Small Street bikes, Wave of the Future or just a Fad in the USA

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by klaviator, Apr 14, 2018.

  1. klaviator

    klaviator Long timer

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    Back in the 60s and 70s a wave of small bikes from Japan (mostly) led to a surge of popularity for motorcycling in the USA. Then in the 80s the popularity of small bikes fell off as riders moved to bigger and bigger bikes. Back around 2006 When I was selling bikes there were very few small street bikes available here. It was not uncommon for the dealer I worked at to not have a single under 500cc bike in the showroom.

    Recently the number of models of small street bikes available in the USA has steadily increased. It's a great time if you are a fan of small bikes. The Grom started the tiny bike surge and has been joined by the Z125 and Kymco Spade. Every manufacturer offers at least one small "sporty bike" 400cc or smaller. There are super moto's, cruisers, and a bunch of 300cc and under scooters available.

    My question is this. Are the manufacturers responding to an increased demand for these small bikes or are they hoping to create a demand by offering some more exciting bikes in the small displacement/low cost segment? Will millenials be willing to buy these small bikes. Will older riders be willing to downsize and buy these bikes? Will displacement "creep" mean that over the next decade these small bikes will keep getting bigger and become midsize bikes? Will we repeat the cycle of the past?

    Personally I'm a small bike fan and I see most of my future bikes being around 300cc or under. I for one hope that small bikes are the wave of the future and not just a fad.

    This only applies to the USA as small bikes have always been popular in most of the rest of the world.

    So what are your thoughts on this subject?
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  2. Chaplain

    Chaplain Been here awhile

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    In the USA market bikes are mostly recreational vehicles. Very few of us (me included) use bikes for actual transportation needs. But this would change if gas goes back up to $4.00/gallon or more (as it likely will, the oil market is historically cyclic).

    The smaller bikes offered by all the manufacturers are 'budget' bikes. The reality is a 250cc single and a 650cc single are going to have about the same number of parts and manufacturing steps. There is a very slight difference in material cost and shipping. So, the smaller bikes will be made of cheaper stuff, or have lower levels of fit and finish, or have less mark-up. And, in the USA where 'bigger is better' and where we have vast distances and good paved roads going everywhere, who wants to fight traffic on an little bike?

    The thing that is different today is that economic conditions in the global market are improving. Many of the bikes in the 250cc to 410cc range were out of reach of the largest market share in the developing world (where 50cc mopeds and 110cc to 125cc bikes were real family transportation.) Now, that huge market for that size bike is looking at 'bigger bikes' (and even cars). So, the 250 to 410 size are now subject to economy of scale in the global market. Nobody is going to develop a 'entry level' bike for the US market - it is just too small a market. But now the rest of the world is economically able to buy bikes that fit into the 'entry level' size for the USA. And, since economies of scale affect pricing, we are seeing decent quality 250cc to 410cc bikes at entry level prices. Even BMW is getting in on the act.

    After thinking about it, and experimenting with a TU250x on American roads (just barely big enough) I think that a 300cc to 400cc twin is kind of where an adequate but minimalist bike is for keeping up with most traffic most of the time. Yes, there are all kinds of places where that it too small and all kinds of ways to get by on a 125cc bike or scooter. But the emerging global market an the minimalist USA bike are kind of intersecting at the moment.

    Somebody ought to market small bike as efficient, green, sustainable, affordable and fun transportation.
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  3. JETalmage

    JETalmage Been here awhile

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    Those who actually use bikes as practical transportation tend to think so. But don't believe it. You almost said it yourself:

    In the USA market, bikes are mostly luxury items for those with expendable income. When money gets tight (for whatever reason), motorcycle sales drop.

    Counter-intuitive as it sounds, the first "oil crisis" in the Carter years wreaked havoc on the motorcycle market. Dealers dropped like flies. Many of those who survived, did so on four wheelers (of all things).

    Never assume the public's response to economic difficulty (or anything else, really) will make sense.

    JET
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  4. VX Rider

    VX Rider Long timer

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    I hope they catch on big time...
    As essentially renting a 4-5k 250 as a starter bike is stupid no Matter how much one recoups at resale.

    However a 300 to 400cc starter bike will serve the new rider longer. And in some instances like urban/college student usage could be a great proposition for long term ownership.
    #4
  5. JETalmage

    JETalmage Been here awhile

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    As for the original question, I doubt really small street-legal bikes (under 250 cc) even are making much of a "comeback" today. For a while now, Honda seems to be "throwing things at the wall to see what sticks." I just take the Grom as part of that.

    In the late 60s and through the 70s people in the US would ride 90cc street-legal "full size" dualsports. Even the Honda Trail 50 was street-legal. I don't anticipate ever seeing that again. It's downright scary riding anything that won't keep up with ambient traffic these days. And even that makes no objective sense, given the popularity of "status symbol" very expensive bicycles, which are just more "socially correct" right now than small motorcycles.

