BRITAIN’S FAVOURITE BIKES TESTED
Do the last five MCN bikes of the Year still cut it?
You’d expect a bike that’s been crowned MCN’S Bike of the Year to be good... but have the prestigious title-takers of the last five years stood the test of the time? And what exactly have they brought to motorcycling? MCN fled the British heatwave... and rode straight into a French one!
Kawasaki’s bal l istic Ninja H2 is MCN’S current Machine of the Year. It’s in a class of its own – quite literally, because it doesn’t fit neatly into any other category. The supercharged monster didn’t win the sportsbike class (the R1 got that one) and it’s not exactly an adventure, tourer or commuting bike. The only other bike in our awards history to win the overall machine of the year, without winning its class, is the Ducati Desmosedici RR in 2008. So the Kawasaki is in great company.
MCN Sports Editor Michael Guy was quick to grab the H2 key ahead of our two-day road trip to Le Touquet. “We’ve all heard about this incredible motorbike and to get the chance to ride it is too good to turn down,” he grins.
“It’s nice for a bike to look genuinely different to anything else and it’s got some amazing touches, like the metallic black chrome paintjob and anodised green-topped forks and shock. I don’t necessarily think it’s a good-looking bike, but it’s interesting and fascinating. For a Japanese manufacturer they’ve done a very nice job.”
We tested the H2 lots last year – poking and prodding it to find out what made this unique creation tick. It’s
not perfect, though. The knife-edge throttle response is a pain mid-corner, around town and on the motorway. It’s uncomfortable, poor on fuel and like all latest-generation Japanese ABS systems, the brakes lack bite and confidence. But when the H2 is in its sweet spot, nothing comes close.
Michael gasps: “It’s special and the moment you get a clear bit of road it’s genuinely stunning. You’re always looking for that overtake or stretch where you can start to feel the supercharger spin up and propel you forward. It’s amazing and takes you in a direction you’ve never been before.
“The way it delivers its power is so silky-smooth and it makes you want to keep the throttle open. It hides its weight well at speed, but in contrast I’m not feeling it around town.
“It’s hard on the wrists and the throttle is snatchy, but not as bad as I thought it would be. If you had this kind of power 20 years ago it probably wouldn’t even run in town – it would be overheating and the clutch would be grabby and slipping.
“I commend any manufacturer to go out on a limb and build something like the H2. For someone to build something even faster and tricker than the current crop of 1000s is amazing.”
Rewind five years and I had to go back through the MCN archives to check the Ducati Diavel did actually win MCN’S Machine of the Year in 2011. It seems like a strange choice looking back on it, but it was actually a game-changer. It was one of the first genuinely interesting bikes that didn’t fit cosily into the sportsbike/tourer/commuter/ adventure bike bracket.
Motorcycles have diversified over the past few years and we’re spoilt for choice now, but when Ducati took their 1198 superbike engine, chassis and brakes and moulded into a cruiser it was a big deal.
I grabbed the keyless ignition key fob for this beastly, latest-generation Diavel Carbon. After racing and testing lots of sportsbikes this year I fancied something more relaxing but still fast —
for the trip down to the Eurotunnel — and then to the D940 coast road from Calais, past Wimereux, Bologne and into the seaside town of Le Touquet.
With its stretched-out riding position and comfy seat, you can enjoy all-day riding with few aches or pains, but like all cruiser-style bikes, if you forget to ride straight-backed your lumbar region gets sore after a while. But sat so low in the bike wind protection is pretty decent on the motorways.
Acceleration and braking power are superbike-grade, and turning the ABS and traction control off let me attack the French coast roads with as much joie de vivre as I would on a sportsbike. Even with its fat 240-section Pirelli at the rear, the Diavel steers sweetly.
It’s sultry, moody and classy all at the same time and it gets admiring glances when you growl by. I love the handy keyless ignition, the swathes of carbon and the black ceramic-coated pipes on this model, although they were burning my leg by the end of the day in the high summer temperatures. It’s as rewarding riding slow as it is fast and it’s still the best in its class.
From the lowest bike on test ridden by lanky me, to the highest machine piloted by a shorty; here’s Joe Dick on the BMW R1200GS. “Tall bikes have never been my forte because I’m small,” says MCN’S resident 5ft 6in snapper.
“Call it a fear of heights, I steer away from big bikes as I can only just touch my feet on the floor, but I’m interested to see how I get on with the GS. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of bikes and can do everything.”
And he’s right. Ever since the R1200GS arrived on the scene in 2004, replacing the uber-successful R1150GS, it’s dominated the adventure bike world. It’s as happy attacking dirt trails as it is cruising the continent in comfort. It handles superbly, has stonking brakes and with so many accessories and goodies available, it can be specced to the moon.
