Changing the game: Neevesy's top 12 bikes of the last decade
With 2020 just days away, we wave farewell to another year and another decade of motorcycling excellence.
The past 10 years have seen some dramatic changes to the two-wheeled landscape; with the demise of iconic names like the Suzuki Hayabusa, the global introduction of electronic rider aids and the exponential growth in popularity of the retro and adventure bike scene.
To mark the occasion, we’ve tasked Chief Road Tester, Michael Neeves, to come up with his top 12 bikes of the past 10 years. Professionally riding and writing about bikes since 2002, Neevesy has ridden every major model released during the period; ranging from savage superbikes, to bonkers supernakeds and from bulbous baggers, to über-practical maxi scooters.
But, what have been his favourites? Find out below…
Neevesy's top-picks of the decade:
- 2010 BMW S1000RR
- 2011 Suzuki GSX-R750
- 2015 Honda RC213V-S
- 2015 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory
- 2017 BMW HP4 Race
- 2015 Yamaha R1
- 2020 Ducati Panigale V2
- 2019 Fantic Caballero 500
- 2017 Yamaha TMAX
- 2014 Yamaha MT-07
- 2014 BMW R nineT
- 2013 Ducati Hypermotard 821
I couldn’t help but think the Japanese had been cheating us all these years. I always thought their superbikes were brilliant and couldn’t possibly get any better, which is why they’d drip feed them slightly more power and tech for every spangly new model. But then the S1000RR came along and everything changed.
BMW proved that you could have a reliable, practical road-going superbike with 190-plus bhp, electronic rider aids, race-ready handling and niceties like heated grips and cruise control. They’d even sell you the bits you’d need to go racing and give you advice in set-up.
The S1000RR caught the Japanese napping and they didn’t catch up until 2015 when Yamaha released its updated R1, but BMW kept on developing the beast and now, with its clever ShiftCam motor, it’s blown the competition into the weeds again.
I was gutted when fellow road tester Trevor Franklin got to ride the original at its Portimao launch at the end of ’09, but since then I’ve more than made up for it. I rode the updated 2012 model at Almeria, the '14 HP4 at Jerez, the '15 at Monteblanco, the latest one at Portimao in March and ridden the RR in dozens of standalone tests and group tests. Next year will be my tenth consecutive season racing one.
The last of the pure sportsbike breed. Light, agile, involving and easy to squeeze every last ounce from, most riders would be faster and more at home (and enjoy themselves more) on a GSX-R750 than a heavier, more brutal superbike. We tested one at Nardo proving ground and it topped 180mph around its eight-mile bowl. Suzuki never updated it after 2011, which is a crying shame and now it’s gone, but never forgotten.
GSX-R750s have meant so much to me, with and without my MCN hat on. I had a GSX-R750J back in '88 when I was 18, which I raced briefly – so briefly I only made it part way through practice at Brands before high-siding at Clearways and breaking my ankle and little finger. It was then I realised that perhaps I wasn’t Kevin Schwantz, after all.
I rode the K6 at its launch at Phillip Island, the K8 at Guadix, L11 at Monteblanco and in squillions of tests in between, including running the ’08 and ’11 as MCN long termers - hammering UK tracks, the Nurburgring, Ibiza and Sardinia.
Based on the 'privateer' RCV1000R the RC213V-S really was the MotoGP racer with lights that Honda promised. Obscenely expensive, achingly exotic and with a spitting, blood-curdling V4 soundtrack to match, it’s genuinely unlike anything else out there – even Ducati’s 2006 Desmosedici RR.
In 160bhp standard trim the Honda was tame and almost VFR-ish, but with it 212bhp race kit it comes alive – light, stiff and angry, but with a surprisingly wide spread of friendly power. The huge irony with a bike this exotic is it’ll rarely be used as it was intended. Factory test riders and magazine road testers are probably the only people who get to rag them properly…apart from Bruce Ansty and Michael Rutter.
I was lucky enough to go on its press launch at Valencia, riding both standard and kitted versions, riding the track with Ron Haslam and being looked after by more HRC and Bridgestone engineers than a MotoGP star – very surreal. I also got to ride Bruce Anstey’s Padgetts’s RCV at Cadwell and Goodwood, as well as Kevin Wood’s road bike around the streets of Maidstone and the Route Napoleon, near Cannes, against an RC30, RC45 and NR750.
Due to an earthquake damaging the Honda factory just over 100 of the 213 RCVs planned were ever made, making them rarer than you know what.
2015 was a good year. There was the RC213V-S, R1 and the introduction of the best super naked of them all and one that hasn’t been challenged since (although the Ducati Streetfighter V4 and Kawasaki Z H2 could change all that in 2020): Aprilia’s Tuono V4.
