Motorcycling's missing link

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motorcycle-missing-link-2.jpgYou are spoiled. The bikes we buy today have more power, more handling, more luxury, more of everything than ever before. Look around and you find brand new motorcycles that could have won an SBK race eight years ago leaving dealers for less than eight grand. The problem is, that’s virtually all that’s available here in the US; big, expensive, fast, intimidating bikes. That’s great if you’re an expert, but not so much if you’re a beginner. Something’s missing. Motorcycle designer and industry consultant Michael Uhlarik knows what that is. — Ed. >

The demographic group with the most influence on North America’s motorcycle industry are the Baby Boomers.  When the Boomers were in their 20s, they caused a surge in motorcycle sales by buying all the high-strung two-strokes and small displacement Japanese bikes then available. Peter Egan, the famed Cycle World columnist, is perhaps the most symbolic of his generation. He regularly writes romantically of his first new motorcycle, a Honda CB350, that he owned as a young man in the 1970s. Like most Boomer bikers, those humble, cheap and accessible motorcycles were the key that allowed them to develop their passion and skills so that they could later upgrade to ever bigger and more expensive fare.

HondaFury.jpgToday the Boomers are the driving force behind our industry’s sales, in particular big V-twins. Even with the Great Recession, Boomers almost single handedly define the bikes available in US showrooms and guide the product decision making in corporate boardrooms. They want more power, more features, more exclusivity and generally choose more conservative styles of bike that reflects their tastes and financial position. Hence the recent debut of large-displacement, unprecedentedly expensive motorcycles like the Honda VFR1200 and the forthcoming six-cylinder BMW K1600LT.

The average age of a buyer of a new motorcycle in North America is pegged at 46, which is why so many attractive middle weight or niche bikes from the major brands are unavailable in North American showrooms. Industry wisdom says : there is no market for small, entry level motorcycles except for the most plain and basic. I believe, based on experience in Europe, that there is no market because we offer nothing to attract young riders.  

According to the mainstream press, kids interested in motorcycling in urban America only want Hayabusas with stretched swingarms and a NOS kit, so there is no point in bringing in anything small and hot. Entry level at your friendly neighbourhood dealer means boring, old-tech bikes like Suzuki’s 650 Savage or some other old nail.  That is, until a few years ago when Honda brought us the Thai and Indonesian made CBR125, and Kawasaki brought in the new 250 and 650 Ninjas. Suddenly the littlest Ninja is the 5th best selling bike in America, ahead of any other sport model by a wide margin. In the UK, where biker peer pressure is much higher than here, particularly among sport riders, the little CBR was the best selling motorcycle for two years, period. The press and the purists both gave this 11hp whizzer the approving nod. It got a lot of new British biking.

Just because you can make monthly payments on an R1, but are so afraid to ride it fast that it sits in the garage most of the year, does not make you a motorcyclist. You may laugh at the guy (or girl) on the Ninja 250 or SV who rides in a rain suit late in the year, but they are the real thing. Three years from now they’ll be on your R1, and know how to handle it properly. They’ll also enjoy buying and riding high dollar bikes for decades to come, because they are confident, and have the skills to enjoy a much broader riding experience. People who start riding on smaller bikes learn to enjoy motorcycles for longer.

Absolute power might be the only cure for the hard core purist, but for most, just owning and riding any motorcycle is exciting enough. No one is completely fearless when they start out, so that 9-year old KLR with 29bhp is going to be plenty to get your heart racing. Why? Because it feels fast. And a feeling you can enjoy daily is a lot more attractive than talking about the Hayabusa with the chrome add-ons in your garage.  Month after month of Boomer dominated press with yet another 180bhp superbike shootout is not particularly responsible messaging to youngsters, just like reviews of $35,000 cruisers are not getting new people on bikes.

Ducati’s best selling bike ever was the original 600 monster. Rated at between 48-52bhp, it was hardly earth shattering, but it looked and sounded ferocious, was easy to ride, and most importantly, it felt good.  So what that the top speed wasn’t so high?  Riding a Monster at 50mph was a grin inducing experience. The people it attracted ranged from newbies, to returners, to Boomers. Knowing that it didn’t cost much made it sweeter. Now what if you could buy a 250 with that kind of feel? What if a 400 could make you feel like a superhero without breaking the bank, or your neck?

Yamaha-YZF-R-125.jpgWhat the US market needs are cheap, cheerful and just plain hot small bikes. In Europe, the champions of tomorrow get started mastering road craft on 4.5bhp scooters and gearbox street bikes (like the Yamaha TZR50) before graduating to 125cc hotties like the Aprilia RS125, and Yamaha YZF R-125. By the time they are getting their first professional jobs, the typical European has been riding on the street for up to 8 years.  Over here, every great American motorcyclist begins on the dirt and every World Champion we ever produced cut his teeth in motocross. If you can handle a 250lbs, 40bhp motorcycle on rough ground then mastering wheel spin, power slides and trail braking on pavement is easy. The key to widening the market is not more power or exclusivity, it lies with getting our youth and new riders on reasonable road bikes so that they develop skills, mature riding habits and a lifelong love of motorcycling.

Some think this is impossible because small displacement motors can’t handle the long distances of North America and highway speeds.

False.  

A modern 250 four-stroke (Ninja 250) has the same top speed as a Harley 883, which no one will argue is insufficient for highway use. It also accelerates faster and turns more easily thanks to light weight and better balance. Obviously, the Ninja/883 comparison is silly, because the per
son attracted to one won’t like the other, but the point is that new technology, small to medium displacement motorcycles are capable, and can be hugely attractive if offered in a variety of forms. In terms of durability, 150 – 250 cc Japanese motorcycles ply the highways of India and Asia often carrying heavy loads and on roads that make Baja tracks look like the Interstate. On average and with regular maintenance, these small engines can take over 40,000 miles without being opened up for major mechanical work.

Honda-CB300-Twister.jpgThe main missing ingredient is raw motorcycle appeal. If a bike is good looking, handles well and reasonable in price, it sells.  The entry-level fare available here is limited, but getting better.  As Amarok Consultants recently reported, Honda’s CB300 Twister, seen above, could be 2011′s answer to Peter Egan’s CB350, if Honda of America would bring it in. Honda quality, contemporary design and a $3000 price tag would do more to boost motorcycling in the US than yet another product placement in a Hollywood movie. There’s no point in creating desire if there’s no product to satisfy it. The good news is that these small, modern and fun bikes exist already, just not here. Hopefully, it is only a matter of time and pressure before those Indian, Spanish, and South East Asian machines end up getting into the hands of the deserving American public.

The Skeptic’s List of Hot Entry Level Motorcycles available in 2010:

Rieju RS3 125 – Spain
Bajaj Pulsar 220 – India
Honda CB 300 Twister – Brazil
Honda Veradero 125  – Spain
Yamaha YZF R125  – Spain
Yamaha XJR 400 – Japan
Yamaha YZF R 15 – India
Kawasaki Ninja 400R – Japan
Suzuki GSR 400 – Japan

Michael Uhlarik

Michael Uhlarik is an international award-winning motorcycle design
professional.  He has worked for Yamaha, Piaggio, Aprilia, Derbi, and a
number of Asian and smaller European OEMs delivering industrial design,
product planning and brand development services for over a decade. He
counts the Yamaha
MT-03
and 2003
Yamaha M1
as his favorite work yet-realized. Michael launched Amarok
Consultants
this year to respond to the demand for dedicated
motorcycle industry consulting in North America.

  • Lowell Goss

    What is frequently forgotten by importer and manufacturers is that fun is the key idea in motorcycling. Many/most big motorcycles aren’t fun. 46 year old guys are not focused on fun.

    I am aging, but still on the young side of the curve for motorcyclists at 37 years old. This is crazy. Everywhere I go on bikes the crowd is old farts.

    The off-road motorcycle segment boomed during the 90s and 00s because of three reasons; family, fun and credit. The loss of credit has hurt that segment tremendously, but the other two factors should not be ignored. Motorcycling cannot survive without attracting younger people.

    Manufacturers need to design, produce and import more bikes that are focused on fun. My personal preferences have evolved along those lines as well. After years of 1000cc+ motorcycles, I now ride a supermoto. Frankly a 500cc bike at 80% throttle all the time is a lot more fun than a 1000cc bike at 20% throttle most of the time. Big bikes simply don’t have room on crowded roads. Big bikes are intimidating for learners. Big bikes are unnecessarily expensive.

    I agree with Michael that the US needs more cool and fun small bikes. 250-650cc singles in fun, lightweight motorcycles of all shapes and styles could drive a real revolution on the motorcycle industry.

  • Ceolwulf

    This article is spot on from top to bottom.

    Nevermind 250s, you can’t even find a 600cc supersport comparo anywhere anymore it seems like! If it isn’t 1000cc and 180hp it counts for absolutely nothing??

    • RD Gauntt

      Uh……old farts? Listen, “kid”, there’s plenty of ‘geezers’ out there on sport, sport tourers, vintage, antique, zip-splats, and smaller displacement machines who have been riding longer than you’ve been bitching. We enjoy all rides and riders and are pretty acceptable of all types of machine. Even Squids, tho they aren’t around too long…

      Some even find the pokey chrome and leather gangs of Harley’s and their metric ilk pretty ludicrous. Fringe rules? Helmets suck? Loud pipes save lives!? The vast majority of these idjets aren’t dedicated riders, they’re as much poseurs as the Busa gangs in lime green leathers. Attitude is just that. Tavern to Tavern racing has it’s part in the fun mix, but let’s not pollute the roads with attitude. Leave it. Just ride. We’re all on two wheels and we need the support.

