My Prediction for 2020’s Motorcycle of the Year


2020 Motorcycle of the year

What Is the Best New Bike?

Looking over the long list of new or updated motorcycles for 2020, I have to say that there are some truly killer machines out there this year. There are far more new or updated models than I originally thought, and there are standouts in each segment of the motorcycle market. 

With that said, there will inevitably be ones that rise to the top and likely one that stands out far more than any other motorcycles made new this year. I wanted to take a moment to really do a deeper look at the new, most-notable models and then make a prediction as to what will be the motorcycle of the year—or the standout model.

It’s proved harder than I expected, and after pouring over the information on these bikes, I think I have my answer. Before I discuss the bike I’ve selected, however, I wanted to go through my thought process and show you just how I’ve landed at my decision. Let’s take a closer look at the new motorcycles for 2020. 

The Most Notable New Motorcycles in 2020

Across every segment of the market, there are new bikes. New sportbikes, cruisers, adventure motorcycles, dual-sport machines, naked bikes, and even new scooters (which I haven’t included because there aren’t really any amazing new standouts that have a chance of winning). Here’s a look at the most notable models in each category. 

Cruisers

2020 Triumph Rocket 3 R / Rocket 3 GT

The cruiser market might not seem like the hottest bike category right now, but it’s still a huge market. According to Statistica, Harley-Davidson sold 125,960 motorcycles in the U.S. alone. If you take into account all of the cruisers sold in the segment from other manufacturers and around the world, you have a very large number of bikes. 

Because this segment is so important, there have been some notable additions to it, and companies invest a lot of time, effort, and money here. Harley had several new bikes come out this year, including the Softail Standard, Low Rider S, Road Glide Limited, and CVO Limited

Non-Harley cruisers new for 2020 include the impressive Indian Challenger, Indian Scout Bobber Twenty, Triumph Rocket 3, Arch KRGT-1, and the various updates to models from Suzuki, Yamaha, Honda, and others. 

Of all these bikes, the Triumph Rocket 3 seems to have caused the biggest stir, and it’s quite possibly the most impressive of the bikes mentioned here. 

Sportbikes

Ducati Panigale V2

Sportbikes are all about going fast and pushing the envelope both on the street and on the track. This year’s crop of sportbikes is extremely impressive. These motorcycles keep getting more and more advanced and shocking. You’re looking at over 200 hp and 200 mph in the most impressive bikes. 

There’s also been a move to bring some excellent middle-weight players into the industry that are as sharp as a scalpel. These bikes are designed to help lower the barrier of entry to amazing speed, power, and overall performance. In short, there’s never been a better time to drag a knee. 

Bike manufacturers from Aprilia and Ducati to Kawasaki and Suzuki have all upped their game for 2020. Some of the models that had been rumored for years finally saw the light of day and are now or will be soon hitting showrooms and streets near you. Notable bikes in this segment include the Suzuki Katana, Ducati Panigale V2, Aprilia RS 660, and KTM 1290 Super Duke R

While the Ducati Panigale V2 and the Aprilia RS 660 are obvious standouts here as they bring something truly new to their respective lineups, I have to say that the Suzuki Katana seems to have piqued a lot of interest. It might not be the most impressive, fastest sportbike of all time, but it’s a worthy successor to the Katana name, and it brings a level of performance and style that is hard to overlook. 

Naked Bikes

mv agusta rush 1000

The term naked bikes is a pretty broad descriptor. They can be anything without a fairing that isn’t a dual-sport or adventure bike. You’ll find sporty motorcycles here, standard bikes, and some that are somewhere in between. This unique and diverse segment of the market is one with some true winners. 

There are some models that just received updates for 2020 and then brand-spanking-new models. The updated bikes, like the Triumph Street Triple RS, are worth noting, but it’s the totally new models in this segment that should really get you going. 

Yamaha’s MT-03 springs to mind—the rest of the MT lineup is also quite good. MV Agusta revealed the Rush 1000, which will make you want to sell everything you own so you can buy it. But the bike that stands out easily in this segment is the Ducati Streetfighter V4. It’s a wild machine, and one that’s hard to forget. 

