If Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year, now in its 34th year, were a person, it would have graduated from college or completed military service, launched a career, got married, bought a house, and started a family. It would have a couple motorcycles in the garage, perhaps a cruiser or sport-tourer for the open road and a dual-sport or adventure bike for exploring the backcountry.
In other words, it would be like the rest of us: a dedicated motorcycle enthusiast.
Rider has been bringing you “Motorcycling at Its Best” for almost 50 years. We’ve tested nearly every street-legal motorcycle on the market, with an emphasis on real-world bikes that are within reach for most of us. For every $100,000 Arch 1s we review, we test dozens if not hundreds of motorcycles you’ll find in dealerships and garages across America, from sea to shining sea.
Related: 2022 Motorcycle of the Year
Unlike car dealers, most motorcycle dealers don’t offer test rides. Demo rides are great, but they are few and far between and often involve parade-pace conga lines that don’t allow riders to experience a motorcycle’s true capabilities. We know you count on us to provide honest, in-depth reviews to help you make informed purchase decisions – or to just keep you up to date on the latest and greatest bikes on the market.
Every year, we ride as many new or significantly updated motorcycles as we can and evaluate them within the context of their intended use. Then we put our collective heads together and identify those that best fulfill their intended purpose and advance the state of motorcycle design, performance, and function.
For 2023, there were more than 80 eligible contenders. We narrowed them down to 10 finalists and one winner.
Without further ado…
2023 Motorcycle of the Year Finalists:
1. BMW R 18 Roctane
The fifth member of the R 18 family is a unique alternative to the ubiquitous American V-Twin. It’s powered by the BMW 1,802cc “Big Boxer” Twin and features blacked-out styling, a midrise handlebar, a 21-inch front wheel, and hard saddlebags. The Roctane has admirable curb appeal, good comfort and handling, and high-tech features including Rock, Roll, and Rain ride modes.
2. CFMOTO Ibex 800 T
CFMOTO has been on the gas lately, expanding its motorcycle lineup from seven to 10 models, including two versions of the Ibex 800 adventure-tourer powered by a 790cc parallel-Twin adapted from the KTM 790 Adventure. The top-of-the-line Ibex 800 T is comfortable, capable, and packed with useful features yet retails for an accessible $10,499.
3. Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide/Road Glide
For a company steeped in tradition, Harley-Davidson has taken two of its most iconic models in a decidedly modern direction. The new styling, 12.3-inch TFT color touchscreen, and liquid-cooled 121ci Milwaukee-Eight V-Twin with variable valve timing are only on the limited-production, high-priced CVO versions for now, but the significant updates have catapulted these baggers into the future.
4. Honda SCL500
In a nod to its iconic ’60s-era CL72 and CL77 scramblers, the new Honda SCL500 is powered by a 471cc parallel-Twin and has an upright riding position, a high-routed exhaust, block-tread tires, good suspension travel, and retro styling elements like fork gaiters and gas tank knee pads. Priced at $6,799 with standard ABS, the SCL500 brings back affordable cool.
5. Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition
After introducing the highly capable Norden 901 adventure bike for 2022, Husqvarna launched the Expedition variant for 2023 with an Explorer ride mode, upgraded suspension, a beefier skid plate, and several touring-ready features, including waterproof soft saddlebags. With a 105-hp 889cc parallel-Twin and serious off-road chops, the Expedition loves to get dirty.
6. Indian Sport Chief
Built on the new Chief platform launched by Indian two years ago (Indian’s Super Chief Limited was a 2021 MOTY finalist), the Sport Chief is a West Coast club-style cruiser with a bullet fairing, a tall-but-forward handlebar, and mid-mount foot controls. With a lean-and-mean stance and a rumbling 116ci Thunderstroke V-Twin, the Sport Chief won our recent comparison with Harley’s Low Rider S.
7. Royal Enfield Super Meteor 650
Since 2019, the Royal Enfield 648cc parallel-Twin lineup has included the Continental GT cafe racer and the INT650 roadster. For 2023, they were joined by the Super Meteor 650, a cruiser that draws from Royal Enfield’s 121-year heritage. After testing it on India’s rough-and-tumble streets, we were impressed by the Super Meteor’s style, build quality, capability, and value.
