The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

12/22/2011 @ 9:11 pm, by Jensen Beeler105 COMMENTS

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword Nicolas Petit Honda VTR 1200 concept 02 635x368

Talking to a colleague the other day, we came to a frank discussion about how the European motorcycle brands weathered the recession better when compared to their Japanese counterparts. While there are many factors at play in this statement, there is at least a component of truth to the idea that strong brand integration helped spur the Europeans into setting record months, quarters, and years during a global economic downturn, while companies like Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha saw their businesses virtually collapse.

It is not that the Japanese manufacturers don’t have strong brands, it is just that their brands stand for something fundamentally different from those being forged by the Europeans. While companies like Ducati, KTM, and Triumph are building entire communities and lifestyles around their motorcycles (hat tip to Harley-Davidson for showing them how), the Japanese continue to hang their hats on the attributes of their products. Well-engineered, bulletproof, and relatively cheap, Japanese motorcycles tick all the right boxes when one is objectively measuring a motorcycle, but they are sufficiently lacking when it comes to creating lasting ties to their owners.

If you want further proof of the situation, look at the metric vs. domestic cruiser battle here in the United States. In a market where nearly one out of every two large displacement motorcycles is a US-built cruiser, the offerings from Japan pale in sales when compared to a company like Harley-Davidson, despite the fact that the metric cruisers are cheaper, better built, and just as stylish as the Bar & Shield’s bikes. The difference? One motorcycle company defined a generation of motorcyclists, and provides an experience beyond mere ownership of its product, while the other sells its wares next to lawn mowers, power generators, and 30 other flavors of recreational vehicles.

The effect that this has had on Japanese motorcycles in the marketplace is nothing less than the creation of commodity brands (volumes could be written on this subject, but I’ll refrain), something which can be no better exemplified than by looking at the sport bike market. A segment whose sales leader is almost invariably defined by two basic distinctions: horsepower and weight, a dangerous situation has been created where the importance of these objective attributes, the ones leading to the commoditization of Japanese sport bikes, are taking precedence and spurring a two-wheeled arms race that neglects subjective features like branding and lifestyle development.

While being perhaps the more technically superior machines to their European counterparts (I mean this point only from a reliability & cost vs. performance basis), the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner in the sport bike market by failing to offer bikes with soul, or more aptly spoken, by failing to provide motorcycles that engage their owners in something more than simply riding a vehicle that has two wheels. Seeing now the aftermath of the failed economy, a business case can also be made regarding the defensibility and value of such investments in subjective positioning, especially how lifestyle branding can help insulate a manufacturer from market instabilities.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword good pornography 635x635

It is hard to describe good pornography, but I know it when I see, and so I’ll use the same quip when describing how a motorcycle can embody a soul. Objectively one cannot say an inline-four has no soul while a v-twin does, but subjectively speaking, we in the motorcycle community hear that statement made more often than not. I assure you in the fact that the number or arrangement of cylinders in a motorcycle holds no bearing on whether the machine has some sort of divinity contained inside of it, but when you look at the motivations behind the use of those motor designs, it does shed some light on how these sort of statements come about in motorcycling circles.

Displacements being equal, a four-cylinder motor will rev higher and create more peak horsepower than its two-cylinder counterpart (shorter stroke length, less reciprocating mass, etc). In this regard, a four-cylinder motor is technically the better motor when looking to make a motorcycle with the most peak horsepower, which one would want to do in a segment defined by this figure. Conversely, when we look at the brands that use twin-cylinder motors for their sport bike designs, we see the reasons of use as not being technical ones, but rather ones of heritage, tradition, and aesthetic. Arguably, for brands like Harley-Davidson and Ducati, two of the most iconic names in motorcycling, the v-twin motor itself goes beyond any technical requirement that was set by an R&D department, and is instead a necessary brand element to the company itself.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword ducati island 635x422

Conversely, when we look at a brand like Honda, the poster-child of Japanese-engineering prowess and a company known at least in the MotoGP community for putting its emphasis on the machine, not the rider, the notion that there is a corporate fixation solely on the objective qualities, which has out-shined the importance of subjective values, is not a hard notion to reach. While perhaps institutionally adverse to making such a change to its core value structure of putting the machine before the man, there is at least a past-precedent from Honda in its ability to place the value of its brand not on the machine, but the experience it provides to the rider.

The phrase that “you meet the nicest people on a Honda” revolutionized not only the advertising world, but also gave a desperate shot in the arm to the motorcycle industry. I’ll forgo a lengthy analysis on this pivotal moment in motorcycle history (required reading for the day is this article by moto-journalist Mark Gardiner and this blog post by Frog Design’s Adam Richardson), and simply say that there is certifiable proof that a) strong branding has a more-than-meaningful result on the bottom line, and b) when they want to, Japanese firms can wield this weapon as aptly as their European competitors.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword Colin Edwards 2002 Honda RC51 WSBK 635x423

The other day, I came across these concept sketches by French designer Nicolas Petit, which embody his vision of a modern-day Honda RC51. Personally one of my favorite motorcycles, the RC51 comes from a time when World Superbike was so heavily in Ducati’s pocket with how it favored twins against four-cylinder bikes (read: just a tad less in Ducati’s pocket than WSBK is currently), that Honda decided to fight fire with fire, and built a v-twin superbike of its very own (Suzuki would do the same with its TL1000R, though with admittedly less success). The RC51 was a departure from the Honda status quo, and with the help of one plucky Colin Edwards, the machine achieved great racing success in the premier production motorcycle racing class.

The RC51 has since enjoyed a cult status with its owners, as have several other Honda models (VFR owners being perhaps the most voracious example I can think of off the top of my head), but true to Honda fashion, that loyalty and brand engagement have counted for almost nothing in the corporate office. Honda sold the loyalty of the VFR-faithful wholesale with the release of the VFR1200F, a perfectly excellent motorcycle in its own right, but a radical departure from the fundamental brand elements VFR owners have come to expect with the three-lettered motorcycle. Supplanting the brand values of its core owners group with its own, Honda made the most basic of errors in brand management when it came to the VFR1200F: believing that it owned the brand, instead of the brand belonging to previous VFR buyers.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword Chrysanthemum 635x476

If the new VFR is a false-start by Honda, then the RC51 is a failure from the Japanese brand to even get onto the starting blocks. Looking at Petit’s sketches, I’m reminded of this lost opportunity by Honda in regards to the RC51. Ultimately killed off by the Japanese brand because it lost its relevancy in racing, and because it was competing for sales with the blessed CBR-line, the Honda RC51 could easily have lived on in Honda’s motorcycle line-up if it was only just positioned better. Built to compete with Ducati on the race track, it baffles me why no one realized that this race-bred motorcycle should compete with the Italian superbikes on the sales floor as well.

Positioned as an exclusive, well-built, and culturally rich motorcycle, there is no reason why an updated VTR1200 like Petit’s couldn’t bring everything that Honda is currently known for to the premium superbike market (qualities that this sector is surely lacking), and in the same process, an exploration of a motorcycle of this kind could give the Japanese brand an opportunity to explore a new way to engage potential buyers. In a market where BMW successfully went head-to-head with the best Japan had to offer, there exists no reason why Honda could not make the same role reversal, provided it gave a team the right amount of autonomy and resources to undertake such a very un-Honda like venture. Conjecture? Sure, but I’m willing to bet somewhere there’s a young motorcycle industry professional losing sleep over this lost opportunity.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword Nicolas Petit Honda VTR 1200 concept 04 635x368

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword Nicolas Petit Honda VTR 1200 concept 08 635x368

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword Nicolas Petit Honda VTR 1200 concept 07 635x368

Sketches: Nicolas Petit Creation

Comment:

  1. kostritzer says:

    If only Honda were listening.

    As a previous owner of the legendary 5th generation VFR, and current owner of a 2011 Daytona 675, I can relate to this article pretty well.

    I’ve always been a fan of Honda’s, including the 2 & 4 wheel(and 2 legged)kind. If they had built this bike, or preferably an RVF/VFR V4 superbike, then they would have gotten my money.

  2. mookie says:

    the more i look at this design, the more life i see in it.
    why am i channeling John Britten here…
    maybe letting go to get a firmer grasp is in order.

  3. kostritzer says:

    Its definitely a bit Panigale meets Honda’s V4 concept, I love the front 3/4 view.

  4. froryde says:

    Great article and brilliant design!

    You would’ve thought that corporate giants like Honda would have the whole branding / marketing thing nailed…

  5. kostritzer says:

    @froryde

    They’re out of touch with enthusiasts. Honda has been drifting far from their roots since Soichiro died. Just take a look at their current auto lineup, they want to be Toyota!

  6. “VFR owners being perhaps the most voracious example I can think of off the top of my head.” That’s me! Although I have to say I like the VFR1200. It feels more VFRish than the VTEC ever felt. Also, after years of hanging out on VFR forums, the 1200 is what MANY VFR riders were asking for. I just want a light basic VFR750 that can give a GSX-R750 a run with a tad more comfort. The RC51 is a nice bike, and I would ride it in a heart beat, but Honda should dump the in-lines and bring back the V4s. That way they keep the CBRish type performance while adding some soul. A compromise if you will. Just don’t bring the 80’s back with them. :D

  7. RGR says:

    Jensen, you absolutely outdid yourself with this article. It should go down in the annals of motorcycle history as truly a stroke of genius in explaining one small piece of the current failure of Japanese motorcycles to light a fire in many Western buyers’ souls.

    I’ve always believed another side of this is simply a difference in cultures; and in what is considered beautiful, cool, or interesting in design. Current Eastern design aesthetics simply do not mesh with what those of us in Western civilization agree is good design theory. With each model year, the design of Japanese motorcycles gets farther and farther away from Western desires. It’s kind of like we’re in two different galaxies in an ever-expanding universe.

    The only way I can see for this to reverse is for the Japanese companies to stop relying on anime and science fiction for their designs and to go backwards to more “primitive” designs that strike a chord within more motorcycle lovers.

    Although the designs you show us from Petit are futuristic and very forward-looking there are some universal goodnesses throughout. The kind of things that make motorcyclists mad about motorcycling. Single-sided swingarms, visible engines, interesting-looking wheels, and sensuously curving bodywork – all of these provide lots of eye candy that make a motorcycle interesting to look at, not just to ride. The twin-cylinder engine configuration and dry clutch are features that make the noises and vibrations that many a gearhead loves. I’m not proposing that all interesting motorcycles have to have this configuration of course. I’m a current owner of the wonderful VFR1200 that most riders do not and will not understand; and of an Italian motorcycle with an inline 4-cylinder engine that has so much soul and personality, and eye candy, that it proves all by itself that inline fours can be very interesting.

