People want to blabber on and on about how great some bikes are and indeed most of the time, yes all the motorcycles on their lists are absolutely wonderful specimens of motorcycle design and engineering. But Have you ever ridden a Vincent Black Shadow or a V8 Moto-Guzzi? How about a factory motocross or road racing bike? No? Good, me either. And very few of us ever will.
I cut my teeth on dirt bikes, wrenched in multi-line dealerships for years and have ridden just about every motorcycle in the real world. That and the fact that I own this website obviously qualifies me to put in my two cents on the subject. I approached the list with a lot of thought and based it on many criteria including: affordability, ease of maintenance, smile factor, reliability, and above all else, FUN. That is the one thing holding this entire list together. All these bikes are a hoot to ride and guaranteed to make you smile every time you ride them. I chose from as many categories of motorcycling as possible.
So, without further ado lets kick all those super expensive exotics out of the way and get down to the Top Ten Real World Motorcycles of All Time. For clarification, just consider all bikes on the list to be their most recent model year unless otherwise noted and that the numbers are just for listing, not a ranking.
1) Honda Super Hawk 996
This is arguably the most under rated street sport motorcycle of all time. Honda took a proven winner in the Ducati 996 and turned it into an every man’s motorcycle. Liquid cooling, wet clutch, service intervals that wouldn’t break the bank and typical Honda reliability and quality. They didn’t sell well and can be found cheaply which leads to the biggest complaint you find. People buy them cheap expecting cheap transportation and find that a 1000cc drinks gas and chews up rear tires. The people that make these complaints obviously have zero understanding that you don’t ride 1000s for economy, you ride them for FUN. And the Super Hawk 996 gives you a lot of fun and asks very little in return. Honorable Mention; Suzuki GSXR 750
2) Buell XB12 Lightning
Yup, a Buell. Why? Because they are a hoot to ride. The growls clatters and snarls these bikes put off make everyone on the sidewalk do a double take as you wheelie past with 100+HP worth of American muscle wrapped in a completely unorthodox chassis. Nothing feels like a Buell XB, some people say the 1125 and the race bikes are better, but I love the XB because you can get the bikes cheaply, the parts are everywhere and if you don’t like the sound, you are probably a terrorist. Honorable Mention; Kawasaki W650/800
3) Kawasaki KLR 650 (First Generation)
It doesn’t do anything particularly well yet it seems to do everything with minimal balking or modification. Heavy, simple, bulletproof. The KLR 650 is the AK47 of motorcycles. If you can purchase it and pick it up out of the dirt, its a no brainer to ride. When the smoke and ash of nuclear war clears up, all that will be left is cockroaches and KLRs. Hopefully there are some surviving bandits riding those KLRs avoiding zombie hordes as was the intention of the designers of the original KLR650. Honorable Mention; Suzuki DRZ400
4) Yamaha YZ250
I am a firm believer in keeping with tradition, and apparently so is Yamaha as they haven’t updated the venerable YZ in nearly a decade. But then again, why would they? The tooling is paid for and besides KTM and a couple of outlier companies, no one is competing for the 2 stroke 250cc MX market. And in the same breath, none of those other bikes are to the level of the YZ just yet. It has the best suspension available, the engine is powerful yet docile and the entire bike wears like iron. The few complaints people generally have are easily solved and they are everywhere, always ready to be bought and ridden and at home in any terrain. A true racers dirt bike. Honorable Mention; KTM 350XCF
5) Honda Goldwing
Nothing eats miles and is still docile on city streets like a Goldwing. While I freely admit that a couple BMW’s do everything the ‘Wing does and maybe more, they cost more to purchase and maintain and there isn’t a BMW dealer in every town across the country. The Goldwings are impressive on so many levels its hard to pick any one thing out. If you have never ridden one, go do it. Especially if all you ride is big Harley touring bikes. Honorable Mention; BMW RT1200
6) Honda XR 250/400/600
There is no denying the glory the old XR’s claim. Nothing else eats up the trail or desert without so much as a hiccup as they will. Feed them a steady diet of 87 octane, change the oil and air filters regularly and the mighty XR rewards you with reliability of an anvil. Every time I ride an XR I am reminded of a quote from Preston Petty that goes along the lines of “If they banned water cooling and power valves and all that to keep bikes simple and cheap, would we have less fun riding and racing?” I doubt it. Honorable Mention; KDX200/220
7) Kawasaki EX250 Ninja
One of the highest selling street motorcycles of the last 30 years the venerable EX250 is short on features and long on adaptability. You are just as likely to see these war horses on a race track as you are in the garage of a teenager or beginner rider. They are kind of like the XR of the street. Durable, docile, and cheap to own they reward your pushing with ever predictable handling that will make you smile. Who doesn’t like riding a bike that you can honestly push the limits of its engine at any time and feel like a hero when keeping up with bikes twice its size. Communists, that’s who. Honorable Mention; Yamaha YSR50
8) Honda Ruckus
Ubiquitous on college campuses across the USA the Ruckus doesn’t even qualify as a motorcycle really and barely counts as a “scooter” being that it lacks any real storage capacity. There are other scooters that are “better”, but nothing in recent times has made scooters more acceptable, accessible, and fun to ride as the Ruckus. The Ruckus’ big tires and stripped down look are down right utilitarian. The fact that the Ruckus is extremely simple to work on as well as cheap to purchase make the choice clear. Leave the engine stock, keep a fuel pump handy and grease the kick starter gears every now and then and the Ruckus will reward you with years of scooting fun. Honorable Mention; Honda Grom
9) Yamaha XV1700 Warrior
If you are into cruisers, specifically Power Cruisers, you have to look at the Warrior. In fact, I will go so far as to say that you should only look at the Warrior. Its bold, yet subtle muscular looks betray its downright nasty attitude on the street. In my opinion it is everything a cruiser meant for the city should be. Low slung seating, fire breathing engine, suspension and brakes right off the R1, and a virtual middle finger to every Harley bar racer in town as the Warrior does things a cruiser was never designed to do such as accelerate, turn and stop with authority. Add in that they are readily available and easy to maintain and its a winner. Honorable Mention; Harley Davidson V-Rod
10) Honda VFR 800/1200
These are bordering on the overpriced side in my opinion as not many people have pockets deep enough to plop down $17,000 for the new 1200 DCT model. But these are glorious motorcycles that pack in a ton of features and truly embody sport touring motorcycles. Comfortable enough for all day riding, handling that will never leave you in the dust in the twisties and the engines are fantastic. Just experiencing the VTEC “boost” is worth going for a test ride on the older models. With the newer models Honda gives you a glimpse into the future with its DCT system. The bikes are simply electric and much faster than you would think given their docile power in town. Honorable Mention; Suzuki V-Strom 1000
There are so many good bikes out, that it is hard to name them all. If you want to tell me that I am a fool or whole heartedly agree with my list, just comment below. I love hearing from readers!