Its wailing engine sounds incredible, there’s an excess of peachy power all through the revs, ride quality is velvety, and it has levels of front-end grip and feel a race bike would be proud of. Brakes are stunning, electronics perfect, it’ll wheelie forever and even has cruise control. It’s comfy on the road but will still barge its way to the front of a fast group on a trackday.
I’ve had a Tuono lob-on since I started with MCN in 2002, the same year the Tuono began production, so we go back a long way. We used to visit the factory in Noale to get first rides on the early twins, but since they’ve been run by Piaggio things are more formal and I’ve only got to ride the V4 versions at press launches, starting with the 1000cc 2011 original at Valencia.
Riding this year’s new Tuono V4 1100 Factory at its launch in the Dolomites was pretty special, trading wheelies with fellow journos, but my most memorable V4 road ride was to a sunny B500 in Germany a couple of years ago with a KTM 1290 Super Duke R, BMW S1000R and Yamaha MT-10SP – four of the most exciting bikes around, but the Aprilia was by far the biggest laugh.
It isn’t exactly a road bike, but you could buy one from a dealer if you had a spare £68,000 hidden down the back of the sofa. Only 750 were built and it featured the best of the best everything: a 215bhp superbike engine, electronics that pop and bang like a MotoGP bike, WSB spec Öhlins forks and Brembos, an underbraced aluminium Suter swingarm and a carbon fibre frame, wheels and bodywork.
It tipped the scales at 146kg dry (4kg lighter than a KTM 390 Duke), and just 171kg fuelled and ready to go. From the way it goes, stops, steers and sounds it feels every inch a factory superbike. I rode it at Estoril and Valencia, but what we always wanted to do was pitch it against the £72,000 carbon-everything Ducati 1299 Superleggera, but BMW never wanted to lend us one…
Yamaha were the first Japanese manufacturer to challenge the S1000RR, even if it took them five years to do it. Even now it’s the only non-European superbike to get close to the BMW on track in standard trim. Yes, I know things are different in racing, but in general it’s the team with the biggest checkbook that wins, which is why Kawasaki are dominant in WSB and Ducati are over here.
A brutally hard seat and low clip-ons made the 2015 R1 a pain to ride long distance on the road and its ABS robs braking power and feel at the limit, but it nosed ahead everywhere else with its 190bhp-plus crossplane motor, MotoGP-a-like chassis, colour dash and slide control.
Few superbikes are as easy to ride fast or make you look so good on track. Electronics are foolproof and thanks to its droning engine character, the Yamaha’s superpower is its ability to get from full lean apex to flat out exit kerb faster than anything out there.
I first saw it in the flesh at its Eastern Creek launch at the beginning of 2015 and its stocky, stubby looks still look fantastic, especially in race trim. After that it was a year of R1 heaven. We took it to Jerez where it beat the new Ducati 1199 Panigale and trounced its Japanese rivals. I also ran one as a long termer, riding it everywhere from Ibiza to Lydden Hill.
We recently rode the new version at Jerez, but despite its engine mods felt exactly the same as before…but it should be a different story when you lose its Euro5 pipe.
Last month I rode the new Panigale V2 at Jerez and hand on heart it’s so much better than the big Panigales, including the V4R I’ve tested there before. Ducati’s big cubed superbikes may have more power, but all the planets need to align to set a fast lap. You need fresh tyres, lots of fitness, even more skill and only then might you grind out one or two laps faster than the sweet V2 – after that you’ll be slower.
It’s basically Ducati’s GSX-R750 – that cliched mix of perfect power and handling. It might have grown close to 1000cc over the years, but remember it’s a twin, so it isn’t as brutal and tricky to ride as a big four-cylinder superbike. It flatters, rather than punishes and if you can get over the ego bit that it’s a 'little' Panigale, it’s the perfect sportsbike.
And now with its fabulous V4-aping clothes and single sided swingarm it’s no longer the poor relation to its big sister. It even comes with the full armful of electronics, but the Ducati has so much poise, sweet steering and mechanical grip you’ll rarely need any silicone help.
Nowadays most bikes are hyped to max and teased to the point of boredom, so when you actually plonk your behind on them and twist the throttle, they can be a disappointment. I wasn’t expecting much when I briefly rode the prototype Cabellero 500, near Fantic’s factory in Treviso, northern Italy last year – after all it had a Chinese engine and they’re rubbish, aren’t they?
But few bikes have surprised so much this decade (apart from the MT-07). Not only was the Fantic beautifully screwed together with lots of quality parts, it immediately reminds you why you love bikes in the first place. It isn’t that powerful, but it’s so light and free from any stodge it feels alive and beautifully raw, with a healthy appetite for slow, balance-point wheelies.
