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A New Decade . . . And New Ideas

The last decade in motorcycling was highlighted by the emergence of the 1,000cc superbike, cruisers with massive displacement, and an emphasis on “more is better”, including higher prices. This new decade is shaping up differently.

Perhaps, riders are remembering that motorcycle enjoyment does not depend on horsepower and engine size. Small dual sports, smaller and less expensive road bikes (such as the Kawasaki Ninja 250) and even scooters might make up the bulk of the headlines in the next 10 years. Of course, battery powered bikes and hybrids, as well as other “alternative fuel” machines will become more numerous and prominent.

Maybe it is time to take some of that R&D money away from the big, flashy models and develop some high quality, smaller displacement machines that get better gas mileage and cost less money to own. At the same time, maybe it is time to remind people that small, light and nimble can be even more fun than “scary fast”.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • It’s hard for me to visualize a marketing race among motorcycle
    manufacturer to show who has the plainest, lightly powered, mediocre
    bike. Although cruisers showed that you can make a good market for
    mediocre machines, the trick was to take the customers mind off the
    quality and performance of the bikes themselves. Marketing at its best.

    The whole thing is very personal. Personally I would like to see the the
    next generation of bikes use the sport bike as the starting point. These
    bikes are the most refined products the manufacturers produce. They are
    very light, have the best handling, braking, and power delivery, and in
    my experience are quite reliable (at least for the Big Four). But what
    turns most people off is the comfort factor. So start with the best of
    the breed and give it a few nips and tucks to make it more comfortable,
    with a few touring amenities (but not 50 pounds heavier) and see what
    happens. Maybe a lot of cruiser riders are ready for a change, but to
    something that has personality. And for old farts (I am one), switching
    from an 800 lb cruiser to a comfortable 450 lb machine, with the
    performance and technology of the modern sport bike, might be kinda
    fun.   Sherm

  • Seeing your article asking for ideas for the new decade, I have a ‘want’…
    I would love to see the 400cc 4-cylinder bikes come back.
    I have a Bandit 400 and recently sold an FZR400.
    A 400cc bike with all the tech of a current 600cc supersport would be a blast! Bring back the GSXR, Bandit, VFR/RVF, CB1, FZR, and ZX-R 400s, and sell them all in America this time!!!
    Thanks for listening, Nathan

  • Just thought I would add my 2 cents.
    I currently ride a 2007 Tiger 1050, but gas mileage is only about 45 mph. My 01 Sprint St gave me consistently 50 mpg. I had a 650 V Strom in between that was actually more fun to ride and I got 50 mpg. Why the race for more HP and bigger engines?
    I would love to have a diesel powered sport tourer that gave me around 100 mpg. Failing that, give me a mid sized bike that delivers 60 mpg plus or a selectable mode for economy.
    I am now looking for a used dual sport for commuting, but the Piaggio hybrid scooter looks very interesting, though out of my price range.   David

  • Concur 100% – where the heck is my 500cc single liquid cooled 55 hp motard with a modern lightweight chassis that I have been begging for?   Brian
  • Go back 30 years and pick any displacement category bike you want and you’d find they produced about half the total power today’s bikes do. Do we need today’s level of performance? Certainly no. Do we want it? Sometimes yes. But this never ending push upward and onward (the American way?) has led to much more expensive bikes and expensive to service when needed, bikes that can scare the life out of you.

    I have owned since new an ’84 Interceptor that while nothing like today’s bikes is actually more than plenty fast. This last summer I added a Moto Guzzi Norge to the stable for a more relaxed longer distance mount. As one here responded, I am finding I can sit back and enjoy the ride and the scenery more than if I was pushing a hyper bike to its limits. While I went up in size to get to that point I think many of the bikes in the past offered that in a BIG way.   Rick

  • I certainly hope you’re correct. My new bike in 2009 was a KTM Duke 690. Arguably the ultimate urban bike. Not too shabby in the corners either. Most folks who look at it can’t understand why I bought a “little” bike. Folks who ride Harley, or BMW can’t imagine “trading down” to something like this.
    Clearly the purpose of Government is nothing more than to keep the masses emotionally worked up over nothing of substance, and separate the individual from his lunch money
    whenever the opportunity presents itself.   Robert

  • I agree 100%. I’d like to see the manufacturers place more emphasis on practical but fun midrange bikes like the VStrom 650 and Versys. This to me is the perfect size bike: Light enough to throw around a curve but capable of long distance touring, with modern technology but not too complex. I’ve always been a fan of Honda engineering but they have nothing to offer me in that class. Honda could be forgiven their massive R&D investment in sportbikes if there were some trickle down into midrange bikes like the above, but all we get from them is the ancient NT700V.   Michael
  • I think most of the headlines could be pointed at the sport touring and performance dresser market. I could see a hybrid electric front drive which uses some of the ABS’s brain to control regenerative braking on a future VFR or Goldwing. Considering no one really runs past 100mph sustained, it could be a very useful tool for additional acceleration on a heavier/lower CG bike. It would be very little help to a high CG sportbike which is already wheelie limited.

