What urbanization means for motorcycles

Dailies -



The motorcycle is one of the most emotionally evocative objects on the planet; name another product that can be placed into film, television and advertisement to instantly create a mood or define a character. Cigarettes are the only other example I can think of, and that’s only thanks to decades of multi-million dollar product placement campaigns, beginning before “product placement” was even defined. Why then, is the motorcycle industry in so much pain?

Marc is the CEO of BRD Motorcycles. Earlier this summer BRD released the RedShift MX and SM, electric motorcycles designed to outperform their gas equivalents. This article is based on materials he originally created to attract investment.

Photo: Grant Ray

30 second history of road-going motorcycles in the US: Harley-Davidson vs. Indian, Harley wins; Harley vs. Brits, Brits win; Easy Rider and the Hell’s Angels (via HST) terrify and captivate Americans; Japan comes to town with cheap, reliable sport bikes, crush Brits, own sport market; Harley, left behind in sport bikes, chooses Peter Fonda’s Route-66 chopper over the race-bred XR750 — the US market divides to Cruisers and Sportbikes; bikes in both categories keep getting bigger, more powerful, and more useless. Motorcycles became more about image than experience.

There will always be open space and wide highways in the US, and thus demand for motorcycles that make life grand 300 straight miles at a time; however, during the 100 years described above, the world (including the US) urbanized. How could the the motorcycle industry be shocked in 2008 when cheap credit dried up and sales in the US dropped from 1.1 million units to less than 450,000? What did we expect when we’re pushing bikes that are so impractical they can only be luxuries? 82 percent of Americans live in urban areas, but we’re filling showrooms with bikes built for desert highways that can’t navigate a parking lot without doing the Austin Powers.

The incumbent manufacturers may be heading off to pasture, but the industry is far from done. The motorcycle is too practical, too iconic, and too fun to disappear. Abandoned by the industry, 20-somethings who’ve never assembled more than an IKEA end-table are taking matters into their own hands. Spend some time in San Francisco, Brooklyn or LA and you’ll see new riders on bikes that are timelessly styled and individualized, like a Harley-Davidson, but built for an urban environment — instead of loud and ornate, they are subtle and simple, instead of huge and powerful, they are lightweight and nimble.

The motorcycling idyll of the past saw riders drawn to the open road.

New riders are choosing cheap Japanese standards from the 70s, like the Honda CB350 and Yamaha XS650, because in the 40 years since then we haven’t built anything as beautiful or practical for basic city use. While Harley and Honda equate small displacement with economy and beginners, companies like Cleveland CycleWerks, Ural, Royal Enfield, and Triumph recognize that these are the next generation of cruiser customers, with the same desire for authenticity and individuality, but transplanted into a new landscape.

With open roads now more a myth than reality, riders need performance they can exploit in their urban environments. A reader bought this Metric Motorbike CB200 mere minutes after it was revealed here.

The same thing is occurring in the sportbike space. Premier sportbikes have become so fast and specialized that they are dangerous and tortuous on the urban roads where most of us spend our time. Ass-up face-down riding position, no steering lock, and suspension from a dumptruck are amazing when diving into turn 14 at Thunderhill but miserable over the potholes and 90 degree corners of an urban ride.

Need more evidence that the speed of modern sportsbikes is increasingly irrelevant? The most popular modifications are often targeted at reducing performance.

You’ll still see plenty of sportbikes lined up at Starbucks on the weekend, but urban customers who care about performance are, like their “lifestyle” brethren above, creating their own solutions in the form of supermotos – street bikes based on off-road racers, and optimized to rip through rough, tight roads – and streetfighters – sportbikes highly modified to reduce weight, improve riding position, and improve suspension compliance. These are bikes that are quick, rather than fast, tough rather than sleek, and every bit as tuned and optimized as a race-replica.

Marc’s daily rider isn’t available in any showroom.

My daily driver is a 2003 Yamaha R6 with the plastics ripped off, headlights from a Buell, handebars and a clutch off of a dirt bike, Ohlins suspension, and lots of scars from horribly incompetent parallel parkers. I built the bike because I had to; because no one was already producing one. While the Big 4 (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki) continue to think of these segments as the traditionally economic dual-sport (supermoto) and standard (streetfighter) categories, pumping out detuned and outdated options, companies like BRD, KTM, and (again) Triumph recognize that this is the same sportbike customer who wants the highest performance and state of the art technology, but transplanted into a new landscape.

The BRD Redshift SM was designed to exceed the performance of equivalent ICE machines and was designed from the ground up to do so in an urban environment.

