September 2013 — Geezer With A Grudge — It’s Big or Nothing
by Thomas Day
My two days on the Yamaha Super Ténéré were eye-opening. There is an incredible amount of technology in that bike, just like the list of technology inside Yamaha’s R1/R6/FZ1/FZ6 bikes or Honda’s VFR1200F or Kawasaki’s ZX-14R or Suzuki’s Hayabusa or Ducati’s anything or BMW’s top-line sportbikes.
The downside is that I cannot imagine myself needing any of those motorcycles for what I do with a motorcycle. I ride to work. I take one or two trips a summer to semi-remote places. I saddle up and do day trips on paved and unpaved public roads, trail ride, or single-track the boonies just for the fun of it. I do not race anyone, ever. I never need the capability of exceeding 90mph, ever. A motorcycle that can do 0-60mph in less than 3 seconds is interesting, but unnecessary. I can no more consider the price tag for one of these giant-killers (or Monsters) than I can afford an evening with a supermodel. Superbikes are for rich kids. I’m not rich or a kid.
My problem with all of this cool technology (fly-by-wire throttle control, traction control, variable fuel mapping, ABS and more sophisticated braking schemes, and the rest of the amazing electronic packages that come on the really amazing motorcycles) is that it is expensive and always comes with a substantial miles-per-gallon penalty. Once a manufacturer has made the decision to build a product with every trick they have learned on the racetrack incorporated into one hip-beyond-belief motorcycle, they have painted themselves into a liter-and-above corner.
For example, I’m guessing that keeping the Super Ten’s features, but downsizing the engine to a more fuel-conservative 600cc’s (or smaller), would result in a MSRP price reduction of less than $2,000. I can not imagine anyone except Ducati or BMW convincing their Kool-Aid drinkers to fork over twelve-grand for a 600cc-or-smaller motorcycle. It has to be a non-starter for Yamaha, as perfect as that motorcycle would be for the 21st century.
Imagine a 60+ mpg motorcycle with comfortable and flexible ergonomics, ABS and linked braking, variable fuel mapping, traction control, and practical long distance touring features. The closest thing we have to that motorcycle is Suzuki’s V-Strom 650 ABS, which has about 2/3 of the Ténéré’s electronic and mechanical features (no fly-by-wire traction control, no selectable fuel-delivery mapping, no “unified” braking, non-cartridge fully-adjustable forks, and a substantially less adjustable shock). It’s also about 60% of the Ténéré’s list price, at $8,300 MSRP. It would be reasonable to assume that adding all of those features might get the V-Strom’s price near the Super Ten’s without even changing the motor size. In fact, the V-Strom 1000’s price is $10,400 without ABS and with basic FI.
What I suspect this all means is that the choices are limited to “go mid-tech and small” (like the Honda CBR250R, Suzuiki TU250X, or .Yamaha’s WR250R) or “go big and get it all.” With entry level bike prices climbing into decent used car territories, the resistance to offering a rational-sized high-tech motorcycle is probably a good short-term tactic. Motorcycle company marketing departments have demonstrated little-to-no ability to drive the market and, therefore, all of the big companies are just selling “me too” products in the US.
This would be a place where taking a page from Apple’s playbook could produce some big returns for the first player into this untapped market.
Suzuki has maintained a tight grip on a good bit of the mid-sized (650 twin) sportbike and adventure touring business with Kawasaki and Honda bringing the Versys 650 and NC700X DCT both late to the market and long after Suzuki satisfied a lot of the buyer pipeline. Only the Honda offers ABS and neither bike really qualifies as equivalent competition for the new V-Strom or comes close to the Super Ten’s technology.
You’d think this would be a hot market in a high-price fuel, newly functionally oriented market. The big cruiser market is aging and dying. The low efficiency sportbike business has limited appeal from a comfort, practicality, and sensibility perspective. Standards and adventure touring bikes may be the future of motorcycling and the industry seems to be ignoring this customer base until somebody else cracks the barriers. Suzuki proved that the first one into the pool wins. So, who’s going to be first to import a high-tech, sub 700cc all-around motorcycle?