10 motorcycles we most want to ride this summer

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Kawasaki Ninja 300


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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.

Suzuki Boulevard C90T B.O.S.S.: If Darth Vader was a biker, this might be his cruiser of choice. The C90T B.O.S.S. is available in just one color: black. Not shiny helmet black. Flat, sinister black like his heart. This treatment is given to just about everything right down to the saddlebags, exhaust pipes, and even the wheels. Power comes from a 1462cc liquid-cooled V-twin matched with a five-speed transmission and shaft drive. A big, black seat, floorboard footrests, and a generous windshield help make for comfortable highway cruising, and a comprehensive instrument cluster includes speedometer, clock, trip odometer, and more. Ride like a boss for $14,000.

BMW R 1200 GS: Designed and built not just to look like it's ready for a world tour but to actually embark on one whenever you're ready, the GS offers an adjustable suspension with almost eight inches of travel, 5.3-gallon fuel tank, standard ABS, and room for two passengers. A horizontal two-cylinder double-overhead-cam 1170cc engine helps lower the center of gravity for better handling on gravel roads or for highway travel, and it is matched with a six-speed transmission for comfortable cruising. BMW claims highway fuel economy of more than 57 mpg, and a wide variety of accessories are available to customize the GS for your big adventure. Prices start at $15,800.

Triumph Trophy SE: A far cry from the classic British motorcycles of old, the Trophy SE is a thoroughly modern machine, with up-to-the-minute styling and features, including an electronically adjustable suspension. Powered by a liquid-cooled and fuel-injected 1215cc, double-overhead-cam three-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed transmission and shaft drive, the Trophy SE is set up for comfortable two-up travel. Features include a premium audio system, cruise control, ABS brakes, twin saddlebags, and a rear trunk for storage. Priced at $19,000...dollars, not pounds.

Star 1300 Deluxe: Billed as the "world's first production midsize bagger," the V Star 1300 Deluxe is a variation on a respected bike, dressing it up for mild touring and layering on abundant features, while keeping the price under the larger domestics. True to form, it has lockable hard saddle bags and a modest fairing and windscreen. The dash is decked out with an iPod-compatible stereo with XM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and Garmin Zumo 665 navigation system. It is powered by a 1304-cc liquid-cooled, fuel-injected V-twin, and it weighs in at just over 700 lbs. Pricing starts at $13,690 for the 1300 Deluxe. If you're looking to shave off some money, the V Star 1300 Tourer with fewer bells and whistles starts at $12,390.

Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom: With just one look at this new Guzzi, how could you not want to ride one? An all-new motorcycle with a familiar name, the California 1400 Custom is a modern bike with classic lines and high-tech features. This Italian tourer has a 90-degree, 1380-cc V-twin engine whose response can be dial in via three modes: Touring, Sport, and Rain. It employs ride-by-wire, and it likewise has traction control with three levels of intervention. The brakes are Brembo and they are fitted with ABS. Cruise control is also standard. Rife with standard features, the California 1400 Custom promises a truly unique riding experience, priced at $14,990. Those looking to travel, there is a Touring model for an additional $3,000 that adds a windscreen, saddle bags, and other road trip essentials.

Honda Gold Wing F6B: A trimmed-down version of Honda's cushy and fully-equipped touring bike, think of the F6B as something of a Gold Wing lite - at least as much as a motorcycle weighing over 800 pounds can be considered a lightweight. The F6B gets the same fuel-injected 1832-cc flat six-cylinder engine and five-speed overdrive transmission as the full-on Gold Wing, wrapped in a leaner, more aggressive-looking package with a smaller windscreen, blacked-out trim, and less throne-like seating. Those changes, combined with losing the trunk of the original, enable the F6B to check in at between 62 and 84 pounds less depending on trim and options. Prices start at $19,999, about $4,000 less than a fully-dressed Gold Wing.

What motorcycle would you most want to ride this summer? Post your two-wheel dream ride in the comments below.

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