Economy, Offerings Shape the Sport Market
It used to be, the overwhelming number of sport bike riders were youthful jockeys able to contort themselves onto their high-powered hyper-responsive plastic-draped two-wheelers in search of speed and adrenaline.
Not any more.
U.S. sales of sport motorcycles had been on a general decline since 2008, as the niche’s main pool of buyers (young to middle-aged men) continued to struggle with the unemployment, underemployment and hard-to-receive credit that came with the Great Recession.
Mate those deteriorated personal economies to ever-higher bike prices and it’s easy to understand how the market landscape for sport bikes realized drastic change over the past few years.
As manufacturers have increasingly positioned large sport bikes as “halo” vehicles rife with the company’s latest technology, it appears prices will remain high and may drive these vehicles into a category that, like high-performance exotic automobiles, are desired by many but experienced by few.
During the past couple of years, however, a silver lining has formed around that rather dark cloud of ebbing sales that descended on the sport bike market – an increased selection of small and mid-size models.
A NEW BREED OF OFFERINGS
An increase in offerings of lower-cost models such as the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Honda CBR500R are breathing new life into the Sport bike portion of the motorcycle market.
Ten years ago, Honda’s “sport” model line-up included only the CBR600R, VFR and CBR1000R – not exactly the offerings to attract new entrants to the niche. Today, however, the Honda line features 11 sport models with prices ranging from $3,999 to $17,499 – approachable for a wide range of personal economies.
And Honda is not alone.
Kawasaki has 17 Sport models ranging in price from $4,999 to $50,000, Yamaha has nine models ranging from $4,990 to $21,990, Suzuki has 15 models ranging from $4,099 to $15,199, and brands like KTM and SYM are betting on boosting sales of bikes like the RC390 and T2i.
The results of offering a wider range of sport bike displacement (and thus prices) has shown itself in sales. The U.S. sport bike market in 2014 grew approx. 2.67% compared to sales in 2013, according to Minneapolis-based research firm Power Products Marketing. Interestingly, “Naked Sport” model sales last year more than doubled while “Sport” model sales declined nearly 13%.
Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 ($4,999-$5,299) in 2014 served as the best-selling sport bike, followed distantly by Yamaha’s FZ-09 ($8,190) and YZF-R6 ($10,990). Other Top 10 best-selling models were the Ninja 650, CBR250R, R1, FZ6R, ZX-6R, GSX-R750 and CBR500R.
Which brand sold the most sport-oriented motorcycles in 2014? Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda.
Seventy-Five Sport Bikes to Choose From
Ten of the leading motorcycle brands doing business in the U.S. this year offer 75 “Sport” models – including those plastic-wrapped supersport rockets as well as naked sport-standards.
The CB300F ($3,999) serves as the least expensive mass-produced Sport bike among these leading brands while the MV Agusta F4 RC ($46,000) tops the range – that is, of course, discounting the extremely limited $50,000 Kawasaki H2R.
By brand, best-selling Sport bikes in 2014 were the Aprilia Tuono V4R, BMW S 1000 RR, Ducati 899 Panigale, Honda CBR250R, Kawasaki Ninja 300, KTM 1190 RC8 R, Suzuki GSX-R750, Triumph Street Triple/R and Yamaha FZ-09.
Lets look at the Sport bike offerings all 10 of the brands have available in 2015.
Aprilia returns with it’s best-selling Tuono V4 R APRC ABS ($14,499), as well as the track-certified RSV4 R APRC ABS ($15,499) and more exclusive RSV4 Factory APRC ABS ($20,499).
BMW greets 2015 with the new R 1200 RS ($14,950), revised
S 1000 RR ($15,500) and returning K 1300 S ($15,855).
Ducati’s new Sport offerings include the 1299 Panigale/S ($19,295/$24,995) and Panigale R ($33,995). They’re offered alongside the best-selling 899 Panigale ($14,995) and 848 Streetfighter ($13,495), as well as the Monster 821/Dark/Stripe ($11,495/$10,995/$12,195) and Monster 1200/S/S Stripe ($13,695/$15,995/$17,195).
Honda’s big line-up features the best-selling CBR250R/Repsol/ABS ($4,199/$4,599/$4,699), CB300F ($3,999) and CBR300R/ABS ($4,399/$4,899), CB500F/ABS ($5,799/$6,299) and CBR500R/ABS ($6,299/$6,799), CBR650F/ABS ($8,499/$8,999), CB1000R ($11,760), Interceptor/DLX ($12,499/$13,499) and VFR1200F/DCT ($15,999/$17,499), and CBR600RR/ABS ($11,490/$12,490) and CBR1000RR/ABS/Repsol ($13,999/$14,999/$17,299).