  • Jason Stone

    Great Article,

    I have a 2008 Yamaha WR250R yeah the “girl” bike dual sport. I now have two sets of rims for it but frequently ride it on 60 mile commuting trips to work on Interstate 5 here in San Diego. The bike does fine up to about 80mph GPS speed but is more comfortable right at 70. I just hit 10,000 miles on the bike and it puts a smile on my face every time I ride. Even on dot knobbie tires you can comfortably rail some corners that you would be hard pressed to not enjoy. The long travel suspension is great for roads that have rough asphalt and you are still free to try out any gravel or trail along the way. I added a universal windscreen from twisted throttle and a set of dirtbagz soft luggage and the bike is a genuine swiss army knife. Do I want to do 300-400 mile days on it? No not really but there is nothing actually stopping the little bike from doing it. While sometimes I yearn for a second bike and one possibly more powerful it’s more because now having 10,000 miles under my belt I respect the different flavors of motorcycling rather than feeling like I have to macho man and go fast.

  • Turf

    I fully agree, Being from Ireland and currently living in the US it’s ridiculous. Choice is nice, I’d rather have a Mito 125 than an R1.

  • stef

    25 years old and just got into it thanks to a older KLR. How the hell am i supposed to get any of my friends into motorcycling (which they are not) when the options are spend a ton of money or spend a winter like an obsessive weirdo learning to fix a bike you buy off craigslist. was it fun? hell yea. but its not for everyone. we need bikes for the people. im in rome right now and its insane, everyone is riding on bikes 600cc max. guess what: nyc traffic is just about the same.

    • Eric

      I am in the EXACT same position. Amen.

  • Bruno Kussler

    Just a correction. The Honda’s CB300R (not CB300 Twister) from Brazil from the photo is a 300cc motorbike. The Indian CB Twister from the link, is a completely different bike with an engine of 110cc.
    In Brazil the previous version from the CB300R was know as Honda CBX 250 Twister, an 250cc with carburetors, but this new version has the same engine enlarged to 300cc, fuel injection and C-ABS as optional.
    This is the Brazilian CB300R’s website: http://www.hondacb300r.com.br/

  • Bryce

    I also agree, but the problem isn’t with the manufacturers, it with Americans in general. Every small displacement bike is automatically labeled a “girl’s bike”. It’s a really hard market to get right although the bike above is pretty cool looking for an entry level bike. It seems like supermoto/dual sport bikes are the only exception to the rule here. Cheaper/smaller bikes are better for all of us as it would increase the number of cyclists. The recession may actually be the answer for this though…it’s going to be a lot easier to move a $3,500 bike than a $20,000 one.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com/ Mark Ryan Sallee

    These smaller bikes exist overseas–and not in the US–because Japan, UK and presumably the rest of Europe have tiered licensing that essentially legislates small bikes into existence. We don’t.

    There’s also the question of price versus value. A less powerful bike can’t cost much less than today’s uber race reps, which are already incredible value, so if you’re spending roughly the same money how do you make the case for the bike with less power?

    It seems the few new riders with the sense to make that case by self preservation are more or less served by the 883 and Ninja 250 (or dirt bikes or used SVs). Entry-level bikes are typically a means to “What I really want,” which is always something more powerful. Because something more powerful is financially attainable, and well, why not?

    I agree that less-scary but no-less-hot bikes are the key to a healthy relationship with motorcycles, but I don’t know that’s what people think they want. Biking is portrayed as fast and dangerous, and the majority of folks that slip through that deterrent want to ride motorcycles…because they’re fast and dangerous.

    I think more than anything, motorcycling has an image/culture problem.

  • Jeff

    Great article, right on point. I grew up riding 125 offroad bikes as a kid, and never felt I was short on power because I was too busy having so much fun. I now ride an Aprilia Scarabeo 200 (a scooter…gasp!) as a commuter bike in the city. Yep, I have people look down at me and my bike, but I’m the one riding everyday, and still riding come November and December. 180cc is plenty to get me moving and even cruise around 70 on the highway comfortably.

    As for missing even lesser-powered rides, I still have a 50cc scooter in the garage that I take out to remind myself of how much fun it is. Twist the throttle and let 2-stroke beast scream. As was said on Jalopnik for cars – it’s more fun riding a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com/ Mark Ryan Sallee

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been riding a Ninja 250 for over two years now (nearing 25,000 miles, thankyouverymuch) and no one’s ever said a bad thing about it. Most people at Alice’s even know what it is.

  • JohnC

    Great article. I started 2 years ago, at 27, on a Vespa S150. I had it for one year and put 6000 miles on it. You get a lot of attention on a Vespa, positive and negative, but the learning experience is invaluable.
    For the last year, I’ve been on a Kawasaki ER-6n. The Kawi is no superbike, but its perfect for me to continue to learn on. It’s helped me to evolve as a more responsible rider. The added power, along with my first child, has made me recognize the need for proper safety gear.

  • gregorbean

    Holy crap, I just did the math and those CB 300 Twister’s are selling for around $1000 US in India. I’d buy one immediately for that price. Jeebus. I’m actually kinda outraged that we don’t get these sweet little naked bikes in the states. This is part of what is wrong with America, bigger is not always better. My girlfriend constantly reminds me of that, hiyooooooooooooooo

  • gregorbean

    oh, and great article btw…

  • Adam

    I started riding on a girly SV650 (first gen salvage I rebuilt) and when it came time to buy a new bike I thought I wanted bigger. Turns out a nicely modded, cheap, low-mileage, second gen SV650 was just the ticket.

    So hooray for girly bikes!

  • Patrick

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

    So how do we get the manufacturers to pay attention to this idea – not just from the product end, but also including sales and marketing to a broad public? Does Suzuki realize not only that we (desperately) want the real SV650 back, but that an SV450 with ad pages in Dwell magazine would be a great idea? How on Earth has Honda conspired to completely depart from the market it essentially created in the 1960s? Who do we write to, what needs to be said and done, how do we get them to understand?

  • Rob

    My first bike was (and still is) a 1987 Honda Hurricane (the 600cc version). I figured a 20 year old 600 is pretty equivalent to an imaginary “current” 400ish. I love the bike, but replacement parts are a bit… esoteric, at this point.

    Sat on an RS125 a few years ago at the NYC motor show, and could instantly imagine tearing around the track with a dozen of my closest friends. I could actually feel it. Shove a US-legal 400ish in to a body that size/weight and I’d buy two.

    Until my drive to work is 1/4 mile in a straight line, I’m just plain not going to care about a litre bike. But I’m in the minority, and I know it.

    • Isaac

      Rob, couldn’t agree with you more. That YZ125R is a sexy loooking machine. If they made a 250 my heart would burn with lust.

  • Chuluun

    The lure of power and speed is very, very strong, just a human instinct I think. It’s not an issue for most car drivers because it costs too much, but powerful bikes are affordable … I’m about to move on from my old ZZ-R600 (top speed: 150mph) and the draw of a cheap-ish 2000 R1 at a dealer nearby is almost irresistible, even though I know full well it’s not the bike for me.

    I have to keep reminding myself how much fun I used to have on my 125cc Vespa, my Honda Rebel, my NT400 — that is, just as much fun as I’ve had on anything else.

  • The Grudz

    I too feel the outrage. And heavy frustration. I did a shit poor job on my riders test and should not have been allowed to have a motorcycle license. Knowing how the system works in Europe, and seeing the awesome little bikes available there gives me the feeling we(the gov’t & manufactures) could be doing a whole lot better at preparing motorcyclists for a life of two wheeled enjoyment. And I too would happily accept a whole new fleet of small displacement machines. I do not need an 1198.

  • Eric

    Funny that you mention a Suzuki 650 Savage as boring-entry level fare at the dealer.

    That was the exact bike I got my start with, I went into a dealer looking for a scooter during the gas crunch a few years ago. Got cold feet as a new scooter was around $4-6K and I wasn’t sure it’d be that practical. Walking outta the dealer they had a second hand LS650 Savage for sale on consignment. Was marked at $1,730 and I bought it right then on impulse.

    Now keep in mind I’ve never ridden a motorcycle before, no license, no clue what I got myself into either. Just bought it… left it at the dealership and bugged my boss who used to ride to teach me a bit.

    Got it out to a new neighborhood development without any houses yet, spent the next hours dicking around and fell in love.

    I rode the hell outta that piece of crap LS650, put on 20,000 miles on it in less than a year. I say so lovingly… but that bike’s notorious for having a camchain fail on you, combined with the shoddy workmanship, vacuum lines failing, had a headlight (made of plastic) fall off while riding at night. It earned it’s rank as a heap of shit.

    Heap or not, it was a lot of fun to own. I got so much joy outta riding that diminutive turd. Rode everywhere, year around even thru our brutal 8Fº Winters. Sold it off for to get my Honda Shadow 750 ACE and haven’t regretted it.

    I’m glad I started riding in my 30′s with something manageable. I know if I were still in my early twenties and found out I could kill myself at speeds of over 200mph and I surely would have.

    My next bike? VTX1300 for touring, but I’m keeping my beater 750 for daily riding/commuting. It’s my compact car.

  • http://www.michael-engle.com s1102879

    OH Happy Day! Somebody in the industry gets it. I have been preaching this exact thing for years.

    Start on a 250 and ride it ALL the time in ALL weather. Ride it “fast”. Drop it in the gravel parking lot. Stall it at the light. Nearly freeze to death on your way to work in December. Do it! Do it because you can and your learning and this is a great way to get from point A to point B. Sure you could hope in your Buick when it rains, but where’s the adventure in that? Get on your lil Ninja and go. Did you know that motorcycle tires do stick to wet pavement. Find out on your girls bike. Hey, if you wreck it, you’re only out like three grand.

    Somebody sign the author up for the next presidential elections. He’s got my vote!

