Riding a motorcycle has varied meanings for different people. Some people ride to unwind. Some people ride because it gives them a sense of independence. Some people use riding as their primary mode of transportation.
There is, however, a subset of bikers that ride for the adrenaline rush. Riders who want to redline at 16,500 RPM and who don't want to have to replace their one-piece leathers' knee pucks because they've been worn down so much on the track. Those who wish to travel at a breakneck pace.
Before the 2022 models and model refreshes arrive, we've compiled a list of what we believe are the Best Bikes of 2021.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R
The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R, a supersport bike, would be missing from any list. It's as near as you can get to a great midrange sport bike.
Kawasaki has been racing motorcycles since the first one came off the assembly line. They've raced motocross, supermoto, rally, track, and sport, to mention a few. It produces a ridiculous 127 BHP thanks to its iconic 636cc inline-four engine. It's ridiculous because all that power is concentrated over 10,000 RPM. So, to get the best out of the ZX-6R, you have to literally rev it to death, which is ideal for the track.
This isn't to suggest that the ZX-6R isn't a good street car. In fact, with a smooth mid-range that allows you to cruise for miles without the jerky, twitchy throttle response found in some other sports' mid-range, it's quite flattering. It's also one of the more aggressive-looking motorcycles on the market today, which is always a plus!
Ducati Panigale V4S
The 2021 Ducati Panigale V4S is without a doubt our best bike of the year. In practically every regard, the Italian marque's flagship sport is flawless. The expressions elicit strong feelings. The sound of the V4 rumbling beneath you makes your heart race. The spirit is stirred by the thunder of its exhaust. The sports brain is also stirred by the handling.
This bike is powered by a 1,103 cc Desmosedici Stradale 90° V4 engine that produces 215 BHP @ 13,000 RPM. Ohlins' active suspension, which reacts to rider inputs via a super-intelligent throttle-by-wire system and accelerometers that track the bike along six axes, is partnered with this.
The handling is positive and reassuring, allowing you to lean into a corner with confidence that the bike will perform as expected. The brake system is race-ready, and the bike has two brains, one for controlling the engine and the other for braking, throttle, and suspension.
But the Italians do something special every time a new bike is released: they master the sports form. On the V4S, there isn't a single bad line or angle. Even the winglets, which assist keep the bike's front end down at high speeds, are a work of art. For 2020, it is the embodiment of the sport concept combined with beauty that captures our hearts.
Ducati Panigale V2
Ducati released their flagship Panigale V4 bikes in 2020, but they didn't forget to pay homage to what came before. Prior until 2020, the Panigale was simply known as the Panigale. With the release of the V4, the original Panigale has been given a facelift.
The 2021 Panigale V2 is the name of the "junior" bike. It has a 955cc superquadro V-twin engine that delivers 155 BHP for track use. It's sleeker, with a new profile that emphasises a forward tuck position, and weighs a few pounds less than its bigger V4 brother.
In essence, the Panigale V2 is Ducati focused on what made the first Panigale such a smash hit. It's also more user-friendly than the V4 line's firebreathing counterparts, making it an excellent choice for anyone searching for a track bike with a "affordable" Italian vibe.
The R1 was the indisputable perfect sport bike for a long time. The 2021 Yamaha YZF-R1 continues this legacy by ranking fourth on our list, behind only a reimagined sport and two other one-of-a-kind motorcycles. With the reported R7 on the way, we predict the R1 to reclaim the top spot in 2022, which will be nothing short of thrilling.
The R1 now has a 998cc crossplane crank inline-four engine that produces 198 BHP. Until recently, the R1 has always reigned supreme in terms of approachability. The R1 is almost as if it is speaking to you. When transferring from their prior motorcycles to the R1, many new R1 riders remark on the R1's almost psychic reaction.
Years of Yamaha racing experience have aided in the development of the suspension and ECU. When you show the R1 a track or a bend, it virtually tugs at the leash in anticipation. Lean it in and listen to what the suspension and tyres are telling you, the engine buzzing through the frame to let you know if you need more throttle, and the bike itself saying, "Come on, more lean in the next bend!"
Simply put, when it's let wild on its natural playground, the race track, it's intoxicating.
This isn't a knock on the fantastic Honda CBR600RR; it's just that someone had to come in 10th out of all the amazing new and continuing sport motorcycles in 2021.
The CBR600RR is an excellent example of why more displacement isn't always better. The small Honda has become the standard-bearer for what true sports riding is all about, thanks to its outrageously powerful 600cc inline-4. It accelerates quickly, handles nicely around turns, and has a positive, trust-inspiring brake feel from both the front and rear.
