One of the trends in motorcycling mirrors a trend in other manufacturing — the rise of the niche manufacturer. What does this mean? It means that computer automation in design (CAD) and manufacturing processes have lead to the ability of the “little guy” to manufacture both cheaply and quickly products that can compete with the biggest manufacturers.
Let’s take a look at what Kenny Roberts did in the 500 GP class three years ago. Fed up with Yamaha, he decided to build his own bike virtually from scratch. He went to English manufacturing and parts vendors (and used the design services of Tom Wakinshaw Racing — TWR). He quickly built a bike that could compete at the 500 GP level (although unsuccessfully thus far). He also proved, and has been quoted as pointing out, that he can make design changes, build parts, and race with a substantially new bike faster than any large manufacturer (i.e., the big four Japanese).
Let’s look at Triumph. Okay, Triumph is bigger than a “little guy”, but everything is relative. Triumph is a relative “little guy” when compared with the big four. Similar to Kenny Roberts, Triumph uses design and engineering services of other English firms, but does a large amount of its own manufacturing. If Triumph is telling us the truth about its new 600, a relatively small manufacturer is now competing with the big four in the most competitive market of all — the 600cc sportbike class. This wasn’t possible before the advent of computer automated design and manufacturing techniques.
What does this mean for the motorcycle consumer? Certainly, the prospect of more variety and more competition among manufacturers. Additionally, it means that small niches that the large manufacturers have been afraid (or just too conservative) to address will be addressed. In fact, these small niches (addressed by relatively small manufacturers) could prove to be big hits — at which time the big four will produce bikes within those niches.