So, did you click on this link thinking I would finally clue you in to the true enlightenment? Have I been withholding some valuable nugget of truth that would finally unlock the key to motorcycling happiness? Is there one enduro bike that is elevated above all others? Sorry, you have been duped. There is no bike of the year pronouncement to be found here.
But why not? Every publication on earth does these great year end reviews of the best of everything from grip glue to motorcycles. So I feel compelled to at least create a headline for such a feature, even if it is bogus.
There are a couple of bonafide reasons that I don’t feel prepared to make a bike of the year pronouncement. Here are a couple of them;
I just don’t get to ride enough bikes. Even in the KTM realm, our biggest supporter, I only ride a couple of models per year. It isn’t that I don’t try, I call KTM about every month and ask if there is anything available. Here I am working with people that I have a strong relationship with, so it is almost a game to call and make the same request over and over. Sometimes it even works. Still there are so many KTM models that I get little more than a sampling each season.
Expanding this theme, we are the high mileage kings here at Enduro360. No one puts on more miles and covers more terrain. Again it is somewhat due to KTM, they give me a bike and politely imply that I can keep it for as long as I want if it means I will just go away. I love the fact that many of our test bikes see 100 hours on the meter before they go back. But it means we focus lots of time on one bike instead of many bikes.
Testing bikes is incredibly time consuming. I can easily end up with 20 hours of just administration and writing for each test, no ride time included. That means I have to make some effort to focus my time on bikes that will interest readers. We almost never turn down an opportunity to ride, but I don’t try to chase down every bike out there.
Interestingly, two of our biggest tests last year were the Gas Gas EC300 and KTM 690 Enduro. It is all due to Google search, not necessarily because they were the models with the most interest, but because we were near the top of page rank for those searches.
With a lack of really bad bikes, the overall competence of all bikes is very high. It is getting harder and harder to claim one as better than another.
In the big picture, it is sort of like doing shootouts, comparing a group of bikes. It is mostly about getting down to the lowest common denominator. Picking winners in a group tends to overshadow the aspect of finding the best, and often subtle, attributes of each bike. I just have a hard time getting excited about that. I love finding the smallest details that make each bike unique.
If we gathered a group of 10 enthusiasts with their personal favorite rides, we would probably find 10 different reasons why each bike was the best. Heck we would probably have 2 or 3 riders with the same bike, each loving it for a different reason. In their way, each is right. Let’s be honest, some of our love for bikes is not just based on best all around, but our preferences for brand, color, sound and what have you.
Right now I have two very different bikes in the shop for testing. Nearly anywhere we have gone to test, I find myself loving one for part of the day and the other for rest. As the terrain changes, each shows its best face. A look at the spec sheets might easily lead one to believe they are similar bikes. But on the trail they have very distinct personalities. In the tight stuff one excels, but the other stretches its legs in the open and sometimes they meet in the middle. So how do I call a winner? It is far more about choosing the best bike for rider and terrain.
On the flip side, there have not been any real dogs in the group this year either. Nor have we had much for bikes that polarize readers, like the love/hate of the past generation of Husky’s. It has been sort of a dull year (in a good way). Even the Gas Gas EC300 had its day. In the right circumstances it will run the with the best of them.
I can say I like the 450xcw over the 500 version. But we are talking about such small differences in throttle response that some riders wouldn’t see the difference. But I still prefer the old 450xc RFS motor to the new version, it has so much charm and a bit more bite. Every time I ride a 350 I fall back in love all over, but then find myself wishing for a bit more torque. The 390 Beta has that extra torque but lacks the love of revs that comes so natural to the 350. I could go on and on, but you see the futility of picking just one.
In a field of winners it is hard to call any one the loser. So no bike of the year pronouncement for me.