    Motorcycling hits us on so many different levels. The more visceral a bike is, and to as many of our senses as possible, the more popular it will be. The Japanese have a different view of perfection than Europeans and Americans, and in following through on that perfection we perceive that they suck the “soul” out of the machine. They do not understand this because the things many of us want are so alien to their culture.

    I think what’s interesting about this is that previous generations of Japanese motorcycles have helped create Western perceptions of what a motorcycle should be! Quite the conundrum. They really need to dig deep and figure out what it was that they used to do that was so great, and travel backwards in time to reinvigorate their motorcycle designs with that greatness – but in a way that is still modern and looks to the future.

    This won’t be an easy task, I don’t envy them. I’m not a Harley fan but they have taken this idea to the extreme. They simply never left the past. This is not a route that appeals to me, but it does to a lot of people and proves the value of giving a personality to a machine.

    Thanks so much for the brilliant article, it really makes you think.

  8. Random says:

    It’s arguable Honda lost its focus in post-Soichiro era. It’s just they’re obsessed with things most people don’t want in some passionate way. To me it doesn’t seem a ‘run by a committee’ business, like with their cars. There’s a set of defined characteristics you can pretty much find in all their bikes: consistent rider triangle and mass centralization designs (or some other magic stuff) that gives the “I’ve been riding this bike my whole life” sensation; super linear power delivery (even if bland); QC and finishing pursuit, if not excellence; and pushing us tech we don’t know we want (and some that we don’t want after getting acquainted to).

    Thus it seems to me there are some serious guidelines to Honda designs. And I could make similar statements for all the other jap brands. Yamaha is (or was before the recent unfortunate events) about quality too and out-of-the-box solutions with weird acronyms. Kawasaki is all about the top end rush, even on their 250cc beginner’s bike – they’re an engine maker after all. Suzuki focuses for some time in giving you the most bang for your buck – maybe the most fitting brand for the article’s points, no wonder their financial difficulties. But each one of them, in their own, maybe unnapreciated way, has a set of parameters they want in their bikes.

    Sorry for the long post, but I disagree with some points of the article because I may have a much more utilitarian way of seeing bikes that’s shared by most of the people in de developing country I live. Sure bikes are cool (and sure chicks diggin’ bikes is part of the cool factor too) but right now, not being able to afford other car of bike I’d rather riding my trusty unstoppable small Yamaha to work everyday than having some unreliable prettier or faster bike.

  9. MikeD says:

    Jensen, u brought a tear to my eyes… Darn shame the sport twins from “The Land of Hello Kitty and Bukkake” were never given a better chance and got axed like they never existed or happened.

    Im sure they could have been developed into what the mighty 1199 Panigale showed the world at EICMA last month a V2 is still capable of acheiving.

    And im totally digging those drawings…as i should…after all, i own a “soul infused” ancient SV1000N…and have always rooted for V2 and V4 powerplants.
    The stratospheric rev ceiling buzz bomb I4 ? U guys can keep it…unless they(all OEMs) start slapping cross-plane cranks on each and every single one…together with some caracter and gained low end torque + that beautiful SBC exhaust note at full swing.

  10. marmike says:

    I enjoyed this article a lot. When Furusawa retired from Yamaha moto GP he was asked what would occupy his time in retirement. He said he was looking forward to having more time to play with his TRX 850. I have finally managed to acquire one of these and can now understand why.
    being a ‘fake ducati’ is beside the point, the looks and the innate European character of the engine are actually enhanced by Yamahas ‘swiss watch’ genes to good effect

  11. Bjorn says:

    Great article Jensen, the kind of analysis that keeps me excited by A&R.
    I think that it’s not even a case of engine configuration but about the desirability of their offerings. Sure people look at the spec sheet and think, “That’s the bike that I’ll buy because it is the fastest/torquiest/sharpest handling.” But, and it’s a Sir-Mix-A-Lot proportioned but, where are the designs from Nippon that make people’s hearts race and cause them to forgive the machine its faults? I think that Honda missed a good opportunity with the CB1100R concept http://www.totalmotorcycle.com/photos/prototype-spy-concept/2009-Honda-CB1100RConcept.htm and Suzuki could be reaping big sales from putting the GSX1250 motor into a Katana styled chassis. Both companies could capture that nostalgic styling with modern dynamics market without straying from their traditional engines.
    I think RGR made a good point about the clinical nature of their machines; Nippon are making motorcycles that are like appliances rather than traditional motorcycles.

    Bjorn.

  12. Jonathan Garrish says:

    What an excellent article! Speaking from a European perspective I’d like to throw a couple of points into the mix:

    1) Thanks to the exchange rate Japanese bikes have become horrendously expensive over here. Who wants to pay 20% extra for a bike that’s seen little tangible development aside from a new paintjob over the years?

    2) The Japanese had no real competition for years and just took their eyes off the ball. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s many of us lusted after a Guzzi / Duke etc, but real-world worries over fit, finish and reliability meant all but the most ardent fan walked away. Then along came the 916 and people began to realise that exclusivity, beauty and practicality was possible.

    I think that Triumph’s hard work had already opened people’s eyes to the fact that the Japanese didn’t own the exclusive rights to reliable performance and the run-on-a-shoestring Norton rotary racers that spanked the cream of Japanese racebikes possibly helpd too.

    It’s a fair point about making owners of a particular marque feel like they belong to something special (KTM owners over here in the UK are particularly close-knit bunch) but I think that comes from historically being in a minority where everybody else owned a Universal Japanese Motorcycle!

    The Japanese manufacturers originally became successful by copying the designs of the day and then improving upon them. Even now original ideas ar few and far between – perhaps the time for evolution rather than revolution is gone. Maybe they will get around to making some inspirational bikes again, but will people love, adore and get poetic about ‘em?

  13. Ed Gray says:

    Ancient SV1000 ????!!! Christ I must be getting old. What ever.

    I really love the number plate on the hugger. Shades of ’70’s Husky MXers.

    I also think you are at least slightly off base about brand loyalty. In my experience almost everyone who buys a motor vehicle is unreasonably loyal to a brand, including me. I have owned and raced an RC30 but that bike is clearly an anommaly(sp) in the Honda range. Suzuki has a considerable hold on my loyalties as a result of my early string of MX bikes ’74 TM, ’78 RM, ’81 RM and first street/roadracer ’80 GS750. But I really consider my self a Yamaha Man through and through. I still bristle when someone suggests that the first GSXR was a better race bike than my beloved FZ. Some part of me knows that I might be wrong, but I just can’t accept it.

  14. Mick says:

    The Japanese, led by Honda have lost their mojo, as stated in previous comments. The downturn in the marketplace fueled by the financial blow up has hastened their decline with the North American and European markets showing large declines in sales on the part of the “Big 4″ Japanese brands. Now the thinking in corporate Japan seems to be focused on where they can recoup their losses and where the biggest potential for growth is located. That appears to be Asia. China, India and Mayalasia, Taiwan etc. are “developing” markets that are gobbling up new product. Why invest in markets where the demand has declined, the products are expensive to develop, the customers are very particular and competition is fierce?

    It’s not that the Japanese have given up. Far from it – but I think their focus has shifted and they need to become more profitable. Driven by the bean counters – and shortsightedly driven – seems to be the direction they are headed.

  15. Jeffy says:

    My view of the situation is much less complicated or romanticized. It’s quite simple really.

    European brands are succeeding even in this environment because they’re producing NEW and compelling products. Think BMW S1000RR, certainly “well-engineered, bulletproof, and relatively cheap” like their Japanese counterparts yet it is the main bike that’s helping BMW with their record growth. Why would anyone be compelled to go buy a “new” Japanese sportbike that’s been around for 3+ years from a dealer when there are plenty used versions of the essentially same bike?

    What’s helping Triumph? How about brand new products such as the Tiger? Again, new and compelling.

    You want an example from Japan? What about the Honda CBR250R? It’s another compelling new product, and guess what, they’re totally sold out with plenty of deposits already on hand.

    The author’s contention that “the Japanese continue to hang their hats on the attributes of their product. Well-engineered, bulletproof, and relatively cheap, Japanese motorcycles tick all the right boxes when one is objectively measuring a motorcycle, but they are sufficiently lacking when it comes to creating lasting ties to their owners.” is respectfully not completely accurate and I hope that it doesn’t give the motorcycle factories the wrong idea that we want poorly-engineered, repair-prone, and relatively expensive motorcycles. No! Show us new and compelling products and the consumers show up at the dealers. Don’t try to bamboozle us with last year’s model in new color and tell us it’s the latest and greatest!

  16. Daniel Croft says:

    My bike history: Ducati, Suzuki, Ducati, Triumph x2, Ducati

    Personally I think that the Japanese do focus on different elements of motorcycle design. I do lust after some Japanese motorcycles but let’s face it, it a lot of the markets we’re talking about (especially the US) motorcycles are a luxury and as such people attach real emotional value to things that aren’t really necessary. In an environment where a motorcycle is a utility vehicle, other elements are going to be way more important.

    I feel like the Japanese automotive industry is, in general, starting to get the idea that halo products are useful (LFA/GTR/NSX) and this is where I would love to see the motorcycle industry in Japan go. Make the utility vehicles that help the bottom line and really meet market demand but also make halo products that people will lust after.

    Remember, when Japanese bikes took off, they were filling a market demand to have *reliable* and inexpensive motorcycles which wasn’t being provided elsewhere. Now that European manufacturers have caught up in the reliable stakes and BMW has taken a big bite out of the inexpensive part, Japan needs to look elsewhere to provide a real value proposition to consumers in luxury markets.

  17. Andrew says:

    Great article, and great design, I’d love to see Honda do something like that.

    Honda haven’t made a bike I’ve wanted since the RC30, but the CBR linked in Bjorn’s comment would be in my garage if they’d made it. I know Honda make great bikes (and cars), but they just seem so universal and bland, and when it comes to stroking the flames of desire, universal, ultilitarian blandness just doesn’t do it.

  18. JoeD says:

    Having owned Asian and European bikes, this was a good read. Just washing the Benelli is a sensory pleasure. It was a chore to be done with the Asian ones.