Add in Honda's many years of racing in the 600cc classes of both World SBK and MotoGP, and all of that racing technology and knowledge is laser-focused into a street-legal bike that can ride as hard as you want and keep begging for more. In 2021, the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade will get the same winglets as its bigger sibling, the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade.
Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP
Aside from having a mouthful, the 2021 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP is one of the most eagerly anticipated sports in a generation. The reason for this is that this bike is the result of years of engineering and design work aimed at bringing the iconic RC213V racing bike to the masses.
Sales have been phenomenal when it became available for purchase in the United States. It produces 215 BHP thanks to a 999cc inline-four engine with the same bore and stroke as the RC213V race engine. The engineering is where the thrill comes from.
The Honda CBR1000RR-R is one of the most aerodynamically stable motorcycles ever made. The hungry cylinders are fed by a big front air intake, while passthrough vents on the fairings deflect air up and around the riders' legs, creating a pseudo air shield that allows the wind pass right by.
If any bike deserves to carry on the renowned Fireblade brand, this is the beast to do it, thanks to active Ohlins suspension and racing-grade Brembo ABS braking.
The Suzuki GSX-R1000R for 2021 is arguably the best edition of the classic "Gixxer." The bike is now a blend of outstanding engineering, amazing styling, and some fairly astonishing stats after years of development and testing.
The GSX-R1000R is powered by a 999cc inline four that produces nearly 200 BHP. It's low and nasty, with aggressive gearing and a riding position that's best described as "sporty tuck."
The fact that it's only #9 on this list is due to the fact that it's not the easiest sport to pick up and ride. In fact, the bike is downright monstrous, with a reputation for spitting out riders who try to push it just a tenth of a percent further than it wants to go. The second R isn't there for no purpose. This is a race bike with a number plate and indicators. It will thrill you if you respect it. If you abuse it, you'll be flung into the nearest tree or gravel trap.
The 2021 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is a monster of a bike, serving as the foundation for the insane 400+ kph capable H2R. They both employ the identical 998cc inline-four engine, with the exception that the H2 adds a supercharger at the front.
For 2021, the ZX-10R has been redesigned, with technology and experiences learned during the World SBK championship included. More power is generated thanks to a redesigned valve train with finger followers that hold the valves open for a fraction of a second longer, bringing the output to 200 HP. A revised exhaust system also allows the engine to scream louder, so you'll surely hear a ZX-10R scream past you.
The electronics on the ZX-10R are top-notch, as is to be expected when Kawasaki reinvents a bike. A new 6-axis IMU, cornering ABS, up/down quickshifter, and other features are available on the street. In addition, unlike other bikes with winglets to boost downforce, the ZX-10R's "winglets" are hidden below the headlights. Kawasaki claims that the downforce is boosted by 17 percent over the 2020 ZX-10R thanks to the venturi tunnels.
Aprilia RSV4 RR
Now we're getting down to business. Aprilia is one of those brands that is open about the fact that the majority of their street sport bikes are actually race bikes with different ECU tunes, wing mirrors, and indicators.
The RSV4 RR is the pinnacle of this, as it shares the same base nomenclature as the RSV4 Factory Works SBK bike. It's powered by a 999cc V4 engine that puts out 201 horsepower. In truth, this bike would be much higher on the list if Aprilia hadn't decided to spend most of their development efforts on the new 2021 RS660, which is a fantastic sportbike in its own right, and instead leave the RSV4 RR in the same spec and trim as it has been for a few years.
However, it's on the track that you'll see the RSV4 RR's racing DNA. Coming down the straight, it wants to elevate the front wheel. When you brake hard, it barely dives. In corners, it clings like a beast and slingshots you out at warp speed. It's also a friendly bike, as happy to cruise at four-tenths as it is at ten-tenths.
In the sport category, the 2021 BMW S1000RR is one of the best European bikes available. When you give the throttle a small blip, it has that undertone of “I can handle much more than you're asking me to” that is typical of German cars.
It is powered by a 998cc inline-four engine with millimetric precision that delivers 205 BHP and enough torque to reverse the Earth's spin. It also handles brilliantly, letting the rider know exactly what the bike is doing at all times through all of his or her contact points.
It's the basis bike for the insane HP4 track bike, and if that doesn't convince you of the S1000RR's superiority, nothing will. On two wheels, it is the pinnacle of German engineering. There are no ifs, ands, or buts.
Unless you're completely insane and go for BMW's M Division's new 2021 M1000RR bike, which is essentially an S1000RR on steroids with a lot more aggressive ECU and reaction.