Here at Common Tread, we don't name the "best" motorcycles of the year.
What's best depends entirely on what you're doing, how and where you ride and — in the real world — your budget. So instead of best, we take a more subjective look at the motorcycles we rode or saw in 2020, or models that were introduced and are coming to the market in 2021, and choose the ones that we think are significant, interesting or just plain caught our attention.
One of the most talked-about 2021 models introduced in 2020 was the Aprilia RS 660, and Ari Henning got the chance to be among the first to ride it. Not surprising it showed up in his picks, and since he couldn't limit himself to just one, he threw in a bonus choice. (That's the super-exclusive Ducati Superleggera that Ari also tested, which raises the question of who Ari was paying off in 2020 — but that's another discussion. Back on topic.)
Ari Henning: Aprilia RS 660 and Ducati Superleggera V4
The Aprilia RS 660 is both sensible and exciting, reasonable and racy. It’s an excellent step up for someone formerly riding a Kawasaki Ninja 400 and a great step sideways for anyone who’s sick of suffering on a 600 supersport. And, like the Suzuki SV650, it’s a bike that even veteran riders will appreciate, thanks to its flickable handling, usable power, and playful character.
In a nutshell, the RS 660 is an incredible all-around, real-world sport bike that offers halo-grade features at an $11,300 price. Most machines in this lightweight category are budget builds aimed at beginners, but Aprilia has taken the class to a whole new level. I hope other manufacturers follow suit.
While the Aprilia is sensible and exciting, the Ducati Superleggera V4 is pure overload. Ducati has a history of building limited-run, over-the-top motorcycles, and this one really raises the bar: a 200-horsepower, 400-pound, carbon-fiber-framed, $100,000 magnum opus. As a piece of hardware — which is how this pragmatic rider views most motorcycles — it’s superior to anything I’ve ever ridden.
Then, there’s what this bike represents. I’m not usually one for sentimentality, but the Superleggera has an aura about it. It’s the physical manifestation of all of Ducati’s passion, commitment, and innovation rolled into one superlative piece of equipment. You can be cynical and dismiss the Superleggera as excessive and impractical (it’s certainly both of those things), but as an honest, hot-blooded motorcyclist, you can’t deny the bike’s significance.
Zack Courts: The increasing goodness of mid-sized motorcycles
Just like every other year, there are the makers of headlines in the motorcycling world. In 2020 the Ducati Superleggera V4 and Yamaha Ténéré 700 are both great examples — one staggeringly out of reach, the other beautifully simple. They both capture the magic of motorcycling in one way or another, and they excite me the most as an opportunity to go on a ride.
But what really makes me smile in the world of motorbikes over the past 12 months is the continuing surge in mid-sized naked bikes. The BMW F 900 R, Kawasaki Z900, updated Yamaha MT-09, all-new Triumph Trident, and KTM 890 Duke are just the ones that came to mind quickly. But what a lineup. All of them with full-color dashes and suites of electronics that would rival a superbike from a few years ago, coupled with everyday practicality and reasonable prices. That’s not even mentioning the stalwart Ducati Monsters and Triumph Street Triples and a handful of others I’m forgetting, plus an Aprilia Tuono 660 on the horizon. I’m as sad as anyone to watch sport bikes wilt in the sun, but if the result is fertile ground to grow more bikes like this, I’ll take it.
Joe Zito: Welcome the Yamaha Ténéré 700
After years of build-up, we finally got the Yamaha Ténéré 700 here in the states this year. I was tired of hearing about it before it even arrived, but after spending some time riding it, I can honestly say it is one of the most fun motorcycles I have ridden in a long time.
I review bikes a little more simply than my fellow RevZilla video hosts and Common Tread writers. My standards typically include four simple questions: Looks cool? Sounds cool? Fun to ride? Priced fairly? The T7 is a solid "yes" to all of these questions. I never felt more at home on a bike so quickly as I did on this machine. It's a total peach to just cruise around on but also incredibly capable off-road or even when pushed hard on the road. Pumpkin turn signals aside, it really is a helluva bike for the money.
Brandon Wise: Why does Zito get to take the Ténéré 700?
Who’s tired of hearing about that damn Ténéré 700? Welp, I’ve got some bad news for ya, it’s my favorite motorcycle for 2020.
Yes, I know we've heard about the T7 for years, but it was the summer of 2020 when I was finally able to throw a leg over this machine and hit the “go” button. It was love after the first wheelie. The T7 is playful, it's light, it's very roadworthy, and it handles incredibly well out on the trails. Plus, the price point is very appealing.