  19. RJ says:

    I’ll let you guys know that somewhere, deep inside Honda, there is a V4 replacement for the CBR1000RR ready to go. Honda took quite a mighty hit with the economic debacle and the natural disasters that befell upon Japan. They had to hold back a bit and the result was the mildly restyled 2012 CBR1000RR.

    I can tell you that I’ve been told by someone very in the know that an “RC60″ is just sitting there waiting to happen. It’s apparently a groundbreaking motorcycle in the best Honda tradition. Literally a road-going RC213V. Honda knows that if the CRT concept takes complete hold it will need a motor to compete and the CBR lump is unfortunately ill suited to the task (sorry Mr. Gresini). Much easier to design a motor configuration which goes hand in hand with what they are already well versed in on the race track.

    In the end though, Honda is a Japanese company. As such, they do nothing in haste. When the time is right, Honda will unleash a weapon on the world. Patience is a virtue my dear friends.

  20. Damo says:

    Jensen articles like this are why I am a daily visitor of this site. Well written and as a Honda fanboy I completely agreed.

    As everyone here knows, I am a stalwart defender of all things Honda, but every year it is getting more difficult and my eyes start to wander to different brands.

  21. RedNick says:

    Excellent thought provoking article !
    I have owned many wonderful Japanese motorcycles over the last 45 years. When you consider performance and Bang for your Buck over all those years, they simply cannot be beat.

    Back in the early 1970’s you had to stand in line to get into some motorcycle shops. One Honda, Yamaha dealer
    in southeast Pa. was selling 800 bikes a month ! 8oo A MONTH ! Hard to believe isn’t it. You had a hard time finding someone who did NOT own a bike. They were very affordable and very reliable and the average age of the motorcyclist was probably 30. The Japanese motorcycle industry helped create a lot of lifelong motorcyclists in those days.
    Many of us developed a passion for motorcycles that is still very strong, but as the average age of the motorcyclist has gone up, the Bang for the Buck does not drive sales like it did back in those days. Don’t get me wrong, people still want and need to feel like they are getting their moneys worth, and they are.
    Motorcycles are better that we ever imagined they could be, and we need to thank the Japanese motorcycle industry for that.
    But I think mostly what drives sales today is that passion for a particular machine, apart from scooter sales and entry level machines. When you ride a new Triumph Street Triple or a new KTM or a new BMW or Ducati that FEELING is there. You can tell that the people that designed and built a lot of these new European bikes ride bikes and it shows. Some of these bikes will have you laughing out loud inside your helmet ! They make you feel that PASSION. When was the last time you walked into a Honda showroom and felt that ?
    For years and years Japanese bike makers have been refining that feeling out of their machines, while they work flawlessly, look at the Goldwing, they do not provide that connection many of us want to feel.
    How many times have you heard of a new Honda being compared to a sewing machine ?

    Another factor is the willingness of the dealer to put you out on a test ride. Many Honda shops will not let you ride it until you bought it ! You think that is going to help sell bikes ?
    Walk into any Triumph shop and there are several demo’s gassed up an ready to ride. Please take one of our demo’s out and try it, they say ! You think THAT helps sell a bike ? Damn Right it does !
    Look at all the nicely finished bits and pieces on your average European bike, stainless brake lines, beautifully made brackets and clamps and hardware. These details give the impression of a level of quality and craftsmanship you do not get from mass produced hardware stamped out by the tens of thousands even though they may function just as well.
    Look at the number of new exciting machines coming from European manufacturers over the last several years
    compared to what you see in your average Suzuki shop window these days. They are building bikes with their heart in it. It’s not all decided by lawyers and accountants.

    All these things and many more are contributing factors to customer loyalty towards a particular brand. It’s so much more than quarter mile times or lap times to your average older, lifetime motorcyclist. Their will always be a segment of buyers that have to have the fastest bikes, but all manufacturers are capable of producing a level of performance way beyond what 99 percent of us can realistically use.

    It’s that combination of the initial visual attraction, the character of the bike, the pride of ownership, the relationship with the dealer and the manufacturer, so many factors are a part of it. With some bikes you get the feeling that those men that designed and built your bike really understand why you ride !

    When that happens you will have a customer for life.

  22. Peter says:

    I visited the motorcycle show this year and there are some fantastic bikes available. I really liked both the Kawa 1000 Ninja and the Honda CB1000R. But if Honda ever brought this to market, I would lay some money down.

  23. Peter says:

    And being a father with teenage girls, I’m not sure there is such a thing as ‘good’ pornography. A rather odd reference in an otherwise interesting article.

  24. wreckah says:

    great article Jensen!

    Not alot to add really…although :-)

    I believe the combustion engine has been developed so well, there’s very little to be gained with regards to reliability and performance nowadays (heck, even a KTM is perfectly reliable today!), so there’s also very little to differentiate you from the next brand in that way. Byebye advantage Japan.
    The price difference is also lost if you take into account of the resale value and generally better quality components on the euro bikes.

    If a customer has to choose between a ‘unique’ looking bike and a bland ‘mass-produced-looking’ bike, and the price/reliability/performance is more or less the same, then the choice is easily made.

    Euro brands have capitalised on this: BMW is selling an overweight ‘adventure’ bike with a wonky engine and a ‘doubtful at best’ front suspension (not to mention it weighs a ton), but they made their product so pure and clear, that it is a topseller.
    A bit like Porsche selling the best sportscar in the world with the engine in the wrong place! (dixit Jeremy Clarkson ;-) )
    People actually love the wonky BMW boxer engine (me too, lovely engine), and they differentiate themselves with their strange front suspension and ugly beak.

    Mind you, by the time the masses will all ride on euro bikes, then there will already be an underground movement of bikers, looking for that little bit extra or unique.

    This is of course assuming that the euro and usa economies stay on top of things, which is quite uncertain to be honest. I think there is a big chance that many of us will ride 125’s, scooters, etc…instead of the latest bologna bomba in the not so very far future.

    I would love some major manufacturers make more frugal, small, fun, good quality, exciting motorbikes…we used to have things like an SV650, SZR660, etc…no fuss, big fun. At this moment we have the new 2012 KTM duke 690 mainstream bike, but nothing from any major brand (mt-03 is way overpriced). Huge potential there i think.

    cheers
    jan

  25. Bruce says:

    Occasionally I’m asked “I thought you were a died-in-the-wool Honda guy, what happened?”. Rather than taking the time to explain my answer, I can simply direct them to this article.

    Yes, I was a brand-loyal Honda enthusiast for years. Among the many Hondas I have owned were several early VFR Interceptors, a Superhawk, and an RC51. Had Honda continued to update the RC51 in the manner you describe/illustrate, there is a good chance that I would have continued as a Honda customer. Unfortunately, as you have written, Honda lost their way. In turn, I switched my brand loyalty to Aprilia and now have both a V-Twin and a V-Four from that manufacturer.

  26. Chuck says:

    @kostritzer

    So true – this was the same company that brought us the NSX and S2000 – didn’t mean to turn to cages but just making the same point about Honda – having owned a v4 Magna

    Great article!

  27. G.Irish says:

    Well for the Japanese brands in general there are two major problems. With higher end bikes like your supersports they don’t do a very good job of selling the sizzle with the steak. All of them follow the same marketing playbook and none of them do a good job of differentiating themselves. Every time a new model comes out it’s “faster, lighter, forged on the racetrack, yadda, yadda”. But what do they do to cultivate and nurture brand loyality? And more than that, what do they do to build their brands as objects of desire, even for people who don’t own bikes yet? Suzuki has achieved that with the Busa but I’d say that’s about it.

    But really the bigger problem for the Japanese manufacturers (and Harley) is that they’ve largely ignored the lower end of the market. It’s only recently that Honda and Kawasaki have made a desirable and stylish 250 cc motorcycle to bring people into the sport.

    Even then, neither one of them is really marketing that bike very well to the huge pool of people who aren’t actively trying to get into the sport, but would consider it, given the right product and right message. They gave up on those “nice people riding a Honda”.

    I think it would be fantastic if Honda made a new v-twin or v4 RC. But that’s still an expensive bike for an elite niche. As far as product I think they need to make more cool bikes in the CBR250 price range and get new people into riding motorcycles, especially young people.

  28. MikeD says:

    @RJ:

    I don’t see “The creators of the reliable/cheap enough I4 for mass comsuption” letting go so easely of their “darling engine”… and specially dropping a model so iconic as the CBR-RR itself.
    Yes, i know they have a strong V4 Heritage and know-how of it but so is the same with the I4 and all it’s CBR-RR fan-boys followers that would cry and moan if it were to dissapear.
    C’mon Honda…proof me wrong, bitch slap me and drop that steril I4.

    @Ed Gray:

    Compared to the 1199…yup, a little ancient. Not dissing it at all, as i own one…(^_^)…just keeping it real.

    @Jeffy:

    U got it man…we all need* “new stuff” to keep motorcycle ADD at bay… to keep that flame of motorcycle lust alive…that desire that would make a SANE Man walk into a dealer and splash it’s hard earned $$$ on some new 2wheeled pride and joy.
    And what better way to acomplish so than by kicking new xciting hardware out from time to time ?!

    I think Kawasaki is trying really hard of all the Nihongo OEMs…(^_^)

  29. MikeD says:

    @ G.Irish:

    All good points.

  30. Jason says:

    Great article and as you point out there’s a lot more to the story than branding.

    For starters, the word growth is relative. Yes, many of the European manufacturers have made gains in the US market the last few years. But when you consider their over all volume it’s nothing to get too excited about. And it’s not really surprising either, the Euro brands have always been “enthusiast” brands. The fluff buyer in the US will always be attracted to either HD or an inexpensive Japanese motorcycle. With the fluff buyers all but gone it makes sense that the Euro brands are going to maintain a larger percentage of their customer base.

    Price is the next big hurtle. This isn’t an economics forum, but obviously the world economy is changing things quite a bit especially for the Japanese. Euro brands have always been expensive, the fact that they still are isn’t going to scare anyone away. The Japanese on the other hand are being caught out by a rapidly strengthening Yen which is forcing the US distributors to increase their prices for the US market. Despite the fact that the Japanese build a better motorcycle from an engineering stand point, the consumer still sees them as “cheap”. Prices go up, volume goes down and the end result is less money to develop new models. So instead of a brand, spanking new YZF-R6 every two to four years you end up keeping the same platform for what, going on seven now?

