Perception Revisited

In June of 2009 I wrote a blog that was titled Perception vs. Reality, with the post of the post being that perception and reality often aren’t the same.  Today, almost 12 months later, the happenings in the motorcycle world truly show that perception and reality are quite different.

For years Kawasaki was 3rd out of the four major Japanese motorcycle companies doing business in North America, behind Honda and Yamaha, in market share.  That all changed in the 1st quarter of 2010 when Kawasaki leaped into 1st among the Big Four.  The perception would be that Kawasaki is building better motorcycles then the other three.  The reality is that Kawasaki has been focusing over the past 3 to 4 years on building motorcycles that are functional, reliable, fun and affordable and are not available from the other manufactures.  Sure Kawasaki builds sport bikes, cruisers and dirt bikes like everyone else but their growth has not come from these markets.  Instead the growth has come by way of sales of the Ninja 250R, KLR 650 and Versys 650.  Now these motorcycles are by no means at the leading edge of technology, but they are functional, easy to ride by beginners and fun for even the most experienced riders.

In the Ninja 250R you get a motorcycle that looks like a sport bike, is a great beginner bike and is perfectly suited for daily commuting, especially around town.  It’s also spirited enough to be fun for a more experienced rider.  It sips gas and costs under $4,000.00

The KLR 650 has been around for about 25 years and has proven to be a reliable all around motorcycle that can be ridden to work every day and then be used for fun in the dirt on the weekends.  The KLR underwent some significant changes in 2008 that included a cosmetic makeover, small improvements to the engine and upgrades to the suspension.  I bought a 2008 KLR when it was first introduced in 2007 and it puts a smile on my face every time I fire it up.  In my opinion it’s the best all around motorcycle for the money on the market.  Based on sales, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

The Versys 650 is the surprise of the bunch as at first glance it’s not the best looking motorcycle out there.  In fact it’s appearance does draw attention, but not in a good way.  What the Versys lacks in looks, it more then makes up for in function.  The Versys was first introduced in Europe and then in Canada before Kawasaki brought the bike into the US market.  The success of the Versys has come in the motorcycle living up to its claim of being the best all around street motorcycle being made.  In the Versys one gets a lively, smooth parallel twin that provides plenty of torque for getting around town and powering out of corners, along with enough power to comfortably take to the highway for long rides.  The upright riding position and well though out seat provide all day riding comfort and handling.  The Versys has a tall suspension, which is a source of complaint for some riders of short stature, however the suspension is one of the best components of this motorcycle.  Few motorcycles in the price range of the Versys come standard with adjustable suspension.  The long travel also allows the Versys to be tuned with a firm suspension that makes cornering easy and fun, that also soaks up any bumps that may come along.  Kawasaki also has produced a number of aftermarket products for the Versys to help turn it into a touring bike for those who feel the occasional need to go exploring.

While the perception would be that the high-end motorcycles are the ones that riders want, the reality is today that riders want a motorcycle that’s fun, versatile, comfortable and affordable.  Kawasaki has this figured out and right now no other manufacture has products to compete with the Ninja 250R, KLR 650 or the Versys 650. 

Another motorcycle that should be a winner for Kawasaki is the KLX 250SF.  The SF is a re-tooled version of the successful KLX 250S, which is a dual-purpose motorcycle that’s focused more on dirt then road.  In the SF, Kawasaki has turned the S platform into a super moto that gets a claimed 70-mpg.  The changes Kawasaki has made include a lower seat height, a suspension that tuned for the pavement and 17 in. wheels with “sticky” rubber for cornering.  Time will tell if this motorcycle is a hit with riders.  I think it will be.

By the way, the low cost of insurance for each of these motorcycles will make that smile even bigger.

Gerald Trees

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