8. Suzuki V-Strom 800DE
The new Suzuki 776cc parallel-Twin, which makes a claimed 83 hp and 57.5 lb-ft of torque, powers two new-for-2023 models: the GSX-8S naked sportbike (see review on page 32) and the V-Strom 800DE adventure bike. With a 21-inch front wheel, 8.7 inches of suspension travel, 8.75 inches of ground clearance, and a gravel TC mode, the 800DE is the most off-road-capable V-Strom yet.
9. Triumph Street Triple 765 R
We tested the updated Triumph Street Triple 765 R and RS naked sportbikes in Spain, and as impressive as the higher-spec RS is, our reviewer favored the bang for the buck offered by the R. “It’s astonishing that a semi-exotic and highly refined motorcycle with such outsized performance capabilities can be had for less than $10K,” he said, adding that it is “one of the best values in motorcycling.”
10. Yamaha Tracer 9 GT+
Winner of Rider’s 2021 MOTY award, the fourth generation of the Yamaha FJ/Tracer platform gets a new millimeter-wave radar that enables adaptive cruise control and a world-first radar-linked Unified Brake System as well as other useful updates. Powered by an exciting 890cc crossplane Triple, the Tracer 9 GT+ is one of the best sport-tourers available.
And the 2023 Motorcycle of the Year winner is…
KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE GT
KTM has built bikes with “Duke” monikers for nearly 30 years, starting with the 620 Duke introduced in 1994, a lightweight, single-cylinder supermoto that was a bare-knuckled street brawler. The Duke family has grown and evolved over the years, and KTM’s U.S. lineup now includes the 200 Duke, 390 Duke, 790 Duke, 890 Duke R, 1290 Super Duke R Evo, and 1290 Super Duke GT.
We’ve tested them all, but the one that has become deeply embedded under our skin like a tattoo is the 1290 Super Duke GT sport-tourer.
Following his first ride on the then-new 2017 Super Duke GT, former EIC Mark Tuttle – not a man known to gush – described it as “nearly flawless, the perfect sport-touring bike for a rider who doesn’t want to give up sportbike levels of engine performance and handling. It’s comfortable for all-day riding, offers decent wind protection, makes enormous power, and does indeed handle and stop like a sportbike.”
After logging 3,500 miles for our first full test, we said “the GT is designed to excite you more than pamper you. … Few bikes feel so eager, so ready to take your breath away.”
It also earned a spot as a 2017 MOTY finalist: “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 GT for long days at warp speed, all powered by that 173-hp V-Twin, which is retuned for better touring manners.”
In the years since, the 1290 Super Duke GT has only gotten better.
An update for 2019 included refinements for the liquid-cooled 1,301cc LC8 V-Twin, revised WP semi-active suspension, and improvements in lighting, wind protection, and instrumentation. It gained a few pounds, but our review stated that “the GT’s on-road performance is every bit as thrilling as it was before; it goes fast, turns fast, and stops fast with a level of precision and control that’s hard to beat.” On Jett Tuning’s dyno, it cranked out 157 hp at 10,100 rpm and 92 lb-ft of torque at 7,400 rpm at the rear wheel.
We were bereft when the GT disappeared from KTM’s lineup during the Covid years, but we were excited to see it return for 2023. Updates were few, mostly styling and instrumentation, but what we loved about the 1290 Super Duke GT remained undiluted. As we wrote in our review in the May issue: “While the 1290 Super Duke GT is pretty incredible, it’s no Hulk ready to explode in a rage with one mistimed input. Rather, the GT is a well-behaved beast, one with finely tuned throttle response and easily controllable power.”
We also praised the GT’s high-spec components, top-notch electronic rider aids, confident handling, ride-all-day comfort, and generous 6.1-gal. fuel capacity. Although the 30-liter hard bags are no longer standard, they are available as accessories.
“This bike is the pointy end of the sport-touring spear, and it’s sharper than ever.”
Congratulations to KTM for the 1290 Super Duke GT, Rider’s 2023 Motorcycle of the Year!
To find a KTM dealer near you, visit the KTM website.