Check out our editors’ picks in the Motorcycle USA Best of 2009 Awards video.
Before the year is even over, new bikes and products are pouring into our offices in a continual stream of motorcycle saturation. We could easily go day-to-day like nothing has changed, but they say the holidays are a time for reflection and a time to be thankful. Plus, the truth of the matter is that a lot changed in 2009. From exciting racing exploits and technological advancements in products and machinery, to horrific economic impacts reverberating throughout the industry. Undoubtedly, this has been an important year for motorcyclists and it’s time to dig through the archived pages of MotorcycleUSA.com, MotoUSA Magazine and our own muddled memories to see who and what were the Best of 2009.
Best Sportbike: Honda CBR1000RR
To dominate the liter-class sportbike wars for even one season is an impressive feat when one considers the constant evolution of the hotly contested class, the four Japanese and Ducati all bringing new and more advanced models to market what feels like every other year. Even more impressive is to repeat. Such is the case of the Honda CBR1000RR. The Winged Warrior has been top dog for two years running now and doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Honda captured our literbike shootout for a second consecutive time.
Blending lightweight, racetrack prowess with everyday, mild-mannered street behavior, say hello to what makes the big-bore CBR so rideable. Precise throttle response, low-end torque and arm-pulling top end are all trademarks of the 999cc engine, while the chassis and suspension are equally impressive. There truly is no better all-around sportbike currently available in the United States
For 2010 the Honda sees some serious challengers in the form of Aprilia’s RSV4 and BMW’s S1000RR, but for either to top the CBR it’s going to be a tall order as Big Red really nailed it with this one. It’s for this very reason that the Honda CBR1000RR is without question Motorcycle USA’s 2009 Sportbike of the Year. – Steve Atlas
Best Cruiser: Big Dog Wolf
It’s been a busy year in the cruiser realm. Kawasaki brought back the Voyager, Triumph reinvented the Thunderbird, Star released its V Star 950, and Suzuki came out with its M90, a smaller but spirited version of its M109R. In 2009, we saw the return of iconic American V-Twin manufacturer, Indian Motorcycles, and after almost three decades, Harley-Davidson finally revamped the chassis on its touring bikes.
But the one cruiser that distinguished itself the most in 2009 is the Big Dog Wolf. The first area it gets our vote in is for sourcing S&S Cycle’s 121 cubic-inch X-Wedge engine. The air-cooled, pushrod V-Twin is the first 49-state certified powerplant to meet EPA 2010 US Tier II standards. Factory custom and eco-friendly are two words that don’t often get repeated in the same sentence, so kudos to Big Dog for bucking the trend. But don’t think for a minute that this is a watered-down mill. With a big, 4.25-inch square bore and 1976cc of power at the disposal of your throttle hand, the Big Dog Wolf launches with authority. BDM claims the big pro-streeter will hit 60 mph in less than four seconds, and after having a chance to twist its throttle, I believe them.
Despite posting gaudy dimensions like an 83.5-inch wheelbase, a 23-inch front tire set at a 45-degree rake angle, and a total length of almost 9.5-feet long, the Wolf’s handling belies its size. Big Dog pulled this off by keeping the rear a manageable 220mm-wide and mounting it in a new swingarm. The big cruiser has a low 25.5-inch seat height, a low center of gravity and a compliant hidden shock on the rear that provides excellent ride quality for a bike with a 770 lb claimed curb weight.
Finally, the Wolf showcases superb fit and finish. It has one of the longest, cleanest lines I’ve seen. It starts up front at the sculpted 4.5-gallon tank, flows down the back over the integrated seat pan and rolls seamlessly over the curve of the steel rear fender. Oversized tires maintain the bike’s balance, with a 20-inch tall, 220mm wide rear chunk of rubber teaming up with the monster 23-inch hoop up front. In between, a chunk of polished chrome in the form of its S&S X-Wedge engine provides the machismo.
Its combination of strikingly good looks, pulse-pounding power in an EPA-compliant package, and deceptively easy-handling make the 2009 Big Dog Wolf the top candidate for Cruiser of the Year. – Bryan Harley
Trimuph’s three-cylinder engine is one of our all-time favorite mills. The sound alone is worth purchasing the Street Triple R, but its spunky performance and smashing looks are just as great.