Dual Sports and Dirt Bikes

kawaskai KLX230

Dual sport and dirt bikes are often overshadowed by the more roadgoing adventure bikes in the general motorcycle discussion, but they really offer something dramatically different from what adventure bikes do. These machines are smaller, more agile, and more off-road-ready in general. They’re some of the toughest machines out there, and usually, a bit more rudimentary when it comes to technology. 

The reason for that is they get beat on, and riders need something they can easily fix. Also, off-road performance is more about toughness, torque, and rider skill, whereas on the road certain rider aids can be implemented to take responsibility away from the rider. 

While a lot of bike manufacturers appear to be focusing their efforts on adventure bikes of various sizes, there are still some serious gains being made in this segment. New notable bikes include the Yamaha WR250F and YZ125X, and the Kawasaki KLX300R, KLX230, and KLX230R. KTM had some good Enduro models come out, too. 

The KLX230 dual-sport is the bike that stands out the most to me. Kawasaki gave the motorcycle a more modern engine and excellent performance overall. Pair that with it being ready to take on pretty much any off-road environment and you have a real winner. 

Adventure Bikes

triumph tiger 900

Adventure bikes are hot right now. It seems that every manufacturer has at least one, and they all seem to be adding different displacements both at the high end and low end. Small displacement adventure bikes are an interesting part of the market right now, but the further variation at the top end of the displacement spectrum is also pretty common. 

Basically, there’s an adventure bike for everyone. These motorcycles are good on the street and good off-road. They’re the SUVs of the motorcycle industry and people love a machine that can do everything. These are you swiss army knives of the industry, and if you plan on taking on multiple types of terrain as well as doing a tour or two, they’re a good choice. 

Key players here that have come out or been updated in 2020 including the Honda Africa Twin, Yamaha Tenere and Super Tenere, Suzuki’s various V-Strom models, Triumph’s Tigers, MotoGuzzi V85 TT Travel, and KTM’s Adventure models in various displacements. 

Of all the new adventure motorcycles out there, I hear the most noise about the KTM 390 Adventure. Folks seem pretty interested in it, and I love a good small-displacement motorcycle. If I had to go with any of the options, though, the MotoGuzzi V85 TT Travel is the bike that I feel drawn to. It has a classic style to it but modern technology and engineering, and there’s something special about the Guzzi’s V-twin engine with a longitudinal crankshaft. 

Retro-Style Motorcycles

kawasaki w800

The retro-styled motorcycle scene continues to be an important part of the modern-day motorcycle market. The formula for one of these bikes is simple. Take classic styling inspired by bikes of yesteryear and then pack a modern engine and some modern features on the bike. Folks love the classic styling and the modern motorcycle technology makes these bikes easier to own and ride than older motorcycles. 

Some are more modern than others, and some look more modern than they actually are. The bottom line is that these machines offer you the best of the past and the best of the present in one machine. 

Yamaha updated its lineup with a couple of new XSR models. Moto Guzzi has some new variations of its V7 motorcycle. Triumph revamped its Thruxton. Last but not least for the notable additions to this segment, Kawasaki added the W800. You could also toss in some cruisers here, too, but I’ll abstain from that so as to not muddy the waters. 

There will be some new retro-inspired models coming in 2021 that are a bit more interesting than this year’s crop. Of the bikes that came out this year, the Kawasaki W800 is the most compelling. It’s a good bike of reasonable displacement that comes in at a good price, though if I were to consider buying a retro-inspired machine right now, I think I’d lean towards the Royal Enfield INT650 that came out in 2019. 

Electric Motorcycles

energica eva ribelle

I thought 2019 was going to be a big year for electric motorcycles, and it was, but a lot of the bikes and technology announced in 2019 will really hit in 2020. Harley’s LiveWire landed in dealerships, Zero’s SR/F became available, Energica’s selling more motorcycles than ever before, and companies like Cake have also started taking off. 

Electric scooters are also more popular and becoming a bigger force in the market. Electric scooters will likely become more and more important in the coming months and years. This year it’s all about a few notable players that are on the market right now. 

First, the Harley LiveWire, which is extremely underwhelming. Second is the Energica Eva, which is the most advanced motorcycle the company has put out. Third, is the Zero SR/F. The SR/F is the one that stands out the most right now. 