  • pauljones

    Amusing, and somewhat ironic. A site that typically glorifies hauling ass on big motorcycles is running a post about the lack of good, small bikes in the US. I think, Wes, that you have inherently answered your own question. As long there continues to be such a heavy emphasis on illegal midnight races at 100mph+; the newest, biggest, baddest superbike; and the race standings of various manufacturers, every impressionable (and probably moronic) kid that looks at motorcycles will want those big bikes and want to do those dumbass stunts.

    Why? Because that’s all they see.

    Small bikes are the motorcycling equivalent of a Mazda5; whenever a friend is looking to buy a practical, but reasonably fun, midsize car for family duty, we all recommend the small, efficient, and supposedly fun little Mazda5. And then our friends look over out our cars, and mentally note that whatever it is that we drive, there’s one thing it isn’t: a Mazda5.

    When challenged with the idea of introducing democracy to Sparta, the famous spartan lawmaker, Lycurgus, replied “Start with your own family.” What he meant was that if you think something is such a good idea, then live by that idea. Thousands of years later, Ghandi said much the same thing: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

    I’ve heard a lot of complaints for experienced riders like you that there aren’t enough small bikes, though they just so happen to know of one or two available, like the 250 Ninja, the 883 Sportster, etc. They praise small bikes, extol the virtues of small bikes, and assert how much fun they are. Then they turn around and ride off on a liter bike or a big V-twin. Yeah, that lends a whole lot of credibility to their prior statements. If small bikes are so much fun, why do more experienced riders not ride them?

    If you want to see more good small bikes, start letting yourself be seen riding small bikes. You, Wes, are a visible member of the motorcycle world. Are you as visible as Rossi or Guy Martin? Maybe not, but the fact is, as this site continues to grow, so too will your reputation and the impact that your personal “endorsements”, for lack of a better term. If you want to see more and more people buy small bikes, then show them that they can be cool and can be choice rides.

    Seriously, go get a small bike and start using it as your daily commuter. I know of your passionate hatred for Harley-Davidson, and therefore don’t see you riding an 883 Iron any time soon. But how about a Honda Shadow RS? Or the aforementioned 250 Ninja? Any and all of the above will provide more than enough oomph for riding around NYC. Start customizing it with a few inexpensive mods to make it cool, and then go advertise just how cool and fun they are by being seen riding it every day.

    We human beings are whimsical things that like to conform to majority ideas for the sake of being accepted. Right now, the majority idea is that small motorcycles are “gay”. Until experienced and visible riders such as yourself and any number of famous race riders start showing how much fun small bikes are by riding them regularly themselves, small bikes will never gain acceptance here, there will be industry competition to make better and better small bikes, and more and more young, potential riders will either kill themselves on big bikes or be too intimidated by big bikes to even try.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      Paul, we only do features with big bikes because that’s all the industry gives us. When Harley can bother to get me that 883 Forty-Eight I requested several times months ago, or any of the other bike makers that keep a bike or two in NYC for press offer anything less than a 750, we’ll jump on it. Until then, we’ll continue to feature what we’re allowed to have access to. C’est la vie.

      As for the “tall people need big bikes” argument, Dave Roper, who is around 6’3″ and our local Isle of Man TT winner, only rides his beater 1989 Honda VTR 250 when he isn’t on the track. Rain, snow or shine. He loves that bike.

      • pauljones

        That much I understand; there’s not much you can do on that front right now. Hellforleather is still seen as a bit player compared to the other motorcycle buff mags, which is probably why your calls sometimes go unanswered.

        But the point I was trying to make is this: What is it that you guys, as experienced riders, choose to ride around NYC on a daily basis?

        People in large, fashion-conscious cities like New York (and my native LA, for that matter) pay attention to that, and make their judgments accordingly, with no other context other than what they see. Hence you have 18-year-old squids riding around on liter bikes in shorts and a t-shirt. That’s what they do because that’s all they know, and that’s all they know because that’s all they see.

        For small bikes to become popular, the sad truth is that they have to be “endorsed”, so to speak, by experienced riders whose names are well-known and highly visible. Barring a very rare exception or two, that just does not happen.

        And as for the whole not being able to get a hold of an 883 Iron or a Forty-Eight thing, it might help if the Harley hate wasn’t cranked up quite so high all the time. It’s one thing to call them out on what is perceived to be a bad business move (*ahem* shuttering Buell ahem) and explain why you think it was a bad move, but to go to great lengths to criticize a company as a whole and their customers simply because their bikes don’t suit your taste is unnecessary. It’s enough just to say that you don’t like certain bikes for X, Y, and Z reasons and then leave it at that. I like Harleys, but I am not above pointing out that H-D is very much a branding and PR-oriented company; too much so for their own good. But they are, and they pay attention to this sort of thing, and give bikes where they think they stand to receive at least some good PR for it. When you call in and say you’re from Hellforleather, my guess is that they go and check Hellforleather out, and make the decision based on their impressions.

        • Grant Ray

          Paul, you’re a little off in your assumptions, but that’s alright. You brought up Harley, not me. I just supplied an experience to tie into your reference. Actually, now that I think of it, you bring Harley up on a regular basis as an example of some sort of contention when you comment, and your comments act as the germination for a discussion turning into a bash session. Like just now, stating that I intentionally rip on H-D just because I don’t like the company’s products. Please stop it. I’ve had multiple exchanges with Harley to test products, like the Forty-Eight, that could lead to standard-style all-around bikes for a younger demographic of buyers.

          Also, the entire East Coast and nearly all of the media giants that reside in NYC are treated as non-enthusiast bit players compared to the OC, not just HFL, and therefor NYC is considered financially unworthy for keeping a stocked press fleet and pursuing wider coverage to entice new demographics to consider purchasing motorcycles and scooters.

          • pauljones

            Easy, Grant. I realize that sometimes things can be easily misinterpreted on the internet, and for that I apologize. I should have chosen my words better.

            I brought up Harley because Harley was brought up in the article, and I figured I would use it as a common frame of reference. I did not start a bash session; I may have replied to other bashing comments in the past in an attempt at reason, but then, I’ve done the same for everything from other motorcycle manufacturers to scooter riders. I apologize for being overly honest here, but I have seen a great deal of vehement dislike for Harley posted here, and not just by commenters. I have no problem with that, the problem that I frequently have is whether or not its rational. Sometimes, it just isn’t.

            I also did not insult Hellforleather. I stated that Hellforleather is treated like a bit player; and you know what, it’s true. That’s not because there is anything wrong HFL, it’s just because HFL is relatively new. Now that Wes has focused his attention on HFL, I’ve seen the number of posts per day double, if not triple. And that’s impressive. What’s more impressive is that the quality of the posts have not dropped with the rising quantity, as is often the case at other blogs. Once HFL gets a little more time and a little more exposure, my guess is your issues with getting bikes to test will disappear. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen quickly.

            Other similar media outlets in NYC have similar problems? It doesn’t surprise me. You and Wes, though, have the chance to change that; and if things keep going, you will. The only way to not be treated like a bit player is to step up and act like a big player. That is exactly what is happening here at HFL.

            Other than my poor word choice with regard to describing a particular vein of sentiment that frequently appears on HFL, for which I honestly apologize, what is the issue?

            The point that I brought up in my previous posts is that American culture thinks that small bikes are lame because they have had no exposure to small bikes. The only way that’s going change is they get exposure to small bikes, and that just doesn’t happen. Be it on Hellforleather or anywhere else, small bikes are generally just pushed to the fringe that no one really pays attention to. My guess is that you agree on that point, otherwise this article would never have been posted in the first place. Nor am I the only commenter that seems to think that, either.

            If small bikes are to become cool, then people like you, Wes, and any number of other riders whose names carry weight and influence in the motorcycle world need to demonstrate that those bikes can be cool. Is that not how the idea of many classic motorcycle genres, such as bobbers, took off? American culture is one of followers; make them think that something is cool, and they’ll flock to it. It’s nothing new. My question is, who will step up and try to make small bikes cool again? Everyone that I’ve ever talked to that reminisces about small bikes owns a liter bike or a big V-twin, have plenty of money left over, and yet would not consider buying a small bike ever again.

            Why is that? Why will no one actually buy a small bike, other than first-time riders?

            When someone, or a small group of people, are clever enough to make small bikes seem cool, then we’ll see more of them being sold, and better ones at that. When someone actually steps up and demonstrates that NYC can be as profitable a market as the west coast (which Hellforleather certainly seems poised to do), then you’ll get more in the way of varied press fleets. Identifying the problem is step one. This article has done as good a job doing that HFL has done identifying that motorcycle manufacturers need to pay more attention to the east coast. But while Hellforleather has moved on to step 2 and is actually doing something about the problem it has identified, the article isn’t. It identifies a problem, but does not offer any sort of suggestion for how to tackle the problem of making small bikes cool and profitable.

            Reading through the comments, however, a few people have come up with some suggestions; and that, after all, is the point of the comments, is it not? Having identified potential suggestions, the question now is who needs to do it. A couple of random guys across the country on 250cc Ninjas probably won’t have a measurable effect.

            But you, and other like you, might.

            • http://www.ninja250blog.com/ Mark Ryan Sallee

              I started Ninja 250 Blog with two goals; I wanted first all of to document proof that a Ninja 250 is capable of everything you’d want a motorcycle to do, but to also paint a friendlier picture of this new hobby I found. Motorcycling isn’t just for lunatics.

              Motorcycles in the media–both industry media and mainstream–are fast and dangerous. But that’s not my experience with motorcycles. To me, a motorcycle is free adventure, the absolute best way to visit somewhere new, an avenue to meeting new people, and a home away from home. I feel this view of motorcycling has the potential to inspire new riders with a healthy love for bikes that doesn’t demand knee-down through blind sweepers or $20k in chrome and tattoos.

