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Thread: 2009 picks

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    2009 picks

    So far, the economic collapse hasn't crippled the motorcycle market - probably because even top-tier bikes are cheap compared to cars and most of them - even the highest performance sport bikes - still get better gas mileage than the best econoboxes.

    For 2009, the trend toward ever-more-specialized bikes continues. Like micro-brew beers, there are now machines to suit just about any taste - and just about any budget, too.

    Here are some of the standouts:

    Dual sports & trail bikes -

    * BMW F800GS (MSRP $10,520)

    Dual sports are too often too big and too heavy for anything more than light trail work. Or too small, too light - and too underpowered - for extended highway riding. Thus was born the concept of "adventure-touring" bikes like the BMW F800GS - which can be used for just about anything a dual-sport might be subjected to when the pavement ends - but can also be used as long-distance/everyday rides, too.

    For trail work, the F800GS features a 21-inch front rim, 17-inch rear rim and long-travel (9 inches front/8.5 inches rear) suspension. For perspective, that's fully two inches more travel than the iconic Kawasaki KLR 650. The set-up consists of cartridge-style 45 mm forks up front rather than the usual Telelever system used on other BMW street bikes. There's a rugged and simple chain drive, too - instead of the usual BMW Paralever driveshaft. Riders can choose from two different seat heights - 34.6 and 33.5 inches - a nice touch that makes this bike less a "one size fits all" deal than most competitors.

    The 798 cc fuel injected parallel twin has been scrunched to 8.3 degrees (from 30) in order to make room for the long-travel suspension - and has been fitted with a unique-to-this-bike radiator designed to provide maximum low-speed cooling - an essential for off-road durability. With 85 hp on tap this bike's power output is actually higher than the peak output of the fastest liter-class sport bikes of the 1970s, such as the legendary Kawasaki Z1900.

    BMW offers a full array of street/off-road accessories for this bike, too - including Vario sidebags, tankbag, heated grips, anti-theft alarm, GPS, skid guards and a super stylish, lightweight tubular engine case guard.

    *Yamaha WR250R (MSRP $5,899)

    On the other end of the spectrum, there's the new WR250R. It's still DOT street legal - so you can ride to your favorite trail - but it gives up almost nothing as a full-on dirt bike.

    The WR is also one of the first bikes in its class to switch from a carburetor to EFI, which was done to improve throttle response as well as optimize efficiency. The water-cooled, high-compression (11.8:1) single features super lightweight titanium intake valves (vs. steel) for less reciprocating mass and freer revving. It produces class-leading power (25.2 hp) and torque (17.7 lbs.-ft. at 8,500 rpm) and is capable of 71 mpg - better mileage than a Prius hybrid. Electric start (with automatic decompression) is standard, too.

    Off-road equipment includes adjustable 46 mm inverted Kayaba front forks (with protectors for the lowers) fully adjustable Monocross rear spring - with 10.6 inches of total travel at each end, HD 0-ring chain (about an inch more travel than the carbureted Honda CRF230L) and DOT legal off-road knobbies on 17 inch (front) and 18 inch (rear) rims. Seat height is adjustable, too.

    This bike is a bit more expensive than some competitors but offers capability, power and sophistication that's at the top of its class.

    * Suzuki RMZ450 (MSRP $7,499)

    This is the world's first mass-produced, full-on motocross bike to be fitted with factory electronic fuel injection.

    The Keihin throttle body EFI does not require a battery for power (as on injected street-legal bikes like the WR250R above). The onboard magneto supplies the juice to operate the in-tank fuel pump and drive the ECU, which runs the TBI.

    Suzuki claims superior power and throttle response across the RPM range.

    The 4-stroke 450 cc is also all-new and feaures 12.2:1 compression, a revised combustion chamber and an interesting semi-dry sump oiling system with the gearbox serving as the oil sump for both transmission and engine. This allows for a more compact engine/case and a lower center of gravity.

    In addition to the running gear, the '09 RMZ450 also gets fresh bodywork, including "slim design" radiator shrouds as well as upgraded brakes and recalibrated suspension built around the bike's light-alloy twin-spar frame and aluminum swingarm.

    The only downside is the bike's price - which is higher than what you'd pay for otherwise similar bikes in this class still fed by a carb. But as they say, speed is just question of money. How fast do you want to go?

    Sport bikes -

    * Ducati 1098 Street Fighter (MSRP $14,999 - estimated):

    "Brain Smasher" would have worked, too. Unlike so many "naked" sport bikes, this one didn't lose its cajones along with its plastic.

