Drum roll, please, Cyril. Good man, and nice riff at the end. Don’t know what I’d do without you.
Yes, it’s time to look back and pick my fav bikes of the year, not to mention the weird and wonderful moments which brightened up the strangest 12 months any of us have seen.
Surprise of the year
When I rode the prototype in 2014, it was fascinating but flawed: the range in eco mode was 53 miles, and a piffling 29 miles in power mode, and the lack of traction control or ABS made it, er, interesting on a wet test track.
Acceleration of 0-60 in four seconds was decent enough for a 74bhp bike weighing 210kg, but handling was a bit sluggish.
Well, when Harley decided to actually put it into production, its backroom boffins rolled up the sleeves of their white coats and got to work, and it shows.
It looks much sleeker, and range is now a more acceptable 80-140 miles, depending on riding mode and level of hooliganism.
But the real surprise is when you twist the throttle. As in all electric motors, grunt is available from zero rpm, and even though the weight is now 249kg, with power now 105bhp, in sport mode it leaps forward like a starving greyhound after Bugs Bunny, reaching 60mph in 2.8 seconds and soaring on seamlessly to 115mph, all the while accompanied by a supersonic whoosh.
It’s like riding one of the bikes that 1950s science fiction comics predicted we’d all be riding now, and while I’d always thought that the sound of a petrol engine, particularly a V-twin, was an essential, visceral part of biking pleasure, it’s incredible how glorious it is zooming along in almost perfect silence.
Handling, once you’ve got used to the sporty riding position and gripped the tank with your knees to take your weight off the bars, is light and neutral.
In fact, I can think of only one thing wrong with this remarkable machine: I haven’t got 29 grand to buy one.
Laugh of the year
Monkey Bike madness
If John Laity was accused of sanity, you wouldn’t find a court in the land to convict him.
A microlight pilot, he dreamed up Flying for Freedom to teach injured servicemen to fly, and plans to take them all on an expedition to the South Pole. In open flexwings.
In the meantime, he thought it would be a really good idea to get a bunch of lunatics together to ride Honda’s tiny Monkey Bikes from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise money for Alzheimer’s research.
And since I’m 6ft 7ins, he thought it would be hilarious to get me to join them for the northern bit of the adventure.
In spite of its size – and mine – the Monkey Bike proved surprisingly comfortable. As you can imagine with only 9.25bhp on tap, progress is flat out everywhere, although being a Honda, the engine is unbreakable, and at one stage I actually made it to 60mph, after which I blacked out due to the g forces and lack of oxygen. Or possibly laughing so much.
After several hours of lunacy, we got to John O’Groats by early evening for the traditional Scottish greeting by four billion midges.
“Honda must make Monkey Bikes out of bits of Captain America’s shield and Thor’s Hammer. They are simply awesome, and probably the best fun you can have on two wheels,” said John over a welcome beer later.
I’ll drink to that.
Adventure bike of the year
Triumph Tiger 900
I’ve loved the Tiger 800 since the first version came out in 2010 for their perfect riding position, all day comfort, lusty performance and pinpoint handling.
In fact, the only complaint I had about them was the engine, which sounded like a giant sewing machine running late for a giant sewing machine conference.
Well, now Triumph’s solved that problem, since the 900 has a lovely gnarly burble at idle, rising to a visceral snarl at speed, thanks to a T-plane triple crank, whatever that is, and a firing order so complex it’s only understood by Einstein, Deep Blue and a man in a white coat at Hinckley.
The plush suspension soaks up everything in case you’re planning to head for places with dreadful roads such as Pakistan, eastern Turkey or England.
Acceleration is gloriously satisfying, with the bike 5kg lighter than the 900, maximum power and torque up by 9% and 10% respectively, and more of both in the mid-range where it’s most useful.
And since it’s a Triumph, precision handling in both the Rally and more road-focused GT version.
Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports
The Africa Twin was my Bike of the Year in 2016, and this latest incarnation has more grunt than its predecessor and clever electronically adjustable suspension which allows instant tweaking for fabulously pinpoint handling.
Only complaint: 14 buttons on the left bar. Fourteen! And if that wasn’t bad enough, another four on the right.
Head-scratcher of the year
Previous Fireblades were road bikes which could be raced (see John McGuinness for details), but this one has been designed as a race bike which can be ridden on the road, and it’s winning BSB races more or less straight out of the box as a result.
As a result, it’s so tiny that anyone over 6ft tall can stop reading now and buy an Africa Twin instead.
With 215bhp on tap, it can do 132mph in second gear, but after half an hour on it, I’d lost the feeling in all but my little finger, gangrene had set in in my legs and it was time to leave the bike back to the dealers then head straight to the nearest chiropractor. For a week.
So if you’re a small rider with a big talent, step right up. I’m neither.
Manufacturer of the year
I could be wrong, but I think I’ve discovered the antidote to all the doom and gloom surrounding the planet at the moment.
It’s called KTM, and the epiphany came to me as I was flinging the 890 Duke R happily through a sinuous series of twisties and sweeping A-roads and thinking what it is that makes KTMs such a joy to ride, from eager tiddlers like the 125 Duke all the way up to monsters like the 1290 Super Duke R.
It starts with the seating position. On superbikes such as the Yamaha R1 or the ridiculously titchy new Honda Fireblade, your knees start to ache after 20 minutes, and gangrene sets in after 40, although you don’t notice because of the pain in your wrists and your neck from leaning on the bars and peering out from under the rim of your visor.
KTMs, though, prove that you don’t need to suffer for their art: you’re sitting more upright, perfectly placed to grip the tank lightly with your knees, rest your hands just as lightly on the bars, and fling yourself into corners as delicately and precisely as on any sportsbike, but just as fast.
In short, if you don’t have fun riding a KTM, you’re already dead.
Bike of the Year 2020
BMW took the inspiration for this from the lovely 1936 R5, and kept its simple and exquisite look, but super-sized everything else, with the R5’s 494cc, 24bhp and 165kg becoming a whopping 1800cc, 91bhp and 345kg.
That could have resulted in it going from young Marlon Brando to old Marlon Brando, but it hasn’t: it looked stunning in photos, and is even better in the flesh; at the dealers, it took me half an hour to get away, what with people coming up to admire it.
Ride off, click through the solid six-speed box, drink your fill from a well of torque so bottomless that it hardly matters which gear you’re in, and laugh at handling so effortless that even on a bike weighing 345kg, before long you’re swinging through bends as instinctively as if you and the bike are one.
It has, in short, now replaced the 2012 Victory Cross Roads Classic Limited Edition as my most beautiful bike in the world, and the Royal Enfield Interceptor as my favourite bike of all time.
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