We are well into 2015 and we now have a reasonable idea of what will be popular on motorcycle showrooms come spring. This year is shaping up to be the year of the 200hp benchmark in the Superbike world. The adventure market is showing its continued growth with yet more bikes coming to market, we are also seeing several important upgrades on the range of available adventure bikes and we anticipate the launch of Honda’s new adventure bike this fall as a 2016 model. However, the largest growth and vitality to the motorcycle market for 2015 could be a back to basics trend, at the scrambler side of things. Let’s re-discover the joy of riding, it seems to be telling us.
This is a first of three posts where I will discuss and highlight 2015 motorcycles in three areas: more power will cover a selected group of 2015 superbikes; more adventure will cover the latest trends in the top segment of the adventure bikes; and last, but definitely not least, in more scramble we will talk about hot new scramblers reaching the market and what could it mean for the industry!
More Power: Superbikes and the 200 hp Club
Why would you want to climb Mount Everest? people often ask climbers. Invariably his or her answer will be: because it is there. Same answer could be applied to motorcycle power. When I had my Honda XL250, with less than 20hp, I thought it had all the power I would ever need on a motorcycle. It was plenty good to jump ahead from a line of cars when that light turned green on a city traffic situation. Little did I know, although even then I innocently suspected a 350cc would be a better XL bike, how once I went up on the power ladder I experienced one other side about motorcycle riding, the experience of an engine’s power, and how addictive can it be.
Still, you don’t need to climb Mt. Everest to experience the thrill of mountain climbing. Any good mid-size street bike today will reach three digit speeds in very few seconds and the vast majority of riders will never push their bikes to their limit, or even when they do, it may only happen on a closed track with the appropriate gear and supports. The bottom line, however, is that power has always been the ultimate yard stick that defines who is on top of the food chain. The motorcycle industry is not an exception to the competitive nature that makes us humans. After all, horse and camel racing dates back from before cars and motorcycles were ever imagined.
I’m only stating the obvious here and I type these words on a mood ranging from contemplative to celebratory, if these two moods can be put together in the same gradient. Contemplative because one ought to ask: where do we go from here? Well, we already know we only need $50K and we can buy a turn-key 300hp motorcycle, although it is a track-only machine, you can wonder what is next? Celebratory because, well, the trickle down of technology from the race to the regular customer has reached a point where there is now a good the number of bikes reaching and crossing the 200hp line in 2015 and which not priced too far out of the park. Not that 200hp means really anything – it is just a nice round number – but not unlike when people talked about the “ton”, to describe the machines that reached 100mph – and that was quite the accomplishment several decades ago!
So, what are these superbikes we are talking about? Starting from the top, the highest peak to climb, the popular sensation on the international motorcycle shows this last fall was the Ninja H2 and particularly its H2R version. These bikes are about absolute power. In its H2 form (street version) the Ninja makes 207HP from its 998cc 4-cylinder in-line motor thanks mostly to a supercharger.
A Detour for Design Obervations: A few journalists observed on this bike the design cues reminiscing of a certain European superbike on the H2. I can see what they are talking about. Interpretations of the original never end up as good as the original, although the H2 will certainly demand a double take as it passes you by on the street. The fact that the H2 reminds us of the Panigale proves the point that the Panigale deserves its Compasso D’Oro prestigious award as it remains the one that established a new design paradigm.
If not for its design, the H2 demonstrates Japanese manufacturers are back at the leading edge of things motorcycle, leap-frogging past the European manufacturers on the power department. No other large motorcycle manufacturer offers a supercharged production bike! And although the H2 street version is rated at “only” about 207 HP, you and I know tuners have a recipe to follow. They need only to look at the H2R to know they can reach higher numbers for its street version. It could be insane.
The European Crew: While the H2 and H2R are a paradigm shift on raw power for production motorcycles based on the use of a supercharger, the Europeans followed, for the most part, a more evolutionary model for increased performance for 2015: slight power gain combined with slight weight losses on established models.
The Panigale gained incremental power and, as is Ducati’s tradition, evolved some more into the lightness of being. We can actually say the word “leggera” is always on the Ducati engineers’ mind, or any Italian motorcycle or automobile engineer for that matter. Outside of Moto Guzzi, that is. To achieve more power the Panigale gained about 100cc’s of displacement, and got re-badged as 1299. The 1299S model is rated at 205HP in a 420lbs ready to ride package, according to Ducati. The Panigale 1299S price starts at US$25,000, not your run of the mill machine.
