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Motorcycle History And Where the Motorcycle Is Headed Next Part Two

Mikhail Smolyanov Concept Motorcycle

The Future of Harley-Davidson…and Maybe Indian

Indian and Harley-Davidson. The boys at H-D are trying to arrive at a formula which will work for them in modern era, and they need to take care of that business before everyone who’s now into Harleys is, well, to put it indelicately, dead from old age and fast living.

As for Indian, they have yet another shot at recapturing past glories, but it remains to be seen whether or not the latest incarnation of that fabulous and storied marque can pull itself once again from the ashes of self-destruction and backward thinking.

Sales world wide in the retro-cruiser slot stagnant at best, and they only remain strong in the USA. Indian Motorcycle has made steps to jump back into the game, but due to slow sales of cruiser models, they may not have picked the best time launch. Harley-Davidson is still working on grabbing a share of the huge youth market, but they also insist on designing models which hit the showroom floor at prices you need middle east oil money to afford. The new “48” and Softail Slim 72 models are a step in the right direction, but it’s hard to say if those gems will be enough to keep the younger set from simply grabbing up used H-Ds and making them something special.

Honda is selling some “chopper” style bikes now, but those models seem hopelessly behind the curve. Some people might like bikes like the Honda PCX and the Fury – and they’ll surely snap up some buyers who may in the past have purchased a Harley, but the Motor Company’s big competition is going to come from machines like the Kawasaki Vulcan, the Yamaha Stratoliner and the entire Triumph line.

The V-Rod was supposed to be the answer and was without doubt a beautiful bike with subtle and modern lines, a great engine, fuel injection and a cool factor. But it didn’t – and this is a real problem and the same one they had trying to move Buell models – sound like a Harley, look like a Harley or ride like a Harley.

With an average consumer age of 46+,  the Milwaukee crew have some catching up to do, but the numbers are promising and the stock-buying set seem content for the moment…

The Near Future

American racing legend Dan Gurney was one of the many who have tried over the years to re-imagine the motorcycle with his Alligator A6. Gurney built the Alligator with a low center of gravity in mind, and Cycle World tested a version of the original A6, it did 0-30-mph in just 1.1 seconds and turned out to be quicker than any streetbike the magazine has ever tested. The A6 also came to a stop in a heartbeat, coming to a halt from 60 mph in just 114 feet – and that’s nine feet faster than radial-mount brakes slowed Kawasaki’s ZX-6R, the most advanced bike of the time period.

“It’s pretty amazing in this day and age that you can build something unique and that hasn’t already been done,” said racing legend Eddie Lawson of the A6. “I enjoy it because I can get on a motorcycle and it’s different and it’s fun.”

With gas and oil prices going through the roof and supplies of the non-renewable resource getting lower everyday motorcycles should continue to grow in demand. Today most of us ride motorcycles in North America for fun or as a hobby but it is not this way in other parts of the world. Even in first world countries (like the UK) people are riding them due to the savings in gas, oil, insurance over other vehicles and even riding them year round. Will that happen here as well?

The Great Leap Forward – Hybrid Gas and Electric Motorcycles

Electric motorcycles. Like them or not, they’re looming large on the horizon, and they’re achieving some pretty startling performance numbers as better batteries come through the pipeline.

Kids aren’t as appalled by the idea of riding a bike that sounds like a blender, so it won’t be long until electric motorcycles start chipping away at the fossil-fuel-powered bikes I know and love. As much as I hate change, it would be just plain silly not to see the writing on the wall here.

Are you listening, H-D?

Diesel Motorcycles?
The US Army has already tinkered with the idea of buying up a bunch of  Kawasaki KLR650s that run on diesel fuel, and a bike which sports efficiency around 120 miles per gallon, develops  33ftlb of torque and has a top speed of 85 mph is going to be a player in the market .

Add to that appeal the fact that diesel powerplants are reliable like anvils, simple to maintain and now capable of running down the road without rattling all the fillings in your teeth to dust, and you’ve got a prescription for the future of the touring-utility motorcycle.

Electric Motorcycles
Does this all mean motorcycles will be going electric-only? Much as I hate the idea, it means precisely that.

Electric motorcycle are doing the 1/4 mile in well under nine seconds now, and that’s enough performance to make them the future of the breed. The internal combustion engine has slotted into motorcycles for more than 100 years, and there’s precious little room for improvement in them – at least improvement the Average Joe can afford. Big oil companies have a major stake in the market, but they’re going to run out of product at some point. Long before they run out, their product is going to become prohibitively expensive, and that is really, really bad news for the old school like me who live for the smell of grease and gasoline. The internal combustion engine is up against competition which creates almost no noise, has no vibration to speak of, weighs much less, provides complete linear power availability throughout the range of speeds and motors which require few to no moving parts.

You be the judge and jury on this one.

It all makes me glad I’ll be long dead before the Brave New World of motorcycles becomes reality…or maybe science will come up with a cure for living like a dumbass and I’ll just have to get used to it all.