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Why Low-Tech Sells

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Earlier today, I was reading about the imminent release of a new Royal Enfield model called the Himalayan. It reminded me that Royal Enfield has seen great success in the last few years despite producing motorcycles that offer very low engine performance by modern standards. The Royal Enfield Continental GT model (featured in the video below) has been quite popular, but many of their models sell well not only in India where they are made, but abroad.

As we have told you before, you don’t need high horsepower to enjoy riding a motorcycle. Maybe it is our lifelong affinity for the beat of our mother’s heart, but bikes that bring us closer to the mechanical process beneath us always seem to draw a fan base regardless of their objective performance. Two examples are pictured here, including the Royal Enfield Continental GT above, and the Moto Guzzi Griso pictured below.  You can see some other examples here.

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78 Comments

  1. jim bottomley says:

    The Enfield looks great, but my RD350 can smoke it!

    • Scotty says:

      There are other considerations though Jim. An ER-6 can smoke your RD, but what one gives you the most pleasure???

  2. Pigiron says:

    I love my KLR 250 replete with kick start. It is actually pretty fast.

  3. stinkywheels says:

    I’m in love with motorcycles, plain and simple. That describes the bikes I like, plain and simple. I am a fan of fuel injection, finally, even though there are things working down there that I have no idea how to fix. My later model bikes, as much as I love them, would be stripped down to a lower level of tech, if I had the time, money and knowhow. My aircooled Hyper would not have a red key or high tech dash if I was capable of gutting an ECU. I’m eith stuck with some unneeded features or missing out on some GREAT bikes because of features I don’t want to be stuck with after the warranty is up. The only way to protest is market abstinence.

    • JVB says:

      Mid 90’s 900 Ducati monsters and SS can be found for under $4K. Love my 03 guzzi Lemans V11, which has FI. Simplicity can be found that can still be reqarding. Too bad Enfield doesn’t make a “vintage racer” with stainless tank etc … Guzzi dropped the ball with the ungainly V7 side plates.

    • Doc says:

      Feel the same way about bikes. Even the brands I don’t like, I’m still interested in what their doing. The bikes that gave me the biggest smiles were a ’74 CT70(my first) and a couple of W650’s over the years. And my ’81 900F. If you need a lot of tech to make you happy, I feel your missing the point.

  4. Provologna says:

    If you have not yet watched the movie “Long Way Round,” please do.

    This stunningly well proportioned RE single reminds me of when the camera guy’s R1200GS broke, and he was stuck riding some archaic medium-light weight single Czech or Russian bike for a period of time. He appears on screen on his single, riding with the two stars of the movie still riding R1200GS and cargo, estimate 700+ lbs sans rider.

    The single whizzes by like he’s on a picnic, while the two behemoths struggle with their mass and lack of agility. It’s one of the more memorable moments of the movie. What on first glace was a huge negative turned out to have a big upside.

    On the one hand the movie proves how much the riders might have benefited with lighter bikes, but then it’s impossible to compare directly because every other lighter adventure bike is chain driven, with it’s own drawbacks in such horrific conditions as those depicted in that epic film (I’m long overdue for a re-watch on my 92″ perforated retractable screen).

  5. falcodoug says:

    DR650

  6. Rae says:

    I have a variety of bikes from 68 hp to 135 hp and have owned a lot more over the 55 years I’ve been riding. All great to ride, but I find myself drawn to the look and simplicity of the RE Continental GT. Doesn’t look like it needs to ridden fast, just enjoyed.

    Now the head/cams kit would make it a bit more than a very leisurely ride. 🙂

    • Dino says:

      Light weight, simplicity, torquey character… This is likely a great bike to ride and own. For the many of us, like myself, that always wind up wishing for a bit more power, how about a Mad Max kit?

      Now that Kawasaki has a blower on their H2R, that would make a great instant power kit for any bike! Kook it with an electric clutch (like Mad Max’s car) and you have a gentlemens ride around town, although a bit heavier. When you need that little extra something, flick a switch, get that boost, and leave your troubles behind! Literally!! Call me crazy (you won’t be the first) but that sounds like a tremendous way to spend time and cash modding up a bike! Now, if I just had some time, or cash, to burn on a project like this….