    I agree on the alternative fuels as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a flex fuel bike, but again, it only makes sense on a larger machine that could conceal the extra fuel.

    The next thing for sportbikes will be direct injection, and with the rate of direct injection making it into everyday cages (GM is going to have 10 models with it in 2010, and all but their heavy duty trucks in 2011), in as little as 2 years. I’d expect that the upper injectors will be retained, like toyota’s latest V6 with direct injection, for better charge cooling/cylinder filling under WOT conditions.   Judd

  • Talk about hitting the nail on the head. If my old 1000cc Concours, which
    first hit the road in 1986, could still make a good showing 20+ years later,
    why can’t technology advancements give us a vastly superior 1000cc bike now
    ? I ride a 1300cc FJR but would gladly take that same bike and make it
    1000cc and proportionately lighter. Simpler would also be nicer. Use the
    Okham’s Razor principal – the simplest solution is usually the best
    solution. Any idiot can make it complex. The genius will make it simple and
    get the same result.   David

  • Indeed!

    After many Honda Nighthawks, a Honda VFR, KawZR750, YamFZ1, Beull M2 I am presently riding an ’06 Kaw Ninja 500. Cheap to buy. Cheap to own. Even at age 49! And it IS indeed great on the backroads and looking hard into 90 degree corners at the lights with the bike leaned over as much as she pleases.

    I would not mind having a Duc Multi 650, or another VFR or the new Kaw Z1000…but money was tight this past year and after trying a VERY bumpy Yamaha 125 scooter, I went to the Ninja. Always wondered what they are like. Used to be a 500 was a big bike. Honks right along on the highway..

    Sometimes I am looking for some extra zip, and sometimes, I am not.   Neil

  • I’ve been racing off-road for many years.
    Nowadays I think I have the most fun back yard “racing” my DRZ125L 9 horsepower rocketship with my buddies. We have a whole series set up with about 5 guys’ back yards.   John

  • Not for me. I’ve had this mindset most my life. I’ve ridden MCs since I was 20, first being a 250 Yamaha for cheap, simple transportation. Now at the ripe age of 66 I’m switching to scooters for less higher weight and even better mpg. Since I do 99% of our small vehicles servicing, I’m finding scooters a simpler, easier way to maintain them, not to mention they’re handy built-in storage. We have a `07 MP3 250(hers) and a `04 Aprilia Scarabeo 500GT. The GT is for local or long distance runs. Now if Dunlop would make some long wearing 491 tires for scooters………. I’d be in scooter heaven ! We still have 3 MCs from 660cc – 949cc for use, but their weights bother me now when not moving forward . I like a lower CoG.

    Been thinking for a long time I have a European mindset on this subject. The price of gasoline has always been important to me. Only V-8 I’ve ever owned is out of necessity, our Dodge 3/4T pickup.   Randy

  • I think you are spot on. I think the biggest surprise for me last year was the surge in electric motorcycles. I am sure the Isle of Mann TT will help promote this trend in the future. When people see an electric running at the Isle of Mann they start thinking that electric bikes are viable, practical and fun.   K. Paul
  • It’s a new decade like 1999 was the end of the millennium.
  • Please keep this thought going in 2010. I had a wonderful trip to northern Italy this summer and saw how much more motorcycles are a way of life…and the majority of them are scooters or small displacement bikes. What would be so wrong with more selection in the 400 cc size…brings back memories of the famous CB 400 Four.   cheers…LR
  • The bikes/scooters you speak of exist and are being sold in most of the world already, they just dont sell them here.(because they wont sell) Unfortunately, these new ideas wont take shape until Americans quit riding for “show and pleasure” only. When peak oil drives the next fuel increase (if its during the non-winter months) you may see a slight rise in moto use for practical purposes, but until its hits and sticks, America is still in denial of the eventual and inevitable end of mindless motoring in cars/trucks. I agree with smaller displacement machines (I currently have a KTM Duke 690 (654cc) single, and its very proficient for all types of riding) and 40-50 HP max is plenty for most applications of commuting or errands.The main thing that has to change is the $5-8K Scooter pricing (ie Suzuki Bergman/Piaggios’) as that is the most likely growth point in the US.(Commuting) Quit selling for show and start selling for go. Its going to take a while and some financial pain before people (and Vendors) really look to bi-wheeled mobility as a viable alternative in the USA.   Michal
  • Along those lines, I’d like to see an emphasis on true standards, not just the stripped down, limited use, so called “naked” bikes we see today. But, it would be great to be able to purchase a plain Jane motorcycle and configure it any way you want: sport, tour, custom. This time, however, we could have factory options, instead of having to seek out aftermarket junk to personalize a bike, like we used to, waaaay back when. So, instead of spending all that money and technology on hyper-expensive, singly focused motorcycles, the manufacturers could put their efforts into making their products more versatile.
  • Although the market may be small, a 750 – 800 touring bike like a ST
    would be nice. The current selection, F800 is a little more sport and
    not enough protection, the NT 700 is stone age and heavy and maybe
    over priced. So manage the weight and keep the seat height reasonable.   Gary

  • I’m not a retro grouch, BUT, I’m about to give up on finding a simple, low maintenance, fun, sporty bike.

