Common Tread

2019 moto predictions

Dec 24, 2018

"And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray." — Matthew 24:11

To be fair, Matt wasn't talking about us here at Common Tread (though RevZilla CEO Matt Kull might have warned you). But it's still wise to take our annual predictions with a tiny cube of sodium chloride, because on a good year we still get about half of them wrong.

The only change this year is that we have two new prognosticators. New Guy Andy is now off probation so he has to put his reputation on the line just like the rest of us. And, since he's a valued part of our team (even though we don't pay him a full-time salary), I asked veteran contributor Mark Gardiner to chip in a prediction (but I only asked him for one because we don't pay him a full-time salary).

So here we go.

Mark's bonus prediction for 2019

I would like to predict that J.D. Beach becomes the first person in decades to score a Grand Slam by winning a MotoAmerica Motul Superbike race and one each on an American Flat Track short track, TT, half-mile, and mile — but no one's ever achieved that feat in a single year, so that's too much to ask.

Royal Enfield Continental GT
Will the Royal Enfield Continental GT (shown here) and Interceptor twins, along with the Himalayan adventure bike, lift Royal Enfield to a higher level in the U.S. and European markets? Royal Enfield photo.

So instead I will predict that 2019 will be Royal Enfield's breakout year in the U.S. and European markets. I was genuinely jealous of the journos who got picked to attend the launch of their new 650 twins, and I have heard they've got a lot more great stuff in development. I think this will be the year that RE goes from being a fourth-tier presence in the United States to a brand that's on everyone's radar.

Lemmy's predictions for 2019

The LiveWire will be an expensive halo bike — and just the beginning. Harley-Davidson will release the LiveWire in 2019, and I believe it will be nearly unobtainium — on purpose. Regardless of what you think of their performance, Harley-Davidson's top-tier machines — their CVO bikes, the Touring line, the nicer Softails — are finely crafted machines of immensely high quality. They exhibit excellent engineering (albeit not necessarily spent on all-out performance), and the fit and finish on them is always show-stopping.

I believe these traits will carry over to the LiveWire, which will surely be similar to a Tesla Model S. It will be a breakthrough in terms of a major manufacturer offering an electric, yes, but it will also be evident that this is a luxury machine. Harley's going to want this motorcycle to be polished, so that people who see it on a sales floor or at Local Bike Night are just as impressed as the person who opens the checkbook to buy it. It will be not just a motorcycle, but a rolling advertisement that the MoCo has decided to author a new chapter.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire
Lemmy predicts the LiveWire will be an expensive halo bike, but more accessible models will follow. Harley-Davidson photo.

That luxury will come at a price. Nothing's been announced, but mark my words, there is no way on God's green earth that the LiveWire runs in at under $20,000, and that will be by design. A top-tier experience for early purchasers (much like Tesla's S offers) will be key to winning over the well heeled customer who isn't as eager as an early adopter to deal with the kinds of problems Mission or Brammo customers had, but is keen on making a statement through his motorcycle choice and doesn't mind paying for the privilege. These bikes will be incredible and expensive, by design, and they will pave the way for the more workaday models sure to follow.

Major revamps will come about by October. Sure, we always see new models around that time. That's not a bold prediction. But I think we're set to see some old stalwarts disappear and others morph into drastically redesigned machines. Euro 5 emissions come into play for motorcycles starting in 2020, and logically 2020 models will be introduced late in 2019. India will be implementing Bharat Stage VI emissions standards concurrently, which are similar to the Euro 5 specs. Some press has surrounded the Euro transition, but to me, BS VI is actually more important, not just because the Indian market is enormous, but also because motorcycles aren't recreational there. They're the largest portion of new vehicle sales, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Long-shot prediction: Motorcycle sales crash dismally in the United States. Like really badly. I'm going to give this a 50/50 chance: long enough I wouldn't place money on it, but it is possible.