              I serve a modest audience but the feedback I’ve gotten is positive. A number of readers have told me they want to get into motorcycling because of the blog, and none of them ask me about horsepower or race reps.

              There’s a completely alternative portrayal of motorcycles that, if it were more prominent, would inspire more riders happy to consume the motorcycles described in this article. It’s not about showing GSX-R boy that a 250 can be cool. GSX-R boy is small potatoes. There’s a much larger potential market that never gets past the bad boy, danger image. They’d buy a zillion CB300s.

              • pauljones

                I’ll go ahead and give you more positive feedback. I like your blog and I like your style; the Big Sur to Malibu trip was particularly interesting.

                As for your suggestion that there is an alternative portrayal of motorcycles, I really can’t argue with that. It’s absolutely true. But, as you point out, it’s sadly not very prominent. I just think that the only way that that alternative portrayal will become more mainstream is through the same kind of marketing efforts that made the current images of motorcycling so prominent.

                After all, did people really think of bikers as being dangerous or wild before the advent of Easy Riders? Okay, so there was the legendary ride of the Pissed Off Bastards, which, in retrospect, was actually pretty tame. But beyond that, it wasn’t until the widespread marketing and commercialization of the Hollywood “biker” image that anyone really cared about motorcycling one way or the other. It took a long time and a lot of marketing to get the current bad boy image that motorcycling has in the eyes of non-riders; I think that it will take the same amount of time and effort to change it. The problem is that there are too few people like you actually working to change it, and those that are trying just don’t seem to have a big enough impact to make a real dent in that bad boy persona.

                Kudos to you and your blog, though, for doing your part in taking the second step of trying to show that not only are small bikes cool, but that there is a whole lot more to motorcycling than the rebel, bad-boy persona. You have a new reader.

      • Huh?

        Maybe you cant get a HD 883 48 because it does not exist?

        • Grant Ray

          Ha. Yeah, I forgot they’re only doing the 48 with the 1200cc engine. I guess that was happy wishing on my part for a low-spec, entry-level but still cool Sportster. With midsets, not those stupid forward controls.

          • eric

            Great article. Anyone who thinks you need a 1000cc bike to ride on the highway is either unbelievably uninformed, or a complete dumba$$. I’ve never owned a bike over 750cc, and I’ve ridden over 150,000 miles. In addition, I’m 6’2, 250 lbs., so I know what’s needed for highway running. I put 65,000 miles on a ’91 Yamaha FZR600, and my M750 Monster embarassed a lot of literbikes in the twisties.

            I’ve recently ridden HD’s 883 Iron, which while not “fast” by motorcycle standards, is quick enough to do high 13-second quarter miles; this is seriously fast compared to most cars. I rode it on the highway at 75mph, and I have to say, it was really fun. Really nice attention to detail, too; it certainly doesn’t feel or look like a beginner bike. And yes, I agree about the midmount pegs (which this version has). With some longer aftermarket shocks, and a slightly taller seat, this would make a great bike for me; I may actually buy one in a year or two.

            The key to getting beginners onto ‘beginner’ bikes is to design them so that they don’t seem to be ‘beginner bikes.’ I think it’s interesting that the HD dealer I talked with said that they can’t keep their 883 iron, nightster, and the new 48 on the floor, despite the terrible economy. HD considers these bikes ‘beginner’ bikes, which I happen to disagree with, but the reason they’re selling better than the ‘regular’ versions of the sportster is that they’re downright cool, and don’t look like ‘bargain’ bikes.

            I’d be curious to know how Kawasaki’s done with their ER6-n; that’s a really visually interesting bike, that doesn’t feel like a beginner machine. Kawasaki is practically alone in selling good beginner bikes; they sell the 250 ninja, the 500 ninja, the 650 ninja (a really fun bike to ride, by the way), and the er6n. Where are the other guys? I know yamaha has that cool 250 supermoto, but I think it’s overpriced (if it were a 450, it would be on my shortlist). Honda has completely abandoned this segment, and suzuki doesn’t have much besides the aforementioned drz400sm.

  • AceCafeClipOns

    My girly Sv 650 likes to have manly SuperSports for breakfast.
    There’s much more fun on winding roads than on straight line highways… and that’s why we chose motorcycling, isn’t it?

  • Trojanhorse

    I really thought from the title that you were just going to post a pic of Loris Capirossi.

    Good article. I agree with some other commenters that the problem lies in the value equation. A 400cc sportbike won’t cost a manufacturer much, if any, less to produce than a 600. And margins on 600s are already razor-thin due to the shortsighted price war that the Big 4 have been engaged in for quite some time now. So you either ask buyers to pay the same amount, and get “less”, you take a loss on every 400 you sell, or you suddenly inflate the price of your 600 while your competition remains the same. None of which is a viable option. In my opinion we NEED a tiered licensing system like Britain, and this is the only thing that will cause mid-displacement performance bikes to really flourish in the States.

  • Core

    You know, I really enjoyed the above article and feel it is spot on.

    Its funny to hear that “no market demand” comment so often…

    Like with broadband… I’ve upgraded when it was available to do so. Of course, if it wasn’t available, I couldn’t upgrade. And I’ve constantly heard.. “Oh there is no market demand for higher speeds and better quality.. no no no, people are satisfied”… BS!

    This is like the chicken and hen situation.

    Anyways I would love to see the above article, be more than just a wet dream, but reality.

    • Core

      Also, anyone who reads my comment please don’t get stuck on the speed bit… but focus on the availability deal.

  • Nick

    This is all fine if you’re an anorexic midget but if you’re a 6’2″, 220lb rugby player then you’ll be wringing the neck of any 600 supersport. If you still aren’t then you should be on a Harley. For some people, a litre bike is the only option for fun.

    If you’re just starting out, then get something with some torque. This article draws a bad analogy – that a relatively low powered Monster that is fun to ride can be translated into a relatively low powered 400cc bike being fun to ride too. The difference is, the Monster gives you a smile because it’s a twin and has decent pull low down. An inexperienced rider will get themselves into trouble just as quickly on a high revving 400cc race rep as they will on a litre bike. Early riding accidents are mostly related to misjudging corners and not straight line speed.

    P.S. Why is it that everyone who rides a SV650 loves to tell the world how it’s faster than anything else on a twisty road? I wonder if Jeremy Burgess knows this? Maybe Rossi should look into one for next season.

    All in all, a nice idea for an article but narrow minded and flawed in execution.

    • AceCafeClipOns

      “P.S. Why is it that everyone who rides a SV650 loves to tell the world how it’s faster than anything else on a twisty road? I wonder if Jeremy Burgess knows this? Maybe Rossi should look into one for next season.”

      Go and buy one of those joy-to-trash budget v-twins and you will know!

      P.S. Why is it that so many average riders think buying an R1 will make them fast? (and I wonder if a MotoGp track does have any resemblance with a twisty road, by the way)

  • http://www.urbanrider.co.uk Urban Rider

    Very good post Mr Uhlarik.

    There is a guy who lives in my road who has one of the new Ninja 250s and I LOVE it. It looks brilliant fun for short distances.

  • smoke4ndmears

    I’m bookmarking this article so I can pass it on to every person I know who wants to start riding. Especially all of the knuckleheads who go straight to the race-reps.

  • Liquidogged

    Brilliant article, spot on. However, I agree with a few others that the issue is perceived value. Americans are conditioned from birth as consumers focused on numbers – that is, everything available for sale can be judged by how many it has of some key stat. There is a key stat / dollar ratio for every market. A 400 that costs almost the same as a 600 is just not going to work unless there’s a major shift in the culture – and you can’t bank on that if you’re in the motorcycle business.

    HOWEVER the 400 doesn’t NEED to cost the same as a 600. The great thing about a lower max speed and slower accelleration: the rest of the components don’t need to be quite so beefy to work just as well. Brakes, suspension, etc, can still be quality items but don’t need to be quite as high of a spec. There seems to be a perception that all components need to be super high grade to be worthwhile, but that’s an illusion created by Brembo and literbike shootout articles. Anyways, point is even though a 400cc engine costs the same to manufacture as a 600cc engine, there’s a ton of ways to cut costs on a smaller, slower bike without completely neutering it like a Honda Rebel250.

    And if we’re talking personal – I started on a Honda CM200T which I rode the piss out of. I then had a wrecked Ninja500 that felt like a friggin rocket ship. After that is was a first gen CBR600 which was also great fun. By the time I got my last bike, a Honda VTR1000, the power was a lot of fun but totally in control. That bike got stolen last year (special place in hell for that guy) and I have an old Yamaha 550 V-twin I’m restoring. It’s not going to be as fast, but having gone through all the bikes I have, I’m looking forward to the simple pleasures of caning a bike around a twisty road. Will the bike have modern components? No. Will it still be huge fun? YES.

  • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

    Bravo!

    Don’t forget the Hyosung GT250R. I own one. Fun bike.

  • AK

    LOVE THIS > > >

    I’m posting right direction arrows, thats how excited I get when something important gets talked ah-boot.

    Japan, Great Britain, Europe have got it going on with tiered licensing for the street AND racing…

    …would love to have my own 4 stroke tiddler street racer from Yamaha (YZ-F 125R) and zoom around but the powers at hand love to role-play America as only loving over-powered/ priced/ marketed shit cans.

    WE DON’T ALL BY MOTORCYCLES TO GO CROSS-COUNTRY HIGHWAY RIDING IN THE US!!!

    Plus Harley filled that void perfectly 107 years ago, havn’t changed to terribly much, and is a CASH backed company that, as far as everyone sees, will be here for another 107 years.

