Warned to be mild


Steppenwolf coined the “born to be wild” moniker which became synonymous with Harley-Davidson. Harley is all about conspicuous consumption. It has generally been a good indicator of discretionary income. Harley is not so much about transport but lifestyle. Harley-Davidson’s sales fell 9.3% in the U.S. and 6.7% globally in Q2 2017, ending June 25th. Harley also stated it had lost ground in the big-bike market (601cc and above), dropping from 49.5% market share to 48.5%. Matt Levatich, President and CEO, Harley-Davidson. “Given U.S. industry challenges in the second quarter and the importance of the supply and demand balance for our premium brand, we are lowering our full-year shipment and margin guidance.” Q3 shipments are expected to be down c.20% (39,000-44,000 units).

Harley-Davidson sold 262,221 motorcycles last year and forecast a flat market this year but has downgraded those numbers to a forecast of 241,000 to 246,000 units (-7~8%). US shipments were well below expectations in the US.

Harley-Davidson is suffering from divine franchise syndrome. It has failed to modernize its line up until very recently. While it has plans to put 2mn new bikers on the road over the next 10 years, its competitors do not seem to be suffering with BMW, KTM and Triumph hitting new shipment records. The European makes have much broader product line-ups which adds to the rumours that Harley may wish to bid for Italian sportsbike maker Ducati from Audi to plug the segment gaps in its line up. Harley has had a failed attempt in the sports category via Buell but the Italian maker brings a proper platform to the party vs an in-house employee wanting to rev up Harley products out of a barn.


Rebels too old for a cause


The average age of motorcyclists in Japan is 53 years old and continuing to climb as younger riders looking to obtain new licenses continues to drift. Between 2010 and 2016 the Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) noted that large capacity motorcycle license holders (ogata – classified as 400cc+) have fallen by nearly 1,500,000. While mid-size (chugata – classified as below 400cc) have risen around 715,000. Female riders have shown a similar pattern of 178,000 fall in ogata licenses and 147,000 increase in chugata respectively. While there are still 9.175mn men and 625,000 women willing to get out on the highway with large capacity bikes, the trend is alarming. More frighteningly, new graduates aren’t lining up either. 30,000 fewer students lined up to get a mid or large size bike license between 2014 and 2016 representing a 12.3% dip. Latest report found here Motorcycles in Japan – Analogica KK

The changing face of the global motorbike market


Earlier in the week we touched on the 1,800,000 fall in the number of Japanese who possess a large capacity motorcycle license. The status of the Japanese motorcycle companies makes for some interesting comparisons. Honda remains the largest global manufacturer with over 17.7 million units produced annually. Yamaha has seen a c.1mn unit decline over the last 5 years but a jump in the average profitability of its bikes. Suzuki has cut production by almost 50% as it continues to rack up losses and Kawasaki has stuck to a large bike bias which has stabilised profitability. Here is a look at the state of revenue growth over the last 5 years among major listed motorcycle manufacturers.

MMsegment Rev.png

Profitability is a different picture among the global makers. Suzuki has been struggling to make a profit, Kawasaki has drifted down but remained in the black. Honda has been outpaced by Yamaha and among the foreign makers BMW Motorrad and KTM have beaten Harley-Davidson’s performance.

MMsegment EBIT

The foreign makers are all much smaller scale than the Japanese and tend to focus in the larger engine size segments. Harley-Davidson has suffered the most among the 5 big players in terms of unit growth. KTM, followed by BMW Motorrad have made the biggest relative gains.


Looking at average EBIT/unit produced yields starkly different results. Harley nets around $3,000 per motorcycle in EBIT with BMW around half of that amount at €1,285 ($1,430) with KTM half of that. Kawasaki makes the most per motorcycle among the Japanese on a unit basis. Honda has remained relatively stable at $103 (although we should note that this is closer to $170 as the consolidated production number is about 10m units and the global number including equity method companies is the 17.7m) and Yamaha at $64.  These are ridiculously low numbers and of course identifying mix within that would yield far more healthy results for certain models and losses on others.


One thing it points out is that focused strategies appear to be paying off for the Europeans and to some extent Kawasaki which has moved away from a me too approach. Efficiency and brand seems to be paying off for BMW’s continued rise and a broad range of product unlike Harley which seems to be stuck in a divine franchise scenario. Profitable but struggling to break out of cruisers. It has had a stab at sports bikes through Buell (business was spun off and EBR has since closed) and the Porsche designed V-Rod (now out of production). Now that Ducati is potentially being sold by Audi, does Harley look to use a proper sports brand with no clash in its line up to fuel (no pun intended) its growth?

