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MD Reader Responses – Marketing Practicality

Our editorial about the need to market motorcycles as practical transportation prompted several responses from MD readers. Some of them make quite interesting reading. Here they are.

  • Maybe more so. It’s bags of fun twisting a 400cc motard to the throttle stop. Try that on you GSXR-1000. If you’re not Mladin or Spies, you best be wearing full protective gear. We need to get some of the fantastic 125, 250 & 400cc models the rest of the world gets. They’re stylish _and_ frugal. Not to mention much more entertaining on public roads. Cheaper to insure too.

  • Thank you for expanding your coverage to include “practical” motorcycles. As I’ve traveled the world, I’ve noticed the impact two-wheeled vehicles have had in other places while stereotypes and misinformation dominate here. I can’t begin to tell you how many conversations I’ve had with neighbors about motorcycles and scooters while I’m putting my Gold Wing into the garage in front of my Honda automobile. My neighbors find it hard to believe that I would chose to leave my Honda in the garage and take the Gold Wing to the store for groceries. When I explain that 1) it’s more fun and 2) the Gold Wing gets me there and back and is at least twice as efficient as my other vehicle, they often are more interested.

  • I’ve been waiting for your post titled, “Marketing Practicality” for a long time. In many parts of the country, a two-wheeler (especially one that higher MGP than a small car) is a viable alternative means of transportation. Maybe we should require someone purchasing a vehicle that gets less than a certain MPG to buy a small motorcycle or scooter to go along with it? There will details of course, but in a lot of cases it would benefit everyone. Anyway, I encourage you to follow up on your pledge to also report on the “practical” market. It is the future … Thank you for a great publication.

  • A number of factors would need to come about here in the US before motorcycles are looked at as practical daily transportation. Tax structures on vehicles, cost of cars relative to earnings, shortage of available parking, higher fuel prices yet, image, etc. That last one is a big one. Since motorcycles here are looked at as toys there comes the image portrayed by them and their riders. We have the ever popular “Bad Boy” or “Road Pirate” image so popular with the Harley gang and we have the sportbike “Racer” image usually followed by the younger set. It’s hard to slot the everyday individual into either of them. Scooters have been looked at as perhaps the first stepping stone to getting otherwise non-riders into motorcycling. But they’ve had limited success. Remember too, that in the Northern states especially the weather keeps a motorcycle from looking like the best choice for a good portion of the year. I’ve been riding for over 40 years and I still park the bike for almost 6 months each year. That’s a large reason I think that they tend to be toys here. Most people will use them only part of the year and so they do not replace a car because of that. Motorcycling takes some sacrifices in convenience and comfort and usually means just the rider and perhaps one other along for the ride. We are generally too spoiled to put up with those tradeoffs.

  • I have to agree with you. The Motorcycle is the perfect machine. But, in the USA with our money and bigger is better attitude the perfect machines are often not imported. The only simple, mid size standards I can think of is the Sportster 883 and Bonneville. Good for Triumph and HD for keeping that segment alive. I always wanted a Nighthawk 750 and regret being to “American” to buy one. I loved the simplicity of my BMW R65. It was a shame to see it gone on my R1100R and that’s why I did not buy a R1200R. Many naked bikes coming from Japan have the latest greatest water cooled in-line four technology and most of them don’t make it to out shore, except with a smaller fairing. I guess gone are the days of a standard with a windscreen and some panniers. Now that was touring!

  • Bravo on the above named article today. It mirrors what I have been saying for years. The migration to cruisers and sport bikes really narrowed the market down to playbikes only. Thank god for some Adventure and naked bikes making it to market. I say bring in more street legal enduros too.
    Yamaha…. BRING BACK THE DT series !

  • Glad to read this article. I started back riding when I moved to Hawaii because of the high gas prices and because of the fun in riding in one of the most beautiful states in the US. The weather was another factor too. I moved back to the mainland and realized that the 650 Nitehawk was OK for HI but not VA so I upgraded to a Triumph Sprint ST. I wrecked that one avoiding a deer so now am riding a Goldwing. I try to get other people to ride just to save $$ on commuting but to no avail. I think if the major motorcycle companies changed their marketing strategies and emphasized the other types of bikes they would increase their sales and subsequently lower the amount of fuel used in this country as a bonus. Keep up the good work and I enjoy reading your website.

  • Thanks for the article on the need to market motorcycles as transportation rather than as toys. An automotive writer whose name I can’t recall once wrote, “It is more fun to drive a slow car fast, than to drive a fast car slow.” Anyone who has thrashed the living daylights out of, for example, a 1971 Volkswagon Super Beetle knows just what I’m talking about. A Kawasaki KLR 250 makes a great little city bike, but it’s generally accepted as being way, way down in the motorcycling food chain. It doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks for the great work.