The SR/F is an expensive bike, but it gives you a lot of the best things right now in terms of range, performance, and technology. Damon Motorcycles may soon challenge Zero, but until the Hypersport is widely available, the SR/F is the bike to get and the electric motorcycle that stands out the most. 

The Top 5 Standouts of 2020

So, now that I’ve gone through all of the notable new models in every segment, it’s time to talk about the ones that stand out the most. You might think I’ve left too many good bikes out, but I’m trying to get down to just one, so I have to cut some very good motorcycles. With that said, let me introduce my top five. 

2020 Indian Challenger

Indian challenger

The 2020 Indian Challenger may seem like nothing more than Indian’s answer to Harley-Davidson, and the bike is, but it’s more than just an answer, it’s the answer. Harley has owned the cruiser segment for so long. Indian came along and started challenging the company, but the Challenger—apt name huh?—is the true real deal. It is a bike that takes it to Harley in a way that its other bikes haven’t. 

The Challenger is a defining motorcycle in my eyes. It solidifies the claim that Indian isn’t just an also-ran. The company beat Harley at its own game with this bike and hopefully smacked some sense into the HD designers and business people who still have their heads up their asses and their minds in the past. 

The motorcycle features a Harley Road Glide bitch-slapping engine, brakes, handling, and ride. The engine is the liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 108 cubic-inch V-twin that makes 122 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. Cycle World and Motorcycle.com both said that the Indian Challenger is the better bike, and their not the only ones. From everything I can tell, I have to agree with them. Go Indian.

2020 Zero SR/F

zero sr/f

Another company that put Harley-Davidson in its place this year was Zero Motorcycles when it released the 2020 Zero SR/F. The SR/F offered better performance than Harley’s LiveWire for a fraction of the price. 

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers for this motorcycle. You’re getting 110 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque from the electric motor. A top speed of 124 mph. Between 109 and 123 miles per charge, and the possibility of 200 miles per charge with a range extender. The battery can also get to 95 percent in as little as an hour with the right charger. 

The Zero SR/F also has one of the most advanced infotainment systems on any motorcycle. The bike’s connected features are focused on the following areas: bike status, charging, ride data, and system upgrades and updates. You get a five-inch TFT LCD display that gives you access to navigation, ride modes, cruise control, and more. You can also see certain information via the Zero app and monitor charge times, security, bike location, etc. It’s not just electric, it’s technologically advanced.

Now for the part that really puts Harley in its place, the price. The Zero SR/F starts at $19,495. The Premium version of the bike starts at $21,495. That’s considerably less than the HD LiveWire, which is $30k. All-told, the SR/F is a fantastic motorcycle if you have the means and want to ride an electric bike. 

2020 Triumph Rocket 3

triumph rocket 3

Muscle cruisers have a new king, and that king hails from the UK. The Triumph Rocket 3 is a force to be reckoned with. It’s a rough-and-tumble middle finger to anyone who thinks cruisers have to look a certain way and have a certain kind of performance. 

The Rocket 3 comes in either R or GT forms. The R is the sportier of the two with lower handlebars and few touring accouterments, and the GT is the power cruiser touring machine. It’s for two-up riding and gobbling up miles like a hungry high-powered hippo, that’s actually quite quick on its feet. 

The motorcycle has the world’s largest three-cylinder engine in a production motorcycle at 2,458cc. It makes a whopping 165 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque. Pair that with the fact that the new Rocket 3 is lighter weight than its predecessor and you have a recipe for a bike that will put a stupid grin on your face. 

The motorcycle managed to do a 0-60 mph sprint in just 2.73 seconds, which is a new Triumph production motorcycle record. The bike is about more than straight-line speed, though. While it’s not as agile as a sportbike, the motorcycle can handle the twists and turns of the road and it’s the best Rocket 3 that Triumph has ever produced. It’s also one of the best power cruisers ever made. 

2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4

ducati streetfighter V4

The Ducati Streetfighter V4 is essentially a Panigale without its clothes on looking very pissed off. This fearsome and aggressive motorcycle is unlike most other bikes out there. It has attitude for days and the high-powered performance to back up the claims of its sharp exterior. 