Kawasaki’s 200hp H2 ($25,000) and bonkers 300hp H2R ($50,000) became available as extremely limited editions in 2015. Order one? Enjoy.
For the financially strapped, Kawasaki continues to offer the best-selling Ninja 300/SE/ABS ($4,999/$5,199/$5,299) and Ninja 650/ABS ($7,199/$7,599), as well as the Z1000 ABS ($11,999), Ninja 1000 ABS ($11,999), ZX-6R/ABS/Anniversary/Anniversary ABS ($11,699/$12,699/$11,999/$12,999), ZX-10R/ABS/Anniversary/Anniversary ABS ($14,299/$15,299/$14,599/$15,599) and ZX-14R ABS/Anniversary ($14,999/$15,899)
KTM continues to offer its supersport 1190 RC8 R ($16,499), although it hasn’t gained much traction in the larger Sport bike market, and the naked 690 Duke ($8,999). The big news for 2015 is the expected availability of the lightweight RC390 ($5,499).
MV’s 15 models for ’15 include six supersport models and nine naked sports models. All feature ABS.
Naked models include the B3 675 EAS ($11,998), B3 800 EAS/Italia/RR ($12,798/$13,798/$15,498), Dragster EAS/RR ($14,798/$17,798) and Brutale 1090/RR/RR Corsa ($15,998/$18,998/$22,498). Supersports models include the F3 675 EAS ($14,298), F3 800 EAS/AGO ($15,798/$24,598), F4/RR ($19,498/$26,498) and the super exclusive F4 RC ($46,000).
Suzuki in 2015 expects to begin deliveries of the new GSX-S1000/ABS (TBA/TBA) and GSX-S1000F ABS (TBA) alongside the new-for-2015 GSX-S750/Z ($7,999/$8,149) and GW250Z/F ($4,099/$4,499).
Returning are the best-selling GSX-R750/Anniversary ($12,299/$12,499), GSX-R600 ($11,199) and GSX-R1000 ($13,899), the high-velocity Hayabusa/Anniversary ($14,599/$15,199), the SFV650 ($7,699), and the GSX1250FA ($11,599)
Triumph’s Sport offerings include the best-selling Street Triple ABS ($9,399) and Street Triple R ABS ($10,399), the supersport Daytona 675 ABS ($11,999) and Daytona 657R ABS ($13,999), and the Speed Triple ABS ($12,799) and Speed Triple R ABS ($14,699).
Yamaha’s YZF-R1M ($21,990) serves as the brand’s premium sport offering in 2015, book-ending the other offerings between the low-priced YZF-R3 ($4,990). Returning are the supersport YZF-R6 ($10,990) and YZF-R1 ($16,490), as well as the FZ6R ($7,790), FZ-07 ($6,990), FZ8 ($8,890), FZ-09 ($8,190) and FZ1 ($10,790).
Sport Bike Trickle-Down Technology
Sport bikes are the source of the technology that eventually trickles down into other types of two-wheeler.
In the past, advances in technology – metallurgy, computer-engineering, etc. – largely helped improve a vehicle’s general design and mechanical make-up – body shaping, engine internals, chassis design, etc. Nowadays, however, sport bikes also serve as test mules for a host of technological advances in electronic rider aids.
Ride-By-Wire Engine Management
“Ride-by-wire” engine controls include electronics that take the place of cables in actuating fuel delivery, offering much more precise output in engine management.
Working in conjunction with the ride-by-wire system, ride-mode technology influences the general responsiveness of the engine.
There are typcially a choice of multiple, switchable ride modes: “Sport” or “Race” modes allow the bike’s full power potential, generally switching off any rider aids; “Street” mode typically offers full power potential but the assistance of rider aids; and what is commonly referred to as “Rain” mode limits engine output and ramps up the sensitivity of the rider aids.
Electronic Suspension & Steering Damper
Found on multiple Sport bike models, electronic steering dampers calculate a number of inputs to provide lesser damping at lower speeds and increased damping at higher speeds.
Öhlins has developed an electronic steering damper as well as an Electronic Racing Suspension (ERS), both of which are utilized on the Kawasaki H2R.
