The Best of Ten Best

Careening through the cream of the last 36 crops.

1976 Cycle World Magazine

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In the October issue in 1976, Cycle World picked its Ten Best for the first time, reasoning (among many reasons) that it was our duty to let the manufacturers know when they were doing good so that they might keep on doing it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like this year, a BMW won Best Touring Bike back then, even though the '76 R75/6 had less than half the displacement of this year's K1600GTL and a third the piston count. Still, "Smoothness is incredible."

A big Kawasaki won Best 900-1000cc Roadster. The KZ900 was pretty much the ZX-14R of its day, capable of mid-12s in the quarter-mile and 125-mph top speeds. We wanted to call it perfect but couldn't because of the "harsh suspension and a moderate chassis wobble when cornering at high speed." Shudder…

Then we picked Best 750 Roadster, Best 500-550cc Roadster and Best 350-400cc Roadster. The Yamaha XS750D Triple is long gone, Peter Egan has rediscovered the Honda CB550F and the Yamaha RD400C is legendary.

In an era when more of us rode off-road, the other five categories were all dirt-based.

Best Open-Class Motocrosser: Maico 400 Adolf Weil Replica

Best 250cc Motocrosser: Suzuki RM250

Best 125cc Motocrosser: Honda CR125 Elsinore

Best Enduro Machine: KTM/Penton 400 Six Day

Best Trials Bike: Montesa Cota 348

Honda 250R

Honda 250R

1983

Drunk with power: “Our awards are the Emmies, the Tonys, the Grammies, the Oscars of the sport. These are the Academy Awards of motorcycling.”

And in '83, Honda was the blockbuster, winning all five dirt categories as well as Best 651-800cc Street with the new V45 Interceptor. At least the Yamaha Venture Royale unseated the GL1100 for the Touring win.

1984

It was no longer possible to ignore Best Cruiser, so the Best Under-450cc Streetbike category disappeared and the Harley-Davidson FXRDG Disc Glide carried off the trophy.

1986

Whatever happened to our Best Dual-Purpose of 1986, the Honda Reflex? Never mind; the GSX-R1100 and VFR750F were Best Superbike and Best Streetbike 600-800cc.

Ducati 900SS

Best Open Streetbike: Ducati 900SS

1991

Ducati's first win. The 900SS is Best Open Streetbike.

1994

It was the year of the Ducati 916 as Best Superbike and the BMW R1100GS as Best Standard.

Buell S1 Lightning

Buell S1 Lightning

1996

Best Standard: Buell S1 Lightning.

Yamaha YZ400F

Yamaha YZ400F

1998

Best Superbike: Yamaha YZF-R1. Best Motocrosser: The four-stroke era begins with the Yamaha YZ400F.

1999

A crazy little thing called the Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa appeared, which, at 194 mph, remains the fastest bike we've tested to this day. It blew us away and ran off with Best Superbike.

Honda Interceptor

Honda Interceptor

2002

Let us observe a moment of silence for the Honda Interceptor's final appearance as a Ten Best motorcycle. From 1983 through '02, one iteration or another of the sweet-running V-Four made the list 13 times. Based on that, you'd have to call the VFR Cycle World's favorite motorcycle of all time that isn't a Gold Wing. The VFR also won a "World's Best Streetbike" comparison in the same July issue.

The all-new Honda CRF450R also arrived in '02 to claim its first of eight Best Motocrosser wins.

2003

Bike sales had been on a tear since about 2000, encouraging other players to enter the market. In 2003, we have winners from five countries.

2004

Everybody and their dogs are either buying custom cruisers or starting a company to build them. In this atmosphere, $26,999 for the Best Cruiser, the Honda Rune, is a steal.

2005

It took Triumph this long to get rolling and win its first Top Ten award with the Speed Triple, and it hasn't not won one or two Top Tens every year since. Until this year, anyway…

2007

Thirteen years after the 916, the new Ducati 1098 wrests Best Superbike back from Japan, then Ducati does it again in 2008 with the Desmosedici. After that, it's the Aprilia RSV4, the BMW S1000RR, the EBR 1190RS and, this year, the Aprilia Tuono V4 R. A six-year Best Superbike drought for the Japanese is unprecedented.

2008

Nobody rang a bell, but more than 900,000 street-legal motorcycle sales in 2008 (according to the MIC) represented the peak of the market, a number that dropped to less than half that two years later.

The Envelope, Please

Through 2012, Honda has earned 108 Ten Bests (18 of them GL models), followed by Kawasaki with 57, Suzuki and Yamaha tied at 47 each, KTM 28, BMW 22, Harley-Davidson 12, Ducati 11, Triumph 10, Husqvarna 7 and a smattering of Buells, Aprilias, Maicos, Husabergs, Victorys, etc. Now, can we get an intern to count how many models have been available since 1976?