Since 1976, Cycle World has honored the Ten Best motorcycles on the market each and every year. As times change, so do our categories, so that the bikes included in Ten Best accurately reflect what is happening in the motorcycle market. Recent additions include Adventure Bikes and Lightweight Streetbikes (500cc and under), while we’ve combined Touring and Sport-Touring into a single class simply called Touring. We also melded Enduro and Dual-Sport to reflect a change in that market and because of the availability of street-legal, competition-worthy dual-purpose machines.
Some of our categories have survived much longer than others, and only time will tell what tweaks we may need to make in the future to showcase the best motorcycles of the year. But with more than 450 different motorcycles currently available in the US market, you can be assured that our Ten Best are the cream of a plentiful crop.
Each category has a criteria bikes must meet to qualify for Ten Best. Here are the basic rules for each class, and the winners of the Ten Best Motorcycles of 2018.
An ultimate, uncompromising racing-inspired motorcycle for the street that extracts the lowest lap times on the the racetrack. Superbikes are the tip of the spear when it comes to technology and performance. Features and innovations that show up here, usually trickle down to other categories.
Just one rule here: A street-legal motorcycle 500cc or less. Sportbike, naked, or cruiser—if it’s a half-liter in displacement or less, it is a Lightweight Streetbike. These motorcycles typically offer exceptional value and appeal to new riders and seasoned experts alike.
Middleweight is an expanding segment that includes motorcycles up to 899cc. Motorcycles of all types are eligible and the machines in this category often deliver the most bang for the buck. On the lower end of the spectrum, some models would appeal to riders just starting out, while at the top of the class are some of the highest performing, best balanced motorcycles on the market.
Open-Class Streetbikes have just one rule to qualify: Engine displacement must be 1,000cc or over. Anything else goes in this category. It could be a 1400cc-plus road-burner, an Adventure-inspired machine or the biggest, burliest naked bike out there.
Usually fitted with a tubular handlebar rather than clip-ons and having a more upright riding position, Standard motorcycles can have nearly the same performance as a superbike without the compromise to comfort. We are looking for an exceptional do-it-all motorcycle here, one that can serve as daily rider, light tourer, or perhaps even attack the occasional track day. It's perhaps the best combination of fun and utility.
Traveling motorcycles with performance, comfort, and plenty of luggage space. Think luxurious and/or swift touring motorcycle with all the features to make your journey successful. Factory saddle bags are a must, but after that it is wide open as to what can quality, from V-twin luxury tourer to the highest tech sport-touring machines, Touring encompasses them all.
Inspired by the classic American style of long and low, cruisers cover a gamut of motorcycle profiles and engine displacements with styling that runs from retro to thoroughly modern. There's no displacement limit from small to large, so it could be the biggest, baddest, burliest V-twin or the lightest, easiest to ride entry machine. All it needs is excellent, category-specific performance and the right attitude.
Built to handle the rigors of traveling the globe, adventure bikes are capable on the street, off-road, and everywhere in between. You may not ever ride to Patagonia, but it’s nice to know you could. Adventure bikes are the flagship motorcycles for many manufacturers, and have become a staple type of machine for those who love to travel on two wheels. From the smallest 300cc adventure motorcycles, to the biggest liter-plus machines, a sense of wanderlust is all you need to find happiness.
Whether it’s street-legal or off-road only, the Best Dual-Sport or Enduro has to be able to tackle the toughest terrain and do it well. This category can include four-strokes and two-strokes in a variety of displacements. The only real requirement is that these dirt motorcycles take you farther, higher, and faster than any other machines on the market.
The Best Motocrosser is the absolute best machine to be on when the gate drops and a trophy is on the line. Displacement and engine type are wide open, just like the throttle. Few motorcycle classes are competitive as motocross, and those manufacturers in the game bring their best to come out on top every year. Typical winners come from the 250 and 450cc four-stroke classes, but the right two-stroke or motorcycle of other displacements can win.
Best Motorcycles Of The Year
Interested in our 10 best motorcycle lists from previous years? We’ve gathered them all right here for your convenience. And don’t forget to visit our Buyer’s Guide for more in-depth motorcycle reviews.