Trial and Error: Following the trail of odd moto ducks

Sound RIDER! logo


Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Skagit


Trial and error - again and again

Over the last century, there have been countless "experiments" from OEMs that have typically ended in failure. And just when you thought it was over, they repeat it again.

If you have a sales niche, why step outside it and venture into an area of unchartered territory? Progress, evolution, not to mention expansion of profits if you succeed all come to mind. And sometimes these experiments are a success. Other times, not so much so.

Take for instance.

Buell Ulysses Xb12x

In 1993, Harley-Davidson acquired 49% of it's former employee's company, Erik Buell's Buell Motorcycle Company. They later acquired the other 51% in 2003. Buell provided H-D with an expansion of products to sell including road racers, sport bikes, a sport touring model, and even a small 400cc single cylinder that fit into H-D's rider training program. In 2005 the company figured it was time to introduce its first 'adventure' bike and did so with the Xb12x series. It was also their last, and the entire brand was folded in 2009.

Will history repeat itself when H-D brings the Pan America to the market later this year for the 2021 lineup?

BMW R1200C series

By the late 90s, the cruiser market was on fire. Harley-Davidson was selling so many bikes, they restricted production, driving up demand allowing dealers to sell units above list price for the first time in their history. Every Japanese OEM had a series of cruisers in their lineup. Honda with its Shadows, Yamaha with the Star lineup, Kawasaki with their Vulcans, and Suzuki with their Intruders. So BMW decided to get into the act and release the R1200C series in the late 90s. It didn't hurt that they landed a spotlight on the bike in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. The line stumbled along for several years before the Germans pulled the plug in 2004.

Today the overall cruiser market is a small fraction of what its sales were 20 years ago. But its bigger sibling, the bagger market, has held steady.

BMW had never brought a full-fledged bagger to the market. That is until 2017 when the K1600B arrived in the market. Basically a K1600GT dressed as a touring cruiser to compete with other baggers on the market like the popular H-D Road Kings and Honda's recently-released F6B. Have you seen a lot of BMW baggers on the road? Me? Not yet.

Now BMW prepares to continue its pursuit of the cruiser market when it introduces the retro-styled R18 later this year. Let's see what happens…

Yamaha GTS 1000

Forkless front suspension. Can you imagine what that might look like? Search this model on the internet and you'll see that interesting attempt at building a sport touring bike with a strange apparatus holding the front wheel in place. The concept was better handling while braking and unleashed into the marketplace in 1993. Although the model lasted in the Yamaha lineup for 7 years, it was never a great seller and never arrived in the 21st century.

Fast forward 18 years. With the introduction of the Nikken, Yamaha provided riders with four front forks instead of the usual two. And you also got an extra front wheel. Piaggio had already been there with the MP3 scooter a decade before without much success. In 2019, the Nikken GT was introduced, but both went missing from the 2020 lineup. It could be said it was a sales success, although we've never seen one in a showroom, or on the road. The limited production of each was probably bought up by collectors and is making its way to museums around the world as we speak.

But in the end, all three of these attempts and re-attempts at design most surely have their engineering moments that may well lead to advancements in future production models. Honda's DCT motor was a turkey when it was introduced in the DNO1 model (some dealers called this the Do Not Order One model), but since then it has been used successfully across a number of units in the lineup including the VFR and Africa Twin models.

At the end of the day, it comes at a cost, and hopefully a benefit is inside there somewhere.

TM/April 2020

We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.

Rally in the Gorge


Subscription has its privileges - Each month Sound RIDER! publishes new features on rides, clubs, dealers and events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Sound RIDER! events. From time to time, we also provide valuable coupons that can save you hundreds of dollars on motorcycle services. What are you waiting for? Click here to sign up now!