    Now Germany, Italy, & Japan (remember axis of powers) makes the BEST racing autos and bikes in the world…they also had the smallest armys in the world at one point and got pretty fucking close to taking it over…

    Coincidence?

    I think not.

  • Brian P

    With all due respect to Nick above, that post exactly typifies the “bigger is better” attitude. I AM (almost) 6 ft 2 inches and I DO weigh about 100 kg (220 lbs) … and my 1990 Yamaha FZR400 has absolutely no problem getting me around. Yeah, the engine spins 7000 plus revs at highway speed; so what. It will take it.

    I also have a 2007 Honda CBR125R, that Honda saw fit to sell in Canada (but not in the USA). Granted, main highways are not that bike’s happy place (although it will do 100+ km/h). But around town or on backroads, it’s fine … and it’s fun while not going fast enough to attract too much of the wrong kind of attention. I ride this bike more than any of my others! By the way, I’ve been riding for over 20 years. The little bikes are still a whole heap of entertainment.

    The Yamaha R125 is a terrific looking bike. Bring it!!

  • WoosterSauce

    I think Nakedness is a good trait for small bikes too.

    To me, it encourages maintenance.

    I own a Ninja 250 and can honestly say it’s VERY annoying to remove and replace the plastics whenever wrenching is required.

    Thankfully it doesn’t go wrong all that often, and you can do an oil change without removing any plastic.

    But still, hiding the machinery just makes it seem mysterious and esoteric and even intimidating and I think that’s not something we want to encourage in newbies.

    Which I still definitely am, BTW.

  • SVGeezer

    I’m a boomer who started on a 500 twin at age 25.

    There are nice smaller bikes on the market, just not as small as you are taking about. The Suzuki DR-Z400SM is a cult bike, as is the SV650 family. The Ninja 258 has been mentioned. Hyosung has some nice 250s. Keep looking and you will find more.

    Had a ZX6, love my SV650S more.

  • http://www.amarokconsultants.com Michael Uhlarik

    Thanks everyone for your comments (and corrections, you are right about the Twister, that is a different bike since 2008)

    The argument that large people need large bikes is as absurd as suggesting that you need a machine gun to go duck hunting. The United States does not have a monopoly on tall (6″+) or heavy (200lb +) riders, nor do the laws of physics change country to country.

    The common talk among industry people, from engineers to designers to product planning is always the same : performance today is a decision, not an accomplishment. We add performance that frankly speaking, 95% of the riding public simply doesn’t understand or have the skill to exploit properly. Not my personal opinion, but the words of chief test riders at Yamaha and Aprilia, among others.

    As an anecdote, when we first discussed putting radial mounted brakes on production bikes at Yamaha in 2002-3, the only justification was appearance. Period. You, the street riding public do not change rotor sizes every weekend, so you don’t need radial calipers. We justified it by saying something in the press release about increased stiffness, and all of a sudden the press and public were convinced that it was a must-have to remain competitive. Some respected magazines got their “experts” to write windy essays about how the difference between conventionally mounted and radial brakes was huge, and everybody was convinced that they could “feel it”. If you try to sell a motorcycle with sporting pretensions today without them you are branded out-of-touch.

    The same happened with upside down forks, wave disk rotors, under seat exhausts, under slung exhausts, and most other motorcycle design fashions.

    Of course everyone who rides seriously knows this. Go to any track day and as many of you know, the fastest guy out there is fast on everything. Often on seriously “outdated” machinery.

    If you think you “need” a 100+ hp to ride fast you simply do not possess any skills beyond those of a beginner. Simply operating a motorcycle and riding one effectively are worlds apart.

    For the record, I am not suggesting we stop building dream machines, only that we fill in the gaps and make motorcycling less focused on the machine, and more focused on riding.

    For anyone interested in continued reading on the subject, from a pre-recession point of view :
    http://www.motorcycledesign.com/site/content/view/47/39/

    • Trojanhorse

      Michael, I’m with you in spirit, but…regarding the “unnecessary” features you referenced in a previous comment – you of all people should know that in the motorcycle world, people primarily buy what they want, not what they need. Trying to fight that is a fool’s errand.

      As for making motorcycling less focused on the machine…that’s nice to say but who actually has the incentive to DO such a thing? Certainly not the media, nor the manufacturers, for whom fueling consumerist lust is literally vital.

      Anyways, I for one actually like machines and technology. It’s part of what draws me to bikes.

      So if you want me, Joe Average, to buy a smaller-displacement bike (we both know that demand drives the supply here) don’t give me a ho-hum 300 or 400 and tell me not to focus on the machine, that it’s all I need. Increase the VALUE proposition for the smaller bike. You have to make me WANT it for one reason or another. And when I can step up to the ZFX600RR for another few thou (I promise you that bringing the CB over and selling it at a profit costs a lot more than $3k per), which in my terms is just another few bucks on top of my monthly nut, you have a very difficult task indeed.

      (JT I think you are absolutely, dead-nuts on the spot. How about an entry-level brand extension from Confederate that could do it? Like a reverse Toyota-to-Lexus type of thing.)

      • Trojanhorse

        Oops JT, didn’t know you weren’t still with Confederate.

  • Isaac

    You what would be absolutley perfect (for me anyway)?

    The YZ125R with a the Yamaha 450cc super single motor in it. I really love the way that bike looks.

  • Jay Allen

    GRATEFUL for the buddy that sold me my first bike, a Yamaha SECA 400. I was an idiot on my first bike, and it was all I could handle. Next up a KZ1000 with some work, and finally an HD. If I had waited till 45 for a bike, the V-Twin would be way too much, and I would have missed 30,000 miles of fun.

    The mags used to call them UJM – universal japanese motorcycles; not specialized, but a blast to ride ( the KZ1000 would probably fit this description). We DO need more naked lower power affordable bikes.

  • robotribe

    I have to agree with all those who already point the blame towards our own American culture that continually communicate to us that bigger, faster, more expensive, more, more, MORE…is better. Be it cars, trucks, houses, bicycles or motorcycles, we’re conditioned to believe that anything “less” is a negative reflection upon the owner/consumer; they’re likely looked upon as too poor, poorly skilled, poor in taste, lacking bravery, and even lacking in heterosexual qualities which somehow demeans them and sets then apart from the “real” riders.

    More often than not, I believe it’s the current riders who permeate and escalate this shit-filled cultural bias, and the industry plays along because that’s the culture they’re selling to.

    On a side note, there are those who dismiss current electric bikes as underpowered or “toys” at can’t compare to real bikes, but again, this is just another way we push new riders back into their cars and push the average age of riders closer to 50 and beyond.

    It’s our own collective fault. If we want change, we have to start with ourselves.

  • Jordan J.

    Ya’know, from what I understand Honda has the blueprints for what sounds like the perfect bike in regards to the topic at hand.

    The VFR400 NC30, maybe?

  • Random

    The Honda CB300R and yamaha’s counterpart, YS250 Fazer (yes we got a 250cc fazer) are only popular in Brazil because they are already considered mid-size bikes. Not surprisingly, because we have hordes of 100-150cc bikes and 125′s are the most sold bikes.

    Not that we have an exquisite taste for riding on small bikes. Brazilians are just poor. Minimum wage is much, much lower than other countries (less than average in South America) and it would take 42 years to buy a R 1200 GS with that income – if you can skip eating and dressing for that time.

    We like big bikes as much as the other guy – and I think Indians, Indonesians, Viets etc. like them too. It’s just people can’t afford it.

    Many small bikes are also sold for use as everyday transportation, when you can’t afford anything else. Like it has been sad before, many of those guys would be driving cars if they could.

  • Random

    That said, the availability of small bikes here suggest there will be lots of bikers and a healthy bike market in the future.

    Those small, 250-400, single cilinder bikes are also lots of fun to ride, especially in town.

  • http://bienvillestudios.com/ JT Nesbitt

    The youth dollars are being spent on tuner cars. They are the four wheel equivalent of the lightweight motorcycle that you are calling for. They are cheap, fun, and with a little creativity- blisteringly fast. There is a HUGE support group for these kids – hell – there is an aftermarket muffler in every Autozone on every corner in the country. They are actively INVOLVED with their cars, yeah it’s mostly stick on chrismastree decoration, but they are having fun with it. It boils down to accessibility. I keep thinking about that line in “Silence Of The Lambs” when Hannibal Lechter gives Agent Starling the tip to catch the killer – “We don’t seek out things to covet. We covet what we see every day.”
    What the kids of today are seeing is mom’s Honda Civic, not for what it is, but for the potential that it represents. They go to the Tire Rack website, select the coolest wheels, thinnest tires, change the color, and bang! A dream is visualized. The whole car is transformed from a grocery getter, to a Touring Car champion.
    I think that you are missing a critical point that Harley Davidson has certainly capitalized on – The “Mr Potatohead Syndrome” allow me to elaborate….
    I am known locally as the motorcycle guy- you know- the dude who you seek out when you are thinking about getting a bike- How many times have I consulted a newbie, and the first words out of his mouth, INVARIABLY, “I want a Cafe Racer, you know something that I can put together myself” These young men are not mechanics, they don’t know the difference between a camshaft and a crankshaft, and yet they are seeking a deeper level of involvement. Harley Davidson gives them that opportunity like no other company in the world. You and I both know that it is merely an illusion, but we have the benefit of experience that their customers do not have. In this new world of cable tv and random images, we find ourselves emboldened – everyone is a expert. And why not!? Orange County Choppers build their own motorcycles, they obviously aren’t very bright – so why can’t I?
    The solution, therefore, is not to design and produce a motorcycle. The solution is to design a PLATFORM. What I am calling for is a motorcycle system, that with the most basic tools, can be transformed into truly different styles of bike that competently achieve differentiated tasks. Things like adjustable swingarm pivots, adjustable trees, modular wheels, adjustable footpegs, handlebars, etc. etc.
    It’s the next evolutionary step of the “Mr Potatohead”. Finally cracking the Harley code, and luring in those first time buyers with a promise of a dream of involvement exceeded by the reality of limitless iterations.
    This presents a HUGE design challenge, but the group that gets it right is sitting on a gold mine. —- JT

    • pauljones

      I like the way you think, but I fear that such a thing will wind up with the same image that Kit Cars have.

