The year that was 2006 proved to be an interesting one in the two-wheeled world. MCUSA takes a look back to highlight the best and brightest.
It's time once again to look back on the bright spots from the riding season behind us, carefully selecting the award winners from another bounty of great product. This is when we reflect back upon the past 12 months to remind us all about the highlights of the year 2006. Our testers have sampled more than 60 different motorcycles during the past year, so we have lots to choose from.
This year's Best Of consists of the 14 categories from last year along with a couple of new awards: Best Helping Hand, Best New Accessory, and Best Rider. Our featured awards (Best New Streetbike and Best New Dirt Bike) are for machines that are all-new or significantly new for the 2006 model year. Winners have to be excellent motorcycles, of course, but should also have some real significance in the marketplace.
It's been another fun and eventful year around here, with many memorable bikes, events and trips. Our job would be impossible if not for the support we get from two entities. First are the manufacturers who happily hand over keys to dozens of motorcycles, plus the apparel companies that keep our riders looking so good, but just as important is the backing and encouragement we get from you readers. So consider this year-end celebration as a bit of a treat for you both. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Best New Streetbike: Triumph Daytona 675
The Triumph 675 bettered its competitors during our Supersport Shootout, but if you need even more of an endorsement consider MCUSA Prez, Donny B, slapped down his own money for the new Trumpet afterward.
As good as motorcycles are these days, it takes a special machine to stand out as something not only distinct but also superior. This three-cylinder road rocket is both these things and, amazingly, is the product of a relatively small-time player in the industry. Triumph was simply unafraid to think outside the 600cc four-cylinder box, and in doing so created a wonderful package built around a soulful and sonorous 675cc Triple. Its unique and arresting appearance with a midsection skinnier than Nicole Richie is combined with a lusty motor that embarrasses it rivals whether in terms of available power or its howling crescendo of sound. It also easily carves up mountain roads with precision, thanks in part to the lightest weight in the middleweight category. The fact that it won both the street
editions of our Supersport Shootouts speaks volumes. The Daytona 675 is an accessible exotic and an incredible sportbike bargain for its $8999 MSRP.
Runner-Up: Kawasaki ZX-14
When Editor Duke clicked off a 9-second pass on his first run down the dragstrip on the mighty ZX
, we knew this bike was special. Corrected for weather, he ran a 9.46-second best at the bike's press introduction. Later on during a comparison test against the legendary Suzuki Hayabusa, the ZX made it down the quarter-mile a full two-tenths of a second ahead of the revered 'Busa. But more than that, the ZX is smoother, more refined and better finished, making it a well-civilized gorilla and an exceptional traveling companion.
Best New Dirt Bike: Kawasaki KX450F
Kawasaki got its 450 4-stroke motocross wheels spinning with a vengeance in 2006 when it unleashed the KX450F.
This bike was one of the most highly anticipated machines of the year. With the 4-stroke revolution at such an advanced stage, the fact that Kawasaki didn't even offer a 450F was unacceptable. Kawasaki needed a 450 motocrosser and so did the racing community. On its first try Kawi delivered a powerful, light and usable machine that found instant success in the media, showrooms and on racetracks. KX450F is the final piece of a 4-stroke motocross puzzle that began taking shape almost a decade ago. Plus, the stage is set for the KX's expansion in the enduro market within a year. The KX-F's arrival changed the dynamics of motocross starting gates; it will similarly affect WORCS, GNCC, desert and supermoto in years to come.
Runner-Up: Aprilia RXV 450/550
Aprilia had the balls to bring out something completely unseen in the off-road world, and they did a very, very good job on pulling it off. A super-compact, electric start, fuel-injected V-Twin is nestled between the aluminum spars of a trellis frame - talk about revolutionary. Performance-wise, the 4.5 and 5.5 machines are on par with anything else in the enduro market. Unfortunately, the AMA doesn't have a class to accommodate the V-2 engine configuration - yet.
Best Standard: Aprilia Tuono
The Aprilia Tuono R not only took the cake in our Euro Streetfighter Comparo, we ranked it as one of the best machines we have ever had the pleasure of riding.