Best Street Bike: Triumph Street Triple R
Every year new street bikes come and go with most of them fading off into never-never-land… unless it’s the $9499 Triumph Street Triple R. So what’s so special you ask? Everything. From its charismatic liquid-cooled 675cc three-cylinder engine that feels like it runs at its best when you’re riding on the back wheel, to its racetrack-spec chassis complete with suspension and brakes as used on the Daytona 675 sportbike, the Street Triple R has the potential to do some serious damage to your driving record. From the moment you hit the starter button until you put the kickstand down, the Triumph’s engine blares a unique mechanical soundtrack unlike any of its rivals. The melody is so captivating that it can be difficult to restrain yourself from using 100% throttle at every given opportunity.
When you do keep both wheels on the ground, you can experience its enchanting composure as you barrel through the bend ahead at maximum speed. However, in the rare moments of law abiding clarity, the Triumph’s suspension settings can be adjusted giving more comfort for the daily grind to and from the office. A premium quality seat and upright riding position courtesy of the tapered aluminum handlebar keep you comfortably in control when you’re racking up the miles. The package is wrapped in Triumph’s signature double bug-eye headlights with the blacked-out engine fully exposed, while the exhaust covertly wraps through the rear of the bike exiting in twin upswept mufflers. The most entertaining and ultimately best street bike of 2009? That would be the Triumph Street Triple R. – Adam Waheed
Best Touring Motorcycle: BMW K1300GT
Riders can tour on anything from a superbike to a 50cc scooter, depending on their tastes, but for those looking to pile on the miles in comfort the OEMs have come up with some sweet purpose-built rides. When it comes time to make long-distance tracks our first inclination are the sport-tourers. And the best S-T ride this year was the 2009 BMW K1300GT.
Sport touring bikes are a tricky bunch. Combining sport performance with all-day comfort is a difficult task, but BMW has the master plan figured out with the K1300GT.
Why is the BMW K1300GT Motorcycle USA’s touring motorcycle of the year? Well, it took the already strong platform of the K1200GT and added an extra 136cc displacement for a new 140 rear-wheel horsepower engine. The uber Beemer touring platform now holds its own against the previously matchless Kawasaki Concours in the motor department. It also managed to overtake the surefooted Yamaha FJR in handling, at least in our test rider’s minds. Stellar brakes and on-the-fly suspension adjustment from the ESA II complete on-road performance that could just as easily get your license suspended as transport you to and fro with reserved comfort and class. Speaking of which, the heated grips, heated seat and cruise control, along with the plenty of protection from the fairing and adjustable windscreen make long distance rides an enjoyable affair – and the spacious integrated saddlebags accommodate multiple days in the saddle.
The BMW K1300GT does everything well on the road, but its downside, and it’s not an insignificant one, is its $20K MSRP – actually $19,150 for the base ABS model, with far beyond the $20K marker once riders add on the options. In spite of its price, the BMW won our 2009 Sport-Touring Comparison handily.
Want specifics? Read the full 2009 S-T review, but for the short answer consider my actions on the final day of our ST excursion. Having to head home early for a family obligation, I had to leave at 5 a.m. with 400 grim miles of wind, rain and darkness ahead of me. As I looked over the available touring rides from our test, I packed up the Beemer and snuck out of the hotel parking lot like a thief in the night. – Bart Madson
Best Off-Road Motorcycle: Husaberg FE 450
Husaberg shocked the off-road world with the quiet release of the FE 450. The KTM subsidiary flipped enduro thinking on its head with a radical engine design mated to a spectacular chassis and compliant suspension.
Bikes come and go, but few leave truly significant marks on the sport. Husaberg made big waves in the dirt bike world with the 2009 FE 450. This enduro provides big-bore power with handling unlike anything else in the class. A 70-degree tilted cylinder and repositioned crank create a center of gravity which allows both ends to pivot effortlessly around it. That means it handles like a 250cc 2-stroke. Mass centralization is the name of the game for all OEMs, but Husaberg beat everyone to the punch with a truly innovative solution which elevates the KTM-owned Swedish company to the forefront of the off-road market, and it can no longer be viewed as an odd-ball Euro machine. With the might and security that comes from associating with KTM, the Husaberg FE 450 is breaking enduro stereotypes as much as it is mechanical molds.
Electric start and Keihin fuel injection are important off-road goodies, but the closed-loop EFI offers more than most systems used on dirt bikes. Fed through the 42mm throttle body, the ‘Berg’s motor cranks out tremendously usable power, and plenty of it. Everything about the bike was smooth, including the link-less WP suspension. The FE is undeniably a trail bike with its quick-handling, easy-to-ride attitude. Husaberg essentially sprung the new FE models on an unsuspecting enduro public, and the result was impressive to say the least. People still complained about the price, but not many had anything bad to say about actually riding such an awesome machine. Not to mention, it spawned a model line expansion for 2010 which promises to be even better. – JC Hilderbrand
It’s tough to explain why we like a bike for being plain, but that’s what the KLX250S is – a straightforward small-displacement dual sport motorcycle. Cheap, economical, versatile, and most importantly, full-size – the KLX fits an enormous spectrum of riders and uses.
