No doubt the year 2020 is primarily going to be remembered for a nasty pandemic, civil unrest and a tumultuous election (and to think it’s only August!). With all of that on our minds, finding a silver lining to fall back on can be tough, but there are actually several in motorcycle land this year. No one expected, for example, that the need for social distancing would inspire people to buy dirt bikes — as I write this, 50% more new off-highway bikes were sold in the first half of 2020 than in the same time period last year. New on-highway motorcycle sales are still in the doldrums, but many dealers can’t keep entry-level dual-sports and used road bikes in stock. Turns out motorcycles can satisfy the need to distance ourselves in a fun and thrilling way, yet another silver lining in a year a lot of us would like to see in the rearview mirror.
Before 2020 enters the history books, there’s the important and exciting matter of selecting Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year. Despite temporary factory shutdowns and press introductions going virtual, the manufacturers still found a way to bring more than 75 all-new or significantly changed motorcycles to their lineups, and the preponderance of great bikes made our decision pretty difficult. Turns out our winner was actually introduced in 2019 as a 2020 model and was among the first 2020s we tested last year. Other notable contenders for the title are on the facing page, and that list could go on and on, what with machines like Harley’s new electric LiveWire, the Suzuki Katana and Moto Guzzi V85TT Travel also in dealerships as 2020 models. Manufacturer production timing varying as it often does, we didn’t get the opportunity to ride every 2020 model before we had to settle in and pick one as the MOTY in time for this issue. And though we may have actually ridden several early release 2021 models that might be available at your dealer before it was time to select the MOTY—the Yamaha Ténéré 700, for example—since they’re not 2020 models they’re not eligible for this year’s award, though we will include them in next year’s considerations.
So it’s never easy, but one machine did stand out above the rest as our pick for the 2020 Motorcycle of the Year, because it’s capable of so much and represents a solid improvement in a very popular category. Our choice, as always, goes to a machine that succeeds best at its intent and could be considered a game-changer. 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…even while staying 6 feet apart. Congratulations to all of the manufacturers, and thank you for keeping our passion alive in a year in which it might be tempting to run away and hide….
BMW F 900 R
The successor to BMW’s popular F 800 R naked bike gets a smoother, larger and more powerful parallel twin with great character thanks to a new imbalanced firing interval. An all-new chassis and suspension and relaxed seating help it carve corners in comfort, and you can pay just $8,995 or boost the price with a slew of the latest electronic enhancements as accessories.
Harley-Davidson Road Glide Limited
Powered by the Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight 114, the Road Glide Limited has premium suspension, linked Brembo brakes with ABS and a Boom! Box GTS infotainment system with color touchscreen. Premium features such as painted pinstriping, a gloss-finish inner fairing and Slicer II Contrast Bright wheels are icing on the cake.
Honda Africa Twin CRF1100L Adventure Sports ES
For 2020 both Africa Twins offer more power and better handling, with a larger parallel twin-cylinder engine carried in a lighter, stiffer chassis. The Adventure Sports ES adds a barrel-full of adventure-touring features such as electronic semi-dynamic suspension, spoked tubeless wheels and tires, cruise control, a larger 6.5-gallon tank and more.
KTM 390 Adventure
With a base price of just $6,199, the new single-cylinder 390 Adventure is a lot of KTM for the money, with adjustable front and rear WP suspension, a full-color TFT display, lean-angle sensitive traction control and Bosch 2-channel cornering ABS, with a quickshifter offered as an option. A smaller bike for big adventures on or off the road.
Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT
When it launched the DL1000 V-Strom, Suzuki became the first Japanese manufacturer to offer a big adventure bike in the U.S. For 2020 engine displacement is unchanged but its 1,037cc V-twin makes more power, and the bike gets throttle-by-wire, an updated traction control system, new instrumentation and LED lighting, all wrapped in attractive new retro styling.
Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro
Triumph has updated its middleweight ADV platform with a larger engine, a new chassis, technology, styling and more. The engine gets a unique firing interval for great sound, and a lighter new tubular-steel chassis give both the street-oriented GT and more dirt-worthy Rally great handling. Pro versions of each add creature comforts and high-end electronics.
Essentially a naked version of the YZF-R3 sportbike, the MT-03 shares the aggressive, mass-forward styling of the larger MTs in Yamaha’s Hyper Naked family, but powered by the same smooth, 321cc parallel twin with 180-degree firing order as the YZF-R3. Priced at just $4,599 and weighing less than 375 pounds, the MT-03 is a scrappy little bike with a big heart.
And the winner is…
In just a few short years Indian has forged a complete lineup of American V-twin cruisers, baggers, touring bikes and street trackers that have both taken on the competition and established Indian as a well-rounded manufacturer of both contemporary and traditional motorcycles. The name of one of its new motorcycles for 2020 makes its intentions very clear: Challenger. Aimed squarely at Harley-Davidson’s popular Road Glide line, at the heart of the daringly styled Challenger with its frame-mounted fairing is Indian’s new liquid-cooled Powerplus 108 V-twin. Though its 1,768cc displacement is 122cc smaller than that of the 1,890cc Thunder Stroke 116 found in most of Indian’s heavyweight lineup, the PowerPlus revs higher and makes more torque. On the Jett Tuning dyno it also out-pulled all of the competition by cranking out an impressive 113.3 lb-ft of torque and 107.6 horsepower when we ran it for the December 2019 issue. So the bike not only delivers right-now power for rapid acceleration, its liquid-cooled design also means much less heat radiates into the cockpit, eliminating our biggest complaint about the air-cooled Thunder Stroke.
Rather than implement partial liquid-cooling, Indian gave the Challenger full conventional liquid cooling, wrapping the front frame downtubes around the blacked-out radiator to help downplay its presence. Throttle-by-wire enables three riding modes and cruise control, and hydraulic valves and cam chain tensioners reduce maintenance for a thoroughly modern engine with classic style.
Outside of the engine bay, the Challenger is designed not only for style and performance but also touring, with a fairing and electric windscreen that provide good wind protection, a seat and riding position that are all-day comfortable and generous luggage capacity of 68 liters. The Ride Command infotainment system with its large 7-inch touchscreen and 100-watt audio keeps the riders informed and entertained, and even the base Challenger model has conveniences such as keyless ignition. The Challenger Dark Horse adds navigation, a customizable route builder, connected weather and traffic services and contrast-cut wheels with tire-pressure monitoring. The Challenger Limited comes in several metallic colors and adds color-matched fender closeouts and highway bars.
Even at 848 pounds wet for the Limited version, the Challenger’s frame-mounted fairing, strong aluminum chassis, compliant suspension and decent cornering clearance help it hustle through corners with ease. On the Dark Horse, Indian’s Smart Lean Technology uses a Bosch IMU to enable cornering ABS, traction control and Drag Torque Control.
The PowerPlus 108 is most likely the engine that will take Indian’s heavyweight models into the future, so its debut in the Challenger is only the beginning. It offers the performance, comfort and lower emissions that only liquid cooling can provide, and delivers impressive grunt and smoothness with the rumbling character that makes V-twins so popular. That plus muscular, modern style, an excellent chassis, a full range of available technology, generous wind protection and luggage capacity and plenty of long-haul comfort make the Challenger a really great bagger.
Congratulations to Indian for the Challenger, Rider’s 2020 Motorcycle of the Year!