In its R version, the Panigale retained its 1198cc motor (to homologate Ducati’s World Superbike race machine) but power is also rated at 205HP on a 406lbs package ready to ride (90% of fuel in the tank). Starting at US$33,995 this track only bike will end up on very few homes, not unlike the H2R.
In BMW’s camp, the successful S1000RR gained 6hp to reach 199hp and it happens on a 450lbs ready to ride package, that is 75lbs lighter than the H2. Although not quite reaching the 200hp club, the BMW is actually a bargain when compared to the above bikes, at a starting price of US$15,500 (with ABS) it is surprisingly affordable. However, you have to live with “only” 199hps. I’m sure some basic tuning will get you that one extra hp if you are so adamant about rules and want to join the imaginary 200hp club.
Then we have the Aprilia RSV4 RR. This reigning superbike champion would not miss its ticket to the 200hp club! Besides gaining one more letter to its alphabet soup name, it gained 16hp to its V4 motor and is now rated at 201hp. Subtract to that a fractional 3 pounds of weight it lost during the winter and voilà. The looks do not disappoint either, with only slight modifications from the previous year, it is still a sharp looking bike. It is also available on an Aprilia Race Pack including forged wheels and Öhlins suspension.
Back to Japan, there is Yamaha. At US$16,490 the 2015 R1 street-legal race bike will have a lightweight aluminum frame and an all-new 998cc four-cylinder engine that is expected to put out some 200 horsepower at the crankshaft. Looks good.
Overall, it is a nice club with a good group of bikes for riders craving power. The popular sensation of this group is, no doubt, the Kawasaki and its supercharger motor. How many people will actually buy the H2 bike? And for what purpose? Kawasaki and the other manufacturers on this exclusive club are well aware these bikes are for a select group of riders, people who, like the top mountain climbers, will want to experience no less a thrill than climbing the Everest of motorcycle power. If this purchase will serve for their owners to simply add a notch on their belts or for them to experience power in its various shapes it shouldn’t matter.
As mentioned earlier, the real unanswered question, though, is: where do we go from here? Is there going to be a reset button or will power gains continue to climb? Or how popular these bikes will be?
What we know is that technology is not a limitation for power north of 200HP for motorcycles, and of these powerful bikes become more popular, that could mean more bikes at this power range could become available, and more people will be riding such machines.
Not an answer to the question, but a recent Cycle Word interview with KTM Boss Stefan Pierer may point to either a need for self restraint from manufacturers to continue developing these bikes and making them available for the street or perhaps that legislators could be imposing limits soon. Here is what Stefan Pierer had to say about the 200HP issue (quote from Cycle Word, Vol. 52, Issue 7, Page 79, February 18th, 2015):
(…) I’ve been working for 15 years as President or Vice-President of ACEM (The Motorcycle Industry in Europe), the European industry organization. And I think if the politicians in Brussels had their choice, they would forbid motorcycles to use the public roads. They would like to ban us completely. But let’s be honest, if your Superbike is reaching 200 horsepower or more, it’s impossible to argue that it belongs on the street. It really doesn’t anymore.
What we can say is that reaching and surpassing the 200 HP mark is something to celebrate as these several bikes become available in 2015, showing what technology has allowed us to achieve and how it can be made available tot he public in reasonably affordable motorcycles.
However, it also calls the attention to legislators and their perspective on what can be considered an exaggeration. Who really needs 200 horsepower for street riding? The KTM CEO seems to be on task here and he clearly understands the safety side of this issue and possible repercussions of reaching this historical mark. That doesn;t mean KTM won;t develop a 200 HP motorcycle. On the same article he states a successor of the RC8 V-twin will be produced. Just that, he states, it will not be homologated for sale as a street bike. Expect that KTM Superbike to be ready for 2016 when the standard electronic systems rules will implemented on Moto GP.
The question remains: where do we go from here?
Soon we will have the next post on this series, More Adventure! where we will cover what’s new in the Adventure world for 2015. It is a segment that continues to grow and consolidate to a point where you could say it now faces an identity crisis! What is an Adventure Motorcycle?