Below you will find my review of seven bikes or so based on test rides at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida during Bike Week 2021.
It has always been a pet peeve of mine to have to wade through some guy’s long-winded forward about his life and times before being able to get down to the "brass tacks" of a motorcycle review. So, in the interest of not playing into the likes of my own personal vexation, I will dispatch with all solipsistic overtones, and commence said reviews at once.
I would like to point out, however, the perspective with which these reviews have been formulated. I am a forty-four-year- old man who is modestly overweight (I prefer to go with "pudgy"), 5'8" tall, and who has about twenty-five years of experience with many different types of bikes from cruisers to adventure bikes, to sport-nakeds. I tend to like to ride fast, but I am no track rider and no “Street Rossi”. These bikes were all demos, so the conditions were not great for extracting the last morsel of the bikes' capabilities. I only had the opportunity to ride them once around a handful of miles, and in most cases with a pace-making escort. In the case of the bikes that they allowed a solo demo of the conditions were still restricted to low-speed roads with very few real curvy parts.
So... without further adieu, and in the order that I tested them...
2021 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 SX:
“Baggable” (you can get OEM hard bags for it)
Modern TFT display
Does Kawasaki really have to make 900 Ninja models?
When I first saw the Ninja 1000 I didn’t know what to make of it. I wasn’t sure I liked the looks, and honestly, I was wondering why it had to have bags. It seems like Kawasaki has a hundred “Baggable” models. It’s almost like they give up on their brain-storming sessions for something new, and just decide to throw the bags on so they can get out the door by 5:00 pm.
Anyway, I decided to try it because I accidentally mistook it for the Versys 1000 on the sign-up screen. It said “1000 SX” which I thought was “1000 sport-touring”... which I guess it actually is, but I thought that was the Versys, which actually is an adventure bike... I think. Does that make any sense?
Right from the get-go I really liked this bike. I found the seating position to be incredibly comfortable, which defies its sportbike looks. The handlebars are actually mounted quite high, and the footpegs are low and more mid-control than rear-set. The seat is soft and comfortable... I really felt like I could ride this thing forever.
Adding to the supple comfort of the thing, the motor is as smooth as a baby's bottom. Man, this thing just slips along without even the tiniest vibes in the foot or right grip (a feature of many Kawasakis is right grip vibration). Not only is the bike smooth, but it is quick! I wouldn't call it torquey, but it revs high and you wind up in that horsepower territory expeditiously... without having space or pace to open it up, I can tell that this thing will move if you have the opportunity to move it.
In tandem with the smooth motor comes a transmission that shifts like butter. I have yet to experience a better transmission than that of a Kawasaki, and this bike's trans exemplifies impeccable quality. The quick shifter up and down is also flawless, making the riding experience a real joy.
By the time I got off this bike, I looked back at it, and have to say that now I think it is pretty sexy. Funny how that works.
2022 "Inglorious" (I added that part) Indian Chief:
Modern TFT display
Looks (cause it is sexy)
Wishing it had a better motor and trans
Why on earth didn't they put the Challenger motor in this puppy?
So... As soon as I saw this thing I fell in love. Man is this thing a sexy beast. Polaris/Indian really nailed the lines on this thing, so I have to give them credit for that. I particularly like that matte green pictured above. They offer it in a whole bunch of different arrangements, and the different bar heights and seat configurations are interchangeable. Although the one I rode had an old-school analog display, they do offer this model with a very cool retro-styled modern TFT type speedo.
That is about where the fun ends for me. Once I got on the road with this thing, the love affair quickly depleted... you know, like when you let the air out of a fully inflated balloon and the thing flies all over the place until it inevitably winds up lying limp and used like a discarded prophylactic? Yeah, that's about right.
Where to begin... The bike handles fine, but very much as it looks. It won't win any awards, but you know what to expect on a bike like this. It handles like any Harley Softail.
Handles fine, but the motor and trans leave a lot to be desired. This thing is a slug. It takes every bit of throttle to make this thing want to move, and when you egg it on it feels like it is going to fall apart. It vibrates from here to Kingdom Come, and honestly sounds and feels like something is coming loose. My first impression was "bag of rocks". It gives the sensation that you are riding some kind of Flinstonian contraption developed with stones out of a riverbed by the lead technical neanderthal... add to that it feels as though the stones are falling out of the bag as the machine rolls down the street.
My amor quickly turned to aversion, and as I looked back on this once seemingly divine creation, all I could see was the ashes of what could have been.