What you’re witnessing is an entire industry (50M units annually, worldwide) passing the torch, not just here in the US but globally. Urbanization is an unavoidable trend, and with the exception of places like Shanghai, cities don’t turn car-friendly overnight. The new Hondas and Harley-Davidsons of the 21st century are going to emerge in the next 10 years, and they’re going to be companies that create products that deliver on the timeless promise of motorcycles (practicality, independence, authenticity) without joining the race towards ever more ornate garage trophies.

  • Richard

    Thank you for getting me excited about the futre of motorcycling again.

  • mb

    Very well done.

  • JaySD

    What about Safety? I mean I think the urbanization angle rings true but the real reason motorcycles are in decline is because of the fact we have a few major factors going against the motorcycle

    1) automotive safety technology has advanced much farther and faster than motorcycle safety
    2) society continues to push more and more distractions on drivers creating a more dangerous environment for the motorcyclist as well
    3) cost of new technologies, no one wants to buy an 8,000 dollar electric motorcycle with a range of less than 50 miles. Whether or not this limit actually impacts the consumer does not matter because there is a perception of value there (or a lack thereof) when compared to a ICE conventional motorcycle

    These are the things keeping motorcycling from growing. As a motorcyclist what I usually hear from those who don’t ride is all about the danger or not being able to trust themselves.

    • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

      I’m in agreement with the gist of what you are saying, but…

      1 and 2) I’ll posit that automotive and motorcycle safety would see greater gains from driver/rider education rather than technology. Education, as we’ve proven over the years, is hard to do right.

      3) Agreed. Initial cost of entry to electric bikes will likely be prohibitive, until “they figure it out.” Kind of how most major auto manufactures now offer hybrid, when only Toyota made one ten years ago. Not the greatest parallel, but close enough.

      Danger happens. We just admit it to ourselves every day before we throw a leg over the bike.

      • JaySD

        Sure and you and I as motorcyclists understand those risks, accept those risks, and understand how rider training and education helps alleviate some of the issues. But look at cars. How many millions have dollars probably billions have been spent on passive safety features, people expect the safety net for when no amount of training can help you.

        I guess what I am saying is the reason we don’t see the levels of motorcycle participation you can see in “On Any Sunday” is because fewer people are willing to accept the risks or the stigma associated with them.

        Look at the countries where motorcycles are everywhere? Honestly its in areas of urbanization where the economics of transportation have become more important than the economics in terms of risk or potential loss of life

        If you could make a non motorcyclist feel as safe as they do in a car I think you would be selling a ton more bikes. Because at that point besides cargo/passenger capacity what would you be arguing about? better performance? better efficiency? easier to park? etc etc all the benefits we as motorcyclists already enjoy

        • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

          Violent agreement, JaySD :)

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      Jay, good points. Certainly there are a lot of dynamics here, and I just picked one for a short article.
      1) This is a factor, definitely from a consumer perception standpoint, but the spike in scooter sales in 2007 that resulted from high gas prices shows that economics and convenience win over (perceived) safety. Especially as bikes are seeing less and less highway time, the cage becomes even less necessary.
      2) No argument there, and it brings up one of the moto tradeoffs: commute time vs. (again, perceived) ability to multi-task. Some folks would rather spend an hour in a car where they can talk/text/read/eat than 30 min on a bike where they can’t.
      3) This is where I disagree and where urbanization is key. Electrics won’t replace touring bikes anytime soon. But examine how often you tour, versus how often you zip around the city. More and more people are going to have the realization that they could be having shitloads of fun on those little daily trips around the city rather than waiting for a good free day or weekend to actually make use of the toy in their garage.

      • JaySD

        1) It’s all perception since most fatal motorcycle accidents happen at like 25 mph, scooters are not any safer people just think they are and they don’t bother to wear safety equipment besides a helmet. (rather surprised by the roadrash I got through riding pants on a 20mph lowside a couple weeks ago)

        3) I consider my commute pretty average as its about 30 minutes and includes some highway. For me that’s 60 miles a day where I need to be able to travel 75-80mph or its just dangerous on the highway. Electric bikes are not just there yet for me to even make them my commuting tool and most people I know would be in the same boat. And weather wise living in southern california this is a haven for bikes with the climate and ability to lane split. I believe in what you are saying about bikes that are tools designed to work in the urban environment, but I think for most ICE will still trump electric but that I guess is a different issue.

        I’d really like to be an early adopter when it comes to the electric bikes etc but I just can’t afford to be with their current limitations

        • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

          No doubt, range is a challenge. If you’re not charging at the office then I agree, electric is not (yet) for you – which is why I highlight Triumph, KTM, CCW, Ural, and R-E.