A standard isn't a hunched-forward sportbike, a laid-back cruiser or anything in the tourer segments. It must have a neutral riding position and be elemental in its design. And the best of this bunch is the alluring Tuono. This latest streetfighter from Noale, Italy, took down all comers in our Streetfighter Shootout
on the strength of its amazing versatility and high sporting limits that make us wonder why any street rider would choose a high-strung and uncomfortable full-on sportbike. It has vice-less handling, an adaptable dirt-bike-style riding position, retina-popping brakes and a sporty V-Twin that just begs to be thrashed. Yep, it can do it all, like a good Standard should, but the Tuono adds in a gotta-have-it factor missing from many in this loose-fitting class. The last line from that shootout says everything you need to know: "By the time we'd finished our testing, Aprilia's Tuono revealed itself to be not just one of the best bikes in this test, it's one of the best motorcycles we've ever ridden."
Runner-Up: Suzuki SV650
If you're looking for the greatest value among standards, it doesn't get any better than Suzuki's venerable SV. There's plenty of reasons why it's won our Best Smiles Per Dollar award the previous two years, starting with a bargain price tag of just $5949, followed up by a playful and beefy sounding motor plus a capable chassis. Rounded off by an appearance that makes it look more expensive than a lowly beginner bike, the SV650 is a modern classic.
Best Entry-Level Streetbike: Kawasaki Ninja 650
The Kawasaki Ninja 650 unseated the Suzuki SV650 as our pick for Best Entry-Level Streetbike. But don't shed too many tears for the old reliable SV, as it took runner-up in our pick for Best Standard.
The laudable SV650 gets usurped in 2006, at least in terms of entry-level machines - it's even easier to ride than the revered SV. This new lovable Ninja is ready to turn newbs into aces. Kawi has delivered another marvelous value here. Its attractive design will have people guessing higher than its $6299 MSRP. Power from its compact parallel-Twin is more than enough for newbies and adequate for old pros, and the same can be said for the Ninja's handling that is cooperative for new riders yet capable enough for toe-draggers. Basically, it has all the tools that will make a newer rider a better one, while also giving its buyer plenty of bike to grow into.
Runner-Up: Kawasaki Ninja 250
The long-serving little Ninja proceeded to win us over during our $4000 Newbie Challenge comparo
, where it proved to be easy to ride while having a performance envelope heads and shoulders above its low-budget rivals - and doing so with $1000 to spare. It would take the class title if most Americans were sized closer to the average Asian.
Best Open-Displacement Cruiser: Yamaha/Star Motorcycles Roadliner
We found a lot to like in the Star Roadliner and expect the Yamaha design to increase its sales figures and continue to give The Motor Company a run for its money.
The Japanese OEMs are quite proficient at reproducing 85% of the Harley experience at 70% of the cost. But with the wonderfully finished Roadliner and its Stratoliner touring brother, Star Motorcycles is daring to stand toe to toe with the Motor Company. Prices start at a reasonable $13,500 for the base Roadliner but climb to nearly $17K for a loaded Stratoliner. That's been a tough pill to swallow for some, but not for those who have actually ridden and lived with the bikes, all of whom rave about the styling, performance and impeccable detail. You can't find a better finished aluminum-framed V-Twin cruiser at even twice the price. As the word spreads about these bikes, we expect ever-increasing sales for the luxurious and distinctive 'Liners.
Runner-Up: Yamaha/Star Motorcycles Warrior
A practical cruiser? What's the world coming to? Kawasaki's Vulcan 900 Classic delivers a big cruiser feel, but the $7300 sticker price won't have you cashing out your 401K to satisfy that upcoming mid-life crisis.
Last year's winner in this category gets demoted, but its bare-knuckles persona is still just as addicting. We love the Warrior mostly for the efforts to make a cruiser perform instead of just concentrating on "the look" and the amount of gee-gaws bolted on. This is one of the few cruisers that don't get handcuffed down a tight and twisty canyon road. And its appearance, though perhaps not beautiful, has a bad-ass demeanor we think is cool.
