- 2010 BMW S1000RR
- 2014 BMW RnineT
- 2014 Yamaha MT-07
- 2016 Honda Africa Twin
- 2017 KTM 2t TPI
- 2018 – Yamaha Niken
- 2018 – Ducati Panigale V4S
As with any form of technology, motorcycles are constantly evolving.
Whether that’s for better or worse is down to the individual, but one thing’s for sure: I, an experienced-but-otherwise-average sports-come-adventure rider, would perform far better on a bike built within the last decade than I would a machine five times its age.
The reason is simple – motorcycles today feature a plethora of riding aids, designed to minimise the riders’ risk and maximise their reward.
It hasn’t always been this way. I remember – just about – when Yamaha’s R1 was referred to as the ‘widowmaker’, those who chose to ride them laughing in the face of a very real danger. In fact, like the bikes themselves, the term has been thrown about with reckless abandon, bestowed upon anything from Kawasaki’s two-stroke triples to Suzuki’s Hayabusa, which boasted more than 200hp and the title of the world’s fastest production motorcycle when it was launched in 2000.
The fact of the matter is, nowadays motorcycling has never been ‘safer’. Statistically, while the roads have only got busier, the number or motorcyclists killed or seriously injured has declined – from 21,277 to 5,197 a year between 1979 to 2013 – a decline of 76 percent, with annual deaths alone dropping from 493 to 319 between 2008 and 2016 – a 35 percent decline.
So that brings me to the crux of this article – with motorcycles built over the past 10 years safer and more technologically advanced than ever, are they still ‘fun’?
The answer is a resounding yes, and here are some of the defining bikes of the decade:
2010 BMW S1000RR
Despite being launched when the 2010s were but a twinkle in the previous decade’s eye, the BMW S1000RR is without a doubt the defining superbike of the decade.
The German manufacturer’s first foray into superbikes, and an incredibly successful one at that, the S Thou, as it is affectionately known, began its life as a 1,000-unit limited run to satisfy 2009 World Superbike homologation requirements. With factory-fitted ABS, dynamic traction control (a first for a road superbike), four riding modes, and an optional quickshifter it was well ahead of its time. Unsurprisingly, the asymmetrical superbike proved so popular that BMW moved to mass-production in 2010.
In 2013, BMW introduced the HP4 variant, a track-oriented version of the standard model, before the track-only, 750-unit limited edition HP4 Race arrived in 2017.
And what about racing? The S Thou has proved as successful as it is popular, with Michael Dunlop, aboard a factory prepped Buildbase BMW Motorrad bike, breaking a 75-year dry spell at the 2014 Isle of Man TT, winning not only the superbike class race, but also the Superstock class.
Peter Hickman won the Macau Grand Prix in 2015 and 2016 aboard a S1000RR and in 2018 famously broke the outright TT lap record during the Senior race, lapping the 38-mile course in 16 minutes 42.778 seconds, at an average speed of 135.452mph.
2014 BMW RnineT
Among the deluge of modern retros that have been presented over the past two decades or so, one stands out for how perfectly it has bridged the gap between the past and the present, in styling, performance and riding comfort.
BMW revealed the RnineT in 2014 to rave reviews. Reportedly, it was so sought after that the waiting list stretched for months and even BMW designers were having to queue to get one.
With the poise and handling of the S1000RR, the growling performance of the air-cooled boxer engine and the character of the BMW R100, which had proven so popular the previous decade, it was an instant charmer.
Refined, characterful and the perfect base for not only individual customisation, but also BMW’s colourful interpretations that were to come over the ensuing years, it has flown out of dealerships in various guises ever since. My personal favourite is the RnineT Urban GS, an epic interpretation of the original, continent-crossing BMW R100GS.
2014 Yamaha MT-07
Name a more popular naked than Yamaha’s revered MT-07, I’ll wait…
Launched in 2014, the MT-07 revolutionised the naked market, bringing a new, edgy appeal, combined with a downright excellent engine – the CP2. This is named for its crossplane (CP) crankshaft, which aims to eliminate ‘inertial torque’ caused by a crankshaft speeding up and slowing down at different points in each piston stroke, rather than spinning at a constant speed.
When it introduced the tech in the 2009 YZF-R1, Yamaha explained that this inertial torque could disguise the feeling of combustion torque, and that eliminating it would give better traction and feedback.
It works in the MT-07’s 689cc parallel twin because the crossplane 270-degree crankshaft staggers power pulses by firing the cylinders at irregular intervals. Cylinder one fires at zero degrees and cylinder two at 270 degrees, then the crank spins 500 degrees before firing the next power pulse. This succeeds in harmonising the inertial torque, and makes the engine feel far torquier than a usual 180-degree firing order engine, not dissimilar to a V-twin. No wonder it’s the nation’s go-to wheelie machine…
The MT-07 was the second modern MT, after the inline-triple MT-09, and the aggressively-styled brand has since expanded to a comprehensive family, offering something for every level of rider.
2016 Honda Africa Twin
While the original Honda XRV650 Africa Twin will no doubt feature on our ‘defining bikes of the 80s’ list, the 2016 model deserves its spot on our list, if only for its reinvention of the wheel – or rather of the go-anywhere adventure motorcycle.
