Most of the country can only think about riding right now, but the days are getting longer and the snow and cold can’t last forever – even if it feels like it will.
Here’s some soup for the soul in the form of a first look at some of the new bikes on deck for 2011:
I. Sport Bikes
Until now, there’s been very little – make that no – real competition in the category of entry-level/first-time-rider sport bikes. The Kawasaki Ninja 250 was pretty much it. But not anymore. Honda is releasing a 250 cc version of its CBR for 2011 that has the styling, handling and even acceleration of a true sport bike – giving first-time riders (or riders just looking for something smaller and lighter) an other-than-Kawasaki option to consider. The 2011 CBR250R will feature a high-rev (10,5000 RPM redline) four-valve cylinder head, high compression and computer-controlled fuel injection netting 26 hp at 8,500 RPM. The suspension is set up for sport riding, with 37 MM adjustable front forks and Honda’s Pro-Link monotube rear end with five adjustable preload settings. Even ABS will be available. The bike weighs just 359 lbs. – ideal for first-time riders and perfect for weaving through the esses or crowded urban traffic environments. Added bonus: This bike is super affordable – and gets better gas mileage than a Prius hybrid.
The margins are razor-thin on the track – and in street versions of the bikes you see on the track. The difference between number one and second place often comes down to a couple of pounds less, a handful of horsepower more; a just slightly better chassis that lets you push into a corner a little bit harder – and power out of it a little bit quicker. It’s that edge that’s made Suzuki’s GSX-R the dominant bike in its class and the updates 2011 model should help it keep its crown. The new bike has the highest power-to-weight ratio of any middleweight supersport as well as new MotoGP radial-mount Brembo monoblock brake calipers and new design front forks – all of it hanging on a revised (and lighter/stronger) frame and slightly shorter wheelbase than before. But the bob job didn’t alter the length of the swingarm – which might affect stability during corner exits. Another big update for 2011 is the new ramp and cam slipper clutch system; Suzuki engineers say this reduces the pressure on the clutch during sudden deceleration/throttle lift, which ought to increase clutch life/reliability even under the extremes of weekend track days.
Finally, the new bike gets better gas mileage by about 10 percent even while being more powerful and faster than the previous version. Weight reduction and increased efficiency are credited for that improvement.
With Buell now out of business, Harley’s back in the business of building American-made sport bikes. Or at least, sort-of sporty bikes.
The XR1200X is no GSXR but it is pretty sporty – for a Harley. In addition to the blacked-out cosmetics – including black powder-coated pipes and engine cases – the XR1200X has an adjustable suspension, Showa “big piston” inverted front forks, fairly aggressive Dunlop tires, crossed drilled rotors – and a riding posture that’s a bit less relaxed and more forward-facing than the typical Hog’s. The pegs are up higher, too – for more cornering clearance – and your knees hug the tank instead of straddling it. The power source is a 73 cube Evolution twin sitting on rubber mounts to isolate the vibes – feeding a belt drive through the five-speed transmission.
Yes, it’s still big – and fairly heavy at 573 lbs. But it’s a more agile and action oriented bike than a traditional Harley, making it a good in-between choice for someone who wants the Milwaukee Experience, but also a bike that can at least try to keep up with the Tokyo Expresses. Choose Black Denim or Hot Denim color schemes.
Choppers are great – if you can afford to pay a custom shop or can do the custom work yourself. But how about a factory-engineered, fully-warranted and affordable chopper? One that has perfect welds, perfect paint; rides right – and starts every time? That’s the new Sabre – a factory custom with teardrop tank, extended front forks, chopper-style solo gunfighter seat and hardtail-looking rear end (though it’s got a full suspension). Craddled in the exposed tube-steel frame is the bike’s centerpiece: 1300 CCs of fuel-injected V-twin muscle. Lean back, twist the throttle and smoke that fat 15-inch rear tire.
Hogs are known (and loved) for being rolling Wurlitzers – big, bagged and laden with lots of bells and whistles. The Rocker C is a Harley like they used to make them. There’s just the bike in all its mechanical glory: No bags, but as much attitude as you can carry on two wheels. It starts up front with the chopper-style raked forks, set at 37 degrees. Wheelbase is a stretched out 69.2 inches. In between the front forks is a skinny 19 inch rim shod with a 90-90 Dunlop tire, a nice counterpoint to the fat 240/40R-18 Dunlop squatting out back. Between your legs is the heart of the matter: 96 cubic inches of twin-cam 96BTM V-twin, tied to a six speed Harley Cruise Drive transmission.
It’s the perfect bike to release your Inner Brando on.
