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Old 12-30-2015, 11:50 AM   #1
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Editor's Pick: The Best Bikes of 2015

Yet another year of riding has come and gone, the promise of good weather and trackdays spent with riding buddies replaced by the threat of rain, snow, and "quality time" with the in-laws. Before we officially say goodbye to 2015, however, we wanted to take a look back at the year and the motorcycles that, for us, made it what it was. Twenty-fifteen was labeled early on as the “Year of the Sportbike ,” and there certainly were a handful of motorcycles that helped make that at least partially true.

Among the bikes that we had the chance to ride in 2015, what were our favorites, and why did they stand out? Scroll down to find out.

8) Kawasaki Ninja H2R

Photo By Kevin Wing

You'd have had to been living under a rock in late 2014 and early 2015 to not hear about Kawasaki's Ninja H2 and its 300-horsepower H2R big brother. , by the time Kawasaki finished releasing its 23 (!) teaser videos for the bike, even our car-loving friends were talking about it.

And that got us thinking: "Why don't we set up a race against the H2R and some high-dollar supercars?"

Well, after countless emails to Kawi's media team and a box of chocolates large enough to threaten André the Giant himself with diabetes, the boys in green finally agreed to let us go through with the plan, and with the help of a friend at Super Street Magazine, we were able to arrange for some half-mile, rolling start races against a McLaren MP4-12C, Bugatti Veyron, and heavily modified Nissan GTR built by SP Engineering.

The resulting test made for one of our favorite days at the office, some ultra-successful videos that continue to pop up on our social media feed, and more importantly, a newfound appreciation for Kawasaki's H2R, which oh by the way, went 204 mph, on pump gas...

With numbers like that, it's no wonder Kento still gets excited when the H2R comes up in conversation.

7) Aprilia Tuono V4 1100

Photo Courtesy of Aprilia

After years of dominating the big bore naked bike category, Aprilia found itself in a tough position two year’s back when BMW came in with its S 1000 R, and worse, KTM with its absolutely menacing Super Duke R. Twelve months later, Aprilia fired back with its Tuono V4 1100, and our year was the better for it.

Thanks to a larger cylinder bore that bumps displacement from 1,000cc to 1,077cc, the V4 1100 is claimed to make 175 hp and 88.5 foot-pounds of torque (an increase of 5 hp and 6.5 foot-pounds of torque), which is quite honestly probably more power than anyone with a maturity level of a 16-year-old (us) really needs from a bike with upright handlebar. But Aprilia knows motorcycles are meant to be fun, and that fast is fun, so it built the V4 1100 anyways.

More than just being faster though, the 2015 V4 1100 is also more comfortable and easier to ride thanks to a much thicker seat cushion, 15mm lower seat height, and updated front fairing that provides more wind protection. Combine that with the added power, and you have a bike that quickly returned to the top of our list of favorite naked bikes...ever. And also to one of our favorite bikes of 2015.

6) BMW S 1000 XR

Photo By Kevin Wing

BMW wasn’t exactly sleeping this past year, and while it’s S 1000 naked bike had fallen a spot on our list of top bikes thanks to the introduction of Aprilia’s updated Tuono V4 1100, the Bavarian brand’s new S 1000 XR sport touring bike was quickly making up for that and becoming one of our go-to bikes for weekend-long adventures.

Fast, comfortable, and loaded with well-engineered riding aids like ABS and traction control that doesn’t slap our wrist at the mere scent of moisture in the air, our S 1000 XR test bike has racked up more miles than all but one other bike in our test fleet. There's just something about tapping the quickshifter mid-wheelie on a bike with big fairings and hard bags out back that is so wrong it just feels right.

The big XR is actually the bike we’re riding home to celebrate the New Year on, and chances are it'll be the bike we spend the first part of 2016 on as well.

5) Yamaha FJ-09

Photo by Drew Ruiz

The only bike that our testing staff put more miles on this past year was Yamaha’s simple, yet extremely capable FJ-09.

