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Too Many Choices

The internet proves that there are people who are enthusiastic about an endless number of things. Passionate about things we’ve never heard of.

Motorcycle enthusiasm seems to be fractured into a million pieces, as well. Naked bikes, cruisers, luxury tourers, sport tourers, commuters, enduros, dual sports, supermotards, motocross, and endless others. Categories of bikes and bikes without a category. Bikes powered by internal combustion and bikes powered by electric motors. Tiny manufacturers and custom houses building bikes that come straight out of the mind of their designer/creator.

Trends seem to change quickly, and without prediction. As soon as a major manufacturer decides to fill a niche, and introduces a production bike for that purpose, the popularity of that niche might have disappeared.

Meeting the demand for practical two-wheeled transportation in markets like China and other parts of Asia is one thing, while responding to the constantly-changing demands of the fickle enthusiast is another. Can large manufacturers meet the demands of both, or do they have to make a choice?

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MD Readers Respond:

  • …and still not the bike I want. While living in japan I owned a Yamaha MT-01 and loved it. The best bike I have ever owned (33 years riding and 19 bikes.)

    Unfortunately, a bus hit me and totaled the bike a few months before I came back to the US.

    All the choices and the bike I want is not sold here.

    Keep up the good work. Jeff

  • drove my cage 100km to see a blogger I respect speak in person at Waterloo University in Waterloo, Ontario (driving from Toronto, ON). It was Cory Doctorow, of http://www.boingboing.net.

    An audience member asked him, “What will happen after this region of instability? What will we return to?”

    He replied (as far as I can remember), “Well, I think your thought is wrong, when you claim that we’re in a region of instability, implying that we’re going to return to stability. Get used to permanent, unrelenting change. There is no stability coming. It’s only going to get weirder from here.”

    I think that the fracturing of basically everything, including motorcycles, is a reflection of the increasing pace of change. Soon, you won’t be able to keep track. No-one will. You’ll see some dude fly by on a two-wheeled vehicle that you’ve never even conceived, much less heard, of. Your mind will boggle. That is the future. Get used to it.

    I think that, by and large, the weirdness will be fun.   Eric

  • No manufacturer can be expected to be all things to all people and expect to survive. Large or small – no one can do everything effectively all the time.

    The large companies will focus on the most profitable and sustainable, where the small companies will fill other niches. Other areas (like SuperMoto for one) will largely be left to smaller/niche makers (KTM, anyone?) to press. Let’s face it, Supermoto is extremely cool – but Mr. Everday often just smiles and buys the next iteration of a VTX-1300 or whatever.   Brett

  • I can, with degree of interest of my own, relate to your last article. I have gone to a chinese manufacturer recently with my proposal of “niche” kind of motorcycle. Their response was reluctance. Why? Two reasons: one is it requires investment, second is current restrictions on size of motorcycle’s engine in Cina. Their mainstay is seemingly endless variation of single cylinder 125cc light bikes. That’s what majority of chinese companies live on domestically and for export. So much more intriqueing is presence of european and japanese hi-tech superpowerfull and luxury products at chinese shows.

    What you se there is far away of peculiarities and quirks of West. Same world, two different conceptions of what motorcycle is supposed to be. I am affraid that “too many choices” motto is just western affair; it’s only in our heads. But western market is only a fraction of world market. That has to be recognized.

    Yet, my idea is to provide exiting but simple and inexpensive product with wordlwide potential. Hard to understand the reluctance. At the same time I obtained contact with one small New Zealand firm which builds their own designs in China while renting equipment and even workers. This is apperently no problem.   Denny

