BIKE OF THE YEAR
On the new motorcycle front, 2015 compensated for an indifferent 2014, with a host of new machines, even some superbikes. In fact, all areas and manufacturers were well represented but only one can take out the top gong
It’s suddenly that time of the year again when we mull over the year’s new entrants and pick the 2015 AMI Insurance NZ Autocar Bike of the Year. It has been another solid 12 months for the motorcycle makers, some fresh superbikes amongst the new models, and some oddities. Kawasaki rocked the world with its outrageous supercharged litre H2 machine. However, this $38k rocket has yet to find its way into my mitts. Hopefully next year. Similarly important new machines like BMW’s S 1000 R and S 1000 XR have proved so popular that they sell out before we can swing a leg over them. Pity, as we did get to ride the third generation of the S 1000 RR superbike upon which this pair is based. It showed that what many thought almost faultless could still be improved upon. Fast, fluid in corners and with a belting soundtrack, once you set up its electronic suspension it rewards with confidence and stability. It’s also surprisingly easy to ride, both in and out of town. While it isn’t inexpensive and nor is it a raging beauty, it did enough to usurp the latest (value-laden but tech-bare) GSX-R1000, the sexy but single-minded Panigale 1299 S and Yamaha’s high-tech but more track-oriented R1; the RR was our favourite superbike of 2015.
Mention of Ducati, we rode the latest Multistrada straight after the Panigale and much preferred its all-rounder orientation. This is the first motorcycle to implement fully variable valve timing. We’ve always rated the Multistrada – it is a past BOTY winner – and the latest version is aesthetically more pleasing than its forebear, though few adventure bikes you’d rate as fetching. The way the new engine works down low highlights how ordinarily it worked there previously. At the top end, it performs more like a sports bike, an impression backed up by performance testing. We thought it a great alternative to the similarly priced GS 1200 from BMW. However, like the Panigale S, the Multi S is expensive and other bikes offer a similar level of safety and performance for less of an outlay.
Ducati also launched its new Scrambler line-up, presenting four retro offerings, kicking off with the Icon at $15,990. Not a bike for bigger folk but this is sure to be of interest to some who might never have considered the brand before. It has a delightfully energetic engine, and is a truly lightweight fun machine, though ride quality could be better. The Scrambler is partly responsible for record Ducati sales this year, shipping over 50,000 bikes for the first time ever. We imagine the latest Monster is contributing too, the sub-$20k 821 our pick of the range.
Not a whole lot of new cruisers dotted down this year, but the standout was Indian’s least expensive offering, the Scout. Decent looking, easy to ride, and nimble for the breed, it is the brand’s quickest and in my view its best offering.
In the end, the BOTY came down to three finalists, Suzuki’s GSX-S1000 (twins), and Yamaha’s MT-07 HO and MT-09 Tracer. A year after launching the award-winning MT-07 LAMS machine, Yamaha sensibly added ABS brakes to this bike which now
sells for $11,600, still princely value. The HO (high output) version of the MT-07 gets 44 per cent more power and sings up top more merrily, without losing that solid midrange. It still weighs under 180kg too, and managed to crack into the 3s in the dash to 100km/h, nearly a second quicker than the LAMS bike. Its lively handling remains thanks to good standard rubber and solid performance is backed up by decent brakes (no ABS though). At $11,999 it is simply astounding value and makes a great fun standard bike.
Want something similar but a bit bigger and quicker? Suzuki recently launched its GSX-S1000 (two versions, naked and faired) that weighs little more than the superbike upon which it’s loosely based and comes fitted with traction control and ABS brakes. The GSX-S1000F might have an unwieldy name but it’s far from that on road. Sporting a detuned K5 long stroke litre engine, this feels rather like they’ve just kept the best bits of the GSX-R superbike and made it a whole lot more rideable for rural and urban rather than track use. So there’s not the stretch to the controls, or the highset pegs, and it retains quality bits like the Brembo monobloc calipers. The frame is lightweight and Suzuki has added three-position traction control which the superbike doesn’t even get. This prevents not only slides but also unintentional wheelies. And, with 145hp available, this manages both. With a longer wheelbase and less rake to the forks, this is actually quicker to 100 than most superbikes and isn’t as peaky to ride for it doesn’t really have any zones of slackness. Neither would win any beauty contest, throttle response is quite lively and it prefers smooth to rougher tracks but it does so little wrong and the price is right. It deserves the runner-up slot this year.
However, only one can take out the top prize and for 2015 it’s Yamaha’s MT-09 Tracer. Based on the lightweight aluminium chassis of the middleweight, and using the same character-laden three-cylinder engine, the Tracer rounds out the rough edges of the standard bike, adds safety and convenience gear, and establishes a benchmark in the sport-touring area, all for $18k. Yamaha calls its Tracer the ultimate tourer but we reckon the name suggests tourer cum racer, and that’s what it feels like. Packing an 847cc three-cylinder engine the by-wire throttle is less snatchy than the MT-09’s, especially in the B (regular) mode, and it rivals litre bikes for performance. With solid midrange grunt it cheerfully handles 50km/h commuting in top and uses sod all fuel as a result. It inherits the radial brakes from the MT-09 so stops well, and its 50-50 weight split and light overall weight make it a snip to U-turn. It also has TC while ABS, three engine modes, panniers, a centre stand, and adjustable screen, seat height, suspension and handlebars make it easily configured for myriad tasks. Standard LED lights and handguards, an 18L tank and comprehensive instruments round out a well considered and value-laden package. We indicated in May that this was a contender for Bike of the Year and nothing came along thereafter to head it. Congratulations to Yamaha for doing what the ABs managed at the Rugby World Cup and making it two wins on the trot.
YA MAHA MT-09 TRACER