I say this because there are two simple economic truths: the easiest purchases to forego are large, unnecessary ones, and in America, most riders use their bikes as a toy, not as irreplaceable daily transportation — this is part of the basis of the lipstick effect. The second part of this has to do with subprime auto loans. (These loans include motorcycles, but cars are actually most of the problem.) Loan-to-value ratios have moved north, as have debt-to-income ratios, as well as car loan lengths. (84 months? That's nuts. Who is still making payments on a car seven years after buying it?!) "Subprime" is still a thing — it's just tied up in Fords and Subarus, not colonials and tudors, like in 2007. Personal and corporate debt levels are high, fueled by interest rates that are lower than snake bellies.

Motorcycle sales have been flat for 10 years, despite a bull run in the stock market that now looks like it's sucking fumes. We could see a market slide, a recession that leads to layoffs and unemployment, in turn causing default rates to increase, and if things are bad enough, the fall of lending institutions. I'm not betting heavily on this happening, but it's a real enough possibility that it makes a good — though grim — long-shot prediction.

Andy's predictions for 2019

2019 will be a big launch year for new models, many for 2020 release. Lemmy got the first word in this article, but with Lance as my witness, I was on record with this prediction first. With Euro 5 emissions controls setting in for 2020, 2019 will be a huge year for manufacturers to roll out their newly compliant bikes for sale under the new emissions regulations. So what does that mean? Look for new powerplants, quieter bikes, and better fuel economy on machines leaned out as far as they’ll go. By extension, I predict we’ll see a rise in OBDII functionality for motorcycles, as it’s mandated by Euro 5. (I’m all for this. Hopefully, a common scan tool will tell you if that light is a simple fault, or a turn-it-off-right-now kind of problem. That’s the difference between a nice trip and calling a tow truck. OBDII is not new to motorcycles. Lance’s 2006 Triumph Daytona uses it and it helped him diagnose a problem.)

Nobody follows Honda into DCT/non-manual motorcycles. This feels like a safe prediction, but I think it’s significant: Honda will remain the only major manufacturer selling significant numbers of twist-and-go motorcycles that aren't scooters. I think this is insane. If lowering barriers to entry is a key part of increasing new ridership, why is Honda the only one with a DCT or similar transmission? Learning to use a manual transmission on top of learning to ride can overwhelm beginners. Their prior road experience probably involves four wheels and something automatic. (Now that’s a safe prediction!) New manual car sales are in the single digits and shrinking, while the motorcycling world couldn’t be more different.

Electric motorcycles typically don't require mastery of a clutch, but they are still relatively expensive and limited in range, so I don’t feel that they solve the barrier-to-entry problem for most new riders. I suppose the Rekluse clutch in the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 Lusso SCS is a step in the right direction, but that is not a beginner bike. It’s exotic, powerful, and its name is too long. On behalf of all the people who’ve asked me if there are any automatic motorcycles, why can't someone join Honda in making it easier for learners?

Harley-Davidson Forty Eight Special
It's time for an update, Harley. Harley-Davidson photo.

Long-shot prediction: a new Sportster? Harley, you’ve got plenty of work to do if you really want to deliver those 100 high-impact new models you promised by 2027. The Sportster’s overdue for a refresh, so why not make 2019 your year, HD? Spin off some variations, update a few things, and keep it simple.

KTM 790 Adventure R
Spurgeon expects the KTM 790 Adventure R to rule the ADV class. KTM photo.

Spurgeon's predictions for 2019

The KTM 790 Adventure R upsets the ADV segment. I have been talking non-stop about KTM recently so I’ll keep this short and sweet. The 790 Adventure R is going to upset the ADV market. How will we be able to measure that? I’m not entirely sure. But anecdotally speaking, 2018 was the first year I began to see 1090s and 1290s outnumber Triumphs and BMWs at off-road events. Africa Twins are still making a strong showing, so I guess we’ll have to see if the Adventure Sports version is enough of an update to go up against the Austrians. Spoiler alert: I don’t think it will be.

Yamaha MT-03
Will the Yamaha MT-03 finally come to the United States? Yamaha photo.