  7. Butch says:

    Reminds me of the Gold Star.
    Kudos to RE producing one of the best looking retros available.
    Should be a home run for the Hipster crowd as well as us old farts who have “been there, done that”.
    You gotta love those Aluminum hoops.
    Great video, by the way.

  8. takehikes says:

    I’m down with simpler. My truck is a 68 Ford F100 stepside with a 6 and a 3speed. Rock solid, gets me anywhere (literally) and I can fix it. Same with bikes. there is great appeal to it. A motorcycle is meant to be elemental not a car in name less 2 wheels (windshields, heaters, storage, stereos etc).

  9. JR says:

    My affordable 2014 Suzuki S40 weighs in at 381 lbs, has a 652 cc single air cooled cylinder, carb fed, simple to adjust valves and easy to maintain rear belt drive. Also this Suzuki model has been in production now for 30 years. Enough said.

    • peter says:

      I had a 2009 S40 also.

      For in town riding, it just puts a bigger smile on my face than my Triumph Street Triple for some reason 😉

    • Rudedog4 says:

      I’d love to get an S40 and get a Ryca kit to turn it into a standard or a scrambler.

    • cw says:

      Is the S40 bucket/shim or screw adjusted?

      If only the valve adjustment on my GS500 could be accomplished in 30 minutes instead of three days (remove tank, cover, measure, find shims, reassemble)…

      I set the exhaust pretty wide last time, so I don’t check quite as much as the schedule says to.

  10. Norka says:

    I have owned 20 bikes over the years including some very hot ones. However, when I retired to Ecuador I had to change, not allowed to bring my Concours. I now have a 2015 Royal Enfield Continental. I live in the Andes mountains at 8,500 feet where the roads are one 25 MPH curve after another and the strictly enforced speed limit is 90 KPH (54 MPH). In this world the Continental is a fun bike.

  11. PN says:

    Well, the Royals Enfields are are little too low-tech for me but go Guzzi!

  12. Scott says:

    If a Griso is low-tech, that Enfield is no-tech. -scratching head-

    Making a bazillion horsepower is wonderful, but a bike that needs multiple layers of computer systems to keep the wheels on the ground and make the bike even rideable isn’t what many of us want in a machine. That and there are many questions about the long term viability of these systems. We know how well a ‘simple’ FI system ages (let alone carbs). But how well do these new systems age? How repairable is a digitally managed suspension in five or ten years? Will the bike be essentially scrap when depreciation has rendered the cost of the repair enormous as a portion of the bike?

    And, of course, there’s the obvious. We’re living lives ever more saturated with technology and ever more attempts to ensure our collective safety. Getting on a “simple” motorcycle is both a step back in time away from this and, more importantly, a joyously juvenile way to wave a middle finger at our hyper-safety conscious world.

  13. George says:

    Depends on what you call “low tech”

    What sells is state of the art reliability and simplicity.

    We do not need 200Hp/liter for every bike but what we do need for all but the bleeding edge sportbikes includes:
    1. Usable torque and power
    2. Great reliability where only oil changes, chain maintenance and tires should be expected for 50k miles or more
    3. Suspension that is set up for the typical rider the bike is aimed at. Most American males are 180lb or more so most motorcycles aimed at American males should have a suspension designed for 180lb rider.
    4. Very capable brakes no cheap crap brakes that barely get the job done (HD) when excellent performing brakes that are available on every Japanese sport bike are available.
    5. Simple routine maintenance (easy oil changes, wheels designed to be easily removable for tire changes, optional center stands and/or maintenance stand support points, etc.) and if parts fail, the failed parts are easily, inexpensively replaceable without need of any special tools.
    6. OBD2 standard diagnostic port and data outputs
    7. No valve adjustments should be required on anything but the highest performance bikes. The technology has been in use for many years.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Standardized data ports for motorcycles really needs to happen.

