Riders that stormed in 2005
MotorBikes: Review of the biking year: As the year ends, we look back at the highlights. Apart from a some 40 new machines road tested there have been some interesting developments (and non-developments).
AXA Insurance, working through the brokers AON, have taken over the dominant insurer position from Hibernian who have withdrawn from this market.
From the outset AXA have shown the first "joined up thinking" seen in motorcycle insurance terms for many a long day.
They give a substantial discount for machines designed and manufactured as single-seaters (monopostos).
In February they introduced a skills test, the outcome of which can earn the rider a discount. This is of huge significance especially to younger riders who can, in some cases, cut their insurance costs by over €1,000 pa. The test is also a requirement for those with no satisfactory track record if they seek cover on higher-powered machines. The hope is that by encouraging good safe-riding skill levels, premiums can be more realistic than in their predecessors free for all approach.
AXA and AON's decision to establish their own skills test came about, largely, thorough frustration with the Government's continued failure to introduce Compulsory Basic Training. Originally it was stated this could be established within six months.
Now, more than two years later the long awaited legislation has to go back to be amended to cater for the revised thinking to turn the emergent Driver Testing Standards Authority into a Road Safety Authority.
Meantime the Department of Transport, winners of this year's "non-development" award remain unable to keep the main stakeholders informed. They would be the envy of the CIA.
To date AXA invested over €5 million in nine road safety TV adverts, the latest of which, aimed at drink drivers, is by far the most powerful and hard-hitting of them all.
Back in the saddle and our bike tests have covered all sorts and sizes of machines. In a sense 2005 started on a very high note with the launch of BMW's all-new R 1200RT in Tenerife. BMW's RT sports tourers have long enjoyed an enviable reputation and a loyal following. The R1200RT surpasses all its predecessors by a substantial margin and, in our view, is the best sports tourer on the planet. It is unquestionably MotorBikes "Bike of the Year".
In the moped category we were impressed with the novel approach and cool looks of Honda's "Zoomer", fast becoming a cult machine in some markets.
In the ever-popular under 125cc scooter category, the Honda FES Pantheon stands head and shoulders above the rest. This machine doesn't realise it is a 125, it thinks it is at least a 250.
Severe competition in the big scooter sector between the Aprilia Atlantic 500 and the Gilera Nexus 500. Difficult to say which is the better one. With the Atlantic one sits in it more like in a car, whilst with the Nexus one sits on it more like a motorcycle. The Nexus is the 'sportier' in terms of handling, the Atlantic, whilst no mean performer is that bit more conservative.
In the general purpose, do-most-anything category, we were impressed with Aprilia's Caponord, Honda's XL 1000 Varadero and BMW's well-proven F650GS. Given that currently the F650GS is our main daily transport between test rides it is hard to be objective. All are thoroughly good machines.
When it comes to the Supersports category, we wonder just how much shattering performance can really be used by all save a handful of riders? Honda's CBR 900 RR, which for years and years has set a benchmark by which all others are judged, is every bit as impressive as one could expect. A serious newcomer, BMW's K 1200 S, went even one better, exceeding every expectation and proving to be a Supersports machine which is as comfortable as a sports-tourer.
It would be a dull year without the nostalgia element. This was satisfied by our test ride of the new Royal Enfield Bullet Electra, now a blend of modern engine in a seemingly ancient but subtly improved setting. A machine that combines 1960's charm with the ability to cope with modern conditions.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year, in a year of surprises, was the Hyosung Aquila GV650 cruiser. Inspired, if not downright copied from Harley-Davidson's times more expensive V-Rod, it proved to be the nicest cruiser style bike we have ridden in many a long year.
Lastly in the middlewight sports-tourer-commuter class, Kawasaki's new ER6n hugely impressed us. This 600 is well able to do 90 per cent of what 90 per cent of riders actually need and do it extremely well. We predict it will just walk off the showroom floor.
Next week we will be looking at the machines we have been promised for 2006 which looks set to be one of the really good years, with lots of new, innovative and exciting machines in the pipeline.