for a revamp.
The 2018 Honda Gold Wing takes an entirely new approach to luxury touring, once again emphasizing overall competence, power, handling and lower weight like the earlier Wings.
The new bike is shorter and sheds almost 90 pounds, yet maintains its signature roomy rider and passenger accommodations. The lighter, more compact 1,833cc flat six has more peak horsepower and torque, and all-new bodywork is sleeker with taut new styling.
The bike’s electronics are state-of-the-art, with throttle-by-wire, four riding modes, C-ABS/traction control, electronically adjustable suspension and windscreen, Bluetooth and a fully featured infotainment and navigation system that includes Apple CarPlay.
Two models, a Gold Wing Tour with a top trunk and sportier Gold Wing without, have varying levels of equipment and the choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or 7-speed dual-clutch (DCT) automatic—you can even get an airbag in the the top-line Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag model.
In focusing the new Wing’s design back-to-the-future on a leaner, sportier profile and contemporary electronic and convenience features, Honda is reshaping the market for the Gold Wing, determined to abolish its “couch on wheels” reputation once and for all while still providing an exemplary luxury touring experience.
We’d say it has succeeded in spades, well enough in fact to earn our highest honor.