I said before that I would not buy this bike unless you held Rexy-Boy (my dog) for ransom.
2021 Kawasaki Versys 650:
I test rode the Versys 650 only because the 1000 was not available to ride. This bike turned out to be exactly what I expected... a middle-of-the-road, no-frills, excellent "every-man" bike. Review complete.
Just kidding, but I might as well leave it there. This bike handles beautifully (like any taller adventure sprung bike would) tipping into the curves as one would expect. The motor and trans are smooth and predictable, but this thing is not getting out of anyone's way in a hurry.
The bike is really comfortable both in the seat and the seating position, and the shield blocked the wind very well for me at 5'8". Offhand, I don't know how much this bike is (lemme check... MSRP $8299), but what I was going to say was that it is probably a lot of bike for the money. For a measly $9K, you are getting quite a nice machine.
Having said that... this thing is the turtle to the Ninja 1000SX's rabbit. Man is this 650 motor slow. It revs to high hell just trying to think about sixty miles per hour, and you can forget about getting anywhere before anyone else. Add to that, there is no quick shifter mounted on this bike.... not that that is much of an issue with such an under-performing motor.
Look, it is what it is for the price. If you want to spend only $9K, and you don't want a sportbike (a little foreshadowing), then this is a good buy as an all-arounder.
I get the feeling that the 1000 version of the Versys would be right up my alley, but then you are basically doubling the price.
2021 Indian Challenger:
Store the whole kitchen
I am really not a "bagger" guy, but I can admit that they become more attractive to me as my age, my back, my knees, and my increasing fear of death begin to "age" me out of fast bikes. That would be why I decided to try the Challenger out.
First impressions were that I could do without the weird-looking front fairing. I always really liked the original Chieftain look, and the only bagger that I have seen to ditch the conservative bagger look that I liked before was the Yamaha Eluder. That bike looks pretty mean in my opinion. However, I am not so sure that looks mean a whole lot in the non-front-wheel-eating-non-custom bagger world. So, we can come back to that.
Just sitting on this bike makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The seat is supple... reminiscent of the beanbags my parents owned when everything in my house was tan, brown, or olive green (the 70's and early 80's for the youngsters). You just sink in there, and the seating position is so relaxed that I had to recall if I'd popped a Lunesta or not.
Everything is just right on this bike. Positioned and poised to eat miles like a 300 lb thirteen-year-old at the Great tri-County Cake Off and Pie Eat, all you need to know is where you need to go, then you'll be getting there in comfort and style. The infotainment system is comprehensive and beautiful to the eye... it has all kinds of features and do-dads, but even just the navigation aspect is big, beautiful, and just begs you to tap in a destination over the rainbow. The thing is touch-sensitive (even with gloves) and has Apple CAR PLAY!
As soon as I got this bike on the road I was siked! The bike handles surprisingly well for a giant boat-bike, and for once it is a stock American motorcycle with a bunch of torque. The motor is pretty smooth... some vibration, but it is a good v-twin style vibe that doesn't get in the way of a good time. I was pretty impressed with the get-up-and-go of this bike, even coming off of my 160 hp, 430 lb Ducati Monster 1200R. Why the hell didn't Indian put this motor in the new Chief?!
I am usually not a fan of forward controls because I am not tall, and always feel like I have to stretch my legs. however, the floorboards are long allowing for me to find a good, comfortable place for my feet at any given point. Even the transmission was far less clunky than the Chief and really didn't leave anything to be desired. I didn't get the opportunity to do any highway time, but I'm convinced that this thing would just chug along at 80-90 mph smooth as can be.
2021 Yamaha Nikken GT:
Novel- Not likely to have another one park next to you
Motor could be stronger
Old School B/W digital display
Not great for lane-splitting
Novel- the most oft heard comment is "Why?"
You might get made fun-of.
Your kid will definitely get made fun of if you pick him/her up from school on it
I've been wanting to test ride this bike (or should I say trike) ever since it came out in 2017. Every year it was at the Speedway for test riding, but I always arrived too late and all the slots (and there were a lot of them) were always filled up. Finally, yesterday I got my chance.
Now, I don't know what your first impressions were (are), but I have heard a lot of negativity based on the looks, and maybe on the why is it even necessary factor. Well, looks are subjective, and I will admit that it is an odd duck. Honestly, though in my most humble of opinions it looks better than most touring bikes and baggers, even if it is just because it has slanty eyes and looks a little mean. I know I'm going to catch a rash of shit for this, but do you really think the Indian Challenger, the Harley Road Glide, or the Gen 1 Triumph Rocket Three looks better than this? I don't!
