Common Tread

Best and worst trends of 2016

Nov 01, 2016

It was the best of trends, it was the worst of trends. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had Africa Twins and Yamaha XSR900s before us, we had not a single fully updated 600 cc supersport before us.

Here are the 2016 trends the Common Tread regulars picked out as the year’s best and worst.

Scorpion Covert Flannel Lemmy from RevZilla
Scorpion's Covert Flannel looks like a regular shirt but is lined with Kevlar and has pockets for Sas-tec CE-rated armor at the elbows, shoulders, and back. RevZilla photo.

Spurgeon Dunbar
Spurgeon "enjoy the ride" Dunbar

Best trend: Protection in disguise

In 2016, we saw an explosion in riding apparel disguised to look like regular designer lifestyle pieces. Riding jeans now have nearly as many style options as you’ll find by walking into a Levis store. New materials like Covec offer advances in abrasion resistance, and CE-rated armor is getting so thin and pliable you can barely tell you’re wearing it.

The best riding protection you own is the protection you use. I am by no means an ATGATT guy, but if these lifestyle pieces get more folks to enjoy wearing riding gear, I’ll chalk that up as a win for everyone.

Other best trend: Yamaha keeps up the momentum

It’s been a busy year (or three) for the Tuning Fork powerhouse and they show no signs of slowing down.

For 2017, the YZF-R6 gets a robust electronics package, including traction control, throttle modes, ABS, and a new suspension and swagger lifted right off the R1. The insanely popular FZ-07 and FZ-09 get facelifts, and the FZ-09 gets the same upgrades in suspension, braking, and electronics Lemmy gushed about on the XSR900. This on top of the hugely competent FZ-10 I got to ride earlier this year.

These bikes also range between screaming bargains and competitively priced. I hope the other manufacturers are taking notes.

BMW R nineT Scrambler
How many Scramblers? Photo by Kevin Wing.

Worst trend: Scrambler naming convention reaches dead end

In 2016, we saw the introduction of three more “Scrambler” models. In addition to the existing models from Triumph and Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Yamaha, and BMW are now all selling the scrambler dream. Enough.

Yes, a Scrambler by definition is a street bike that has been modified to better handle the dirt. By this standard definition, OEMs are not wrong in loosely calling these bikes Scramblers. But come on, these are street bikes.

Manufacturers are doing the bikes they create a disservice with this particular naming convention. If you saddle these bikes with the expectation that they can perform in the dirt, people will judge them by that standard. Call these bikes what they really are: solid street bikes with retro lines.

Honda Africa Twin
Pinpoint the kind of riding you do and the manufacturers probably have a motorcycle perfectly suited to your riding niche. Photo by Kevin Wing.

"Howdy, this is" Lemmy

Best Trend: The perfect bike for you now exists

Motorcycles are becoming specialized to the point where it’s very possible to buy the bike that’s perfect for you. Manufacturers are making more models than ever with so many shades of nuance between them, so you can get exactly what you need. For instance, in the ADV market, which itself is a combination of a dirt and street machine, you’ve got bikes that are biased towards the dirt, like the Honda Africa Twin with a 21-inch front wheel and a parallel-twin engine. Or, if your adventures keep you mostly on the blacktop, you might be interested in the redesigned-for-2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650, which is powered by a V-twin and rolls along on a street-friendly cast 17-inch and 19-inch wheels.

Indian Springfield
Do you want a dresser? Do you want a windshield or a fairing? Hard bags or soft? How about a radio? There's a model for everyone. RevZilla photo.
Similarly, if you’re into cruisers, you can jump onto a new Ducati X-Diavel and strafe the bejesus out of some corners, leading the way with your feet, if that riding position suits you. If you want a dresser, you can choose from the swoopy, wind-in-your-face styling of the Indian Springfield or the more traditional and vastly improved Harley-Davidson Road King. I’m not trying to load this article up with links to our reviews; rather, I am attempting to showcase the vast range of choices even within a narrowly defined genre.

Couple this with an aftermarket jammed full of goodies for glitter and function’s sake, and you can buy or build seemingly anything your heart desires. Choice is a wonderful thing, and the best time in motorcycling history is right now.

Second-best trend: Educated consumers

As a young man cutting his teeth on riding, I read the European motorcycle mags and lusted for naked bikes that we didn’t get in the States. I wanted the practicality of a naked bike with the comfy riding position and re-worked cams that made usable midrange power. People here didn’t buy them because they were “detuned” (I despised that word) and made less peak horsepower.

I think today’s generation of new riders is smarter and looks beyond peak horsepower. The triple is one of the hottest street bike layouts right now, and with good reason: They make sense on the street. People are buying Yamaha FZ-07s making 75 horsepower in that creamy, linear way twins serve up the power. Because we’re getting smarter, we’re getting bikes that meet our needs much more closely.

