A New Dawn for the Middleweight Motorcycle
It's somewhat funny to see the echoes of the world crisis changing the motorcycle industry years after the decline began. Despite seeing a lot of manufacturers smiling and proudly showing off their sales figures going up by each quarter, the markets have been changed irreversibly.
First of all, there is the lack of money: people are going through rough times, with some guys losing their jobs and selling their bikes to get some money and hope for better days, some simply no longer affording to ride their big machines on a daily basis because of the ever-rising petrol prices and the list could go on forever.
Then it's the snowball effect, with dealerships keeping less bikes in stock, thinking about all sorts of incentives while trying to keep sales up as much as possible, but still, most of them failing to do so, some going bankrupt and some restraining activity, firing staff to keep costs down. These measures leading of course, to poor customer service, less satisfaction and therefore less reasons to go buy a bike.
Some say it's all down to the money and the damn world crisis is to blame for everything. Well, it may be so, but words are a poor substitute for both motorcycle sales and for the fun people used to have riding their bikes. In both US and Europe, more and more people are looking into the middleweight and lightweight bikes and scooters.
It's no temporary fad, it's the fact that society starts to put things in order and tries to keep things in balance, even if pretty much all the former glory is lost. Consumerism no longer seems to work among the guys who aren't willing to get rid of their motorcycles: they've begun analyzing more than top speed and killer racetrack looks. People have started to think more about other things than how much chrome their dream chopper can hold and how loud their new pipes should be.
I'm not saying that loving a really nifty bike or trying to make it look its best is something wrong. It's just that the markets have changed and once more, customers are looking for something new, but not in terms of how cool a bike can be, but rather in terms of how much fun one can afford.
Some of the big and expensive bikes are still selling quite well, and the manufacturers have prospects of even bigger sales for the next year or so. Well, if you've sold 10 $23,000 Ducatis in one year and 13 during the next, you're ok to say your sales went up 33%, aren't you? And you would not be mistaken in claiming they did!
But now just take a moment to judge upon those 13 bikes compared to the whole mass of riders out there: it really doesn't make too much of a change, does it? Expensive bikes will sell, because people who usually buy them do not really make too much of an effort saving money for them. But for the remaining, things are different... so much different.
I believe people are starting to realize that a 500cc bike already offers top-notch acceleration that will shame almost any car, save the really powerful and expensive ones. Again, most riders who haven't ridden small or middleweight bikes are having troubles understanding that a 250cc bike is already fast enough to break the speed limit in your daily ride!
I mean, what's the point in being able to do 130 mph (~210 km/h) instead of 100 mph (160 km/h) if you're going to ride 45 mph (72 km/h) anyway, 95% of the time? Some may say it's a matter of personal choice, and may be right, as it's the same choice people make when deciding a smaller bike is all they need. Do you need 1000cc to go to the store?
Some time ago, I wrote a piece on the death of a bike: the dual-sport/ dual-purpose motorcycle. Some of what I have written there is true, while on some parts I am no longer that sure, after seeing the way things have started to move.
It may be true that the real dual-sport bikes in the 600cc class will no longer be what they used to be and their former glory will slowly fade away. But we see today the rise of lower-displacement bikes, some of them aiming for the road, and some trying to bring back together asphalt and dirt.
The road ones are becoming more suitable for daily commuting and come with better mileage, while the on/off ones are trying to add to the comfort side and become more street-viable. There will be no ideal bike in the middleweight segment, no redeemer will emerge from this class, but a lot of bikes will come in 2013 to follow the first ones already here.
It's really interesting to see how the middleweight battle will unfold with motorcycles such as the Honda CBR250, the Kawasaki Ninja 250/300, the new small Yamaha YZF250, KTM's Indian Duke 200 and the future 350 one, and these just to name the most common, sporty bikes.
To these a plethora of small bikes that are already in for 2013 will add: just count all the street-legal dirt and trail bikes between 125cc and 450cc. They all can go fast and could get someone killed quite easily; you don't actually need 200 PS to do that. They come with awesome mileage and insurance is just a fraction of what you pay for a 2000cc cruiser, and these two alone can sum up to nice money during 12 months.
It's also very true that they tend to miss the basic comfort, but I will not be surprised at all to see manufacturers adding more comfy seats to these bikes. And we will see that happening as pretty much all those who have heeded the customers' advice and wish lists have already had a lot to win, even if, at the moment, things are just starting once more with the small bikes.
Electric motorcycles will probably be more affordable in the future and a new battle will be fought, with zero prospects of lower gas prices. But until then, there aren’t many Average Joes forking out $20,000 for an electric bike taking 8 hours or so for a full charge, capable of doing 50-80 miles (80-130 km), when they can get a 250cc bike for $4,000, new, taking 1 minute to fuel up, offering a better range and also easy to take to the great outdoors for virtually unlimited fun if you carry 1 gallon (~4 L) of gas in your backpack.
Time will tell, of course, but for now, it's going to be middleweight-time for sure.
comments written so far
How many motorcycles actually reach the end of life in the USA?? Most bikes get sold because the owner got tired of it, had a baby, or their wife made them sell it. Practically near MINT sometimes.
A Used 250cc can be had for next to nothing.
I bought my first used 125cc bike for $200! Sold it for $350!
As for those lower displacement bikes. They're aimed at Asia where they are driving for work not pleasure. They love lower displacement for some reason....my 250cc was BIG in Asia.