11 motorcycles that will make this summer awesome

Our friend JonB pinged us yesterday — “New job, new season, time for a new bike. What should I buy? HFL should do a buyer’s guide.” Good idea. Here’s 11 motorcycles you can afford that will make 2011 a summer to remember.

The Sportsbike: Triumph Daytona 675R

Like going around corners? There’s little else that does them as well as the stock Daytona 675. Plus, where Japanese 600s just feel a little disposable, the 675 feels exotic and timeless. That’s backed up by classy, understated looks, an immediacy to the power delivery thats lacking from other 600s and an exhaust note that sounds like a banshee mated with a swiss watch.

The R adds $3,960 worth of the fanciest Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes money can buy, plus a quickshifter, for only a $1,496 premium over the standard bike. That won’t mean much to casual riders, but for diehard sportsbike fans it means near-infinite adjustability, and total control in corners — this bike’s raison d’etre.

Of course you also get plain white paint — thank you baby jesus — and a lairy red subframe, which is just the right amount of brash in an otherwise completely classy motorcycle. $11,999.

The Retro: Ural ST

When you buy a retro motorcycle you want something that looks and feels like it's from the ‘60s, but that won’t break down three miles into a three day ride. It’s not just about a look and an exhaust note either — if it was we’d recommend the Triumph Scrambler — it’s about a total riding experience that’s simple and pure like motorcycles used to be before they got all fast and efficient.

The Ural ST will involve you in the ride whether you’re cruising on the highway, commuting in town or at the end of a very long dirt road — befitting its roots, it’s as capable off-road as any GS.

It looks like a tank, goes like a tank, sounds like a tank and is built like a tank. A Russian tank. A 40bhp, 460lbs anachronism that never fails to defy your expectations. This is motorcycling as Vladimir Lenin intended it to be. $7,199.

The Dual-Sport: Yamaha WR250R

In an age of 600lbs, 1,200cc adventure tourers wearing knobby tires, it’s easy to forget that dirt bikes don’t need to be big, heavy and expensive. This is the little Yamaha that could. Sharing an aluminum twin-spar chassis and fully-adjustable suspension with the dirt-only WR250F, don’t let the 250cc capacity confuse you — this is a fast motorcycle on-road and off.

Seriously, we had an absolute blast running around LA freeway traffic on these, out-dragging confused Harley riders and taking advantage of the high seats, wide bars and 298lbs weight to carve through stationary traffic. The WR was even happy cruising at 90+ mph in the fast lane for extended periods.

Off-road, it’s a real dirt bike. It’ll jump, it’ll land, it’ll ford rivers and cover your buddies in mud.

Never owned a dirt bike? This is an non-intimidating way to get started getting dirty. Experienced dirt bike rider looking for a reliable dual-sport? This’ll do way more than just get you to the trails and still entertain you once you’re there. $6,490.

The Exotic: Aprilia RSV4 R APRC

Two years ago, traction control was unheard of on performance motorcycles. Do we really need it? Will it slow us down? Will it work on the race track? Turns out it’ll make you faster and allow you to wring more out of your bike under pretty much any circumstances. So exotic V4, tiny proportions, Italian looks and traction control = win, right? The thing is Aprilia Performance Ride Control also brings launch control, wheelie control and a quickshifter, making this the most electronically sophisticated motorcycle ever sold to the general public. How’s that for exotic?

You know we’re already huge fans of the RSV4. Unlike v-twin rivals, this 180bhp V4 doesn’t pull any performance punches. But unlike it’s inline-four rivals, it’s also got character. Think small block V8 in an RS250 chassis and you won’t be far off.

It’s harsh, it’s hot, it’s hard to ride, it scared Tyson Beckford, it’ll beat you up if you ride it badly, but reward you with amazing feel and response if you ride it well. It’s awesome. Shinya Kimura agrees.

Is there a difference between the R and the Factory? Totally. The Factory’s motor hits harder and the Ohlins suspension works better. Is the Factory worth $6,500 more? Not if we were spending our own money. $15,999.

The Dirt Bike: Zero MX

The Zero MX isn’t the fastest dirt bike. Nor is it the cheapest. But, it is the quietest. That completely changes how you experience riding off road.

It’s not just a case of being able to ride in more places, more of the time while pissing less people off either. But it does do that. Backyard tracks will no longer piss off the neighbors, urban enduro will no longer alert every cop in the city, riding on a regular dirt bike trail becomes less about your bubble of violent noise and more about your decisions, your skills and the environment you’re using them in. It’ll completely change the way you think about dirt bikes. Get rid of the flat bill and just get on with riding.

The newly refined MX brings stronger suspension for full-size riders yet only weighs 196lbs. In the past, Zeros have felt like riding a bicycle that wanted to be a motorcycle, this one’s like a motorcycle that’s as easy to throw around as a mountain bike. Top speed is 40mph, you’ll get 30-60 minutes of action out of a two-hour charge (1.2 hour quick charge optional) and you’ll experience motorcycle performance in an entirely new way. Silent speed is the future. $9,489.

The Hooligan: KTM Duke 690

Every time I see one of these, I’m amazed by what a nice bike it is. It’s tiny, yet it’s got radial Brembos, USD forks, Marchesini wheels and the exposed webbing in the swingarm never fails to look stunning.

Over a supermoto, you’re gaining a lower seat height, stiffer suspension and enough refinement that you can sit on the highway for an hour or two without losing your mind. But like a supermoto you’re getting an extremely light weight (149kg) and a torquey, responsive single-cylinder 654cc motor that makes a pretty impressive 64bhp and and 49lb/ft of torque. Wheelies are obligatory.