      • Don Fraser says:

        Work at a shop selling the 4 Japanese brands and Yamaha is the only one that has a nice interface. Agree that they should all be OBD compliant.

    • Dave says:

      Re: “Most American males are 180lb or more so most motorcycles aimed at American males should have a suspension designed for 180lb rider.”

      Given our market size, I’m betting that no street motorcycles (other than HD’s) are aimed at American consumers. They’re shared with global consumers. How much does the average European weigh?

      Re: “No valve adjustments should be required on anything but the highest performance bikes.”

      They usually aren’t. Most makes call this maintenance interval valve clearance inspection, not adjustment.

      • George says:

        Not sure what the typical European rider weighs, but most Japanese bikes are set up with 140-150 pound motorcycle rider in mind.

        I’m pretty sure most Europeans weigh more than that as well.

        But even that being said, it would not be that difficult to have two sets of fork springs and two sets of shock springs in the factory. All the American bikes are known in the factory because they have to have an American vehicle ID number is not the same as used elsewhere in the world.

        As for the valve adjustment issue, you’re correct most manufacturers define it as a valve clearance check interval. However there is no reason for that either. The technologies been around for a long time to eliminate the need for checking valve clearances.

  14. Bob says:

    Part of the appeal of Harley Davidson is the fact that the bikes are simple, low tech, easy to work on and a slow evolution from the silent gray fellow. I bought a new sportser in 1976 because it was simple, reliable and easy to work on as opposed to a Honda 750 with OHC and four carbs to sync. Simplicity has always been a factor in my bike purchases, and I never owned a bike with more than two cylinders. I particularly like four stroke singles, and I even bought a new Royal Enfield 10 or 12 years ago. I readily admit that the RE was not a good bike, very weak engine and crappy drum brakes. I sold it quickly. But I also bought a new Yamaha SRX-6 back in 1986 and it was fabulous. Great power, superior handling, excellent brakes. Of the 30 or so bikes I’ve owned, the SRX was my favorite. I will always miss that sweet lady.

  15. Tyler says:

    Low tech sells to the people who enjoy motorcycling for more than just transportation or style. If I need a machine to get me to work with a bit more panache than driving the car, then any modern bike would fit the bill. If I want to cruise the boulevard and twist the throttle in an attempt to draw attention to myself, any big cruiser or liter bike would fit the bill. But if you want to enjoy the entire motorcycling experience, from tinkering to maintenance to riding then low tech is the way to go. Not many of us have a machine shop in the garage to rebuild a worn out top end on a vintage bike, so a modern low tech bike allows an enthusiast to wrench and ride on something without the headache and investment that a wasted craigslist bike requires. Yes the Conti shown has FI but tuning software is becoming more ubiquitous (and I hate to admit but is so much better than carbs) so that a garage mechanic with a laptop can do some decent tuning, as well.
    Shame that Conti is as limited as it is. Gonna keep the 390 Duke as my primary ride, while modern it certainly has character to spare.

  16. Kent says:

    The more variety, the better. There are a lot of new bikes (and cars) that are hard to tell apart. New classics are going to appeal to riders who are less knowledgeable than riders who are drawn to rescuing the classics. We see this in cars also with the new Challengers, Mustangs and Camaros that are tributes to the true legends of 45-50 years ago. Both motorcycles and cars need to focus on entry level machines as the millennials don’t seem too interested in what is out there and who can blame them? Most vehicles today are still geared to the baby boomers. The same thing would have happened 45 years ago if everything had been a 4 door sedan or an over-priced heavy weight motorcycle or a tribute to the model T.

  17. Dave says:

    It is nice to have a motorcycle you can actually wrench on without taking it to the dealership to hook up to a computer, actually adjust the valves without removing camshafts and set throttle body sync without the already mentioned trip to the dealership. I don’t need umpteen million horsepower to have fun and get me where I’m going. Just a good looking, reliable, torquey motorcycle that gives me great gas mileage.