    I love my old BMW R100 but you can’t get a new Beemer that I’d feel comfortable once the warranty is over

    .
    I love my S1 Buell hate the seat, broke my heart to see them go. I was waiting for the air coolers to get another half gallon (or more) gas capacity. Wasn’t gonna happen, so I bought one before they were all gone. Wish it still had a carburator though. Ever got some bad gas? It’s a $500 bill when you’re on the road on a FI bike versus 5 minutes on an old Beemer, or Buell or most old bikes.

    I’d love to see some reasonable twins. The Guzzi classic is really nice, still pricey, The new Norton is sooooo sweet. I’d have to see if it stays available. Triumph is really tempting but they’ve neutered the bikes for what reason I can’t fathom. They could run much better without leaning on the engine. The Thruxton with some different bars and some motor help. I don’t need much, but that bike should be able to run with a 13 year old Buell.

    Sorry for rambling, just glad to see you back after the holidays. Waiting for spring in Wyoming.

  • Regarding your “A New Decade . . . And New Ideas” story, it’s no secret that the Ninja 250 is Kawasaki’s best selling motorcycle and one of the best selling motorcycles on the entire market. Yet Kawasaki continues to be the only brand offering a sporty motorcycle under 500 cc’s. It will be interesting to see if any of the other manufacturers wake up to what they are missing over the next decade…   John
  • While it would be nice if product development decisions were made based upon doing what was “good for the world,” these decisions are usually are made based upon what will sell in sufficient quantities to more than pay back development costs, marketing costs and sales costs. That extra, the profit, is what allows development of the next vehicle and is an absolutely necessary part of the plan. So, suppliers build what will sell.

    Another point is that perception of a bike, not the actual reality of the machine, often leads to a purchase. That means that bikes are purchased based upon what the rider thinks and feels about the machine. It is only after the purchase that the reality of the machine’s actual capabilities come to the forefront. Some suppliers have found that they re able to deal with product shortcomings by creating strong user groups and having a huge, weighty catalog of costly add ons and clothing. Then the strength of the “community” can overcome sometimes serious limitations of the machines themselves by focusing attention on “the experience.” I don’t want to start a range war and so, I won’t mention the suppliers that appear to fall into this category.

    Until motorcycle media starts covering smaller, more practical vehicles; including smaller scooters, street bikes, and cruisers; and making them seem “cool” and “desirable”, your vision is unlikely to emerge in this world. Most of what we see in the media is coverage idolizing high performance, overly large machines. They are typically being held up as what people should and ought to be thinking about.

    How often, for example, have you published a review of developments in sub 800 cc engine based machines? I would point out that more often than not, you publish articles about race results, high performance street bikes, huge cruisers and the like rather than more practical machines.

    I’ve seen maxi-scooters, machines having between 500 and 650 cc engines, keep up with much larger machines around town and on longer highway trips. Even though these machines can usually top 100 MPH, they might lose out when illegal high end speed is considered. They win when it comes to cost, fuel consumption, insurance costs and they like.

    They are often used as touring machines, not just in-town machines. Do you spend much time looking at them, thinking about them or publishing articles about them, their owners or their use? While I’ve seen a few articles on this class of machine, they are rather rare over all. That is just one example. I believe the same can be said of 400 to 600 cc street bikes and cruisers.

    May I suggest that if motorcycledaily.com really believes the message you published today, that it would be wise to change your editorial plan for the coming year.   Dan

  • You know as well as anyone – plenty of R&D has gone into small bikes for use in other countries. It is not that America hasn’t had the opportunity to get these units. It’s that not enough people BUY them. The Ninja 250 is the exception, not the rule.   Brett
  • I ride a CBR1000RR. At the Indy MotoGP this year i test rode a Triumph T100. I had TOTALLY FORGOTTEN what it was like to enjoy a leisurely ride on a decent motorcycle! The riding position was great, the exhaust/engine noise was pleasant, the power was not distracting, the bike was light enough to flick this way and that. For the first time in a long time i enjoyed the scenery. Perhaps i’d gotten too far away from the things that made me fall in love with motorcycling in the first place. I think this decade has a bike like the Triumph in store for me. In addition to the CBR ;-)   Chris