Best Sub-1300cc Cruiser: Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic
In an age when the bigger is better mantra is taken to gargantuan proportions, it's good to see a cruiser as reasonable as this new Vulcan. And by reasonable we mean that no one's going to think this kickin' full-size cruiser of yours can be had for just $7300. Its big-cruiser feel and look makes larger riders feel less of a pretender than some smaller bikes in this price range, and its 903cc V-Twin is surprisingly strong. And if a price $2000 less than a 600cc sportbike isn't enough to grab ya, then perhaps the LT touring version or the new-for-'07 900 Custom ($7399) will.
Runner-Up: V-Star 1300
The V-Star nearly got eliminated from qualifying for this class due to its 1304cc displacement, but then we realized we voted the 1312cc Honda VTX1300 as last year's class runner-up. So, since we arbitrarily set the 1300cc limit, we'll let the new Star slide just as arbitrarily. This V-Star is a fine cruiser in every way, but it stands out most for its excellent finish quality - you can't find a more attractive cruiser for less than its $10,090 MSRP.
Best Open-Class Sportbike: Suzuki GSX-R1000
The mighty GSX-R1000 still gets our stamp of approval as Best Open-Class Sportbike, proving the Gixxer Thou is still the ultimate in big-displacement sportbikes.
Suzuki clearly has this GSX-R thing worked out. The 2005 Gixxer Thou won our award for Best New Streetbike on the strength of its mondo motor, race-ready chassis and an adaptability that worked for everyone whether on the street or the track. But with three updated rivals in '06, we were wondering if the stellar-but-unchanged Suzi might have a turn at getting spanked. Nope, same result: another clear victory. "It not only does nothing wrong," said BC in this year's Smackdown
, "it also does everything right."
Runner-Up: Kawasaki ZX-14
Although it wouldn't be our first choice for a trackday bike, riding the sweet ZX-14 on the street is an unforgettable experience. Blazingly fast, of course, but also incredibly docile. Using only a half-inch of throttle cable is more than enough to keep ahead of traffic, and it's easy to fool a scaredy-cat passenger into thinking this is an exceptionally tame machine. But whacking the throttle full open alters the universe's space/time continuum in a rush of power unmatched by any production motorcycle.
Best Sub-1000cc Sportbike: Triumph Daytona 675
Seemingly from out of nowhere, the middleweight class of established players has been shaken to its core by this three-cylinder jewel. And Triumph, the relatively tiny company best known for its retro-nostalgia bikes, has now been thrust into the limelight as a significant player in the cutting-edge sportbike market. Its full significance is borne out by its Best New Streetbike award.
Runner-Up: Suzuki GSX-R750
It's sad when a stellar machine like the GSX-R 750 - the size that began the illustrious line of Gixxers in 1985 - barely gets any publicity these days. Without any direct competition, it's literally in a class of its own. But it's a class that is undeservedly neglected, as a 750cc four-cylinder sportbike is a superb balance of weight and power. It's basically a GSX-R600 with a 750 motor stuffed inside, so it's nimbler than the Gixxer Thou and much more powerful than the 600. This class of bikes deserves a resurgence, and we might eventually see it now that MotoGP bikes have an 800cc limit. We certainly hope so.
Best Touring/Sport-Touring: BMW K1200GT
BMW's K1200GT just edged out the trusty Yamaha FJR, and if you can get over its hefty $20,000 price tag the Beemer is the better long-distance tourer. Not that many FJR owners will agree with us.
This category gave us the greatest consternation. The K12GT was narrowly awarded the win in our Super Sport Touring Faceoff
, but it was hard to argue against the stalwart Yamaha FJR1300A in terms of value. And then there's last year's winner, BMW's R1200RT, which still might be the best balanced touring bike extant. But for a long-distance rider who appreciates high-velocity touring, the K1200GT and its plethora of comfort and convenience options can't be beat - if you can afford nearly $20K of pleasure.