          Anecdote about 1: As someone that got broadsided while on a scooter and walked away, I can think of ONE accident mode in which a scooter is in fact safer, but yes, it is mostly about perception.

          • dux

            Amero-centric replies will inevitably focus on “range range range”. I would say most urban commuters in the world do not travel 60 miles a day. (Mine is 18km round trip).

            People forget that electric cars were much more prevalent and successful than ICE powered until they were unfairly knocked out of the game.

            • 80-wattHamster

              Unfairly how? ICE at the turn of the century had even bigger advantages over electrics than they do now.

              • ursus

                Agreed. And they continue to have huge advantages due to the amazing energy density of liquid fuels.
                G. Olaf has some cool work and Nobel prizes relating to methanol as a transportation fuel, conversion from natural gas, and carbon fixing from the air.
                I am interested to see hybrids (in locomotives they call them diesel-electric, not hybrid) where the energy density of liquid fuels continues to be used to great advantage and the electric motor only has a battery or capacitor to act as a small accumulator.
                However, this tech is very cool. The engines have no common crank and the combustion powered rotor is also the electric energy generating rotor which can be started with an electric field so it doesn’t need an external starter. Basically the modules are turned on and off as needed and run on liquid fuel but provide electricity.
                The modules can be stacked and only as many as are needed at a particular moment are running. Max power is determined by how many are in the stack.
                Almost like turbine power.

  • John


    Love the r6. My daily ride is a 98′ gsxr 600, the motor and fuel system is a mix and match of of parts from 02-03 gsxr 750, dirt bike bars, big mirrors, and a honda 599 headlight. I had the forks rebuilt this spring and the rear shock is next on the to do list.

    How many other HFL readers ride street fighters?

    • Myles

      I have a 599 headlight also. On my 599. Carbeurators 4 Lyfe.

      • Kevin

        599 here too, love your carbs and they will love you back

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      Glad you like it. Your bike sounds like a riot, and totally practical for daily urban use. It’s really nice to have a bike that is not only useful and a blast in the city, but that I don’t stress about parking, or finding tipped over.

    • Jeff

      ’02 SV650. (GSXR front end; kawi subframe; too many mods to list)

    • Gregory

      Is my 2008 KLR 650 a “street fighter”? It’s slow. It has a milkcrate zip-ties to the rear rack. It’s covered in stickers. It has SkiDoo gauntlets to keep my hands dry.

      Portland, OR
      2008 Kawasaki KLR 650

      • John


        • BMW11GS

          are you a hooligun?

  • ktaisa

    great read

    time for new companies to emerge and fill the niche

  • Ray

    It depends upon how one defines urbanization. Garage trophies aren’t so impractical in a suburban environment, and most U.S. cities weren’t built on the medieval model, but adapted the grid to the trolley and auto, so roads were wide. Garage trophies are not exactly useless for commuting, and as leisure vehicles, they spend time on highways touring, also because they’re also the safest place for motorcycles to operate. I think the motorcycle industry has been as altered by the onset of cellular communications and driver-distraction as by the economy.

    Are motorcycles the future of urban transit or is mass transit? I think motorcycles are always destined to operate in the margins, and that’s how lots of motorcyclists like it. Danger, real and perceived, fosters an elitist, anti-establishment attitude, and motorcycles thus make a statement about their riders. I support your initiative and find the promise of electric motorcycles exciting, but ad copy is ad copy and exaggerates your potential market. Maybe you want to market a bike more adapted to restaurant delivery if you’re proclaiming pure functionalism?

    Alcohol and fashion are other highly image-loaded products. All motor vehicles proclaim identity and use the rhetoric of fashion. Skateboards, guitars, etc. All industrial design is ultimately expressionist and have a sales function in capitalist societies, marketing identity through form.

    • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

      Good point about the suburban environment.

      The suburban environment however is where the quiet electric dirtbike has it’s best opportunity to get more people riding and more places to ride.

    • Roman

      Exactly. Whether some of us like it or not, most of the 82 percent of Americans who live in “urban areas” actually live in the suburbs. I think the more interesting question is whether the suburbs will continue to sprawl outwards or eventually start to densify. But in either case, manufacturers realize this fact and will continue to cater to suburbanites over the potential benefits bikes have in the dense urban cores.

      I do think there’s room for both, but urban riders and bikes that suit them will continue to be an alternative niche, not the default mainstream. I do want the industry to be healthy and relevant, but I’m somewhat ambivalent about what the actually means right now. Nothing but respect for outfits like BRD for bringing their own vision to the marketplace and making a go of it…

      • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

        Ray and Roman, no doubt, projecting the future is always about possibilities, rather than certainties. This article is part analysis, and part the world they way we want it to evolve. Re-urbanization is a promising trend and right now the evidence supports our view of increasing density, even while most of the US is reluctant to make major investments in public transportation. That could change overnight.