“I’ve always looked at the GS and seen it like the Harley thing,” Joe explains. “I thought people bought them, and all the associated kit, to be like everyone else, but the BMW blew me away as soon as I rode it. I knew instantly what all the fuss is about. It does everything so well, is really comfy and I’d have one in a heartbeat. It’s more than just an adventure bike.
“Low-speed turns are heart-in-the-mouth for me, even on a little bike, but I never had a problem on the BMW. That said, a few times I had to get someone to get the sidestand down for me when I stopped on uneven ground.
“I had the seat on its lowest setting (850mm), but you can get a lower seat option (790/810mm). I had to open the bars and properly swing my leg to clear the rear seat to get on and then yank it off its stand, but it’s not a fearful event.
“It handles really well and I like the tall, commanding riding position, the engine character, the sporty-sounding exhaust and the pop and bang of the auto-blipper. I’m not keen on the small analogue speedo, though, which is hard to read at a glance.”
Adventure bikes and tourers were always BMW’S bread and butter until they unleashed the S1000RR in 2010.
'The Kawasaki H2 is special and the moment you get a clear bit of road it’s genuinely stunning'
Prior to the S1000RR'S arrival, the superbike world was dominated by the Japanese and Italians. They begrudgingly gave us 150-160bhp to play with, but the BMW had close to 200bhp and a full suite of electronic rider aids, from racing ABS to a quickshifter, anti-wheelie and traction control.
Liam is a fan: “It’s one if the most sophisticated sportsbikes out there and for a trip like this the cruise control and quickshifter will make things easy.”
In the hair-splitting world of the MCN group test the BMW has it been put in the shade by the latest-generation R1 and 1299 Panigale over the past two years, but the S1000RR is still a thing of high-speed, technological wonder.
“Everything feels so refined and easy on the motorways and in the corners,” says a smiling Liam. “Every ride is an occasion with the speed and sound of it, especially when it pops on the overrun. There’s power all the way from as low as 2-3000rpm, so you don’t have to knock it down through the gears to get somewhere quickly.
“Even in traffic it’s OK. Granted, it’s a bit hard on the wrists and the engine pumps out a lot of heat in this weather. It gets uncomfortable after a long time, but the clutch is light and overall it’s easy to manoeuvre and looks good. It turns heads as much as the Diavel and H2.”
The cheeky one
In 2014 we proved that an MCN’S overall award winner doesn’t have to have make 200bhp or cost a small fortune. Yamaha’s 77bhp, 689cc parallel twincylinder MT-07 almost came in under the radar, with little expectation, when it was unveiled. Costing just over five-grand, and still in the same ballpark now, this was going to be just a cheap run-around, surely?
Within yards of riding it at the world launch in the Canary Islands on February 12, 2014, it was clear it was more than that. In performance terms it had the cheeky spirit of the Yamaha RD350LC (third gear, clutch-up wheelies are a cinch), but it was so light and easy to ride it was the perfect post-test big bike.
MCN office manager Alison was re- ally looking forward to riding Yamaha’s unexpected gem. She says: “I’m a big middleweight fan and have owned an ER-6N and a Street Triple, I can’t wait to see what the Yamaha is like.”
There isn’t a single type of rider who wouldn’t be smitten with the MT-07 and such is its success it’s spawned a number of spin-offs already: the café racer-style XSR700, touring Tracer 700 and stunty MT-07 Moto Cage.
“I’m really impressed,” smiles Alison. “It’s just so light and easy to ride. It accelerates off roundabouts quickly and it’s easy to filter and nip through gaps in the traffic. It’s not as punchy or sports-orientated as the Street Triple R I used to have, but better than my old ER-6N. It’s exceptionally comfy, even after a nine-hour day in the saddle getting here, on the hottest day of the year. It’s fine on the motorway for a naked and I never got a sore neck, but it could do with a little bikini fairing to take away the buffeting.”
All this fun and practicality for just £5349 defies belief and as such makes the Yamaha better than any of the headline-grabbing overall award winners in recent history.
'Every ride on the S1000RR is an occasion with the speed and sound of it, especially when it pops on the overrun'
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Is it a cruiser? Is it a sportsbike? Ducati's Diavel changed the game in 2011 The H2, S1000RR and MT-07 don't have much in common, apart from the fact they're all MCN Award winners
MCN'S photographer Joe finally finds out why BMW'S GS is a big deal
Nippy, nimble and a massive sales success, Yamaha's MT-07 is a worthy winner
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