It’s seldom (if ever) easy to pick a Motorcycle of the Year…not that anyone ever feels sorry for us and our “but we had to ride so many motorcycles” tale of woe. For example, we took our initial ride on the first of this model year’s crop of Contenders, the Yamaha Niken, way back in May of 2018. We can’t even remember what we had for dinner last Tuesday, but fortunately Yamaha jogged our memories of the bike by unveiling the tour-ready GT version of its three-wheeled LMW (Leaning Multi-Wheel) in April 2019.
In the interim, Royal Enfield released a pair of highly anticipated 650 twins, designed, tested and engineered at its brand-spanking-new R&D facility in England and built at one of its sprawling factories in India. Triumph showed off its truly off-road capable yet still pleasantly retro Scrambler 1200 XC and XE. Harley-Davidson, meanwhile, was creating a lot of very different noise with its LiveWire electric motorcycle, but as a 2020 model it’s not eligible for this year’s award. The rightful successor to the dearly departed V-Rod, the dragbike-inspired FXDR 114, is a 2019 contender though. At the decidedly non-dragbike-inspired end of the motorcycle spectrum, Honda, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in the U.S. this year, brought us two absolutely adorable throwback models designed to both tug at Boomer heartstrings and appeal to vintage-loving Millennials, the Monkey and the Super Cub. Indian tapped into another vein of nostalgia and good ol’ Americana with its FTR 1200 S flat-track replica, one of the best-performing American bikes we’ve ridden in a while. Meanwhile BMW managed to improve once again on its bestseller by introducing the R 1250 GS, and Suzuki did the same with its venerable V-Strom 650 XT Touring.
So no, it’s never easy. That said, one machine stood out above the rest as our pick for the 2019 Motorcycle of the Year, and not just because it’s capable of scrabbling to the top of a mountain—then carrying you and your stuff comfortably home again. Our choice, as always, goes to a machine that succeeds best at its intent and could be considered a game-changer in its category. We celebrate all new motorcycles, as they each represent the opportunity to get more people on two wheels, experiencing this great adventure we know and love. Congratulations to all the manufacturers, and thank you for keeping our passion alive!
Check out Rider‘s 2018 Motorcycle of the Year
BMW R 1250 GS
Read our 2019 BMW R 1250 GS First Ride Review
BMW’s big GS gets ShiftCam variable valve timing that broadens the powerband, increases fuel efficiency and decreases emissions, a full-color TFT display, updated electronics and a bump in displacement (and power) from 1,170 to 1,254cc, making what was already arguably one of the best all-around motorcycles even better.
Harley-Davidson FXDR 114
Read our 2019 Harley-Davidson FXDR 114 First Ride Review
The V-Rod is dead, long live the V-Rod! Well, sort of. The newest member of the Softail family is a long, lean power cruiser that channels the spirit of the VRSC V-Rod, with a 114ci Milwaukee-Eight V-twin, raked-out cartridge-style USD fork, 33 degrees of lean angle and a 240-section rear tire wrapped around a solid-disc rear wheel.
Honda Super Cub
Read our 2019 Honda Super Cub C125 ABS First Ride Review
Sixty years ago, the original Super Cub proved that motorcycles needn’t be feared by the masses, and this new version continues to make good on that promise, with a 4-speed semi-automatic gearbox, 244-pound wet weight, timeless styling and modern conveniences like keyless ignition and ABS on the front brake.
Indian FTR 1200 S
Read our 2019 Indian FTR 1200 S First Ride Review
The FTR 1200 S is a light, fast, agile street tracker inspired by Indian’s championship-winning race bike. It’s also a breath of fresh, young air in the cruiser orthodoxy that’s dominated American-made motorcycles for decades, and features include a liquid-cooled, DOHC V-twin and a six-axis IMU-based electronics package.
Royal Enfield 650 Twins
Read our 2019 Royal Enfield Continental GT and Interceptor 650 Road Test Review
The Interceptor 650 and Continental GT are completely new, the first global models for India-based Royal Enfield and the first to be designed, tested and engineered at its new facility in England. Powered by an air/oil-cooled 648cc parallel twin, both bikes manage to evoke the simple pleasure of riding for riding’s sake.
Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT Touring
Read our 2018 Suzuki V-Strom 650XT vs V-Strom 1000XT Comparison Review
While we haven’t yet ridden the 2019 version, we’ve spent many thousands of miles aboard Wee Stroms, and this is the best-equipped one yet. With tubeless spoked wheels, locking side cases, hand guards, a centerstand, cruise control, ABS, Easy Start and Low RPM Assist, it’s ready to take on almost any adventure for just $9,999.
Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC/XE
Read our 2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE First Ride Review
Most modern scramblers talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk of off-road capability. Enter the Scrambler 1200, a full-on adventure bike with minimalist, retro styling—and a 21-inch front, nearly 10 inches of Öhlins suspension travel on the up-spec XE model, multiple riding modes, switchable ABS and traction control.
Yamaha Niken/Niken GT
Read our 2019 Yamaha Niken First Ride Review
Read our 2019 Yamaha Niken GT First Ride Review
They’re a bold, groundbreaking move from Yamaha, and they nearly snagged our top honor. The Niken and Niken GT, based around the Tracer 900—a fantastic bike in its own right—work surprisingly well, with ridiculous front-end grip that must be experienced to be believed and that lovely 847cc in-line triple at their hearts.
And the winner is….
KTM 790 Adventure
Read our 2019 KTM 790 Adventure/R First Ride Review
It’s no secret that adventure bikes are exploding in popularity, as riders discover the utility and versatility of their combination of upright seating position, decent ground clearance and suspension travel, wind protection, the ability to carry luggage and, to varying degrees, venture off-pavement. ADV bikes have been getting increasingly bloated, however, bigger, more powerful—and heavier—each model year. Hard-core ADV-ers have been clamoring for years, begging for a bike that returns adventure riding to its truly adventurous roots. Something lightweight and trail-capable, yet with enough elemental protection, power and luggage capacity to comfortably travel cross-country, and modern fuel injection and electronic rider aids wouldn’t hurt.
At long last, KTM answered the call, and what an answer it is. The 790 Adventure and its even more off-road-oriented R sibling manage to check all the boxes: light weight at a claimed 417 pounds dry, a state-of-the-art 799cc liquid-cooled, DOHC LC8 parallel twin that produces a claimed 95 horsepower and 65.6 lb-ft of torque delivered low in the rev range for optimum grunt, and spoked tubeless wheels in 21-inch front/18-inch rear sizes. The standard, more touring-oriented model has a still-respectable 7.9 inches of travel from its WP Apex suspension and a fairly accessible, adjustable seat height of 32.7/33.5 inches. Multiple riding modes (Street, Offroad and Rain) adjust throttle response and lean-angle sensitive Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) settings, and power reaches the rear wheel by way of an assist-and-slipper clutch, a 6-speed transmission and chain final drive. The more off-road-oriented R model gets a Rally ride mode, fully adjustable WP Xplor suspension with 9.4 inches of travel and a 34.6-inch rally-style seat.
A defining characteristic of the 790 Adventure is its rally racer-inspired, 5.3-gallon horseshoe-shaped gas tank, which keeps the bike’s center of gravity low, creates less bulk between the knees for stand-up riding and makes air filter, battery and fuse access easy, plus it does double-duty as engine protection in case of a tip-over.
On paper the 790 Adventure is impressive, and riding it is confirmation; the seat is flat, spacious and comfortable, the wide handlebar is six-position adjustable and the long-travel suspension soaks up road irregularities at high and low speeds. Bosch 9.1 MP cornering ABS backs up powerful brakes and many useful features are standard, such as an aluminum skid plate, a 12V dash socket and an underseat USB port. Cruise control, a centerstand, a quickshifter, heated grips and TPMS are optional.
At long last, the empty slot between a street-legal enduro and an open-class ADV tourer has been filled, and that sound you hear is the cheering of all those riders looking for a bike to rule both mountain and highway.
If you had given the award to Niken, I would have never read another word from your publication. Absolutely disgraceful for Yamaha to bring that trash here and leave the 700 Tenere unfinished.
