Rider’s 2021 Motorcycle of the Year

10 Contenders and One Winner!

2021 Motorcycle of the Year

Our first Motorcycle of the Year was awarded to the 1990 BMW K1, and for the past 31 years we’ve limited contenders to current model-year motorcycles that are new or significantly updated. In recent years, however, production timing and model-year designations have become more fluid.

And then there’s the economic shutdown last year caused by the pandemic, which disrupted the global supply chain for everything from toilet paper to semiconductors. Some manufacturers were forced to delay the release of certain models, while others skipped the 2021 model year altogether.

We’ve posted announcements of new/updated 2022 models as early as January of this year. And so far, we’ve ridden 2022 motorcycles from BMW, Honda, Indian, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha. To give all makes and models a fair shake during the calendar year when they are released and most relevant, eligible contenders for this year’s MOTY include any new/updated motorcycle released since last year’s award that are available for testing.

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2021 Motorcycle Buyers Guide: New Street Models

2022 Motorcycle Buyers Guide: New Street Models

There were plenty of motorcycles to consider, and we’ve narrowed them down to 10 contenders and one winner. Without further ado…

THE CONTENDERS

1) BMW R 18 B/Transcontinental

2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental review
2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental (Photo by Kevin Wing)

BMW entered the traditional cruiser segment in 2021 with the standard R 18 and windshield-and-saddlebags-equipped R 18 Classic, built around the 1,802cc “Big Boxer.” The 2022 R 18 B “Bagger” and R 18 Transcontinental are touring-ready with a batwing-style fairing, infotainment system, hard saddlebags, and a passenger seat, and the TC adds a top trunk with a passenger backrest.

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Read our 2022 BMW R 18 B / Transcontinental review

2) Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250/Special

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special (Photo by Kevin Wing)

Yes, pigs – or more accurately, hogs – can fly. The Motor Company shook up the hyper-competitive ADV segment when it introduced the 2021 Pan America 1250/Special. Powered by a 150-horsepower V-Twin and fully equipped with all the latest bells and whistles, it proved itself to be highly capable on- and off-road, and the optional Adaptive Ride Height is its killer app.

Read our 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review

3) Honda Gold Wing Tour/DCT

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT (Photo by Drew Ruiz)

Honda’s GL1800 won Rider’s MOTY when it debuted in 2001 and again when it was thoroughly overhauled in 2018. Updates for 2021 may seem minor, but they make all the difference when it comes to the two-up touring the Wing was designed for. The larger trunk holds more stuff, the improved passenger accommodations are appreciated, and the audio and styling updates add refinement.

Read our 2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review

4) Honda Rebel 1100/DCT

2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT review
2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT (Photo by Drew Ruiz)

The all-new Rebel 1100 is the sort of cruiser only Honda could make. It has styling like its smaller Rebel 300/500 siblings, a powerful engine adapted from the Africa Twin CRF1100L (including an optional 6-speed automatic Dual Clutch Transmission), ride modes and other electronics, well-damped suspension, good cornering clearance, modest weight, and a base price of just $9,299 (add $700 for DCT).

Read our 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT review

5) Kawasaki KLR650

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 review
2022 Kawasaki KLR650 (Photo by Drew Ruiz)

The KLR is dead, long live the KLR! After a two-year absence, Kawasaki’s legendary dual-sport returns for 2022 with fuel injection (at last!), optional ABS, and other updates aimed at improving reliability, comfort, stability, load capacity, and user-friendliness. It remains one of the best deals on two wheels with a base price of $6,699.

Read our 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure review

6) KTM 890 Adventure R

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R review
2021 KTM 890 Adventure R (Photo by Kevin Wing)

KTM’s street-oriented 790 Adventure and off-road-ready 790 Adventure R shared Rider’s 2019 MOTY. Just two years later, the folks in Mattighofen kicked it up a notch with a larger, more powerful engine from the 890 Duke R, chassis updates, and tweaks to the suspension, brakes, and electronics, all of which contribute to the 890 Adventure R’s all-terrain capability.

Read our 2021 KTM 890 Adventure R review

7) Indian Super Chief Limited

2022 Indian Super Chief Limited review
2022 Indian Super Chief Limited (Photo by Jordan Pay)

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the original Chief, Indian revamped its entire Chief lineup, with six models that strike a balance between old-school style and new-school technology. Powered by the Thunderstroke 116 V-Twin, the all-new Super Chief Limited has a quick-release windscreen, saddlebags, a two-up seat, ABS, and a Ride Command-equipped display.

Read our 2022 Indian Super Chief Limited review

8) Royal Enfield Meteor 350

2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 review
2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 (Photo by Kevin Wing)

Yes, the Meteor 350’s air-/oil-cooled Single makes just 18 horsepower and 18 lb-ft of torque. But rarely have we encountered a motorcycle that offers so much substance for so little money. In top-spec Supernova trim, the Meteor comes with ABS, turn-by-turn navigation, a two-up seat with a passenger backrest, a windshield, and a two-tone paint scheme for just $4,599.

