We’re already two weeks into the new year but I find that as I get older I care less and less about punctuality. So, this article I intended to publish on New Year’s Day is only now making it to the site.
PUT SOME CLOTHES ON, DAMN IT
Get Your Hands on a TMO Hoodie
Anyhoo, I decided to put together a list of moto industry predictions for 2020, so I can come back in 12 months and chuckle at the fact I got everything wrong (except, probably, the one about Indian bringing out an FTR street bike). Really, though, I’d be interested in hearing both what you think will happen, but also what you wish would happen. Let me know in the comments below.
Electric Motorcycles Move Closer to the Mainstream
Despite its astronomical price, people are buying the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. And regardless of the fact you can find “better” bikes from the likes of Zero and Energica, it will be the success of Harley’s electric efforts that really pushes the segment forward. More often than not motorcycles don’t make sense, their purchase generally being emotionally driven. BMW knows that just as well as Harley and has been pushing forward in promoting the idea of its Vision DC Roadster, presenting it at various shows and exploring the idea of making it even more expensive by giving it a carbon frame.
BMW already has an electric two-wheeler in production, its C evolution scooter, so I will not be at all surprised to see a more market-friendly version of the Vision DC Roadster presented at Intermot in October or EICMA in November – to then hit dealerships in (late) 2021.
2019 Vespra Elettrica – First Ride
Meanwhile, we know that all four major Japanese brands have been toying with the idea of electric models for at least a decade – Honda in particular. But hitherto none of them have been willing to make the big leap forward. With American and European brands now leading the way, I’d expect Japan to start playing catch up this year. I’ll guess that Yamaha will be the first to stick its neck out, ideally with a relatively low-frills naked/standard aimed at commuters.
Remember, too, that Triumph has said outright that it is working on an electric motorcycle, as is Ducati, and Indian still has its old Brammo/Victory assets. Those projects are probably still a few years away but will be fueled by rising environmental concern. Greta Thunberg’s not going anywhere and several European countries/cities are looking to ban certain types of internal combustion engines in the not too distant future (the city of Bristol, England, will be banning diesel vehicles next year). Now’s a good time to step forward with an electric moto and make yourself look like one of the good guys.
Europe’s Motorcycle Market Suffers Dip
Perhaps running contrary to the prediction about electric motorcycles is my belief that this year will see a lot of riders cooling somewhat on the exponentially rising cost of bikes. Take a look at the headline machines from November’s EICMA show and one theme runs through them all: they cost a ton of money.
If I were writing for a Bauer Media publication I’d probably be arguing that the exception comes in bikes like the new V-Strom 1050, which has a UK starting price of “just” £9,999. But hold on a second; £10,000 is still a lot of money (especially for a bike that fails to offer a center stand as standard equipment). When did we start referring to £10,000 motos as budget bikes? If you’re dreaming of owning one five years from now, you’ll need to squirrel away £167 a month.
I’m guessing that Brexit, increased tensions (and possibly war) with Iran, the continuing challenge of stagnant wages, and a few other factors will put a lot of pressure on the economy in 2020 and uncertainty in the minds of consumers. With car sales already down I’d definitely expect to see the sales of largely luxury items* like motorbikes suffer.
Fuel Economy Becomes a Thing Again
Remember back in 2012 when Honda first unveiled the CB500X and CB500F, and Wes Siler was all “This is the bike we need,” and the rest of us were all “Yeah! Sensibility and reliability! Down with excess!” and we all told ourselves a new era of motorcycling had begun?
We said that because the world was still struggling to break free of the Great Recession and gas prices in California were threatening to hit $5 a gallon. Getting financing was trickier than we had grown accustomed to and no one really had any spare cash. And countless “Why You Should Ride” articles (some of which were written by me) pushed the idea that bikes were a fantastic money-saving way to commute. The middleweight was king, baby!
Then… I don’t know, I guess things didn’t turn out to be as awfully as we were fearing or we all just decided to stop paying attention. Fuel prices dropped somewhat, and every manufacturer got behind the idea of PCP financing** and seemingly bribed a large portion of the moto press into telling us it was a good idea***.