  18. Vrooom says:

    I’m thinking that Moto Guzzi Griso, while by no means a high performance bike, would lay waste to the Royal Enfield.

  19. Frank says:

    Your right…you don’t need big hp, high speed, and technological complexity to enjoy riding motorcycles. And if that’s what it’s all about for you, your comparisons to other bikes and opinions are relatively pointless when talking about these kinds of bikes. Enjoy what you ride.

  20. Neal says:

    My Gsx-r600 offers plenty of character and a pretty direct connection to the motor and chassis. Bad gas mileage relative to a low-revving, two-valve motor, though.

  21. gt08 says:

    If you look to the video, they do London – India (or somewere near).
    Without proper gear, and without compromising the hipster look ???
    Bike for poser!
    My 87 250R Ninja is thousand time better than this.
    I’m sure they dont even know what mean Mikuni, Downdraft or DOCH !

  22. skybullet says:

    “Andy, I wonder which model skybullet rode, if any?”
    I rode the first model available in the USA in the 1990’s at a FSNOC Convention(Four Stroke Singles National Owners Club). The importer brought one (in the back of a pick up as I recall) to Idaho. Other singles had ridden in from a far as Florida. Anyway, the bike looked and sounded great BUT it was like riding a paint shaker compared to my Honda GB500 (that I still have). I agree the current KTM 690 Duke vibes too much but the new 2016 is supposed to be much improved and if it is, I am a customer.

  23. tc2wheel says:

    Honda Trail CT110, 1/10 of the cost of a BMW GS, true go-anywhere moto.

    • todd says:

      I had some pretty epic rides on my CT90 K1, rides I wouldn’t even bother repeating on my XR650. I remember the looks we would get from other riders like, “you made it HERE… on THAT?”

  24. Plenty of used bikes out there that are better for way less money.

  25. Tommy D says:

    Let’s face the intangibles of this statement. “Motorcycles offer transport to the body and also to the soul” There is that soul satisfying piece of the equation to why people purchase ANY motorcycle. You see a picture of the bike and you daydream about the feeling you will have riding the bike long before you swing a leg over it. Sometimes you hit the bulls eye and you live happily forever and other times you miss the target and interest wanes quickly on your new purchase.

    For me the promise of a slow motorcycle is to leave the manic pace of this world behind. To enjoy the saner pace of progress that allows more time spent enjoying the scenery. For me these bikes always end up getting tweaked to make them go faster…

  26. Mick says:

    I think that everyone has a different idea of what “low tech” is. So I’ll skip that.

    A lot of guys would rather ride a slow bike fast than ride a fast bike slow. Given the output of a “high tech” bike. They all fall into the fast bike slow category.

    I’ll simply call them low output bikes. A lot of cruisers are that way. Without a ton of power or ground clearance. They can provide better access to longer ride it like you stole it moments. I’m not a cruiser guy. But I can understand that part of the appeal.

    My personal bike is a dirt bike that I converted to a street legal supermoto. Just about any single is stressed a bit, by current standards, on public roads. So they also provide some access to ride it like you stole it moments.

  27. Pacer says:

    I have a theory. I used to have a CBR1000RR. An awsome bike. So my neighbor wanted to go for a ride, he had a shadow. While on the ride we were cruising, and on a nice sweeper I put my hand on my hip and looked back to see where he was. We were going about 80. All was good. As we were taking a break he told me it took the wind out of his sails when he realized I was just cruising and he was riding pretty hard. My CBR was boring at real world speeds. These bike are fun without pushing the envelope.

    • Eric says:

      Didn’t know a Shadow would even do 80 – no wonder he was ‘riding hard’. But that’s part of the charm. I’ve had sport bikes and you’re correct in that they’re so capable they’re almost boring off the track. For me, it’s usually more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow especially now that I don’t really tour anymore.

  28. Pete says:

    Hipster bikes. Nothing to do with enjoy and riding. Those are made for posers in front of cafe and propably good for that use.

    • Pacer says:

      Really? Okay, does anyone else have an opinion?

