My first two motorcycles were of Japanese manufacture, started with a 100 cc. dual sport Kawasaki in 1970… Which managed to grenade it’s 2 speed “dual range” transmission and hole a piston in the year I owned it. Thanks to Kawasaki’s busted parts system, it sat waiting for parts for 5 months of that year, giving me good reason to peddle it to a distant (out of gunshot range) cousin just as the warranty ran out. My second fling with Japanese motorcycles was a ’76 RD400, bought new for two thirds of list price after my first summer of earning them good union wages at Hostess. My impression of Japanese machinery was further cemented when half the bolts clamping the handlebars in place busted off when I swapped out the high bars for BMW style “Euro” bars… But none the less it carried me a reliable 25k miles over the next six years.
The shortcomings of 60s and 70s Japanese bikes were by then legendary- poor metallurgy, design cycles too short to debug said designs, and just plain too much cheapness. Meanwhile, BMW was perfecting their airhead twin which had been built on the design base of nearly a half centuries previous twins. By then I was putting on some respectable annual miles and decided I’d rather ride than wrench, so I bought a new R65LS that I’m still riding after over 100,000 miles. BMW went on to try to replace the airheads with a flopped over water-cooled four cylinder K bike. When that didn’t win over the Airhead riders they built an all new twin, but it was heavy and unreliable and still didn’t win over the airheads. Since then BMW has dumped upon us a dizzying array of designs, much like the Japanese industry of the 70s- A couple redos of the K bike, a six cylinder K bike, three successive redesigns of the boxer twin, a warmed over Aprilia single, a Rotax engined vertical twin, scooters, an inline four super bike, and even rebadged Husky singles. Heck, They bought and sold Husquarvarna so quick the ink on the brochures barely had time to dry! Today, a BMW motorcycle dealership and the very brand image itself look as confused and schizophrenic as a Japanese brand dealership of the 80s.
The motorcycle market swelled in the 70s and shrunk in the 80s, with Ford saving Yamaha from bankruptcy and Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki relying on their diverse other products to keep them solvent. From that near death experience the Japanese manufacturers figured out that short model cycles and throw away bikes weren’t sustainable, and all but Honda had to come up with all new 4 stroke engines to meet tightening pollution regulations. As the warehouses slowly emptied of left over bikes, by the 90s Yamaha had produced shaft drive XS series inline triples and fours with a life of well past a hundred thousand miles, Kawasaki was rivaling BMW with the Concours and Harley with the legendary K1000 police bike, and Suzuki produced the last and perhaps the best of the Japanese inline fours. Through the 90s and into the 21st century the Japanese manufacturers built on and refined these themes in an old skool BMW like evolutionary manner- The Concours first generation, KLR, DR650, and FJ1200 were in production for over a decade, heck, some of them were around for a couple decades!
So comes 2015 and the Japanese are still quite alive and kicking, same with Moto Guzzi, and Triumph is back from the dead. In most every market sector they offer bikes that equal or better BMWs for thousands of $$$ less. Want a sport tourer? The Concours, FJR, and ST, Norge, and I forget the name of the Triumph model equal BMWs best. Need a big dual sport? Instead of BMW’s $20k R1200GS(A) with it’s bleeding edge tech, a Stelvio, Tiger, Strom, or Super Tenere will do the job for thousands less $$$.
Which neatly sagways into how I came to buy a Yamaha Super Tenere today. Been looking for a newer sidecar tug for awhile, and given the winds we get here on the Buffalo Ridge, something over a thousand ccs. was required, and all our great gravel roads called for a dual sport bike. My short list was pretty much the Stelvio, as BMW has no dealer within 150 miles of here as well as being grossly overpriced and per Consumer Reports, unreliable. Then I got wind that DMC sidecars was developing a sidecar subframe for the Super Tenere and it joined the Stelvio on my short list. Went shopping last week and found a leftover ’14 Stelvio for $14k and a demo ’11 for $13.6k… I prefer the ’11 because it’s lighter and has a wider real wheel (think car tire…), but a 4 year old demo with 3k miles ought to be discounted a lot more than $2400 from MSRP. Unfortunately the bank that’s flooring it doesn’t agree, and won’t allow it to be sold for less than invoice price. But while Yamaha’s products have greatly improved since the 70s, their “inventory control” hasn’t… There’s three ’13 Super Teneres within a days round trip drive of here and reputedly more in Yamaha’s warehouses!
So for $10,500 out the door, about half the price of a “wethead” GS, I get a bike that will do everything the legendary lemon of Germany will do, except set fire to it’s final drive and a bunch of other stupid BMW tricks. And a mere $600 more bought a warranty extension to five years, BMW only goes three and 36k miles… They know their machine well! It’s gonna be a fun summer watching the BMW true believers look down their nose at it at BMW rallies…
Then come next winter I’m gonna ‘hack it!