Best Dual Sport Motorcycle: Kawasaki KLX250S
You don’t have to be big to be the best. Kawasaki is known for its dual sport bikes with the KLR650 an industry standard which took this award in 2008. Once that project was complete, the engineers set out to design the smallest street-legal dirt bike in the Kawi stable and they felt like everyone should not only be capable of riding it, but affording it as well. At $4899, this is by far the most value-packed small-bore DS bike you will find. Thanks to better dirt performance and a wider spectrum of riders, it steals the crown for Best Dual Sport from its bigger sibling.
As far as small multi-purpose bikes go, the KLX is actually pretty plain in terms of outright power, suspension and chassis action and technological development. It still has a carburetor and it’s fairly heavy, however, that being said, we really appreciate the fact that it’s a full-size machine. Comparative engine displacements come in machines from other OEMs but often in shrunken bodies which really make them more of the so-called “wife’s bike.” The adult-sized 250S isn’t as racy as bikes from Yamaha or Husqvarna, perhaps, but its beauty is in its simplicity. Kawasaki has managed to bridge the gap between funky RV camper bikes and overpriced, underperforming racers. The KLX250S is a bike that can suit riders of any skill and background, and for 2009 it suits even more because it comes as a 50-state model. Dual sports are one of the few motorcycle categories showing growth in these difficult times and the small-displacement trend is leading the way. Motorcyclists want a bike that is comfortable, versatile for transportation or play and is cheap to own and maintain. The KLX250S embodies all of these traits. – JC Hilderbrand
Best Motocross Motorcycle: Kawasaki KX450F
Creating a fast, agile motocross bike that’s easy-to-ride for all riders regardless of skill level is never easy. But that’s exactly what Kawasaki did with the introduction of this year’s KX450F. From its powerful yet ridiculously smooth fuel-injected engine and its accurate chassis, to its versatile ergonomics, Team Green did its homework with this year’s premier KX. Repeatedly, Kawasaki has earned a reputation for cranking out powerful 450cc engines, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that it continued to impress by being the horsepower king on both the dyno and within our testers’ notepads. What we were amazed by was how effective it is at putting that power to the dirt, not to mention the ease of control as well as its simple starting procedure hot or cold. Even more exciting is the ability to fine-tune the engine’s power characteristics with the optional Kawasaki Fuel-injection Calibration Tool.
A great engine will only get you so far. Fortunately, engineers graced the KX-F with an equally adaptable chassis. We were especially enamored by with how quick and accurate it steers without comprising any stability at speed. Its maneuverability is also astounding despite its 250-pound curb weight. The Kayaba suspension components offer smooth, controlled action over bumps, and offer an accommodating range of adjustment. The controls are designed with average and above sized rider in mind, and we absolutely love its profile, wide footpegs and aluminum Renthal handlebar. Make no mistake, if you’re looking for the one bike that does it all well and want the Best Motocross Motorcycle, the 2009 Kawasaki KX450F is it and it can be all yours for $7549. – Adam Waheed
Best Adventure Motorcycle: BMW F800GS
We rode the beans out of this bike. Actually, it was several F800GS machines, but as we came up with projects throughout the year, the 800 fit the bill time and time again. That’s the mark of a good adventure bike, something that can go anywhere and do anything. From scenic pavement rides to exploring Baja to dropping ravines and slogging mud bogs in the notorious RawHyde Adventure Rider Challenge, BMW provided us with an excellent two-wheeled companion in the F800.
BMW finally bridged the gap in its GS line and produced a bike truly capable, and worthy, of world travel. We can’t get enough of the new F800GS.
The GS line is synonymous with adventure, but until now, the gap between the single-cylinder 650 and the massive Boxer Twin-powered R1200GS has been too much for many to overcome. BMW saw the need for a mid-sized offering, and it also saw the opportunity to provide a bike that truly has off-road potential. The big GS is just that – too big – but the 650 was always more of a commuter machine. To make sure the 800 was a blend of both, engineers used a more manageable Parallel Twin, sourced from the existing F800ST, and wrapped it with an off-road-inspired steel-trellis chassis and real suspension. The 800 uses a 45mm Marzocchi fork and an oil/spring monoshock rather than the Paralever/Telelever and air shocks found on previous models. Though a bit soft, these offer real performance in the dirt, and they’re perfectly capable of handling pavement as well. A 17/21-inch tire combination adds to the equation.
