On the road home this week from Honda’s head office, where I’d just collected a Gold Wing press bike to ride for a week, I realized this was probably the most expensive mainstream motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. It’s the all-singing, all-dancing Gold Wing, all new for 2018 and loaded with Navigation, a dual-clutch transmission, and the air bag, and it has an MSRP of $34,599.
To put that into perspective, I could buy a Honda Africa Twin DCT and a CB1000R and still have more than $3,000 left over. Or put another way, I could buy a Honda Accord sedan and a CB500F, with a thousand bucks left for insurance. The Gold Wing is a luxury purchase indeed.
(Of course, you can buy a stripped-down, bagger-style Wing for $27,000 MSRP, but that’s still more costly than anything else in Honda’s two-wheeled lineup, and that’s including the whiz-bang, track-ready CBR1000RR at $24,000.)
We love expensive bikes here at Canada Moto Guide, because they show just what motorcycle engineering is capable of, and because we don’t have to actually pay for them. Once we start thinking about our own money, the goal posts shift, and I imagine yours do too.
I thought of this later the same day while talking to Costa about his recent ride on the Royal Enfield Interceptor. He told me he’s seriously thinking about buying one for his girlfriend, who needs a new motorcycle. The $7,500 price is very good value indeed, and Costa – who’s a trained and qualified mechanic, as well as a thrifty bugger – made a point of pulling the Enfields apart to look for shoddy, cheap workmanship where the company might be trying to save a buck. He found nothing like it. Instead, the bikes were well thought-out, well constructed, and looked to be as reliable as an air-cooled twin can be. They’re designed for simple maintenance and, as he discovered, well able to take a thrashing out on the road.
Royal Enfields are made in India, and the price is low because they cost less to build and the Indian economy of scale is so high. It’s not so much because Indian workers are paid less than Germans or Japanese or Brits or whomever – the total price of labour isn’t usually more than 10 per cent of the cost of a motorcycle or car – but because Indians buy 20 million two-wheelers every year. That’s right: 20 million. In Canada, we buy just over 60,000 new bikes in a year. That’s more than 300 Indian bikes for every one Canadian bike, and this is just India. There’s also China, Indonesia, Brazil and scores of others with considerably larger motorcycle markets than us, almost all of them allowing year-round riding.
The point is, expensive motorcycles are all very well, but the bread-and-butter will always be affordable motorcycles. Sometimes, it’s small scooters, cheap to run and fix, but they’re still no more than 20 per cent of the developing-world market. Bike makers like Enfield and Bajaj and Hero don’t need to make much profit on their machines because there are just so many of them on the road: India alone is expected to have about 200 million registered, running motorcycles by 2020.
Come back to Canada and it’s the same thing on a much smaller scale. We sell more “affordable” motorcycles than high-end machines and we always will. The profit may be greater on a $30,000 bike than an $8,000 bike, but sell four of five of them for every Wing and maybe you’re ahead of the game. Of course, makers know this and in recent years, they’ve been bringing their less-costly 300s and 400s to Canada and we’ve been loving riding them. A motorcycle doesn’t have to include technical wizardry and cutting-edge engineering to deliver a satisfying ride.
Fortunately for us reviewers, though, there are also bikes like the Gold Wing that demonstrate just what’s possible if you can afford to invest in them, and slowly but surely, as with cars, the technology trickles down to even the lowest-priced machines. Tires are longer lasting and stickier, engines more reliable; mirrors vibrate less and cables don’t break. So let’s appreciate the wonder of the Wing (and you’ll read my review later this month), but at the same time, let’s not forget the less-expensive bikes that make it all possible, and their symbiotic relationship across the market and around the world.