Best bikes of 2020
Last year was one best forgotten for obvious reasons. While new motorcycle introductions hardly made for a stellar 12 months, the industry fared surprisingly well overall with total sales of 7108 new bikes above 50cc. Figures for 2019 were 6441. Industry insiders put the increase down to the fact that Kiwis couldn’t travel overseas so bought playthings instead.
The most interesting introduction was Harley’s LiveWire, held at Pukekohe Park Raceway. This is a significant offering because it is the first full-sized electric motorcycle launched by a major manufacturer and it instantly proved that H-D can make bikes that accelerate and brake well, and that can also handle. It looks good and while you pay for the privilege of being an early adopter ($53k) this is a hint of what the future holds.
It’s ironic that Harley is the first major bike maker to come to market with a performance electric machine because the American has had a complete change of heart with a new CEO and President, canning all of the electric stuff in the pipeline. That the Livewire even made it to market is a miracle but we’d guess that so much had been spent on development that it would have been folly to not go ahead with the launch. Moveover, the field is wide open given there is no competition from the major rivals.
The other four BOTY contenders are more conventional, comprising Triumph’s Speed Twin, Suzuki’s V-Strom 1050XT, Moto Guzzi’s V85 TT Premium and KTM’s 390 Adventure bike. All proved to be decent sellers during the year, especially the latter, the least expensive at just under $10,000, with almost 100 sold.
The Speed Twin we’d ridden at the official NZ launch and it felt really well rounded then, something we needed to check out in more depth but unfortunately the initial units sold out, including the demonstrator. Some time later, we managed to snaffle a ride on a privately-owned machine - thanks Wal - and it proved every bit as enchanting as we’d remembered.
Essentially a roadster version of the Thruxton, it has plenty of poke from its 1200cc parallel twin (95hp/112Nm), hitting 100 in just 3.4sec, and its four-pot Brembos reign it in sweetly. Weight trimming has it scale up at 217kg.
The things that impress are its lack of foibles and its easy-going nature. Whatever you demand it will deliver and with interest. T’were it ours we’d probably fit a flyscreen and some tank knee pads. The Vance and Hines pipe makes the big twin sound heavenly. To our mind it’s the best of the Bonnies and the best of British too.
The other three are all adventure bikes, unsurprisingly, given they seem to be flavour of the year/decade, being the two-wheeled equivalent of an SUV. The biggest we rode was Suzuki’s updated V-Strom 1050XT. While displacement is unchanged, at 1037cc, ‘1050’ better reflects actual size and sounds better from a marketing standpoint. The engine has undergone a makeover, with 5kW extra (107hp/100Nm) but the bike has also gained a bit of weight, and ends up coincidentally being precisely as quick as the Speed Twin on the criteria we use.
It’s another grunter of an engine this, revving out higher than the Brit but pulling with real gusto in the mids, and almost vibe free at middling engine revs. Handling is of the big V-twin ilk; look where you want to go and so it kind of happens, ideal for a big tourer and this would make a fine one, with weather protection, engine modes, TC, cruise control, cornering ABS, centre stand and the like as standard, undercutting the Euro ADVs handily at $22k.
And mention of Euro, from the north of Italy comes Guzzi’s V85 TT Premium; retro moto-sculpture if ever we’ve seen it. One guy ordered one simply after seeing it in our magazine! Guzzis aren’t so much about sheer speed but more the journey. So think relaxed, with best engine speeds at 3500-5000rpm, below the vibration band. And with a 21L tank you’d do 500 kays without stopping on this, especially with all that weather protection. However, you might need a bit more seat padding or a sheepskin cover for real long distances, but at least suspension is nicely adjustable both ends. Apart from a bit of dirty air off the fairing we reckon this is the best Guzzi available at present, certainly the prettiest, and a lot of bike for $22k.
And finally the tiddler ADV, KTM’s Adventure 390, a tourer with a single cylinder engine. We rated its twice-as-big 790 ADV sib as our BOTY in 2019 and this one is nearly as good, limitations excepted, at about half the price. It really looks the part, like a junior version of the 790, and comes with a small adjustable fly screen, TFT instruments, ABS with off road setting, cornering TC and fully adjustable USD suspension. With power starting to ramp up from about 4000rpm, and building to a crescendo by 8000rpm, this performs more than adequately given its 175kg wet weight, while cornering is simply huge fun, aided by well centralised mass. At $9800 it’s small wonder sales of the KTM 390 Adventure are limited by supply, not demand. It’s a wee ripper.
And as to the overall BOTY; we just cannot go past Triumph’s Speed Twin which is a heady emotional mix of back-to-basics biking, modern tech, nice components and retro styling. It’s a classic case of the sum being greater than the parts.