By Gareth Davidson
What do you get if you take the 15 bikes that thrilled us, scared us or made us laugh like fools more than any others over the past year, then put them to the test on the road and a dynamic handling track? The best bike of 2017, that’s what!
Traction control, quick shifters, electronic suspension, ride-by-wire and six axis ECU systems – the next time someone tells me about the ‘good old days’ I’m going to give them a carbon fibre slap! 2017 has been quite a fruitful year to be a bike rider with technology that ten years ago was only found in a MotoGP bike and science fiction movies is now ours to buy and enjoy.
To try test every single model that was released in 2017 would be near impossible and it would most likely confuse us. So, we received a mail with a list of possible contenders, had to select our top 15, and with all participating journalists making their choices at random we came out with the potential Pirelli Bike of the Year candidates.
Yes, before you ask, that is a BMW G 310 R in the line-up. Times have changed and maybe it should be explained how this test is conducted first! We had 15 bikes to ride and each time we climbed onto a new bike, we had to hit the reset button, forget about what we had just ridden and think about the current bike and its segment. With that said, you’d then need to act like a soliloquist and have a fat conversation with yourself in your lid and ride each bike comparing it to the nearest competitor in its class; does it have improved technology, is it better, is the bike worth the money, and so on?
BMW G 310 R
This is a brand new market that BMW has entered forcefully. The little Beemer has a 313cc, single cylinder, four-stroke, liquid-cooled engine that punches out an impressive 34hp and 28Nm. The build quality is excellent and it’s hard to believe that it is actually made in India. The attention to detail is typically German and it’s hard to find something you won’t like about the bike. Believe it or not, this bike was one of the more fought for bikes on the test! The BM reaches its top speed of 154km/h quite easily and the ride is surprisingly fun! This bike retails at a very impressive R62,900 which completely shocked the industry because of its price competitiveness. It doesn’t make it the cheapest naked 300 though, the Kawasaki Z300 still comes in cheaper at R55,995 so is it worth more? I do believe that the overall package is better value for money so this one scored quite high on my list.
BMW R 1200 GS Rallye
This is BMW’s answer to the war happening between themselves and KTM. Let’s face it, BMW have ruled the roost for uncountable years but KTM are slowly starting to take over. Much like the ANC vs. the DA, we are never sure if KTM will ever take the lead in the entire segment but each year they are taking chunks out of BMWs reign by converting a few riders to orange. The new Rallye sports a thinner seat, smaller screen and wide enduro foot-pegs. It has a quick shifter pro which means clutchless gear changes for both up and down shifts. Although still the leader in the adventure market, they have not quite filled that ‘hooligan’ requirement that its KTM counterpart delivers. This bike comes in at R245,990 and, compared to the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, its priced a little high and is not more bike than the KTM! So, sorry BMW fans, this one did not score massively high on my list.
Ducati Multistrada 950
This bike impressed me quite a bit. I didn’t expect that much punch from the 937cc motor. This is a cost effective Multistrada coming in at R176,000. The Multistrada is effectively a sport tourer that is dressed to look like an adventure bike. Although it can be taken off-road, I doubt too many owners would do so! It does not house too many electronics under the red paint, so it makes the bike quite an average one to ride. As mentioned, the power is unbelievably good but the handling did not ‘wow’ me as much. It tends to under steer slightly when pushing it a bit harder, which can be sorted with suspension adjustment, but does not offer electronic suspension so it may never see a screwdriver apart from the general service intervals. This motorcycle did score better than I thought it would have on my list!
Ducati Supersport S
I totally looked past this bike and to be honest was not really looking forward to riding it but, boy, was I wrong! When it was my turn to ride this bike, I was completely blown away, like completely! This was by far my favourite bike of them all, in fact, it was my overall winner and here’s why: Okay, so yes, we had the ’S’ model but they do offer two versions; one with standard suspension and one with Ohlins. Not everyone may need the Ohlins suspension and, to be honest, for most people, it’s more a gimmick because you’re not going to play around with the settings too much. The Ducati Supersport is so many bikes all packed into one; It can be a superbike when tucked in so tight you become a second layer of paint while reaching a top speed of 260km/h and it is a tourer when sitting up like a meerkat because you are able to raise the screen. And it’s a great commuter because of the raised handlebars and neutral rider position. The seat is also one of the most comfortable I’ve ever had the pleasure of placing my rear on. I really enjoyed the clutchless quick shifter for both up and down shifts! The Ducati Supersport S model comes in at R188,000 and the stock version at R169,000. So to get a full spec model for less than R200k that will perform as well or better than any other bike in its class, that’s a winner right there, well for me at least!