      • David Jakobik

        I don think he’s quite going for a “build your own from the ground up” type bike. The mention of tuner cars and modular parts brings to mind a Honda Civic. The aftermarket support, for all generations, is absolutely staggering. For the price of a new Duc, I can have a 12sec quarter mile car. Or a rather decent and competitive autocross car. (little more $ there and it becomes a competitive track car, too) Or a superb ice-racing machine. How about a Rally America racer? Or just a tasteful street cruiser, mild drop, rims, clean interior, nice paint, some jdm bits. Maybe a fire breathing 700whp turbo monster, or a rev-silly n/a that just sounds glorious instead of nigh-unusable power. All these and more, often without too much mechanical experience. But by the time all’s said and done, sweat will have poured, knuckles bruised, blood spilt, and experience gained.

        True they all look the same, just another Civic, (cafe racer, anyone?) But like cafe racers, they all look different, too. Devil’s in the details, and that’s what people want. No newbie WANTS to build a bike from scratch. What s/he wants is a bike, rideable, that they can make their own, that makes a statement about them. And they want to be able to ride it between wrenching sessions, as they buy more parts, and personalize it more, and pour more money into the economy. A boutique industry will sprout, jobs will be created, and happiness, arguments, and passion will ensue

        We need our Civic. Build it and the kids’ll start buying bikes.

    • http://www.amarokconsultants.com Michael Uhlarik

      Mr. Nesbitt

      I certainly respect your work, and your opinion, but I think you are taking my analysis beyond its intended scope.

      You are 100% correct in stating that fun, cheap cars are by far the greatest competitor to fun, cheap motorcycles. However, this is true everywhere, even more so in the developing world. In Europe, from Spain to the UK, young men can enjoy hot hatchback tuner heaven for more or less the same money as a decent motorcycle. The tarted up Vauxhall Corsa/Citroen Saxo/SEAT Ibiza with a body kit and gaudy paint job will still get more girls, more friends and greater “look at me” exposure than any bike short of an MV. But that is the status quo in todays Gen Y. They have a dozen competing interests, sports, hobbies, and social needs that dilute their limited disposable income.

      Our mandate should be to reintroduce something that works within those parameters, and has worked here in the past. $2500 – 3500 250-400cc motorcycles that handle well, look hot and have real world use exist, just not here. They also are proven to compete effectively against other distractions, and most importantly they help build desire and prestige for motorcycling in general. No one, not one Boomer in Europe looks down on a young man and his 29hp 125.

      Your idea of IKEA motorcycle components that are interchangeable is interesting for a specific OEM (as you rightly said about H-D), or the aftermarket. This too exists, in south-east Asia in particular. Look up Thai tuning market, it is awesome what poor imaginative folks have done to TZR150′s.

  • vic

    anything except the r6 and other 600 cc sportbikes

    they are very nimble and kill liter bikes on twisty tracks but their power delivery is IMHO unmanageable for a begginner .
    the big sports bikes and the busa are scary but they show you that from day one and are actually a lot more user friendly,

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D.

    Well, shit; old-stock Ninja 500r’s are going for like $3,500! And you can get a real nice used one for ~$2,500 (I should know, I just did).

    I don’t know if I buy the whole “build it and they will come.” I just don’t see the pent-up demand for small displacement bikes. I’m a 24 yr old on his second bike (aforementioned 500r), and while I’m probably the exact target demographic Mr. Uhlarik is talking about, I’m one of TWO people I know who ride motorcycles (the other being a 24 yr old girl on a ninja 250). If the point is that there is an large, under-served demographic for small and mid displacement bikes, I don’t see it in my limited circle of college-educated, employe, “hip” urban friends. They’re all waiting for my inevitable trip to the emergency room!

    If the point is to keep young riders safe, thus making riding more fun, I think a tiered licensing system is a good idea. Of course, it will never pass in the US (COMMUSOCIALFASCISTS NAZIS!)

    Unless some company has the equivalent of the 1962 VW beetle down their sleeves (and that’s a great example of a product relieving huge, youthful, unmet demand), I just don’t see a downsizing trend from litre bikes and supersports.

    • vic

      even if they did have a new equiv of a vw beetle most people would prefer to ride a car or the subway because of the chance that they might catch a fly in their teeth
      plus you can’t text and ride

      electrics is not going to cure or diminish risk aversion

    • Oleg

      Thing is there are (were) cool little bikes available, just never in the US. Look at Hondas’ RVF 400, a four-stroke v4 from back in the nineties. Even if it got conventional forks and swingarm along with some other bits to bring the costs down, it would still be a hell of a bike to compete with ninja 250, which sold quite well in US even before the recent style update. A bike like that would sell right now just on the fact that it’s a v4 alone, never mind the small displacement. One of the main issues I see with small bikes I have experienced personally when I was shopping for a first bike a few years ago, nothing small looked remotely “cool”. A new rider, if he is interested in the sportbike segment will generally want something that looks the part, and there are virtually none sold here that do, outside of the restyled ninja and gs500f, both of which are less-then appealing to a novice parallel twins aka “half-an-inline-four”, and one of them is aircooled to boot, not to mention questionable style and dead giveaway tiny wheels. If the aforementioned RVF was available in the US market for a reasonable price (less then a 600cc) you can bet I would have bought it instead of the ninja 250 I ride now, and so would have many others. Alas, they aren’t available due to perceived lack of demand, and there can’t be any demand if the bikes aren’t available which is the proverbial chicken and egg problem. The fact that small displacement bikes aren’t being raced in any prominent circuits and all people get to hear about is liter bikes doesn’t help either. There is also a rather ludicrous perception some people have that if they are anything above average height or weight then they need 100+ HP to move them, excellently exemplified in this discussion.
      Overall, it seems that unless there is suddenly exposure to those bikes that would make them “cool” (races, endorsements, what have you) there will never be any demand for it, and without demand manufacturers are not likely to put those models out into the market even if only to test the waters. In fact I think even in japan where those small displacement repli-racers proliferated back in the nineties they are no longer manufactured. At the moment small bikes is a solution in search of a problem. If US wanted small bikes and didn’t want big bikes then that’s what we would have. Alas, that is not the case.

  • Martin Cron

    What a great article.

    I was having a discussion with the instructor after taking the MSF Experienced Rider Course and this came up. When he started riding, a 400cc engine was normal and a 600 was considered big.

    Dear Ducati, if you are reading this, I would buy a “Monster Café Sport 400″ and ride it to work every damn day if such a thing existed.

  • GeddyT

    I agree with a lot of what the article says, but have had a different experience with the whole topic.

    I started on an SV650 like a lot of others here because that’s what all the mags said is a good beginner’s bike. And it was! But, still, I had problems with it. I never liked the beating I took from the wind and (unlike most) HATED the upright seating position because it, combined with the plank of a seat, killed my ass after about 45 minutes.

    Six weeks later it was traded in on a liter bike. I figured I didn’t want to keep losing thousands on trade-ins every other month, so I might as well just go all out. I don’t regret the decision at all, as I still look back on that CBR as my favorite bike I’ve ever owned. I did my first track day on it, improved my riding skills tremendously on it (in a way I don’t think would have been possible on the SV–go ahead and argue that…), and as long as nobody was on the pillion pad I was even a hell of a lot more comfortable on it.

    Still, looking back, I tend to miss that SV’s engine and throttle response and real-world usefulness. I’ve since built my dream bike in my head and it looks a lot like what local club racers do in the 650 Superbike class: an SV650 with GSXR750 forks, shocks, wheels, and brakes and a sporty body kit. If I could have a bike that looks, stops, and handles like an ’07 CBR600RR, but with a motor out of a current SV650? I’d take that over any modern supersport any day for street riding. And I’d even pay the same price as a current supersport.

    Part of the problem with small bikes in the U.S. is, of course, the lack of a tiered licensing system. Couple that with how wealthy we are and the small bikes just don’t make sense. See, it’s not just that they’re small and cheap, it’s that they’re small and cheaply BUILT. The author of this article may have worked for Yamaha, but there’s no way he’s going to convince me that the difference between an SV650′s damping rod, non-adjustable fork and the Ohlins on an 1198S is nothing but marketing hype. I’ve felt both and they’re LIGHT YEARS apart. And if big, fat Americans are scared of riding little bikes, wouldn’t adjustable suspension help allay those fears?

    My wife is a high school teacher. If I can, I volunteer at the school once a year evaluating Senior Projects. Every time I show up my jaw hits the ground at the cars these kids are driving! Then I listen to the kids present the muscle car that they’ve restored or car stereo they’ve installed and learn that some of them even have two or three cars! Yeah, I really don’t think cost is the barrier to getting young people on two wheels… I think building an entry level product that young people WANT would go a lot farther. Small displacement bikes have several advantages over their larger displacement counterparts. They can be made lighter, packaged better, and you’re doing something very wrong if you can’t make one rail down a windy road with greater ease. These are performance features. So why not, instead of making small bikes that are cheaper and crappier than their bigger competition (even the new ones with awesome replica plastics!…), why not quip them so that they can be the BEST at something and therefore be able to market them on their merits relative to the rest of the fleet as opposed to just their cheaper price?

