In 1924, geeky magazine Popular Science promised us that flying cars were just twenty years away. Almost a century later, and I’m still on my motorcycle stuck behind a soccer mom in a Dodge Caravan who’s too busy applying lip stick to notice that the light’s turned green. What am I getting at? Progress takes time! Sure, in the 1950s and 1960s we did see some air-car prototypes and jetpacks and other Jetsons’-inspired goofiness, but nothing really stuck. Cruise-control wasn’t even standard in new cars yet. So to make life easy, I’m not going to try to guess when flying motorcycles are coming, or what will be happening in motorcycling in the next twenty years. I’m just going to share with you my thoughts on what’s going to be happening in the motorcycle world in the 2020s.
Wait, who is this guy?
My name is Adrian and I’ve been writing about motorcycles on my website, YouMotorcycle.com for over ten years. Over the last decade I’ve worked for motorcycle manufacturers like Harley-Davidson, and corporate dealerships, as well as run my own business in the motorcycle biz.
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Prediction #1: More electric motorcycles
Throughout the 2020s we’ll be seeing a lot more electric motorcycles. That isn’t to say that we’ll all be riding electric bikes by 2029, or that electric motorcycles will be fantastic in 2029, nay nay. To be quite clear, what I’m saying is that electric motorcycles will become a noticeable-but-still-minuscule market share by the end of this decade.
Electric motorcycles face two key hurdles along their path towards: battery technology, and infrastructure. Both create limitations for both long distance and every day use that will stop people from wanting to go green-friendly on two wheels. However, with more and more countries planning to ban the internal combustion engine by 2030, we know which way the winds of time are blowing.
In the 2020s we’ll see the buds of an electric infrastructure slowly begin to sprout and blossom. Stay tuned for even more electric offerings from Harley-Davidson than just the LiveWire.
Prediction #2: Lighter, smaller, better motorcycles
What feels like a lifetime ago, I wrote an article called 300 is the New 250 – Emerging Motorcycle Industry Trend Q4 2013. Please don’t read my cringeworthy older work and let me paraphrase it for you instead: Up until then, the beginner motorcycle market was ruled by motorcycles like the Marauder 250, Ninja 250, Rebel 250, and V-Star 250, which were decades old, not very good, and about to be replaced by a new wave of beginner motorcycles.
This trend has created a snowball effect and will be reaching maturity in the 2020s. Not only has more competition lead to more options in the beginner motorcycle segment than the motorcycle industry has seen in a long time, it’s also starting to bring in new players into the space that we haven’t seen sell beginner motorcycles in North America. Not only do we have the typical Japanese “Big-4” (Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki) offering more competitive 250cc, 300cc, and 400cc offerings (and everything in between), we now also have BMW, KTM, and Husqvarna entering the mix. These new contenders are bringing with them a more premium experience to the table.
The more premium offerings and lighter, better motorcycles, will be chomping at the bit of the lesser quality offerings. It’s hard to look at Harley-Davidson Street with affection after you’ve seen a Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 up close. And the returning champions of the beginner motorcycle segment know this, that’s why Kawasaki is up’ing their game and bringing in the ZX25, a 250 cc inline four cylinder. That’s an engine configuration we haven’t seen in this class in North America in decades.
Prediction #3: Electric gizmos and sensors galore
Crazy anti-wheelie control, traction control, anti-lock braking, quick-shifters and slipper clutches will no longer be reserved for litre bikes (we’ll get into them later). The big beautiful digital displays and all those techs and sensors will be trickling down to manufacturer’s line-ups to even (and in some cases especially) their littlest motorcycles as well. Every manufacturer will be jousting for position against their rivals as motorcycles that refuse to evolve (looking at you, 2010-2020 Suzuki cruiser line-up), will get left behind.
This isn’t all good. As someone who spent about 10 hours fighting with an Aprilia Shiver’s camshaft position sensor, only to have a gear indicator sensor and air box sensor all go out on the same bike, I really hate this trend of more and more sensors on motorcycles. A lot of them are difficult or impossible for motorcyclists to service themselves without special dealer tools, and even those you can service yourself can take you, well, ten hours. Yes, I am still bitter.
Prediction #4: Litre bike sales to decline
Litre bikes are getting squeezed harder and harder by stiffening government emissions requirements. Suzuki has been pulling the Hayabusa, their flagship motorcycle, from a growing number of markets, citing issues meeting emission compliance laws. Speculation has it that the Kawasaki ZX-14R may be next.
My crystal ball is a little foggy on the future of litre bikes in the motorcycle world in the 2020s, but I see some dark clouds ahead.
Prediction #5: We’ll continue to shift from retro motorcycles, to retro-inspired motorcycles
Let’s wrap this up on a more positive note! The retro motorcycle trend has been growing steadily since the mid 2010s and I like that! Motorcycle manufacturers were bringing in bikes like the Suzuki TU-250, and even the unchanged-since-the-Jurassic-era Yamaha SR-500 started selling in North America again! For a while people thought Cleveland Cyclewerx might be successful, and Suzuki even brought back the Katana, so that anyone who was cool in the late 1980s can have something to buy.
What we’re looking at moving forward is less about retro motorcycles and more about retro-inspired motorcycles. Three bikes that do, in my opinion, a kick-ass job of incorporating retro lines, with future-forward designs, are the Honda CB650F, the Ducati Scrambler, and Husqvarna’s Vitpilen 701.
I’m not saying days of the Triumph Bonneville T120 are over – I saw one just two days ago at a wrecker yard and, despite the mangled front end, still thought it was beautiful – I’m saying that retro motorcycles are still in, but they’ll be evolving in the 2020s.
In the 2020s we can look forward to a blossoming in the electric motorcycle scene, similar to the expansion and popularization of the automobile in the 1910s. We’re at the very start of a whole new movement, and with a beginner motorcycle segment that is growing both in depth and in breadth, things are looking better than ever in motorcycling. Speaking of good looks, one in five motorcyclists are women now, a trend which we established a couple years ago, but still felt worth mentioning and will continue on into the 2020s.
Sure, motorcycles may be getting more techy and more complicated, and litre bikes are under fire left, right, and center, but overall, motorcycling in the 2020s is looking pretty good.