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Parallel Twins Take Over

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Kevin Cameron
Kevin Cameron (Robert Martin/)

As we picked up the economic pieces after 2008, we saw motorcycle sales plummet just as boat and watercraft sales had sunk in 1997. People weren’t committing to any big purchases, either because they didn’t have the money or were too nervous over what might happen next.

We all wondered what would be next for motorcycling. There was no shortage of theories: the ADV, the mythic Urban Transportation Module with its sacred lockable storage, lightweight 300s as the new entry level. There were some sales, but none of it took fire.

When I was a partner in a bike shop it was the 16-to-25s who bought motorcycles with money they’d been saving since their first supermarket bag-boy job. Then in the 1980s, thirtysomethings sought success, BMWs, and sharp fashion. Motorcycle buying became the province of born-again motorcyclists, people who had ridden years before but had given it up for family and professional image. Older now, they realized motorcycles were still important to them. And they could afford nicer things. This was the time of the “CEO Harley rider,” and the Sunday supplements offered countless stories of how motorcycling had matured in the hands of corner-office executives. One I knew flew to Sturgis and had his bike driven there in a van by others. The day he rode without a shirt was liberation for him.

The late 1980s brought the sportbike, an evolution of the dinosaur literbikes of the late ’70s, offering performance beyond that of any $100,000 sports car. Custom roadrace style, condescendingly called “cafe” (short for “cafe racer”) through the 1970s, finally caught the market and flourished for an amazing 15 years. 2008 killed the sportbike—with so few today being built, race sanctioning bodies are scratching for new ways to go racing, such as King of the Baggers. What next? Tour-bike racing, complete with a passenger?

These waves of change have left us with a lot of motorcyclists who lack either disposable cash or confidence in the economy in general. Yet the manufacturers, in their understandable efforts to get the two-wheeled market going again, have ignored that population of actual motorcyclists in favor of imaginary new groups of persons with new requirements.

Imagine that national governments suddenly stopped buying ships, missiles, planes, tanks, and guns from the defense industry. Imagine further that the defense industry responded by shifting their marketing to housewives, stamp collectors, and fly-fishing organizations.

When I attended the release of a major brand electric bike at $30,000 a pop, I was told the following:

  1. The future is electric, so we must accept that.<br/>
  2. America has become an urban nation.<br/>
  3. Electric bikes appeal to a class of educated persons who are concerned for the environment.<br/>
  4. Therefore we must seek future sales to urban buyers with up-scale jobs and a taste for quality and style.<br/>

Each of the four points seems OK by itself, but taken together they amount to “Let’s ignore the whole class that actually buys and rides motorcycles, and shift our marketing to an entirely different part of society, one that has never shown much interest in motorcycles of any kind.”

I was speechless. My mouth opened, but for a long time, no words came out.

Replacing your entire customer base can’t work. A stamp collector does not set aside his/her magnifying glass and place an order for automatic rifles. The only thing that can work is to offer a range of products that your established customer base does in fact find attractive and can afford.

Something similar had happened when maxi-scooters and lockable storage were hailed as the New Focus: “Let’s forget the motorcyclists whom we know to actually exist, who have spent real money for years to ride motorcycles, and instead let’s try to believe in millions of New Urban Buyers who may not even exist at all.”

Another viewpoint was that motorcycling had to start over, with a new Origin Myth that sounded a lot like Grey Advertising’s 1962 masterpiece. “You meet the nicest people…” Millions in that long-ago prosperous America could afford a harmless and cute $265 step-through. So let’s start over with these toned-down 300s.

That didn’t carry the freight either. Who’s old enough to remember the Studebaker Scotsman? Where other cars had chrome, the Scotsman had paint. Painted hubcaps! This car sent an undignified message: America is booming, but I’m driving this pile with cardboard door liners because it’s all I can afford.

RELATED: Yamaha’s 689cc CP2 Parallel Twin—One Engine, Many Roles

Right now it looks to me as if the happening class of bike is the middleweight parallel twin. Most manufacturers have one on offer, suggesting they’re getting nibbles and even netting a few. Parallel twins are powerful enough to be ridden two-up and fast enough to scare most of us, yet their parts counts and prices are down where we can think about walking into a dealer, signature outstretched. They are full-size proper motorcycles that we’d like to ride, but they aren’t 20 grand.

Think about a parallel twin: half as many pistons, rods, bearings, valves, spark plugs, and coils. Half the number of cams and cam drives as in a V-twin. Parallel twins with 270-degree crankpin spacing sound just like vee motors, if that’s what sings your anthem.

Looks to me like there is a good reason for middleweight twins to exist, and in such numbers: They can appeal to the large number of real, licensed motorcyclists who actually exist.

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  • Bender changed the title to Parallel Twins Take Over

Great article! Looks like a lot of bikes will be moving from v engines and making way for parallel twins I understand the v Strom may be on its last reincarnation of the current engine setup. I've heard the cp2 is being tested in some form or turbo format looks like a lot of changes ahead. Cheaper generic 125cc bikes changing from air to water cooled, I know zontes has a new offering which looks pretty good albeit prices are now higher.

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