Everyone always likes to ask why a major manufacturer doesn’t make a light, high-spec, single-cylinder naked bike. Wouldn’t such a thing be perfect for turning your commute from drudgery to hoonfest? It would be such a thing, but people should remember that the Duke 690 exists.

Over heavier, more powerful, more serious bikes like the Duke 990 or Triumph Street Triple, the Duke 690 is going to be much easier to throw around, way more forgiving and just way more fun and involving at the kind of speeds and on the kind of shitty roads we ride on in cities. Other than the odd headlights, it’s pretty much perfect. $9,498.

The All-Rounder: Triumph Street Triple R

So you can only afford one new bike and you need to commute on it, you need to go for weekend rides in the mountains on it and you want to do a few trackdays on it. All the plaudits we heap on the Daytona 675 apply to the Street Triple R, just with flat bars, no fairing and humane ergonomics.

Those changes actually add up to quite a difference. Where the Daytona feels tall, narrow and delicate in town, the Striple is empowering rather than intimidating. The R brings back the nice suspension and brakes from the Daytona, making this a performance naked that’s not dumbed down and is every bit as capable as its fully-faired brother.

Where other nakeds ace the accessibility thing and the comfort thing, they fall flat when you actually start riding them fast. Budget suspension equals poor cornering. “Tuned for torque” equals poor performance. The Street Triple R does all the practical stuff every other naked bike does, but adds performance back into the equation. It does that with a good badge, decent looks and a unique engine that’s torquey like a twin, yet retains the top-end rush of a four. New headlights for 2012 means you might even get a deal on the mechanically identical 2011 model. We like this engine better than the 1050 because you can use more of it more of the time and we like this 416lbs package over the Speed Triple’s 470lbs because it's easier to ride and probably more capable. $9,599.

The Bargain: Buell XB12R

Don’t feel the need to buy new? I’ve always sort of looked at the XB12R as the American equivalent to the Aprilia RS250. You still get 250GP level handling and impossibly fast steering and you still have to dance on the lever to keep the motor in its 1,000rpm-wide power band. Just here you’re doing that with a sack of potatoes and pig iron rather than a tiny two-stroke time bomb.

The market seems to have strengthened a bit from the time just after Harley killed Buell and prices were in the gutter, but you can still own a piece of low-mileage American history for $3-$6,000. Performance parts abound and you can get the motor up to 100bhp easily and reliably. There’s some dodgy colors out there, avoid anything that looks like a five-year old drew it with crayons.

The First Bike: Cleveland CycleWerks Ace

Buying your first bike? We’ve got news for you, you’re going to crash it. So, don’t buy something fancy, don’t buy something on a huge loan and don’t buy something that’s going to have you going 1,000,000mph when you do fall off. But with the CCW Ace, you can still buy something that’s brand new, that comes with a warranty and won’t break down every time you want to ride it, all for less than $3,000. As an added bonus, the UJM-style Ace is easy to customize and Cleveland plans to supply a range of affordable aftermarket parts that’ll make transforming it into a Scrambler or Cafe or whatever you want even simpler.

The other thing about your first bike that none of the brohams in your fraternity will tell you is that starting small will make you a better rider in the long term. If you buy something like an R1 as your first bike, everything you’re going to learn is going to center around not being terrified and not killing yourself every time you climb aboard. Buy a small, friendly bike like the Ace and you’ll actually learn riding skills like threshold braking, sliding the rear tire, getting the most out of an engine and trying hard in corners that you can then scale to something larger. Start on the Ace, find someone picking up a sportsbike as their first motorcycle around the same time then plan to meet them in two years to see who’s faster. It’ll be you. $2,895.

The Practical One: Yamaha TMAX

Want a bike for more than just getting speeding tickets on Sundays? The TMAX combines the speed of a motorcycle, the ability to cut through traffic and park easily with a car-like ability to actually buy stuff at the store, then bring it home with you. It’ll do that while returning 47mpg and you’ll be able to hit 110+ mph on your way home from Kroger.

Seriously, you can get some pretty good speed out of the 43bhp, 34lb/ft parallel-twin, which makes the TMAX something of a low key touring bike. The riding position is akin to sitting in a lounge chair, the seat is huge and cushy for rider and passenger and the huge screen keeps the weather completely off you. You can even cross your legs while your ride it.

You’re not going to have the kind of performance that’s going to see you keeping up with sportsbike riders on idyllic mountain roads, but around a wet, potholed corner on cold tires? Just try to steer to the inside of their lowside.

As an extra bonus, the ego-free scooter attitude, low key colors and laid back riding position makes the TMAX appear way more stylish to the world outside bikes. $8,590.

The Dream: Hammarhead Jack Pine

Grant and I are in complete agreement. If fifteen large was burning a hole in either of our pockets, we’d get James Hammarhead to build us a Jack Pine. A custom based on a Triumph Scrambler has no right to be this fast, this fun or this good off-road, but somehow Hammarhead spins minimal changes into a major transformation.

Every second you spend on the Jack Pine you’re almost overwhelmed with awesome. Cruising around town? Try to remember everyone’s staring at the bike, not you. Ripping down a fire road? You’ll forget you’re on something that started life as style, not substance. Looking at it, you’ll have to pinch yourself to make sure its yours and not Steve McQueen’s. When I rode it for the first time last year I said it was a pure expression of two-wheeled perfection and that remains true today. Come on NY Lottery. $14,500, only one 2011 build left.

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