It’s the bike that famed rider Carlin Dunne rode to his death at Pike Peak International Hillclimb. If he hadn’t crashed and moved on to that great racetrack in the sky, he would have set a new Hillclimb record. 

The motorcycle features a 1,103cc Desmosedici Stradale V4 engine, the same as is in the Panigale but retuned for the Streetfighter’s purposes. The engine makes 208 hp and 90 lb-ft of torque. It has a top speed of 168 mph and has a long list of electronic rider aids to mitigate issues that accompany going wicked fast on a bike both on the track and off. 

Ducati sells the Streetfighter in V4 form and V4S. If you’re after the best Streetfighter you can get with the best brakes, wheels, tires, suspension, and all the track-focused equipment you can hope for, then the V4S is for you. 

2020 Suzuki Katana

suzuki katana

More of a standard than a hardcore sportbike, the new Suzuki Katana does a lot of things right. It has a good engine pulled from the GSX-S1000 but reworked slightly for this bike. Pair that with some unique styling, comfortable ride, and excellent chassis and you have a very good literbike. 

The Katana is definitely designed as a style icon, but don’t think that it doesn’t deliver everywhere else. Motorcyclist Magazine and Visordown both referenced the overall smoothness of the machine in their reviews and that seems to be the name of the game here. It’s a bike you can take out and enjoy everything about. It’ll catch people’s attention and allow you to really get after it in the corners, but it’s not as hardcore as some other sportbikes that it may be compared to. 

When it comes to the engine, you’re looking at a 999cc four-cylinder engine that’s fuel-injected and makes 147 hp and 80 lb-ft of torque. Suzuki paid special attention to the throttle response and made sure the bike responds quickly. This lends new character to the somewhat older engine. The Katana may still have some rider technology like traction control and ride modes that are behind the competition, but otherwise, this is one impressive motorcycle. 

The Winner

2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4

ducati streetfighter v4

It’s the fact that it’s just a little weird, the fact that Carlin Dunne’s life ended while riding the prototype, and because this bike is freaking awesome. The Ducati Streetfighter V4 is the one that stands out to me as the best motorcycle of 2020, and I predict it will be one of the most awarded and loved bikes of this year and for years to come. 

The bike has already won some awards, including the “Most Beautiful Bike” honor at EICMA. I think saying it’s beautiful is a bit of a stretch, but this machine certainly has presence, and its performance is impressive. Ducati was able to take the Panigale platform and transform it into a motorcycle that is wholly different but still has a lot of the Panigale’s charms. 

There are many great motorcycles that have come out this year, but the Streetfighter V4 stands out from all of them as a motorcycle that’s most likely to be plastered up on a kid’s bedroom wall … or maybe set as the background of his or her smartphone. It’s a wild-looking thing with performance to match, and the fact that it’s such a unique bike makes it special above all of the other motorcycles that came out this year. 

3 Comments

  1. Christopher E Johnson
    May 4, 2020
    Reply

    Is it just me, or is the Indian Challenger starting to look a lot like a Victory? I consider that a good thing. The Cross-Country was the touring cruiser I most coveted for its performance, agility, and functional style.
    I agree with your take on the KLX230 – fuel injection is a game changer in the small dual-sport field and Kawasaki is the first to make it affordable. I’d like to see Kawi make the KLX300 street-legal next, or roll out a KLX350 dual-sport.
    I also share your interest in the Moto Guzzi V-85TT and the KTM 390 Adventure. But M-G has to address its limited dealer network if it wants to take sales of all its models to the next level, and KTM is missing the boat by not revealing an ‘R’ version of the 390.

    • May 4, 2020
      Reply

      Hey Christopher, I’m right there with you on a bigger displacement KLX. A 350 would be fantastic. Also, I agree with you on Moto Guzzi’s dealer network. It’s not as bad as it once was, but the company really needs to take things up a notch to really get its bikes out there.

    • Carlos Ferraro Chavez
      May 4, 2020
      Reply

      In a way, you are right. Polaris owns Victory and Indian. Victory was made to go dormant indefinately. The technology transfer went to Indian to improve that line up. So Victory in a way lives on in Indian.

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