Every year, motorcycle manufacturers release their latest models. Some of them are brand new to the market, while others are simple updates. Not every one of them will be a winner, however and sifting through every model while shopping for your new bike can be a daunting task. Add to that new motorcycle companies rising every year, and the market becomes crowded real quick. It’s hard to tell which model is best, let alone which you should buy. The good news is that objectively good motorcycles tend to separate themselves from the pack naturally. Whether it’s due to their looks, price or performance, a motorcycle that’s worth your time will inevitably make its presence known.
Even though there was nothing wrong with the previous Speed Triple 1050 or the Triple RS, Triumph only went and made it even better in 2021. It is unique in not being a naked version of a faired sport bike, which means it’s not a compromise, while Triumph has refused to be goaded by other manufacturers’ power claims and resolutely gone its own way. That’s not to say that there isn’t enough power, mind you: 178 horses are plenty in anyone’s book.
The new engine is stunning, full of triple-cylinder character, and yet smooth and refined, despite the explosive performance, whereas the transmission is one of the best on any sport bike. Suspension is not as compliant as previously, but that only serves to sharpen up the handling, if that were possible. The whole bike feels slimmer and more compact, and the seat proves that sporty bikes don’t have to have a plank for a seat but can actually be comfortable.
Yamaha saved its own bacon when it launched the MT-09 in 2013, which is now one of the coolest best motorcycles in 2022. Here was a Japanese bike with a difference: it had character! It was fast, light, and affordable, with a lovely three-cylinder engine that was punchy and smooth. In 2021, Yamaha gave the MT-09 a makeover with a bigger engine, new frame, styling, and electronics. The bike didn’t need them, but it is better for them. You could even argue that it’s the best Japanese-built naked bike.
Whether you like the looks is subjective, but there is no arguing about the bike’s abilities. The seat isn’t the most comfortable, but the chassis is superb and the engine, with 115 hp on tap, works in perfect harmony with the chassis, even if the chassis could handle more power. As it is, this is a great bike to take on a long ride along twisting country lanes while also being perfectly happy being the urban workhorse.
Perhaps an obvious choice, but love it or hate it, you can’t deny that the BMW GS is still one of the best-selling bikes of any class in many countries around the world. And, it sells that well not just because it’s a BMW, but because it really is that good. Yes, rivals from KTM, Triumph, and Harley-Davidson (see below) have more power, and next to them, the BMW does look large. However, you can’t deny its ability on any surface: it’s at once a superlative long-distance tourer and a remarkably light and well-balanced off-road.
The Shiftcam variable valve timing engine has a perfectly linear spread of power and torque, transforming the rather bland performance of previous versions of the venerable boxer-twin engine, and the suspension has to be ridden to be believed off-road: on long, bumpy gravel stretches, it’s a magic carpet ride.
There might be dozens of scooters on the market today, but are any really as good as the iconic Vespa? It was conceived after the second world war to not only save a business, but also to feed the demand for simple cheap transport to get a country moving again. It became a style icon and a symbol of all things Italian and set a blueprint subsequently followed by everyone else, but rarely – if ever – bettered.
Yes, they’re expensive compared to their rivals, but the quality justifies the price. No longer two-stroke buzz bombs, the new generation of four-stroke engines are smooth, quiet, and powerful: the GTS300 model is ridiculously fast for a small-wheeled city bike. All are equipped with stepless continuously variable transmission, so anyone can ride them.
There are two very good reasons why the Pan America is on this list. Firstly, Harley-Davidson had the guts to go in a completely new direction, and secondly, it got it right the first time. The motorcycling world was ready to scoff when H-D announced an adventure bike, but quickly had to eat its words when the bike appeared. Here was a very real and viable alternative to BMW, KTM, Triumph, et al., which resisted the temptation to be ‘American’ and simply concentrated instead on being brilliant. The new Revolution Max engine, the chassis dynamics, top-spec brakes and suspension, and the electronics all contributed to the biggest and best surprise of 2021.