    Lastly, at least for the purposes of this post, emissions standards in the US are destroying consumer perceived development, specifically for the Japanese manufacturers. Every European brand sold here easily flies under the 10,000 unit ceiling when it comes to emissions so they get away with a lot more especially the new noise standards that have crippled bikes like the YZF-R6 and ZX-10R. BMW can put a Taiwanese motor in the S1000RR and launch it into this market with all cylinders firing, the Japanese simply can’t do that because of the much tighter government standards they must meet. So as the government continues to tighten down on the big manufacturers the perceived gap in performance between the land of the rising sun and its euro counterparts will get smaller and smaller. If the requirements were the same across the board the picture would be much different. Basically, it pays to be small in today’s market.

    The only good news in all of this is that to survive manufacturers will have to build new, exciting products that keep the core enthusiasts entertained. It doesn’t matter how good your branding is, if your product is stale you will fall behind. I just hope that everyone can weather the storm as a loss of diversity in the market place will hurt the industry and consumers alike.

  31. Fernando says:

    Your articles are always spot-on!! I´ve had several sport bikes over the years. Currently, I own a track-prep 2010 GSXR 1000 and a 2011 ZX10R for the road. Amazing bikes, with their poweful 4 cylinder engines (not to mention the Ninja´s electronic package!)… But, the 3rd bike is the one that makes me feel especial: a Triumph Speed Triple. Its 3-cylinder engine is not as powerful and smooth as the japanese bikes, its gear box is reminds me of my first 5occ bike of 30 years ago, etc. But, it is the one with a kind of romantic aura around it (pls, don´t start laughing to loud…)… iconic and soulful in its retro looks and raw nature. That is the one my wife doesn´t allow me to sell… should I say more?? You guys are the best!

  32. CB77 says:

    Mr. Beeler,

    As an American Honda Motor Co. employee, I can state that you are totally wrong on your thesis as to why Honda dropped the RC51. It was not because it was fighting the CBR’s in our lineup for sales (and hurting their sales)…it was because we got to the point to where we could not give them away. Then, we could not even get the dealers to stock them. Nice try,though.

    Much of Ducati’s appeal is the same as HD’s appeal…snobbery. That is hard for a Japanese maker to capitalize on.

  33. MikeD says:

    SNOBBERY U SAID ?!…THE NERVE…LMFAO.

    How can u accuse Ducati of SNOBBERY when the SP1 & SP2 efforts where left to die, YES…DIE a ROTTING death…when they(Honda) kept injecting life($) on the rest of the line up instead of keep refreshing and improving the breed ? !

    Nothing personal my man…my BEEF is with Hon(duh).

  34. mxs says:

    So you are saying, not enough sales at Honda’s asking price killed RC51? I will respectfully believe that you are Honda’s employee …. so I will play along.

    Your answer is an admission to the fact that you cannot sell snobbery, but Ducati, HD, KTM and Aprilia can and successively so in times when the economy is not at its best. Why not to learn something from them, rather than call it quits and basically only focus on I4 based units with an exception to VFR1200 (and thumpers in small cc classes) …. but that is 1200cc!!! and somehow sold only in sport touring trim.

    Why is it hard for Japanese makers to capitalize on snobbery (or willingness of buyers to buy smaller and lighter sport bikes, like VFR400, back in a day)???

  35. MikeD says:

    P.S: How did Honda xpect’d people to by some outdated product like is all good ? !
    Give them away ? Were u blind ? Did u ever see the MSRP on these thing ?! Even when they where being fhased out they were filthy xpensive…why settle for same or pricier stuff when u can get more(ligther CBR-RR) FOR THE SAME $$$ ?

  36. kostritzer says:

    You guys were giving away RC51’s? No one told me! I would have gladly taken one!

    Of course you couldn’t get rid of them, they were hardly changed for 6 years! The 06’s were still rockin’ non-radial brakes(not that there’s anything wrong with them) for Soichiro’s sake!

  37. kostritzer says:

    I saw nothing “snobby” about the new Panigale, except for the fact that it is plainly bad ass, and I’ve never been a huge fan of Duc’s either!

  38. CB77 says:

    By “giving them away” I am referring to slang that dealerships use when they try to sell something at absolute cost, and still cannot move them. We did put some pretty big Bonus Bucks on them right at the end, to help the dealers get out from under them.

    Yes, you are right, we did little updating on that bike. But that was largely because Honda Japan could see the handwriting on the wall (as far as the sales trends) and did not feel that it was a good investment to put more development/updates into the bike…of course that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sounds like most of you on this board would violently disagree with that decision. If it makes you feel any better, I hated to see that bike go away too.

    By “snob appeal” for Ducati and some of the other European brands, I am referring to the low production numbers from those makers, as opposed to the Japanese makers. You are less likely to “see yourself coming down the street” when on a Ducati or Triumph, than on a CBR600RR, etc.

    Since some of the appeal is scarcity…it is hard (impossible?) for Japanese makers who are (and only want to be) volume makers. So, by definition, you can’t be a “volume maker”, and then try to market “scarcity”
    as part of a bike’s desirability.

    Someone mentioned the adverse effects of the dollar’s fall against the yen. They were spot-on. You would be in awe of the stuff Honda could still do if the dollar was still at 180 or 125/yen, compared to today’s 75 – 78/yen. Just be glad you were around to enjoy that golden age when Honda could (and often did) just about whatever they wanted to. We will not see those days again.

  39. TonyS says:

    Just a thought on the Honda appealing to the premium sportsbike market. Maybe the could take reference with
    the Automobile industry. Especially the Japanese brands that have created ‘premium’ or ‘luxury’ brands to reach up to a higher end customer and ultimately compete with Euro brands:

    Toyota = Lexus
    Nissan = Infinity
    Hell, Honda even does itself with Acura.

    Similar example is Dodge putting the Viper back into production, however it will not be badged “Dodger Viper”, but but rather The SRT Viper. Thereby developing a separate brand, disassociating itself from it’s core shitty car line up.

  40. CB77 says:

    TonyS,

    An interesting suggestion…but I think it would be really hard to pull off. I can already hear the derisive comments on the showroom floor from the “Europhiles”: “Aw, hell…that’s just a re-badged Honda”.

    As you know, Honda has not been very successful in their attempts to do what you are suggesting with their Acura line, for that matter, neither has Nissan. But, Toyota has made it work pretty well…so it can be done. But I think motorcyclists are much harder to fool than luxury car drivers.

  41. TonyS says:

    What about true Honda/Bimota collaboration?

  42. Westward says:

    I never thought of Scion as a luxury brand of Toyota… As an employee of Honda, I think you are a little jaded my friend…

    As for “snobbery”, again you reveal yourself with that statement.

    I bought a european bike that had steel braided cables, Brembo brakes, an immobiliser anti theft feature, headlight flashers, an instrument panel that made the ones on Japanese bikes seem antiquated, and pair of exhausts, that look like rebranded Remus pipes… And I bought the cheap one.

    An employee at a big box motorcycle retailer, that obviously did not sell european bikes, thought I had it customised. I still paid less than Japanese 600cc bike.

    Motorcycles like Harley, define an era, a style, the american cruiser. Triumph embodies the cafe racer. Ducati, a revolution in racing pedigree with the likes of the 916, and nostalgia of the naked style with the Monster…

    Japanese bikes main identity is utilitarian. Provide affordable transportation to the masses, and since they have the budget, attempts to capitalise on the identities of their european or american competitors (ie. the RC51)…

    Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Panasonic, and Sony are all interchangeable and they all make the same sound. Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s my friends ZX-10, my neighbours mower, my girls blender, or my electric toothbrush, but I know it’s something like that…

    I wouldn’t mind having one of those Honda 250r’s, but rather wish Yamaha made one, as a bike I could run errands around town…

  43. CB77 says:

    Your Honor, I rest my case…

  44. Minibull says:

    @ G Irish: “It’s only recently that Honda and Kawasaki have made a desirable and stylish 250 cc motorcycle to bring people into the sport.”

    Have you ever seen, heard, or rode one of the late 80’s/early 90’s 250 4 cylinder maniacs? That in my eyes is a brilliant 250, excluding 2 strokes here.
    DOHC 250cc, 16 valves, 45hp, and 19,000rpm. Classic 80’s sportsbike looks too and could crack 190kph. The CBR 250 RR even had gear driven cams…i mean come on…

    What is great about them is that you can feel like an absolute nutcase on the road, with the amount of noise they make. But then your only doing 120kph when you look at your speedo. Plus around corners you can keep with anything. And surprisingly, they can rack up some big mileages. A mate has one with 110,000kms on the clock. Regular servicing and shes good to go.

    3 links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI2bIBiwUxc&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPkSq2o6kq4&feature=related

  45. wreckah says:

    ducati monsters are hardly scarce. There’s millions out there, and each and every one feels special to their respective owner. They are cheap too. ;-)

  46. MikeD says:

    Holly Shit Batman ! 19K rpms ?! That’s F1 Neumatic valve train territory right there…and ur saying these are ” old bikes ” ?!

    It’s officially official…we(USA) have always got the short end of the stick when it comes to motorcycles. I know, i know, im generalising too much but that’s how i felt after watching those cool little rockets go at it.

  47. Minibull says:

    Those little 250’s are what started the passion for sportsbikes with me. Such good fun, and still a fair few of them around. Most stopped production round 1993-4 ish, so yeah they are quite old.

    While many learners and riders arnt into the sportsbike side of thing, I dont see why they need one of these new generation 250’s to get them interested. There are stacks of bikes out there for the commute/general town riding. They even took those little 4 cyl 250’s and dropped the revs out on them and detuned them for naked town bike use. Still doing 14,000 odd rpm though.

    Did the USA get any of the 400’s from that period?

  48. It seems to me that their focus has shifted and they are not as interested in western markets anymore but are instead focused on smaller cc bikes for emerging markets. Bikes with Higher sales volumes which people ride for mainly practical rather than emotional reasons.

  49. MikeD says:

    Up to where i know all we got was the middle finger with a big Red Bow for Xmas…when we behaved like little good sacrificial lambs…LMAO.

  50. Long Beach Show says:

    I asked both Honda & Suzuki factory rep at the 2011 Long Beach Motorcycle show a few weeks ago, why no factory funded clubs like HOG (Harley owners group, which is staffed almost entirely by volunteers) to bring in the camaraderie in existing owners & foster the mystique that is the brand to new would-be owners, their response was incredulous at best, irritated most likely.