    JET
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  6. klaviator

    klaviator Long timer

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    Some good points here. When I was selling bikes back in 2006 gas prices where high and motorcycle sales dropped. Since people where spending more on gas for their cages it cut into potential bike payments.

    On the other had when gas prices spiked around 2009, scooter sales went through the roof. But then gas prices dropped and scooter sales dropped drastically leaving dealers with all kinds of unsold scooters sitting in the showroom.

    As you posted: "Never assume the public's response to economic difficulty (or anything else, really) will make sense." That is absolutely true IMO.

    There are some of us who use motorcycles/scooters for transportation but even then it's often big, expensive and not all that economical bikes. People who use bikes as transportation often do it because it's fun, not because it's actually economical.
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  7. klaviator

    klaviator Long timer

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    There are few 250cc street bikes being sold today. Except for dual sport bikes pretty much all the manufacturers of street bikes being sold in the USA have bumped displacements of their 250cc bikes up to 300cc or more. This is true of scooters as well. Kawasaki took their Ninja 250 to 300 and now 400cc. BMWs new little bike is a 310. KTMs entry level street bikes are 390cc.

    Go over to Road Warriors or Battle Scooters and you will find a lot of the riders interested in these bikes are not new riders.
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  8. Bar None

    Bar None Old School Dude

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    The TU25oX is available new 2018 and I just bought a 2009 in like new condition for $1500 and it included about $300 worth of uninstalled extras. Bike had 1280 miles on it. I installed the extras and it is now my main ride when I don't need the carrying capacity of my 2015 Ural CT sidecar rig or my 2012 Tacoma regular cab 4x4. Recently sold the CB1100 I won in the 2017 Ride For Kids Raffle. Although it was a great bike I do not need that kind of a motorcycle.
    Lots of TU info here http://tu250riders.com/index.php?sid=5e4c3d9f24aa0436021ae45e175d2c1e
    My TU
    0404181225.jpg 0330181926.jpg
    #8
  9. BetterLateThanNever

    BetterLateThanNever Long timer

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    I suspect the latter. I can't imagine there was any indication of unmet demand for small bikes. Rather, my guess is they're hoping this is part of a strategy to get young riders and smaller riders on motorcycles. And since these bikes are being built for overseas markets where they aren't considered 'small' anyway, the gamble was probably slight.

    Me too. I am thrilled at the number of excellent small bikes out there now, and eventually I'm hoping they'll help me extend my riding career. In the meantime, I think the North American appetite for heavy metal and big roads has blinded us to how much fun they are... when I was in California this winter, I saw a rider on Mulholland on an RC390, riding at 10/10ths and doing amazing things with it that had nothing to do with money or ccs. I don't think he/she went home wishing for a bigger motor.
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  10. klaviator

    klaviator Long timer

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    The TU250 seems like a fun bike but I doubt it be the chick magnet the Dong Fang was:lol3
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  11. Bar None

    Bar None Old School Dude

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    It did attract a lot of attention.
    Some good.
    IMG_0679.jpg

    Some not so good
    0910131200-01.jpg

    Some even worse!
    15213772326_a1559853d1_c.jpg
    #11
  12. TrashCan

    TrashCan Scary Jerry

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    Yeah, I couldn't keep my hands off your Dong.................Fang. :photog
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  13. DennisV

    DennisV Been here awhile

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    I'm inclined to think the future of small to midsized bikes will be electric, but only when the leap in battery tech has been made to make them affordable with decent range. It might be just around the corner.
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  14. TxRoadDog

    TxRoadDog Shut up and ride

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    I work in the motorcycle industry, but I work in the side of it that is not of interest to most of the posters on this board, so what I see vs. what is happening globally are a little different. With that being said, I AM a millennial. I am different from most of my generation as I grew up on 2 wheels; practically immersed in it. What I own and ride is all over the board from big cruisers, small cruisers, hot rod harleys (primarily), and all manner of inline 4's and adventure bikes. I've had so many god damn bikes in the last 10 years it would make your head spin. NOW, to the topic of the thread, I do find myself leaning towards the smaller bikes that are coming out. My racing background has shown me that it's a lot of fun to ride a slow bike fast, and considering I now live in the inner city, a smaller bike makes a lot more sense.
    #14
  15. st3ryder

    st3ryder Been here awhile

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    Smaller bikes of late are targeted at youth, and perhaps women in particular, re ease of ownership and handling, read costs of ownership, as there are fewer and fewer good paying jobs around North America. India and "Gina" OTOH, are importing larger, more prestigious bikes for their markets. Hmmm...wonder why. Oh yeah...thats where all the jobs are going.

    As far as small bikes as commuters. I never thought they were good ideas due the cost of chains and tires, and overall wear and tear. The money you save on gas you spend on maintenance. And if living in a big city, scooters are better.

