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Buyers like sports bikes

March 31, 2003
Filed under Features

Sport bikes offer the latest in technological toys.
If the current crop of cruisers is the classic suit you’ll have in your wardrobe for years, then the latest sport bike offerings are the paisley shirt and striped pants that may soon be out of style. The point being that the sport bike segment is ever changing with new race-driven technology making current consumer models seem out of date more quickly than bikes in the cruiser segment.
Despite its race and performance-defining image, the sport bike segment trails the cruiser segment in its share of the on-highway motorcycle market making up 21 percent of new unit sales in 2002, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. New unit motorcycle sales as a whole were up 9.4 percent in 2002 with cruisers leading the way with 56 percent of overall sales. Touring models accounted for 18 percent, while the traditional segment, (where lines are beginning to blur these days with machines now marketed as “naked” and once called standard) represented 3.9 percent of on-highway sales. That small number is due in large part to the limited number of offerings.
The numbers for sport bike (and traditional motorcycles which often benefit from sport bike-derived technology) may be smaller than cruisers, but the market is just as important to the manufacturers as it is where much of the new performance technology is first utilized in consumer models.
In recent years, the OEM’s have expanded their sport bike offerings from entry level to racetrack worthy and everything in between. That “in between” now includes what manufacturers are calling naked bikes or standards, or as it’s classified by the MIC, traditional. Lee Edmunds, Honda’s press relations manager, remarked that, “Standards are basically a sport bike without the fairing,” referring to Honda’s new entry, the 919.
Perhaps the most competitive and most watched segment of the market is the 600cc class, due in part to the attention paid to AMA and World Supersport competition. All the manufacturers agree that the 600cc class is the one to watch over the next 12 to 24 months. “The category as a whole is very technology driven,” says Mike Vaughan, CEO of Triumph Motorcycles (America), “but it’s particularly so in the case of the 600s, which arguably is the most competitive segment in the entire industry.”
Brad Banister, Yamaha’s public relations manager, adds, “The 600cc class is very exciting. I’m in Daytona right now and the Supersport race is all the buzz.”
Yamaha and Triumph are two of the manufacturers turning up the heat in showrooms across America each bowing a new race-oriented machine in the 600cc class for ’03, the YZF-R6 and the Daytona 600. Kawasaki’s ZX-6RR debuts as well with its long list of race-worthy features alongside Honda’s CBR600RR, probably the most innovative and most talked about among the new four.
Honda and Kawasaki have raised the bar in middleweight performance by borrowing technology once reserved only for the exotic MotoGP machines. The new CBR600RR utilizes features like Unit Pro-Link suspension and Dual Stage Fuel Injection taken directly from Honda’s championship winning RC211V MotoGP bike. Kawasaki has brought upside down forks and radial brakes to its ZX-6RR, a first to do so on a 600 class bike. It’s this kind of performance-driven technology that’s keeping the segment new and exciting.
The only thing working against this segment is insurance. The primary riders of sport bikes fall into the 18 to 33 age group, according to the MIC, and are perhaps the most difficult to insure.

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