Common Tread

Our favorite motorcycles of 2017

Dec 11, 2017

I’m certain that the list of the 10 best motorcycles for Lemmy would have very little overlap with the 10 best for me. For one thing, there would be way more Panheads, choppers and dirt bikes than I’ll ever need.

And Spurgeon’s list would be something else entirely. So, we’ll leave the 10 Best Awards to Car & Driver and give you the usual fare instead: our unvarnished opinions, served without any pretension that they’re the final word on the subject.

We rode an eclectic bunch of motorcycles and did some fun rides in 2017. Before Spurgeon and Lemmy dive into their favorite moto-flirtations of the year, let me begin by talking about some of the bikes I thought were significant in the year just ending.

It’s easy to be distracted by shiny baubles like a $35,000 Harley-Davidson CVO model or a BMW HP4 Race with well over 200 horsepower and a carbon fiber frame that makes some bicycle frames look porky. Such rarities don’t change the landscape, however, any more than a new Tom Ford store in Manhattan puts a Walmart in Piscataway, New Jersey, out of business.

Then there are bikes like the new-for-2017 Honda Rebels, the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 and the BMW G series. We now have more new motorcycles under 500 cc than we’ve had in many years, with just about every style available to try to entice new riders. But they’re not just for noobs. I know some experienced riders who are taking an honest look at the riding they do, eyeing a Versys-X 300 and thinking, “Hmm, maybe that’s really what I need.”

Zero DSR
Even a guy who loves old, smoking, belching, internal combustion engines found a lot to like about the Zero DSR. It actually served well on Lemmy's daily round of adventure commuting. Photo by Brett Walling.

I also want to give a nod to Zero for their advances in 2017, most notably addressing the overheating issue that put a cap on the performance of some models in the past. I rode a couple of Zeros in 2017 and I am an unhesitant convert to the charms of electrics. They don’t work for me (or most people) as an only motorcycle, but if a meteor wipes out my garage tonight and the insurance company gives me an excessively generous settlement to go buy the three-motorcycle lineup to meet all my riding needs, the first purchase will be a Zero and I’ll gladly never visit a gas station again until I leave town. Even Lemmy, a devoted member of the congregation at Our Lady of Eternal Internal Combustion, was tempted by an EV.

MotoAmerica Superbike
The redesign of the GSX-R1000 paid off for Suzuki with a MotoAmerica championship. The Yoshimura team was out front most of the season and ended the Yamaha dominance in Superbike. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Honda CBR1000RR, both updated for 2017, are significant, if only because they prove that sport bikes aren’t yet totally dead. The Suzuki definitely made a bigger splash, bringing its clever mechanical form of variable valve timing to the class and stealing some racing trophies. The Yoshimura Suzuki team took the new Gixxer and built a Superbike that emphatically ended Yamaha’s dominance of MotoAmerica. Just as importantly, perhaps, it gave Suzuki, a company that has been struggling for a decade, a success to cheer about. While the Honda was a lighter overhaul and was never competitive in either MotoAmerica or World Superbike, seemingly due to a not very Honda-like lack of support from the mother ship, the CBR1000RR does make a case as maybe the best sport bike for the street. Even in the nearly dead 600 cc sport bike class, Yamaha updated the YZF-R6, at least outwardly.

The most symbolic evidence of the continued shrinkage of the sport bike market is the looming shift in the Moto2 race class spec engine from a modified Honda CBR600RR inline four to the Triumph 765 triple, an engine that isn’t even found in a traditional, full-fairing sport bike (at least not yet). It is a sweet engine, though. The Street Triple RS we had in the ZLA garage for a good part of the summer was, subjectively speaking, the best motorcycle I rode in 2017. I’m a sucker for high-performance naked bikes with real-world ergonomics, but even if I weren’t, this is an impressively flawless motorcycle.

Kawasaki Z900
Everyone on the Common Tread team rode the Kawasaki Z900 and couldn't find much bad to say about it, especially after considering the sticker price. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

That said, the Kawasaki Z900 that sat next to it was a motorcycle I had fun on and it costs $3,700 less than the Street Triple RS. No TFT dash or rider modes, but plenty of grunt, still has ABS and churns out about 400 foot-pounds of riding fun. And really, that’s what’s going to impact motorcycling in this financially leveraged, disruption-riddled modern world we live in: motorcycles that provide affordable, accessible fun, whether it's a Z900 or one of those 300s I mentioned above.

Speaking of fun, let’s see what bikes pushed Spurgeon’s and Lemmy’s buttons this year.

Spurgeon: 2017 seems to have an orange tint

My year started with a trip to Spain to ride Triumph’s new Street Scrambler and ended with one last ride on my Triumph Tiger 800 XCx across the deserts of California. In between, I rode a BMW R 1200 GS down the Baja peninsula, a KTM 390 Duke through the Italian countryside, a Kawasaki Versys-X 300 across the Utah landscape, and a BMW S 1000 RR around the race track, beating my personal best lap time at New Jersey Motorsports Park. It’s been a great year.