        I don’t see any inflated numbers in the article above, and if you saw our internal projections, you’d see pretty conservative numbers. I’m in complete agreement that Europe and Asia, today, better fit the model that I describe than the US does. But the questions I’m answering are “Why did the bottom drop out of the US moto market?” and “Is it in decline or due for rebirth?” – I think the surge of interest in 70s standards, supermotos, and street fighters shows that there’s still life in motos and it seems to be centered around building bikes for an urban landscape.

        • JaySD

          Is it urban landscape or simply rider friendly and usability?

          Tractable powerbands that let you be lazy shifting or move at low speeds easily

          Upright or more comfortable rider positions

          Simpler plastics or functional designs with less to break and ease of maintenance

          None of these things are explicitly due to urbanization are they?

          • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

            Could be both. The reason I highlight urbanization is because the genres I see emerging are specifically unfriendly to highway travel. Streetfighters are tolerable and I’ve done plenty of 300 mile days on my naked R6, but CB350s and sumos definitely don’t like to spend time going in a straight line at 80.

            If it were as you describe (and it IS in Europe), we’d see 20 and 30-something riders on V-stroms, Bandits, and Multistradas.

        • Roman

          Oh man, I can geek out on demographic trends, transportation policy and how all of that related to motorcycling all day. From where I stand (live in a large american city, work as an analyst for municipal government), the trend of people moving back to downtowns and their surrounding neighborhoods is legit but still overwhelmed by the growth and expansion of the suburbs/exhurbs. I think this pattern is in a way mirrored by the motorcycling world (this is more gut feel than any real data), with cafe racers, supermotos and streetfighters certainly becoming a presence on the scene, but their numbers still being swamped by the same old from the OEMs.

          In any case, I’d love to have a look at your internal projection and see what you guys are thinking long term. Shoot me an e-mail at rstrakovsky@gmail.com if you’re so inclined. Cheers…

    • John

      Comment threads like these is why I have no problem with paying for a HFL subscription. Very interesting article as well, it has obviously struck a chord…

  • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

    Lots of great points.

    Gotta fix the “storage of nice stuff in the city” problem too. That BRD will be much easier to throw in a truck than an R6.

    “Viper armed”

  • Jon B.

    Good article. These are great to read, but I almost feel like the H4L crowd is totally down and believes this stuff, preaching to the choir so to speak.

    The hard part is getting the other vast percentage of this particular world to read articles like this, and then care.

    • always_go_big

      Yeah, but don’t stop preaching to this member of the choir ’cause I love seeing a glimmer of hope for motorcycling future and it was an awsome read.Great job HFL.

  • pplassm

    Why do we need to live in the city? I telework from home half the time. When I do go in, it’s a 25 mile highway ride, with no urban style roads.

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      Ha, I would never claim that the market is going to evolve to one single genre or format. I think we’re seeing some shifting of demand, and the emergence of some new categories.

      You should buy the bikes that work for you, and touring, sport, and cruisers aren’t going anywhere, they’re just selling in fewer numbers.

    • jonoabq

      Because some if us do actual work rather than virtual work? We either have to ride or drive, period. Joking aside many of us have optimized times and routes for our commutes, know the roads well, and know where the radar traps are hiding. The biggest obstacle to survival I’ve witnessed in the last 36 years of riding has been the adoption of the cell phone and utter lack of discipline/judgement people have with regards to using (or not using) it. It’s common now for me to see helmetless riders on R6′s etc checking their phones at every red light, like it’s so absofuckinglutely necessary.
      The market will evolve and change as it always has but will people change enough to make motorcycle transportation an attractive option for younger riders? -end rambling rant-

  • Myles

    This article (and opinion) is dumb. We’ve never had as many great options for bikes, yet we have a hard time buying them. Great urban bike? Great bike for anything? Buy an sv650. They’re always available, dead reliable, and work in every possible situation (save dirt).

    The reason bikes don’t sell is simple, most people are goddamn pussies. Releasing new awesome motorcycles hasn’t worked for the past ten years, it won’t in the next ten.

    • Jeff

      DL650 Vstrom for the dirt

      • pplassm

        ^^I laugh at this^^

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

      I don’t know, a TON of people bought Honda Cubs. Then they grew up, had kids, moved to burbs, and traded them for Buicks. So its possible to get your average person on two wheels, as long as its still “respectable” to get to work on a scoot.

