I’ve got a wish list this Christmas, but it’s not full of exotic motorcycles or trick aftermarket parts or new riding gear. I want to see the world change, or at least the motorcycling world.
I have a few things I’m hoping to see in 2018 that I suspect are about as realistic as world peace, or an end to the 24-hour broadcast television news cycle (we’re doomed!).
Still, a man can dream, and if these hoped-for situations came through, I suspect most motorcyclists would be better off.
A turnaround in the US market
Sport Rider magazine was shut down, Motorcyclist went to a six-issue annual schedule. The Motorsport Aftermarket Group sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Harley-Davidson saw a drop in profits and sales — both international sales and domestic sales. It’s gotten bad enough that at last month’s motorcycle show in Long Beach, California, there was an emergency meeting of industry bigwigs, where everyone got together and tried to figure out how to turn things around. Things are bad for motorcyclists in the United States.
So what’ll it be next? It’s hard to imagine motorcycle sales turning around in the US, and without a turnabout in sales, it’s hard to imagine the industry taking a turn upwards. That means more trouble for traditional publishers and the aftermarket industry, and without some changes, possibly more bad news for the manufacturers.
None of this is good, and I really don’t wish ill on the US riding industry, partly because it has a massive effect on our own market. But whining about the death of the old ways isn’t going to bring them back, and since when have panels of concerned insiders ever been a long-term solution?
The solution will be a renewed grassroots enthusiasm in motorcycling, and we’re already starting to see the first indications of that revival. Upscale print publications like Meta or Iron & Air, independent motorcycle collectives like Moto Guild and Brother Moto (or here in Canada, Moto Revere), and even enthusiast groups like the Litas all emphasize individual experience instead of a lifestyle dictated by a marketeer. We’d expect to see even more of these publications, shops, and groups start up in the next year, and hopefully, that will be the start of a long-term turnaround.
And that would be very good news for us in Canada. Like it or not, we’re very tied to the US motorcycle scene, and some growth down there might mean some positive news for us. As it is, we’re very happy that CMG has been bought by Auto Trader, which allows us to continue bringing you the motorcycle information you need to know, whether it be daily news updates, bike reviews, or whatever else you read on here. If we can be a part of the turnaround, we’d be extremely happy.
Quality control from India
Made-in-India motorcycles are finally arriving in Canada coming here, thanks to rebadging deals with KTM, Husqvarna, BMW, and now Triumph (it’ll be a while until those show up). Royal Enfield is supposed to be bringing its new 650 Interceptor and Continental GT and its Himalayan adventure bike as well.
In particular, the India-built BMW G310 GS was one of the most talked-about machines to appear in 2017, with journos all making happy noises after they came back from the bike’s launch.
Last time we saw a potential market disruption like this was around 10 years ago, when Chinese bikes started to show up. The first ones had quality control issues (although CMG’s experiences went well). Many motorcyclists predicted the Chinese would up their game, and some brands did, but overall, most of those manufacturers are now out of business, leaving consumers with a bad taste in their mouth. It’s hard to imagine the Euro manufacturers screwing up quality control that badly, especially since some of them have already had deals with Asian manufacturers for some time. As a result, I’m hoping to see the opposite of the China bike situation: I’m hoping the Indian machines prove to be reliable and affordable, giving riders options they otherwise couldn’t afford.
I’m not a roadracing fanatic, for three reasons. The first is that there’s no track close by for watching races in-person. The second is that I don’t have the time to watch many races on TV, and I’d rather spend hundreds of dollars on a motorcycle trip than on viewing subscriptions — and as a dad with young children, it’s not easy to find that time or money.
And the third reason is that in the three series I follow – MotoGP, World Superbike and Canadian Superbike – the conclusion is pretty much a given every season.
In MotoGP, Marc Marquez has been the easy favourite for many years now, with the exception of 2015, where he instead played dirty to ensure Roborider – excuse me, I meant Jorge Lorenzo – won the title instead of Valentino Rossi.
In World Superbike, Kawasaki has dominated for a half-decade. Factory rider Jonathan Rea has owned the title the past three years, winning half the races in that time period, which is simply phenomenal. His teammate Tom Sykes has picked up much of the remains, finishing no lower than third in the standings since 2012, winning the title back in 2013.
And of course, in Canadian Superbike, Jordan Szoke has been the dominant rider for two decades, especially since 2011, when Brett McCormick won the CSBK championship and then left for international competition. Jodi Christie managed to take the title in 2013, but except for that outlier (which was mostly due to Szoke’s thumb injury), you can safely wager on a Szoke superbike championship, year after year.
Now, I don’t have anything against success. I’m happy to see Szoke’s wins translate into a fighting chance at the BMW Motorrad Trophy, and as for Jonny Rea, it’s great to see the Brit shine in World Superbike after the Old Boys Club of MotoGP has turned its back on him. And as for Marquez, well, screw him, I still haven’t forgotten 2015 …
But the trouble with a constant repeating loop in the championship is that, after a while, it gets a bit boring. Why watch the races if you pretty much know who’s going to win? Sure, there’s going to be battles for the rest of the spots in the races, but who shows up to watch a battle for fifth and sixth? Only the most devoted of race fans are into that. Racing has always been about the question of who’s fastest.
So, for 2018, I’d love to see more battles for the leads in these series. Race fans, especially the more casual ones like myself, would be much more excited if there was a cutthroat scrap for the title, instead of the forgone conclusion that we see now.
A proper electric superbike
C’mon, people! The major manufacturers have mostly released some sort of prototype electric bike, like the Honda self-balancing two-wheeler, or the Yamaha PES1, or the Harley-Davidson Livewire. We’ve even seen a few get to market, like the BMW C Evolution scooter, or the KTM Freeride E-XC Enduro, and the Honda PCX Electric.
But, with the exception of the Livewire, none of those battery bikes were anything close to a flagship machine — despite the unique torque delivery characteristics of the electric motor, they’re all mid-range trail bikes or commuter scooters.
None of the Euro manufacturers or the Big Four have shown off on an electric superbike, or anything like that. The closest is the Mugen superbike at the Isle of Man TT, which has long been said to be a thinly disguised factory effort. But if that’s true, Honda hasn’t followed this up with a street-legal version, so it does the buying public no good. If you want a proper full-sized street bike, you’ve got to look at a smaller manufacturer like Zero.
So what about it? Is the future of motorcycles going to be filled with boring commuter vehicles, with no thought given to those who have a need, a need for speed? Let’s hope not.