Hats off to these three
The motorcycle market seems to be having a bit of a Game of Thrones Moment - falling sales figures for the current year have led to a bout of ‘Winter Is Coming’ type negativity from lots of commentators. That’s not how I see it. I think the manufacturers are dealing with the challenging sales geography in the best possible way - they are innovating.
Three bikes from three manufacturers have particularly caught my eye - Yamaha’s Niken, Kawasaki’s Ninja H2SX and the new Gold Wing from Honda.
Its a bit of a beast
Let's start with the most controversial - The Niken - a bike that has already been covered on this site. The sheer level of engineering investment that this machine represents is staggering. Synchronizing those twin, independently suspended and pivoting front wheels must have had the cleaners at the Yamaha design office working overtime sweeping up all the torn-out hair. The fact that it all seems to hang together and work so fluently (at least from the videos we have seen) is a testament to how thoroughly well (and possibly over) engineered the finished article is. I can't wait to try one of these, even if I ultimately find the angular sci fi styling a bit of a turn off. Fortune favors the brave, Yamaha.
Mean Machine from Team Green
In the green corner we have a machine from that other brand whose body stylists are paid by the crease - the Kawasaki H2SX. If the unicorn-like and bonkers fast H2R stands at the pinnacle of non organic origami-like design, this new machine comes a pretty close second. However its’ engine is the attention grabbing feature. Kawasaki, never the most bashful about packing vast amounts of power into it's machines, have corralled over 200 ponies into the H2SX’s mill, but not via the conventional route. Nope, they’ve plumbed a supercharger onto their inline 1000 and called it a day.
Well, there's a little more to it than that of course - forced induction technology (turbo and supercharging) and motorcycle engines were never a marriage made in heaven. Partly because, with their light weight and high revving engines, motorbikes bikes have always enjoyed a healthy power to weight ratio, so there has never much of a case to be made for adding the weight and complexity of a ‘charger. Never mind the added cost and increased heat issues that forced induction tends to bring. However, the ever stricter European emissions regulations have led manufacturers to reevaluate how to extract the most from the least and Kawasaki has been able to package a supercharger in such a way that the pros vastly outweigh the cons. Literally. The result is a light (relative to class) and extremely powerful and torquey bike, which is what you need from a machine pitched to the sports tourer rider. Also, an H2SX owner is forever in the unique position to settle any bike related argument with the curtain closing words ‘yeah…, but mines' got a supercharger’. Kawasaki leading the charge then.
Honda's Continent Crusher
Over at Honda, it seems they must have also replaced the engineering teams' dispenser water with Monster Energy Drink™ (sigh, I wish that was a paid plug). As well as the amazing self balancing but nameless bike they introduced last month, they have reinvented one of their most important models - the Gold Wing. To say this is a halo model for Honda is not doing a disservice to an angels’ favorite accessory. Gold Wings represent the largest and most expensive model that Honda produce and despite having no evidence to prove this, I suspect it’s their most profitable too.
So, the stakes are high, but Honda's hand seems very strong. The new bike is 90lbs lighter, which itself signifies a radical engineering rethink in terms of materials and frame design technology, and features Apple Play (a first for a motorbike). The new ‘Wing also includes airbags and a unique double-wishbone steering and suspension setup that isolates the steering from bumps and dips in the road. Add in a 7-speed automatic transmission with a reverse gear and you have a two wheeled monument to engineering excellence. So much so, that journalists had to sit through a six hour technical briefing at the bike’s launch before throwing a leg over one! How very Honda.