Erik Buell Racing
I was really surprised to see EBR at the show, especially after all the news stories about having issues finding investors, yadda, yadda. Apparently someone ponied up the rest of the cash to keep things going, as the gentlemen running the booth assured me that they were taking orders and had at least one dealership in Wisconsin (there are even more on their website now). I’m not really in the market for performance V-twin, however I am excited to another manufacturer adding pressure to the American motorcycle market.
At the moment I feel that Kawasaki is probably holding firm as the “vanilla” Japanese motorcycle company. Coming from a guy that probably has no idea what he’s talking about, most of the Kawasaki motorcycles on the market don’t strike me as overly remarkable, yet not poor investments either. I have an acquaintance that has a Versys 650, he’s taken it to track days and frequently rides it to the office. In talking with him, it’s clear that the Versys is, as advertised, a very versatile motorcycle, not exceptional in any one area, but flexible in virtually all categories. I see the KLR the same, the quintessential “adventure bike”; not a dirt bike, not a race bike, not a street bike; just an affordable, all-around, rugged machine. Lastly I see the Concours the same, not the most superior Sport Touring choice on the market, but it definitely brings a lot of value to the table.
I’m also impressed to see the amount of effort that Royal Enfield has spent on marketing in recent years. There’s a dealer not far from my house, so I’ve seen the (dated) Bullet 500 models up close before; the same for the Continental GT. While the Continental does have somewhat of a newer feel, I personally feel that the bikes as a whole just feel a bit behind the times. There’s something to be said about “stone ax simple” (as my buddy Jeff says), that is a selling point to me, but for ninety plus percent of American motorcyclists, the Enfield is showing its age (albeit mostly because of what appears to be third world manufacturing quality). That said, I’m hoping to see the new Himalayan find its way to American shores. It may be a long shot, but Royal Enfield designed a new 400 cc engine for the Himalayan, hopefully this is the beginning of a new chapter for what is arguably the oldest surviving motorcycle brand.
Honda brought another large booth to the Chicago show this year. Unfortunately, I really feel like Honda has fallen flat as of late, nothing new is really noteworthy, and there are some bikes that have no target audience in my opinion (NM4?). I also don’t understand the emphasis on the Honda DCT “automatic” bikes, or at least “Automatic” option for a lot of bikes, which I feel are essentially aimed at no one (more on that in a moment). Certainly I don’t scorn technological advances, but I question the target audience, i.e. electric bikes, they’re awesome, but only a limited few can truly realize the potential (motorcycles are just toys anyway right?).
That said, I was excited to see Honda release the new VFR1200X. I will say that like the NC700X, I use “Adventure” in quotes as the bike is almost certainly more roadworthy than dirt worthy, but at least Honda has produced a model to compete against the big bore ADV bikes like the 1200 GS and Tiger Explorer. The VFR1200X also sports a V4, which I’m told is pretty impressive, hopefully someday I’ll get the chance to experience one for myself. At the same time, the 1200X is one of those DCT model bikes that I don’t understand. Honestly, how many riders are of stature or experience that can handle a 1200 cc V-4 engine but don’t want to shift? I would think DCT would be reserved for 800 cc and down, aimed at smaller and less experienced riders, but that’s just me.
I also got my first look at the new Honda Africa Twin (CRF1000L). News of the Africa Twin was really exciting considering that Honda, who is quite competitive in the dirt, had yet to release a truly dirt worthy Adventure bike. I’m personally met with mixed emotions as I have, on paper, compared the new Africa Twin to the 800 GS and Tiger 800 XCx. The Africa Twin appears to have comparable kit to the established ADV bikes, long travel & adjustable suspension, spoke wheels, and selectable traction control modes. Unfortunately, the new Africa Twin lacks throttle by wire, selectable fuel maps, and cruise control. The display model at the show also felt unrefined or “incomplete”, but I suspect it was an early bike off the line, so it may not have had the fit and finish of the showroom bikes. Honestly what probably concerns me the most of that the new Honda 998cc parallel twin power plant is a completely new design, I’m concerned that Honda may have significant warranty and recall issues that have plagued most of the other manufacturers in recent years. At some point I’ll finally get to talk to someone who actually owns one and get an honest review of how it stacks up against the competition.
I feel like Polaris has somewhat neglected Victory after the acquisition and relaunch of Indian in recent years. It seems like more of the same from my perspective, as most of the Victory lineup essentially shares interchangeable parts. On the other hand, news of this new “Victory Octane Concept” was exciting. I was hoping that like the Indian Scout, Victory would have a new power plant the Octane and subsequent variations to follow. Obviously we now know that the new Octane is undoubtedly the Scout’s sister bike (arguably twin sister…), which is good or bad depending on where your loyalty lies. The Octane is probably the better buy compared to the Scout (more displacement for less money) but that assumes you can handle the stereotypical hard lines of the Victory. Either way, hopefully this new bike starts a new Chapter for Victory as they continue to differentiate themselves from the rest of the cruiser market.