Based off of Yamaha’s ultra-successful (though not perfect) FZ-09 naked bike, the FJ-09 is lightweight and nimble, while still powerful and exciting enough to keep you entertained in the canyons. Combine that with re-damped suspension that provides more control than the FZ-09’s bits, smoother fueling than what was on the original FZ-09 (since fixed), as well as adjustments for the seat, windscreen, and handlebar, and you have a bike that’s both fun for shorter rides in the twisties as well as longer rides up and out of town.

Perhaps the real reason why the FJ-09 is so high on our list of top bikes we rode in 2015 though, is that it offers all of that while costing just $10,490 (sans accessory bags and mounts). For some reason, saving a few dollars just makes the whole ride a little bit more enjoyable.

4) Yamaha FZ-07

Photo Courtesy of Yamaha

Yamaha's wallet-friendly FZ-07 is another bike that surprised us in 2015. And not because of how well it worked "for the price," but simply how well it worked, period.

Like any good bike built for new or returning riders, the FZ-07 is lightweight and user-friendly, with good torque, a balanced chassis (suspension is still soft), and a smooth throttle transition that makes it easy to roll through town on. Unlike other bikes built for new or returning riders though, it’s also full of personality, with good looks and propensity for wheelies and general good times once the road opens up.

Of all the bikes we've ridden, this is the one we recommend most to friends looking to either get into or back into riding, because we know that it will keep them entertained while at the same time progressing as a rider. And it's that ability to both satisfy newer riders and help progressing riders to hone their skills that makes the FZ-07 such an important bike for Yamaha in 2015. And an important bike in general.

3) Ducati 959 Panigale

Photo Courtesy of Ducati

Ducati gave up on middleweight displacement "rules" with the introduction of its 899 Panigale two years back, but really seriously wrote them off this year with the 959 Panigale. And while it would be nice for Ducati to have a true middleweight bike that allowed newer riders to jump into the brand on something with less than 156 horsepower, the honest truth is that in going to the 959, Ducati built a better bike for both the track and street.

Like the 899 that came before it, the 959 flicks from one side to the other with the lightest of inputs and feels like a bike you can actually ride, rather than hang on to and hope for the best with, as is often the case with the 1299. And yet at the same time, faster laps on the 959 don't depend entirely on you keeping the revs within an ever-shrinking range, the increased midrange requiring less shifting over the course of a session at the track or ride through the canyons.

Can you really argue with the new looks, either?

2) Aprilia RSV4 RF

Photo by Drew Ruiz

Of all the new or updated literbikes that were introduced in 2015, there was only one that really truly kept Yamaha's R1 and R1M in sight, and that was Aprilia's RSV4 RR and RSV4 RF, the better of the two being the Öhlins-equipped RF model, which we had the chance to sample at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli and then again on home soil, at Willow Springs Raceway.

Each day, we came away a bigger fan of Aprilia's RSV4 platform than before, the newer model offering up the top-end power we were always missing on the old bike yet retaining the same stellar feel and feedback from the chassis. In almost every session, we'd walk away saying, "We can't believe the bike let us get away with that," then take our helmet off to reveal an ear-to-ear grin, and ask, "When's the next session?"

Of course, we'd be lying if we didn't say a small part of that excitement was from the sound of the V-4 engine alone.

1) Yamaha YZF-R1

Photo by Drew Ruiz

Even still, there is one other bike that we got just a little bit more excited about riding this past year, and that was the Yamaha R1.

Designed using information and technology taken straight from Yamaha’s MotoGP effort, the R1 is the most cohesive and confidence-inspiring production motorcycle we've ever ridden, its chassis and engine working together to allow you to push harder than you would on anything else, almost from the first lap on track.

Sure, the R1 doesn't make as much power as the S 1000 RR, nor is it as light as the 1299 Panigale, but none of that seems to matter as the bike would consistently click off faster lap times at the track, all the while feeling like it required less work to ride. And that is the mark of a truly great bike, a bike that will undoubtedly go down as one of the best bikes of 2015. Or, at least, as our favorite bike of 2015.

Yes, we know about the transmission recall and know that it's a hassle for owners, but if we owned one, we wouldn't be letting that dampen our enthusiasm for riding the bike.

Want even more sweet photos? Be sure to check out the gallery below, which features additional photos from our tests this past year, from some of our favorite photographers.

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