Just as Winter eventually loosens its icy grip on Spring, and Summer eventually makes way for crisp Fall days, there is a subtle and slow shift occurring in the motorcycle world – in North America at least.
We ‘Americans’ have grown used to larger-than-life lavishes like SUVs and massive sedans with large V8s. And we are the same with our bikes. In the past most brands produced various 250cc and 350cc mills, and they each offered numerous bikes under 150cc, but in the last couple decades we have all bought into the displacement craze. Who would ever need a 1,500cc+ cruiser? Yet Honda, Harley-Davidson, Triumph, Victory, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki all produce one. And I’m sure you all have a friend or relative who got an inline 4-cylinder sport bike as their first motorcycle, yet if you started off smaller and gradually transitioned to larger bikes you are likely a far more confident and competent rider.
I have a friend who is 24 years old and for his first bike I managed to convince him out of an R6 and onto a Kawasaki Ninja 250R. Now having ridden for 6 weeks he has already priced out a BMW S1000RR. Being the same age as him I am currently riding a 250, but since I have spent the last 12 years on two wheels I bet I am infinitely more comfortable on a 600+cc crotch rocket – yet I don’t want one.
Well to be honest I do, and you’d be lying to yourself if you think you don’t envy the sport bike rider passing you at 150km/hr in second gear. Part of that desire comes from the predisposition that society tells us, but society is shifting it’s interests. I might want a sport bike, but the rational part of me says “A) you can’t afford the insurance and B) there is literally no need for a sport bike.” Sport bikes are track demons, it would be like owning a tiger because you like cats. If you take your crotch rocket to the track then read no further because you make up the 1% or riders who utilize more of their bikes potential. Riding a massive cruiser is either a need to overcompensate for something, or a desperate cry for acceptance. Don’t forget, riders were circumnavigating the globe long before the Gold Wing and R1200GS.
Yes a V-Rod is a really really nice bike. And I’ll gladly be a hypocrite if someone wanted to offer me one for free (please), but the fact of the matter remains that they are useless. Going back to the SUV example; during the last 5 years there has been a change from massive SUVs to crossovers. The brand Hummer is dead, Lincoln doesn’t offer the Mark LT and Range Rover is moving towards a more car-like vehicle for their flagship ‘SUV’. Just as car buyers are beginning to sacrifice vehicle size for better mpg, bike riders are looking to smaller bikes to handle their two-wheel fix. Yamaha’s new 2014 Bolt is only a 950cc, and in my opinion its got all the bad-assness that you’d want from a cruiser, and its less than $10,000. With the release of KTM’s all-new RC390, Honda‘s new CB500X, CB500F and CBR500R and Kawasaki’s Ninja 300R, the winds of change are clearly in motion.
Without looking at any market research I would guess that some of the new smaller displacement bike buyers are new to the sport, but I would venture to say that some are trading in that mammoth Honda VTX for something they can actually handle in a parking lot. Change is good. Change means ultimately the consumer (you and I) have more bikes to pick from, and we finally don’t have to pick between looks or price when we can now have both in the same package.
Honda likely can be credited for helping this change happen as they launched the CBR125R, and built on its success with the CBR250R. But if we’re looking for who to thank I’d argue that Suzuki and Kawasaki need some lovin’. Kawasaki because they have offered the Ninja 250 long before the CBR of the same displacement, and Suzuki because they’ve offered the GS500 since 1989.
If you drool over the V8 powered Boss Hoss you’re a lost cause – thankfully for you large bikes will still be around for longer than necessary. On the other hand if you don’t have a limitless bank account and you actually enjoy cornering a motorcycle then you’ll like what’s coming down the line. Case-in-point: the 2014 Honda Grom. It may not get you dates but it’s 124.9cc single-cylinder air-cooled fuel-injected engine and 47.4 inch wheelbase is sure to have a smile factor second only to drug use. Look past this pint-sized bike’s aesthetics and get back to riding for the sake of enjoyment!