Sure, the BMW GS had been around for decades by this point, and Yamaha’s Tenere was the go-to choice for lightweight adventure riders, but the market was crying out for a middleman – the perfect compromise between the Tenere’s vibey single-cylinder and the GS’s intimidating bulk.
Then came along the second generation Honda Africa Twin, borrowing the ethos and styling of the original and swapping the thumpy V-twin for a wonderfully smooth parallel 998cc unit.
The Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin (to give it its full name) – which was this year upgraded to the CRF1100L – won over adventurers for a myriad of factors: its smooth engine, incredible looks and the weight distribution of a giant trailie – unlike BMW’s 1200 GS which carries its centre of gravity below the belt. And that’s not to forget the ground-breaking dual clutch transmission (DCT) technology, which, while not new to Honda, was a first for an adventure motorcycle. The dual-clutch basically rendered the motorcycle automatic, and while initially clunky off-road, was soon fine-tuned into the excellent tool that it is today.
2017 KTM 2t TPI
Two strokes are a way of life for many off-road motorcyclists, but with emissions regulations, by the mid-2010s they were in danger of becoming obsolete.
But Austrian manufacturer KTM wasn’t about to let that happen, and so tasked the magicians in their R&D department to come up with a new, cleaner generation of 2 strokes. Enter the revolutionising 2 stroke ‘TPI’ models, revealed in May 2017 to great acclaim.
Standing for Transfer Port Injection, the patented electronic fuel injection system sees two-stroke oil pumped into the throttle body, to lubricate the crankshaft, barrel, cylinder bore and rings, while two injectors in the transfer ports squirt fuel into the cylinder. With a host of electronics managing the system, it’s far more complicated than the good ol’ fashioned corn popper, and required the rest of the bike to be upgraded accordingly.
But the result is an incredibly smooth two-stroke, with all the expected raw power, combined with a drastic reduction in fuel consumption and no need to pre-mix fuel, or adjust the jetting. So KTM had produced the perfect, ‘clean’, two-stroke, with low weight, high agility and that marvellous snappy throttle response.
The technology has since been applied across the manufacturer’s two-stroke range, and KTM continues to dominate in all aspects of off-roading (apart from the 2020 Dakar, but we don’t talk about that…)
2018 – Yamaha Niken
Three-wheelers have long been regarded as the reserve of the elderly, infirm, or irritating inner-city commuters.
But back in 2018 Yamaha decided to smash that preconception with the introduction of the Niken, a robotic-looking three-wheeler. Do a wheelie on one of these and it resembled a scene from Transformers, do a stoppie and it felt like a handstand. To dispel some misconceptions – no, it does not stand up on its own; no, you can’t ride it on a car licence, and yes, you can still crash it…
First seen in a concept form in 2015, the Niken was never expected to make it beyond the drawing board, but it arrived complete with the two front suspension arms and wheels that moved in conjunction to allow optimum grip when the bike was leaning at an angle of up to 45 degrees. With an otherwise normal motorcycle frame, seat and handlebar arrangement, the Niken was designed to push the limits of traction, and provide optimum grip in wet conditions. Plus, it’s a guaranteed eye-catcher.
It’s powered by the MT-09’s inline-triple CP3 powertrain (another crossplane, no less), albeit with revised fuel mapping and 18 percent more inertia in the crank, which make the motor smoother and slower revving. Combined with the Niken’s increased weight and front profile, it has an entirely different feel from its engine donor. Last year, Yamaha added its touring paraphernalia to the Niken and launched the GT model.
2018 – Ducati Panigale V4S
2018 will henceforth be known as the ‘year of the Superbike’, we received not only the updated R1M, but also the legend that is Ducati’s Panigale V4.
It was a departure from the norm for Ducati, who, for years had been producing the achingly-capable-if-not-slightly-clunky-down-low Panigale V-twins. The 1,103cc V4 marked an end to that era, but replaced it with an incredible new flagship superbike, with 211bhp, a MotoGP-derived frame and some of the most advanced electronics in the world.
It launched in four guises – the standard V4, the performance-orientated S, even more performance-orientated Speciale, and finally the WSBK homologation special, 998cc V4R. A host of MotoGP-derived tech sat inside that potent V4 powertrain, including a reverse-rotating crank, which turned in the opposite direction to the wheels in order to cancel out gyroscopic forces.
Power was linear, and explosive towards the top end and handling was agile. The V4S could accelerate from 0 to 60mph in 3.2 seconds, reach 100mph in 5.63 seconds and 150mph in 9.85. A top speed of 191.30mph was not only achievable but encouraged by the smooth throttle, and Motorcycle News named it the fastest sports bike they’d ever tested. This was the future and it felt incredible.
Unsurprisingly, the V4 has proven incredibly popular, both among road riders and track day heroes. It has been updated for 2020, pushing the limits of performance even further in a refined, user-friendly package. The smaller V2 debuted this year, making 155hp from its 955cc twin and if initial reviews are to be believed, could well be the best superbike of 2020.