I've ridden various ADV bikes and they generally feel like giant couches to me. As touring machines, they totally make sense but but on the trails I'd much rather have my enduro bike. When I rode the T7 in the woods, that all kind of changed for me. The T700 is still very capable and enjoyable to ride when the trail gets tight and the terrain gets more technical. It just feels more like a big dirt bike than an ADV bike and I like it.
Spenser Robert: A vote for the dirt scooter
You can keep your Yamaha Ténéré 700s and KTM 890 Adventures. My favorite gravel-ready motorcycle of 2020 is the Honda ADV150. That’s right, sign me up for Team Dirt Scooter. It’s not that I dislike full-size adventure bikes with gobs of power and suspension travel, but I’ve ridden plenty of those. The ADV150, on the other hand, is in a league of its own — a scooter with five inches of suspension travel, knobby tires, rugged styling, and a reasonable price. It is a deeply weird machine to try to sell in our scooter-hating, bigger-is-better U.S. marketplace but I’m thrilled that Honda is giving it a shot. After all, sometimes we need small, weird motorcycles to remind us that this sport is just for fun. And when it comes to new bikes for 2020, you’d be hard-pressed to find something smaller and weirder than the ADV150.
Andy Greaser: Triumph's middleweight performer
While we haven't yet tested Triumph's new Trident, we've had enough experience with previous 675 cc versions of that three-cylinder engine to know it'll be a hit. I'll take it one step farther and call the Trident my favorite new model of 2020. This retro-inspired alternative to Japan's middleweights boasts a variant of that triple, an all-new frame, and styling that sits right between the Modern Classics and their Street/Speed lines. Best of all? The $7,995 price tag means Triumph's most affordable model brings a unique style and engine configuration to this highly competitive class. That's a win.
My favorite bike that anyone on the Common Tread team has actually ridden is Aprilia's RS 660. We've seen the decline of the 600 supersport in recent years, along with the rise of the middleweight parallel twin: compact, power-dense, torquey, and simpler than comparable engine configurations. No wonder the RS 660 was so highly anticipated. Add a dash of Italian flair and that slick bodywork, and you've got something special. I'll have a red and blurple one, please.
Spurgeon Dunbar: Better Tigers, in both on- and off-road habitat
I agree with a lot of what's being said here. While I’ve yet to ride it, the Aprilia RS 660 is top on my list merely for the fact that it exists and the Ténéré 700 is an affordable, approachable machine that’s going to bring more people into the ADV fold. My riding buddy and fellow Zillan Jeff Kiniery liked it so much that he bought our T7 press bike when we were done with it. It’s his first ADV purchase.
But the bike I want to focus on is the Triumph Tiger 900 that was introduced at the very start to this year. This new generation of the Tiger is a ground-up redesign that makes drastic improvements across the board compared to the outgoing Tiger 800 platform. Triumph replaced the XC and XR nomenclature with easier to understand tags of Rally for off-road and GT for on-road, both available in Pro versions.
The new, larger displacement engine found in both variants features a different firing order that changes the feel and improves off-road grip. Triumph upgraded and improved the suspension components by replacing the WP unit with a Showa setup on the Rally and introduced a Marzocchi suspension on the GT with an available electronic upgrade. Coupled with a new frame, new electronics, better brakes and a slew of other upgrades, the end result is a better performing, better handling bike for both on- and off-road audiences.
Lance Oliver: Not a V-twin, not desmo valves, not bound by tradition
I tend to take a slightly different approach and look not at what's my favorite bike of the year (I'm often better as a contrarian indicator, anyway — if I like it, it will probably be a sales flop) but what I think is significant. What's the bike we'll remember years later? Frankly, I don't think we saw many landmark motorcycles emerge in 2020, but I do want to highlight one that I think is significant, even though I'd never buy one personally: the Ducati Multistrada V4.
Not long ago, the idea of a Ducati street bike that was anything other than a 90-degree V-twin with desmodromic valves was almost impossible to imagine. When Ducati went MotoGP racing in 2003, it knew it could not build a competitive twin under the rules, so it departed from tradition with the Desmosedici V-four. Ducati street bikes, however, remained 90-degree V-twins. Until a few years ago, when Ducati built the Panigale V4 S for the street and V4 R for World Superbike and national superbike racing. Ducati broke with tradition in pursuit of greater performance. And race wins.
The Multistrada V4 takes that another step by ditching the Ducati signature desmo valves. In this case, the break from tradition is made in search of longer service intervals, not higher performance.
I'm not always a fan of some of the things Ducati does, but I give the company credit for being willing to leave behind some of its most characteristic attributes and innovate when it makes sense to do so. I can think of some other motorcycle companies — Harley-Davidson, Indian, are you out there? — who could show the same courage and innovation, toss off the shackles and build something other than a V-twin.
Maybe that's something to hope for in 2021.