  • Don’t forget fitness! Our dirt bike club, (OFTR-Ontario Federation of Trail Riders, www.oftr.org) is trying to get the Dept of Health, to recognize dirt bike riding as a great way to stay fit and fight obesity! Just think of the rewards if we could get our governments to subsidize our hobby! A healthier population reduces costs to our health care system! (OK, wishful thinking).

  • Since you want to change the discussion about motorcycles from toys to practical transportation, how about some emphasis on gas mileage?
    What’s the best you can expect in town or on the highway driving sensibly? What’s the best MPG you can expect riding all out like a lunatic? Seldom do I see MPG figures in a review of a motorcycle by anyone. Magazines like to chart bikes by size, type, manufacturer or whatever. How about an MPG chart, listing the bikes in order of best to worst MPG? I have multiple bikes and it takes some extreme weather for me NOT to ride one of them. I would love to see smaller bikes and scooters ranked according to their fuel efficiency. Besides, it would make my next purchase an easier sell to my wife. You are my number one online source for information. Keep up the good work!

  • Yeah – I couldn’t agree more. The more the general public sees motorcycles in a practical / reasonable light, the more people will consider them as a viable alternative. Even if they don’t ride themselves it will have a halo effect. Perhaps a good first step would be for journalists and magazines to stop photographing bikes doing wheelies in every review. People know that bikes lean in corners but wheelies and stoppies just reinforce the hooligan image. My wife and I own several bikes and ride a couple of thousand miles a year in spite of New England weather and two careers. We cringe every time we see somebody wheelieing down the highway. Not because we care if they hurt themselves but because they hurt us by turning the general public against us. And don’t even get me started on loud exhausts!

  • Hi! I agree with you-one way to accomplish this is to spread the news to the general(non-riding)public that scooters have automatic transmissions. We now have a generation raised on automatic cars with no clue of how to shift a bike. Cities need to be leaned on to implement motorcycle only parking before commuters roll into town looking for a parking spot. I’ve thought for several years that retired riders with some extra time and ability to own different bikes should buy a scooter and hang out at tourist locations near their homes and be open to talking to people about their scooters. Face it- it’s easier to talk to a grey haired rider on a scooter than a young person on a motorcycle. Gotta go-work calls.

  • I couldn’t agree more with your article on promoting the practial reasons of motorcycle transportation. The differences between here (US) and Europe are striking, among them being: (1) motorcycle are less “shiny” in the EU and rest of world since they are used more frequently and are less intended for show, and (2) most EU bikes have top boxes for carrying belongings (I am often left to wonder how to transport groceries/computer on most of the exisiting bikes without a backpack). Though, scooters are filling in the practicality gap with generous storage, ample wind protection, and good gas mileage.

  • I wanted to say that I agree with your recent editorial pointing out the lack of emphasis on practical side of motorcycling. I am a tired of reading endless road tests of the latest racer replica’s…they are uncomfortable, way to fast for the street and many of them get atrocious gas milage. I also do not understand why so many motorcycle publications encourage their readers to replace the exhaust systems on their bikes. The VAST majority of these systems are too loud, and only serve to present a bad image of out sport to the non-riding public. Also, they eliminate the emission control systems (the catalyst) that are required to clean up our air. Worse, publications make it sound like the required modifications include a new exhaust and a PC III or a similar product, that only serve to make these machines even more dirty and loud. If we keep this up the States and Feds are going to come down HARD on us. There is already a initiative within the EU to ban motorcycles completely. Think it cant happen here?
    Guess again. Unrelated question: speaking of more practical motorcycles, how about a test of the 2007 Kawasaki Z1000? Or is it not sporty enough?

  • I will begin by saying I always enjoy reading & visiting your website.Today’s piece on Marketing Practicality did cause me to smile, then laugh @ the premise that motorcycles should be marketed by focusing on their financial benefits and advantages. As a rider of almost 40 years, I recall offering that rationale to my parents, when at age 16 or so, I attempted to convince them to let me purchase my first m/c.
    Notwithstanding the extremely high ( I feel ) initial purchase of a new m/c , the cost of tires, & poor fuel economy ( of most of today’s bikes ) makes financial considerations a poor factor in deciding to ride a motorcycle. My experience in owning some 30+ street & dirt bikes is that , though being extremely entertaining, m/c’s aren’t economical transportation.
    I recognize that small bikes can be economical, but most riders and buyers are so focused on high horsepower bikes
    that manufacturers do not put much effort in marketing fuel efficient bikes. I believe the ’72 Xl 250 Honda I rode while stationed in Japan, t was probably the most fuel efficient bike I’ve ever owned. I currently own a ’86Gl 1200A, ‘ 95 St 1100, ’91 VERY, ’98 VTR 1000, ’79 HD FXEF and a few dirt bikes. My 2002 SL2 Saturn gets better mileage (& longer tire life) than all my bikes (cept the 84 Xl 600). My G/W & ST will give me about the same mileage as my Saturn, if driven very carefully & @ about equal speeds. Thought I’d share my thoughts & experience on this subject.. though I am disappointed with the fuel economy of my VFR & VTR, I still love riding them! :)

