Small displacement bikes mean big profits

The few street-legal, small displacement bikes available on the market are serving a small yet relatively constant pool of consumers, but, for 2003, a number of new motorcycles are scheduled to join the market mainstays.
After 17 years of production, Kawasaki’s venerable Ninja 250R (MSRP $2,999) ranks among the best-selling, street-legal, small displacement motorcycles in the U.S. An older yet smaller brother to the Ninja 500R, the 250R remains popular with consumers due to what one Kawasaki executive describes as a low price point and its appearance of being a full-sized motorcycle, with a center stand, dual exhaust and full fairing.
“The 250R sells itself, and our dealers prepare to lynch us if we even breathe a word about discontinuing the bike,” says Mel Moore, motorcycle product specialist at Kawasaki.
Moore says the 250R serves many different types of consumer.
“You’re looking at people like students, entry-level riders, smaller riders, really a number of categories, although I’d say over a quarter of the machines are purchased by female riders. Its low seat height and low weight really inspire confidence, yet its price allows consumers to even put it on a credit card.”
The Ninja 250R may be the best-selling street-legal sport-orientated small displacement motorcycle in the U.S., but it is not the only such model available.
On-highway, small displacement motorcycles are categorized into three separate classes by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) — Cruiser, 0-600cc; Sport Bike, 0-500cc; and Dual, 0-250cc.
Bikes which also currently fit in those three categories include Kawasaki’s Ninja 500R ($5,099), KLR250 ($3,999) and SuperSherpa ($3,999); Honda’s Rebel 250 ($2,999) and Nighthawk 250 ($3,399); Suzuki’s GZ250 ($2,999) and DR200SE ($3,899); and Yamaha’s Virago 250 ($3,399), XT225 ($3,999) and TW200 ($3,599).
However, as attendees at the 2003 Dealer Expo will see, there is yet another batch of small displacements being prepared to grace showroom floors in the coming year.
Based in Augusta, Ga., AlphaSports has managed to grow its dealer network to 800 locations by offering scooters and youth-sized quads.
During 2002, however, in an effort to expand its product line-up to attract a larger consumer base, the company added a 250cc motorcycle it dubbed the Alpha V-Twin Classic. Now, for 2003, acting on the relative success of the V-Twin Classic, AlphaSports is preparing to add another couple of 250cc bikes to its stable: the Alpha 250 V-Twin Sport Cruiser and the Alpha GT 250 Naked.
The V-Twin Classic and V-Twin Sport Cruiser look to be miniature models of traditional heavy-weight cruisers, while the GT250 Naked could be mistaken for a down-sized Suzuki SV650. Prices for the two new bikes are not yet available, but AlphaSports’ David Turner told Powersports Business that he expects the V-Twin Sport Cruiser to become available in March and the GT 250 Naked to appear in April.
Made by Hyosung in South Korea, the three AlphaSports-branded motorcycles are each propelled via an 8v, DOHC V-twin producing 28hp.
AlphaSports is the exclusive U.S. importer of Hyosung motorcycles and the firm, along with the assistance of Hard Parts of Noble, OK, (www.hardparts.info) even offers parts and accessories to outfit its bikes.
Turner says target consumers for AlphaSports’ 250cc motorcycles include, “new riders, women, people who are smaller in stature, and even people who may be getting up in age.”
“It just felt like there was a niche there for people who don’t want a big, heavy machine and prefer something more user-friendly,” Turner said. “We simply felt that that niche wasn’t being serviced.”
Another newcomer to the motorcycle market is STR, Inc., Motorsports Division, the exclusive U.S. importer and distributor of product made by Kymco of Taiwan.
Based in Spartanburg, S.C., STR has over 25 years of experience in the powersports industry, yet began its relationship with Kymco in 2001. Traditionally a purveyor of scooters and small ATVs, STR is preparing to enter the motorcycle market with a V-twin it has labeled the Venox 250 ($3,700).
Already on the road in Italy and Germany, the Venox 250 is expected to be available in the U.S. by April. It is designed as a low-slung cruiser, and incorporates a number of styling cues more commonly seen on larger, pricier bikes.
“We do not expect the market to be huge for this size bike, but certainly there are entry-level riders, or perhaps women, who want a good looking motorcycle but do not need the extra displacement,” says Bruce Ramsey, director of sales and marketing at STR Motorsports.
“Even the Big Four keep their small displacement bikes in their line-up, so clearly there is a market,” Turner continued. “We would be pleased if we sold a few hundred the first year. And, if the market likes the product, perhaps we would add a few hundred for the second year.”
Yet another alternative to small displacement product offered by the Big Four comes from Germany in the form of a line of 125cc bikes from MuZ.
MuZ, imported and distributed by Motorrad of North America, sells the 125 SX and SM, as well as the RT 125, three 660cc dual-purpose bikes, and a line of scooters and youth-sized ATVs.
Although financed by Hong Leong Industries of Malaysia, MuZ motorcycles are designed and built at a facility in Zschopau, Germany (see MuZ, page 14).
“The U.S. wasn’t really the market MZ made the 125cc bikes for,” says Ray Campanile, Motorrad president. “In Europe, because of the licensing law, you would have to ride a 125 for two years before you pick up your motorcycle license. So Europe was actually the primary target.”
Campanile says the RT 125, a naked standard, is a popular model with motorcycle training schools, as well as with his customers in the Caribbean and throughout the southeastern U.S. “We have a guy in Bermuda that will only buy the RT, and they’re also doing very well in south Florida,” he said.
While MuZ bikes are not yet street-legal in California, testing was just completed on the 125 SM and SX, and Campanile says the two bikes should be CARB legal by late March.
Royal Enfield
Finally, for motorcyclists who may want a street-legal small displacement bike with a historical twist, Royal Enfield produces the 350cc and 500cc Bullet that will get a rider from point A to point B and turn heads doing it.
Built by Royal Enfield in India and imported by Classic Motorworks of Faribault, Minn., Royal Enfield’s two sizes of Bullet come in a choice of three designs — Classic, Deluxe and Military. Two of the most popular versions of Bullet include the 350 Classic ($3,495) and the 500 Deluxe ES ($4,395).
The firm also offers a line of custom machines such as the Clubman, Scrambler/Trials and ES (electric start).
Built via the same design plan for the past 40 years but using updated materials, the Bullet meets all U.S. Federal safety, noise and emission standards (except for California).

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