But as mentioned above, I think there are rough waters ahead. Pair this with enthusiasm for the running costs (as opposed to initial outlay) of electric bikes and I suspect we’ll suddenly start caring about efficiency again. The overhauled Rocket III was probably released at the wrong time. Look for mo-jos to play catch-up late in the year with articles claiming that, hey, actually, the V-Strom 250 doesn’t suck as bad as you might think and at “only” £5,000 it’s a bargain – especially on PCP financing…
Used Bike Market Sees a Lift
New bikes will suffer in 2020, but I anticipate the used market will benefit. All those PCP-bought bikes in the past few years have flooded the used market with good-quality, low-mileage bikes. It used to be that the used market was dominated by hideously abused and ignorantly modded claptrap machines – no more. PCP deals typically limit annual mileage and put a rider at risk of nasty fines from the bank if he or she fails to treat the bike with anything other than kid gloves.
If you’re willing to live without the absolute latest tech (a strategy that may be advisable considering some manufacturers’ tendency to get things wrong on the first try) you can get an almost-new bike for thousands less.
NOT REALLY RELATED AT ALL:
I, For One, Welcome Our Driverless Car Overlords
For example, if you’re willing to live sans cruise control the 2017-2019 Kawasaki Z1000SX is effectively the same machine as the Ninja 1000SX introduced at EICMA back in November. The latter bike starts at £10,999 without luggage; taking a look at the interwebs, I’m able to find a 2017 Z1000SX with luggage and just 3,600 miles on the clock for £7,450. Throw in £270 for a brand new set of Michelin Road 5 tires and you’re still saving more than £3,200.
Admittedly, the cruel trick of first needing money to be able to save money comes into play here; it’s difficult to save thousands of pounds on a Z1000SX if you don’t already have thousands of pounds to hand. But it stands to reason that – although I don’t fit into either category – there are more people out there with £7,500 to spare than those with £11,000. Over the next year, look for them to be buying bikes outright rather than using their savings as deposit on a £15,000 BMW S 1000 XR****
Harley-Davidson’s Pan-America Turns Out To Be Awesome
Ever since Harley-Davidson first told us about its planned Pan-America adventure bike a year and a half ago, haters have been tripping over themselves to express disdain for every little aspect of it. That’s sort of understandable; it has an unconventional look. As I mentioned in my recap of EICMA 2019, though, I saw the bike in person at the UK’s Motorcycle Live show in late November and fell in love with it. I also observed, however, that one of the reasons I love it is that it is unashamedly big and stupid (as a son of the great state of Texas, I like most things that are big and stupid), but that such attributes are unlikely to make it ideal for riding off road.
On top of that, Harley has a history of being a little too enthusiastic in its promotional language, such as when it claims that a 303kg (668 lbs) motorcycle is “agile in corners” and has performance that’s “off the leash.” In comparison to a camper van, I suppose…
Anyway, I think most industry observers are expecting the Pan America to be maybe better than the Triumph Tiger 1200 in the dirt, at best – but not by much. My prediction, however – which is, in fact, just a wish borne of my emotional fondness for the brand – is that the bike will end up surprising us all. It will somehow be KTM-level awesome and adventure moto-journos will be wetting their pants in singing its praises. Probably not, but hey, it’d be cool if that happened. Either way, I anticipate the bike will sell pretty well.
Honda Drops the VFR Platform
Big Red quietly dropped the VFR1200F from its line-up two years ago, seemingly deciding that the market no longer had a place for insanely gorgeous, well-built sport-touring motorcycles. The VFR1200X, VFR800X and VFR800F are still hanging on in early 2020 but it’s been a fair few years since any of them have received an update. They’re looking markedly long in the tooth when compared to the competition. Hell, they’re long in the tooth compared to other Honda products. Why get a VFR800X, for example, when the new Honda Africa Twin is more manageable, has the same power and more features, and costs less to maintain?
Bikes like the Ducati V4 Panigale and the gorgeous V4 Streetfighter are evidence that people will salivate over a V4 engine if it’s done right. But this doesn’t appear to be a direction Honda really wants to go in. Honda just doesn’t make batshit crazy motorcycles right now. Placed in a stalwart, reliable and too-tame machine, a V4 simply becomes a novelty that few people want to fuss with.
The VTEC technology that Honda uses with its VFRs seems like something that would get a lot of love as Europe and elsewhere impose ever tighter environmental regulations but Honda, like the Lord, works in mysterious ways. I anticipate all the VFR models will quietly disappear from the line-up by the end of the year.
Indian Reveals Roadster Built on FTR 1200 Platform
Many moons ago, before the FTR 1200 was launched, Jensen Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber managed to come across an internal document that appeared to show Indian’s plans for the immediate future. It gave hints of the Challenger, and laid out plans for the FTR platform: flat-track-inspired bike for 2019, street bike for 2020, and adventure bike for 2021. Since the Challenger and flat track bike have come to fruition it stands to reason that we’ll be seeing an even more road-focused machine in the not-too-distant future.
