It's that magical time of year when the Common Tread crew digs up the ol' recipe (let's see, a pinch of knowledge, half a teaspoon of information, a light dusting of obfuscation and a big, steaming hunk of wild-ass guesses...) and serves up the holiday dish we call our annual predictions story.
Funny, but when we eat our words a year later, they usually taste like crow.
Not that past failures will prevent future efforts. So here are our predictions for the motorcycle world for 2017.
Lemmy’s predictions for 2017
Regardless of how Lance feels, I think it’s fair to say I crushed 2016’s predictions. That said, let me fire up mah crystal ball here, and tell you what to expect for 2017.
Kawasaki brings back the ZRX. Just a hunch, but I feel like you’re going to see that bike again. Kaw’s slated to drag out a few supercharged scoots this coming year, and Team Green is short on retro models at the moment.
The Yamaha XSR700 comes stateside. No way this can not happen. Unless there is some massive conspiracy that no one told me about, Yamaha will announce in 2017 that this bike will come to U.S. shores.
Lightweight ADVs will sell like gangbusters, then totally die off here in America. In fairness, this will probably not all happen in one year. 2017 will be a strong sales year in the category as new small ADV bikes like the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 and Honda CRF250L Rally begin to hit the market, but three to five years from now will be different. Why? To cover real mileage on an adventure, a big bike is required. A number of people will figure this out in 2017. Middleweight ADVs will do just fine, but anything less than 500 cc is going to be severely limited on the road side of the ADV equation. This is an unpopular prediction, but I suspect it will prove itself out.
Long-shot prediction: The new Honda Rebel tanks. The little 250 cc air-cooled cutie we all grew to know and love was replaced by a liquid-cooled monstrosity that shows off entirely too much of the bike’s twin backbone. The nail in the coffin, though, will be the lack of enthusiasm the MSF shows for it. They’ll stick to Suzuki offerings, notably the DR200 and the Savage, due to the low price and air-cooling. The 300 and 500 cc versions of this new bike will go the way of the CMX450 — a coupla years and disappear.
Lance may as well just give me my A now.
Spurgeon’s predictions for 2017
Yamaha introduces a middleweight ADV bike. I made a wager with a buddy a few weeks ago at the IMS in Los Angeles. I bet Yamaha would announce a middleweight adventure bike in 2017. I think Yamaha would be crazy not to introduce a production bike based on the T7 concept. If they don’t, I’ll get an F from Lance on next year’s prediction report card and lose five bucks to my friend.
Ducati’s Desert Sled wins at scrambling. I am hoping that we are finally going to see a Scrambler hit the market in 2017 that can actually scramble. I am putting my chips on the Italian manufacturer because, after getting one look at the new SV650 Scrambler and revamped Triumph Scrambler, I can promise you the competition is slim.
Honda returns to MotoAmerica Superbike. In 2009, the Daytona Motorsports Group took over operations of AMA Superbike racing and within one year American Honda Motor Company pulled out of the series, saying, “Regrettably the current AMA/DMG racing environment does not align with our company goals.” Considering the importance of Honda in racing, it was big news. Honda returning would also be big news. DMG hasn’t been in charge since 2015, and I have it on good authority that 2017 will be the year of “future consideration” for Honda.
Retro goes in a different direction. There are only so many scramblers and UJM-styled classics the riding population can consume. I think Triumph’s new Bobber is going to signify a shift in how OEMs utilize their engineers to think up retro-inspiration. I think this trend of classically inspired lines is just getting started, but for 2017 I expect to see some changes to the recipe. I expect to see more bikes done in the retro-infused style of choppers, bobbers, and cruisers. I can't wait to see the creative naming conventions.
Long-shot prediction: Kawasaki releases another supercharged bike. This is something we were hoping to see in 2016 that never came to fruition. While the H2 is swell and all, I am hoping to see this technology trickle down to offer riders truly unique options at a more affordable price point.
Lance’s predictions for 2017
Increasingly, middleweight is where the action is. Our very astute reader Tom Byrne pointed out in a comment that he has three millennial children, who have various friends, none of whom choose a particular motorcycle because they think it makes them look like a “badass.” Consumer tastes are changing and having the biggest, most expensive or most powerful is not the top priority for young buyers. They value experiences over material possessions, so an $8,500 Ducati Scrambler Icon may give them what they want more than a $23,000 Diavel. Plus, though Spurgeon was a year early in predicting the new KTM 800 cc adventure bikes, I believe we will see them unveiled in 2017, along with a production version of the 790 Duke, and maybe even a new 800 cc Triumph line and the FZ-07-based ADV bike Spurgeon bet a whole $5 on (big spender). Add the Kawasaki Z650, the Scrambler Desert Sled, etc., and the 650-900 cc range is going to be the most interesting slice of the market.
Nicky Hayden runs in the top three in World Superbike but falls short of becoming the first dual MotoGP/WSBK world champ. This is the prediction I most hope is wrong. It would be great for Nicky, a genuinely good guy with a hell of a work ethic, and it would be great for World Superbike, which I’m partial to, if we had an exciting run to the championship that could make history. But I fear it’s too much to ask. Kawasaki and Ducati will still be strong, Yamaha will probably improve and even if the new Honda CBR1000RR SP2 is great, there’s always a first-year learning curve. I hope a year from now I’m giving myself an F for this prediction.
Manufacturers realize it’s not about retro, it’s about style. The two bikes at right look quite different, but they have important qualities in common. They are functional, useful street bikes, and they have a sense of style. It used to be the “standard” was the boringest bike in the lineup. Think Suzuki Bandit or Honda 919. Worked fine, looked plain as mud. Manufacturers are learning that just because some of us want sensible ergonomics that doesn’t mean we want boring looks. So Yamaha makes the XSR900 out of the competent FZ-09, BMW pumps out R nineT derivatives to suit all tastes, and now Honda is bringing the CB1100 EX to the United States. I say Lemmy’s crazy to think Kawasaki will bring back the ZRX, but I do predict they will bring us the Z900R retro that's in the works, to provide an alternative to the Transformers styling of the rest of the Z line. Triumph will be emboldened by the reception to its Bonneville revamp and the Bobber and will double down with something new and weird for 2018. Winners will be stylish and creative modern interpretations of motorcycling's heritage, not mere visual clones of bikes from the 1960s through the 1980s.
American manufacturers face their demons. Polaris will sell more motorcycles but it won’t be enough to offset weak sales of their off-road vehicles, snowmobiles and Slingshot, not to mention the huge costs of recalls for their RZR side-by-sides (and just this week they had a motorcycle recall). Meanwhile, Harley-Davidson faces stagnant sales and a massive debt load, which may have seemed like a good idea in this era of low interest rates (by some analyses, the lowest interest rates in the history of human civilization), but those rates can only go up from here. Fortunately, executives at both companies appear to understand they need to work their way out of these holes to reach more stable footing.
Long-shot prediction: A heartbroken Lemmy learns it was just a translation error. For more than a year, Lemmy has been checking his inbox daily for new model announcements from Kawasaki, ever since he heard that the company was coming out with at least half a dozen new supercharged models. Over the year, his attitude has deteriorated from excited to impatient to sullen to downright surly as none of this has materialized. In 2017, he finally gets invited to a Kawasaki press event, finds the lone Japanese executive quietly sipping a mai tai, backs him into a corner and demands his blown engines right now. The startled and nervous executive explains that he really said Kawasaki was coming out with half a dozen superior, hard-charging machines but the translator preparing the statement in English got it confused. Sorry, Lemmy-san.