Riding the full production version this summer down at Fantic’s UK importers around the back of Howletts Zoo near Canterbury, it’s even more polished with perfect fuelling and an even crisper engine. Best of all it’s just over six grand and I’d have this over a more powerful, but heavier retro all day long. In fact for over a year I’ve been swaying between wanting to buy one or not. One day….
Most mock me for my love of scooters, but I love riding my 2017 TMAX (yes, I bought one and have done over 10,000 miles on it in two years) as much as any 'proper' bike. It’s fast and sharp handling enough to embarrass motorcycles down backroads and practical enough to ride through the winter and do my shopping on.
But most of all it’s cool and there’s nothing quite like the sense of freedom you get on a fast twist and go that doesn’t take life too seriously. Granted, big scoots don’t have a great reputation here, but in Spain, Italy and France they’re revered, which is why since its 2001 inception Yamaha has sold over 333,000 of them.
It came of age in 2017 when it sprouted cruise and traction control, heated grips and seat, an electric screen, riding modes and a centre stand lock. Add that to its upside down forks, radial brakes and ali twin spar frame and it’s a tourer, sportsbike and fun run-around all rolled into one.
One of that year’s highlights was a test between the TMAX, Honda X-ADV and BMW C650 Sport. We rode them to Paris, the spiritual home of the 'maxi scooter', thrashing down the motorways, scratching around the Peripherique and hammering sleepy back roads. Great fun.
It couldn’t have been more than 50 yards after leaving the hotel at the MT-07’s winter 2014 launch in Lanzarote that the first wheelie was pulled. Light, punchy, perfectly balanced and with lively, but linear power, it wasn’t the last by a long way. In fact the little Yamaha is still the best wheelie bike money can buy – not exactly what it was meant for, but happily it wasn’t bad on two wheels, either.
A year after the MT-09 had saved Yamaha, we thought the 74bhp 689cc parallel twin would be merely a cheap and cheerful side dish, but in fact they’d produced something equally well built with a smoother throttle than the bigger MT, a better sense of lightweight cheekiness and despite having bouncier suspension, much better balance in the corners, too.
All that and a piffling price tag to match. For old idiots like me it felt like the modern-day equivalent of the Yamaha RD350LC, but it was just as easy to ride for beginners. It’s spawned retro and adventure versions along the way, which are good, but I think the original is the best of the lot and has a purity about it the MT-09 and even the MT-10 can’t match.
Apart from being tricky to type, I love everything about the R nineT. We rode the original at its launch on the roads around Almeria at the beginning of 2014 – a strange event where we also rode that year’s new R1200RT tourer and R1200GS Adventure, all squeezed into a day and half. The road tester’s dressing-up box was full on that trip.
Not only did it look the part it rode even better. Its air-cooled engine mixed monster grunt with rocking, flat twin character and a faint whiff of oil. It carved through the Spanish mountainside with the poise of a modern sportsbike and handling came straight out of the S1000RR book of cornering. Such was the hype and demand at the time the waiting list stretched to the end of that year and even the BMW designers couldn’t get their hands on one to buy.
Most of all it’s a jeans and jacket feel good bike – refined and characterful for the coffee shop cruise with teeth sharp enough to keep up with fast group trackday traffic. The original is still the best, although the Dakar-styled Urban G/S looks and rides brilliantly and the Pure is more affordable. Just steer clear of the Racer, which has such a crazy stretch to the bars we nicknamed it 'The Torture Bike' when we tested it in 2017.
In terms of pure, unadulterated two wheeled hedonism the Hypermotard cannot be beaten. Yes, it’s unutterably impractical, hideously expensive and a pain in the arse to do anything on other than race around kart tracks, skate through tight corners, pull crossed-up mingers and do skids, but praise the lord it exists and in such a glorious exquisite form, bejewelled with designer trinkets.
The original 2007 Hypermotard 1100 followed hot on the heels of the KTM 950SM - the world’s first big supermoto (Ducati’s 2010 Multistrada followed the KTM 950 SMT, too…), but it also proved that focus groups don’t work. Ducati drew up some funky sketches at the time and asked the public if they fancied a powerful, big engined supermoto like this. 'Yes' they cried, so the Italian factory built it. It’s still one of the slowest selling machines in Ducati’s range.
Replacing the previous 1100 and 796, I rode the faster, sharper, even more wheelie-tastic Hypermotard 821 at its launch at Ascari circuit in Spring 2013. A few month later came the touring Hyperstrada version, launched in Tuscany - more of the same with a dash of added practicality. I ran one as a long termer that year, which was great, but it never matched the sheer lunacy of the original.
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