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BMW R1200GS Rallye Sport Review


Epic. This must be the best BMW I’ve ridden to date and I’ve ridden and owned lots. This review has nothing to do with BMW Motorrad Japan’s kindness either. 600km in the saddle today . Not tired. It eats miles like any other GS. Perhaps the biggest fault with the liquid cooled GS Adventure (I’ve owned one) is a slightly detached feeling beneath you. It’s not that you don’t trust it but sometimes you’re never quite sure what is going on below. The GS Rallye Sport changes all that. While perhaps not as crisp (nor should it be) as the S1000RR superbike the Rallye’s handling is exceptionally communicative. Loads of feedback. Ironic that the Rallye is supposed to be a hard core off-road GS but it’s on-road manners are better than most of the other road going bikes in the BMW stable. Let’s break it down.

Handling 5/5

While it is 20kg lighter than the GS Adventure it is a totally different bike. Despite the same 19-inch front tyre I kept turning into corners too early to begin with as it darts like it had a 17″ up front. Not a criticism. Just a pleasant surprise. Once you get used to the quick turn in you forget your waltzing with the fat bird from the Flight of the Valkyries and start doing the tango with Marlene Dietrich.

Handling is very neutral as all GS are with a dash of shaft oversteer when pushing and hard braking while down shifting. There is no understeer whatsoever in sharp bends despite the 19″. The suspension is self leveling and never got flustered at any speed (of course the speed limit was never exceeded… erhem). Even in the wet the feedback was confidence inspiring.

Even in wet weather with patchy road surfaces  the Rallye just ploughed through. It never got bumped off line and kept relaying what was going on.

I had a small jaunt off road but not enough to pass judgement.

Brakes 5/5

They are the same spec as the GSA but somehow the bite is much stronger with good progression. This was surprising. I’m big on brakes after my accident. The brakes are linked  when the front lever is pulled but the rear is independent and offers good feel.

Engine 4/5

The engine is sweet with 125hp of power. There are times you thirst for a bit more top end but it is tractible everywhere in the rev range and has enough hustle. A KTM will eat its lunch with 160hp but it’s  real world power.

Economy is good. The 20 litre tank is good for 350km, maybe 400km if ridden gently.

Gearbox 4/5

The new synchro box is pretty decent. It has a quick shifter which is smoother down than up. I’ve ridden the S1000XR with a quick shifter and on the move it’s fine. It is when pulling away from a stop when you feel the fight between the clutch control and the computer controlled hydraulics. It feels cumbersome. The GS Rallye doesn’t suffer like this which also allows you to turn it on a dime at walking speed. Impressive

Ergonomics 4/5


The dash is simple to read and the Navigator V is much quicker than its predecessor with clever functionality on the left handlebar mounted swivel mouse. I haven’t played with the settings of the navigator but it seems to have been designed by a dodgy taxi driver sometimes sending you on such a long way round that it seems implausible. I tried to go from Fukushima to Minami Soma (around 60km) and the navigator said 256km. Hmmm. This has been so on several I’ve tried.

The weather on the way from Fukushima to Sendai was a deluge. Wind and weather protection was good but I’d elect for the shorter screen as the standard screen in high or low setting sends wind flow hits my helmet right at ear level.

Seating position is perfect (for me). With suspension in dynamic MAX mode and the ride height with seat in high position it is around 890mm. The seat is plush and the backside didn’t give out over the 600km. In fact it is far better than the GS Adventure’s bench. Heating would be a nice option, especially for a pillion.

Mirrors are pretty useless. More a fashion item. They should be squarer instead of triangular.

I initially didn’t like the idea of keyless but after today I see its benefits.


It is such a leap forward. They have taken the best selling adventure bike around and dialed it to 11. Flummoxed by nothing. Good looks and practicality. Anyone who owns a GS should ride one. You won’t believe how much better it is than what you have. In fact don’t ride it because you’ll regret it when you hand the keys back.

I’ve owned a R1100S, K1300S, K1600GT, a liquid cooled GSA and still have my oil-cooled R1200GSA. With the exception of the one I’ve kept, most of them have been technological masterpieces but lacked ‘soul’. The Rallye on the other hand has bags of character and I’ve been smiling all day at how unbelievably good it is. Sorry Lee I’m not giving it back!




From Sunday I will be doing a major ‘picture book’ follow up to my Tohoku piece of 5 years ago. It will be a before and after snapshot of how far the devastated areas have developed. This will be my steed, kindly arranged by BMW Motorrad Japan. Of course I will review the bike. It is the new R1200GS Rallye Sport. It is only one evening I’ve had it – verdict so far – way above already high expectations – さすが!