Honda CBR1000RR SP
This is the SP version of the long overdue CBR1000RR, meaning it features Ohlins electronic suspension and quick shifter for clutchless up and down shifts. This has to be one of the easiest bikes to get on and ride fast straight away. The riding position can be a bit cramped for a taller rider as the manufacturers have started making superbikes a lot smaller and narrower so that they are not much bigger than a super sport bike. The two most obvious equivalents to the SP would be the Yamaha R1 M which is a full R100,000 more expensive and the Ducati 1299 Panigale S which costs exactly the same. But is it better than those two? In some ways yes but definitely no step backwards for Honda. The fact that Honda has finally brought out an aggressive superbike that does everything you need it to and then some is why it placed second overall and came in first in the superbike class. The Blade retails for R290,000.
Indian Scout 60
The price tag of R149,999 is the talking point of the Indian Scout 60, so much bike for comparatively so little money! It has a 999cc engine that sounds amazing when opening the throttle to the stop. For a cruiser it handles pretty well and lends itself to fast riding. Although the name cruiser suggests a calm, scenic ride this Indian Scout 60 is far from that! I say this because when you pull away the bike seems quite timid but when you open the throttle completely its personality changes into something almost demonic. It put a smile on everyone’s face after riding, especially those who don’t like cruisers!
Going back to their routes with the original Z9, Kawasaki has launched the new Z900 to replace the outgoing Z800 model. A significant improvement from the outgoing model it screams wheelies, aggressive looks and style. The motor feels electric with a swift response when the throttle is cracked open but you soon find yourself in the red maybe a little too quickly? They have limited the revs to 10,500rpm which, in my opinion, is too low. This is no Sunday church-goer; you swing your leg over the Z900 and your personality changes dramatically. The bike does everything very well but I don’t see it having completely having revolutionised the middle/heavy weight naked class, and especially when you throw in a couple grand less (yes that is not a typo) and for less money you have yourself a 1,000 with loads more power! It is still a fantastic bike and anyone who rides it will think so too! It comes in at R139,995.
Why has Kawasaki labelled this as a sport bike? I believe it to be more of a sport tourer if you ask me and Kawasaki has recently launched a revised model of their already-successful Z1000SX. Featuring a bit of a fairing and raised ‘bars it does take the pressure off at high speeds and longer distances. It has loads of power waiting to be released and delivers it more smoothly than an Indian tele-salesman. The bike is quite chunky but, on a longer distance run, that will be most welcome! I did not get a chance to test this bike’s absolute top speed but, then again, did we really need to? It features the usual electronics such as rider modes, traction control and ABS. The bike is very good and it’s hard to fault but it is a revised model, I did not find it to completely stand out in its class. It comes in at R155,995 which is actually quite good value for money!
Kawasaki Versys 300
A bike that is very capable on the road and the dirt. Being able to ride the BMW G 310 R on the same day we quickly noticed the differences between the two models, despite the fact they are not really the same type of bike, or are they? The Versys needs quite a bit of motivation from the rider to stop the bike but the little gem of an engine was not too bad. It has a 296cc, parallel twin, liquid-cooled engine that pushes out 40hp. Although it makes more hp than the BMW, the German bike is more than 20kg lighter making the Kawasaki the slower of the two. With small bikes, weight is everything! Obviously the wind protection is a lot better that its competition so for longer rides it’s quite pleasant. The price tag sits at R74,995 which is R12,000 more than the BMW so it would be hard to convince me to buy the Kawasaki unless dirt roads were thrown into the mix because that is where this bike excels.