      Tough to say if that will ever happen, but when Millennials (god, I hate that word…) are in management positions, piercings, tattoos, and personal style will, by default, become “respectable”; why not motorcycles?

      The question is who builds the right combination of utility and gotta-have-it first.

  • HammSammich

    My ’07 Bonnie has been a good all-rounder for me over the last 4 1/2 years. It’s a comfortable commuter on urban surface streets and with some minor mods has decent performance. It handles fairly well on twisty mountain roads, and – although I find it incredibly boring – it’s relatively comfortable on the 300 mile straight shot across WA State on I-90. Plus, it’s easy on the eyes. Ultimately, in pursuit of more performance I’ll probably end up with a Speed Triple or similar, and I’ll put a sidehack on the Bonnie so I can haul around my wife & kids, but I think that bikes like it – simple, easy to ride, comfortable bikes with decent cornering clearance are the way to go. If they could make it 150lbs lighter and give it another 20hp, that’d be great too. ;)

  • JasonP

    Since I am further out in the suburban/rural area, I am ignorant as to how city dwellers park, store and protect their bikes. How do you guys manage these issues?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler
    • Ben NYC

      1) Always park at an angle. Never park perpendicular to the curb.

      2) Don’t drive an expensive bike or a popular Japanese sport bike. Honda CBR600s are the most popular bikes to steal in NYC.

      3) Cover your bike if you’re going to be away or if it is going to rain.

      4) Chain your bike when possible, but in NYC this is generally not possible. I used to keep a chain on my rear tire in the hopes someone else would chain to it, but it happened like thrice so I stopped.

      5) Get an alarm.

      Five years parked on the streets of Manhattan and I’ve had only two knockovers.

    • Gregory

      In Portland, OR, you can slide in your motorcycle perpendicular to traffic between parked cars. You still have to be within the white lines. You still need to buy a parking meter ticket. But you’re always guaranteed a spot: just slide between two cars.

      In the parking garage at work, I park the motorcycle in a triangular hatch-marked area, where no car would fit.

      At the grocery store, I park next to the bicycles, up on the curb.

      I tend to ride my motorcycle in the bicycle lane. I’ve been yelled at by bicyclists. I also lane filter. I’ve been yelled at by car drivers.

      At home, it’s just parked in the driveway. Always under a cover. The cover _can_ be padlocked at the bottom. I use a laptop computer security cable and lock. But I rarely lock the cover. Only when parking in sketchy neighbourhoods.


      Portland, OR
      2008 Kawasaki KLR 650

  • Thom

    Well its an interesting theory Mr Fenigstien is throwing out here , and bits and pieces of it I can agree with .

    But much of his presuppositions , especially when he’s claiming that Urban Living is the wave of the future are based on materials and facts that are Two or more decades old .

    The simple fact is , if things continue forward as they are right now it is the Rural areas that will be in charge , with the Urban areas being subservient due to the FACT that Urban areas are incapable of sustaining themselves without the FOOD that the Rural areas can produce .

    If Mr Fenigstien would of taken a minute to do a bit of research he’d of known that in reality Cities are in a State of Decline Worldwide , with the only exception being China and believe me China will be next

    Finally his assumption that a technology ( E/V’s ) that is in no way ready for mass consumption , is in dire need of massive and immediate improvements in order to make them VIABLE … Along with the FACT that our ( and worldwide ) power grids are in no way capable of dealing with the additional demands an E/V based transportation economy would require …. One must conclude that ;

    A) Mr Fenigstiens conclusions are totally Self Serving rather than in any way being based on any real and tangible facts

    B) His investors are either naive , fools or have chosen to use his company as a lost leader

    C) Making the claim that any of Mr Fenigsteins so called Products have , can or ever will outperform an equivalent ICE in all areas that make a M/C a viable and practical mode of transportation is PURE and unadulterated Fantasy and Hyperbole and CANNOT be proven in a Genuine and Unbiased test .

    e.g. BS plain and simple .

    Conclusion ?

    Like so much Post Modern BS the Story is mighty good , but it falls to pieces when confronted by Cold Hard Facts .

    • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub a hipster

      i can’t say this enough. i think i love you.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Thom, what do you feel is an appropriate quantity of .22LR to hoard for post TEOTWAWKI trading? And, have you worked out an exchange rate between it and common barter goods?

      • HammSammich


      • JVictor75

        I suppose it’s somewhat telling that I had a sneaking suspicion that I probably knew what the acronym meant but had to Google it to make sure.

        Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          I’d also like to find out if Thom is willing to sell me some of his gold and whether he thinks Obama is less likely to find it if I store it inside my walls or bury it in my yard.