  • That’s why in the “Golden Years” the Universal Japanese Motorcycle ( UJM ) was SO popular. It could be easily transformed into a Tourer or Cafe Racer. Of course going down those paths gave us the Gold Wing and the GSXR, but we have gotten away from the idea of a good all round motorcycle.   Alex
  • It seems to me the large manufacturers have made a choice. That is why there are several bikes available in Europe that are not for sale in the USA. Honda has nothing in this country to compete with the V-Strom or Bandit. They only have cruisers, heavy-weight tourers (ok, now finally the NT700), sport bikes and of course off-road/MX racing bikes. No CBF1000, CB1300S, CB600 Hornet, CBF600N, XL1000V Varadero, or the XL700V Transalp. From Yamaha, we are missing the MT-01 and MT-03, XJR1300, XT1200 Super tenere, and the TDM900. There are many other models available from these and other manufacturers that we can’t get here because they have made a decision based on Americans inexplicit desire to ride mostly cruisers. What a loss for us.   Mike
  • I have been working in the motorcycle world for over 20 years, & I can tell you the slump seems to be lifted. All it took was to bring the price down. The price of units people want is just a bit more then they where willing to pay. The shop I’m at now saw one of the makers drop some units by as much as $2000. Now that this has happened sales are moving again. We had 600 sport bikes from 09,08, & 07, left setting on the floor. 600 sport bike are supposed to be the big sellers in there class, but the price got close to 10k & they sat. We got them back in the 7-8k & poof we got one left out of the 7 we had, & here in Maine the season don’t really start till May , not March. Just because the mighty HD can get 20k for a cruiser dose not mean every one needs to. Hyosung needs to look at this, there little 650 is a cool ride, & might sell well at a lower price point. There is an old saying “what the market will bear”, last I looked the wages in the US have been stuck for years, but the cost of living has been steady climbing, credit can’t off set all this. There are a few name brands that seem to sell regardless, HD, Ducati, & to my surprise Can-Am spyder seems to pull them in. So I don’t think buyers have too many choices, there buying them now the price is down some.   Todd
  • Large manufacturers can sell niche bikes at high prices, enthusiast bikes at moderate prices, and mass-market, low-end transportation at low prices. It’s not like the motorcycle industry has some never-before-encountered economic equation to solve. You see the same thing in every industry from audio/video gear to personal computers to cars. There will always be the status market that the big manufacturers can’t hit — the people who go out and buy Confederate motorcycles, high-dollar customs, and Bimotas. Outside of that, there’s nothing stopping Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Hyosung, and Kymco, etc. from competing wherever they choose to.   Fred
  • believe the issue is not the breadth of how motorcycles are to be used,
    but rather the specialization the OEMs have pressed by creating
    “factory-custom” options for each of these arenas. There was a time when
    one bike could be made into a tourer, a custom, a road-racer or a
    cafe-special by the owner themselves with appropriate use of garage-time,
    mechanical skill and the addition/removal of accessories. They were also
    good enough stock to stay with each niche on their own…good looking enough
    to ride near cruisers, fast enough to keep with racers, comfy enough to ride
    cross-country without hard bags, etc…

    The Honda CB-750 was just such a machine. I love the Amen-Savior
    coffin-tank choppers, the Yoshimura racers, the cafe’s and the Vetter-tour
    sleds all made from the same base frame and mill. The resulting were cool,
    unique, functional and accompanied by emotional attachment between the owner
    and the ride. Today, one must buy a ready-made racer, a ready-made custom or
    a ready-made tour bike. Each of these models is so close to “done” that
    they’re almost all the same on the road due to lack of easy customization
    beyond silencers, hence less emotional attachment between owner and bike.
    Even worse, each is far less functional than it’s predecessors for everyday
    use in my opinion. Sport bikes that can’t be used near their envelope
    anywhere legally, cruisers that truly compromise rideability and comfort for
    their look, touring bikes that are a handful at low speeds or in city
    traffic.

    For a while you could be a ready-made commuter (Nighthawk 750), but nobody
    cared for a UJM that couldn’t also become something else, because it wasn’t
    really “universal.” Way slower than the sport bikes, duller than the
    customs and really hard to truly customize. The only thing it could sort-of
    do was become a cheap tour ride.

    There’s no way for an OEM to capture ready-made cafe’, because that truly
    involved garage-level hacking and re-engineering, which is why people lusted
    for the few that were made by the owners with skill and dedication. A true
    cafe’ fan doesn’t buy a ready-made cafe…they build one themselves.

    The OEMs can return to a less stratified, maintainable market by engineering
    a true UJM again, and returning niche markets to the aftermarket and
    customizers where it belonged all along.   Ken