We imagined a smoky room 40 years ago where founding publisher Joe Parkhurst, then-executive editor Allan Girdler, and the rest of the Cycle World crew were hard at work looking for the Next Big Idea and came up with Ten Best Bikes. But under the heading: There are No Truly New Ideas, Girdler says he “borrowed” the 10-best notion from a now defunct car magazine and had applied it with success at his old job with CW’s counterpart car publication, Road & Track. So he and Joe thought they’d try it with motorcycles. And a four-decade tradition of excellence was born!
We are so glad to continue Ten Best in its 40th year because we are honored to honor the finest motorcycles the world has ever seen.
Looking at the vibrancy and diversity of products in 2016, it’s hard not to think we have hit a New Renaissance. The top end of the market is absolutely sizzling with amazing machines and big-dollar bikes that offer electronic everything to control their fantastic power and allow for suspension and other tuning at the push of a few buttons. On the low-cost side, even bikes less than $4,500 often offer ABS. In between is a selection of fun and stylish motorcycles of every type that offer better value than ever. Now, as it was in 1976 and throughout riding history, motorcycle enthusiasts are the luckiest people on earth.
2016 Yamaha YZF-R1: Best Superbike
Going exceptionally fast doesn’t need to be an exercise in terror, and Yamaha’s R1 is proof. In a category saturated with all-powerful engines and the latest electronic wizardry, the R1 outpaces its competition with an unparalleled combination of great suspension, strong brakes, and a chassis that instills confidence in riders of varying skill levels. Its comprehensive electronics package makes the riding experience safer (and faster) through predictable and seamless intervention, while the engine, with its sultry snarl, makes abundant usable power throughout the rev range. The lower-spec R1S keeps entry price down, and the sexy, electronically suspended R1M adds a feeling of exclusivity. The standard R1 finds a happy medium, delivering class-leading performance and, more importantly, a feeling of excellence, track or street. Pick whichever you like.
2016 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR: Best Open-Class Streetbike
It was easy to excuse the blemishes in the Aprilia Tuono V4 R’s mostly perfect Italian trimmings; a supermodel is still a supermodel, abnormal birthmark or not. You’ll have trouble finding an imperfection in the new, nipped-and-tucked V4 1100 though, its engine feeling appreciably stronger, tweaked suspension composed, and seat like your key to all-day happiness. Add strong brakes and sharper fairing to a bike that already laid claim to the best exhaust note in motorcycling and you have an open-class machine that takes your breath away not only with its presence but on-road performance. Sticking with the $14,799 RR saves you a few dollars for pasta on the way home too. Don’t worry—you’ll wheelie it off later.
2016 Yamaha XSR900: Best Middleweight Streetbike
Yamaha has pulled off the hat trick with its versatile and affordable 847cc inline-three sport-standard platform. On the heels of taking Best Middleweight honors in its debut year, the venerable FZ-09 was shuffled to Best Standard of 2015. Keeping with current styling and technology trends, Yamaha has treated its alloy-framed sport naked to a fresh form in the neo-retro-inspired XSR900. Beneath the modern café appearance is a very sporting powertrain featuring refined multi-mode power-delivery profiles, traction control, improved sporting suspension calibration, and ABS brakes. Sport Heritage is what Yamaha has termed a new multi-model segment within its street line. Unassuming performance and versatility for the price is what we call the XSR900.
2016 KTM 390 Duke: Best Lightweight Streetbike
It’s pretty easy to dismiss small-displacement bikes as “entry” machines for people who just don’t know how to ride, something you’d throw away just as soon as you figured out the clutch, etc. But the 390 Duke is so much more. Yes, it’s really easy to ride. It’s also lightweight and compact. Which are all excellent qualities for any rider. The 390 Duke’s real trick is taking that easy-to-ride nature and sliding in a major dose of great power (40 hp on our dyno) and a chassis that works great even for an expert-level rider. This one-bike solution also comes with a great price. For the second year, this KTM tops the class.
2016 Triumph Street Twin: Best Standard
There are a massive number of killer bikes that fit the “Standard” hole. Ones that have specs to die for. But then there’s this Triumph. Before riding it we were skeptical. Liquid-cooling? Less peak power? Would it be less retro-Bonneville than the last one and slower? Nope. The Street Twin’s new power curves give it all the pop and sizzle you want, right where you want it. It sounds glorious—deliciously, perfectly louder than its big-bro Thruxton R. And it’s like the perfect spiritual extension of a vintage Triumph, just way better performing: all the eagerness to turn, the narrow, light feeling, the fundamental rightness. The joy of riding a pure motorcycle is found right here in this 900cc parallel twin.
2016 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT: Best Touring Bike
The best route between two far-divided points on a map is never the straightest one, which is what makes KTM’s 1290 Super Duke GT the ultimate touring bike in 2016. Based on the hugely entertaining KTM Super Duke that won us over one wheelie at a time, the GT combines a torquey V-twin engine and stable chassis with all the accouterments needed for the long haul, including cruise control, large fuel tank, easily adjustable screen, and well-integrated hard bags. Add semi-active electronic suspension that enables the bike to pick a canyon road apart or float down a freeway, and you have a sport-touring motorcycle that makes those two points on your map seem not far enough apart. More miles, please!
2016 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin: Best Adventure Bike
With a few exceptions, the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers have sat out the rise of the adventure-touring market, at least here in the US. Europe has enjoyed a few more Japanese ADV offerings, but the dominant machines have been Bavarian or Austrian. Hondachanged that with the Africa Twin. Thanks to its torquey and soulful 998cc parallel-twin engine and highly capable chassis (with wheel sizes made to take serious off-road rubber), the Honda can go head to head with the best ADVs in the world. But more importantly, Honda brought a balance of size, power, and refinement that the adventure-touring segment hadn’t seen. It was worth the wait.
2016 Kawasaki KX450F: Best Motocrosser
There is no doubt that the current wave of 450cc motocross machines are the most potent, high-tech, and best-handling bikes to ever rip a berm to shreds. These machines have changed the very sport in which they compete, making track designers push the limits with bigger and badder obstacles, ones that yesterday’s machines could have only dreamed of clearing. This year, the bike that pushes the limits in the class is the Kawasaki KX450F. It’s light and agile, handles with finesse and control, and lays down ungodly power. And yet its customizable electronics allow weekend warriors and factory riders alike to access its impressive performance.
2016 Yamaha YZ450FX: Best Dual-Sport/Enduro
In the past decade, competition-ready enduro machines almost exclusively came from Europe. But Yamaha isn’t afraid of breaking out of its comfort zone and decided to go straight after a certain Austrian company by introducing its YZ450FX. Clearly sick of seeing waves of orange bikes dominate off-road racing series like GNCC, National Hare Scrambles, and hard enduro, Yamaha built an off-road-specific racing model and turned the tides a bit more blue. This MX-based machine has been optimized for off-road riding but has proven to have all the bark, and bite, that a race-ready machine needs to be a winner.
2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S: Best Cruiser
It’s wholly appropriate that the cruiser class relies on a lot of black magic to crush the riding experience out of the park. Stopwatch? Scale? Stopping distance? Total engine smoothness? Those can be important, yes, because the motorcycle needs to work exceptionally well. And this one does—but it also needs to feel so good. And in 2016 no cruiser felt better than the Harley-Davidson Low Rider S. It has great brakes, a magnificently strong 110ci V-twin, ultra-fine-shifting six-speed gearbox, and rubber engine mounts that let that rich thump reach your body and soul in just the right amount. What really sets the Low Rider S apart is that you never forget what you are riding, and it always brings a smile to your face.