    It's a fad to get younger buyers and more women into motorcycling.

    Not everybody wants a 200hp bike laden with anti-death technology, and not everybody wants to act like a 1%-er on weekends.
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  16. atomicalex

    atomicalex silly aluminum boxes Super Moderator

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    If you can't have fun on a 250, you really don't get motorcycling. There, I said it.

    I love my 650 and it is my forever bike, but damn, 250s are like crack.
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  17. wvboy

    wvboy Been here awhile

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    +1
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  18. JETalmage

    JETalmage Been here awhile

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    As one for whom motorcycles have been primary transportation for most years of my life, one might expect me to say differently, but: I've long maintained that (at least in the middle-class US) the "economy" argument for motorcycling is largely a false economy.

    Tire life is 1/10 that of cars, and the fact that you only have two doesn't ameliorate that much. Pound for pound, motorcycle tires are ridiculously expensive compared to car tires.

    On the other hand, nowadays, with just common-sense maintenance that one should be able to do oneself (oil changes and infrequent valve adjustments), lifespan of most any decent multi-cylinder bike (most of which would not be considered "small bikes" in the context of this thread) can rival that of cars. Electronic ignition, engine balancers, liquid cooling, tubeless tires, spokeless wheels, chainless drives (and far longer-lived chains for even chain-driven bikes) and general engineering sophistication have all made motorcycles far from the "continual maintenance" chores they were in the 70s.

    But how many motorcyclists actually ever ride a given bike for anything even approaching half its potential service life? Most of us get bored with a given bike long before 25,000 miles and sell or trade for a different one. I prefer to buy new, but I still love to visit my favorite dealership after they've come back from their monthly-or-so trips to the dealer auctions. The showroom always has a collection of large bikes of the most popular types (cruisers and tourers) in pristine condition with less than 30,000 miles (most much less) on bikes that could live for ten times that mileage at prices in the $4,000-7,000 range. I love to look at them and think of all the people I know who use price as their "excuse" for not buying a bike. I've seen gorgeous low-mileage Valkyries for $4500.

    What I don't see there are any similarly pristine small bikes. I assume that's just because there's not enough money to be made on them for the trouble. (Dealers do have overhead, and it's not at all unthinkable that one can spend more on the wages involved in making a vehicle sale than in the actual profit on a small used bike.)

    So it seems that used small bikes are usually obtained from the owner, not from dealers. That in itself works against the proliferation of small bikes to first-time riders, because it removes the opportunity to browse several comparables in a single location and the assumed confidence of buying from a dealer.

    There are so many bargains out there for a reasonably knowledgeable motorcyclist. Perfectly good bikes like V-Strom 650s and 1000s can be found for a song, and that also probably works against small bike sales. ("Egads! Seller A wants $3000 for that Honda Reflex scooter, but Seller B only wants $1500 more for a great big 650!")

    Many just don't know how serviceable a small bike can be. If you ever get the chance, take one of those above-mentioned 250 Reflex scooters for a spin. It's surprising how unstrained that little scoot feels at secondary highway speed. The so-called "Maxi-scooters" (Honda Silverwing, etc.) are similarly surprising. But I don't know why all Japanese scooters seem disproportionately overpriced for what they are.

    When the Honda Grom first appeared at "under $3000" (yeah, $5 under, before tax, dealer prep, etc.) that was the selling point. But now that out-the-door prices approach $4000, it's not perceived as the "threshold bargain" it was initially.

    JET
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  19. klaviator

    klaviator Long timer

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    In this country motorcycle ownership is based mainly on emotion, not logic so whether or small bikes makes sense as commuters probably won't determine how well they will sell.

    However, I do agree with what you posted. My main transportation for the last several years has been a 150cc Kymco scooter that I bought new for $2200 OTD. That's less than what many full size bikes depreciate when you ride them off the lot. I have over 30,000 miles on it and will probably ride it until it wears out.

    But I'm in the minority around here. I see a fair number of people commuting on bikes but most of them are on full size bikes; Harley's Goldwings, etc. No way is that economical but they do it because they enjoy riding.

    I do have a couple of friends who are not new riders who bought Ninja 300s but I don't see that many small bikes on the road around here.

    Local dealers around here have plenty of small bikes in the showrooms so if they don''t sell it won't be because they are not available.
    #19
  20. The_Precious_Juice

    The_Precious_Juice 2015 Subaru Forester

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    Well posted!

    You captured what I would only attempt to post.

    China and other Asian countries are getting more into consumer Economies.
    China is moving really really fast.

    Riders like me are very lucky, because we just want a utiliterian Transpo to absorb miles off of our cage.
    In tne last two years we are getting some great bikes.

    Compund that with stagnant wagesin the USA and other similar core countries, we are actually in sync with a lot of Asian countries. Hell, industry is spilling back to the USA due to this balance.
    #20