Motorcycles are clean, convenient and frugal, but the process of stigmatising them has begun. In October, European law will make obtaining a motorcycle licence harder than ever. The British Government's interpretation of it will add new expense to the process. But, despite the growing barriers to fun on two wheels, 2007 saw the launch of several compelling reasons to ride.
If gratitude won prizes, my motorcycle of the year would be the BMW G650 Xcountry. This modern take on a classic 1970s scrambler saved my life by holding the road when I badly misjudged a right-hander in the Algarve in February. It was not the best bike I rode, but mere thanks for indulging my incompetence do not do the baby Beemer justice. It is a frisky little machine with a lusty but economical single-cylinder engine and smart good looks.
I know one reader bought one on the basis of my review (Motoring, 27 February 2007). He called me to say how much he enjoys it. I am pleased. It is a robust bike with huge recreational potential, good for affluent beginners or born-again riders.
For people with more practical needs and less cash, Suzuki's new Bandit 650 (17 April) grabbed and held my attention. Budget motorcycling doesn't get much better. It kept me happy on motorways, twisties and urban drags, and proved adept at commuting, touring and entertaining for only 4,500. For a little more, Honda's dashing CB600F Hornet offered stunning competition. Its quadruple exhaust headers remind my generation of the CB400 Four, but handling is sharply modern. This 102bhp lightweight flicks faster than a tiddlywink and the power surge above 10,000rpm left me drooling.
I had almost as much fun on the giant Piaggio Group's Gilera Fuoco 500ie. This cool three-wheeler tilts, grips and hustles till the adrenalin surges. Putting extra rubber in contact with tarmac works. So does the locking device that keeps this GT tricycle upright at standstill without visible support. If only I were not convinced that three-wheelers are the industry's way of anticipating new restrictions on two-wheelers.
Two larger-capacity motorcycles came within a whisker of winning my top accolade. They could not be less similar. The Suzuki GSX-R1000 (19 June) is a searingly quick 182bhp rocketship with a cheetah's agility. Last year, Suzuki made it more practical than ever. The screen grew to enhance weather protection, mirrors were enlarged. Best, the legendary "Gixxer Thou" gained Suzuki's three-position power- selector switch. This allows riders to choose between the savagery of the untamed beast (A), modest muzzling (B), and something approaching common sense (C). It turns this superbike into a practical friend as well as a track-day megastar. The result is more adorable than ever. The Gixxer came close to winning my ultimate accolade.
In terms of handling, power and sophistication, Harley Davidson's XL 1200N Nightster (9 October) is not in the same solar system. But for charm, good looks and relaxed fun, this latest in the iconic Sportster range of air-cooled V-Twins leaves little to be desired. It made me feel good in a way that I didn't imagine it could.
My winner is a middleweight, a little larger than the Hornet and the Bandit, and British to the core. When I rode the 675cc Triumph Street Triple up Mount Bondone in Italy (17 July), I was wowed by its punch, handling and style. The three-cylinder engine is superb and the sound it makes with the throttle opened wide is a symphony in precision engineering.
Treated sensibly, the Triumph has the torque, flexibility and comfort to ride all day long for weeks on end. Invited to misbehave, it has the manners of a lout and the talent of a genius. It is brilliant ridden solo, but hardly less good two-up. If I could have only one motorcycle for work and play, this would be it.
I was briefly tempted by Ducati's snarling wildchild, the Hypermotard 1100 (12 June), but though it has personality, it lacks the Triumph's unique cocktail of charisma and sheer all-round star quality.
No focus group, poll or survey has been involved in my choice. Many fine motorcycles have been omitted. That is my choice. If motorcyclists do not start to take politics seriously in 2008, it is one I fear I will lose.
Tim Luckhurst is professor of journalism at the University of KentReuse content