It’s been a year since we joined the crew of paultan.org, and in that time, 62 different motorcycles passed through our hands. Some were review machines, others were for evaluation, and most interestingly, a couple were passed to us because “we want to know what you think about it.” We also assisted a couple of manufacturers in prototype development.
The bikes we reviewed ran the gamut from urban bikes like scooters and kapchais, to all out race machines like the Kawasaki ZX-10R and Suzuki GSX-R 1000. In between we rode naked sports bikes, tourers and dual-purpose machines.
While choosing our top pick for motorcycles wasn’t hard – one machine stood head and shoulders above the rest – the quality of engineering, build, design and handling of today’s crop of bikes is indeed very close. So close that, when we do get a machine that doesn’t measure up, it is, indeed, bad.
One thing our top picks for motorcycles have in common is ABS. We feel that in this day and age, there is no excuse for any bike above 250 cc to be sold without ABS, even if there is a slight price premium to pay.
We assisted Bosch in producing a video on motorcycle ABS, and the benefit of such a safety device cannot be understated. It does not take much for a motorcycle to lose traction on a slippery surface, and during testing, we found out how easy it was to lose control when braking in an emergency.
Having been reminded in editorial meetings that we bring home the equivalent of a high-powered sports car every weekend, this is our top pick of the motorcycles we reviewed and tested during 2016. 2017 will be a different kettle of fish, and we are looking forward to new models from BMW Motorrad and Triumph, as well as the long awaited Suzuki GSX-R 1000 L7.
And there you have it, the motorcycles of 2016, which represent what we feel are the best of the crop of test bikes that passed through our hands. While some of your opinions may differ, we feel that the list below represents the most capable, or best value-for-money, motorcycles.
5. KTM Duke 250
Although not a new model by any stretch, we found a lot to like about the KTM Duke 250, as opposed to its racier sibling, the RC 250. As a single-cylinder naked sports machine, the Duke 250 was almost perfectly suited as an urban street weapon.
It had enough power to hoist the front wheel, and sharp handling to boot, something we found out during a hard ride up Genting Sempah. It was somewhat let down by the vibration of the thumper engine, but that was something we could live with, its advantages over riding that short coming.
Being targetted at the meat of the Malaysian small-bike market doesn’t mean cut-rate components though, as the Duke comes standard with WP suspension and Bosch 9 ABS. Trickling down from the bigger Duke 390 and 690 is the PASC slipper clutch, which was put to good use when charging hard into corners.
If we were on a budget, and weren’t in all that much of a hurry, the KTM Duke 250 would certainly find a place in our stable as a daily run-about.
This stonking great stormer of a motorcycle was handed to us at Sepang, and subsequently on the road, and we found it to be a big bruiser of a bike. With back-to-back World Super Bike (WSBK) championship titles, Kawasaki certainly knows what they are doing when it comes to superbikes.
We had no chance to use all that rated 204 hp (with Ram-Air), but suffice it to say, the speeds we clocked on the ZX-10R at Sepang, and on the open highway, were high up enough in the upper reaches of the speedometer to give you pause, and make you pray to whichever god you believe in.
The thing is the rider feels every single kilogramme of the ZX-10R’s 206 kg weight, something we noticed when we rode the 2015 and 2016 ZX-10s back-to-back. However, the 2016 ZX-10R’s suspension is very sophisticated, well-tuned to the bike and hustling the big litre-bike through the curves at Ulu Yam and Bukit Tinggi showed the Showa suspension is a good fit for it.
While we did like the Kawasaki ZX-10R for what it is, a no apologies given and none taken racetrack weapon, living with it in daily traffic was a bit of a chore. Things being what they are though, the big Ninja would find a place in our stable, purely for the excitement of riding a bike only one race kit removed from a WSBK machine.
We travelled a fair way for this one, all the way to Buriram, Thailand, where we participated in the Ducati 959 experience. As part of the event, we were schooled in riding techniques by 250 GP world champion Manuel Poggiali.
Placed at the “entry-level” of Ducati’s superbike range, the 959 Panigale exhibited markedly different behaviour from the preceding 899 Panigale. Now displacing 955 cc, the Superquadro engine matched the handling behaviour of the 959 Panigale perfectly.
During our track session – and make no mistake, the 959 is most at home on the racetrack – the handling was sharp as a knife, and the amount of feedback imparted to the rider when heeled over in a corner was amazing.
The Panigale isn’t designed for long-distance comfort though, and that is not what this bike is for. What it is, is a racetrack weapon, built for the rider who appreciates sharp, responsive handling, and power that can be kept under control.
This sports middle-weight has consistently placed high on most motorcycle “best of” lists since it first came to the market in 2007, and it is easy to see why. We tested two different Street Triples, one from the Triumph Malaysia test pool, the other a long-term review machine, which, at the end of the review, ended up in the author’s stable.
Boasting of a fairly high specifications list for a middle-weight machine, the 675 R, with its inline-triple that puts out 106 hp, provided the almost perfect balance between controllable power and ease of use in city commuting.
Coupled with the fully-adjustable suspension – something missing from most of its competitors – we found the Street Triple to be sure-footed and agile, and it has, indeed, become the author’s substitute for personal transport, with the car being left at home. The 675 is due to be replaced with the Triumph Street Triple 765, which sees its world unveiling on January 10, 2017.
A lot of motorcycle testing tends to be subjective, with the rider’s own personal experience, riding skills and knowledge coming into play. Reviewing motorcycles is rather harder than testing a car, as bikes need to be a touch more multi-dimensional.
So, when the question was asked of the author, “which is the best bike you’ve ridden all year?”, the answer was easy: the Ducati Multistrada 1200. About as multi-dimensional as it gets, the Multistrada took the previous-generation model, and simply made everything better.
With a complete suite of riding aids, the Multistrada proved itself to be capable in all areas. We took it for an overnight trip up to Cameron Highlands, and it handled the 1,000-km plus, hard-paced, two-day journey in stride.
Comfort was more than adequate, and the Multistrada’s road-handling manners were exemplary. The cornering ABS and traction control – standard fitment on the big dual-purpose – performed as advertised, saving the author’s butt not once, but twice, when emergency maneuvers were called for.
While the buy-in price of the Multistrada 1200 may be prohibitive to many, suffice it to say that for the amount of money being spent, the return on investment is well worth it.