    • Blackcayman says:

      Moto Guzzi was making the Griso well before the first Hipster Douchebag grew his beard and twisted his waxed mustache up.

      Before they were shaving the back and sides of their heads while simultaneously quaffing their head-top do’s.

      Before they were bringing lumberjack shirts and suspenders back with rolled up jeans and white knee high socks under logging and engineer boots.

      Some motorcyclists love the bygone era of simplicity that these bikes hearken back to. Harley Davidson has been selling to this emotion since forever.

  29. EZMark says:

    I had a Royal Enfield 500 Military a couple years ago. I bought it for the looks.
    We’re not talking a little less performance. It would get smoked by a modern 250 dual purpose bike. The bike couldn’t outrun a Ford Escort. I didn’t have it long.

  30. Oilhead says:

    When first seeing the MuZ Skorpion, I knew I had to have one. She sat anxiously on the dealer’s floor next to the new Laverdas, a time when VVT, USD forks, fuel injection, and 13,000 rpm redlines were emptying buyers wallets. And now it’s if I’ve bonded with every mechanical detail, and found comfort with every bit of music, from the simplicity of a machine that I still enjoy to this day. I’m glad I kept her.

  31. Provologna says:

    Saw a late model RE parked S of the HIPER building at USU. Wow, it was absolutely gorgeous.

  32. Bob says:

    I could get seriously interested in a 750 parallel twin. If it’s air cooled and under 450 lbs wet weight, Triumph could lose a loyal customer.

  33. Andy says:

    I own a Continental GT, but also have several other bikes including an FZ-09, KTM690 Duke, Kawasaki KLR650. I have owned over 60 motorcycles in the 52 years I have been riding and none of them, with the exception of my first CB400F, has give me as much pleasure as the Enfield Continental GT.I bought and fitted the factory racing exhaust, K&N air filter along with a Power Commander unit. It was a kit costing $600 and has freed the motor up noticeably, as well as sounding glorious. I put it away for the winter with just under 3000 miles on it and to date nothing has shaken off or failed. Oddly, it is a reluctant cold starter but that is its only quirk. It goes along at 3300rpm very smoothly, which equals 62mph on the speedo. The vibration everyone talks about is nothing compared to the tooth loosening vibes of my KTM 690 Duke when it is revved above 4500rpm. At 6000rpm the KTM makes my eyeballs shake it is so bad but it is also the best handling bike I have ever ridden. The Enfield is a “smell the roses” bike and not for frantic commutes on the LA Freeways at 80mph. Above all it is one of the best proportioned bikes I know. A visual feast if nothing else. It is not the same bike as the 500cc Bullets which do vibrate noticeably more, lack the custom frame and superior running gear. I wonder which model skybullet rode, if any?

  34. skybullet says:

    If you rode a Enfield just once, you would probably draw the line on low tech way before you would consider owning one. The vibration is un-be-lievable. It’s a beautiful bike in my eyes but no sale. If they added a balance shaft or two…. A Guzzi or any non-cruiser V-twin is another story. They have a nice “pulse” that adds feel and character.

  35. patrick says:

    I admit that I like having a liter bike with enough power to lift the front wheel with the throttle. However, one of my favorite cars was a 1954 Austin Healey 100-4 that I bought for $150. It was a low power (90 HP as I recall but high torque) post WWII creation. The fun was that you could drive it as hard as it would go and you felt like you were really rolling through the curves and straights when in fact, you were self limited on speed. The key was that I could drive just about as hard as I wanted.

    That car was a POS, but I wish I had it back. A lot of fun without all the speed and fury. Also, they turned out to be valuable.

    I own some old English iron that is much better in memory than reality. I like the old stuff, but my regular riders are OHC, electric starters, fuel injection andmore than 4 speeds

  36. MikeG says:

    I’m noticing that even what’s described here as “low tech” isn’t exactly all that low; the brakes and drivetrain and tires on that Guzzi are light years ahead of what those bikes had in their hay day.