    I pointed out to them look, Yamaha STAR owners group has volunteer members manning a BOOTH at the show!!! A few yards away!! Why not do the same???

    They said, after a little persistency on my part, the reason is NO FUNDING. I again pointed out the value of brand identification, & not just appliance like efficiency this article succinctly illustrated; further, I gave an example to these reps (4-5 in my audience): there are far more people owning Harley t-shirts than owners of Harley bikes. Is it like that with Honda? Suzuki? Consensus? No.

    Sad.

  51. A very thoughtful and well-presented perspective. Your article raises the question of how Asian, European and American cultures see branding in fundamentally different ways.

    Having experienced the challenges of Brand Management in these specific markets, I would suggest that it’s not that the Japanese don’t ‘get it’ in terms of building strong brands. They have a number of successes that testify to that view.

    The Gold Wing is an icon, as are a number of Japanese bikes. There is a very strong community of Gold Wingers who are as passionate about their favourite, as any HOG rider or Ducatista.

    Turning the equation on its flip side, has an American or European company built an equivalent to the Rune, for example, which defines a class all by itself? Japanese companies have invested in leading edge technology while building thoroughly reliable motorcycles. They do occasionally present ground-breaking designs; but is correct to say that they don’t do ‘niche’ bikes the way the Italians do, for example.

    Conversely, the iconic machines from H-D, Ducati, Triumph, etc, can’t be duplicated, nor should they be.

    The beauty of the motorcycle world is that there’s a ride for every taste. Of course we’d love to see adventurous models like the one described here. But who would buy them?

    A good read from you, as always. Thanks for your consistently excellent work.

  52. CB77 says:

    Long Beach Show,

    I wish what you are saying about factory-funded owner’s groups or clubs was true…but it is not. Honda has spent far more than either HD or Yamaha the past 20 years (over $100 million) on the Honda Riders Club of America (HRCA). Their support includes countless trade shows and demo-ride events, “Ride for Kids” Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation charity rides, training units supplied for M/C rider training and the development of Riding Simulators for additional training.

    What did this $100 million yield us? Not much…with sales declining from over 800,000 units to about 150,000 this year. That is why you see less emphasis on this by Honda today. The HOG group is successful not so much because of the investment made by HD, or anything else special they are doing…it is because of more of a herd mentality with HD riders. When you buy a Harley, you are paying for membership in a social club. Not that that’s a bad thing, as Jerry Seinfeld would say.

  53. JoeD says:

    Japan is an island nation with a “We all must do it the same so as not to offend any one” mindset. Go to Guam and watch the Japanese tourists ride the rental jet skis. One leader and a single file train behind. No individualism. But then, that may also apply to the HD folks playing pirate dress up. Wait, hows about us Euro Boys with matching leathers, helmets and bikes? Seems we all have a niche to fill.

    Having been involved with motorcycles over 40 years, it seems no one from Japan knows how to build an original “This is what we do” vehicle. It all comes down to how many can we sell. No passion for the product, just love of the almighty dollar.

    Do yourselves a favor, go ride a Benelli TnT or Tre K and compare to anything from Japan. Sure, they are only machines but it is the FEEL of them that is so elusive and real. The Ergonomics are perfect. Power is more than adequate. I have access to every bike imported to the US and the Asians just do not make a bike for me. No wonder my SL100, CB125, KH400, GPZ550 and GPZ1100 have gone away. What remains are the Norton850, Guzzi Mille GT, Guzzi Sport1100 and the Benelli Cafe Racer. Wish I still had the 750 Trident. BTW, all of which have been copied by the Japanese. Except for the charisma.

  54. CB77 says:

    Hey JoeD,

    I think the original CB750 pretty-much defined the statement “This is what we do” by Honda. As did this list of milestone, segment-creating models:

    CR250M, GL1000, CBX, CX650Turbo, VF750F, VF1100C, VFR750R, CBR900RR, etc, etc.

    The problem is that these exciting, breakthrough models were created when Honda was a motorcycle company that sold a few cars…now we have become a car company that sells a few motorcycles.

  55. sunstroke says:

    The Japanese ‘commodity’ market for motorcycles is worthwhile for consumers and corporations alike, and I hope the Japanese continue to make sportbikes for blue-collar layman who doesn’t have a six-figure income.

    The problem with Japanese bikes is that they play to the commodities segment, but they are not commodities. Prices have risen approximately 5% per annum, yet their target market in the US is getting increasingly poorer as wages stagnate, and people stay in school longer and accumulate more debt. The move to 1000cc, the frequent engine redesigns for WSBK, the incorporation of fuel-injection, and the appreciation of the yen have put the Japanese in a lurch. Loose credit helped mask the problem, but Japanese sportbikes are too expensive to be commodities, and their brands are not developed enough to go upscale.

    The Japanese need to reduce the size of their engine portfolios, and they need to use tricks like engine scaling (750cc triples, 500cc twins) to increase the number of interchangeable parts between various engines. Additionally, the Japanese need to show the NA market some love by opening manufacturing facilities in the United States so we can all be protected from fluctuations in yen/dollar exchange rates.

    If Walmart started charging Neiman-Marcus-prices, they wouldn’t be in business for long. If the Japanese want to continue building bikes that are accessible for all, the price needs to reflect their ambitions. Five-digit-prices should be against company policy.

  56. CB77 says:

    Reducing the size of our engines would not save very much…the small difference in production costs between a 1000cc bike and a 500cc bike would surprise you: only a savings in the $100’s not the $1,000’s. A 500cc bike requires the same amount of parts, machining and assembly as a 1000cc bike…that’s where the bulk of the production cost is. Yes, a twin costs less to make than an inline 4 or V4…but they have been tried by several Japanese makers with poor results in the market.

    I do agree with your premise that there is too much fixation in the U.S. market with 1,000cc to 1,400cc bikes. I think that is part of what is wrong with the M/C market now…as regards to attracting new, younger riders into the sport. These potential new riders see the prices on the large-cc bikes, know that they can never afford one, and just say “screw-it”…never considering a less expensive, smaller-cc bike. Because it has become “uncool” to ride a smaller bike…even though they would have a great time if they bought one. I learned a long time ago that you can have way more fun riding a small to mid-size bike at 100%, vs riding a 1000 or 1400 at 60%. It amazes me that you can go into any Japanese maker’s dealership today and buy a street-legal Sportbike that could have won Daytona just a few years ago. This has not been a positive development for our business, or our sport.

    As to your comment that we should try a U.S. M/C manufacturing plant, Honda already did that for 30 years, starting in 1979. That factory was recently converted to Honda Auto production, and all the workers retrained and kept their jobs…so don’t start bitching about that. That U.S. M/C production was transferred back to a new state-of-the-art factory in Kumamoto, in an attempt to maximize the efficiency of that factory (and contain bike costs). Honda’s timing for that was poor, with the bottom falling out of the $/yen rate just as this transfer was made.

    The future of the M/C business for the Japanese makers is not in making the kinds of bikes that the people on this site are hoping for (me included). It is in making step-thru 50cc bikes and scooters and 250’s for developing countries that are hungry for such models for basic transportation…not just for recreation, as used here…sad, but true. As I said in an earlier post, just be glad you lived this golden era of Japanese bikes…we will not see it again.

  57. sunstroke says:

    Reduce the size of the engine portfolio, the number of engine variations, and the quantity of unique parts required to build current models. Engine scaling can help them reduce the size of the portfolio, imo, by making 750cc triples and 500cc twins that use the same bore-stroke as the 1000cc Superbikes.

    The Japanese have never built sportbikes in the US to my knowledge, and that’s why they are susceptible to currency fluctuations and drastic sales fluctuations.

  58. machinerage says:

    cb77, i hope you are wrong and honda does build inspiring machines again.

  59. kostritzer says:

    I wonder what costs Honda more, an interesting but expensive bike to build or a cheap and boring bike that doesn’t sell?

  60. sunstroke says:

    Boring and cheap are intertwined? I’m sorry. You’ve been whipped by the marketers.

  61. kostritzer says:

    @sunstroke

    By cheap, I mean mass produced. For example, a 250cc single vs. a 250cc 4-cylinder. Or, say a 1000cc V4 vs. a 1000cc inline 4. I know very well that small displacement sportbikes like the CBR250R and the Ninja 250 are a blast to ride. Compared to my old NC30(VFR400) however, they’re not even in the same league, and are basically “throw away” bikes after a few years. I didn’t need to be whipped by a marketer to figure that one out.

  62. kostritzer says:

    In fact, Honda currently sells the VTR250 in Japan with a modernized version of the old V-twin VTR250 engine. It looks a little like a Ducati Monster with its trellis frame, but it also looks like it wasn’t quite “built to a price” like the Ninjette and current CBR250R. http://pictures.topspeed.com/IMG/crop/200902/honda-vtr-250_460x0w.jpg

  63. CB77 says:

    kostritzer,

    Yes, our old VTR250 was a neat bike…lots of fun to ride, and it would blow away the current CBR250R. But we couldn’t price it to sell here in the U.S. when the yen was at 180/dollar in the late 80’s…so we sure can’t price it to sell here with the yen at 77-78/dollar. That is the crux of this whole problem.

  64. MikeD says:

    Sunstroke said:

    I know very well that small displacement sportbikes like the CBR250R and the Ninja 250 are a blast to ride. Compared to my old NC30(VFR400) however, they’re not even in the same league, and are basically “throw away” bikes after a few years. I didn’t need to be whipped by a marketer to figure that one out.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    ROTFL…Priceless (^_^)

  65. mxs says:

    CB77,

    thanks for being able to keep the discussion civil.

    I hear you about the yen/dollar issue, but at the same time I do know that the VTR has still been sold for many years down under and I doubt that the AUD is doing much better than USD. Anyways, sometimes the decisions to bring or not to bring bike to North america doesn’t always makes sense to us, people on the outside.

    I am one of those nuts who would be willing to pay 2-3K extra for 250-400cc 4 cyl. modern bike. think of CBR250RR or VFR400. I am rocking FZR250 and can tell you that modern 600s do nothing for me. To me they are just what Camry or Civic is to cars ….

