Every Motorcycle I Rode This Year: Ranked

Every Motorcycle I Rode This Year: Ranked

I rode fourteen motorcycles this year and only crashed one of them

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Image: Harley-Davidson

It’s hard to have a bad time on a good bike, and let me tell you folks, the bikes are good these days. It still blows my mind that I manage to ride motorcycles for a living sometimes, and all I have to do is pass my own personal judgement of those motorcycles on to you fine people. You’ve probably read some of my reviews this year, so let’s put them all in context. Here’s everything I rode this year and what order I rank them.

Of course none of these bikes really compete with each other in the market, but they’ve competed with each other for space in my heart. After the weird upside-down year that 2020 was, it was nice to get back to a bit of a normal-ish year in 2021. Obviously there’s still a pandemic raging, but getting my shots and keeping safety at a high level maintained my safety. Of course a mask or an inoculation do nothing when you shove an Indian motorcycle into the side of a mountain. Thankfully I recovered from that without any permanent damage.

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14th - Honda Navi

14th - Honda Navi

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Image: Honda

This is less an indictment against Honda’s $1800 scoot-bike and more proof that I rode a lot of really cool machines this year. It’s good, and for its price it’s really good. But it’s not as good as the 13 other bikes I rode this year.

My take:

It’s not a sport bike, it’s a scooter. Keep that in mind and you’ll be fine.

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13th - Indian Chief

13th - Indian Chief

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Image: Indian Motorcycles

The Chief was one of those bikes that I liked but didn’t love. The ride was amazing, and the experience of the three-day trip even better, but it wasn’t really my style. Big air-cooled V-twins are great, but they don’t feel like the present.

My take:

A large-scale American V-twin cruiser is basically a distillation of the wide-open expanses of the American Southwest. Roll up a Mexican blanket on the back and any of these Chief models would instantly look the part of a decades-old grizzled veteran patrolling the windswept wastes. It’s maybe the perfect bike for the area, and maybe the perfect area for the bike. If you want to cosplay as a modern steel horse cowboy, and trust me you do, this is your bike.

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12th - Indian Challenger

12th - Indian Challenger

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Image: Bradley Brownell

Of everything I rode this year, I put the most miles on the Challenger, which really says something. This is the kind of bike that just begs you to stack miles on the odometer, so every time I had to leave town I found myself climbing onboard this bike. It was really an incredible piece of kit, especially with the Stage 2 kit installed, but the price made me wince often.

My take:

I probably wouldn’t spend the thirty grand it takes to buy one, but it’s a damn fine two-wheeler that I was sad — but not devastated — to return back to Indian. If you’re flush with cash and have a desire to ride back and forth across the country for the next ten years, there are worse ways to spend your money.

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11th - Zero SR/S

11th - Zero SR/S

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Image: Bradley Brownell

As electric machines go, the SR/S and its naked brother SR/F are really quite competent. They’re attractive and well-engineered, but neither really made me quite as happy as the other stuff further up this list. They’re almost too good to be really good, you know? Given the opportunity there are other electric bikes I’d rather buy, including some other stuff from Zero.

My take:

Having logged a couple hundred miles thus far, I have to say it’s a pretty compelling product. It’s comfortable and easy to use, in addition to being pretty freakin’ quick. I can run it down to zero percent battery life and charge it up in a single overnight on a standard 110v outlet. As commuter EVs go, you could do a lot worse than a Zero SR/S.

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10th - Harley-Davidson Sportster S

10th - Harley-Davidson Sportster S

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Image: Harley-Davidson

This bike changed the game for Harley, man. It’s a cruiser that revs to 9, which seems mind-fucky, but it’s an absolute riot to ride. I liked it a lot better with mid-controls than the standard forward-controls, but it was a little too stiff and cramped for me to really appreciate.

My take:

The LiveWire and Pan America proved Harley knows how to build a killer motorcycle, but the Sportster S proves the Bar and Shield brand remembered how to build a killer Harley.

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9th - Ducati Monster

9th - Ducati Monster

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Image: Ducati

Entry-level bikes are getting way too fast. For 11 grand you can have a bike that goes forever and revs forever and grips forever. Or at least seemingly so. I really liked the Monster, trellis frame or no.

My take:

Once you figure out how to tame the Monster, you’ll happily gallop into battle astride this beastie forever. It is simply unfathomable that anyone would grow bored of riding this bike. It’s powerful and fast enough to keep even a longtime rider begging for more. It’s not a bike without its issues, but as with most Italian-built things, if you can learn to look past those issues, you’ll fall in love.