Read our 2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350 review

9) Suzuki Hayabusa

2022 Suzuki Hayabusa review
2022 Suzuki Hayabusa (Photo by Kevin Wing)

The former winner of the late-’90s top-speed wars got its first major update since 2008. Thanks to more grunt in the midrange, the Hayabusa’s updated 187-horsepower 1,340cc inline-Four helps it accelerate faster than ever before. Refined and reworked from nose to tail, the ’Busa has more aerodynamic bodywork, a full suite of IMU-enabled electronics, and much more.

Read our 2022 Suzuki Hayabusa review

10) Yamaha Ténéré 700

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 review
2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 (Photo by Brian J. Nelson)

Designed to be equally capable on- and off-road, Yamaha’s middleweight adventure bike is powered by a liquid-cooled, 689cc CP2 parallel-Twin and has a durable tubular-steel frame, adjustable long-travel suspension, switchable ABS, and spoked wheels in 21-inch front/18-inch rear sizes. Contributor Arden Kysely liked the T7 so much, he bought our test bike from Yamaha.

Read our 2021 Yamaha Ténéré 700 review

And the winner is…

Yamaha Tracer 9 GT

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review
2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT (Photos by Joseph Agustin)

For the better part of the past decade, the adventure bike segment has been the darling of the motorcycle industry, growing while other segments have been flat or declining and siphoning off R&D resources. With some adventure bikes making 150 horsepower or more, traditional sport-tourers have been all but neglected. Stalwarts such as the Honda ST1300, Kawasaki Concours 14, and Yamaha FJR1300 haven’t been updated in years.

That’s what makes the Yamaha Tracer 9 GT such a breath of fresh air. At less than 500 pounds fully fueled, it’s much easier to handle than the 600-plus-pound S-T bikes on the market. And with a claimed 115 horsepower on tap, there are few motorcycles that will leave it behind.

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review

We first tested the bike that would evolve into the Tracer 9 GT when Yamaha introduced the FJ-09 for 2015. At its heart was the liquid-cooled 847cc CP3 Triple from the FZ-09 – an absolute ripper of a motor. It had an ADV-ish upright seating position and wind-blocking handguards but rolled on 17-inch wheels with sport-touring rubber, while its windscreen, centerstand, and optional 22-liter saddlebags added touring capability. The FJ-09 was light and fun to ride, but it was held back by fueling issues, poorly damped suspension, and weak brakes.

Yamaha did its homework and gave its middleweight sport-tourer an overhaul for 2019, renaming it the Tracer 900 GT in the process. Updates included better throttle response, a longer swingarm for more stability, higher-quality suspension, a new TFT color display, and a larger, one-hand-adjustable windscreen. The saddlebags were made standard as were other features, such as cruise control, heated grips, and a quickshifter.

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review
2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review

Two years later, Yamaha went even further. For 2021, the new Tracer 9 GT gets the larger 890cc CP3 Triple from the MT-09, which is lighter, more fuel efficient, and more powerful. An all-new lightweight aluminum frame is made using a controlled-fill diecast process that reduces mass and increases rigidity. A new aluminum swingarm is longer and stronger, and a new steel subframe increases load capacity to 425 pounds and allows an accessory top trunk to be mounted along with the larger 30-liter saddlebags. New spinforged wheels reduce unsprung weight, and they’re shod with grippy Bridgestone Battlax T32 GT sport-touring tires.

In addition to updated throttle response modes and all-new KYB semi-active suspension, the Tracer 9 GT now has a 6-axis IMU that enables a suite of electronic rider aids adapted from the YZF-R1, including lean-angle-sensitive traction control, ABS, slide control, and lift control. It also has full LED lighting (including cornering lights) and a new dual-screen TFT display. The rider/passenger seats have been upgraded, and the rider’s ergonomics are adjustable.

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review

We had an opportunity to test the Tracer 9 GT just before the MOTY polls closed, and it swept the field. Thanks to steady evolution and improvement over three generations, Yamaha has demonstrated just how good a modern sport-tourer can be, especially for riders who value agility over couch-like luxury. Performance, sophistication, comfort, versatility, load/luggage capacity – the Tracer checks all the right boxes and leaves nothing on the table.

Congratulations to Yamaha for the Tracer 9 GT, Rider’s 2021 Motorcycle of the Year!

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review

50 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure the tracer is a great bike, but the new Harley was the one that really turned heads and had everyone talking this year. The Tracer is an average bike at best, which doesn’t make it bad, but it’s hardly the best, IMO.

    • Skogs, you hit the nail on the head. The Tracer is merely a bike Yamaha has been selling for years, albeit with some improvements for this year. The Harley on the other hand is completely new from the ground up, and with an all-new engine. For Harley to build something totally different from anything it has built before and be immediately competitive in probably the most hotly contested class in motorcycling is an amazing achievement that Rider should have recognized.