    I hope that not everything will become just ordinary stuff because dollar/yen tanked. The world cannot be as boring as that …

  66. Minibull says:

    I had an FZR250 3LN-1. I now have a GSXR 750 SRAD. The SRAD is easier to ride, obviously faster, more torque, etc. But I can never get into its powerband at around 9k rpm without being way over the speed limit here. The FZR could bang up through a few gears bouncing off the limiter coming out of a hairpin, screaming its head off while topping maybe 130kph. Just as much fun as a bigger bike. I sure will miss it.

  67. SuperDuck says:

    I work for a Honda (auto) sub supplier but ride a Ducati ( also have a old Yamaha). Why? From my point of view Honda has lost its edge. The new products have a lot of issues and the designs make no sense. It is like they have hired a bunch of college kids to design the parts but do not think on how it manufacture them. The passion for a quality part is not there anymore like it felt 5 years ago.

    I wanted a RC51( wanted a v-twin) but a good used one was around $10,000 (us), or I could by a new 848 Evo with almost the same power, less weight, better feel and style for few thousand more. Once I sat on the duc I know that is what I wanted. Sure I could have got a new R1, ZX10 CBR, etc for the same price but to me they had the same feeling. When I sat on them, the felt like a typewriter. Sure they are fast and well built but I did not feel the same way as when I sat on the Ducati.

    Also the dealership experience at the Japanese makes was like I was at Wal-Mart. It felt like they just wanted to sell me a bike and get me out the door, usually with a 2 year old bike but not a 2 year old price tag. But at the Ducati dealership I stayed and talked for over an hour on several occasions. Also they took me on a tour of the shop and introduced me to the mechanics, showed me the dyno room, and showed me their race bikes and a Desmosedici RR before I even bought the bike. I did not get that at a Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki , or even an H-D dealer.

  68. G.Irish says:

    When people talk about ‘the feel of the Ducati’ or how the Japanese bikes feel like appliances, all they are saying is that Ducati’s marketing has colored their perception. Put an 1198 up against a 1000RR. Notice that you can only see one external screw on the CBR’s fairings vs many screws on the Ducati. Riding the Ducati, notice how you get a good deal of heat on your inner thigh from the pipes (although some may like this). Check out the headlights on even new 1198’s, you’ll see condensation in there sometimes. If you look at the details the CBR is a more polished machine for a good deal less money. Granted it doesn’t have traction control or a digital tach, but the 1198 doesn’t have an electronic steering damper or available ABS either.

    Not to say the 1198 is a bad bike, it’s a great bike. But I think people are quick to discount the craftsmanship and precision that goes into the Japanese bikes like somehow they’re a bad thing. Or that because they’re easy to ride, that they’re boring. I guess that’s the result of the Japanese manufacturers’ shortcomings in marketing.

  69. CB77 says:

    The First Honda 750: Back when Honda was HONDA

    Dave Mungenast was one of the first Honda dealers in St. Louis, Mo. I knew him very well, and yes, I was privileged to be his rep for 6 years back in the 70’s. He was a tremendous motorcyclist, a good friend, and a very good man. I can still remember the first time I met him…it was the summer of 1969 and the CB750 had just come out. I worked for a Honda store in Columbia, Mo., and our shop had not yet received its first CB750. So one Saturday, some of the guys from the shop all decided to drive into St. Louis, because we had heard that St. Louis Honda had the first 750 in the area.

    We arrived at St. Louis Honda and walked into their shop (which was on Gravois at that time, just down the street from the current location of their museum) and met Dave in the showroom. About every 15 minutes, enough of a crowd of customers would build up in the showroom, that Dave would deem it was time to let them see and hear Honda’s amazing creation. He would walk them all back into the shop and fire up the 750, which was slightly elevated on one of the mechanic’s lifts…so the crowd could see it better. I can still hear that intoxicating 4-cylinder sound that I heard for the first time that day, and see the astonished looks on the faces of the folks crowded around the bike. It was a great piece of showmanship by Dave.

    I feel a little sad for the young guys coming-up today in our sport, because they will never have the electrifying experience that those of us had when seeing / hearing / riding our first CB750. Our sport (and society in general) has become so jaded and cynical, that no new model from any manufacturer will ever generate that kind of excitement again.

  70. RedNick says:

    That was truly an exciting time for all of us lucky enough to have been involved with motorcycles at the time.
    As you pointed out earlier, that was the golden era for many of us. Glory Days.

    It was much the same when the first CBX was released.
    The sight and sound of that six cylinder was unforgettable ! People lined up to see and hear that sweet six !

    It’s hard to imagine a new bike generating that kind of excitement today. I for one am hoping that Honda
    can once again find that magic combination someday. I keep hoping and looking, but haven’t seen it in a while.

    What kind of bike do you think it would take to even come close in today’s marketplace ?
    Maybe that is what we should be having a discussion about. What say you ?

  71. machinerage says:

    grew up with z50’s xr75’s, cb125’s, cl360’s, cb400 fours, all of which were owned by me or my group of friends. a friend’s uncle bought a new cb750 four early seventies model.i i’ll never forget one day when some of us were hanging around our bikes and my friend rides up on his uncle’s cb750 four. red. big bored. pipes everywhere. smooooth running. have lots of motorcycle memories over the years but none can match the thrill of seeing that red cb750 for the first time ridden by a friend of mine. and we were all of 16 years of age.

  72. CB77 says:

    RedNick,

    That is just the problem…I cannot conceive of such a new model, not just from Honda, but from anyone. There is quite a bit of buzz right now about electric bikes. Here is an earlier post from me with my thoughts on that:

    “I suppose you have also been seeing some info and pictures of Honda’s electric
    concept bike, the RC-E. Perhaps I am showing my age…but I am having a really
    tough time getting excited about electric motorcycles. For me, an awfully large
    emotional-component of my pleasure of M/C riding, is the interaction with an
    internal combustion engine: The exhaust note, use of the transmission, etc.

    Riding a bike and hearing only the whine of an electric motor would not be
    satisfying to me…regardless of its speed capability.

    Seemingly, the main reason for an electric-powered (or hybrid) vehicle is to
    lessen (or totally avoid) the expense caused by a gasoline or diesel engine that
    consumes large amounts of fuel.

    Since a motorcycle does not really consume large amounts of fuel (and in the
    U.S. they are 99.5% used for pleasure riding…not utility) it seems to remove
    all the need for an electric version. Maybe they need to be kept on the back
    burner, though, for when we do start to actually run out of gasoline and diesel.
    I doubt that I will still be around when that happens. But if I am…I guess I
    would take an electric bike over no bike.”

  73. Jake says:

    Though I don’t agree with the part of Japanese bikes or inline fours not having soul I do think this was a great article. To me I think the problem with the Japanese bikes is that they change too much and not always in the best direction. It’s funny how the press has two standards….one for Euro bikes and another for Japanese bikes. Euro bikes are praised for heritage (Even if there isn’t one) and hailed for not changing bikes…..while the same journo will slam a Japanese bike for not changing ever other year.

    The problem is that when the Japanese gets it right they never stay with that design. MV got it right with the F4 and rode that design out for over 10years before they modified and even then it was only a slight modification. But then you look at how often the CBR, R1, GSXR changes and it’s no suprise the bikes don’t have the following of say the Ducati. I loved the R1, the 2000 R1 was my first bike. and then they messed it up (IMHO) with the 02-03 line. They got it right with the 04-06 only to kill it again afterwards. To me the 04-06 was the R1 Yamaha should have stuck with from a stylistic point of view and build a following. But they didn’t. To me they also missed an opportunity with the R7 and not continuing with that bike if for nothing else a cult bike. Though there is no place to race it you have to admire that Suzuki still produces the GSXR 750.

    Anyway again I think this was a great article, but it shouldn’t be Euro vs Japanese. Ducati’s 1199 to me while not as bad as the 999 is heading towards the direction critics of the Japanese bike make. but anyway…..to be honest not one of the new bikes from bikes inspire me to purchase them. They don’t really interest me at all because I don’t care about the electronics and stuff. None of them speak to me on an emotional level. Never thought I’d be an antique rider, but guess that’s were I’m at. Though I can afford to purchase a new model, I’ll be looking for older classis Superbikes when I buy next year. They just seem more fun and interesting

  74. SuperDuck says:

    The feel of the Ducati is real to me, but i am not saying that there is no japanese bikes with feel either. I am not a long time Ducati/ European supporter, hell I used to think that the only people who road European bikes where yuppies, but I have fell in love with them lately. Sure your leg will get hot at a stop light, I do not care I live in a small town and do most of my riding in the country, if you keep it moving it will not get hot. It is not the most comfortable ride either, but being 6’5″ it fits me well enough.

    There is a ton of flaws with the Ducati, but that is the way I like it. It is like comparing a 440 six pack Road Runner to a Nissan GT-R. sure the Nissan is faster but I would rather have the Road runner any day. Playing around with the carburetors, adjusting the timing, doing big burouts and the sound that is what I am talking about. In the Nissan you just get in and drive the hell of it and that is it. I want to feel like the machine is alive not just a computer chip.

  75. MikeD says:

    @Jake:

    Wanna talk about wacking a good looking(IMHO) motorcycle with the UGLY STICK…?

    Look no further…Kawasaki…2004-2007 ZX-10R… come 2008… BAM ! Ugly stick for u…that think “got a face that only a mother could love”. Even the latest Gen is not that great an improvement…esthetically anyways.

    SuperDuck…we get it…u love(her)…faults or not…LMAO. No need to sugar coat her flaws…besides…ain’t u the one riding her ? LMAO.

  76. 76 says:

    - Riser Clipons
    – Plastic Reinforced Brake Lines
    – Run of the mill Street Tires
    – Bodywork that dosent come off without breaking tabs or an hour investment of time
    – A downtuned engine for ease of use and reliability
    – A super soft cushion seat again for comfort
    – Stock ergos that neutralize a racing position

    These make up Hondas Flagship supersport CBR 1000rr, a street legal race bike in theory, to bad everything I mentioned above has nothing to do with that. I think this elements alone have alot to do with the perception that Honda waters down vehicles for mass appeal, only 2 aspects above have anything to do with cost and could easily be offset by volume and the fact its a flagship.

    Honda will compromise a vehicle anyway possible as long as it makes sense to the executives making the decisions, always in the hopes of gaining volume or reducing cost.

  77. 76 says:

    Priceless JoeD

    “Go to Guam and watch the Japanese tourists ride the rental jet skis. One leader and a single file train behind”

    This statement is exactly why Honda is where it is now, the funny part, the countless meetings previous to renting the jet ski’s. The guy thats leading could have been 1 of 5 and he became the leader somehow without 1 single person making a decision they could be held accountable for individually.