    It's the same basic bike as the fully-faired (and ferocious) 1098 - just stripped of its body cladding to reveal the underlying musculature. This thing is a two-wheeled, real life version of the Terminator T1000's sinewy and muey-threatening "hyper-alloy combat chassis" - and just as lethal to anything that might try to stop it.

    Features include top-of-the-line Showa suspension (with Ohlins forks and super lightweight Marchisini forged rims optional), top-of-the-line Brembo monobloc calipers and Ducati's first-ever production bike application of electronic traction control - considered a necessary item given the 155 hp on tap.

    The powerplant is the same 1098 cc water-cooled, fuel-injected V-twin used in the fully-faired 1098 - ever so slightly detuned from that bike's 160 rated hp. Will you notice the 5 hp difference? Probably not. This is a bike with power to wheelie through first, second and third gear - on the throttle alone.

    Twin "shotgun" exhaust and a beautiful single sided swingarm round out this impressive package. The Street Fighter will be available this spring in red or white with a black frame or (S models with Ohlins suspension) bronze frame and wheels with carbon fiber cam covers and trim.

    * Kawasaki ZX-6R (MSRP $9,799):

    Heavily revised for 2009, the ZX-6R weighs in 22 pounds lighter and 8 horsepower stronger (132 hp, total) with major changes to chassis and front suspension - including a standard Ohlins steering damper (as on the ZX-10) and new-design 37 mm Showa "Big Piston" front forks designed to give the rider the same damping force during corners/transitions as before, but with more controllability, especially at max compression. The internal pistons in these forks are twice the diameter - and have four times the surface area - of last year's setup.

    The bike's seat height has been dropped a bit to 32 inches (no under-tail exhaust), which will be welcomed by shorter riders but may make the bike feel a bit cramped if you are over six feet. The clip-ons are also canted downward a bit more and moved back slightly - another indication of this bike's no-foolin' nature. This bike is much closer in its ergos to the previous - and race-ready - 599 RR than the slightly more street-oriented 636. But Kawi engineers worked hard to preserve the reasonably street-friendly torque/hp curve and part-throttle power delivery of the 636 - making the new Ninja a track-day weapon you can at least think about riding to work on Monday.

    * Buell XB12Ss Lightning (MSRP $9,995-$10,495):

    The '09 XB12Ss is the latest evolution of the bike that first appeared back in '03, when Buell was working overtime to make a name for itself as America's first legitimate sport bike brand - and to convince buyers its bikes weren't just hopped-up Harleys.

    Several key changes for the new model year are designed to make the XB12Ss perform better while also making it more pleasant to ride. The 1203 cc engine has been tuned to deliver high-RPM power - pulling strong to the 7,000 RPM redline - without losing the muscle car-like torque that makes riding a Buell in traffic and at low speeds so easy and comfortable - especially when compared with the often-peaky 15,000 RPM-plus in-line fours from Japan.

    Another key update is the new, "long travel" suspension - first seen on the Super TT. It has 5.6 inches of travel (both ends) which is helpful on less-than-perfect roads as well as on long rides. But while there's more "give" than you'd find in a typical Japanese machine, the XB12Ss is no softie. The bike is set up to roll confidently to full lean, with light and very predictable steering. The big torque twin will do the rest while a fairly high-up 30.6 inch seat height makes this bike much more agreeable for taller/longer-legged riders, too.

    Cuising/Touring bikes -

    * Suzuki Boulevard M90 (MSRP $9,999)

    This is not a beginner's bike, but it is a bike that newer riders will enjoy without growing out of - or growing bored with - before it's paid off. It's also one of the least expensive yet powerful middleweight cruisers available.

    The M90 shares the drag-inspired styling of its slightly bigger (and a lot more expensive) brother, the $$$$ M109R. Similar cowling, swept-back teardrop tank and down-low solo seat - but on a shorter (by 2.4 inches) wheelbase with a more upright (and frankly, comfortable) riding position than the M109R - which can be a bit too much for riders who aren't at least six feet tall. This bike is also about 45 pounds lighter than the M109R - which along with the shorter wheelbase means it's very maneuverable - despite still weighing in at a beefy 723 pounds.

    The "90" in M90 refers to the bike's water-cooled, 54-degree V-twin's 1462 cc displacement - which equals 90 cubic inches. Other bikes in this price range like the Honda VTX1300 and Yamaha VStar 1300 can't match the M90's displacement - or power output.

    Don't let the under $10k (ok, just barely - but still) sticker price fool you. This is a lot of bike for the money - and then some.

