The last few years have been an unusually good time to buy a motorcycle. Starting after the 2008 recession, manufacturers have increased their efforts to earn new customers and replace the riders who are aging out of ownership. That economic pressure has resulted in affordable, practical, and wonderfully strange new designs. In 2020, that means high-tech safety features such as traction control and even clothing that deploys personal airbags. It means keyless start/stop, transmissions that can predict and prevent you from stalling, and enough options to make choosing an electric motorcycle kind of difficult. Read on for advice on buying your own and reviews of the best rigs out there today.
Assuming that brand loyalty isn’t a factor, the most efficient path to finding the right motorcycle is to start with where and how you will be riding. This is why almost every manufacturer produces at least one model of each genre of bike. Ducati, for example, has an off-road capable city motorcycle (the Scrambler), a race-grade superbike (Panigale V4R), a cruiser (Diavel), an ergonomic adventure bike (Multistrada), and even an electric mountain bike (E-MTB). Once you have a sense of which type of bike will best serve your uses, you can start comparing within that type, which is what we’ve done here.
BEST FOR BEGINNERSKawasaki Ninja 400
Engine: 399cc parallel twin
Weight (with fuel and fluids): 366 lb.
Lightweight, affordable, practical, and with cool looks, the Ninja comes with the ideal engine for newbies who want to learn to ride skillfully without earning too many speeding tickets. There are other sporty, road-focused motorcycles like it, but most have single-cylinder engines, which can vibrate at highway speeds. The Ninja’s twin-cylinder, however, is smooth on highways but still light enough to be manageable in real-world traffic and parking lots. It’s exemplary of a formula that Kawi has been perfecting for decades. Just make sure to spend the $300 extra for ABS. The 2020 model is unchanged from the 2019 version, so a used Ninja 400 (or nearly identical Z400) can work just as well.
We also would consider the Suzuki SV650 ABS ($7,499), which has enough power for almost any level rider, plus Low RPM Assist, which helps prevent you stalling out. And there’s the Honda NC750X ($8,099). It has even more power, plus a storage compartment above the gas tank, and an optional automatic transmission for $800 more.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
BEST STANDARD/RETROTriumph Thruxton RS
Engine: 1,200cc parallel twin
Power: 103 hp
Weight (dry): 434 lb.
Within Triumph’s lineup of awesomely modern bikes that look old, this is the one to covet. The RS starts from the already excellent Thruxton, which, when it came out in 2016, was praised for being a modern, sporty, comfortable motorcycle disguised as a beautiful classic cafe racer. This version gets upgrades like an Öhlins rear suspension, twin 310mm Brembo front brakes, grippy Metzler Racetec tires, and even a lighter-weight battery. The parallel twin engine has new cylinder heads, pistons, and camshafts, and the transmission gets a new clutch, too. That adds up to about 7 more horsepower, more low-end torque, and a slightly higher redline. But also, almost 15 pounds in weight reduction, thanks to thinner engine parts and a lighter chassis. Same as most retro bikes with big, powerful engines, the RS is heavier than naked or sport bikes. But the brilliant steering and smooth power compensate to keep it agile.
For less money, the Triumph Street Twin ($9,300) is also an easy recommendation. Its 65 horsepower is enough for most real-world riding thanks to the brilliantly lightweight handling and powerful brakes. We also really like Ducati’s Scrambler lineup, specifically the Desert Sled ($11,995). Its upright riding posture and 803cc V-twin make it nimble in city riding. For something more unusual, there’s Moto Guzzi’s V7 III line ($8,490). Idiosyncrasies like a driveshaft instead of a chain are endearing, but also mean less maintenance.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
BEST SUPERBIKEDucati Panigale V2
Engine: 955cc V-twin
Power: 155 hp
Weight (with fuel and fluids): 441 lb.
No, it’s not the fastest bike you can buy. It’s not even the fastest bike Ducati makes. But for those of us who do most of our riding on civilian roads with speed limits and cars, the V2’s restraint is what makes it the ideal performance-focused motorcycle. A 441-pound rig, it has 155 horsepower—more than enough to thrill any rider on a highway on-ramp or track day but still be manageable at crowded intersections. The V2 also includes electronic aids that can help you approach the bike’s limits without paying the price. Among them: a six-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU) that detects lean angle to help inform the braking and traction control systems. High-tech, ludicrously fast, visually arresting, the V2 is everything that Ducati does better than anyone else.
If you want an apex predator of fast motorcycles, look to the Ducati Panigale V4S ($21,195). The V4 engine is bigger, producing an absolutely ridiculous 214 horsepower. There’s also the Kawasaki Ninja H2 ($29,0000), which has 90 pound-feet of torque, an eye-popping stat for a 525-pound motorcycle. The comical acceleration is even more delightful when the supercharger whine kicks in. The BMW S 1000 RR ($16,995) is also in this league and gets points for a feature called ShiftCam, which allows the engine to adjust the cams’ timing for fuel economy or speed, making it even more everyday-useable.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
BEST ADVENTURE (ADV)KTM 790 Adventure R
Engine: 799cc parallel twin
Power: 95 hp
Weight (with fuel and fluids): 460 lb.
Unlike huge 1,000cc-plus engines on bigger adventure bikes, the 790’s parallel-twin is narrow and easy to control. And typical of KTM, there’s no unnecessary body work or accessories, which keeps weight down. That makes the 790 agile and manageable on rough roads and especially on punishing surfaces like sand and mud. Plus, there’s high-end tech like traction control and a color dash. KTM also takes endurance testing for its engines to extremes: 48 testers running on dynamometers for 180 hours nonstop, they say). We’d pay the $1,000 over the standard Adventure for the upgraded suspension with greater travel.
That said, we wouldn’t fault anyone for buying a BMW R 1250 GS ($17,895). It’s the category staple for good reason. It has more power (136 horsepower) than the KTM, plus helpful electronics and loads of customization options. It’s more agile than it looks, too. We also like the Honda Africa Twin ($14,399). It’s an affordable alternative to the GS or KTM, with loads of comfortable tech, including an automatic transmission that will win over anyone who thinks automatics shouldn’t go on motorcycles. Finally, we recommend the Yamaha Ténéré 700 ($9,999), mostly for its use of the brilliant MT-07 inline twin engine. It’s a fantastic value.