From chic choppers to cruise missiles with saddlebags, these new street bikes will make 2008 a very hot year.
-By Bill Heald

With the price of gas ap proaching Evian territory and polar bears watching their yards melt away, it’s nice to finally have a “selfless,� even “noble,� reason to visit a motorcycle dealership. By God, you’re a responsible citizen who wants to reduce our use of foreign crude, fight global warming, ease parking congestion, and shorten commuting time to enhance productivity! And if in order to do these things you need to score an awesomely powerful autobahn burner or stylish chrome stallion, so be it. The truth is, buying a 2008 bike doesn’t make sense only if you want to save gas; the top manufacturers have cobbled together some of the baddest machines ever to grace the boulevard in every category. Motorcycles are faster, lighter, and more Velcro-like in how they cling to the tarmac, and scooters are even growing extra wheels. Want to cool down the planet with some hot hardware? Now’s your chance. Your ride has arrived.

Suzuki B-King $12,899

Suzuki B-King

The Suzuki Hayabusa sport bike is named after a wicked Japanese falcon and flirts with a 200-mph top speed. The B-King takes the same 1,340-cc engine and loses the burkalike bodywork, as if all that plastic blew off during a blast down a deserted interstate. A slick system called Suzuki Drive Mode Selector allows you to pick an engine response curve to tune down the beast when you need to chill around town. Acceleration is brisk, to say the least, and the six-speed transmission has a torquelimiting clutch to smooth downshifts when you finally slow back down. All the latest chassis goodies are here, including an aluminum twinspar frame, awesome brakes, and an inverted front fork with a fully adjustable single rear shock. Also stan dard is a certain menacing gothic appearance that implies you’re the baddest dude in town, so act accordingly.

Kawasaki Concours 14 $13,799

Kawasaki Concours 14

In 2006, Kawasaki gave us the ZX-14 sport bike, which is armed with a massive 1,352-cc inline four that’s capable of yanking your arms from their sockets when you give the throttle a hard twist. Also in the stable was the Concours, Kawasaki’s legendary sport tourer that needed a fresh start after two decades of service. The Concours 14 is a ground up new motorcycle that not only has the ZX-14’s stunning engine, but also a Monocoque chassis that is as modern as the bike it replaced was dated. Fully adjustable suspension components let you fine-tune the ride and handling to your tastes, while shaft drive eases maintenance. Comfort and performance blend together seamlessly in this all-day milemuncher, and standard hard luggage, available ABS, and a 5.8-gallon gas tank close the deal. Kawasaki calls it a Transcontinental Supersport Tourer; we call it brilliant.

Ducati Hypermotard $11,995

Ducati Hypermotard

One of the coolest things about motorcycles is how the racing world influences the styling and engineering found in street bikes. The Ducati Hypermotard is the product of a new style of racing that began several years ago, when a bunch of racers took some dirt bikes, put street tires on them, and started com peting on tight, curvy tracks with both paved and dirt sections. They discovered that not only was this Supermotard racing a blast, but the bikes proved competent at just about everything. Ducati’s Hypermotard embraces this new genre in both form and function, resulting in a thrilling, aggressive street ride. Powered by a torque-rich 1,078-cc air-cooled L-twin with plenty of low-down muscle and a throaty exhaust note, the Hypermotard’s light weight, short wheelbase, and wide handlebars make it the ultimate street-carver. In typical Ducati fashion, the designers have taken what could be a stylistically ugly duckling (thanks to its dirt-bike origins) and made it hot, sexy, and brilliantly well-proportioned. A more expensive high-performance S version with suspension, brake, tire, and other upgrades makes this stout stallion even more desirable.

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