By: Dave Abrahams
Sabie, Mpumalanga – The 2015 Pirelli Bike of the Year shootout attracted an unprecedented 16 finalists, from 11 manufacturers, covering three major genres and with two (very) odd ones out.
And here they are, in alphabetical order because, although I know how I scored them, I won’t know the winner until the official announcement on Wednesday evening.
Aprilia Caponord Rally
Aprilia RSV4 RR 1000
Suzuki GSX-S 1000F
The judges were all motorcycle journalists of considerable experience - with 21 years of writing about bikes, bikers and two-wheeled motorsport on my scoresheet I was considered a relative newbie - while the organisers and sponsors had gone to some lengths to level the playing field.
Pirelli had fitted all the bikes with brand new tyres, which was especially important when it came to the five superbikes which were the alpha dogs of this year’s fleet, as well as the five adventure tourers - once a niche category, now very much part of the motorcycling mainstream.
TomTom had fitted one of its new Rider 400 motorcycle navigation systems to each bike, so that, by unclipping the unit and moving it from bike to bike, each panellist could record trips over the same stretch of road on different machines and compare apples with apples, on the grounds that the numbers don’t lie.
It also made it just that much more difficult for the journalists to get lost; as convenor Harry Fisher of the Bike Show would be the first to tell you, keeping more than a dozen motorcycle scribes together on a road trip is like herding cats.
The Dutch adventure specialist had also provided loan units of the all-new Bandit action camera - the only ones in South Africa, as it has yet to be officially launched here - so that we could create visual records of our evaluation rides, edit them on our smart phones using an incredibly simple ‘shake to edit’ system and once again, compare like with like.
ON THE ROAD
Day One saw the motley crew gather at Red Star Raceway near Witbank for a quick briefing on the new TomTom gadgets, a word of warning from Pirelli that the tyres really were brand new and would need to be scrubbed before we tried any hard cornering on them, and then we were away for a quick blast down the N4 to Belfast.
While I was luxuriating in the plush ride, punchy three-cylinder power and accurate handling of the Triumph, it soon became obvious that the riders of the ‘retro’ machines - in particular the two custom bikes - were taking strain because of the poor ergonomics inherent in their design language.
This became even more of an issue when I moved to the Indian Scout for the next leg to Lydenburg, a road of sweeping bends and roller-coaster straights, liberally punctuated with potholes. The Scout has a superb 1133cc DOHC V-twin that kicks out 75kW and looks like rolling sculpture, but is let down by a seriously uncomfortable riding position, primitive rear suspension and a seat like a leather-upholstered plank.
Then, for the short but exciting leg over Long Tom Pass to Sabie and our base at Bohm’s Zederberg, I rode Kawasaki’s much-hyped 150kW H2 musclebike. While it was a bit of a handful on the painfully tight sections at the top of Long Tom, its superbly linear power delivery and stable chassis were reassuring on the faster sections.
Thursday saw us based at the Woodsman in Sabie, taking turns to ride as many motorcycles as possible either along the famous “22” towards Hazyview or over the faster, more sweeping turns past Mac Mac to Graskop, making and comparing notes in between rides.
Certain machines stood out because of just how difficult it was to get hold of them (I didn’t get to ride the Aprilia RSV4 RR until the final day!) others went out but were quickly returned because they simply weren’t fun to ride on these high-speed roads.
In the spirit of fairness, I took the Indian Scout out for a second ride - alone, rather than battling to keep up with a bunch of faster bikes - but was still uncomfortable at even moderate speeds. The Scout engine, I concluded, was a beautiful engineering achievement in search of a proper home.
Unpopular as it was among the sports-bike aficionados, the Harley-Davidson Street 750, the smallest bike in the fleet, (and it’s not often you can say that about a Harley!) was actually not as black as its factory paint job, with a very low seat height and accessible if not awe-inspiring power from its liquid-cooled V-twin.
In this scenario, however, its almost complete lack of brakes was a potentially fatal flaw that couldn’t be glossed over.
All four of the retro bikes, in fact, were let down to some extent by the suspension limitations forced on them by their styling, although the Ducati Scrambler and BMW RnineT were great fun to ride on relatively short runs.
INTO THE FUTURE
The Zero RS, the first electric motorcycle I’d ridden, was a revelation in terms of instant, silent, seamless acceleration (it’s about as quick as a 600cc street bike up to 100km/h and tops out at around 150) and a disappointment in that we were asked to ride it no more than 10km out and 10km back – and then plug it back into the (optional) quick-charger for half an hour before the next rider took it out.
Meanwhile, the adventure tourers impressed with superb comfort, stonking engines, surprising agility and questionable looks. The Aprilia Caponord 1200 was big, comfortable and a little clumsy, the Ducati Multistrada somewhat more agile and blessed with the finest, most legible electronic dashboard I’d ever seen.
KTM’s flagship all-rounder topped the score-sheets in terms of performance and technical sophistication, but couldn’t hold a candle to the all-round excellence of the Triumph Tiger 800. Yamaha’s MT-09 was woefully outgunned in the 2014 Bike of the Year; this year it has morphed into the superb Tracer - only to be blown away by the second-generation Tiger.
The final day began with a sweeping flight across the Mpumalanga highlands to the N4; for those of us lucky enough to be aboard one of the superbikes, the ride of a lifetime.
Each stands out in its own right; the Ducati for its incomparably accurate road-holding, the Kawasaki for its breathtaking engine, the BMW S1000 RR for its gruff, growly power delivery and insanely vicious brakes, the Yamaha for its linear power delivery and forgiving chassis set-up, and the Aprilia for its intuitive, user-friendly handling and the sweetest throttle response in the business.
For the final stretch up the N4 to Red Star, I inherited the 2015 Pirelli Bike of the Year’s best-kept secret, the Suzuki GSX-S1000F - not quite a sports bike, not quite a naked, it’s a comfortable highway express, a hair-trigger urban warrior and a passable light tourer with a huge Grin Factor.
Retro bikes aside, it’s difficult to criticise any of today’s top motorcycles. They’re built to astonishingly high standards because that is what the market demands and, although they are eye-wateringly expensive that, as Sir Henry Royce would have said, is the price of excellence.
Which is the 2015 Pirelli Bike of the Year? Just like me, you’ll have to wait until Wednesday night to find out.
This video was edited, and the music dubbed, in less than half an hour by somebody who had never filmed or edited a video before.