    After all, you can get a brand new MX bike for under $6000 with gas charged, fully adjustable suspension at both ends, brakes that will throw you over the handlebars, and power to weight ratios that keep a smile on your face all day. These are serious performance machines with ridiculously top level components bolted on throughout and because of this they can be crazy fun without costing a fortune or having to go hundreds of miles per hour. It’s why my Multistrada (last street bike I have left) is for sale: I give up. Nobody wants to build my FrankenSV, and my dirt bike is just way more fun at real world speeds than the street bikes that were in my garage.

    • Oleg

      Geddy, like I pointed out earlier they (japanese) did build those bikes in the 90s. Vfr 400, rvf 400, zxr 250, cbr 250, and so on, they all were up to the same spec as any superbike from the era with top shelf components. Problem is they either cost too much or there wasn’t enough demand for them so they all got phased out by early 2000s in favor of much cheaper smaller singles and twins.

      Americans aren’t afraid to ride small bikes because of the lower end components, they are afraid that 30-50 horsepower isn’t enough to haul ass because they weight 50 more pounds than an average japanese male!
      I dunno whether to laugh or cry whenever I hear it but that’s the main motivator for a lot of people, besides the looks. How many new riders looking to get their first sportbike are looking at the suspension adjustability and power to weight? Most just look at what the fairing looks like, whether they like the color, how much horsepower it makes and whether there letters x, r, or z somewhere in the model name. Fun and practicality come later, much later.

  • DD

    Stupid. There are many smaller, cheaper bikes available, but americans don’t buy them or ride them. They are seen as being entry level bikes here. HFL seems to be confused in its position on small bikes, one day praising and the next day bashing them.
    I think there might be a connection between universal health care and interest in entry level motorcycles. Young people in the U.S. are lucky to have any kind of affordable health care. One motorcycle related injury could destroy them financialy. In the U.K., Brazil, Canada, most of Asia and Europe where both young and old, rich and poor people get into motorcycling and smaller bikes they know that if they break a leg riding it is covered.
    In the U.S. people with good jobs with benefits tend to be the older crowd and don’t want to look like entry level riders on small displacement bikes. So, you wind up with a huge chunk of the market being 1000cc and up.

  • DoctorNine

    Well thought out article, Wes. I agree 100%. We need accessible small bikes, that kids can get when they are 14-15 years old, with a tier system that sizes them into small machines that will build skills. I personally ride a 600cc machine around town most of the time, and don’t find larger bikes to even be particularly useful until we are talking open road or interstate style commuting. I would also add, that I think we need to encourage simple thumpers, on the small to medium end, because they are dead easy to tear apart and mod. Throw a big jug and piston on one, and they teach kids how to work on their bikes, with very little effort and few tools. It’s addictive. Once you tear apart one bike, more complicated ones seem less daunting.

  • Random

    Maybe Moto1 (or Moto3, the 4-stroke, 250cc bikes replacing MotoGP’s 125cc 2-stroke ones) replicas can make small bikes attractive to the youger audience.

    http://hellforleathermagazine.com/2010/06/2012-the-two-strokepocalypse.html

    Just trying to see a positive side in the end of 2-stroke racing. No reason to have racing tech public can’t (eventually) buy.

    WRC cars also remind their street counterparts for a reason, even if they have no mechanical similarities to the sold cars. If the lure of small displacement racer bikes can be similarly transfered from the prototypes to future street bikes, entry-level (or even advanced) bikers could be convinced to ride one. Even better if they have some race tech or performance to go with the looks.

    No doubt small bikes can be fun. The positive reviews on Ninja 250, Honda’s racing-only RS125 and Moriaki’s 250 tell us small racing bikes deserve a place on track. Even better if they have street couterparts too.

  • Rick

    Funny, everyone seems like they’re talking about 250′s & 400′s, although, I’ve wanted a new Honda Cub (I’ve been riding for years) since they quit importing them in the early 80′s.
    For me, I just don’t care for the models they offer these days – even the scooter models are getting too complicated being water-cooled etc.
    I want just a naked, air-cooled single or parallel twin, small engined, nimble handling bike with basic features. Just electronic ignition and tubeless tires (oh yeah, don’t forget the kickstart) are my only requests.

    Poor Harley, they keep pigeon-holing everyone into their jolly (gay?) pirate, huge motorcycle theme when not everyone wants or needs one of those. I have not cared for a Harley product since the Topper.

    • Little Birdy

      Rick, wait a little while longer and you’ll get what you want.

    • pauljones

      The Honda Ruckus is actually pretty cool as far as bare-bones scooters go. Aside from being liquid-cooled and having more forward gears, it’s really not that much more complicated than the Yamaha QT50 sitting in the corner of my garage.

  • JimmySawFinger

    I might be completely wrong here so please correct me if i am.

    In South Africa, if you are under the age of 18 and want to get around without having to rely on your parents you can get a motorcycle license which will limit you to about 15hp. I think this may be the case in Europe and the UK. Once you are 18 in sunny SA you can then drive any bike you please and any car you please. This keeps 125cc bikes in the market. We do also race them, they are basically the start of you career in track racing, after 125cc, you could go to 250 ninja cup or 600cc class racing.

    Most people i know that were riding 125cc motorbikes when they were young either got cars or went straight for whatever dream bike (or the closest thing to it)they desired when they turned 18. Now the difference with us and the USA is that the young can get into cars at 16 so why buy a small displacement bike?

    Anyway, just my 2cents, love the site, gets me thinking and dreaming.

  • Sean Jordan

    I miss my old Bandit 400; that thing was a hoot.

  • Jay

    Just wanted to back the sentiment that there are definitely new, younger riders out there who are interested in smaller displacement bikes.
    I took the beginner MSF course this past April, and had an inherited ’73 CL450 waiting to be ridden. My friends, who either hadn’t purchased bikes yet, or weren’t able to legally ride the ones they did have, ended up with Rebel 250s, 883s, or R6s.
    A large factor in all of our purchases (in addition to availability and affordability) was the power to weight ratio (personally the R6 still seems like a bit much, but whatever).
    There are plenty of folks out there who would be totally psyched on buying a smaller bike that didn’t cost a shit-ton of money, used modern technology, and were easy to tinker with.
    With my green knowledge of things motorcycle, I feel there are a few of them going right now (WR250s for instance – they’re not a girl’s bike, they’re rad), and if they weren’t such a rarity (barring the Ninja 250s), I think the market could be huge.
    It totally is like Oleg said – a problem of the chicken or the egg. People who have been intrigued by motorcycling, but been put off by the fact that the majority of the cool (cool being very subjective here) bikes are overpowered and/or scary (overpowered and scary being slightly less subjective in the eyes of a new rider) aren’t going to advocate for the production of smaller bikes – they’re either going to succumb to peer pressure and buy the R1 or they’re going to say “Fuck it” and buy a car. Why advocate for something you’re not even sure you’ll enjoy?
    Coming from my experience as a new rider/buyer, I could say honestly that if there had been a well-marketed small/mid size bike that I could’ve picked up for roughly a month’s salary when I was looking for motorcycles (that wasn’t the Ninja 250 – not my cup of tea), I wouldn’t have spent hours fiddling with my carbs today. I would’ve been out enjoying my new motorcycle.

  • Raphael

    The right name is only “CB 300″, not Twister, the old was “CB 250 Twister” and is out of line now. And it costs about U$ 6000 in Brazil, the taxes are abusive in Brazil.

  • Roman

    I realize I’m pretty late to this discussion, but here are my 2 cents anyway. Although I agree with the writer’s sentiment and would love to see more variety in the marketplace, I’m just not sure that there is a sustainable market out there for small displacement bikes.

    I’m 28 years old and have been riding for 5 years now. When I started looking into the possibility of riding, I looked into what was out there and the options were pretty meager. The Ninjettes looked like they haven’t been updated since the late 1980s. The SV650 was a little pricey for someone just entering the job market, and…well that was about it really. I started on a tired old GS500 and moved on to the Triumph Speed Four the next year. Most new entries into the motorcycling world will buy used, so there needs to be a healthy second hand market of affordable, yet interesting beginner bikes. Other than the updated Ninja 250 (and maybe the Hyosung GT250), there really isn’t much out there.

    I’m sure I’m repeating alot of the points that were already made, but I’m just not seeing alot of young people getting into riding. Those are the types of customers who would look for beginner friendly machines to learn on. Most young bike purchasers want to get into biking, and that’s where the difference lies. The emphasis is on the bike (i.e. gotta be fast and get respect at bike nights), not the riding experience. Me perception may be colored by living in a city where there is a swarm of blinged out Busas with bold middle of the rear tire and chicken strips the size of a steak (steak strips? filet mignons?).

    There was a moment a couple years ago, when fuel prices were hovering around $4.00 a gallon and you could read articles in mainstream newspapers about the benefits of scooters and low displacement bikes. It was nice while it lasted, but that moment is gone. We are now stuck with the few younger riders that have been bitten by the bug, a swarm of squids and rubs, and the greying baby boomers hanging on for another decade or two. Also, the used bike market has fallen off a cliff, it is incredible what $4k can buy you these days. Would you really spend the same amount of money on a new Ninja 250R as a minty 2004 Aprilia Tuono?

  • keith

    Right on.

    First bike was a Honda Magna 750 – didnt want the girly bike stigma. Made the decision to get it in yellow, which didnt help. :)

    Then bought an R1 a year and a half later. Wasn’t ready, dumped it. (Horrible commuter bike by the way – it was made for racing, pure and simple.)

    Seriously, all you old farts who complain that every new honda cruiser doesnt have 1800cc’s and is made of plastic – remember there are dozens of potential new riders out there who could never afford and/or don’t have the experience to make riding an 600-700lb 15k+ bike worth it.

