As the weather starts to warm up, bikers can hardly wait to get out on the open road, but these are not the best of times for the motorcycle industry.
According to the Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council of Canada (MMIC), overall sales of motorcycles in this country in 2009 were down some 24 per cent compared to 2008. All the numbers for 2010 haven't come in yet, but the price of fuel, the economic downturn, the cost of insurance and flat-out lousy weather, plus other factors, have contributed towards lacklustre sales of bikes in North America.
Motorcycles are discretionary transport, remember, and if it comes to making a decision between that new minivan and a new cruiser, these days, the vast majority of people will be choosing the former.
That said, there are some new faces for 2011 and here are some highlights.
Perhaps the biggest news (literally) coming out of BMW Motorrad is the addition of the K1600GT to the lineup. This is a full-zoot, long-distance touring bike along the lines of the Honda Goldwing and, like its Japanese rival, has a six-cylinder engine for power. In this case, it's an inline configuration and the K1600GT can be had as a sport tourer, or two-up touring bike with all the goodies, including heated grips and seat, cruise control, ABS and an optional traction control system. This is reflected in the price; the sport version will set you back at least $24,000, while the tourer is getting near the $30,000 mark.
New for 2011 from this iconic Italian manufacturer is the Diavel, which is more than adequately propelled by a 1,198-cc twin that has a programmable mode built into it that allows the rider to choose his/her performance level. It can be dialled down to about 100 hp or up to more than 160 hp and there is also a "Carbon" model, that utilizes lightweight components to project, and I quote, a "stance of readiness, dominance, and confidence bordering on superiority." Price? If you have to ask, you can't afford it.
It continues with its successful variations on a theme approach, with the new Sportster Low, a new Road Glide Ultra tourer and the Blackline. This latter model is a pared-down Softail boulevard cruiser, with styling cues such as a bobbed rear fender, blackout paint, shaved fuel tank, and oversize rear tire. Power is delivered by a 1,584-cc V-twin and the Blackline starts at about $17,500.
The world's largest motorcycle manufacturer has the CB1000R ready to go for the new model year. This is a kind of high-performance naked bike powered by a 1,000-cc four-cylinder based on Honda's GP race bike - in detuned form - and can be yours for $14,000. Honda is also unleashing the Fury, a raked-out, stretched-out cruiser powered by a 1,300-cc, liquid-cooled V-twin also used in the VT series and priced at about $15,500. And look for a new 2012 Goldwing later in the year.
Few bikes have the same kind of status and currency as Norton. Brought back from the dead two years ago, this British-based company is offering the 961 Commando Cafe Racer for 2011. Classic air-cooled parallel twin engine with some 80 horsepower on tap, a five-speed gearbox and four colour combinations.
It recently introduced a new mid-size adventure-tourer in the form of the Tiger 800, meant to compete against BMW's F800GS, but, at around $10,500, priced significantly lower.
For scooter buffs, this Italian giant has a new model ready to go. The BV300 Cruiser, or Beverley, has a 22-horsepower single that displaces 280 cc and will give this mid-size scooter a top speed of at least 130 km/h. CVT transmission, of course, plus disc brakes front and back, and a purported price tag of about $6,000 to start.
And wait, is that a Harley bagger coming down the pike? Nope, it's the new-for-2011 Kawasaki Vaquero, a 1,700-cc cruiser/tourer based on the Vulcan series and equipped with a sound system, cruise control, hard bags, and options such as heated seat, engine guards, and auxiliary riding lights. It costs about $20,000 and joins a revamped Ninja ZX 10R, now with ABS.
Its big-bore cruiser, the M109R, is on the receiving end of a few upgrades for '11, mainly in the form of new instrumentation and paint, and the Hayabusa super bike also gets optional new paint, while the V-Strom 650 dual purpose is available with ABS.
Speaking of big bores, the Polaris subsidiary has a new throwback model for 2011: the Highball. Aside from having one of the best names in this market, the Highball has all the classic hipster cues: ape-hanger handlebars, whitewall tires, "shorty" fenders, blacked-out engine. Fifteen grand to you, daddy-o.
Its big news for 2011 is the Super Tenere dual-purpose adventure-tourer. Priced at $16,500 and powered by a liquid-cooled 1,200-cc twin, this is actually a 2012 model and aimed at serious globe-trotters. Also new from Yamaha for this year is an upgraded F8 sport bike tagged the Fazer ($10,999), and a long and low cruiser, the Stryker, which has a 1304 V-twin for power and a $12,400 price tag, and more attitude than Charlie Sheen on a bad day.
Clarification: Norton Canada says the 961 Commando will be available in Canada. Different information appeared in an earlier online version of the story.