Triumph Trident 660
In reality, there could be many Triumphs on this list, but the Trident 660 is so good and has sold so well that it fully deserves its place here. You could even argue that the Trident 600 is the only bike you’ll ever need. It showed us that a bike didn’t have to be super powerful, expensive, or complex to be great. It has lots of character, is comfortable, easy to ride, and will satisfy beginners and experienced riders alike.
The small three-cylinder engine is sublime, full of punch, is married to a great chassis, and it never fails to put a smile on your face when the road gets twisty. At the same time, it is the perfect urban companion, turning even the most mundane journey into something special. It’s one of those bikes you can simply jump on and enjoy and has an endearingly cheeky personality. Rivals might have more features but the Trident 660 is brilliant in its simplicity.
Indian FTR 1200
Like Harley, Indian took a left turn with the FTR, but unlike Harley, Indian looked to the very American sport of flat track racing for inspiration. The FTR 1200 might be nothing like the rest of the Indian range, but Indian managed to produce a very special bike indeed. Possessing a fierce personality, it’s not for the faint of heart, but it is extremely rewarding for those with the skill to tame it. Unashamedly retro in appearance, its performance is anything but old-fashioned, and it’s comfortable and well-equipped.
In keeping with its flat track pretensions, the rear wheel can struggle for grip if you are careless with the throttle at low revs. Such is the instant torque from the 1203cc V-twin; but traction control is there to gather everything up again, at least on the ’S’ model. Sachs and Brembo deal with suspension and braking, while ABS and traction control, where fitted, are lean-sensitive.
Ducati’s Multistrada V4 might be the last bike you’d think about taking off-road as per its adventure bike designation, but that’s all right as it’s an incredible road bike in its own right. Moving away from the V-twin, which was getting to the limits of the cylinder bore, the new V4 engine is a brilliant piece of engineering, actually slightly smaller and lighter than the V-twin!
This is one of the most accomplished bikes on the market right now, offering blistering performance reined in by astonishing electronic sophistication while being supremely comfortable and practical. The Multistrada was even updated for the 2022 model year with minor changes. If ever the phrase ‘all-rounder’ was perfect for a bike, then it is this one: it excels on any road, be it highway, country lanes, city, or race track. There are few bikes that can claim the same level of skill in one of those categories, let alone over such a wide spectrum of riding conditions.
The old saying, less is more, has never been more appropriate than in the Aprilia RS660 – the pocket superbike from Italy. While the RSV4 1100 Factory is a fine example of excess in every sense of the word, the RS660 is just as much fun, just as competent, in a package that is completely accessible in a way that no liter superbike ever has been.
The RS660, powered by Aprilia’s parallel twin-engine, goes, handles, and excites like a liter sports bike, has all the technology you could need, and even comes with a dose of unexpected comfort. As big sports bikes become ever more powerful, extreme, and some would say, compromised, the RS660 reverses all that by being just as agile and entertaining in the corners, which, let’s face it, is where the fun is and doesn’t lose out all that much on the straights. And, the fact that it’s not trying to kill you every time you swing a leg over it makes it so easy to live with.
Just as with the Aprilia RS660, the KTM 390 Adventure demonstrates that size isn’t everything. In a world where adventure bikes are getting ridiculously large and complex, the KTM 390 Adventure is refreshingly different, whilst being no less competent. In the media literature, KTM states that the 390 Adventure is an easily accessible bike to open horizons on roads, tracks, and trails. What is significant about this is that they are not pitching it as an entry to adventure riding per se, which is about right as this is a brilliant adventure bike full stop.
It isn’t a stepping stone to anything other than itself. There isn’t a box it doesn’t tick, be it performance, ability, comfort, equipment, fuel economy, or just sheer fun. Factor in the price and how it opens up adventure riding to a lot of people and any arguments you might simply melt away into insignificance.