All the major motorcycle manufacturers now offer a machine in the traditional category, be it a naked bike, or a standard-style motorcycle.
Triumph was one of the only manufacturers for a long time making a true “standard” or traditional bike in the form of the Bonneville and the Thunderbird. Mike Vaughan, CEO of Triumph Motorcycles (America) has watched this segment take off with no real definition and has his doubts about how the segment will grow. “I don’t see the standard motorcycle really making a comeback. It’s more a matter of semantics and not having a classification for, as an example, naked bikes. Are they standards or sports? An argument can be made either way.”
Even the bike manufacturers seem to differ in opinion. Yamaha's hugely popular FZ-1 is a YZF-R1-derived naked bike that is more sport than standard. Yet Honda offers two standards, the Nighthawk 750 and the aforementioned 919, which uses many components from the legendary CBR900RR, including the basic engine package.
Vaughan continues bringing up a valid point when it comes to actually defining what a traditional bike can do. “People seem to want their bikes to do something specific, and in all honesty, most sport bikes can tour and many touring bikes are sporty and so on. It’s a category for the category-less.”
Despite its blurred lines, Suzuki has chosen to concentrate on this segment with bikes like the Bandit 600 and 1200, the SV650 and now the new for ’03 SV1000. Mark Reese, Suzuki’s press relations manager, says, “It’s particularly important to have a good price point and balance that with good features and technology.”
Good features and technology yes, but a standard or naked is defined by its no-frills approach. How much is too much? And, as Reese points out, finding that balance with price is the challenge. These motorcycles seem to appeal to the pure enthusiast, the person who wants to ride for the sake of riding and nothing else. Where it can go from here is yet to be seen.
Upgrades will likely occur on the technology side rather than to the outward appearance of the motorcycle. As we saw with the relaunch of Triumph’s Bonneville in 2001, most of the changes to the bike were in the engine. The look remained the same.
The no frills mentality, therefore, actually limits the aftermarket for the traditional segment. Riders of these bikes are into bare bones riding. Not so with the sport bike segment. In terms of the aftermarket for sport bikes, the market is experiencing some growth, albeit slow and much smaller in terms of volume compared to cruisers.
David Dewey, president of Targa Accessories, has been in the sport bike aftermarket business since 1983. He says customers tend to make mostly cosmetic alterations to their machines with a few limited performance modifications. Accessories include seat cowls, undertail cowls, clear taillights and performance exhausts, exhausts being the one area experiencing the most growth, according to Dewey. “There are some new players coming into it who carve out a little niche here or there,” he observes.
He says the OEM’s and the sport bike aftermarket manufacturers have an interesting relationship. “The aftermarket is the cheapest R&D center for the OEMs, in that everything the aftermarket seems to do, if it becomes hot within a year or two and it’s legal enough, the OEMs make it a production item.”
He points out that lower cowls on bikes didn’t exist until his company and a couple of others manufactured them in 1983. “Then we were offering rear seat cowls and swingarm fenders, and now half the OEMs have those as standard on the bike. We have to keep moving the goal post coming up with new products.”
So there’s a short life span on sport bike aftermarket items. That market just like the sport bike market in general has high turnover of product, kind of like that fad shirt and pants that’s likely to go out of style in a few years. Sport bike makers are pushing the limits of technology each year. Bikes that used to have a service life of five seasons are often completely redesigned every couple seasons. The rising technological improvements force the primary rider, a 20-something Generation Y guy or gal, to shop for the latest and greatest hot new bike before the one they own is ready for its initial service interval.
Copyright 2003 Powersports Business