Yamaha FZ-10
Does this bike really have to look like this? Yamaha photo.

Worst trend: A widening chasm in the standard bike market

Lance dropped a nugget of wisdom in the comments section of one of our articles. Its poignancy is such that I’ve been mulling it over for weeks. "We are kinda stuck with using the word ‘retro’ for now because there are two distinct styling trends in unfaired standard street motorcycles. There's the XSR900/R nineT/Ducati Scrambler etc. school of styling and then there's the Kawasaki Z800/Suzuki GSX-S1000 approach. Very different, yet all those bikes fall in the unfaired standard category. If we don't use ‘retro,’ how will we distinguish?"

I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. I really like bikes that have their own personality without trying too hard. A bike should be good enough that it doesn’t have to ape an earlier motorcycle. If I wanted the old bike, I would buy it. Similarly, I do not want to look like Russ Thompson, riding that ant around in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

The Suzuki SV650 and Moto Guzzi Griso nail down a nice middle ground, but those are exceptions. The Yamaha FZ-09 got more aggressive this year, the Kawasaki Z1000 is in no way plain-looking, and the Yamaha FZ-10… well, the FZ takes the cake. The whole thing is corners and angles and layers. The Yamaha XSR900, Honda CB1100, and Triumph-any-Modern-Classic are at the other end of the pendulum’s swing. These bikes are trying oh so hard to look like they’re fresh out of the disco era.

Standards aren’t boring, no matter what the moto scribes tell you. A motorcycle can be beautiful without being ridiculous.

Other worst trend: Scrambler naming convention

I’m kind of with Spurg on this. Just sell us the damn bikes. We’ll figure out how far off-road we can take ‘em.

motorcycles on sale
There are plenty of leftover new models and used bikes for sale. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Lance Oliver
Lance "a man with no tagline" Oliver

Best and worst trend in one: The weak U.S. motorcycle market

This, I believe, is the one trend from 2016 that tops all the others: Just as the Federal Reserve has been waiting nine years for the economy to be strong enough to return to a “normal” monetary policy, the motorcycle industry has been waiting nine years to return to the good times it wishes were “normal.” Sales of new motorcycles in the United States remain not a lot more than half of what they were in 2007, and just like GDP growth in the overall economy, the motorcycle “recovery” has been weak.

How can this be both a best and worst trend? It depends on where you stand.

If you’re a new rider, you have more options than ever as manufacturers have scrambled to build accessible, affordable models to try to reverse the sales slide by attracting new customers. If you’re a young rider on a limited budget, but still want a bike with style, you have retro, sporty or Autobot options to choose from, all for well under $10,000. If you’re a thrifty type who buys secondhand, prices of used motorcycles are being pressured down by the same factors keeping new-bike sales low. Or, you can go buy one of the 2014 or 2015 new leftovers still on dealer floors that are now marked down $2,000 or $3,000 from MSRP and get a new bike for a used-bike price.

This is the worst trend, however if you’re employed in the motorcycle industry and trying to boost sales (I regularly hear industry insiders lament about having to do more with less). If you owned or worked at one of the hundreds of dealerships that closed down over the past nine years, it’s the worst trend. If you are a temporary worker at Harley-Davidson, you just got laid off.

It’s the best of times to be a buyer or a rider of motorcycles. It’s not far off being the worst of times to make or sell them for a living.

Yamaha YZF-R6
Lance riding a Yamaha YZF-R6 "back in the day" when 600s were popular. Dunlop photo.

Second best and worst trend: Disappearing 600 cc supersports

Let’s be honest: A 600 cc race replica is the best choice of motorcycle for maybe five percent of riders. Maybe. They’re not cheap to buy, they’re expensive to insure and expensive to fix if you drop them, they’re uncomfortable in day-to-day street riding, they require above-average riding skill to get the most out of them, and using them to their full 14,000 rpm capabilities on the street will cost you your license.

All that said, I felt more than a twinge of sadness reading Mark Gardiner’s story about the slow disappearance of the class. I miss the times when 600s ruled. As Mark wrote: “They were the closest things most of us would ever get to a real homologation special.”

I call this a best trend because these bikes are disappearing for the reason Lemmy cited above: People are wising up and buying motorcycles better suited to their needs on the street. I call it a worst trend because of what Mark said in the previous paragraph.

I would be miserable with a 600 cc race replica as my only motorcycle. But as long as I have at least two bikes in the garage, I’d hate to give up my supersport-class ride, even though I know I’ll never be good enough to master its potential.