Confession time: the motorized vehicle photograph that adorned my high school locker didn’t have four wheels. It had two. I have always had an interest in bikes, one which has slowly grown from drooling over the 2002 Yamaha R6 (which stayed in my locker through all four years of high school) to buying motorcycle magazines to spending more time reading about bikes than cars. But I’ve yet to buy one for the same reason that kept me from buying a car for so long; insurance.
By the time I was 16, I had enough money saved up to buy a car. Except my insurance would have been around $3500 per year for the clapped out Nissan 240SX I had my eye on. This kind of usurious gouging is an accepted part of life in Ontario, where one speeding ticket or accident can make driving literally unaffordable for young people. I am lucky that Miatas are so unpopular with theives and boy-racers, as my insurance, which started out at $2200 per year, is now a more manageable $1644 per year. Did I mention I have never been convicted of any moving violations and have never had an accident? Meanwhile, my friend in Miami pays $75 a month for both his Corvette Z06 and his F-250.
No surprise then that a bike is pretty much a non-starter for me. I could buy myself a pretty nice bike right now, but insurance would likely run many multiples of what I’m paying now for coverage on my car – a figure that, quite honestly, stretches my modest monthly budget, once rent, groceries and my recreational expenses are taken into account. Ok, I could insure an older GS500 or Ninja 250 but I’m not too keen buying such an old bike and dealing with finnicky carbs and frankly, I find most starter bikes to be pretty ugly.
I know, I know, it’s my first bike, not my last, and it’s a tool to learn proper riding technique on rather than a fashion statement. But a few grand is not an inconsequential sum to me, and if I’m going to spend that much on a bike, I want it to tick all the boxes. Frankly, I’m too cautious to hop right on a 600cc supersport, but the next step up from a starter bike, like an SV650, is above 600cc and is therefore in the next insurance class. What to do then?
The answer is wait; I’ll be 25 next year, and privy to a big break on my insurance premiums, but I’m also waiting for the new Honda CBR500. Yes, there’s a CBR250, but it it’s lacking in both looks and performance, despite rave reviews. The CBR500, on the other hand, not only looks the business, but packs a perfectly adequate 47 horsepower from a 470-cc fuel-injected twin. ABS is also available, and the same motor can be spec’d in a standard or adventure bike as well.
It’s been a while since the motorcycle industry has offered anything intermediate for novice riders. Many were content to go down the path of squidom, hoping on whatever sportbike was on sale, with little regard for life or limb. Anyone concerned about taking the proper steps to proficiently ride a motorcycle had to go use or exercise enormous self-control with a bike that may have been too much for them. But the lack of new riders, shut out by inappropriate motorcycle choices, exorbitant insurance premiums and a rapidly aging customer base means that motorcycle companies desperately need to attract young riders, and the new crop of 250-500 cc bikes are just the ticket.
Nearly half a century ago, a small Japanese company told Americas that “you meet the nicest people on a Honda“. Now they’re trying to re-create that magic, cognizant of the fact that if it can’t play the part of a big boy bike, it better look the part. Kudos to Honda for paying attention to such an ignored demographic.
Now go do this with cars and you’ll be as unstoppable as you were not so long ago.
Disclaimer: I am not facile-minded enough to suggest that there is a direct analogy between Honda’s car and bikes, but here’s an example of how an accessible, entry-level product can be made to look appealing, attractive and even a bit aspirational.