Just as "Not Pretty" as the Niken: From the Left: Indian Challenger, Harley Road Glide, Gen1 Triumph Rocket 3
When you look at the Niken you can't see how the thing could handle like an actual motorcycle, but I had heard many times within other people's reviews that it did handle surprisingly like a regular motorcycle. Even with that in mind, I was surprised by how much it handled like an actual motorcycle, lol. Here's the thing, though... it does not handle like just any motorcycle, it handles like a very well-handling motorcycle. It handles like a tall adventure bike, but my feet were planted firmly on the ground when stopped. Actually, it reminded me a lot of my 2017 KTM 1290 Superduke GT. That bike would just dive into the curves because it was tall and light... the Niken really felt the same way. It feels extra nimble because it is so big, and there is so much real estate in your field of view... much like with a bagger. It feels like a bagger with superpowers. Of course, I was doing my best to test the lean on it, but I was definitely out-leaning the other guys on the test ride. Being able to lean something that looks this big really is a surreal experience.
The seat and seating position are very comfortable... upright with mid-controls... the most comfortable position for me. This is another bike that I felt like I could ride until the end of time. Another great aspect of the Niken is how confidence-inspiring it is in terms of stability. You quickly get the sense that there is a lot of contact with the ground but in a good way. It is not stifling in any way... it just makes you feel like you are not going anywhere (in terms of falling over), especially at low speeds (like navigating a parking lot).
I was really enjoying the bike from all angles including the relatively torquey in-line triple-cylinder engine... until I had the chance to get on it a little in higher gears. The low-end torque gives way to not a whole lot pretty fast when you want to get moving on the highway. I really wish it had some bigger balls (excuse me...ahem... I mean "Unisex genitalia of distinguished proportion").
Another small disappointment was the old-school black and white digital display. It really doesn't make any sense to me that they didn't use a color TFT when the thing came out in 2017. Actually, though, Yamaha has been pretty slow to get on the TFT bandwagon... not just with this bike. Maybe it is a cost thing... maybe they are just lame. I don't Know.
All that being said, I love this bike. Say what you will about it, you will not hurt my feelings. The thing is and does what it was designed to be and do. I would love to take this thing on a long trip through rain and grime knowing that I had those killer contact patches below me. I feel like you could ride this thing just as aggressively in the rain as you could in the dry... which reminds me... why the hell didn't they put an MT-10 motor in this sucker! It would be an epic R.O.U.S. (Ride of Unusual Size... yes, that's a Princess Bride reference)!
I have to give Yamaha some credit for thinking out-of-the-box and going out-on-a-limb to try to deliver something new. A lot of us bemoan the fact that it is always business as usual, and there is not enough "new stuff" ever on the market. Then when something new comes along it is met with a ton of criticism from those who don't give it a chance. Maybe take a walk on the wild side and give it a whirl. You might be surprised.
Anyway, they say you can get them for a steal because people don't want them. I might just start stalking Cycletrader.
Niken Cockpit view.
2021 Kawasaki ZX 600R
Green and sexy
Reminds you of muscles you didn't know you had
Great for lane-splitting
Built for virile young people
Reminds you of muscles you didn't know you had
Motor could be stronger
Old School B/W digital display
Great for lane-splitting
Built for virile young people
Then there is the 2021 Kawasaki Ninja ZX 600R. Yet another Ninja, but in terms of its lineage, one of the first Ninjas.
The only reason I test rode this beasty was because I wanted to get a sense of what I got myself into (position-wise) when I ordered my still-yet-to-arrive 2021 Kawasaki Ninja H2. I ordered the thing back in November and as of today it still has not shown up. This is not a surprise... I was told to expect it in March/April when I put down the deposit. Anyway, being the venerable, broken 44-year-old man that I am, I have been questioning whether or not I made a bad decision buying a full-on sportbike at my age and condition. My original feeling was that I have two other bikes that I can ride (that are more comfortable), so I don't need to rely on being able to put too many miles on a sportbike at a time. So, I would just use the H2 to blast around and have fun, then use one of the other two bikes when I want to do longer rides. So... that got me to try this 600R.
If you have never ridden a sportbike, lemme tell you... it is a horse of a different color. The bars are low (clipped onto the forks below the top triple tree), very low, and the footpegs are high and rear-set. When you first get on the thing it immediately sets you into a position that suggests that you are about to do something very unreasonable. The position alone says: "Send it."
