Friday, September 9, 2011

Top 10 Motorcycles for 2011

1) Kawasaki Ninja 650R OR Suzuki SV650S

(Click for full size)
(Click for full size)
What’s this?  A TIE?  Correct.  Both motorcycles are the best “first big bikes” out there.  Their v-twin/parallel-twin power-plants are responsive, controllable, and a lot of fun to wind out once you’re comfortable with the bike.  Packing around 75 horsepower, these motorcycles are far from slow.  In fact, they are favored by experienced riders for predictable handling and comfortable riding dynamics.
We fell in love with the Kawasaki Ninja 650R after spending some time with it on the highway.  Smooth, comfortable, and strongly positioned on the road.  We felt confident when we rode it, and that confidence allowed us to have a really good time with it.
(Click for full size)
(Click for full size)
The Suzuki SV650 has a bit of a cult following for that very reason: they can walk all over 600cc super-sport bikes on the track thanks do the riders ability to confidently predict where and when to lay down power.  Make no mistake: the fuel-injected engines that power these two machines are very capable.  A new rider will have to take some time to get comfortable with them, but once you’ve given the motorcycle its due, be prepared for a wild ride.
Both the Ninja 650R and SV650 have been around for a while, giving you a good assortment to dig through when shopping.  Above all else, make sure you look for a bike that has been maintained and taken care of.  These bikes, while not requiring religious maintenance schedules, need to be maintained like anything else.  Find that hidden gem, however, and you’re in for a real treat!
2) Kawasaki Ninja 500R
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(Click for full size)
Our favorite 500cc motorcycle, this “little” Ninja is a real treat to ride regardless of how experienced a rider you are.  Lightweight, economical, and a blast to flog around through the twisties, the Ninja 500R will reward new riders who are willing to test its limits with a machine that can hang with some of the best through the corners, cost next to nothing to insure, and get excellent fuel economy.  Being dirt cheap is simply a bonus.
If you checked out Craigslist or Kijiji you’d probably find at least a dozen acceptable examples of the Ninja 500R for sale for a pittance.  They haven’t changed the basic design of the bike in over 20 years, so if you find one that’s been taken care of, jump on it!
3) Suzuki GS500F
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(Click for full size)
The Ninja is slightly faster, but that doesn’t mean that this capable Suzuki should be forgotten about.  It will get up and ride should that be the bidding of its owner, and it will reward a new rider with a stable, forgiving machine that can still take a beating.  Feel like doing some heavy lean-in while cornering?  Go to town- this Suzuki LOVES it.  Flick the throttle, hit 60mph in about 4 seconds, and laugh as you $4,000 motorcycle leaves $40,000 sports cars in the dust.
Like the Ninja, the GS500F has been around since 1994 and hasn’t changed too much since its inception.  Find one that has been taken care of and you’ll have a great time!
4) Yamaha FZ6R
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(Click for full size)

We love the FZ6R.  It’s entry to the market last year proved it to be a very capable machine, worthy of respect from any rider.  Let’s face the facts here: it’s a *fantastic* looking motorcycle; it has an upright, comfortable seating position; it uses a detuned engine from the last generation of the venerable R6; it can be whisper-quiet or scream like a raving banshee.
So, why isn’t it higher on our list?  Simple: being a new entry to the market, it’s relatively unproven.  Plus, while it is truly a magnificent machine, the Ninja 650R/SV650 have both proven themselves time and time again as “new rider friendly”.  But, if your heart is set on the Yamaha FZ6R, don’t even think twice about it- buy it, ride it, love it.

