Small bikes get no respect.
Most experienced riders view anything powered by a sub-500 cc engine as a "beginner" bike. The more generous charitably describe small-bore motorcycles as "fun." They're often considered toys built for noobs.
I beg to differ.
There's a myriad of reasons why riders should go small. For me, it's a matter of need. I live in the traffic-dense suburbs of north San Diego County, and chugging around on, say, a Gold Wing from stop light to stop light in traffic sounds like a rather joyless experience. Give me a nimble little KTM Duke 390 or a Kawasaki Ninja 300 or even a Honda Grom and I'm a happy camper.
Still, little bikes not only lag behind in power and quality of components, such as brakes and suspension, but they also tend to be somewhat boring in appearance. It's OK to admit it: part of the appeal of riding a motorcycle is that most of them really are good-looking machines. Lightweight sport bikes these days, like the new baby Ninja, Honda CBR300 and Yamaha's R3, bring the same aggressive styling as their big brothers. But there's nothing really striking about them.
Yamaha might change all of that with an odd, retro-styled concept bike. One that's powered by a 125 cc engine.
At the recent Tokyo Auto Show, Yamaha presented the Resonator 125, accompanied by the somewhat strange promotional video below. Clearly aimed at new riders, the café styling takes the retro/hipster look to a new level. This is a bike that any steampunk aficionado would be proud to ride.
Partnering with designers from Yamaha's musical instrument line (indeed, the name itself is a hat-tip to sound), the builders added some fascinating aesthetics. You'll notice the acoustic guitar-inspired wood panels on the gas tank, and the intricately engraved brass overlays on the gas cap and muffler that call to mind saxophones. That's not to say that the bike was built with Jules Verne-era technology. Yamaha states that the instrument cluster is a multifunction smartphone that can be used on and off the bike.
This is a concept bike, so anything goes. No tech specs were released. Mass production of some of these parts would be difficult and expensive. The thing doesn't even have mirrors.
But based on looks alone, and the ease of use that a 125 offers new riders, I think Yamaha might be on to something here. The Grom was a surprise success, with pre-release buzz turning into actual waiting lists for the bike when it hit the market in 2013. Now, Kawasaki is attempting to one-up Honda with its Z125, a Grom competitor that will come with an automatic transmission option as well as a manual "Pro" version.
If Yamaha does go ahead with a version of the Resonator, they'll be able to target a market segment that might prefer something like a Vespa over a sporty minibike like the Grom or Z125. With all the interest in retro style, that's not hard to imagine. And regardless of what you may think about the Resonator's looks (man, those wood panels won't do well when the bike gets dropped) or power, if it brings new riders into the fold, it's good for motorcycling in general.