So this bike is basically an old 1190 isn’t it? It is set to be a cheaper alternative and very basic adventure bike compared to its bigger brother. It has the 1,050cc engine which pushes out 123hp so virtually identical to the BMW R 1200 GS Rallye but it’s faster because it’s a whole lot lighter which makes a huge difference on quite a technical adventure ride. It does not have the same electronics as the others though so it feels old-fashioned if you ride the three back-to-back on the same day, but you very quickly forget that it is a smaller bike! The 1090R comes in at R181,999 which is very good value for the total package.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
This is a machine! After riding the BMW and its smaller brother it is quite easy to assume that this could have been the biggest potential winner. I absolutely love the dash display, it’s like KTM has taken an iPad and bolted it straight on! The menu is so much easier to navigate through and changing settings on the fly is a breeze. This bike can be whatever you want it to be. What I mean by that is it’s got so much hp that it will give a couple of superbikes a run for their money but can be toned down to a more tame ride in a few seconds by changing a few settings. It does everything better than what you’d expect which is difficult for a manufacturer to get right. I did not, however, choose this as my bike of the year but it was in my top four bikes though! The best part about this bike has to be the price because you get much more bike than you’re paying for! It comes in at R216,999.
What 650cc bike than can do 200+km/h can you buy for less than R100,000? The SV650 is one of those bikes where you get great value for your money, a bike that does everything sort of okayish, but you can’t really fault the Suzuki because of it! The styling of the bike does not stop traffic but lends itself to making it your own with custom bits that will transform it. The power is more than enough for anyone and we managed a top speed of 215km/h which is faster than the new Kawasaki Z650 and MT-07. Coming in at R98,500 it is exceptional value for money.
After riding the blade, the gixxer does feel a bit old fashioned. This is not completely fair for me to say though as the blade is the SP version which has a lot more bells and whistles that you pay for! So looking at the updates; the hp is typical Suzuki – the power has returned! It is a bigger bike than the blade so for taller riders this would leave you feeling less cramped. I love the styling of the bike but absolutely hate the exhaust. How can Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda get it right to make a smaller exhaust to comply with Euro4 but Suzuki, well, obviously were off sick that day! The bike is a massive improvement from the outgoing model which, just like the blade, is very welcome! This bike comes in at R239,900.
Triumph Street Scrambler
Natalie had the older version of this bike which I totally loved! I know technology is an ever evolving thing but I believe some bikes just shouldn’t change! Although in the real world the bike is leaps and bounds better, I believe it has lost its soul! It does everything too perfectly. Although not the fastest bike we had out of the bunch, it maxed out at around the 170km/h mark but felt slower because it did not get out of shape at all. So yes it has improved and is a better bike, but is it really?
This is a very welcome bike in the super sport category. While the other manufacturers are sleeping for the winter, Yamaha came out with a new bike that has, so far, dominated in its first World Supersport season. The styling is the closest you’ll ever have to a MotoGP bike. I don’t think it was much of a favourite with the judges and journalists in this year’s Pirelli Bike of the Year due to its very cramped riding position but, for me, with my lower centre of gravity, it suited me just fine. Typical of a 600cc you have to work the bike quite hard to appreciate its qualities and against the rivals in its class, it is a big improvement. The bike did not really place but it was in my top 6. This bike comes in at R189,950.
So there you have it! We had to submit our top six bikes with each bike scored accordingly and then the winners were announced. In third position we had the Ducati Supersport S, this was my overall winner so I am quite pleased that a few of the other journos also scored it quite high. In second was the Honda CBR1000RR SP Fireblade, this scored 5th place in my overall result. In first we have the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, a well deserved winner, and even though the price is over R200k you are still getting a lot more bike than you pay for. This bike was placed 4th in my overall results.
There were a few bikes that I felt needed to be at this year’s event and we may irritate you as the reader having not had them in the line-up but, at the end of the day, you are going to buy what suits you and what you may think is your bike of the year. For us, it’s actually a nice couple of days riding as many bikes as we can and telling you a little bit about them. Riding everything on the same day does help as the spec sheets you find on the internet do not always translate into a bike’s real world characteristics. So do with this what you will if you’re purely a specification geek and then for the realists we hope that within this batch of bikes you find what you’re looking for!