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

NZ Autocar - - Front Page - Words Peter Louis­son Pho­tos Tom Gas­nier

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

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