          • JVictor75

            Hahaha. The Ural would hold a fair bit. And it would certainly help solve the tipping problem, wouldn’t it?

            “It ain’t smuggling! It’s ‘Ballast!’ “

          • Albert

            Haha yes!! Put the fangs away Wes! you got that clown, I’m so tired of hearing that survivalist shit I could scream.. that might be how we’re all living in a few years if anybody faintly related to the tea party wins this election. In which case I wont need to worry because I will vacate the country..

            • JVictor75

              Hey Guys? Somebody dropped their politically related commentary into our motorcycling related conversation. Just thought everybody should know so they don’t step in it.

              • BMW11GS

                haha great diffusion!

            • pplassm


          • JMS


    • Dumptruckfoxtrot

      That isn’t entirely true. Urban areas are reliant on rural areas for food, and increasingly for consumer goods, however to decide that means that Urban areas are losing power would be incorrect. Core-Peripheral relationships constantly have a back and forth and public investment, and political power, pools in areas with the greatest infrastructure. You might as well say that colonies held power because they supplied empires with resources. The trend remains that the world is undergoing urbanization at an increasing rate.

      It is true that urbanization is slowing, but that’s a far cry from a reversal of the trend.

      I’ll agree with C. though.

      A few quick nitpicks as well. I’m not sure what is post-modern about urbanization and e.g. means “for example” i.e. is what you’re looking for.

    • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

      I’m intrigued by the “cities in decline worldwide” statement.

      My understanding was that the line around cities and their ‘burbs was blurring, pushing development of the outer edges of the suburbs further out into what used to be rural areas, and blurring the inner edges into the city proper. At least that is how it works here in the north east.

      What are you reading that I’m not?

      • JVictor75

        That’s kind of what I remember seeing happen when I was growing up in North Central Texas in the early nineties.

        Not entirely “Urban” like I now recognize from being stationed in SoCal, but not entirely “Rural” from what i remember growing up in the boonies either.

        More or less it was all starting to turn into a vast SubUrb with farmland/food growers at the periphery, Urban centers serving as a sort of multiculti black hole, and vast (but growing smaller every year) expanses of relative emptiness in between.

        I have seen nothing, in my relatively sedate government sponsored world travels to date to change my personal opinion. Hell, Baghdad is like this to some degree! So are Cairo, Phuket, and Los Angeles.

        Now this is not saying that the idea of how Urban centers are managed here in what we refer to as “the Western world” doesn’t need some serious updating. Detroit, for instance, should serve as an example of doing it wrong on a long-term scale.

        Dealing with parking attendants in New York or dealing with Los Angeles traffic on a daily basis would drive me to attempt a reenactment of the movie ‘Falling Down’.

        But the idea that what we know of as “the city” is doomed is indicative of a somewhat myopic worldview, in my opinion.

    • JaySD

      What about just the fact that more and more people don’t have to commute and therefore don’t need to be in the city?

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      Thom, (you can call me “Marc”), that’s quite the reaction you’ve had to two basic arguments:
      - Current motorcycle offerings are largely impractical and un-fun in everyday use, and thus luxuries, which is why the bottom fell out with a down economy
      - There are seeds of what appear to be new categories emerging, and they are styles that are more fun and more practical in everyday use.

      I certainly don’t see any kind of urban vs rural war going on, though apparently you do. Don’t worry, no one is going to take away your fields and tractors anytime soon. For the record, I’m from bumblefuck Ohio and grew up shoveling stalls – learned how to drive standard on a friend’s Ford 1520.

      I’d love to see your evidence that de-urbanization is occuring. It’s all useful info for me. What I’ve read and witnessed has pointed to an oversupply of housing in suburbs while urban areas are re-gentrifying and rents skyrocketing. Not always a good thing, as low-wage earners are now being pushed out of cities and lengthening their costly commutes, but a real phenomenon nonetheless. I would be quite surprised to find the same increased home values in truly rural areas, or high unmet demand for skilled farm-workers.

    • Steven

      Well, I blew the html. I tried to post the chart here as a reply:


    • jeremy

      You guys aren’t going to be laughing so hard when the clocks tick over from 1999 to 2000 and the whole world as we know it ends. You’re gonna be really fucking sorry you mocked me then, let me tell you. Wait, what? Really? That long ago? Nothing happened? Well shit. oh there’s a new thing? Same as the old thing, just with a twist? Perfect, let’s get back to it.

      • Gregory

        2012, dude. 2012.

