If you're stuck in a cold climate, you can probably only dream about riding a motorcycle right now. But the days are getting longer, and the snow can't last forever. Some hot soup for the soul in the form of new models on deck for 2011:
In the category of entry-level or first-time-rider sport bikes, the Kawasaki Ninja 250 hasn't had much real competition.
Honda is releasing a 250cc version of its CBR with the styling, handling and acceleration of a true sport bike.
The CBR250R will feature a high-rev (10,500 rpm redline) four-valve cylinder head, high compression and computer-controlled fuel injection netting 26 horsepower at 8,500 rpm.
The suspension is set up for sport riding, with 37mm adjustable front forks and Honda's Pro-Link monotube rear end with five adjustable preload settings. Even an anti-lock braking system will be available.
The bike weighs only 359 pounds — ideal for first-time riders and perfect for weaving along the S's or through crowded urban traffic. It's super-affordable and gets better gas mileage than a Prius hybrid.
• Expected MSRP: $3,999.
The margins are razor-thin on the track — and in street versions of the bikes you see on the track. The difference between first and second often comes down to a few pounds, a handful of horsepower, or a slightly better chassis that lets you push into a corner a little harder and power out of it a bit quicker.
That edge has made Suzuki's GSX-R the dominant bike in its class, and the updates to the 2011 model should help it keep its crown. The new bike has the highest power-to-weight ratio of any middleweight supersport, as well as new MotoGP radial-mount Brembo monoblock brake calipers and newly designed front forks — all of it hanging on a lighter, stronger frame and slightly shorter wheelbase.
But the bob job didn't alter the length of the swingarm, which could affect stability during corner exits. Another big update for 2011 is the new ramp and cam slipper clutch system. Suzuki engineers say this reduces the pressure on the clutch during sudden deceleration/throttle lift, which should increase clutch life and reliability even under the extremes of weekend track days.
Finally, the new bike gets better gas mileage by about 10 percent even though it's faster and more powerful than the previous version thanks to weight reduction and increased efficiency.
• MSRP: $11,599.
Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200X
With Buell now defunct, Harley is back in the business of building American-made sport bikes. Or sort-of sporty bikes, at least.
The XR1200X is no GSXR, but it is pretty sporty for a Harley. In addition to the blacked-out cosmetics, including black powder-coated pipes and engine cases, the XR1200X has an adjustable suspension, Showa Big Piston inverted front forks, fairly aggressive Dunlop tires, crossed drilled rotors and a riding posture that's a bit less relaxed and more forward-facing than the typical Hog's.
The pegs are up higher for more cornering clearance, and your knees hug the tank instead of straddling it. The power source is a 73-cubic-inch Evolution twin sitting on rubber mounts to isolate the vibes.
Yes, it's still big, and fairly heavy at 573 pounds. But it's a more agile and action-oriented bike than a traditional Harley, making it a good in-between choice for someone who wants the Milwaukee Experience but also wants a bike that can at least try to keep up with the Tokyo Expresses. Choose Black Denim or Hot Denim color schemes.
• MSRP: $11,799.
Choppers are great if you can afford to pay a custom shop or you can do the work yourself. But how about a factory-engineered, fully warranted and affordable chopper? One that has perfect welds and perfect paint, rides right — and starts every time?
That's the new Sabre, a factory custom with teardrop tank, extended front forks, a chopper-style solo gunfighter seat and a hardtail-looking rear end (though it has a full suspension).
Cradled in the exposed tube-steel frame is the bike's centerpiece: 1,300 cc's of fuel-injected V-twin muscle. Lean back, twist the throttle and smoke that fat 15-inch rear tire.
• MSRP: $11,899.
Harley-Davidson Rocker C
Hogs are known and loved for being rolling Wurlitzers — big, bagged and laden with bells and whistles. The Rocker C is a Harley like they used to make them: just the bike in all its mechanical glory — no bags, but as much attitude as you can carry on two wheels.
It starts up front with the chopper-style raked forks, set at 37 degrees. Wheelbase is a stretched-out 69.2 inches. Between the front forks is a skinny 19-inch rim shod with a 90-90 Dunlop tire, a nice counterpoint to the fat 240/40R-18 Dunlop squatting out back. Between your legs is the heart of the matter: 96 cubic inches of twin-cam 96BTM V-twin, tied to a six-speed Harley Cruise Drive transmission.
• MSRP: $19,499.
Triumph Thunderbird Storm
If the Speed Triple "naked" sport bike and the Thunderbird got together and mated, the result might look like the new Thunderbird Storm. This bike blends the bare-knuckled, pared-down aggressiveness of the Triple with the more relaxed ergonomics (flat handlebars, low seat and fairly far-forward pegs) of the standard T-bird.
