This story is part of our end-of-year series This Year in Gear, rounding up the most notable releases of 2021.
For all the thrills available in this world, there's none quite like the pleasure of riding a motorcycle. You drive a car, but you master a motorcycle — merging with it, your flesh (or, ideally, your riding gear) fusing with it, your body moving its body. Its power becomes your power, its speed becomes your speed.
And 2021 gave riders plenty of new machines to salivate over. From new electric motorcycles that continue to push the boundaries of motorcycle technology to stellar adventure bikes that help famous brands redefine themselves, this quasi-post-pandemic year gave newbies novel ways to get comfortable behind the handlebars and veteran riders fresh means of falling back in love with the activity that's long held a special place in their hearts.
Harley-Davidson Pan America
After more than a century of largely staying in its lane, Harley-Davidson decided to switch things up in 2021 by rolling out its first adventure motorcycle: the Pan America 1250 Special. As we learned during a ride through the Mojave Desert on it, this new Harley is stunningly capable of tackling every kind of surface from asphalt to dirt to rocks to sand, thanks in no small part to its new Revolution Max 1250 Engine. There's a whole new kind of Harley in town, and it rocks.
Zero Motorcycles SR
The SR received a notable update for 2021, packing the ZF 75-10 motor spinning up to 75 horses and 122 lb-ft of torque and a 14.4-kWh battery — but the bigger news is that you can have more with the touch of a button. Thanks to Zero's new Cypher III+ operating system and Cypher Store, you can buy and download over-the-air updates that deliver extra range and added power, bringing the SR close to the levels of the SR/F. The future is here.
Royal Enfield Meteor 350
If your primary concern when it comes to choosing a motorcycle is bang-for-your-buck — or as we put it in our review, smiles-per-dollar — the new Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is hard to beat. Its 349-cc engine may be on the tiny side, but the 421-lb curb weight means this l'il cruiser's 20 hp and 20 lb-ft are more than enough to have a hoot around town or on a country road.
Ducati Multistrada V4
When you think of Ducatis, you likely think of screaming MotoGP machines, extroverted Streetfighters or ice-cold Scramblers. But Ducati also plays in the realm of adventure bikes, and the new Multistrada — available in several forms, including the V4 S we tested — is a high-tech tour de force. Granted, those used to the Na'vi-banshee connection of some other Ducatis may find it slightly more removed, but there's no disputing just how sexy and accomplished it is.
In honor of the centenary of the Indian Chief name, the motorcycle maker rolled out a brace of new models, all of which follow Indian design director Ola Stenegard's credo, "reach back, pull forward." In other words, they're a mix of retro — or perhaps more accurately, timeless — design cues and modern technology, like a touchscreen display and standard ABS. Of course, with a 1,890-cc twin burbling below you in the Chief Dark Horse we tested, odds are good you'll be thinking more about how much fun it is when you twist the throttle.
Triumph Bonneville Speed Twin
The Triumph Speed Twin name dates back to the 1930s, and the newest version makes sure to pay homage to that long, proud history with its design. Of course, it's been thoroughly upgraded since those Depression-era days: the new bike boasts LED lights, ABS, upgraded riding modes and a 1,200-cc engine that — along with the bike's other myriad attributes — is enough to remind you why you started riding in the first place.
If you love the idea of an electric motorcycle but want something a little better designed for urban commuting in all its eccentricities, well, the new FXE is what you've been waiting for. Developed in collaboration with San Francisco’s renowned Huge Design, this bike's light weight of less than 300 pounds means its 46 horses and 78 lb-ft can move it about with alacrity, while its 7.2-kWh battery offers 100 miles of city riding and a quick recharge time. Also, let's just face it, it looks badasssssssss.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S
Sure, most of Harley's headlines this year were about its first ADV, but the brand hasn't given up on the bikes that made it famous. The 2021 Sportster is entirely new, from its 1,2500-cc twin to its modern technology — but it still keeps to the Sportster spirit that's helped this category-defying motorcycle last more than 60 years.
Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RR
There's a reason "speed" is this bike's middle name — the Speed Triple 1200 RR is fast as hell, thanks to its 178-hp, 92-lb-ft three-cylinder engine. It also looks speedy, what with its streamlined sheet metal and swept-back fairing. An Ohlins-sourced electronically adjustable suspension helps it handle as well as it hops off the line, while high-performance tires — Pirelli Diablo Supercorsas, to be precise — bring plenty of stick.
Jack Daniel’s Limited Edition Indian Challenger Dark Horse
Yes, the name is a mouthful, and this mighty cruiser is probably a bit extra (do the kids still say that?) for most of us. But as we found during some time with it through Tennessee, this 800-pound
gorilla motorcycle's whiskey-themed affectations only add to the surprising charm of the Challenger, which has enough technology to make a BMW jealous, a ride like a Rolls-Royce and a delightful powerband.
Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Revival
The first of Harley's new Icons Collection of motorcycles designed to pay tribute to, well, iconic motorcycles from the company's history, the Electra Glide Revival is an absolute stunner of a touring bike. With an appearance inspired by the 1969 Electra Glide — the first Harley to feature the brand's iconic "batwing" fairing — it's safe to say this bike will draw attention wherever you go, whether it's Sturgis or Southampton.
Triumph Bonneville Scrambler 1200 Steve McQueen Edition
Sure, the King of Cool actually rode a modified 1962 Triumph TR6 during his iconic jump in The Great Escape, but that doesn't mean we should take offence that the brand would use his name for a special edition Scrambler. This off-road-minded Scrambler XE looks every bit sexy enough for McQueen himself to ride.
Does the Slingshot really belong on a list of motorcycles? Well, you have to have a motorcycle license in New York to drive it, so we're gonna say yes on a technicality. Still, quibble all you want about this three-wheeler's category, but there's no arguing that this on-road go-kart delivers the sorts of thrills more associated with motorcycle riding than driving, say, a Camry.