There’s no better way to look like a fool and stay humble than to try to predict the future, so as a team-building, character-building exercise, I asked our Common Tread writers to predict happenings in the moto world in the coming year.
I also asked them to include one long-shot prediction. I even volunteered to go first.
Lance’s predictions for 2016
New motorcycle sales rise in 2016 then sag in 2017. Sales of new motorcycles in the United States tend to be a lagging economic indicator. They plunged not in 2008, during the financial crisis, but in 2009. They bottomed in 2013 at less than half of what they were in 2008. Since 2013, they have risen modestly. I predict another single-digit-percentage rise in 2016 before the drag of personal debt loads, demographics, income stagnation and perhaps a recession leads to a decline in 2017.
A major manufacturer will make an electric scooter and it will become the best-selling electric bike. Why would casual, urban riders choose gas over a nearly maintenance-free electric scooter if they could buy an electric from a name they know? If I keep saying it, I will eventually be right… right?
Victory won’t buy Erik Buell Racing. Some have made extensive arguments about why Victory should buy EBR, and on the surface it sounds plausible for the company that bought Indian and Brammo’s electric motorcycle business. But the court-controlled auction of the remains of EBR keeps getting more complicated, while Victory is pursuing a more gradual entry into performance bikes that makes more sense than buying EBR and the baggage of its turbulent history.
A first-time winner will take the Supercross title. Maybe that sounds like an easy bet, but history suggests otherwise. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen six first-time champs and 14 repeat champs. The crop of potential first-time champs in 2016 is both strong and facing challenges. Ken Roczen, Justin Barcia and Trey Canard must avoid the injuries that destroyed their 2015 seasons. Cole Seely and Eli Tomac are coming back from summer injuries. They all have the speed, but one will stay healthy and find the consistency needed to break out and win the most grueling motorcycle racing championship.
Suzuki will win a MotoGP race for the first time since 2007. The 2016 MotoGP season is full of unknowns, most notably the new Michelin tires and the standardized electronics. That should lead to some surprises, and I’ll double down on this prediction by saying the first Suzuki winner won’t be Aleix Espargaró, but will be Maverick Viñales.
Long-shot prediction: Dani Pedrosa, 2016 MotoGP champ. I can see you shaking your head, but Pedrosa is a rider who gets a lot more respect from his fellow racers than from fans. His career looked to be over until radical, mid-season surgery brought him back from his arm pump problems to win twice. Also, see the comment above about surprises in 2016. Let’s say the Michelins don’t give Jorge Lorenzo the front end feel he needs to perform his magic, Marc Márquez crashes too many times because the Honda is still hard to ride at the limit, Valentino Rossi loses that fine edge in his late 30s, and the Ducati is not quite there yet. A mature and wily Pedrosa survives to win. It could happen.
If every single one of my predictions turns out to be wrong, my only consolation will be that I’m happy for EBR’s employees. So then I asked Lemmy for his predictions for 2016. It turns out that Lemmy expects to be disappointed more often than delighted in the coming year.
Lemmy’s predictions for 2016
Spurgeon doesn't build a bike. That CB550 and 440LTD that have been in Spurgeon's garage since I met him do not move. 2016, like previous years, will be marked by a distinct lack of progress on these machines.
No diesel bikes. I don't feel like stuffing a Yanmar agricultural motor into a roller. I want to buy a diesel motorcycle off a showroom floor. Sadly, I must be the only one. A direct-injected diesel single sounds like it would make a hell of a dirt bike.
No lanesplitting. Congestion and common sense be damned, you won't see splittin' made OK in the U.S.A. Orgeon riders got their tails kicked when they pushed for legalizing the activity. I'll go you one further: I wouldn't even be surprised to see California restrict or nix it. Groups that want to clarify the fuzzy lanesplitting laws or outlaw the activity altogether are out for blood.
The Suzuki SV650 returns to dominate. New riders and old hands alike love this bike. It sounds good, it's fun to ride, and there's all sorts of ways to tweak and change it. Now that Suzuki is bringing it back, a new generation of riders will become as fond of the SV as the last crop of riders did.
Long-shot prediction: Harley-Davidson reveals a new Big Twin. The Twin Cam engine is now 17 years old. The venerable Shovelhead had the longest run between the frame rails at 18 years. The Mothership must have something new in the works, but unfortunately I’m making this my long-shot prediction because I bet they'll try to get some more mileage out of the Twin Cam. Pity.
Spurgeon’s predictions for 2016
Lemmy builds a motorcycle, I don’t. Two old Harleys went from parts to roadworthy rides in 2015 up on Lemmy Mountain, so I think it’s a safe bet that our resident Harley expert has something up his sleeve for 2016. Meanwhile, I have been “building” the same two bikes in my garage since 2013, so I have to agree with Lemmy’s first prediction above. While I would like to say that 2016 is the year those projects get wrapped up, there is a better chance they will be outsourced to Lemmy. He will be paid in cases of Lion’s Head, Pennsylvania’s finest cheap beer.
Retro does not go away. Ducati keeps expanding its Scrambler franchise, Yamaha is importing the XSR900, Royal Enfield has the Continental GT, and Triumph has revamped the entire Bonneville line. I expect the first manufacturer to bring a small, affordable 250 cc to 350 cc retro, cafe, scrambler, or street tracker machine to market will have a real winner.
KTM introduces a middleweight adventure bike. In 2014, KTM said it was at work on new V-twin models in the 600 cc to 800 cc range. Triumph and BMW have dominated this class for too long. I expect to see something exciting from KTM in the coming year as a 2017 model that shakes up the middleweight class.
Suzuki and Honda update their liter sport bikes seconds before hell freezes over. For 2016, Yamaha is offering three versions of its flagship sport bike, the YZF-R1, R1M and R1S, while Kawasaki has updated its World Superbike-winning Ninja ZX-10R with improved electronics. Meanwhile, Suzuki failed to deliver a new GSX-R1000 but made big promises for 2017 and Honda was silent. Still, the unveiling of 2017 models this year should return Suzuki to competitiveness in the superbike category and end the CBR1000RR’s run as the last liter-class sport bike to lack electronic rider aids like traction control.
Long-shot prediction: Honda introduces a V4 superbike. It’s been more than 30 years since Honda upset the status quo with the release of the V4 Interceptor and I am ready to see them do it again. The internet has been awash in rumors for years that Honda would create a V4 superbike for the masses, something closer to Aprilia's $16,000 RSV4 RR than Honda's $180,000 RC213V-S. Some have predicted that Honda will unveil both a revised CBR1000RR and a V4 for the 2017 model year. Here we come, 2016. Blow my doors off.