|Yamaha's YBR250 sportbike|
The rest of the world is demanding moderate performance, high fuel mileage, multi-purpose bikes and that's exactly what I'd like to see here. When I did race, I was a 125cc motocrosser and I still have a special feeling for small, lightweight motorcycles. Like the Yamaha YBR250, a 21hp, fuel-injected, air-cooled, 4-valve 4-stroke single, electric start, 300 pound "naked bike." Or Honda's CBR125R, the XL125V Varadero, or the mid-sized bikes like the L700V Transalp and Yamaha's XT660X.
|Honda's XL700V Transalp|
Practically everybody but the US is drenched in Japanese small iron, from 50cc to 400cc models. Every once in a while, Japan brings in something half-cool, like Suzuki's TU250X, but they only make a half-hearted run at creating a market for this kind of practical motorcycle and they become disappointed easily. I half-suspect they take it personally. When we don't appreciate their finer works of engineering, they pout and blow off the substantial customers who are interested in those products.
|Honda's XL125V Varadero|
Kawasaki and Suzuki make a couple of interesting 125's that we don't get, but it appears that their days of cool small bikes may be declining. Suzuki has the DR125SM and Kawasaki has the Kawasaki D-Tracker 125, but they didn't list any interesting small street bikes on any of their 2011 ROW sites. Either Suzuki and Kawi are giving up on the modern motorcycle market, or they are waiting to see what happens next. That's not much of a marketing approach when playing it safe could be the same as handing off the future to those with the guts to go for it.
With the many problems motorcycling has--our crappy public image, mediocre fuel efficiency, noise issues, high prices, old demographic, and general lack of social value--small motorcycles offer a lot of solutions. Call them "starter bikes," if that makes you feel good about yourself, but many serious riders spend their whole riding lives on 400cc or smaller bikes. Getting great mileage, light enough for the smallest riders, versatile as a Swiss Army knife, easily maintained, and more fun to ride than practically anything else on the planet, small motorcycles are a solution to a collection of problems that haven't even been asked yet.
My current road bike is a 650 and it's bigger than I need for one-up touring. Most modern dirt bikes are too damn tall for me, as much as I love them. Many of the 250 street bikes that have been imported to the US aren't just starter bikes, they're kids' bikes. My 250 Kawasaki Sherpa is too wimpy for anything other than local commuting. My new best friend, a 2008 Yamaha WR250X is the closest thing to a perfect all-around motorcycle engine ever built. A few weeks ago, Andy Goldfine introduced me to formula that explains it all: L + S = MF. (Light plus Simple equals More Fun.)