The most interesting and desirable motorcycles of 2019
The motorcycle business has gone to some interesting places in 2019. We may not have seen 3D-printed frames, or adaptive cruise control, or thruster rockets to prevent lowside crashes make it through into mass production, but this year had its own crop of interesting ideas. Let's take a look.
The weird ones
Let's start with a few out of left field. Some bikes need to be celebrated solely for their wackiness, so we felt they deserved their own category.
Aston Martin AMB-001
Just take a look at this weird, shark-headed thing. Built around a modern Brough Superior v-twin with a turbo stuck on the side, the AMB-001 makes a meaty 180 hp and looks a bit like a dolphin with wheels. It's hideously expensive, it's not road legal and only 100 will be made, but a closer look at this bike reveals some aesthetic and aerodynamic ideas that might be worth thinking about.
Bimota Tesi H2
Rejoice! The high-performance Italian coachbuilders of the motorcycle world are back, with Bimota being resurrected by Kawasaki, and there's no mistaking which Kawasaki motor people want to see more of: the nutty, supercharged H2 engine. We'd hoped for something a bit prettier though. The new Bimota Tesi H2 is massively powerful, and should handle really nicely thanks to its hub-center steering system. Unfortunately, it's one of the ugliest motorcycles we've ever seen.
Efesto's bolt-on 300-horsepower hybrid kit for the Ducati Panigale
While not a production bike per se, this is a remarkable development; a fully-integrated accessory kit that can turn your already overpowered V4 Panigale into a 300-hp hybrid-electric widowmaker combining instant electric torque and roaring combustion horsepower into a single terrifying unit, without adding nearly as much weight as you'd think. Unfortunately, the prototype conversion kit makes one of the most beautiful bikes in the world look ... well, almost as bad as the Tesi H2.
Harley-Davidson's double moon shot
The Harley team must've watched with envy as BMW rebranded itself from a pipe and slippers supplier into a thoroughly modern, cutting-edge motorcycle company over the course of the last decade. Facing down the impending end of its boomer-heavy cruiser business, Milwaukee has made a series of outlandish bets to try and turn their cruise liner around and make the brand appeal to a new generation. Turning, however, has never been Harley's strong point, and these two bikes, the Pan American and Bronx, not to mention the electric Livewire, have an uphill battle ahead of them.
Damon's shape-shifting electric
Highly ambitious in its scope, the Canadian Damon motorcycle is designed to challenge the motorcycle world with new technologies. For starters, it's got an "AWSM" advanced warning system that uses radars, cameras and other sensors, combined with neural net onboard computing, to track up to 64 items around you, and their trajectories, so it can pop up a warning if you're about to get nailed by something, thus adding an element of confusion to your last few seconds on the planet. The company is also working on a bike that can dynamically change the position of its bars, footpegs and seat as you ride, which would be a fascinating thing to try out.
The (other) electric motorcycles
We're still waiting for the promised lithium wave to properly break over the motorcycling world, but it's fair to say some of the most fascinating developments on two wheels this year come with wall plugs.
For starters, Erik Buell has thrown his considerable talent and notoriety behind a new electric startup called Fuell, which is starting out building electric bicycles, but also preparing to begin manufacture of a high-end urban commuter called the Fuell Flow. The flow has a maximum constant speed of just 55 mph (88 km/h), but it'll hit 62 mph (100 km/h) in a crazy 2.7 seconds if you give it a full throttle squirt, due to the enormous torque from its modest 35-kW (49-hp) hub motor. Buell calls it "the most radically innovative design I've ever done" – and those acquainted with his prior work know that's saying a lot.
Richard Hatfield, whose Lightning LS218 remains the single most terrifying and transcendent motorcycle ride of my life, has been threatening for years to make something a little less insane and a lot more affordable for the mass market, and in 2019 he delivered. The Lightning Strike offers roughly similar performance to a 600cc sportsbike, and starts at a super-impressive US$12,998, making it perhaps the first genuinely affordable electric sportsbike.
