A guy on Advrider posted this question: Would you pay an equal price for a Japanese dual sport (DS) that is totally equal to a European one? I think that is a really interesting question. 68.3% of the respondents claimed they would pay an equal price if they could buy a modern, light, powerful dual sport bike from one of the Big 4 (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki) that was competitive with the Euro bikes. 26.8% said they would not pay as much since they expect the Japanese manufacturers to provide more value than other motorcycle manufacturers (i.e. I want to buy Euro performance but pay less for it).
While I believe that 68.3% of the respondents would pay an equal price, I suggest that those 68% are not representative of the majority of dual sport motorcyclists.
In the past 10+ years there have been numerous threads on Advrider lamenting the fact that the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers don’t, and won’t, build modern dual sport motorcycles. The underlying belief of all of those threads is that if the Big 4 were to build a modern, high performance DS bike it would match the Euro (i.e. KTM) bikes in performance while also simultaneously matching the cost, reliability, maintenance intervals, and dealer support of the current crop of aged DS bikes the Big 4 sell. In other words, if the Big 4 were to build a modern, high performance DS bike, it would rival the KTM 500 EXC in performance and weight, yet be priced about the same as a new KLR (or the DRZ, or DR, or XR650L – take your choice), be as reliable as the KLR (or the DRZ, or DR, or XR650L – take your choice), have the maintenance schedule of those old bikes, and have lots of dealers everywhere.
However, the truth is that if one of the Big 4 ever builds a modern, high performance DS bike that is the equal of a Euro bike, it will:
– cost about the same as modern, high performance Euro bikes
– be about as reliable as modern, high performance Euro bikes
– require about the same maintenance as modern, high performance Euro bikes
There is no magical manufacturing elixir the Big 4 can use to somehow build a modern, high performance DS bike that is also cheap, reliable, and easy on maintenance (has low maintenance requirements).
1. I want a high performance DS bike
2. I want a cheap DS bike that is reliable and easy on maintenance
The current state of manufacturing limits us to only picking one of the above options. You can choose “performance” or you can choose “cheap, reliable, and easy”. And the Big 4 Japanese manufacturers don’t have a way of overcoming this – they cannot build a high performance DS bike that is also cheap, reliable, and easy.
Let’s use the Yamaha WR250R as an example. In 2008 Yamaha decided to up the game in the 250 DS class by building the class leading WR250R. And they succeeded. The WR250R was a modern, higher performance 250 that easily beat everything else in the 250 DS class from the Big 4. It also cost about 40% more than any of those old-school competitors ($7000 for the Yamaha versus about $5000 for the competition). It simply costs more to build a modern, higher performance DS bike, even for the Big 4, as shown by the WR250R.
(Note that calling the WR250R “higher performance” is in comparison to the other Big 4 250 dual sports available in 2008. The WR250R is clearly not high performance compared to the standard set by Euro DS bikes such as the KTM 250 EXC. If Yamaha were to build a 35+ horsepower, 240 lb, 250cc DS thumper then it would actually be a “high performance bike” competitive against a Euro DS bike like the KTM 250 EXC and not just “high performance in comparison to very old technology DS bikes from Japan Inc.”)
Based on sales volume, it is abundantly clear that a very large majority of riders choose option 2. When voting with their own money, a cheap price trumps performance for most DS riders. Many claim to want option 1 but clearly value cheap, reliable, and easy over performance. In other words, they want high performance but only if it is first cheap, reliable, and easy. The large majority of DS riders will not pay for high performance if it costs more, hence the reason the Big 4’s old bikes outsell the modern Euro bikes by a wide margin.
None of the above is meant to say that option 2 is bad. There is nothing wrong with choosing option 2 – it’s a choice and there is no right or wrong answer. Ride what you want. But the reality of the situation is that while many say they want high performance, they won’t actually pay for high performance or else the Euros would outsell the Big 4.