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8th - Indian FTR

8th - Indian FTR

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Image: Indian Motorcycles

Take everything I loved about the Monster and crank it up to an American 11, and you’ve got the Indian FTR. I liked the earlier model a little better because of its imperfections, but take them away and you’ve got a really competent, really fast motorcycle. I still feel terrible for crashing one.

My take: 

The FTR is still an absolute blast to ride, but it no longer feels quite as vulgar. It’s lost that pastiche of throwback imperfection. Indian skipped the 2021 model year for the FTR, but it feels like the two bikes are separated by decades of progress. The outgoing bike, particularly in the unassisted base mode with analog gauges, felt like legitimate and earned 1968 rowdy. The new bike feels like it was built in 2022. There’s good and bad to both.

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7th - Zero DSR Black Forest

7th - Zero DSR Black Forest

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Image: Bradley Brownell

This is more an experiential and emotional choice, but spending a couple days traipsing about in the desert and camping with this motorcycle and a friend is some of the most fun I had this year. It’s a good bike, and would be better with more tire, but it’s not a truly great bike.

My take: 

There are certainly drawbacks to riding an electric bike off road, but they’re worth it all for the peace and quiet you get to experience out there. While riding along at 20 miles per hour, negotiating the trails of the far-flung desert, I could hear birds chirping, wind rustling through the scrub, tires crunching in the sand, and animals moving in the underbrush. It felt like we were giving nature the respect it deserved by observing the world in a new quieter way. Even more than just tailpipe pollution, we weren’t contributing to the noise pollution. Tread lightly, as they say.

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6th - Zero FXE

6th - Zero FXE

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Image: Zero Motorcycles

This bike gets a lot of bonus points for looking like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie. I love it.

My take:

A-plus grade for simplicity and fun.

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5th - Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

5th - Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

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Image: Ducati

I am literally riding this bike right now, so I don’t have any pictures of me on it, and I can’t really give any riding impressions right now because of those pesky embargoes. But I can tell you where it’s placed on my list of wrist twisters this year. Right here.

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4th - Harley-Davidson Pan America

4th - Harley-Davidson Pan America

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Image: Harley-Davidson

Harley really came out swinging in the adventure segment. I love this bike. It’s probably the one I still think about most.

My take: 

None of you have an excuse to badmouth Harley ever again. This is a cool-ass king-shit bike that looks great, rides better, and goes literally anywhere.

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3rd - BMW R1100 GS

3rd - BMW R1100 GS

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Image: Bradley Brownell

My experiences with the Zero DSR and the Harley Pan America made me go out and buy my own adventure motorcycle. This bike was a goddamn deal and a half with all of the kit it came with. I have only had it on a couple long-distance road trips, but it has served extremely well on both.

My take: 

It dawned on me that I’d just taken this twenty-five-year-old bike on a long road trip as though it were a brand new press bike. I didn’t bring a single tool or spare part, and I was hard on the throttle for the better part of all damn day. While I might need to practice a little more preparedness for future journeys, I’m now more confident in the bike’s abilities than ever before. The BMW is my rad machine, there are many like it, but this one is mine.

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2nd - Harley-Davidson LiveWire

2nd - Harley-Davidson LiveWire

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Image: Harley-Davidson

I fell in love with the LiveWire the first time I rode it a couple years ago. Harley loaned me one for a bit, and I loved it even more. This is the kind of bike I could see myself learning to live with because it’s so competent, comfortable, and technologically impressive. LiveWire was spun off into its own brand this year, and the price was cut by nine grand. That’s a compelling price. By this time next year I’ll probably have one of my own.

My take: 

Not only was it an incredible canyon runner, but it was an excellent daily commuter. If you don’t expect it to be able to go more than 400 miles in a day, and you know the limitations of the existing charging network, you can get most places in relative peace.

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1st - Honda Grom

1st - Honda Grom

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Image: Honda

Nothing, and I mean nothing, made me smile like the Grom. It’s just that simple. By this time next year I’ll probably have one of my own. You know, if the supply chain ever eases up enough to prevent dealers from charging over sticker for them.

My take:

This is a bike for everyone. I honestly can’t think of any bike I’ve ever ridden which provided the same level of happiness. Every gear is a 9,000 rpm rip. Every corner is taken at maximum attack to maintain momentum. Every stop light is a drag strip run. Every straightaway just begs you to get into a full elbows-on-knees aero tuck to try to eke out that last mile per hour. And no matter what you do, you’re doing it under the speed limit.

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