We're a little bored

Publish Date: 
Nov 1, 2007
By Guido Ebert

Motorcycle sales have declined in the past year, largely due to drops in historically strong markets like those for off-road bikes and cruisers. Analysts suggest the industry, coming off a long-term growth spree, is being crippled by higher interest rates, less borrowing and diminished consumer spending.

Well, let me offer a different perspective: The motorcycle industry itself is partly responsible for the downturn in sales because it doesn't offer products of higher design.

Unlike automobile drivers, motorcyclists often seek greater differentiation from the masses, as evident by the strength of the motorcycle industry's aftermarket. But as advanced as motorcycles are, think about how little they've changed.

Motorcyclist's Mitch Boehm this year wrote a piece calling for a renaissance in motorcycle design. A month later, at an OEM's new product launch, a gaggle of industry journalists spent an after-hours bench-racing session continuing Boehm's thought. They considered the reasons why OEMs don't offer more cutting-edge models like the Can-Am Spyder, Piaggio MP3 and Polaris RzR, or take greater risks in styling, as Buell did from the start, Victory did with the Vision, Triumph did with the Speed Triple and Aprilia is doing with the forthcoming Mana automatic.

November is a month marked by Japan's Tokyo Motor Show and Italy's EICMA, two motorcycle expositions following on the heels of the Paris Motorcycle Show. These are events where OEMs showcase their latest and greatest examples of styling and technology — subtle cues and full models that may one day grace your showrooms.

Suzuki introduced the B-King as a prototype at the 2001 Tokyo show and now plans on producing the bike this year. Honda rolled out its 850cc automatic DN-01 at the 2005 Tokyo show and this year said it will go into production. KTM, which unveiled its superbike prototype in 2004 at Germany's Intermot, is expected to announce production of the model this month at EICMA.

Honda is displaying three prototypes at the Tokyo show, including the six-cylinder EVO6. Suzuki is showing two prototypes, including the fuel-cell-powered Crosscage. And Yamaha is unveiling 10 prototypes, including the radical hybrid four-wheel Tesseract. I'm confident all of these vehicles could one day abolish what Boehm calls "the orthodoxy and incrementalism of today's bikes" that has him — and probably many others — feeling a little bored.

BRP and Piaggio showed people are willing to put money down for unique first-generation vehicles, so wouldn't it be great if other manufacturers green-lighted their own unique projects for a fast-track to production?