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Four-Stroke Motocross Product Development – Who Said Molasses is Slow?

I have been thinking, lately, about how long it has taken for manufacturers to respond to Yamaha’s YZ400, first introduced over three years ago. All of Yamaha’s major competitors understand four-stroke technology, and already produce (and have for many years) four-stroke racing engines.

Yamaha proved very quickly that there was a large market for four-stroke motocross bikes. In fact, this was obvious to Cannondale – a company without motorcycle product planners on the payroll. Cannondale produced its first, and only, motorcycle, a four-stroke motocrosser from scratch, and brought it to market before any of Yamaha’s Japanese competitors. This fact just blows my mind. What is it about these major corporations that makes them move so slowly to react to market conditions? Sure, Yamaha has been one of the exceptions – leading the market rather than following.

Maybe these corporations get too conservative. The “bean counters” start calling the shots on product development. This isn’t exactly true, of course. All of these companies have product development people who are not accountants. The point is that they are too conservative about the financial risks they are taking – thus, they will not enter a market until the market is solidly proven. Unfortunately, that means consumers have to wait for choices.

It’s just frustrating to wait for the product to reach market when you know the risk is minimal, if not gone. Did everyone on the planet know that a well-designed four-stroke motocross bike would sell well two years ago? Well, everybody that mattered did. That’s why Cannondale nearly bet its company on this one concept. Okay, so, what about Honda, Yamaha, and Kawasaki? Why didn’t they develop a bike as quickly, or, given their larger resources (not to mention their motorcycle industry experience – something Cannondale also lacked), more quickly than Cannondale? Am I missing something? Cannondale has had its problems, but it sure went after this market quicker than the “big three”.