This has been a banner year for motorcycle introductions, with new and updated models rolling out at all price ranges. Dramatic styling and technical innovations are breathing life into a market recovering from the struggling economy, stirring passions and attracting new and returning riders. With so much fresh iron, we've been talking for weeks about what we'd most want to ride this summer. It would be hard to reduce the roster to just 10, as there are many bikes that would be fun in their own way, spanning from the diminutive Honda Grom to the Victory Boardwalk and upcoming Indian Chief. But, we decided to limit our wish list to the following, ranked roughly in order of size.
Kawasaki Ninja 300: Entry-level bikes have seen significant improvements of late, becoming destinations, not just starting points. This new model combines the look of larger Ninja sport-bikes in a lighter package with a relatively low 30.9-inch seat height. Adding beginner appeal, the 300 features a novice rider friendly "slipper" clutch, which Kawasaki says requires less effort and can help prevent rear wheel lockup when downshifting. Powered by a 296cc, liquid-cooled and fuel-injected two-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed transmission, the 300 is more powerful than the long-running Ninja 250 it replaces. Base price is $4,799, with the ABS models priced at $5,499. Fun and affordable-sounds like a winning combination.
Honda CB500F/CB500X: Midsized fun, the new CB500F is a "naked" sport bike. Built for agility, the CB500F takes a pass on the dramatic fairing of the CBR500R, granting it a different visual attitude and slightly more approachable price, starting at $5,499. ABS is offered solely with a black variation for $5,999. (There is a certain irony that the safety-minded model doesn't come in a more visible color.)
Given a different twist, there is also the CB500X adventure bike. It may look similar to the other Honda CB500s, but it has a number of enhancements, such as longer suspension travel (4.9 inches) and wider handle bars, to suit it for the expanding adventure class. Pricing starts at $5,999. And again, ABS is available.
Zero Motorcycles Zero S: Our electric pick is the peppy Zero S, a model we did recently sample, along with other battery-powered models from Zero Motorcycles. The 54-hp Zero S Streetfighter has a much greater a 70-mile overall range (combining city and highway ranges) for the ZF8.5 ($13,995) and a 93-mile overall range with the larger pack in the ZF11.4 ($15,995). Stick to the city and the ZF11.4 can go 137 miles--or a multiple of what the average American drives daily. (The model designations take their names from the battery capacity, in this case 11.4 kWh.) Zero estimates that the cost to recharge the ZF11.4 is a mere $1.20. One our initial drive, our team enjoyed this electric sport bike, zipping up and down the local parkway, and savoring its thrilling, effortless near-silent acceleration. We'd like to go beyond a test drive to learn more about living with an electric. All indications are that it would be quite enjoyable to hop on and go, without fussing over maintenance. Of course, touring duties would necessitate a gasoline bike, but for commuting, errand running, and quick afternoon escapes, there is much appeal here.
Star Bolt: Offered in basic and better-trimmed R-Spec form, the Bolt has an old-school appearance at a relatively budget price. Think of it as a metric alternative to a Harley-Davidson Sportster. The Bolt uses a new frame, fitted with a fuel-injected, air-cooled 950cc engine. The Bolt is devoid of chrome, relying instead on simple paint and metal surfaces. The body is a slim design, and overall weight is a modest 540 lbs., notably 73 lbs. lighter than the company's V Star 950 that uses a similar engine. The Bolt has just a 3.2 gallon gas tank, compared to 4.5 gallons for the V Star 950. The seat is low at 27.2 inches. Curious concessions to modernity, the Bolt uses a digital speedometer and an LED tail lamp. Disc brakes are in place front and rear, but ABS is not offered--a disappointment for any new motorcycle design, more especially one that may attract less-experienced riders. Pricing starts at $7,990.