When you are settling into the riding position, it feels like this thing is going to be extremely uncomfortable. However, once you settle in a bit, it is not as bad as you would have thought. You wind up having to look through the top of your helmet's view field (which is a little weird), and your stomach rests on the gas tank (some stomachs "rest" more than others... mine rests snuggly). Then you start riding...
Immediately you understand, even slow speed that this thing handles really, really well. It is like a hair-trigger... every tiny bit of input into the bars creates an immediate, surgical response in the bike. Very nice... you start to roll the throttle open and the abrupt responsiveness of the high-revving motor signals that now you have flipped up the red safety cover to the switch of a weapon of mass destruction...
Unsurprisingly, this bike is fast. It is not torquey, but you rev so high so quickly that it doesn't really matter... you get up into high horsepower numbers in a flash... thus the thing moves, and it is fun. Again, it handles like a surgical scalpel, so well that I found it frustrating that other test riders wouldn't get out of my way to let me maximize the few curves that our route presented.
In terms of comfort, not many ticks in the pro column, but you would expect nothing else. I would say that it was not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. That being said... Where I expected my wrists to be the issue, I (thanks to the ache in my shoulders) actually found muscles that I didn't even know I had. The leg position is different... if having your knees so high that they are connected to your eyeballs feels good to you, then you will be comfortable on this bike.
I was actually pretty happy about this bike and my H2 on the way because even though it was not particularly comfortable, it was just a blast to ride... and not as uncomfortable as I had feared. I know that I won't be able to put nearly as many miles in a clip as a young athletic rider could, but I know I will have a lot of fun with the weaponized position and unapologetic power of a bike built for total domination. If you like fast, a bike like this has its place in the stable for sure.
2021 BMW R 18:
Low maintenance shaft drive
Comfortable seating position
Seat not comfortable
Only torque-no top end
This bike made some waves when it came out advertising its monster 1800 cc two-cylinder boxer engine with 116 ft-lbs of torque. People seemed to be really excited by the motor and the sexy retro-styling. I'll say that while I find the modern cruiser look more attractive (love the 2021 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and the look of the 2022 Indian Chief), I see why this bike is sexy. Something about the long flowing lines and the copious use of black makes me happy.
The first impression when I sat on the bike was that the seat is not comfortable... to my surprise. It felt like my 2010 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide seat... which was not comfortable. Not a big deal, though... you know there will be a robust aftermarket for this bike if there isn't already. By contrast, the seating position is quite comfortable. Upright seating, the bars in the perfect spot, and again mid-controls... just like I like them. Upon rolling off, I found that my foot hit the bottom of the cylinders (this continued to happen throughout the ride) when trying to relocate them onto the pegs.
The bike feels heavy from the get, which I did not find surprising. Interestingly, when you rev the bike in neutral, it lurches to the left. This sort of foreshadows the weight and feel to come.
As stated, the bike feels heavy, but it is low to the ground. The low center of gravity makes it easy to manipulate regardless of its girth, and as you progress you start to feel the big smooth motor happily and gently send you off into a gallop. There is a fair amount of torque down low, but honestly, it does not feel like what I would think 116 ft-lbs should feel like. I imagine that the 761 lbs of the thing and the power loss via shaft drive keep their boots firmly planted on that three-figure torque spec pretty readily. All of the power stays down low, and once you start to try to roll on some power, the motor starts to vibrate in a big way. There is a ton of tooth-rattling buzz at anything above 2800 rpm, so merging onto the highway is like merging a jack-hammer into traffic... enough vibes to cause vibration-induced neurological disorders.
Once up to speed on the highway, though and the bike settles into a steady "gullump", and I can see how you could soak up many miles in peace and comfort (if you changed the seat).
Many people comment about how they would "scrape the jugs", but I made it a point to try to lean the bike pretty low, and I was not able to scratch anything. Now, again I am no Marc Marquez, but I'm pretty sure an accidental scuff from a lean too low is out-of-the-question.
There's not a whole lot more to say about this bike... it is pretty basic. If you like the retro-cruiser thing, then there should be nothing stopping you from picking one up unless the $17k-$20K price tag bothers you. The low maintenance of the shaft drive is a win for anything that doesn't expect to get the most from the "at the crank" power specs.
I would expect to start to see a lot of these on the road with all kinds of personal modifications.
R 18 Cockpit view
2020 Slingshot Automatic:
Has a cup holder
You can look at the passenger while talking to him/her