  2. I understand that the MOTY needs to be “new”, but I’m not convinced that the Tracer 9 GT is a “better” sport-tourer than my Concours 14 or an FJR1300. It appears that the Tracer 9 has a number of improvements over the Tracer 900. The T900 that I test-rode was a nice bike, but nowhere close to motivating me to trade in my C14.

    Admittedly the T9 has some newer gadgets missing from the C14, but the Connie is still a great bike.

    • After riding from Grand Canyon to East Texas in 2 1/2 days, I don’t see doing that on a Tracer. Wouldn’t go from my FJR for something like the Tracer with minimal wind protection, bags that look like an after-thought, and chain drive. Not a chance!

  3. The Tracer 9 was unavailable for purchase this year (in Oregon) until recently. When one dealer received one bike in August they were selling it for more than a thousand over the MSRP. And it certainly wasn’t the only bike made of unobtainium. I wanted to check out a Ninja 1000SX; there were none. I think this might have been a year to skip the award.

  4. The thing that Yamaha has alway done is make a motorcycle that is painless to live with and I look forward to giving this bike a test ride . I had the 76 750 triple with the shaft drive ..It cost $1976.00 in 1976 .(very easy to remember 🙂 )

  5. Nice bike but I really thought the HD Pan America would would have won considering what a departure from the norm it was for HD and how well they succeeded with it right out of the gate.

  6. I’ve had my eye on the FJ09/tracer Since it 1st came out. They have made a lot of nice improvements over the years and fixed the snatchy throttle and the whimpy suspension that kept me away initially. I have a 2017 triumph trophy I use as my 2 up Turing bike and a KLR For putting around in the back hills. This would be nice for ripping around on the back roads
    I will have to go to my local Yamaha shop and see if one follows me home.

  7. I agree with others here, the Harley Pan Am is ALL NEW..!!! Not an evolution of a great engine into different chassis and body designs.. I bet the FZ09 or MT09 have already won awards, so now its another 9 from Yamaha..?
    PAN AM is all new and from HARLEY..!!! Throw em a bone…

  8. I’m not a big fan of Harley Inc. and even I would have voted for the Pan Am. That bike is a huge step for Harley, and pretty much everyone who rides it agrees.

    The Tracer..? Seriously? Are you kidding me?

  9. I’m not a big fan of Harley Inc. either and there’s NO way the Pan Am would be worth of MOTY for any publication. An all new version of same ol Harley. And talk about ugly! Havent ridden the Tracer yet, but had a 2015 FJ09 and the motor alone would put it in consideration for greatness. Can only imagine how the Tracer motor would put a smile on your face. Traction control off, check for a clear road, and it’s fun time! Great choice for MOTY Rider.

  10. Chain drive? Seriously…how does any MOTY include a chain?

    Yes I’m biased. After owning nothing but non-chain bikes the past few years (BMW, Indian, and now Honda GW) I don’t see how a chain bike on anything other than a super sport should still be an option. Too many modern alternatives that allow you to ride maintenance free for thousands of miles. I get it…better power transfer…

    Oh…and you had NO electrics on the list…”come’on man!”…

  11. It wasn’t too many mags. ago that you wrote an article about HOW MUCH Honda Goldwings & RIDER mag. had in common both being launched in or around the same year,, AND I believe in that same article you referred to HOW MUCH over the years that the Goldwings have been referred to as “Old man’s Lounge chair”… NOW, In this MOTY article.. you BUILD UP the Yamaha Tracer 9GT to the expense of labeling the (not stated but inferred) GOLDWING with the comment : especially for riders who value agility over “couch-like” luxury. Couldn’t you have just said “Agility over Luxury”??

    • There’s nothing wrong with couch-like luxury, but not everyone wants that. Clearly the Gold Wing and the Tracer 9 GT appeal to different buyers. Not better or worse, just different. Variety is the spice of life!

  12. After riding heavier bikes for years (FJR, Norge 1200) my 2020 Tracer 900GT is a joy to ride. Very responsive, comfortable, and fast. True, it doesn’t have the same level of wind protection and chain maintenance is somewhat inconvenient, but there is no such thing as a ‘perfect bike.’ Overall, I’m thrilled with it. Glad I bought a 2020 because the 2021 are not available.

  13. I took a demo ride on this Tracer a couple of weeks ago at Americade in Lake George New York. The next day I took another demo ride on it to see if it was really as good as I thought it was. It was better. Great choice for motorcycle of the year.

  14. If only the front end of the Tracer wasn’t SO hideous! Specs are great (triple, IMU, can take side bags and a top box, nice TFT). But having to LOOK at the thing, it hurts my eyes. The front end has all the appeal of a person with no chin…and the saddlebags are just bizarre.

    Maybe I’d forget all of that from the cockpit.

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