Motorcycle Manufacturers Show Off Smaller Machines At Long Beach Show


When it comes to great whacking two wheeled road machines for the superslab, nobody does it better than Harley Davidson, at least not in America. Other motorcycle manufacturers have been trying for years to build touring bikes for US riders, starting decades ago with the Honda Gold Wing. As competent as those machines are, they don’t have that “potato, potato” exhaust beat that defines what a motorcycle should be for many people.

Honda Rebel motorcycle
Honda Rebel Bobber

Last week in Long Beach, California, the major motorcycle manufacturers not based in Milwaukee — including Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati, and BMW — brought a bevy of new machines that are smaller and lighter than their traditional offerings. These bikes are sized to appeal more to women and others who fit on smaller machines better than they do on V Twin road warriors.

Manufacturers are struggling to connect with Millenials. Jason Chinnock, chief executive of Ducati North America, said the old ways of designing and marketing may not be effective with the new generation. “The idea that if you build it they will come – it’s not true,” Chinnock said. Other industry observers say the motorcycle business is at a transition point. Older riders, especially Baby Boomers, are aging out of the sport. Younger riders don’t yet have comparable buying power.

“We’re at a tipping point,” industry analyst Dr. Paul Leinberger told a group of industry professionals at a recent Motorcycle Industry Council gathering. “You cannot keep doing what you’re doing.” Motorcycles are not unique in this regard. Younger people in America are less interested in owning automobiles and many defer getting a driver’s licence at all. With more people moving to urban areas, getting around on a motorized vehicle is seen as more of a hassle than it is worth.

BMW debuted two new models for US riders in Long Beach — the  G 310 R and G 310 GS. Both are scaled down versions of existing bikes designed to attract younger riders. The R version will cost $4,750 and the GS slightly more. BMWalso brought its C Evolution electric scooter to the show.

Honda is bringing its new CRF250L Rally, which is a cross between its small bore CRF250L dual sport and its African Twin adventure bike. It will come standard with spoke wheels, a larger gas tank than the 250L and a windshield. It will be priced from $5,899 without ABS and $6,199 with.

Honda is also crowing about two small-bore “customs,” the retro, bobber-style Rebels. They will come in 300 cc and 500 cc sizes, and both will be available with ABS. Like the Rally, they are designed for the beginning or intermediate rider who wants the look of a big bike without the big weight and big sticker that goes with it. The 300 cc is tentatively priced at $4,399, the 500 cc at $5,999.

Kawasaki is introducing a starter version of its Versys touring bike. The Versys already comes in 650 cc and 1000 cc versions. Kawasaki is adding a 300cc option outfitted with spoke wheels and a windscreen. It will start at about $5,399, or about $5,699 if fitted with ABS.

Suzuki is building a 250 cc version of its successful V-Strom line, which already comes in 650 cc and 1000 cc models. But the company will be showing off a scaled down street bike called the GSX 250 R Katana. The price has not been announced.

Not to be outdone, Ducati has scaled down its 1200 cc Multistrada and will begin offering a 950 cc version. It will start at $13,995. The Italian company has also introduced a smaller 797 cc Monster, priced at $9,295. Until now, the Monster offering were getting larger and larger, with some versions sporting 1200 cc engines.

“The smaller adventure bikes are exciting, and it’s such an exciting category, because it’s the dream trigger,” said Mark Hoyer, Cycle World’s editor in chief. “You see yourself riding off to exotic places on these bikes — even if you never do. All the manufacturers are trying hard to maintain their relationships with the moneyed buyer in the U.S., Europe, and Japan by building high tech, high performance adventure bikes and sport bikes, but the exciting part of the market is that bike on the lower end of the spectrum.”

The new bikes are part of a campaign to find new riders. Sales dropped 50% after the economic collapse of 2008. Sales have recovered since then but still not back to pre-2008 levels. “We are looking as strongly as we can to expand the market,” Honda spokesperson Jon Seidel said. “We’ve got to. We and the other manufacturers have to reach out to new consumers.”

Source: Los Angeles Times  Photo credit: BMW

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • Over here in England-Land and especially in Europe-Land, smaller capacity bikes are incredibly popular.

    This is not, as some think, because the distances traveled are lower, or the traffic slower, it is because there are tiered or graduated licence schemes.

    As sad as it might sound to my American cousins, a new rider cannot simply jump on a 1000cc bike, with no training, no protective gear and no clue and ride into the sunset or any other piece of avoidable scenery.

    Over here you have a number of tests and pieces of training to accomplish before you are permitted to even get on the road and then it is on a low power, lightweight bike.

    Honestly 300cc bikes are fantastic fun – they are still capable of an honest 100mph, they still hit 60 in six seconds or less and because they are light, they handle well.

    The major things that they fail at though….

    – The usually fail to intimidate the riders
    – They rarely with bragging rights.

    But they are huge fun…

    • Steve Hanley

      Thanks, Max. In Italy recently, I was eating gelato at a trattoria and watching the bikers roll up to a cafe to watch a MotoGP race. Everyone of them was in full leathers, gloves, and boots. Everyone wore a helmet. The Alps were nearby and I imagine each had done some serious canyon carving on the way to the cafe.

      There were Ducatis and Guzzis, BMWs and Hondas. Off to one side was one lone Harley. It looked ridiculous.

      PS. Some of my most cherished motorcycle memories were created while aboard a Honda 400F.

      • Harley’s are pretty awesome state-crossers.

        They are very comfortable, that lazy V-twin produces enough torque to render gear-changes obsolete and they are genuinely nice at 50-70 mph.

        Beyond that, they are fatiguing to ride, below that the weight and the lazy steering makes no sense.

        Harley’s beauty lies in that sweet spot on the freeway, with someplace to go that is a dammed long way away.

        Personally i prefer the European and Japanese experience, my 1050cc Triumph will sit happily at triple digit speeds (on a private road of course), or will thread through traffic in a jam. It is cheaper, way, way faster and goes around corners in a very un-harley like fashion, but if I had a continent to cross and was not in a hurry ?

        Potato, Potato…….