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50cc sportbikes gain in popularity

April 21, 2003
Filed under Features

Fifteen years ago, if a kid below the age of 16 in the U.S. wanted to buy a two-wheeler for on-road transportation, he or she was relegated to a moped, 50cc scooter or the odd looking Yamaha YSR, a small-sized sport bike released stateside from 1987 to 1992.
A five-speed, single-cylinder, 49.3cc air-cooled two-stroker rolling on 12-inch tires and delivering about 7hp, the YSR 50 still enjoys a loyal following among weekend racers, and the bikes are quite easily found in various configurations in the used market. In fact, a whole gaggle of firms still produce, and turn a profit, on aftermarket parts for the little machine.
However, while demand for 50cc sport bikes has remained somewhat subdued in the U.S., licensing laws in many other parts of the world continue to push manufacturers to engineer and design updated “repliracers” offering many of the state-of-the-art characteristics shared by their full-sized brethren.
The YSR may have been the first miniature sport bike to make an impact in North America, but, for 2004, U.S. motorcycle enthusiasts can plan on having the largest selection of bikes made available to them in this small segment.
Aprilia has offered U.S consumers its RS 50 since the company came stateside in 1999. Clearly inspired by race bikes, the RS 50 has a die-cast aluminum frame, six-speed gearbox, 280mm front and 220mm rear disc brakes, and replica bodywork from the firm’s 250 series racer.
Available as a SBK replica in black, red and orange; or as a GP 1 replica in gray, silver and matte black, the single-cylinder 49.7cc liquid-cooled two-stroke runs on 17-inch wheels and has a MSRP of $3549.
“In Italy, you can’t ride a bike bigger than 50cc until after you are 17 or so, so the kids there all have spanky race replica 50s and absolutely haul around on them,” says Aprilia’s Robert Pandya. “But the U.S. customer is not the Italian customer, and is typically an adult male who wants to add a moto-toy to his inventory.”
Pandya wouldn’t provide sales figures, but says greatest demand for the RS 50 seems to come from Florida, northern Califonia and the northeast where organizations such as Team ProMotion (www.teampromotion.com) set up racing events during their track days. “We’re finding that the popularity of these bikes grows as groups continue to offer such venues,” he said.
Another player in the U.S. 50cc repliracer market is Derbi, with its 9hp GPR 50R. The GPR 50R, MSRP $3299, runs off of a single-cylinder 49.9cc liquid-cooled two-stroke rolling on 16-inch wheels with 260mm front and 220mm rear disc brakes. Not quite enough to grab your attention? Check out the bike’s upside-down Showa fork or headlights reminiscent of the Ducati 999.
Derbi, based in Martorelles (Barcelona), Spain, was founded in 1922 by Simeón Rabasa, and was integrated into the Italian Piaggio Group in January 2001. While Piaggio USA does not import or distribute Derbi product, the bikes can be found through Cycle Imports of Miami, Fla. (www.derbiusa.net).
A bike that certainly managed to turn some heads at the annual Dealer Expo in Indianapolis, the Matrix RS2 by Rieju features a Minarelli single-cylinder, two-stroke, liquid-cooled engine, six-speed transmission, 17-inch wheels, 280mm front and 220mm rear disc brakes and an upside-down front fork.
The Rieju headquarters and factory are located in a village in the Catalan region of Spain, near Barcelona. There since 1934, the modern, largely robotized factory is in the center of the community, hidden within what appears to be a block of houses.
The RS2, MSRP $3,099, is the younger brother of the RS1. Marc Frank from Cosmopolitan Motors (www.cosmotor.com), the licensed importer of Rieju motorcycles, says Cosmo plans to market the still-available RS1 as a race bike, and says he feels the RS2 would be more suitable for sales to suburban youth or college-aged commuters.
The specific RS2 shown at the Dealer Expo in Indianapolis is one of two units in the U.S., but Frank says the firm is expecting the first full container of bikes to be in the U.S. in less than 90 days.
Frank says Team ProMotion — the club also mentioned by Pandya — plans to use the RS1 as a learning tool for newcomers to track days, held at such prestigious venues as Pokono, Summit Point, Virginia International, Beaver Run, etc.
Finally, Italian firm Malaguti also plans to introduce a 50cc repliracer to the U.S. public. But Joel Martin, president of Malaguti USA, the licensed importer of Malaguti product, says he is not sure how the bike will be received here, and says he plans to bring it in in “very limited” quantities.

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