Opinion: What next for the first time big-bike buyer?

Opinion: What next for the first time big-bike buyer?

Last month’s R15 vs Karizma comparison got me thinking. The R15 had been a beloved and utterly reliable first bike, but I wanted more performance and had to move on. I’d have loved to stay within the brand but Yamaha had nothing more to offer at the time. And thus began a 10-year affair with some very orange motorcycles.

With the 390 Duke, the performance never got boring, but I eventually wasn’t willing to put up with the cramped ergos or the budget brakes and suspension. But what next? The Kawasaki 650s were too dull and the motorcycles that actually appealed were too expensive. Then, out of the blue, came an amazing discount on the last 20-odd units of the BS4 790 Duke and the opportunity was too good to resist. Sadly, the rest of the country isn’t as fortunate as those final 790 Duke owners.

Today, we’ve got some superb options in the sub-Rs 4 lakh, 30-45hp space and you’re spoiled for choice between adventure bikes, roadsters, retros and sport bikes, and you even have the choice of some lovely 650 parallel twins. But when enthusiasts outgrow these bikes, they find themselves staring into a rather depressing void.

Even the Kawasaki Z900, which used to be the go-to affordable multi-cylinder bike, now costs Rs 11 lakh on road, and for the average 300-400cc rider, that is too big a jump to make. The same can be said for bikes like the Versys 650 and V-Strom 650 and especially the new Transalp 750, which all cost about three times the price of the average 400cc bike, if not more.

Living with my first big bike has not only been thrilling, but also a tremendous learning experience. Because they are sold in such small numbers, regular expenses associated with an imported CKD or CBU bike (tyres, service and insurance) are vastly higher than what you’d expect with a locally made machine. Mainly though, parts can be shockingly expensive and there’s always an underlying sense of anxiety in the hope that nothing goes wrong with your bike. What we need now are appealing bikes that fill the Rs 4 lakh-7 lakh price point and the only way to do that is to have them locally manufactured. That will solve most of the problems around big-bike ownership costs.

To be fair, the manufacturers will point out that the numbers don’t justify the effort and investment, and they’d be right. But this is a long game. The premium motorcycle market in India has huge opportunities for growth and that will only come when we have a rich variety of  appealing products that are built with our environment and cost appetites in mind. Until that maturity arrives in the market, why not also use India as an export hub for these bikes?

Thankfully, things are slowly changing. Yamaha is about to launch its 300cc bikes and even a couple of 700s in India. However, they will all be imports, and subsequently priced out of reach for many people. Ultimately, it would appear that KTM is forging the way ahead once again as CEO Stefan Pierer revealed earlier this year that a more affordable bike based on the 790 platform will be made in India. Hopefully, that will be the start of more exciting things in the years to come.

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