Runner-Up: Yamaha FJR1300A
The K12GT's victory in our comparo wasn't a unanimous one. The test riders who carefully considered price tags voted the $13,499 FJR1300 as the best SST. It has nearly all the performance of the K-bike and is the plusher traveling companion, making its $5000-cheaper MSRP even more attractive. As for the electric-shift/auto-clutch AE version, we don't think the $1800 premium is worth the convenience unless you find yourself constantly stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Best Smiles Per Dollar - Street: Kawasaki Ninja 250
One of the most jaw-dropping moments we had in '06 was when we noticed the MSRP of the jaunty Ninja 250. At just $2999, it's cheaper than almost anything, even from China, and it undercuts Honda's NSF100 mini roadracer by no less than 2 grand! So, for 3 grand or less, you can buy a brand-new bike that can take you from the MSF class all the way to the racetrack - phenomenal!
The KX250F was a dominating machine in 2006, not just in our 250F MX Shootout but in the AMA Supercross and Motocross Lites series as well.
Riders with limited experience are best served by the slightly friendlier Ninja 650, but intermediate to expert riders are going to get the biggest grins out of the delightful SV650. This is a highly versatile machine that fits riders of varying sizes and experience levels, and it can still be had for less than $6000. Combined with its runner-up finish in the Best Standard category, the lovable SV is still a real winner.
Best Motocross Bike: Kawasaki KX250F
The '06 KX250F won our shootout and several others not because the other Lites class bikes came up short, but because the KX-F flexed its bulging motor muscles on the MX playground and beat the Red, Blue, Yellow and Orange into submission. The KX-F had it all in '06, but the one feature that clearly stood above the rest was the motor - extremely powerful in the low and mid-range yet it refused to sign off. But don't just take our word for it. Look through the record books at a BooKoo AX title, AMA West SX title, AMA MX Lites title, MXdN MX2 Individual/Team title and MX2 World MX title, plus who-knows how many local and regional wins.
Runner-Up: Kawasaki KX450F
Kawi wasn't screwing around this year. Both KX-F machines received honors in the MotoUSA shootouts, and both are phenomenal machines. With enough motor for the deepest loam and mindless shifting, the KX450F was as easy to use as it was good. If you need further convincing, refer to the Best New Dirt Bike section.
Best Off-Road/Enduro: KTM 450 EXC
At times the KTM 450 EXC had us feeling like David Knight, with the scenery blurring past at a rapid pace on the orange machine.
The KTM thoroughly impressed everyone who rode it thanks to a motor, chassis and suspension that make an Average Joe feel like David Knight. Unfortunately, we were unable to test the EXC with the Honda CRF450X and Yamaha WR450F for the duration of our entire comparo, so we couldn't in good faith give it the win. But the bike was loved by those who sampled it. True to its slogan, the KTM was the most "Ready to Race" machine out of the group. It handles extremely quickly with the lightest steering in the class, its attention to detail is unmatched, and its 6-speed gearbox offers a wide range of adaptability. All of which only made it harder not to sneak it home with us.
Runner-Up: Yamaha WR450F
Everybody who takes the WR for a spin finds themselves enjoying the ride. That's because it does everything well and without complaint. It takes absolutely zero time to adapt to, and riders feel inclined to try more obstacles aboard the WR because of its ease of use. Its only problem is that it's a little porky compared to other 450 enduros, but the amount of weight left in a buyer's wallet more than makes up for a few extra pounds.
Best Smiles Per Dollar - Off-Road: Yamaha TT-R50E
Like the cute little kid in the commercial, we just wanna ride too. With its electric start, the TT-R50E gets the nod over the kick-only Honda CRF50F in the Best Smiles Per Dollar - Off-Road category.
Since few things can take away a rider's grin as quickly as flailing away at a kickstarter, the electric-start Yammie just edges out the venerable kick-only Honda CRF50F in this kid-friendly class. The TT-R had an obvious target to hit, the CRF, and it matches the Honda in its performance. Yamaha was smart to have already engineered GYTR hop-up kits at the time of the bike's launch, but it's the magic button of the electric starter that really makes it distinct. Like the kid in the scathingly clever TV commercial says while in a fictional kick-start school, "I just want to ride."