Like all BMWs, there are about a million upgrades available, including an awesome ABS system. Companies like Touratech have hit the ground running and the aftermarket support has already reached remarkable levels. The early release base model retailed for $10,520, not exactly chump change, but far more affordable than the 1200GS and with a much higher performance-to-dollar ratio. If you’re contemplating a trip around the world, this is the BMW you want to have. – JC Hilderbrand
Innovation Award: TTXGP Electric Racing at IOM
More than 100 years ago the inaugural motorcycle races at the Isle of Man took place. They featured primitive motorbikes – essentially bicycles with small engines – the winner turning the course at an average speed of 38 mph with most entries not finishing the race. Flash forward to 2009 and the Isle once again played host to a new breed of racing machines, of the electric variety, in the first-ever TTXGP.
The electric motorcycle continues to gain momentum and racing showcases and spurs new development. All those spec sheet promises, so optimistic on paper, get sorted out rather quickly when a checkered flag is the prize. No excuses, just racing. And the more hyped teams at this year’s TTXGP were humbled when the AGNI Motors effort, piloted by Ron Barber, pretty well smoked the electric paddock by turning the course at 87.434 mph. Like the first IOM TT, many entries did not finish the race.
Electric racing could be the future of our sport. The TTXGP event at the 2009 Isle of Man is just the start of promoting this technology.
For its short history, a lot has happened since the first TTXGP at the Isle of Man. For starters, its founder, Azhar Hussain, saw the FIM withdraw its initial support for his series to start its very own competing electric championship. The funny thing, at least so far, is that Hussain appears to have the upper hand – the TTXGP flourishing from its Isle of Man exhibition status to a far more robust 2010 schedule, which will include the Isle of Man original along with four races slated for the UK, three for North America and a season finale at Albacete Spain.
No one is pretending that electric motorcycles will overwhelm MotoGP anytime soon, and the long-term future of the TTXGP is anything but assured. The riders themselves seemed a little abashed by the first TTXGP electric race – more than one rider mentioning the awkward sensation of being able to hear jeering from the less appreciative roadside Manx fans. However, if we’re betting on it, electric motorcycle racing is here to stay.
Check back on this one in a half century or so – we anticipate looking pretty damn smart for once. – Bart Madson
Motocross in America was losing its luster. Declining spectators, less intrest from the racers and race teams and an unenthusiastic promoting body were killing the sport. MX Sports came in with fresh ideas and is turning the tide on men and women’s professional motocross.
Industry Leader Award: MX Sports
American motocross desperately needed a facelift. With Supercross garnering all the attention from prime-time media outlets, big-name sponsors and selective career-minded athletes, the outdoor Nationals were losing their luster. Frankly, the motocross series seemed to be losing its appeal to riders, teams, fans and business partners. That downward trend has finally been addressed with MX Sports intervening in 2009.
First off, they changed the class naming conventions to simple and accurate “250” and “450.” Women’s motocross is no longer a sideshow attraction (or detraction as it often seemed). The ladies were promoted to same-day racing with the men and expanded from the WMA banner to a full-blown, recognized AMA championship. The format change was not only needed, but surprising as the men’s schedule condensed from a full weekend to Saturday racing only. Sponsors were allowed additional real estate once numbers weren’t required on the side panels – a move that reflects the switch to electronic scoring which has been used for years. MX Sports recognizes the pressures of and need for conforming to better fit mainstream America and had the balls to sacrifice some traditions in order to modernize our sport. The TV package works better, fans can get to races and back home again without missing work, scoring is more efficient, accurate and faster, sponsors are better represented and women riders are now being treated like the professional athletes that they are.
Not only did the West Virginia-based group revamp the professional MX circuit, they nurture the health of motocross from the infant stage by operating the largest amateur national racing program in the country. Loretta Lynn’s is a regular pilgrimage to pro-am Mecca and a virtual prerequisite for professional stardom. MX Sports is a company where actions are stronger than words – they are true stewards of American motocross. – JC Hilderbrand
Manufacturer of the Year: BMW
It’s hard times in the motorcycle industry right now. The first three quarters of 2009 have been brutal – with uniform double-digit percentage losses across all motorcycle genres and an approximately 30-40% total drop in sales and production.
So why does BMW win manufacturer of the year? First, the Bavarian firm has managed to staunch the blood-letting better than most. In fact, in its third-quarter report BMW could boast that while sales dropped 8.4% compared to the previous year, it actually gained market share thanks to the worse numbers from its competitors.
BMW continues to push the envelope despite economic uncertainty and declining profits. The Germans hope to weather this storm and come out with a stronger presence across the industry.