Power (97 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque) comes from a 1700cc version of Triumph's famous parallel twin, tuned for low to midrange thrust. The tank-mounted speedo houses twin trip meters, fuel gauge and tachometer.
This bike comes in two shades of black: Phantom (shiny) or Matte (less shiny). Triumph offers about 100 factory accessories, including a two-up seat for a passenger.
• Estimated MSRP: $14,999.
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero
The ultimate Vulcan — the Vaquero, Spanish for "cowboy" — is a high-end luxury tourer with features that include electronic cruise control, factory GPS and premium audio with SiriusXM and WX satellite radio.
The high-output alternator (46.8 amps) is liquid-cooled to handle the extra load of accessories, such as add-on lights, comm systems and heated riding suits.
For long-haul comfort, the bike has a heel-toe shifter and integrated running boards.
The short turning radius and easy steering make the bike very manageable at low speeds despite its 835-pound curb weight. Fifth and sixth gear are overdrives, designed to keep the 1700cc V-twin's revs down and enhance comfort on all-day rides. Style-wise, the single round headlight gives the bike a retro touch, the chopped windscreen a muscle bike's flair.
• MSRP: $16,499.
Victory Vision Tour
A major update for all 2011 Victory models is a new engine — the 106/6 V-twin replacing the 100/6 V-twin. Two versions will be offered: Stage 1 (standard in cruisers) rated at 92 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque; and Stage 2 (in touring models such as the Vision) with a hotter cam package that pumps up the output to 97 horsepower and 113 pound-feet of torque.
With the new engine comes a new six-speed transmission, featuring what Victory calls "Neutral Assist" to make it easier to get the box into neutral. An anti-lock braking system is now standard, and there are a number of significant tweaks, including redesigned handlebars, a newly designed floorboard shifter and easier-opening saddlebags.
The elegant bike has an electrically adjustable windscreen, heated seats (including passenger) and grips — as well as practical features such as almost three gallons of total storage capacity and a low 26.5-inch seat height.
• Estimated MSRP: $25,000.
The Europeans will get this new SuperMoto 1200 before we do, but it'll be worth the wait. Among the highlights: 130 horsepower from the Aprilia DOHC "V2" twin, controlled by a ride-by-wire computer with three rider-adjustable settings — Sport, Touring and Rain, the latter with max power cut to 100 horsepower and softer throttle roll-on to reduce or even eliminate wheelspin on slick surfaces.
The bike's suspension features Sachs inverted and fully adjustable front forks, with a "piggyback" Sachs coil-over monotube out back — also adjustable for compression, rebound damping and pre-load. An ultra-lightweight tubular aluminum bar imparts super-quick steering inputs.
Like other SuperMoto bikes, the Dorsoduro is compact, narrow and built for hooliganism. The few concessions to street manners include a hanky-sized windscreen, a low fuel light — and a place to bolt on a license plate.
• MSRP: $11,999.
KTM 250 and 350 XC-F
These two are dedicated off-road versions of KTM's popular SX series four-stroke dual sports — one 250cc, the other a 350 — with several key modifications to make them more than just SXs with off-road knobbies and a high-mount front fender.
For example, both bikes feature a larger 2.5-gallon tank — nearly a half-gallon more than the SX — which means more range and less chance of getting stuck in the woods because you ran out of juice. Another obvious change is the 18-inch rear tire — and also the lightweight kickstand — but if you dig a little deeper, you'll discover other less visible but equally important differences such as the wider ratios in the six-speed gearbox, set up for low-speed technical stuff, as well as scrambling.
The engine is similar to the SX engine, but it's very much up to date, with electronic fuel injection and electric start, plus a backup kicker just in case. The EFI system has adjustable map, but you need an accessory switch to change settings.
• MSRP: $7,999.
Triumph Tiger 800 XC
Most dual sports that are decent on trails are too small and too underpowered for extended on-road rides — and most on-road bikes are too big, too heavy and too clumsy for anything more treacherous than gravel driveways.
Bikes such as the Tiger 800 XC give you the best of both worlds. On the street, the 94-horsepower, 800cc triple has plenty of power for multiday highway trips, and if you see a dirt path that looks enticing along the way, the 21-inch front tire, 17-inch rear tire and long-travel suspension are up to the challenge.
Compared to the standard Tiger 800, the XC ("cross country") also has a driver-selectable anti-lock braking system — an off-road essential — as well as a shorter 34-inch handlebar with brush guards.
A cool feature is the bike's adjustable seat height, which can be notched down to 32.2 inches or raised up to 34 inches. It's also a deal compared with its most obvious competitor, the BMW F800 GS, which starts at $11,395.
• MSRP: $10,999.