    As with the M109R, a full range of factory accessories - including a windscreen and sidebags - can be ordered to custom-tailor your M90.

    * Hyosung GV650 SE (MSRP $7,499)

    Like Hyundai in the '80s, Hyosung is trying to break into the U.S. market by offering bikes that undercut the existing players on price while offering competitive features and equipment.

    2009 will be the company's third year selling bikes in the U.S. market and the GV650 is one of its first larger cc, "serious" bikes - but with a sticker price that's about three grand less than what the established players are asking for otherwise similar machines.

    Yes, the styling blatantly rips off the Harley V-rod in the aggressive fork rake, wasp-waist tank and elsewhere. But to quote legendary GM designer Bill Mitchell, who was accused of ripping off Ferrari ideas when he penned the lines of the 1970 Camaro: "If you're going to rob someone, don't hold up a 7-11. Rob a bank." Same idea here. This is a pretty bike - no matter who originally came up with the styling elements. And it has its own unique touches, too - including a candy red anodized, tubular alloy frame and matching rims, with lots of offsetting black chrome - including the rear shocks.

    For power, there's an 80-hp, 650 cc water-cooled V-twin with EFI connected to a five-speed and belt drive - just like the big boys. A full range of accessories is available, too.

    Remember: People laughed at Hyundai back in the '80s, too. Not so much today. The only caveat is a limited dealer network and who-knows-how-good-they'll-be long-term durability.

    But for the money, this bike's worth considering.

    * Honda GL1800 Goldwing AD (MSRP $25,599)

    The Big Kahuna of long-distance road bikes gets an air bag for 2009 - the first ever motorcycle to offer them. The bag is designed to cushion the rider in the event of a frontal impact - just like the drivers side air bag in a car.

    The '09 Goldwing also features a DVD-based GPS navigation system with voice prompting through headsets or speakers as well as XM-Sirius satellite navigation with real-time traffic and weather updates, heated seats and grips, foot warmers, motorized multi-reflector headlight aiming system, electric-assist reverse - and more total cargo/storage capacity (almost 150 liters) than any other touring bike on the road. Two full-face helmets easily fit in the (remote) lockable trunk. A 1300 watt alternator provides the juice - and then some - to run all this stuff.

    So, yes, it's a two-wheeled Cadillac. But it also handles - something few full-on touring bikes do well, if at all. Peg scraping "Dragon Runs" on Wings are well-known to those familiar with this bike - who respect its capability and know that in the right hands, it'll embarrass a squid on a sport bike.

    Argument-ending power is the capstone of this ultimate long-hauler. An 1832 cc (that's a car-sized 2.0 liters' worth) six cylinder pumping a claimed 165 hp through a five-speed gearbox and shaft drive. (A six-speed gearbox is a rumored update for later 2009/2010.)

    Cant touch this!

    Customs/Street Machines

    * Harley XR1200 Street Tracker (MSRP $10,799)

    Finally, American riders will have a chance to buy one of the most interesting - and accessible - cycles Harley has ginned up in years... but which for some bizarre reason was initially offered only in Europe and other export markets.

    Now it's our turn!

    It's hard to classify this unusual machine, inspired by AMA Grand National racing and the legendary XR-750. It's part sport bike and part muscle bike.

    Harley calls it a hot rod - and that description works, too.

    But whatever you want to call it, this bike is built to lay rubber and raise Hell. Gunfighter-style solo seat; fender eliminator; extra-fat 17-inch Dunlop Qualifier D209 back tire; twin shotgun-style exhaust snugged close to the frame. Big old school analog tach perched on the bars; hopped-up, high-compression 1200 cc Evolution V-twin. All you need.

    With zero BS.

    There isn't even a token windscreen. Best of all, the sticker price is only slightly higher than the price of a basic (and let's face it, look-alike) 1200 cc Sportster.

    Unlike most normal Harleys (including the super stylish V-rod) that tend to have a pretty relaxed riding posture and "cruisy" ergos - the XR1200 Street Tracker is built for action - with sporty rearset pegs and a low-rise handlebar set up to let the rider take full advantage of this bike's un-Harley-like 39 degree lean angle capability. And the muscled-up V-twin (unique to this bike) is not just pretty to look at, either. It has custom-ground performance cams and other internal upgrades.

    In a word, this is not your father's (or even your older brother's) hog. Harley is clearly gunning for a younger crowd that likes their bikes lean and mean - and rides the snot out of them.

    If that's you, the Street Tracker won't disappoint!
    Last edited by Eric; 01-23-2009 at 08:21 AM.

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