We have a ton of admiration for California's Zero Motorcycles, who have stayed resolutely ahead of the market on electric motorcycles for more than a decade now. The new Zero SR/F represents the first major overhaul of Zero's streetbikes for many years, and it introduces a level of refinement the older bikes can't touch. Making 110 hp and bulk torque, it's good for 190 km/h (120 mph) when ridden in anger, and control is enhanced with things like lean angle-sensitive traction control. It still costs a bomb, though, and if Zero doesn't start pushing big volume soon, its considerable lead on the rest of the market could evaporate.
Fresh outta France, Essence Motorcycles has surprised us with one of the most fearsome and confronting electrics we've ever seen. If its wild floating seat unit isn't enough to catch your attention, it stands ready to empty the sturdiest bowel at the twist of a throttle with a colossal 205 hp and 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque. That kind of thrust felt like sheer lunacy on the LS218, which was geared for 218-mph (350-km/h) top speeds. The Essence e-Raw is geared for just 124 mph (200 km/h), so it's going to feel much, much faster on the road.
The BST Hypertek is one of those US$80 grand indulgences that pop up regularly in the e-moto world. Its performance figures are solid, and it's said to offer a range over 180 mi (300 km), but this one makes the list on its looks alone. The pinnacle of controversial motorcycle designer Pierre Terblanche's career, it looks, as we observed in November, "like a Confederate jumped in a teleportation machine without realizing there was already a Dyson vacuum in there," but in a good way.
It might make a monstrous 217 hp and pack the kind of interesting front suspension system that Confederate, now known as Curtiss, is famous for, but the Curtiss Hades will go down in history mainly as the, er, excitable bike that looks like it's trying to hump its own front tire. Easy, boy, that thing's spinning fast.
Regular ol' production bikes
And finally, to the ones you're most likely to get your hands on. Here are the new mass market machines that caught our eye in 2019.
Blessed with a very lightweight chassis and half an RSV4 motor, the Aprilia RS660 weighs 169 kg (373 lb) and makes 100 hp, making it look like an ultra-sharp handler that should be a joy to throw around.
Straight out of the box, the new Indian Challenger stands ready to best the performance figures of Harleys with Stage 4 modification kits. Its new Powerplus V-Twin engine makes 122 hp and 128 lb-ft (173.5 Nm), figures no other cruiser mass-produced on American soil can touch. We hope it sends a rocket up the backside of the entire segment.
Triumph Rocket 3
One of the few cruisers with nothing to fear from the Challenger is the Triumph Rocket 3, custodian of the largest engine in mass-production motorcycling at a ludicrous 2.5 liters. At 167 hp and a colossal 221 Nm (163 lb-ft) of torque, that motor is the very definition of excess, and the bike built around it looks like it's ready to boogie, too.
Kawasaki Z H2
Kawasaki's supercharged H2 engine is too good of a thing to confine to the H2, the H2 SX and that venerial-looking Bimota above, so the Kwaka team has plonked it into a nakedbike chassis for 2020. The Kawasaki Z H2 is a muscle-bound beast indeed, but its 197-hp peak isn't enough to make it the king of the naked playground.
Ducati Streetfighter V4
Two hundred and eight horsepower, with an easy path to 220. That's what you've got to deliver to lead the super-naked market these days, and Ducati's Streetfighter V4 does it in consummate Italian style. Easily the bike I've personally wasted the most drool over in 2019, the Streetfighter is compact, lightweight and suffused with racy Panigale DNA. And despite one of the most tragic coming-out parties we can remember, it's gone straight to the top of our "most desirable bikes of all time" list.
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In the Electric Motorcycle category, I believe Taiwan's Gogoro has sold more electric motorcycles than any other company - probably more than all others combined. Their innovative battery swap system and network of battery stations eliminates the need to plug in to charge up, which is great in high-density urban environments.