Trends come and go in the motorcycle world, but we always have opinions about them. That's the one constant.
For this Year in Review article, we asked some of the ZLA Army regulars to name one positive and one negative trend they spotted in motorcycling in 2019. Here's what they had to say.
Spurgeon Dunbar: Strong ADV and dual-sport segment, weak elsewhere
Positive trend: ADV, dual-sport and dirt segments continue to grow. Anecdotally, the number of adventure and dual-sport motorcycles in my garage doubled in 2019 when I parked a KTM 350 EXC-F next to my 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R. While the dual-sport segment (which includes ADV bikes) as a whole didn’t see 100 percent growth, it did grow nearly four percent and the Off-Highway Dirt Bikes segment (no plates) were up 14 percent. (These numbers reflect U.S. sales for 2019 through September.) These two segments now make up a little more than 30 percent of the motorcycles sold in the United States.
That’s why most of the exciting new bikes we saw introduced or unveiled in 2019 were in this segment. Brandon has some words below about the smaller displacement bikes, but in the upper half of the range BMW updated its entire GS line, KTM introduced a revamped 690 Enduro R and the all-new 790 Adventure and Adventure R, Triumph released two new off-road-biased Scramblers and Moto Guzzi got in on the action with the V85 TT. Looking ahead, Yamaha announced that we’ll finally get to ride a Ténéré 700 stateside, Triumph has a ground-up redesign of the Tiger 900 heading our way, Honda restructured and improved the Africa Twin line and Suzuki has updated its long-in-the-tooth V-Strom lineup. Husqvarna has one crazy-looking Norden going into production and even Harley-Davidson has an adventure bike in the works with their new Pan America.
So what does this all mean? It’s more fun than ever to play in the dirt. Or at least it’s fun to look like you play in the dirt.
Negative trend: Not much else going on. When people ask me what bikes I was excited about in 2019 outside of the ADV or dual-sport class, I really have to think. There weren’t too many bikes released in 2019 that got me excited. The Indian FTR 1200 S was cool, but it’s a lot of money for what it is. Triumph probably released the street bikes I was most interested in with the Speed Twin and the Street Triple RS (though honestly, with the latter, I’d look for a leftover 2018 model to save some coin). There just wasn’t too much of note that really captured my attention.
The flip side is that 2020 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for new releases. In addition to all of the new ADV bikes I’ve already discussed above, the new Aprilia RS 660 leads the list of bikes I really want to ride. Ducati has its V4 Streetfighter and the Panigale V2 heading our way. The new BMW F 900 R and F 900 XR look great and feature extremely attractive price points. And the street bike I’m most excited to throw a leg over is the new Harley-Davidson Bronx. That’s a huge deal. This is the first time I’ve ever been personally excited to ride a Harley.
While 2019 might not have been the most exciting year for two wheels, I can't wait for the 2020 models to start heading our way.
Joe Zito: No tubes good, no butt bad
Positive trend: Tubeless tires on spoked wheels becoming more widely available. Historically, manufacturers like BMW and Triumph have reserved tubeless wire wheels for their large-displacement ADV bikes, while the middleweight machines still rocked innertubes. I understand that tubeless spoked wheels and tubeless tires are generally more expensive, so I assume this was a cost-cutting measure. Thankfully, tubeless wire wheels are trickling down to less expensive models such as the 2020 Honda Africa Twin Adventure, KTM 790 Adventure and Triumph Tiger 900. The BMW F 850 GS went to tubeless wire wheels in 2019 and the Suzuki V-Strom 650XT has been wearing them since 2015. Plugging a punctured tire is a five-minute job while changing a tube trailside can take 30 to 60 minutes. Considering the fact I changed two tubes trailside on the MABDR while running out of daylight and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, I am happy to see manufacturers heading this direction.
Negative trend: Bikes with no butts! I blame all the DIY café racer builders who have been lopping off the ass end of every Craigslist Honda CB they can get their hands on. Manufacturers tend to look to the custom bike world for design inspiration, so plenty of new bikes seem to just “end” right at the tip of the passenger seat. We see a bunch of new machines lacking nicely painted bodywork below and behind the seat, which could potentially include a thoughtful area for the taillight, turn signals and license plate to live. Instead, we get an unfinished-looking bike with some crazy apparatus attached to the swingarm to do the job of keeping Johnny Law happy with the placement of such things.
Brandon Wise: Putting "affordable" in ADV and nix the X
Positive trend: Affordable adventure bikes. Let’s face it, you can have an adventure on pretty much any two-wheeled machine. With that said, there are quite a few affordable options out there that are specifically designed for the ADV enthusiast. For example, KTM released the 390 Adventure, bike that rings in at approximately $6,200. Honda offers the CB500X for $6,999 and the Yamaha Ténéré 700 is going to come in just below $10K. Consider that the larger adventure bikes that have been around much longer, like the BMW GS or Suzuki V-Strom, are much more expensive (the 2019 V-Strom 1050 Adventure XT now has an MSRP of $14,599 and the BMW is well beyond that). I think the affordable ADV segment is a great way to get younger riders into adventure riding and I only hope we see more options from manufacturers down the road.
Negative trend: X tape on headlights. OK, this trend certainly started before 2019, but what’s up with the X on the headlights? This look is mainly associated with the hipster café crowd, but I’ve seen it on other bikes, too. I myself ride a Triumph Thruxton, aka hipster machine, however I’ve never had the desire to tape an X over my headlight. I’ve seen this trend literally everywhere.
The original idea behind the X was to prevent harm to fellow riders if the glass on the headlight was damaged during a race. Guys and gals, you may feel like you’re racing on your daily commute or bopping around town, but you’re just not. You’re just making yourself less visible and you look like a noob. Don't be that person.
Internet Stranger: “But Brandon, the shirt you wear for all your product reviews has a motorcycle with an X on the headlight!”
Me: "I didn’t choose the shirt. I certainly don’t hate the shirt but I still shake my head and sigh when I see the X on the aforementioned shirt."
Andy Greaser: Better lights, too many teasers
Positive trend: DRLs and LED lighting are expected at this point. For the majority of motorcycling’s history, regular old incandescent bulbs handled all our illumination needs. Fortunately, lighting technology has come a long way, and motorcycle manufacturers are steadily retiring the incandescents in favor of LED lamps. This means more efficient, longer lasting lights, and LED lighting just makes a bike look modern, too. I’m glad to see factory-equipped LEDs on everything from the finest sport-tourers to the most basic entry bikes.
A closely related advancement is the increased availability of daytime running lamps (DRLs). These provide additional conspicuity for the motorcycle, even in sunlight. You probably know them from the automotive industry. I’m glad to see DRLs working their way onto bikes, if only for additional SMIDSY protection. And sometimes they even look good! I think the Moto Guzzi V85 TT’s lighting is a strong example.
Negative trend: Endless teasers. I’d be very happy to see motorcycle manufacturers spend less time teasing their new bikes and more time just delivering them. Teasing months in advance of the actual release is like standing up as soon as the plane lands.
I understand that these manufacturers have an obligation to hype their new models, especially on social media. That’s just how new bike promotion works right now. No problem. Just remember that you run the risk of overhyping, only to see that interest turn to disappointment when the specs or price can’t possibly match the ideas people get in their heads about how great the bike might be. See: Suzuki Katana, Harley-Davidson LiveWire, Yamaha T7, and so on.
That's some of our takes. What trends did you come to love or loathe in 2019?