Runner-Up: Honda CRF50F
It's not only little tykes that want a mini, and many of the so-called kids buying the little CRFs aren't keeping them stock. When it comes to getting aftermarket bang for the buck, the CRF still rules. People who don't know anything about minis go out and buy a Honda 50 because they know it's the
place to start. The aftermarket potential is incomprehensible, and the reliability of the stock bikes rivals that of an igneous rock. You just gotta kick it.
Best Lust Object: Ducati Desmosedici RR
Ducati CEO, Federico Minoli (left), was on hand for the Desmosedici RR USGP intro, where during a quick interview, he admitted that the demand for the MotoGP replica exceeded even his expectations.
Tapping the Desmosedici RR as the Best Lust Object for '06 was a no-brainer. We shared our reader's enthusiasm for the MotoGP replica when it was unveiled in June, and our admiration for the limited-edition 200-horsepower streetbike was only heightened a month later when we laid eyes on it during the 2006 USGP press introduction. The $65,000 price tag didn't deter more than 400 orders, a number that exceeded the expectations. Perhaps the well-funded Ducatisti
on the ordering list shared Ducati press fleet manager Tom Hicks' description of the RR as "a rolling orgasm." We might not go that far, but we won't disagree either. It's basically a MotoGP factory racer with headlights, and that speaks loudly to the inner Loris Capirossi in us all.
Best Print Publication: Road Racer X
For years, motorcycle race coverage was simply a W5 (who, what, where, when, why) affair, and gearheads were sated with nuts-and-bolts tech articles. But what was missing was the glamour and pageantry of top-level competition. Then along came Racer X
, a fresh look at the motocross scene that brought a behind-the-scenes look at the people and the events that make that sport exciting. Then in 2003, the pavement racing offshoot Road Racer X
debuted, bringing the razzle-dazzle and star quality of roadracing to the magazine's full-color pages. Editor Chris Jonnum, an ex-Cycle News
guy, has worked his butt off to make RRX
a fixture on the racing scene, and it's evident in every issue.
Best Product Innovation: Radial Mounting
Radial-mounted components, like these front brakes, have enhanced the performance capabilities of production machines.
It was only a few years ago that we first heard about radial mounting, back when Grand Prix bikes began to be fitted with radial-mount front brake calipers. Then in 2003 this technology began to enter the realm of production bikes (Kawi ZX-6R, Suzi GSX-R1000, Aprilia Mille R), and it's now almost unheard of to find a the front brake calipers from a top-line sportbike mounted in the old, traditional way. But what is radial mounting? Geometrically, radii emanate along lines diverging from a center - think spokes in a wheel - and engineers have found that this arrangement provides a more rigid structure. The result is a greater amount of stiffness and improved feedback to the rider. Not just for brakes anymore, radial technology has now made its way into hydraulic master cylinder designs. For instance, the ZX-14 has radial-pump master cylinders for its clutch and front brakes. Like radial-mount calipers, the result is increased feel from the controls - always a good thing. Expect to see even greater prevalence of this geometry lesson in the future.
Best Crash: The WFO Nut
The best accidents are the ones you avoid. This front-tire skidmark could have led to a real nasty one, but Duke Danger kept his cool, although not before a tank-slapper caused a miniature heart attack.
Our resident newb Bart Madson had a wrestling match with an Aprilia Fly 150 scooter that he lost, nearly taking this dubious prize in just his first season of riding. But leave it to the aptly named Duke Danger to be nominated twice in one year. The time an MV Agusta Brutale launched him over the highside and body-slammed him might've taken the honors if it hadn't been such a painful memory. Instead we'll tell the tale of the WFO Nut. The story takes place during the second day of street testing for our Superbike Smackdown. Duke was on the ZX-10R, the most powerful literbike ever, riding up a twisty canyon road.
The Kawasaki tech was smiling when he discovered the cause of the problematic stuck throttle on our ZX-10R test bike. After fishing it out he handed it over inside its own labeled bag.