On the Aprilia RSV4 and Tuono, the OEM’s patented “dynamic damping” system uses a piggy-back shock absorber electrically adjustable in spring preload to four predefined settings, indicated by specific icons on the digital instrument panel. Or, choosing automatic mode, the system can detect the bike’s load by itself (weight of fuel, rider, passenger, luggage, etc.) and automatically adjust preload to the optimum value.
Multi-Mode Lean-Sensitive Traction Control
A lean-sensitive traction control system reacts in a matter of milliseconds if the rotational speed of the rear wheel is disproportionate to the riding situation.
Utilizing speed sensors that interact with the engine ECU, the system reduces the output in a barely perceptible way at either the throttle valves (or, on the Aprilia, via the ignition advance and injection timing systems) until slippage has been reduced in proportion to the selected ride mode and lean angle.
Whereas many competitive traction control systems react to wheel-slip, Kawasaki says its three-way adjustable system works to prevent wheel-slip.
The Aprilia RSV4 and Tuono offer an incredible eight different settings for different types of road surface and riding style. On KTM’s Super Duke R, the system will allow slight power slides when exiting curves in “Sport” mode, take more control in “Street” mode, and completely mute slippage in “Rain” mode.
Inertial Measurement Unit
Found on Yamaha’s radical new R1M, the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) consists of a gyro sensor that measures pitch, roll and yaw, as well as an accelerometer or G-sensor that measures acceleration in the fore-aft, up-down, and right-left directions … all at a rate of 125 calculations per second.
By calculating each signal, the IMU finds the precise vehicle position and movement, and communicates it to the ECU, enabling it to control the bike’s engine and Öhlins-sourced ERS via power delivery mode, traction control, slide control, lift control, launch control and quick shift system.
Intelligent ABS & Anti-Lift Control
Today’s anti-lock brake systems are nothing like the ABS of yore. Companies like Bosch are working with motorcycle manufacturers and brake suppliers in creating multi-channel systems that work in concert with ride mode and traction control technologies to mute wheelies, control skids and minimize endos, or to allow for more “spirited” riding.
The “Bosch Intertial Control” platform utilized on Ducati’s Panigale R, for instance, allows maximum braking even while the motorcycle is leaned over. Typically, ABS now can be deactivated at both the front and rear wheel in unison, or selectively with only the rear wheel becoming freed from ABS intervention.
On models like the Yamaha R1M and Kawasaki H2R, launch control maintains optimum engine output in conjunction with input from the traction control system and lift control system to maximize acceleration from a standing start.
In essence, you can launch from a stop with the throttle held wide open. The Yamaha system prevents calamity by limiting engine rpms to 10,000 at wide-open throttle.
Quick Shift systems electronically cut engine output so riders can up-shift without using the clutch or closing the throttle.
The Aprilia RSV4 APRC features an electronic gear shifting system that delays spark advance for an instant and then gradually restores it. The Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) system allows clutchless upshifts and downshifts, performing a perfectly timed auto-blip when the shift lever is depressed.
Data Logging & Analysis
Yamaha’s R1M features the Y-Trac Communication Control Unit (CCU), which enables the rider to capture ride data (including GPS tracking) and then download it via WiFi to a smartphone and tablet app. Once the data is downloaded, the rider can analyze it overlaid with the track map. Setting changes can then be made and uploaded back to the R1M.
Similarly, Ducati’s latest Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA) on the 1299 Panigale integrates a GPS signal to create a virtual track and provide feedback on throttle opening, speed, rpm, gear engagement, engine temperature, traction control activation and lean angle.
Minnesota Sport Bike Sources
Multiple sources offer Minnesota sport bike riders the opportunity to build, practice and perfect their abilities.
ROAD CLOSED PROMOTIONS
Road Closed Promotions has big plans for 2015.
Road Closed couldn’t make it any easier to get track experience. Returning sponsor Motoprimo plans to have track-prepped Ducati Monsters available for rent ($200 plus track fees) and returning sponsor Arsenal Leatherworks intends to have one-piece leather race suits available for rent ($40).
“These are great options for those not having a track bike or not wanting to ride their pride and joy in a track day scenario,” Jon Peterson, a principle of Road Closed Promotions, told MMM. “With all these options for gear and motorcycles, we could put anyone on the track who has their own helmet gloves and boots.”
Road Closed also is broadening its reach in rider education through the offering of its “Hedonistic Enthusiasm” program, developed by Minnesotan Pat Hahn several years ago. “We are putting on this event May 24 and July 26,” Peterson said. “This is a skills day primarily for street riders to get a day on the track with experienced coaches and a curriculum.”
