Winters like this one make the anticipation of hitting the open road on two wheels nearly unbearable. 2014 promises to offer up a ton of great bikes for dispelling your winter blues, and a handful of those are out of the Far East. Japanese motorcycles are well built, reliable and typically more affordable than their counterparts from Italy and America, and they also have a strong history of great performance. From cruisers to sport-tourers to sport bikes, here are our five favorite new Japanese bikes of the year.
Best Japanese Cruiser for the Non-Conformist: Who says only Americans can make powerful and intimidating cruisers? The 2014 Honda Valkyrie is about as cool as cruisers can get, but not because it follows the old mold. This one’s sleek from tip to tail, bordering on futuristic: it looks like something Judge Dredd might covet. LED headlights, taillights and turn signals round out the look, along with nifty digital LCD gauges. The big 1,832cc liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine moves the Valkyrie furiously, too. Seat height is low, making it easy to mount and ride.
Best Japanese Bike for the Speed Commuter: This is the jack-of-all-trades we can’t help but love. The FZ-09 ($7,990) now costs less (to the tune of $800) and rides better than its predecessor. The 850cc three-cylinder churns out a full 115 hp, and 64.5 lb-ft of torque — the torquiest in its class. All of this power with a lightweight chassis makes the FZ-09 quick and maneuverable in urban traffic, but it’s also got the chops for back roads carving and some seriously sinister looks. The “urban street warrior” ride can now be yours at a bargain price.
Kawasaki Ninja 1000
Best Japanese Bike for the Backroads Carver: For less than twelve large ($11,999 to be exact), the new Ninja 1000 is a bargain that’s both mean and plush. Though it looks like it could shred just about anything else on the road, it’s also comfortable enough to double as a grand tourer. A smoother 1043cc inline four engine is good for 125 hp, there’s three-mode traction control and two-wheel ABS, and it can also be outfitted with OEM hard saddle bags for exploiting its impressive comfort on longer trips. Don’t mislabel it as “cushy”: it’s still as badass as you expect a big Ninja to be.
Best Japanese Bike for the Long-Hauler: Yamaha’s already great FJ1300 sport tourer got seriously upgraded last year with ride-by-wire, traction control, dual power modes and better suspension and pipes. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve added electronically adjustable suspension in the FJ1300ES ($16,890) for 2014 to sweeten the pot. And you can tweak it to your heart’s desire with four preload settings and a full nine damping options, along with compression and rebound dampers from their top-end sportbike, the YZF-R1. You can adjust as necessary depending on conditions and ride style, making your backroads touring adventure both thrilling and comfortable. No more excuses about that spring road trip you’ve been meaning to take.
Honda CBR1000RR SP
Best Japanese Bike for the Trackster: In the literbike category, the CBR1000RR has never matched its impressive looks with top-end speed or tech advances. With the new SP version ($13,999), Honda’s upped their game and brought the bike closer than ever to monstrous performance via a number of nasty tweaks. It now boasts Öhlins suspension, Brembo front brakes and improved ergonomics; it also gets a power bump thanks to a new cylinder head and exhaust system. The upgrades should help the SP move, carve and stop better than ever.