But enough with the numbers, we tapped BMW this year because the German brand has challenged our perception of it as a stodgy, conservative marque. First surprise for 2009 was the F800GS, a mid-displacement adventure bike that delivers both off-road and on the street. A hit across the industry, we’re not the only ones to lavish praise on the 800. Second shocker was the S1000RR, a bold challenge to the Japanese Inline Four superbike supremacy. BMW campaigned it in World Superbike, where it managed top-10 results and even beat Kawasaki in the manufacturers’ standings. Another change was a complete overhaul of the K series to 1300cc – the sport-touring K1300GT winning our 2009 ST comparison test.
Add to the 2009 changes plenty of teasers for what’s to come from BMW. There was the C1-E scooter, an electric-powered take on its earlier C1 concept, as well as the three-wheeled leaning Simple and Clever concepts, which went on display at the BMW museum this fall. Most interesting of all, however, was the Concept 6, an Inline-Six-powered design that surprised everyone at this year’s INTERMOT Show. BMW hinted the new six-cylinder mill will power a future luxo-tourer. On top of it all, BMW also continues to race the G450X enduro and support the Husqvarna brand, which is churning out some of the more intriguing off-road designs in the market today.
And that’s just the new stuff, as BMW’s uber bread and butter, the R1200GS, continues to hold strong. BMW celebrated the production of its 500,000 Boxer-powered GS earlier this year, and the model remains the adventure-touring standard upon which all contenders are measured. – Bart Madson
It doesn’t matter which editor rides the F800GS, every MototcycleUSA tester love the overall capabilities of the newest BMW GS model.
Motorcycle of the Year: BMW F800GS
It handily took home the Best Adventure Bike award, but our editors, from the sportiest to the dirtiest, all thought the 800GS could potentially win any of several categories. Such is the strength of BMW’s new mid-size Adventure motorcycle. Not only does the F800 attract new customers into Beemer dealerships, but plenty of long-time BMW riders are enticed to either downsize or upgrade. The big 1200GS is simply too much – too much money, weight, power and stature. Yet the 650 models, both Twin and Single configurations, just doesn’t cover the full spectrum.
We’ve seen the F800GS take on transcontinental voyages, off-road races, urban commuting and even street racing and freestyle stunting. Try imagining that on any other bike. You would think we’d fight tooth and nails over this category, but it was the easiest choice for our editors to make. There wasn’t a single vote against the F800GS. It’s impressive, all-encompassing, fun, capable and affordable by BMW standards. It’s the 2009 Bike of the Year. – JC Hilderbrand
Rider of the Year: Ben Spies
What more can we really say about the wonder kid from Texas? After defeating Mat Mladin to become a three-time AMA Superbike Champion on Suzukis, he jumped ship to the highly competitive World Superbike Series on a new team and with an all-new motorcycle – Yamaha’s YZF-R1. Not knowing the majority of the tracks and with only a few months to prep for the season, he did something no one could have believed. The 25-year-old won the world championship in his rookie season, defeating the likes of Noriyuki Haga, Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi in a battle that went down to the final race.
A championship in his rookie season of WSB and straight on to the MotoGP circuit. Ben Spies dominated in 2009.
Not only did this bring the World Superbike crown back to the United States after a seven-year drought, it brought Yamaha their very first series title in the two-decade history of the championship. So what does one do for an encore after that? If you’re Ben Spies you go MotoGP racing. The Texan was able to try his hand at the new series in Valencia, Spain for the final round of the 2009 season. How did he do? Seventh place amidst the world’s most competitive field, and he did so his first time on the Yamaha YZR-M1, a motorcycle he’d never so much as sat on before the start of the weekend. But even more impressive was his fourth-quickest time during testing the two days following the finale, joining the MotoGP elite in his first Yamaha GP test, again exceeding even the harshest critics’ expectations.
Next year sees the Texas Terror full-time on the Monster Tech 3 MotoGP satellite squad in what is the first of a two-year deal with Yamaha Motor Corp to race Grand Prix. Spies says top-10 finishes are his goal, but we all know he will far exceed that. Spies hasn’t even started racing in GPs consistently and already looks set to be America’s next best shot at winning the MotoGP World Championship. It’s for this reason that the Motorcycle USA Rider of the Year for 2009 was a no-brainer: Ben Spies. – Steve Atlas.
Well, that’s it. We saw a lot of great bikes, products and racing in 2009, but the cream must rise to the top. Hopefully you have enjoyed sharing our experiences through the articles, photos and videos on MotorcycleUSA.com. Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season from everyone here, and stay tuned for bigger and better things in 2010.