  78. Chrome says:

    So what we are saying is that inline engines don’t have souls, and V engines do. Is that a function of their sound? What about the new R1 crossplane? That sounds awesome. Everyone bagged on it because it didnt have the power of the other superbikes, but honestly, who among us can legally use more than 150 hp anyway?

  79. I think the Japanese are on an arc where their broad expansion plans, having gone forward for the last 25 years have diluted their focus by designing products in the markets where they are sold. Consider the difference in the Italian designed/built CB1000R and the Japanese concieved/built CB1100, two entirely different takes on a one-liter ‘standard’ bike. Or think of the CB250R versus the broad 250cc-and-under range that they sell in India and other developing markets in China and Southeast Asia, where supposedly right now the money to be made is a virtual gold rush. This can lead to a dazzling, yet puzzling mix of products and manufacturing decisions: The same company that still makes Super Cubs will bust its ass to make large leaps in technology. And how exactly do you take that most American of Honda bikes, the evergreen Gold Wing, and close US production and move it off to Japan, where an already expensive motorcycle now has to be built under the very expensive JPY/USD exchange rates, and container’d back across the Pacific?

    As well, the Japanese farm individual machine development projects out inside the company as standalone projects. While this can result in terrific bikes, their is often no consideration of placing a company identity on these products, nothing that harkens back to former glories. The difference in culture often trades relentless engineering for any sense of brand culure. Interestingly, the Japanese revere Daimler-Benz, yet seem to gather no sense of D-B’s reverence for THEIR way of making their products say ‘Mercedes-Benz’.

    And styling? Why do I (or most anyone else besides their design team) want most of their new V4-powered products to look like JetSkis on wheels? WHO thought THAT was a good idea? Maybe the same crew that styled all the current Acuras? I’ve often thought they need to offer King Midas buyouts to their design department, and just go buy Pininfarina or Bertone. You NEED Italians drawing these things, not Manga or Hentai burnouts !

    Of course Honda is different from the days when Mr. Honda himself walked the halls. And as in all companies that were formed by strong creative personalities, the question is always ‘how do you fill those shoes’ or ‘get that mojo back?’. Not going to happen. What with the situation with the yen, the natural disasters in Japan this year, the world economic situation, etc., etc., it’s a tough time to dig out. But the good companies find a way. These are different times and a different world, and exactly what products will lead in the future, I don’t know.

    But somehow, I wish somehow Honda could once again find that delicious blend that they virtually owned for a lot of their history: Innovative engineering packaged in elegantly simple products that were delghtful to use and own.

  80. Sean in Oz says:

    Give me a cold, clinical, soul-less, powerful, starts first time, value for money, long service interval, mass produced Jap bike any day.

    With the amount of riding I do a euro/american bike would quickly run out of soul anyway … and we all know whats left then: a huge money hungry pit of frustration.

  81. MikeD says:

    @Sean in Oz:

    Amen Brother.

    @Chrome:

    Each engine got it’s Soul…now the question is……….WICH ONE talks to u ? U just have to find the architecture (I4, V2, V4, V6, F6, F4, F2, etc) that tickles ur pickle.
    The 90* V2 does it for me (2003 SV1000N).

    The Crossplane equipped motor is a beautiful take with a TWIST of what else can be done to the “BUZZ BOMB I4″.
    And if it was it so bad HP wise i doubt Yamaha would be still using by one on their “UN-obtanium” Moto GP Machines. Yes, it does ZAP Hp (do a search and u’ll see why), one of the reasons Ferrari uses FLAT CRANKs on their V8s, but not as much as people try to portrait it.

  82. Chrome says:

    I’m with you mikeD, my reference to the critique on the crossplane was largely from the supersport shootouts from the mainstream motorcycle news outlets who groused about the “lack of HP.” personally what tickles my fancy is anything innovative. V-4 with the aft cylinders together? Love it. Crossplane crank to fix high rpm inertia and power delivery issues? Love it. Dual clutch trannies? Awesome. What tickles me is people trying new things, and as such, I love the hub center steering concepts. Sadly I am not rich, so I don’t ride a tesi 3d or a vyrus, but a man can dream. Part of me wonders if what defines a golden age of something is the time when innovation flourishes as all the possibilities are explored, but once the basic set of well known answers has been determined, then it’s just plug and chug, turn the crank, and the innovation moves on to something else. Classic example of this is aircraft design. The golden age of aviation was the 50-60’s, when the cowboys of aviation were out at Edwards flying a new jet every week. Now the aerodynamics are so well sorted that the answers are well kneon, and the innovation is in things like super-critical airfoils, cfd, and materials, rather than over all aircraft layout. Look at the planform of an a340 and a 707, and they are nearly identical.
    Do we face a similar situation with motorcycles? How many new cylinder arrangements are there? The innovation has moved to electronics with suspension and traction control, which tells me we have moved past the basic innovation stage and into te refinement stage (with apologies to Ducati and their frameless motorcycle, which again, I am a huge fan of because it was such a bold step). Or maybe we don’t need radical innovation, we just need more variety besides 600’s and 1000’s?

  83. CB77 says:

    Interesting thoughts on Honda being too reticent to market themselves properly. You may be right. I guess it is a function of my long time as a Honda employee…but I liked it better back when Honda routinely dominated whatever racing venue they decided to compete in…and they had a very matter-of-fact air about winning, as if it was just expected…and it was.

    I guess it reminds me of one of the pro football coaches, I can’t recall which one, who admonished his team about excessive end-zone celebration after a touchdown…he said: “act like you have been there before”. That’s the way Honda acted back in those glory years.

    It seems that recently, there has been too much chest-beating by Honda (at least in messages to its dealers) about placing 4th or 5th or 6th in a race. And if they happen to get a finish on the podium, it is celebrated like a MotoGP win. This is more a factor with American Honda than Honda, LTD. Good thing Mr. Honda is gone…he would be looking for an ashtray to throw at somebody.

  84. RedNick says:

    I have to wonder how a 990 V-5 would have been received as a street engine. The design has been proven
    in Moto GP, with great success. Unique design, a Honda original, great sound…. Soul ?

    Make it 1000 cc, tuned for 150 or 160 hp, more than enough for the real world and should have typical Honda reliability in such a state of tune considering the race version had 240 plus hp.

    Could have been used in a sport bike , sport touring bike, or even a bad assed cruiser. leave off the variable
    valve timing or anything that makes regular service complicated ( expensive ). should NOT be a Moto GP
    Replica as Ducati tried @ $72000.00 a copy.

    I was really looking forward to a sport touring bike based on that engine in a very light, great handling,
    great looking package. Could have stolen a lot of sales from BMW. Is it too late to try now ? Probably.
    The window was wide open for a while. Could this have been another “CBX” or CB750 for Honda?

    Could have been a very unique, iconic Honda. Instead we have the new VFR with an automatic transmission.
    Not interested !

  85. Johndo says:

    Stunning design.

  86. Chrome says:

    And while we are at it, I want to see some more variable ergonomics. This is a big deal in bicycles, seems like it could work in motorcycling as well, though I grant it wouldn’t be easy. At the San Mateo show, one of the bikes had variable footpeg locations with a thread pattern in a plate. Thought that was cool. Love the v-5 idea too :) modular motorcycle based on a 1000-cc v-5? Could be anything from a naked streetfghter to a super bike to an aggressive sport touring bike (primarily solo, but maybe a lighter two-up).

  87. RedNick says:

    Hey CB77,

    How ’bout forwarding this Great Thread to ALL the Big Dogs at AHM ?

    Maybe it’s time they heard what we are thinking !

    We all know they could pull this one off….. Easily.
    Look at the new BMW 1600GT. Read the reviews. Think of a smaller, lighter Faster, more AFFORDABLE,
    Aggressive,even better handling , more comfortable Sport Touring machine with a Snarling 160 + HP V-5 !
    With adjustable footpegs, handlebars, seat height,windshield, iPhone compatible , large fuel cell
    ( 300 mile range ) Optional Electronic suspension and Mapping for various road conditions . HOLY SHIT ! Somebody get me a napkin !

  88. lumengrid says:

    Jensen! Hats off for you!

    With just one article you managed to touch the hearts of many riders, something that seems honda and others Japanese brands long forgotten.

  89. Random says:

    Sean in Oz says:
    “Give me a cold, clinical, soul-less, powerful, starts first time, value for money, long service interval, mass produced Jap bike any day.”

    Couldn’t agree more. However, I really don’t think jap bikes are bland, but I won’t bore you repeating my point’s (they’re above). I really can’t believe people calling a Fireblade a bland bike! It’s a race rep for god’s sake, I can’t really go beyond skin-deep in its performance envelope, and it’s even smooth enough for the street! You’re sure you’re calling the 2008 least-weight, most-hp bike manufacturer not Innovative enough? Well I shouldn’t remember you its the worst f***ing crysis since the 1930’s. Jap bikes used to have a 2 year update, 4 year complete overhaul cycle. It seems they’re just spreading the cycle’s time, and being no insider I have no clue what they’ll do next, but they never let it down in terms of engineering for performance.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the more bikes on the street the better, but riding my friend’s HD on the twisties I couldn’t cope with the early scratching platforms. It’s just a pity because the bikes look nice, handle well for the weight but the search for style affects too much my priorities in riding. Sure it has a soul, but in this case I’d rather ride a soul-less Honda Hornet (that just isn’t) in the twisties.

    You people pointing the currrent focus of japanese manufacturers has been the developing markets seem to have it right. No wonder, selling millions of small bikes every year and ever increasing(just a small dip after 2008). I add that you people that ride bikes just for the fun of it (no commuting) should wait for these markets to grow older. Many people in these countries will get cars later, but many others will be biking for fun, and as these markets shift so will the manufacturers’s priorities. Here in Brazil Honda only sold 1 million bikes of only one model (the CG125/150cc) in the past 10 years, 5 in all history. But recently bigger bikes have been improving on sells during the past decade’s positive economic climate, to the point we’re the largest Hornet market in the world. Maybe because local marketing is not shy of pointing the bikes’ qualities and showing off its euro (-centric? -inspired?) design in lots of premium-time TV ads. Fighting in prices help too, even if they’re are not the smallest. Maybe a succesfull case study for other countries… I just hope China and India get the “biking for fun” bug too, we in South America are doing our part for a world populated with better, faster, prettier (apologies for the tradicionalists but we likes euro/manga-like designs) and (why not) more soul and souless bikes, there’s room for everyone.