Yamaha introduces the MT-03 to America. Small-bike sales are one of the few growing segments in the United States and yet Yamaha decided to use 2018 to introduce the Eluder and the Venture to the American market. A pair of oversized, overpriced, and underpowered luxo-barges. With all due respect guys, what in God’s name were you thinking? Yamaha should have brought us the MT-03, a small-displacement bike that’s already being sold in foreign markets. It’s not going to fix all of Yamaha’s problems, but it’ll be a start. Let’s see this happen in 2019.

Long-shot prediction: Oversized touring cruiser sales continue to decline. I’ve been talking a lot recently about the increase in small-displacement sales in America. And while I was quick to attribute this spike to new or younger riders, a lot of folks pointed out that there are also an increasing number of older riders giving up their big heavy bikes and downsizing to more manageable machines. If that’s truly the case, barges like the Yamaha Venture and Eluder, Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1700 Voyager, and Harley’s Road Glide and Electra Glide are on their way out. The BMW K 1600 Grand America and Triumph Rocket III should watch their backs, as well.

After all, 2018 was the year we saw Honda reduce the size of the Gold Wing. People are still touring, but there is a shift in the bikes being used for this purpose. Motorcycles have simply gotten too big.

Marc Márquez
Statistically, the MotoGP field is as tight as it has been in history. So why am I predicting a Honda sweep in 2019? Repsol Honda photo.

Lance's predictions for 2019

Repsol Honda finishes one-two in MotoGP. Jorge Lorenzo surprised just about everyone when he announced this year that he would ride for Honda in 2019 as Marc Márquez's teammate. There were a lot of skeptics. The Honda doesn't suit Lorenzo's style, they said. Márquez and Lorenzo will clash. Lorenzo will be frustrated as Márquez gets first-class treatment and he doesn't.

I'm taking the other side of all those bets. Lorenzo showed he was able to adapt his riding style and win races on the Ducati and, just as importantly, on the Michelin tires, which also did not suit his natural style. Sure, the two top riders will clash, but I think that will just stoke the fires of their already superhuman competitiveness. And maybe most importantly, Honda has already said they're happy to build two different bikes, if needed. It took half of the 2018 season for Lorenzo to convince Ducati to change the shape of the fuel tank. Honda appears determined not to be so stubborn.

About the only thing that can stop Márquez is injury, and that's a possibility, considering the number of times he crashes (though he always seems to get it out of the way in practice, where he doesn't lose points). If his off-season shoulder surgery turns out to be successful and he no longer risks it popping out just because he reached for a Red Bull in the ice bucket, then he will be as nearly unbeatable as always. Lorenzo is still on top of his game, too. Expect another sweep: rider, team and constructor titles.

Triumph finally releases a Daytona 765. Triumph hasn't made many missteps since John Bloor took over the ashes of the old company and remade it in a modern image. Despite the weak sales of middleweight sport bikes, I don't think a Daytona sport bike based around the revised 765 triple would be a mistake, either. Sure, with its larger displacement the bike would no longer fit into the Supersport category, like the old 675 did, but who cares? It doesn't have to because by signing up to supply engines for Moto2, Triumph has a class of its own, one where it will win every race. And though I haven't heard the 765 race engine in person myself, the descriptions by those who have (as well as videos like the one below of the Kalex team testing) suggest that it could turn millions of MotoGP fans into interested potential customers.

As a happy owner of a first-year example of the Daytona 675 and a rider who enjoyed riding our Street Triple RS loaner, I'm looking forward to this one — even if I'm unlikely to trade my classic for one.

Andy's S90 project
Will this Honda ever get back on the road? Photo by Johnny Greaser.

Long-shot prediction: Andy will finish his Honda S90 project, Spurgeon will finish his Honda CB550 project, and Lemmy will get out on the trails and put enough hours on his Beta that it will finally need service. OK, so really those are all longer than long-shots. But the advantage of being editor is that sometimes you get the last word and you can have some fun at your colleagues' expense.

Check back a year from now when we see how many we got wrong.