    I’m personally enjoying my SV650 and Harley FLHX quite a bit these days, even though with a road racing background, I know just how far off the mark they are in terms of outright performance. My carbureted SV, in particular, has a visceral, honest feel to it that keeps me connected and entertained while I carve up the roads. More technology and more performance on today’s roadways, for me, invites hooligan antics that — at the ripe old age of 51 — don’t really interest me.

  37. MGNorge says:

    Lower tech may simply mean lower cost?

    • peter h says:

      No – they’re expensive for what you get if you’re thinking in terms of dynamics and reliability.

      • Selecter says:

        I thought the low tech = low cost at first, too, but thought about the numbers a bit.
        The Continental GT is $6000. The SR400 is likewise $6000.

        Bikes that cost less than $6000: Yamaha R3, Kawasaki Ninja 300, KTM Duke 390, Honda CB500F… different styles of bikes, of course, but all well below the $6k threshold regardless.

        There are more, of course, but these are bikes that people most often concern themselves with, it seems, when referring to “budget” motorcycles. The SR and the GT definitely offer nothing as far as performance or value are concerned relative to these other four bikes. It really stands that they survive on two things alone : looks and “feel”. They look like an old bike, so some folks gravitate to them naturally. They feel like old bikes, too, because in essence they are, with just enough semi-modern equipment (emissions and safety stuff) to keep them street-legal.

        I find it interesting that the author describes RE as a “great success” as of late. Maybe a regional thing? I’ve still, not once, ever seen a new RE on the street here in the midwest.

  38. MGNorge says:

    Lower tech may be another way in saying lower cost, at least with some models. When the budget can only take so much or your jeans are worn out from begginglower cost is less of a hurdle, at least compared to cutting edge performance bikes.

  39. Eric says:

    I agree with Jeremy that it’s not about being low tech – it’s about the retro look and in some cases, the lower price tag. Being a Guzzi owner, I can tell you that these bikes are NOT low tech. The latest models have ABS, ride by wire, adjustable ride maps and all sorts of high tech and are priced accordingly.

    I’m *this close* to buying a Conti GT because of the looks and low cost. In this case, I’m willing to go low-tech to get the classic look and the fact that it’s 1/2 the price of another Guzzi pretty much seals the deal. The SR400 comes close but it’s missing the intangibles that make the GT look, well, RIGHT.

    It also occurs to me that low-tech bikes have something that the latest, ultra-refined bikes lack – character. There’s much to be said about a 120 HP turbine-smooth sport touring bike. But give me a machine that has a more visceral level of engagement. It’s hard to give up the syncopated thrum and clean looks of an air cooled v-twin or the thumping impulses of a big single.

    Put it all together and it’s a certain quality that engages you as much or even more than the quantity of more modern, hi-tech bikes.

    • peter h says:

      There’s plenty of modern non-retro bikes that have tons of character.

      • Eric says:

        Agreed – there are bikes like the FJ-09 that are really cool and certainly have character but I just don’t like the look of the thing. I didn’t intent do separate out looks and price from character, just noting that it’s another dimension in the retro equation.

        The Triumph Twins, Guzzi V7s and to some extent the Ducati Scrambler are more to my liking but they’re thousands more than the Enfield.

    • Crazy Joe says:

      No I don’t ride can’t afford to right now. How it looks is important to me. Retro look bikes look great but living in today’s world anti lock brakes, traction control and when the time comes direct injection sound like good ideas. I was looking at a comments about Hondas cb1000 one that stood out the engine was not enough. Sub 3 second 0-60 times not enough? Right now if I had the money a Triumph Street Twin looks like a good idea.

  40. tuskerdu says:

    I think you’re right about our mother’s heartbeat.

  41. Jeremy in TX says:

    Is it low-tech that sells, or is it the look? I love the looks of all of those bikes, but I would like them all better if they were a bit more modern in the component and/or performance category. (The Griso is an example of a bike that does just that in my opinion.)

  42. endoman38 says:

    Ah, the Griso. Looks awesome.

  43. steveinsandiego says:

    honda CB1100 with dual exhausts. too bad it did not survive its recent rebirth.