Best Dual-Sport and Motards for New Riders

1) Yamaha TW200
2009-yamaha-tw200Despite having a five-speed transmission (where both the Suzuki DR200SE and the Honda CRF230M have six-speeds), the Yamaha TW200 is sitting here as our most recommended dual-sport for the 2010 year.  It’s not particularly pretty (is any dual-sport really all that pretty?), and it’s not what we’d call fast (it does have a whopping 16 horsepower though), and it doesn’t do anything any better than any of the other dual-sports.  So why is it number one for us?
If there’s one word that more people need to incorporate into their daily lives, it’s balance.  The TW200 is just that: a well balanced motorcycle that enables its rider to hit the trails, cruise the city streets, and do so in nearly any combination.  Tire choices not withstanding (dirt-tire “knobbies” aren’t exactly confidence inspiring on city roads), the TW200 is the Honda Civic of the dual-sport world: it does everything asked of it in a competent and capable manner.  Just don’t ask it to hit anything over 70mph.
2) Honda CRF230M
hondacrf230m9If you want all the advantages of owning a dual-sport (being able to hit the trails and the highway, for example), but also want the ability to cruise gingerly, the Honda CRF230M is a great machine.  It’s got clean lines, great looks, and is backed by Honda’s legendary reliability.  We would have rated it higher on this list (which, lets face it, is the end all be all list of 2010…. ha), but the CRF230M doesn’t feel as stable on the trials as some of the other dual-sports we’ve ridden.
The CRF230M is lightweight – 276lbs – and severely underpowered (unless you think 14 horsepower is the bees nees), but that doesn’t change the fact that it does its job effectively.  It’s six-speed is geared a little short, giving this Honda a little more “oomph” then you’d expect from it’s little power plant.
The single biggest quality this bike has going for it, however, is its fuel economy.   Honda claims near 90mpg, and multiple sources have done testing to validate Honda’s claims.  90mpg?  Maybe not, but it routinely gets pretty darn close.
3) Suzuki DR200SE
2009_suzuki_dr_200seIf someone used the word “intimidating” to describe the Suzuki DR200SE we’d probably have to give them a blank stare and check their forehead for a fever.  With an appearance striking similar to your typical dirt bike, the Suzuki DR200SE is the polar opposite of intimidating.  It’s small, light weight, with a low seat height and none of the fancy (expensive) gimmicks that some of its brethren share.  It runs like a top and will likely never give you any kind of problem.
This Suzuki shines off-road, where the ground is anything but asphalt.  Dirt, sand, mud, creek bed, gravel?  No problem.  The DR200SE eats it up!
We’d have rated this motorcycle higher, but with a top speed of around 60mph, it’s fairly limited in terms of both the distance it’s able to travel as well as its on-road practicality.  Not that it can’t be done, per say… it’s just that there are bikes out there that do it a little better.  Ultimately, it’s small size and inviting posture are the reasons it’s ranked here.  Anyone, regardless of age, size, or comfort level with motorcycles, can hop on a DR200SE and have a blast.  Isn’t that what dual-sports are supposed to be all about?

Best Cruisers for New Riders

1) Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
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(Click for full size)
Do you want a cruiser that looks good, sounds great, has plenty of get up and go, but isn’t so heavy that it will nearly kill you the first time you take it into a sharp corner?  The Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom may be the bike for you.  It’s a “big bike” that’s not really a “big bike”.  Does that make sense?
The last time we rode a Vulcan 900 Custom, it was a 2009 model.  It had all the qualities of a cruiser that we wanted to see (size, sound, comfort, ease of use, etc.), but it didn’t have neither the intimidating price tag nor the intimidating heavy weight.  The very first time we rode it we felt comfortable leaning it into corners, testing the brake limits, and found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the bike overall.
Is it the best cruiser out there?  Maybe not, but it sure is a real treat for a new rider.
2) Honda VT750C Spirit
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(Click for full size)
If starting at 900cc seems a bit daunting, this 749cc Honda may fit the bill.  Like the Vulcan, you get the image and sound of a “big bike” without the heavy weight or price tag to go with it.  This makes it ideal for a first bike, as it’s a bit more forgiving than a larger motorcycle.
Everything from the chrome pipes to the wire spoked wheels lend to the impressive imagine this Honda portrays, and it’s ultra-low seat height make it ideal for shorter riders.  All in all, for under $9,000 CDN / $8,250 USD you can have a brand new, capable, fun motorcycle that looks and sounds great.
Like the Vulcan, the VT750C Spirit may not be the best cruiser on the street, but for a new rider, it’s a very fun and exciting one.  If the Vulcan’s too big, but something like a Suzuki GZ250 Marauder is too small, this Honda should fit the bill nicely.
3) Suzuki GZ250 Marauder
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At 250cc, the Suzuki GZ250 Marauder sure won’t be winning any races, but that’s not where the appeal of this motorcycle lies.  This motorcycle is perfect for a new rider who wants a comfortable seating position, but doesn’t want the power, weight, or price of a larger motorcycle.  In that sense, the Marauder is a great machine- especially when you consider what it does and how much it asks in return to do it.
It’s small and low to the ground, making it easy for just about anyone to ride it.  It won’t launch the front tire high into the air, and mashing the throttle won’t send you flailing off the back.  It’s forgiving, it’s adaptable, but more importantly, it’s approachable.
If you want a cruiser, but you don’t want something that you’re going to scare yourself on, the GZ250 Marauder is it.