  • Finally an American reviewer that sees the value of a motorcycle for real world purposes. This is something that the riders of large displacement scooters have been proclaiming for years. Also riders of practical real world bikes like the sv650, V-Stroms and other middleweight standards and cruisers. Now, if only dealers could learn to sell them to the general public as something beyond posercycles.

  • You might be a bit optimistic in your thinking that motorcycles might take off here as they have in Europe as a less expensive means of transportation. Mind set is the fundamental operative here. In Europe, bikes and scooters have been around forever, are well accepted and in many cases the only practical means of transportation for many people. Even motorcycle racing as a professional sport commands huge attraction as compared in the U.S. The general view in this country of motorcycles is, as we all know, different to say the least. We are a long way from instituting proper training protocols for certifying motorcycle licensing. Currently, there is little difference in the knowledge, skills and abilities required for motorcycle use as compared with automobile driving requirements with the latter requiring far less ability and training. So, it’s no surprise that motorcycling remains a risky business here. Then there are the stereotypes of ‘Hells Angels’ gangs, crazy kids on crotch rockets gambling with their lives, riders in large groups taking over the roads on Saturdays and Sundays holding up traffic and leaving their “rolling thunder” noise behind them. Such ideas firmly implanted in the American psyche will make it very difficult for the public to accept the idea of two wheelers being economical transportation. I don’t think even an astronomical rise in fuel costs would make this kind of acceptance come to pass. It would be a huge undertaking and would require an economy in dire straits for it to happen. This country will never fall to condition reminiscent of those in the third world where you see bicycles and mopeds clogging the city streets. I think instead we would have (obviously more expensive than motorcycles) nothing but four wheeled state of the art econo-boxes with tiny hybrid motors getting 75 mpg or more. I’m just thankful to the Japanese Four for being highly competitive and manufacturing the best, most reliable and least expensive luxury toys that are out there. What would we have (or do) without them?

  • You are so right! How do people outside the motorcycling mainstream find out about the v-strom 650, Bandits, 919′s, and FZ6′s of the world. It’s about time you met the nicest people on a Honda again and understood how easy and practical these bikes could be. Me, I want a Supercharged Burgman!

  • Motorcycles have always been practical, fun, transportation, if the rider gets to pick the place and time. They are not economically competitive transportation. They can’t carry anything and still get out of the way of larger vehicles. I have tried commuting on my motorcycle. I would arrive or get home very wet at least once a month. On a short commute where you think the bike would have an advantage, the added overhead of getting dressed at both ends makes you late.

  • I have often wondered why modern bikes don’t get better mileage than they do. Perhaps the manufacturers are more concerned with engine performance than frugality. A few years ago I had a 1987 Ford diesel Escort and a 1977 CB750 which I still have. The Honda consistently returned between 40 and 45 mpg. The Ford put up 39 to 44 numbers. These were all around figures, not just highway or city. A passenger would alter the CB’s mpg but not the Ford so there was no reason(other than fun) to choose the 750. True…comparing the Escort to the Four IS apples and oranges but anything below a 500 seems a little under gunned on the freeway, especially with a passenger. A new Mustang can nearly match the gas mileage of a 60s VW bug so do you think that fuel mileage is just not on the motorcycle manufacturing radar?

  • Amen, brother! Cycles should definitely be promoted as gas saving, traffic reducing, smile inducing modes of transportation… Not all bikes are raked-out chrome displays, or death defying sportbikes. Most bikes fall somewhere in-between and the public should be more aware of it. It doesn’t take much gear to start commuting by cycle. I have to dress business casual for work, and all I need is my Givi trunk. I can wear my jacket, helmet, boots, and overpants (if it’s cold or rainy), and still look respectable at work. And I don’t mind the commute as much either. Ride to work day is a great event, but it never seems to fall on a good-weather day in Chicago, so maybe it should be Ride to work WEEK. 5 times the chances to try it, and 5 times the exposure to the general public. P.S. Speaking of NORMAL bikes, can you put some pressure on Speed channel to bring back Two-Wheel Tuesday show with Greg White??? The show was about regular bikes, sport updates, and common events and rallies. Every other cycle show either adds chrome to disfunctional choppers, or speeding tickets for the stunt bike crowd… Theres nothing for a regular rider to watch anymore, and I can’t watch the Speed Report for cycle racing info (45 seconds worth) because I can’t take all the NASCAR hype (who gives a crap when CREW-MEMBERS are switching teams???). Thanks for listening!