  • Albert

    I ride a DRZ400SM, my buddies ask me when I’m getting a ‘real’ bike..I just laugh and say for not having a ‘real bike’ I sure seem to ride mine about ten times as much as you ride your CBR1000..when was the last time you were out of firs gear on your ‘real’ bike? smh…

    • dux

      I’m riding an old CBR600, and looking to downgrade to an XR650R. My biking buddies were confused when I told them.

  • Glenngineer

    That Busa is hot.

    • dux

      Off topic, but yes! Nice busa

      • Gregory


    • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

      piece of shit on wheels

      • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

        RSD? my bad, usually a fan of his work

  • http://krtong.com KR Tong

    If we’re talking about what a practical motorcycle is for city living, here’s my list of wants:

    1. Banana seat and exposed subframe for multiple riding positions, a passenger, tons of cargo, a couple bicycles, etc. It’s that bit of utility every city bike needs.

    2. It needs to have the power and performance to get the fuck out of the city. My legs will pedal 60+ miles a day, I need something that can do better.

    3. It needs to be about $3000 and retain resale value.

    But that’s just me and no motorcycle manufacturer can pull that out. Craigslist can. Also nobody, not I nor anyone else, is going to convince anyone what a city bike should or shouldn’t be. If you can, you should start with the 81 in town.

    And the open road is a myth? You can’t live in San Francisco and actually believe that.

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      On your last point, there should be another caveat on top of the first one that the article evolved from my pitch materials. Second caveat is that the image captions came from the HFL team. Open road is definitely not a myth – there will be a gas bike (several in fact) in my garage/storage container for the next 5 years at least. The electric(s) will get the most use, but I will need something else for the Mendocino, Big Sur, and Sierras runs (see: my modded R6).

  • Vincent

    Hey Mark,

    Thanks for the article, I whole heartedly agree on most points…

    Threadjack: About the BRD SM, I signed up for notification of pre-sales awhile ago. Any word on pricing? Please tell me they will be cheaper than brammos offering and have a competitive range.

    If so, you have a customer the second that thing is available. I love sumos, and I love the idea of an EV that I can tear around the city in.

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      Vincent, thanks a ton for signing up. Check your inbox next week.

      The article wasn’t really about electrics (in fact, I think I avoided using the word anywhere), but obviously I’m happy to comment…
      I will warn you in advance the bikes will not be cheaper than Brammos. We have twice as much power and twice as much capacity as the Enertia, or similar power and capacity to the Empulse 6.0 at 100 lbs lighter. Those kinds of figures cost money. I’ll be the first to tip the hat to Brammo for extremely low pricing for what goes into those bikes.

      The reality is until you start factoring in maintenance costs, electrics are going to be more expensive for quite some time.

      • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1100]

        Cool beans! I’ll look forward to a pre-order notification from BRD in my inbox next week.

        BTW, my wife wants one too, so I’m hoping you’ll start shipping them in time for Valentine’s Day.

  • je

    Its pretty simple.. this is U S of A! We are not about what is practical or most efficient, we are about what is AMAZING at the moment.

    I have always got the feeling motorcycles in the US represented freedom and a bad boy image. Be it back in the day of the Hells Angles crowd, to the internet bubble boom OCC chopper crowd, to the hip hop extended swing arm power rocket crowd, to the DIY budget garage cafe/bobber crowd and now the hipster moped/small cc crowd.

    The middle class has also tightened its purse stings in the last couple years and until that changes I dont see any bike in the 9-13k range selling like HD pushes out cruisers or in this case sportsters. With that in mind HD will be flat on its face in 10 or so years if can adapt to what my gen will be buying in our 40s.

    I think electric bikes have a market but I think you are wrong about where to start. You are not going to produce a electric bike that meets the needs of the 25-35 year old urbanites with the current infrastructure at a cost they will be will to accept. Maybe in 10yrs when technology has been fettered out and the cost has lowered but not now. The best you are going to get is some celebs, urban elitists and wealthy treehuggers. I would be surprised if they gave up their minis though.

    If you want to become a high volume, money making business vs a small time boutique shop that will weather the electric storm I think your intro market needs to be the motocross peeps. Light, limited distance, indoor use, stunts, etc..

  • stefano

    make an electric bike that’s fun to ride, gets at least 100 mile range and costs less than $5k and you can have my yuppie next bike money.

    also, for what it’s worth the CB200 is an amazing city bike. undergoing brake redesign to make it the best ever.