Indeed we know, because Indian told us, that the FTR 1200 was originally tested wearing 17-inch wheels, so it seems most of the work will have already been done. Expect a bike that maintains the art deco/angular tank that has become the signature of Indian motorcycles but otherwise looks a lot like a Ducati Monster 1200. The street bike will have the advantage of being able to iron out the rough spots that have been found with the FTR 1200 – the not-fantastic tires, the slightly abrupt throttle response, and (maybe) the too-small fuel tank. I’m already looking forward to it.
The question is: when will it arrive? I’d like to see it sooner, but I suspect the best place and time to launch such a machine would again be at Intermot, where it launched the FTR 1200 back in 2018. Perhaps I should start saving up for a trip to Cologne…
Triumph Overhauls the Tiger 1200
Ever since it first arrived on the scene as the Tiger Explorer roughly eight years ago the Triumph Tiger 1200 has been a frustrating machine. A wondrous powerplant housed in an imperfect application it has never managed – despite three major overhauls – to accomplish its primary goal of putting Triumph on the same footing as BMW.
On a dry, paved road and travelling at speeds greater than 10 mph the Tiger 1200 is one of the most enjoyable motorcycles I’ve ever ridden. But when that road is wet, or unpaved, or you’re moving at slow speeds, the bike’s top heavy nature makes itself known and saps you of confidence. Put against the BMW R 1250 GS, KTM 1290 Adventure R or S, or Ducati Multistrada 1260 the Tiger 1200 comes last. It holds its own against the Yamaha Super Ténéré but not as strongly as you’d expect. Following the complete overhaul of the Tiger 800, now Tiger 900, the same treatment seems inevitable for the 1200. Again. My fear is that Triumph will keep banging its head against the wall of trying to force a fantastic road bike into being an all-rounder. What should happen is engineers should find a way to bring its center of gravity lower and focus on building the excellent touring machine it’s capable of being.
Triumph Drops the Tiger Sport
Whereas it’s been updating other models every other year or so Triumph hasn’t touched the Tiger Sport since 2015. Which is a shame because it’s genuinely one of the brand’s best models. It’s stupidly overpriced (£11,400 once you add heated grips and a center stand – add £700 more if you want luggage), which is why I don’t own one, but it is nonetheless a fantastic machine. It is faster and more nimble than the Tiger 900, lighter and more nimble than the Tiger 1200, and better suited than either to the task of road riding. But it seems I’m in the minority when it comes to feeling love for the model.
Traditionally the Tiger Sport has been a Speed Triple with fairing. The fact that the former remained untouched after the latter was overhauled last year suggests Triumph is getting ready to jettison its last sport-touring moto. But, hey, maybe we’ll get another Bonneville variant in its place…
Yamaha Drops the FJR1300
Speaking of soon-to-be vanquished sport tourers, I anticipate Yamaha’s stalwart FJR1300 is not long for this world. The 1298cc inline four moto has been around in one form or another for almost 20 years and largely its styling has not changed. It is still, by all accounts, an excellent motorcycle but it is one that feels to be very much from a different time. And it is especially unattractive because it costs so much. The least expensive FJR1300 will cost you £15,000 at the moment (jumping to £17,300 if you want luggage and electronic suspension). Honestly, who would pay that for a bike that stylistically harkens back to a time when Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever” was No. 1 in the charts? Give me “Waka Waka This Time For Africa,” at least.
I suppose it’s possible Yamaha could overhaul the FJR1300’s styling to bring it more in line with the rest of the company’s line-up (most bikes seemingly drawing inspiration from the R1), but I’d think it more likely we’ll see a Tracer 1000 at some point, built around the MT-10.
* A bike isn’t necessarily a luxury item for me since I use mine every day and do not own a car, but I accept that for the majority of riders motorcycles are somewhat extraneous.
** For those of you playing along at home, PCP stands for Personal Contract Purchase – a balloon-payment style of financing that allows you to pay a lower monthly amount by effectively locking you into a permanent cycle of getting a new bike every three years. It is like the drug PCP (phencyclidine) in that it is terribly addictive and destructive.
*** I am proud to say I have never written an article singing the praises of PCP. I am less proud to admit, however, that I have been suckered by its charms.
**** I’m attending the launch of that bike later this month. Look for my review in the March/April issue of Adventure Bike Rider.