  • “As a ‘RUSTY’ cycling enthusiast I find ‘today’s NEW model’ has, unfortunately, severely stunted product development within this industry.”
    I recall a time, not so long ago, when production motorcycles featured new wares BEFORE automobile manufacturers, kindly recall Dylan sang – “Oh’ the times they are a changing … TRUE!”

  • Motorcycles stopped being practical in America once the Model T established itself. By practical I mean simply a means of affordable transportation that is necessary for work and essential activities. That might be too limiting of a definition by some but I think it stands up pretty well. In my definition I want to emphasize affordable. Thruoughout Asia and other poorer regions of the globe motorcycles are the only transportation within the financial reach of many and thus they are practical. If one tries to expand the definition of practical to include saving some modest amount of money by driving a cycle instead of a car I think you will find that such is always almost impossible. Add the cost of the bike or scoot and it’s maintainece, insurance, fuel and clothing and maybe at $2.50 a gallon at something over 10K miles a year somebody might save a few dollars. All well and good but the number of people able or willing to ride that amount per year is vanishingly small and those people already own bikes. If gas doubles or triples then sure, the savings equation swing to bikes and the savings could start running into the thousands saved per year. If I were a non cyclist or very occasional one and I saw I could save even $2K a year with a bike I still might not consider it practical because of the thought that I might get badly hurt of killed on it would enter my calculation. By my or most definitions of a practical cycle one would assume it’s use for commuting to work. I have 40 years of cycling experience and live in a modest sized metro area, Grand Rapids, MI and my commute route is quite easy, traffic and congestion wise, compared to what a majority of Americans probably face and I sometimes sort of dread the commute. If I had a lot of stop and go situations or more congestion then I probably would commute much less because of the discomfort in warm/hot weather and the additional danger. I admittedly don’t have a practical bike; a 1200 ZZR, 38MPG with an appitite for self installed $120 tires, but if I did and IF I thought I might be able to save a few bucks a year I still wouldn’t commute more. Then there is a thing called winter, with large chunks of fall and spring with rain and tems in the 40′s. Until gas is rationed I’m not riding then either. There are plenty of practical bikes sold here but the practicality, dollars and sense wise, for most is marginal at best. Advertising on the
    basis of practicality would border on false advertising, not a rarity I know, and besides nothing is held in higher contempt in our culture vis a vis our vehicles than practicality. Unless or until gas is painfully expensive or in shortage motorcycles will never be practical in America. As a means of expanding the sale of bikes or the pool of fellow riders [practicality should probably sent to the bottom of any list.

  • I believe the manufacturers are responding in this area with the latest generation of scooters. They have better weather protection, more storage space, and better fuel mileage than many other models while still being enjoyable to ride. There may come a point when the price of fuel is so high that many people with gas guzzlers will be stuck between a rock and a hard place; they won’t be able to afford the fuel to use them as daily drivers, and they won’t be able to unload them on anybody else. So they will have to find an affordable alternative to get back and forth to work, and a large scooter, with enough room for a few bags of groceries and a sticker price that’s half as much as a car, may be the answer.

  • Amen. My Reflex costs $77 per year to insure and less than $5 to fill the tank that takes me well over 100 miles. Have ridden to Tahoe and back twice.

  • I agree completely with the fact that motorcycles will grow as a practical way to get to work cheaper and easier. I have always had sportbikes and I now have a Suzuki DRZ400 “S” that I have put supermoto wheels and tires on. The bike is super fun and super practical and gets fantastic gas mileage. As great as a sportbike is, I am honestly enjoying riding this simple “pure” motorcycle better. Its not very fun for long freeway trips, but for everyday trips to work and running errands, its just right.

  • I could not agree with you more about the practicality of motorized two wheelers for commute (and lesser) use. The big four Japanese makers all have smaller machines in other markets that would be terrific commute or around town bikes- alas, especially here in the Republik of Kalifornia, the smog certs would probably be prohibitive to import them into the U.S. Besides, it seems to me that here in the the U.S. it is a case of the tail wagging the dog as far as model choices- this is what you get, take it or leave it!!