"The road was empty and in perfect shape, so I gave the Kawi's throttle a healthy twist exiting a corner," Duke recalls. "Speed increased at a frantic rate before I had to back out of the gas to slow for the next corner. I rolled off the throttle only to have the ZX continue accelerating at full power! Then, within the duration of little more than one second, I grabbed the front brake then grabbed harder as the bike continued to rush toward the upcoming canyon wall. The front tire then locked, followed shortly thereafter by a violent tank-slapper that frightened me as much as the stuck throttle. Just when I was thinking about reserving an air ambulance ride from the inevitable painful crash, the throttle backed off and I was able to regain control before I made an ugly dent in the rock wall in front of me. After my heart regained function, I looked back at the road and saw a 35-foot skidmark where the front tire locked up."
It was a crash, only the bike didn't know it. Further investigation saw an occasional repeating of this throttle behavior but seemingly without reason or circumstance, so we brought the bike back to Kawasaki. Five minutes later a technician fished out a nut that was never installed at the factory. Somehow, and inexplicably, a nut from a tree made its way inside the ZX's fairing and into its throttle body linkage. The oblong shape of the nut as it rattled in the linkage resulted in a free-moving throttle one moment and a stuck-open one the next. Usually the extra nut is sitting in the seat...
Best Motorcycle Film/Video: "World's Fastest Indian"
Anthony Hopkins portrayed New Zealand's Burt Munro in "The World's Fastest Indian." The film, which chronicled Munro's lifelong ambition to race at Bonneville, earned our pick for best Motorcycle Film of 2006.
Although we had some votes for on-the-edge videos like "Nitro Circus 4: Lock N Load ," there was little doubt "The World's Fastest Indian" would take the award. When you have a nationwide theater release with Sir Anthony Hopkins in the title role, you know there's a better than average chance the film won't suck. And "TWFI" most definitely did not suck. Okay, so technically it came out in late 2005, but we saw it in 2006, with the DVD released this June, making it our pick for Best Film. Chronicling the life of amateur New Zealand racer Burt Munro, whom Hopkins portrays with his characteristic excellence, the film follows the aging Kiwi's fulfillment of a lifelong dream by racing his Indian motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bonneville has been attracting speed junkies and colorful characters for almost an entire century, a fact which we can vouch for after three visits of our own, and Munro exemplifies the intrepid enthusiasts who push their machines to the absolute limits out on the salt. MCUSA Editorial Director, Ken Hutchison, was so inspired after screening the movie that he penned a review within which he stated: "If you have ever succeeded where someone else said you would fail, if you have ever done what someone said can't be done, or if you have ever secretly supported the underdog at some point in your life, then you must see this movie."
Best Motorcycle TV Program: ESPN X-Games 12
This would be an ordinary pic of
a routine FMX back-flip, except
this shot is taken from the second
rotation of Travis Pastrana's epic
double back-flip at X-Games 12.
ESPN went over the top at this year's Summer X-Games. From pre-event hype to post-event wrap-ups, they had it dialed in. More bad-ass camera angles and special features helped to promote these craziest of athletes, not just tattoo-covered adrenalin junkies. The commentators seemed genuinely interested in everything from Best Trick to Supermoto, and the enthusiasm shined through. The star of the show was, of course, Travis Pastrana. After winning gold medals in rally car racing, ESPN's cameras caught history in the making when TP pulled off one of the most amazing moto tricks ever - the double back-flip. The moto world was stunned by Travis' performances, but the X-Games had another surprise in the form of Jeff Ward, who became the oldest gold medal winner after kicking all the young punks' asses in Supermoto, proving to the world that X-Games can just as easily be a baby-boomers playhouse as it can be for Gen X and Y.
Best Fun: Supersport Shootout
We have a lot of fun during the year, but the track portion of our Supersport Shootout topped the list. Six fresh sportbikes with factory support during two full days on the track with fresh Pirellis and Dunlops each day. Man, what a way to make a living!