When I read Lemmy’s review of BMW’s K 1600 B, not one part of me felt compelled to ride that bike. It sounded like a great machine, but not something I would really enjoy. I was wrong.

Riding the 1600 back to BMW headquarters in New Jersey, I was grinning from the moment I gunned the throttle. The engine is a beast and the throttle lag that troubled Lem didn’t bother me as much. The only thing that bothered me was the fact that I couldn’t get the volume of the stereo loud enough to actually listen to it at highway speeds. But from what I’ve heard there is already a fix for that in the works.

I am not in the market for a $20,000-plus bagger, but if I were, this is where I would start my search. That being said, BMW is going to have some serious competition in the neo-bagger segment from both Honda and Yamaha in 2018.

KTM 390 Duke
Can we give the KTM 390 Duke the "most improved" award for 2017? KTM photo by Sebas Romero Black.

On the other side of the displacement realm, KTM really impressed me with their updates to the Duke 390. When I rode the first 390, I liked it, but it felt like it had a lack of refinement and too many rough edges. Those edges were all polished in 2017.

The changes to the suspension and the engine make the bike more fun to ride, even for an experienced rider. The styling updates give it a quality finish more in line with its bigger brother, the 1290 Super Duke R. It even gets a TFT dash. Name another bike around the $5,000 price point that offers that.

If you’re shopping with Triumph, it takes a leap to well over $10,000 before you see such a nicety, but when you do make that investment, it’s paired with one of the most refined and track-focused sport-nakeds we have ever seen, the Street Triple RS.

The RS now sits atop the heap as the flagship model in the Street Triple family. While the R model gets you the TFT dash, the RS adds additional horsepower, a better suspension, rider modes, styling cues, and arguably the best damn brakes I have ever used on a street bike.

Triumph Street Triple RS
Spurgeon flogged the new Triumph Street Triple RS on the street and the track. Few motorcycles are so capable both environments. RevZilla photo.

While the RS felt a bit caged around the city, it simply excelled on back country roads and on the racetrack. Riding this back to back with both the previous-generation Street Triple Rx and a first-generation Daytona 675, it was immediately clear that Triumph has winner on their hands. I did two track days with this bike and countless miles on country roads, and I always ended my day wishing I had more hours to keep riding. This was one I didn’t want to give back.

And then there was the one I didn’t give back, the 1090 Adventure R from KTM. (That's me flying it at the top of the page.) The KTM is the reason my Barstow-to-Vegas ride on the Triumph was my last ride before it went to a new owner. There are a lot of great bikes out there, but the only one that convinced me to put my money where my mouth was is the KTM.

So, Lemmy, what about you?

Honda Rebel
Two Rebels with two rebels. The new one had big tire tracks to fill. Photo by Dustin Carpio.

Lemmy: Small and fun or big and fast, Lem-lem loves 'em

One of my favorite bikes of 2017 has to be the Honda Rebel. The new bike was taking over from a trusty motorcycle that had one hell of a long, successful run. The replacement is even more fun: peppy, perky, as intimidating as puppies and ice cream cones, and about as much fun. The Rebel is a smile factory, regardless of your riding experience, and the price doesn't make your wallet feel hurty.

Beta Xtrainer
A "little" 300 made the big guy happy in the woods in 2017. Photo by Lemmy.

Another 300 that caught my eye this year was a Beta Xtrainer. I bought one even though I couldn't even catch a demo day on this bike prior to buying one. Happily, it had all the good qualities I thought it would have, and most of the negatives were no worse than I expected. This bike felt manageable and inspired great off-road confidence in ol' Lem-lem.

Kawasaki Ninja 1000
Lemmy led us to believe that if he had a Kawasaki Ninja 1000, this is the only view we'd have of him and he'd cross three states before even stopping for Gummi Bears. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

On the pavement side, a bike I really enjoyed was the revised 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000. Man, what a bunch of motorcycle for the money. Capable, comfortable, deadly fast, and with enough on-board electronics to launch a space shuttle and save you from your own dumbassery. I felt that bike stepping in to spare me the consequences of my actions when it thought I was being a doofus, and it was grand. I had several hundred miles on that bike and I would have happily taken more.

Harley-Davidson V-Rod
So long, V-Rod. We can't help thinking what might have been. RevZilla photo.

On a more bittersweet note, 2017 marks the end of a tumultuous run for a bike I enjoyed, the Harley-Davidson V-Rod. For the longest time, I always felt the Revolution engine was like a sad personal ad: “Lovely mill in bad home situation seeks responsive chassis.” I could never get comfy on the V-Rod and I never rode a Street Rod iteration for any real mileage. That engine would have been a real peach in something like a Buell roller, but alas, it wasn't to be.

The end of the VRSC is upon us, but I will always have one eye on the rearview mirror when I think of that bike, because I never felt like the motor got the frame, wheels, and controls it deserved.

And now, bring on 2018.