    And all you fast and the furious types who have nothing but hayabusa on the brain, I really hope you are smart enought to have gotten the riding fundamentals down before hopping on those beasts. It may go fast, but if you cant stop or corner properly, god help you.

  • carbon

    I think I am the only person in America that wants a Yamaha TW200. At the last two moto shows in town, that is the bike that left a lasting impression on me (uh, ok, the speed triple did too). The little TW200 just seemed…fun.

  • morpheous

    The motorcycle vendors of the world are treating us for exactly what we are(by our own design): Brand and Image consumers. Its truly amazing to me that you cannot buy a full on Nascar race bodywork/painted sedan in America (GM, Chrysler really missed that opp) Duh.. The motorcycle mags are to blame for their labeling smaller displacement bikes as “Beginner or entry level” bikes, they started the whole slide as most Americans wont buy unless told to by advertising or Para advertising what to buy (ie.. moto mag reviews) It was pointed out, and needs to be understood, that it will be electronic communications that will end the motorcycle, and eventually the car as a viable transport vehicle. Designated Driver now means the person who doesnt get to text while they are all going somewhere. Its the short straw. Enjoy our bikes while we can, it may be time to start hoarding them for future historic plates nostalgic enjoyment.

  • brettvegas

    Great article.

    I started on 7-8hp electrics, moved to 20hp electrics, then to a 35hp DRZ, then 90hp BMW, finally settled on my 48hp moto-guzzi. If there had been a 200-300lb, 20-30hp bike out there with similar style of the guzi, I may have saved myself some money. No regrets on the guzzi, but when people ask me about entry-level bikes, ninja 250 is the only thing I can come up with. Sad.

    Good read.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D.

    Honda’s lack of a beginner’s bike (I’m not counting the Rebel 250, which is really more of an overpriced scooter than anything) is most distressing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had anything in the pipe-line, though; a modern , SV650-beating Hawk would do just fine!

  • pdub

    Great post and some very good comments outlining the need and challenges of filling this moto evolutionary gap. It’s true that the performance of the bikes available to us is an embarrassment of riches. That performance incrementally ratchets up every year but the capabilities of new riders and road conditions does not. I feel bad for new riders who with much enthusiasm, hard earned money (or contracted promise thereof) looks what’s on offer to them. Either desirable bikes way out of their (and even many experienced riders’) capability to exploit or something that feels like a compromise that doesn’t inspire them for almost as much. Desire usually wins out here and what moves out of the showrooms further encourages or rather forces the manufacturers to continue the performance arms race. It’s not that the manufacturers are unwilling or incapable of making truly awesome small displacement bikes. They have and still do. The 90′s 250 two strokes and 400 4 strokes were brilliant bikes. In many ways far superior in technology and build than the larger bikes. These bikes were true gems and those in Japan, Europe, and those lucky few of us who got a hold of them stateside still use them as yardsticks to measure modern sportsbikes against in every respect but outright power. Their demise was lamented but with their high cost and home market tastes moving away from high spec race reps the divide between grocery getter bikes and ones that hardly even wake up below triple digit speeds widened. The manufacturers did make an attempt or two and were punished for the effort. Anyone remember the Honda RC31/Hawk GT? It was expensive. It came out the same year as the CBR Hurricane and cost nearly as much. It tanked in the market. Honda moved on but two bikes filled that niche to great success, the SV650 and Monster. Suzuki copied the Hawk formula verbatim. With it’s bargain bin suspension you had a bike that was a commuter’s dream price and performance wise while a weekend’s worth of work turned it into a potent backroad and track knife. The Monster on the other hand brought desirability to the entry level bike and it could probably be said that if it wasn’t for the boatloads of little monsters out there Ducati could not have been able to afford to mount a MotoGP effort and would be in the same boat as Aprilia or MV Agusta. There are signs out there of what could be. Aprilia and Cagiva make little street 125′s that are as sharp and good looking as any exotic liter bike. they even have potential in that their chassis’ could easily accommodate engines of 2 or 3 times their capacity. KTM and Aprilia have for a couple years had prototypes of 250, 450, and 550cc track bikes and would only need favorable markets to make them a reality. Until a big market like the US gets a tiered licensing system we probably won’t see any fully realized small displacement performance bikes. What we could see if the manufacturers got it together is making a versatile bike platform. Design newer better bikes like the Hawk and SV. Make it light and simple like a 250lb 50-65hp single or sub 350lb 70-90hp twin. Give it a modern frame and decent if not top spec suspension. Lastly, make it a COOOOL litle bike not just a moped dressed up like a GSXR. Supermotos and dirt bikes fit that spec and they sell. Just make a ground up road bike like that.

  • pdub

    Admins please forgive that I’m posting this here as well as in the comments section of Ninja400 entry but THIS MAY BE THE PERFECT FIRST SPORTBIKE!

    http://www.autoblog.com/2010/06/22/video-motorweek-talks-with-dan-fischer-american-sportbike-make/

    Sorry for yelling but I wanted to get your attention. Again this is where the direction of that gap about entry level performance bikes should go. No it isn’t perfect but it has right what a sportbike really needs to fill the role. An awesome frame and swingarm that look straight off of the Moto2 grid, very decent if not downright superlative suspension and brake components. What could be said against it? Ok it has a carburated Korean copy of the SV650 engine and the styling looks a bit dated. On the first point they throw out the figure of 80hp. That would be great at the rear wheel but you can probably bet that’s at the crank and count on the low to mid 60′s at the pavement. Still that doesn’t suck when you consider that this is not intended to dice it up with the bleeding edge of the supersport market. It’s a first timer’s sportbike and I can imagine maybe a new bully in the lightweight twins racing circuit. On the second point of styling; yeah it looks like concept bike drawings of the late 90′s. Dated and a little transformer ungainly angular looking. Reminds me of Triumph’s 2003 Daytona in awkward new/outdated styling. Still better looking than anything Buell shat out. Those two minor gripes of a primitive engine and dubious looks are minor when considering it’s an almost perfect first sportbike. Competitive price (Ducati Monster territory) 60-80hp? L-twin, 350lbs, great chassis, suspension, and brakes. I’m intrigued. If bike makers large and small competed as fiercely at this market segment as they do at the top this could get interesting.

  • http://n/a Bikerdad

    Only scanned the comments, so forgive me if I repeat what’s been said.

    There’s one crucial that keeps limiting “small” bike in the market in the US, and that is that they are SMALL. Not displacement wise, but just flat out too small physically.

    Sorry, but a 5′-10″+ 19 year old kid who grew up riding dirt bikes is going to be INCREDIBLY cramped on any of the “small” bikes (i.e. < 500cc) we have here. You might be able to convince him to put up with being cramped if the performance is worth it (i.e. a supersport), but not if you’re trying to sell him a bike that was designed and engineered when he was riding his first micro-bike at age 6. Ain’t gonna happen. NOTHING in the consumer market that these youngsters swim in is older than they are. Most things are ‘All New’ every couple of years. Even cars are refreshed every 2-4 years and redesigned every 6-8, with very rare exceptions. Gee, I wonder why there’s not much attraction to a Ninja 500R?

    Get a youngster who’s never ridden to buy a “new” bike with older engineering and styling than his car? Rightttttttt.

    Build a small displacement bike that fits American adults comfortably, give it good brakes, good functionality and good styling, and they’ll sell. Refresh the styling every 3-5 years with something more than BOLD NEW GRAPHICS, and people will take them seriously. Keep trying to push 15-20 year old designs that would better fit one’s kid sister physically, have drum brakes, and keep on wondering why “Americans won’t buy small bikes.”

    • Grant Ray

      BIkerdad, I’m 5’11″ and I grew up riding dirt bikes. I think you’re making huge assumptions, mainly because one of the most special bikes that I’ve ever ridden to date is a late nineties Aprila RS250.

      The thing fit me like a glove.

  • Marko

    Ahem. Suzuki TU250x? I can’t believe this bike wasn’t mentioned in the article or by and of the commenters.

    I bought one in April and I love this thing. It’s already got 1200 miles on it.

  • dante

    The new Kawasaki Ninja 400R is now available in Canada. Perhaps linked to the fact that there are more young motorcyclists in Canada than the U.S.?

  • Spitfire Summer

    I think this is exactly what they are trying to do at Mac Motorcycles http://www.mac-motorcycles.com

  • guerrila

    I’ve ridden dirt bikes since I was 8, but only just got my first street bike last year. I finally settled on a 650 V-Strom, more than triple the displacement and double the weight of my biggest bike to that point (an air-cooled 87 KDX200). I adjusted to the physical mass of the bike fairly qucikly, but something like the Honda VTR 250 would have been ideal for me.

    http://www.motorcycledaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/041509top.jpg

    A 250 watercooled v-twin with Ducati knock-off looks would have been just right. Hell, I’d take one now for the city. And I would have kept it for years, unlike the CBR125 which seems to have a sell-by date of about one season, judging by the wealth of 5000km examples flooding Kijiji. And the lower price point probably would have got me into street riding a lot sooner than age 37. Why this seems obvious to everyone but the manufacturers is very mysterious.

  • Dilemma Dude

    “Honda’s CB300 Twister, seen above, could be 2011′s answer to Peter Egan’s CB350, if Honda of America would bring it in.”

    The problem with this is that exporting/importing a motorcycle isn’t the cheapest or easiest thing in the world to do. Japanese companies sell $10,000 motorcycles in America because it’s profitable. There aren’t high margins on a $3000 entry-level motorcycle to justify testing, emissions work, new non-metric instrument panels, etc. It’s not simply a matter of the CEO of Honda saying “OK, ship 5000 of them to Los Angeles”.

    Alternatively, you could get on Harley-Davidson’s case for not making a 300cc street bike, since they’re right here already.