Yamaha technology ‘trash?’ Yamaha ‘disgraceful?’ Yamaha knows motorcycles and where their markets are. I applaud Yamaha for pushing the technological envelope. Not unlike Honda, they have helped bring us some of the finest motorcycle marvels of our time. Innovation and experimentation combined with competition will always improve the motorcycle experience.
I agree Randy. Change is difficult for people. While I have not yet ridden the bike myself, I am awed by the Marvel they created.
Niken, trash? Look, I’m not that enthralled the bike, but didn’t you watch the Tour de France? They were very able to handle dealing with all the the things happening over the Pirenese and Alps, riding 2up with cameras and other equipment…I was impressed how it handle slow going in crowds (mainly due to the fact they CAN’T FALL) that will help new riders and/or older folks I’m sure.
Go re-read the reviews. And I might be fuzzy on my memory, but I recall reading that they WILL fall over without a side/ctr stand or leg to perch on.
I was at the TDF. Yamaha made a big investment in supplying the Nikens and the worked admirably for the camera srews. It will pay big dividends for them in marketing and sales.
It can fall!
If you watched the Tour de France you would’ve seen some of the reasons they used the Niken. Slow, fast, getting through the crowds…ALL with ease and preciseness and never fearing the bike falling over. I do agree, I don’t think it deserved bike 70of the year, although my choice was Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT Touring. Being 70yrs old, I’ve had a lifetime of “off road riding” and don’t want to work too hard to enjoy the views of the greater outdoors.
Yamaha should fire it’s “Product Planners”! They’ll use the T7 as the basis for University Courses in the future. They made a real mess of the T7. I think it’ll be a good bike, but I won’t buy one on principle. This could of been released in 2018. Now, it;ll be 1/2 way through 2020! For shame! Suzuki never took that long to make a Rotary Bike! Especially after it was shown to the public.
The Niken does not have the ability to lock its front end, therefore you cannot just get off. You must put it on its side stand. This bike has maybe 1/3 the technological prowess of the Yamaha GTS1000. In 2025 most people won’t remember what this bikes name was. Another bike with an answer to a problem we never had! How was the fruity “Tour De France” run before the Niken came out? That’s what I thought! Yamaha gave bikes to gain advertising. natelepain is correct. I think the DL650 V Strom could’ve won. Sheer brilliance. Will go 150,000 km’s without any engine work. Engine is a jem. Very under rated.
Uurrggh! Some people just have no imagination. I might only be a mere Tricity 125 owner, but even I recognize the benefits of having three wheels, while suffering almost no penalty except a bit of stability inducing weight. It takes an almost insane level of cornering speed to upset the trike, and that only momentarily. There is so much front end grip that it is practically endless. True, the suspension could be more compliant, but then I am an old bugger (62). I had a heart attack and open heart surgery shortly after buying the trike, and i am currently in stringent lock down in New Zealand, but I’m much better now and looking forward to many more adventures on my lovely little Tricity trike.
I’m disappointed also that the T7 won’t arrive in the US for at least another year from now, but your comment is a little short sighted. No secret that the moto-market is basically becoming a footnote in US history, therefore publications like Rider would eventually go away also. Nobody wants to see that happen. Yamaha is simply offering something that is more accessible to a wider audience then a traditional motorcycle would with the Niken. It’s certainly wouldn’t find it’s way into my garage, but perhaps someone who would consider a Can-Am Spyder, trike-bike or someone with a disability, etc? Can’t blame Yamaha for trying something different and new and trying to expand it’s audience. If anything, it’s a pretty neat engineering exercise.
The 2 front wheels don’t support the bike from falling over without a stand or leg.
I have ridden three KTM motorcycles and each has been amazing and really fun, beyond expectations. One of the main reason I have yet to pull the purchase trigger is the sparse dealer network of the street bikes. Unfortunately, the 790 was not available to test ride at a recent KTM factory demo event near me in Denver. WHY? Having said this, I have seen street / ADV KTMs and their riders covered in dirt in the far reaches of Colorado. That should probably convince me that they are worth every penny. (I think they are even less $ than the BMWs in the same classes?)