Luckily for us, this is usually a tough category to narrow down to just one event. The 450cc Enduro shootout got votes from the off-road contingent, and Editorial Director Ken Hutchison will always nominate Baja as his favorite place and event. And our Euro Streetfighter Shootout, complete with a full day on the track and perfect SoCal weather, is the source of many fond memories. But this year's Supersport comparo had the trackday addicts among us as giddy as a 5-year-old at Christmas. The Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch outside Pahrump, Nevada, isn't the most glamorous place to be, but it sure makes a great track for testing a sextet of middleweight race replicas. In addition to our five fast guys and the photographic and video support of off-road guy JC Hildebrand, graphics dude Robin Haldane and MCUSA's BFF, Tom Lavine, we also had representation from five factories to help out. So, with our buddies at SoCal Trackdays allowing us to join them for two full days, we rode the hell out of these bikes. How much fun were we having? Well, the factory reps in attendance told us they had never seen so much riding done during a magazine test. We were knackered at the end of the second day, but we had smiles on our faces that lasted for months.
Best Helping Hand: Hansen's BMW/Ducati/Triumph/KTM
No matter how big you think you are, it's always nice to have some back-up anytime you need it. That's exactly what the folks at Hansen's did for us in 2006. From last-minute dyno runs, tune-ups, tire changes and, of course, answers to those difficult questions, the staff at Hansen's always went above and beyond the call of duty. It shouldn't be a surprise that they took such good care of us, though. These people are the cream of the crop, having been awarded the highest ranking for customer satisfaction above all BMW dealers in the United States. That's a good group to have on your side.
Runner Up: Bike Barn Motorcycles
Bike Barn Motorcycles brought out bikes on several occasions to help bolster our testing regimen in 2006.
Our largest off-road comparison of the year was our 450 Enduro Shootout
. The six-bike affair was made possible by the contributions of a relatively new local business called Bike Barn Motorcycles. As the only dealer of Husaberg, Sherco and Gas Gas motorcycles in Oregon's Rogue Valley where we are headquartered, we hooked up immediately with the friendly staff to get acquainted and to bum a pair of 450 machines. Not only did they lend us the bikes, they also helped guide us through any questions about the European machines. With the enduro testing successfully completed, we were pleasantly surprised when they called us a few months later to inform us of their 2007 Husaberg FS550e
supermoto machine and offered to let us have first crack at it. The Bike Barn's willingness to come out and play with us is certainly disproportionate to its small size. They were a large part of MotoUSA's most comprehensive year of off-road testing.
Best New Accessory: Motorcycle GPS units
Tell us we're not the only ones who occasionally get lost. A map with 64 folds might be doable in a car, but a bike presents packaging and attention difficulties that precludes a long, leisurely look at a map. But the Global Positioning System (GPS) is there to let you know where you are and where you want to go, and this technology is now making its way into motorcycle-specific applications. On a tour through unknown areas, a sat-nav system can literally be a life-saver; you'll not only know the best road to take, you'll also have access to the nearest gas stations and lodging. And in the off-road scene, GPS can be equally if not even more valuable. BMW is the first to offer a factory-installed GPS system, but we expect many more to follow as the technology gets smaller and cheaper.
Best Rider: Nicky Hayden
The Kentucky Kid was the best rider in our book because he did something no one else had been able to do in the 990cc era - beat Valentino Rossi!
Hayden gets our nod for Best Rider by pulling off the greatest championship coup in recent memory when he bested the seeming invincible Valentino Rossi. True, many will point to 2006 as the year The Doctor was riddled with bad luck; but Nick the Quick got his fair portion of the bad mojo in the form of his pint-sized Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, who crashed Nicky off his ride and the championship lead during the second-to-last race of the season at Estoril. With Rossi controlling his own destiny and Hayden's improbable championship seeming to slip from his grasp, the Kentucky Kid went out and sealed the deal during the championship finale at Valencia. The fact that he did it with a fractured shoulder and collarbone, courtesy of his Pedrosa/Estoril crash, just magnifies his accomplishment. Oh, and for all the Hayden haters out there, just remember one word - scoreboard. The bottom line is that Nicky got it done. More points, a more consistent rider, and the only man to beat Rossi in the 990cc era. Well done, Nicky!
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