If you’re planning to attend one of the events at Brainerd International Raceway (BIR), David Behrend, owner of suspension specialty shop Fast Bike Industries, will be on hand all day doing suspension setups for a nominal fee. Btw: BIR dates will be held in conjunction with DOOM (Ducati Owners Of Minneapolis).
Finally, if you dig those new Polaris Slingshot three-wheelers, Road Closed plans to start a program to offer a driving school as well as traditional track day events.
Visit RoadClosedRacing.com for more information and pertinent dates.
ZALUSKY ADVANCED RIDING SCHOOL (ZARS)
The Zalusky Advanced Riding School, led by former professional motorcycle racer Jessica Zalusky, offers riders on all types of bikes to take part in rider training on a closed course with instruction as well as track days.
The Advanced Riding School operates on a one-mile, 17-turn course at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount. Offered May through September, evening schools are held Friday, 4-9pm ($65), and weekend days, 9am-5pm ($110). First-time participants start as Level 1 riders. Level 1 prices are $55 Friday evenings and $100 weekend days.
ZARS’ track days, open to riders ranging from novice to advanced, are held at Brainerd International Raceway and Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. If you’re new to track days, ZARS will set you up with classroom time and on-track guidance in the morning to prepare you for the experience.
Learn more online at Ridezars.com
CENTRAL ROADRACING ASSOCIATION (CRA)
The Central Roadracing Association, based in Minneapolis, is a 300-member club that organizes races in multiple classes to offer opportunities for all skill levels, from the occasional novice to dedicated expert.
The organization operates via a board of directors, several Board-appointed positions, and approximately 120 volunteers each event weekend.
Races are held exclusively at Brainerd International Raceway (BIR). Races in 2015 are scheduled for May 8-10 June 12-14, July 17-19, August 28-30 and September 18-20.
What do you need to do to get a race license? Novice racers must 1) attend the New Racer Seminar & School (attend classroom instruction and complete a written test), 2) participate in on-track instruction; 3) participate and satisfactorily perform in a New Rider Race; and 4) work a corner on the New Rider Weekend of your choice.
The CRA’s 2015 New Racer Seminar was held March 22 at MotoPrimo in Lakeville. New Racer Schools are held on the Friday of every race weekend.
By end of season last year, 15 novice riders were bumped to expert class for the 2015 season.
Get a complete run-down of the organization online at CRA-MN.com
BRAINERD INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY (BIR)
As mentioned above, Brainerd International Raceway is home to the CRA’s five race weekends as well as track days offered by Road Closed Promotions and the Zalusky Advanced Riding School. But there also are other opportunities for you to get your motorcycle on-track at BIR.
For those of you who live your life a quarter-mile at a time, BIR this year plans to offer five Wednesday Night Drag events – opening the track to anyone with a helmet (Snell 2005 or newer), a valid drivers license and a street-legal motorcycle, car or truck. The gates open at 4 p.m., and you can make as many runs as possible until the track closes at dusk. Participation costs $25.
Motorcycle drag racers also can take part in BIR’s in-house Bracket Drag Racing Series. This year’s Bracket Drag Racing Series features 12 race days on six weekends from May through September. Some weekends include testing on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, each class has one round of time trials at the beginning of the day before starting elimination rounds. Each class races for full points, trophies and payouts each day.
Finally, if you want to see the reaction time speed of professional motorcycle drag racers, Thunder at the Lakes brings NHRA West Central Division motorcycle drag racers to BIR June 5-7 and the 2015 Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals are scheduled to return to BIR Aug. 20-23.
Visit BrainerdRaceway.com for a complete rundown of events.
GROVE CREEK RACEWAY
Grove Creek Raceway, located 65 miles west of the Twin Cities in Grove City, Minn., is a part of the NHRA Summit Racing Series that features bracket drag racing for motorcycles, cars, trucks, snowmobiles, etc. ($40-$85).
In addition to its twice-per-month Summit series events, Grove Creek has two Saturdays per month dedicated to Test-N-Tune Days ($50).
Motorcycle record holders at Grove Creek include Mel Mroz of Blaine and Willie Brady of Savage. Mroz set the fastest speed of 146.27 mph in 2007 on his 1100cc Suzuki GSX-R and Brady set the fastest ET of 4.94 seconds in 2009 on his 1500cc Kawasaki ZX-9.
The 1/8-mile drag strip is open April through October. Check out the happenings at GroveCreek.com