If the Speed Triple “naked” sport bike and the Thunderbird got together and had offspring, the result might look like the new Thunderbird Storm. This bike blends elements of both bikes – the bare-knuckled, pared down aggressiveness of the Tripe with the more relaxed ergonomics (flat handlebars; low seat height and fairly far-forward pegs) of the standard T-bird. Power (97 hp and 115 lbs.-ft of torque) comes from a big-bore (1700 cc) version of Triumph’s famous parallel twin, tuned for low-to-mid-range thrust. The tank-mounted speedo houses twin trip meters, fuel gauge and tach. This bike comes in two shades of black, your pick: Phantom (shiny) or Matte (less shiny). Triumph also offers on the order of 100 factory accessories to customize the bike with, including a two-up seat for a passenger.
2011 Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero (MSRP $16,499) -
For 2011, Kaw is launching the ultimate Vulcan – the Vaquero ( “Cowboy” in Spanish). How’s that for multiple descriptors for just one bike? But this is a special bike, not just a blacked-out Vulcan. It’s a high-end luxury-tourer with features that include electronic cruise control, factory-integrated GPS, premium audio with Sirius-XM and WX. The high-output alternator (46.8 amps) is liquid cooled – to handle the extra load of accessories such as add-on lights, comm systems and heated riding suits. For long-haul comfort, the bike has a heel-toe shifter and integrated running boards – but the short turning radius and easy steering make the bike very manageable at low speeds, despite its 835 lb. curb weight. Fifth and Sixth gear are overdrives, designed to keep the 1700 cc V-twin’s revs down and enhance rider comfort on all-day rides. Style-wise, the single round headlight gives the bike a retro touch; the chopped windscreen a muscle bike’s flair. Choose Ebony or Candy Fire Red.
A major update for all 2011 Victory models is a new engine, the 106/6 V-twin, replacing the 100/6 V-twin. Two versions will be offered: Stage 1 (standard in cruisers), rated at 92 hp and 109 lbs.-ft. of torque and (in touring models like the Vision), Stage 2 – with a hotter cam package that pumps up the output to 97 hp and 113 lbs.-ft. of torque. With the new engine comes a new six-speed transmission, featuring what Victory calls “Neutral Assist,” to make it easier to get the box into neutral. ABS is now standard and there are a number of significant tweaks, including redesigned handlebars, new-design floorboard shifter and easier-opening saddlebags. The elegant-looking bike has an electrically adjustable windscreen, heated seats (including passenger) and grips – as well as practically-minded features such as almost 3 gallons of total storage capacity and a low 26.5 inch seat height. Choose Crimson and Black, Solid Pearl White or two-tone Vogue Silver and Black.
IV Off-road/dual sport/Supermoto
The Europeans will get this new SuperMoto 1200 before we do, but it’ll be worth the wait. Among the highlights: 130 hp from the Aprilia DOHC “V2″ twin, controlled by a ride-by-wire computer with three rider-adjustable settings – Sport, Touring and Rain (the latter with max power cut to 100 hp and softer throttle roll-on to reduce or even eliminate wheelspin on slick surfaces). The bike’s suspension features Sachs inverted and fully adjustable front forks, with a “piggyback” Sachs coil-over monotube out back – also adjustable for compression, rebound damping and pre-load. An ultra-lighweight tubular aluminum bar imparts super quick steering inputs.
Like other SuperMoto bikes, the Dorsoduro is super compact, narrow and built for hooliganism. The few concession to street manners include a hanky-sized windscreen, a low fuel light – and a place to bolt on a license plate.
Choose Glam White or Competition Black.
These two are dedicated off-road versions of KTM’s popular SX series four-stroke dual sports – one 250 cc, the other a 350 – with several key modifications to make them more than just SXs with off-road knobbies and a high-mount front fender. For example, both bikes feature a larger 2.5 gallon tank – nearly half a gallon more than the SX – which means more range and less chance you’ll be stuck in the woods because you ran out of juice. Another obvious change is the 18 inch rear tire – and also the lightweight kickstand – but if you dig a little deeper you’ll discover other less visible but equally important differences such as the different (wider) ratios in the six-speed gearbox, set up for low-speed technical stuff as well as scrambling. The engine is more or less the same as in the SX but it’s very much up-to-date, with EFI and electric start, plus a back-up kicker for just in case. The EFI system has adjustable map, but you need to get a accessory switch to change settings.
Most dual sports that are decent on trails are too small and too underpowered for extended on-road rides – and most on-road bikes are too big, too heavy and to clumsy for anything more treacherous than gravel driveways. Bikes like the new Tiger XC 800 give you the best of both words. On the street, the 94 hp, 800 cc triple has more than plenty of power for even multi-day highway trips – but if you see a dirt path that looks enticing along the way, the 21 inch front tire, 17 inch rear tire and long-travel (8.5.-8.7 inch) suspension are up to the challenge.
Compared to the standard Tiger 800, the XC (“cross country”) also has driver-selectable ABS – an off-road essential, as well as a shorter, 34-inch handlebar with brush guards. A really cool feature is the bike’s adjustable seat height, which can be notched down to 32.2 inches or raised up to 34 inches – making this bike a better fit for riders of varying heights/statures.
It’s also a deal compared with its most obvious competitor, the BMW F800 GS – which has a starting price of $11,395.