I also see DL650 V Stroms, Super Tenere’s, Africa Twins, Transalp’s, etc, going through ADV routes all the time. The reason I don’t buy a KTM is price, build quality and reliability. KTM is not as good as a Japanese product.
What an interesting concept and kudos to Yamaha for bringing it to market! As a former rider of many different bikes over the years till the last few, a 2007 V-Rod Night Rod with center Mount Control Pegs, a 2007 50th Anniversary 1200 Sportster, a 2009 XR 1200 Sportster and a 2007 750 Street for the wife. That’s been forced to sell for physical and painful reasons, that miss the sensation of riding, that will actually go to a nearby Yamaha dealer to get a good look at a new Niken GT Soon.
Before you comment on the Niken, you need to ride one. I did and it was a whole new experience riding in the wet and around bends and corners. It has great stability and the GT is very comfortable. I ride an Aprilia Tuono and a Yamaha XSR900 so I know what handling is all about but throwing the Niken around corners is unreal. That said, they are very pricey here in Canada (we only get the GT for now) and the styling could use improvement. I might consider getting one in future.
Congrats to KTM for beating Yamaha to the market once again with something the people actually wanted, I’m a Yamaha fan and owner, but you have to give praise where it’s deserved. I think there are a lot of choices out there for the motorcyclist, and it seems the race to get the sale keeps getting tougher with less riders entering the fray. Good time to be a 2 wheel enthusiast and rider
For anyone who’s ever ridden single trac or dropped a bike on the trail and picked it up, calling the KTM “light weight” at well over 450 lbs wet is certainly a stretch. I guess having the GAS TANK do “double-duty as engine protection in case of a tip-over” is a benefit (?)
Yup – though a fine bike , you can’t ride it dry. The cb500x is about 430 wet and can be painted orange. Should be on the list as “the little bike that can”,
I’m not surprised it won. After digesting all the rave reviews and accolades in print and video ( Chris Birch finishing 4th in the Hellas rally on a stock R sealed the deal ) I wen’t down to my KTM dealer and put a deposit on their second R due in Sept. I ride a DR650 now and wanted a more capable street bike but still handle the off roading I do. To me the Adventure R is a Unicorn, a Goldilocks bike. I had pined for a Yamaha Tenere 700 when those broke cover 3 years ago but alas they couldn’t bring it to market in time. No biggy now as the KTM is the one I want even for $$ thousands more.
I have a funny idea that the Yamaha Tenere 700 will no longer be a 700 when it is finally introduced in the USA. after such a lengthy delay. It will now have a larger displacement and more power to compete with the new KTM 790.
Yamaha was waiting for the KTM to be introduced and will now attempt to match it in engine size.power and weight but at a much lower price.
There are no bad bikes, because there is an a– for every seat! Love-em, ride-em, & keep the rubber side down.
I would love to demo the KTM, but unfortunately they have very little presence and support in Texas. Practicality forces me to stick with the Big 4 from Japan.
Three wheels isn’t a motorcycle no matter how you spin it. The Yamaha Niken shouldn’t be here anymore than a Harley factory trike should be here.
KTM is hot now and they’re capitalizing on it. They are still are near the bottom in terms of reliability so I won’t own one and that’s why I think any other two wheeled motorcycle on the list would have been a better choice.
Im not sure about Niken, but Royal Enfield is as trash as they come. Manufacturer defects, design defects and reliability issues does not make it to Top motorcycles of the year in my books.
It’s whatever appeals to your senses that matters . I don’t care what people ride if it gets you to ride . I have a 2010 multistrada 1200s , I cant imagine a better, more exciting bike . Sure it’s expensive to maintain but gosh what an experience between those 15,000 tune ups . My wife has a 400 Burghman that i ride some . It will eat up a corner and i enjoy it also . So, just ride,,,,,,
For the people that say 3 wheels isn’t a motorcycle, you’re wrong.
Motor…..cycle, bicycle, tricycle
Unless you’re some weirdo that calls his ride his motorbicycle 😆
In Europe they call them motorbikes. Seems to work.