  90. JoeD says:

    I started with bikes in the mid 60’s and was initially drawn to the BSA scramblers, Triumph road bikes and the pinnacle of British cool-Norton. Of course, the Japanese stuff was available but the bikes were downright ugly. A Ducati 450 Scrambler is still on my list of must have. Bultaco, Maico and Husqvarna were desired as well. Sadly, most of the oldsters are gone. But not some of the foibles.

    I have worked for dealerships of every Asian marque and believe me, the Asians still build cheap. Frame tabs that rust on a humid day; ditto for the nuts and bolts. Remember the VF750C? The one with the inconsistent radius bends on the head pipes and non chromed areas on the mufflers that was supposed to be out of sight. The Honda Rep said “They were built down to a price” Excuse me? Is that why the Regulator/Rectifiers kept failing on the CBR models? Look closely and you will see oil seepage no better than those machines of years past. Cover it all up in expensive and fragile plastic and sell it a grand or so less than the other guys. What a deal!

    As for ground breaking technology, wasn’t the CX seies a copy of Guzzi? Wait, no, it had water cooling and 80 degree cylinders. We are not Copyists said Mr. Honda. Ducati had the V4 ready a decade or so before Honda. Laverda with the V6 was awesome. Ariel Square 4. AJS Porcupine. Nothing new under the (rising) sun. Aprilia seems to be doing well.

    Not every one wants the same thing (unless it’s a GSXR love fest at the drag strip). I apprciate a pedigree which is scarce when the models change so often or get canned after a year or so. The DN-01 went over well. It costs how much for a tune up?!! BTW, all of my bikes have had or do have traction control. Governed by my wrist and works very well. Brembo Brakes are OE for a reason.

    So Japan, Stop trying to do it all and build a Signature Model or few of each company (BMW Boxers will still be around after the new wears off on the six). And do it inexpensively, not cheaply. Perhaps the pedigree will follow.

  91. G.Irish says:

    @Chrome & @RedNick

    You guys were thinking exactly what I was, a V5 superbike would be exactly the kind of bike to get people extremely excited again. The first time I heard the RC211V in person was a motorcycle religious moment. Hearing that angry bellow approaching from over the hill at turn 1 at Laguna Seca was definitely one of my favorite spectator racing memories.

    I think had Honda come out with a V5 after Hayden’s championship in 2006, it would’ve been a smash hit. Wallets would’ve been set aflame, bras loosened and panties moistened. It would’ve been the kind of bike people would buy out of irrational desire, not simple power/weight ratios. Of course this is all assuming the bike wasn’t ugly (like the VFR1200).

    Now I think the window for a V5 is closed, I can’t imagine Honda releasing such a bike now. If they did though, it would inspire the sort of irrational purchases that make people lifetime fans.

  92. WetMan says:

    Honda should go back to doing what it does best: building powerful, state-of-the-art and utterly reliable motorcycles. They seem to have been infiltrated by second rate European designers that tell them that they should be building cheapo Italian bikes instead. And they have developed a nasty paternalistic attitude to biking in wanting us to go automatic. I don’t want a Ducati. They still have a terrible reliability record. And I don’t believe for a second that the Panigale has 195 bhp. Ducati’s never deliver what is promised in independent tests. And I don’t like automatic. If I did I’d buy a scooter. If 4-in-lines are so outdated, then why is the S1000rr doing so well? In essence it’s simply a souped-up German Fireblade rip-off…

  93. E.Lee says:

    How’s this for branding? Yamaha R6. Design fundamentally unchanged since 2006 and still winning championships around the world. I am on my third R6 and love it for its no compromise track oriented design and price point. If they ever added “lifestyle” branding to this bike it would just break my heart. That screams nothing more than making a cheap buck by selling style over substance. No, it does not sound or look like a Ducati, but when you hear one pinned at 16k RPM you know exactly what that bike is about. It has the soul of a racer, it delivers wins and that’s all the branding it needs to get my money.

  94. G.Irish says:

    @E.Lee
    You’re reinforcing the point. You like the R6 because of its objective qualities. By that measure, when the next razor sharp 600 comes out that has more power, less weight, and better handling, that will be the bike you go for. You haven’t built an attachment to Yamaha as a company.

    If your priorities change and you want something different, maybe you’ll get a Yamaha maybe you won’t. But what can you say about Yamaha as a brand that is different than what you can say about Honda or Suzuki as a brand?

    No one is saying that the Japanese should start prioritizing style over substance, just that they should sell the style AND the substance. That they need to be better about extolling the virtues of their ethos while appealing to the emotion of being a rider.

  95. DeezToolz says:

    Now, I’m no Colin Edwards, but if I was, I would ask for Honda to bring back the RC51, as per those sketches. Killer!

    And BTW, excellent conjecture, and very well-written piece, JB! Happy Holidays.

  96. rob says:

    This basic thesis of this article is way off base in three respects; Economics, Japanese lack of Innovative designs, and its very ethnocentric (American/European point of view).
    The basic thesis of this article is treated as fact, in fact, it’s all opinions. If the basic thesis of this article were based on facts the sales figures would be listed.

    The article makes no sense as to the economics of Motorcycle sales; short term and long term. European and American motorcycle sales are entirely based on large displacement and large sticker price. The rest of the worlds motorcycle sales are of the cheap, small displacement units. The total of Ducati and H-D sales represent a small fraction of Honda’s motorcycle sales, plus Does Triumph make any small displacement, cheap motorcycles, I don’t know, I’ve seen one.

    Finally and most importantly and in a very short period of time, the most important market for motorcycles will be in China, India .

  97. Sideswipeasaurus says:

    Great article & great kernel for discussion here. My .02¥:
    Why are evocative desireable designs and cost effective reliable engineering posed as mutually exclusive? I’m not buying the excuses. Where that balance is is where you find the sales winners. Euro mfgr’s are the ones bending more towards that goal than the Japanese. While the emerging markets look to motos with a more practical eye they certainly will want desirable designs to go with their smaller displacement run forever bikes.

  98. E.Lee says:

    @G.Irish

    You could say the same thing about style. If you are just buying a Ducati because of the way it is styled, and then they do something like oh… get rid of the dry clutch to make the bike simpler (read: cheaper), you may be less inclined to buy a Ducati because they have gone against their brand image. You may feel slighted and then move onto Aprilia, or MV Agusta, or whatever other Italian manufacturer has the latest exotic bike on the market. Look, so long as Yamaha continues to make the bike I want for the track I will stick with them, and so long as those Italian manufacturer keeps making the bike wealthy riders feel fast on at a stoplight the deep wallets will stick with them. But like love, brand loyalty can be fleeting.

    Personally, I don’t feel any of Japanese manufacturers can make an appreciable inroads into the exotic bike market even if they do change their styling. They would really have to pull a major redesign along the likes of the Toyota 2000GT and even then they would have to be very lucky to not wind up with a Lexus LFA instead.

  99. Mickey says:

    Does anyone remember the Honda NAS bike?
    http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/features/new_american_sport/index.html
    Can you imagine if they actually built it?

  100. Arion says:

    “A segment whose sales leader is almost invariably defined by two basic distinctions: horsepower and weight, a dangerous situation has been created where the importance of these objective attributes, the ones leading to the commoditization of Japanese sport bikes, are taking precedence and spurring a two-wheeled arms race that neglects subjective features like branding and lifestyle development.”

    I would argue that there is at least one Japanese manufacturer that has never gone for peak power or least weight at the expense of all else: Honda. Honda motorcycles have almost invariably been about balance; balance in all aspects of performance and quality. There have been times when they miss the mark but more often than not they nail it, even if their motorcycles don’t appeal to the majority. Even the misses are often the result of trying to realize some new innovation, some new market.

    There are those who repeatedly argue that they lack soul. Balance is at the heart of any soul with enduring strength. Just try to find an unbalanced soul, be it motorcycle or individual, that endures.

  101. Yeah Right says:

    Its a nice rendering and as an RC51 owner, yeah, they have soul. SuperDuck….You must have more money than common sense. The cost to ride that Duc is what drives people away! Their quality ratings are horrible as well.

    There is no better fit and finish in a motorcycle than a Honda.

    Would I buy a new V-Twin Honda Super Bike? Build it and let me know where the first deliveries will be.

  102. WetMan says:

    Apparently there are people here that think that Asians prefer small displacement bikes and that the japanese brands should invest their whole future in these markets with those kind of bikes.
    This a mistaken view. Given the choice, I am sure a Chinese bike fan would prefer a HD, BMW or Ducati over a Japanese brand any day. Right now they may not yet be able to afford them, but in 10 years time the small displacement Japanese bikes will be shipping to Africa and the Chinese will be buying high end. And those that still not can afford it will buy Chinese bikes. It would be unwise to underestimate the silent Chinese dislike for anything Japanese and it is very ethnist to think that Asians specifically love small displacement bikes. Why? Because they are small themselves?

  103. Rusty says:

    A while back when i owned my VTR1000F 2006 model, it was the last of its kind from Honda. This was after the death of the fuel injected models of the SP-1 & SP-2. which along with the normally aspirated VTR,s had a cult following. There was talk & even pictures of an all new Honda VTR 1200 cc fuel injected machine. This bike so it seems only made it as far as a concept b4 it too was scrapped leaving Honda with absolutely NO vtwin motorcycles for consumption in its production line. Was this a good move ? The SP-1 & 2 were the greatest sounding bikes on the road in their day & to purchase a second hand one TODAY, you still have to part with a small fortune. The VTR1000F was built with nearly no changes to its specifications for almost 10 years, was also a fantastic sounding bike & completely bulletproof in its reliability. The pictures i saw of the concept 1200cc VTR were AWESOME & it would have been my next bike had it been produced. In my opinion, HONDA this was an epic FAIL & the end of an era of Vtwins which were in direct competition with Ducati. The 1098, the 1198 & the more recent pinigale if that,s the correct spelling have been & probably will be a HUGE success for Ducati, they are like commodores on the road, thats how successful they were to Ducati. Honda, from a very disappointed customer, you made a big mistake by not continuing to develop & refine the Vtwin machine & the VTR1200 was a step in the right direction, you just have to look at Ducati,s success to confirm this………………………!