  • Ray

    And Scott Link’s CB200 cafe is a contrarian reaction to displacement upsmanship, explicitly marketed to xx chromosomes or a new rider. Honestly, a Sportster is always going to be a viable commuter and functional platform for a bunch of different rides. Rather than cannibalize the existing market, one should focus more upon making inroads into mass transit users, bicycle riders, and car commuters. A motor in a bicycle frame, made stylish. Utilize the perceived safety of the bicycle. We also forget about the specialized license endorsement threshold that deters motorcycling among the general public except by the committed. How are Urals practical commuters except for car pooling? School me on that one. I’ve got a 96 and it makes my Shovel look like a tech wonder. Tubeless tires are kind of necessary if you want to have the proverbial “reliable transportation.”

    And I’m getting tired of tribal identification among motorcyclists; I think they are temporary divisions. I’ve got a touring bike and a sport bike. Put on a half helmet and I’m a gay pirate, put on my full face and I’m a Power Ranger. Let’s see, which outfit am I going to wear today? Today’s cruiser rider is yesterday’s squid in part.

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      This isn’t about cannabilization. Half of the market disappeared – we want to win that half back.

      Also, my thesis isn’t that we need more practical offerings, it’s that we need more appropriate offerings. Utility is only one facet of that.

      There are a few folks taking the hybrid bicycle/motorcycle route, and I truly hope they succeed in attracting new customers to the space. We didn’t build that because frankly, we don’t have any interest in riding one of those. We thought we could build a faster MX bike than our collection of gassers (including a pair of factory KTM 450s) – that’s an electric we’re interested in riding. We hope there’s enough folks like us out there.

  • Penguin

    This reads awfully specific to the American market (presumably) – there are a lot of fantastic motorcycles that just seem to have been forgotten about, practical urban street bike from the big four, FZ8, GSR750 and the fantastic Honda Hornet? These bikes are good machines, I don’t know why they would be considered inferior to a ‘fightered R6. Urban cool without cruiser impracticality – Kawasaki W800 maybe? You can’t blame the companies for producing the biggest fastest litre bike because that is still what grabs the headlines that they need to get people in showrooms – Heaven knows, even HFL partake in a bit of the “200BHP OMGZ!!!!11” at times. The sorts of bikes that people should really buy for usability’s sake are out there, it isn’t the manufacturers fault they aren’t getting bought.

    (Except Harley Davidson, they have no-one to blame but themselves)

  • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

    I can’t understand why anyone would ride a sportbike in the city. I guess it’s better than riding a Harley any day…

  • zato1414

    Good job Marc, too many people peeing in their leathers worrying about everything but what counts. Nothing better than a “Daily Rider” to keep it going.

  • Campisi

    As a young and relatively new motorcyclist, I’d say he’s pretty much on track. Hell, I bought a new 250 starter-bike, and even that is a bit much ergonomics-wise for what I need. The reason hipsters and “the young people” like scooters so much is because they have all of the aspects mentioned in the article: economy, low price, rational capabilities, and huge fun factors.

  • randry

    Hey Wes, how about HFL build the perfect bike or bikes from the voice and input of the forum. Maybe one motorcycle won’t be the answer.This could be an on going project. Getting images may be the tough part. I don’t know if something like PRO E or some other 3d program would be out of the question. The resources seem to be deep here. But, it might be fun and get very interesting. Maybe it would open some eyes.

  • The other Joe

    Good article, but doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. I live several hours from the nearest city and we have nothing but open road. That said though, I love a small, maneuverable bike on our twisty mountain roads. The ’77 XS750 I used to have was awesome for that. An enduro or supermoto work great on the dirt/paved changes that are so common here. I love my KLX650R for that. So maybe I can relate after all. Nevermind!

    • The other Joe

      By the way, that XS was great for city riding when I was living in Phoenix.

  • Jay

    The motofacturer that has a captive lender wins. Take Back Your Own Paper, Distribute the repos to dealers for sale to the Impecunious, and MotoFacturer Ltd.
    will T H R I V E, regardless of how Green or Maneuverable (American spelling?) the product is ! You and I may want a different outcome, based upon our owns senses of logic and Economics; alas and alack, ’twill not occur.

  • Jay

    BMW, Harley and Honda each has a captive Finance Unit.
    When moto sales plummeted to 450,000, guess which MotoFacturers did Not, repeat Not, take it in the shorts?
    (answer appears immediately below)9o
    BMW [which has not made a Cruiser in years], Harley [which does not understand or make a Sportbike, Eric] and Honda, which makes every type of bike [except a
    competitor to BMW's most successful Model, the R1200GS].
    Can you say financing, Kids?

  • highflyer

    This is exactly why I sold my 99 BMW F650 and am downsizing to a CBR 250R. As much as I fancy myself the globetrotter, almost all my riding is around town and within 30 miles of home.