Having been in business for decades global motorcycle manufactures that we know and love have a history. And that history is significant because it gives you a reason as to why you are riding the motorcycle that you are. With the Japanese brands diversifying, the European brands building on what they know and the Americans doing what they have always done each western motorcycle market has a different strategy be it conscious, cultural or ‘other’.
I will start with the Japanese as to me they are most interesting. They appear to have an autonomic love to engineer and improve products. Holding themselves to a self defined astronomical industry standard they have built a cultural identity that is globally recognised. Japanese manufacturing represents high quality, end to the earth and back reliability mixed with an evolutionally approach to product design. It is clear that not one company can simple make motorcycles.
Honda or to give it the full title Honda Motor Company make generators, robots, powerboat engine and cars. Kawasaki or ‘Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ make aircraft, generators, ships, turbines, boilers, aerospace products and defence equipment. Yamaha diversify even further as they make musical instruments, electronics and sports equipment whereas Suzuki makes wheel chairs, out board boat motors, cars and ATV’s.
In some instances (Kawasaki most notably) motorcycle production is one of the smaller avenues that these manufactures explore. Japanese companies therefore have the benefit of transferring company ethos and brand identity through different products within a larger speciality. Promoting buying confidence there is a blend of heritage and proven master craftsmanship within the wider engineering field that is communicated through various products. For instance, if you have owned a Honda generator or car for the last twenty years that has never gone wrong then it can be argued that you would be more inclined to buy a motorcycle from them.
Jumping to the Europeans they appears to act differently. BMW are the odd cousins of the Europeans as they make more than just motorcycles. I understand that large companies are owned by enormous companies but nevertheless there are no VW, Mercedes, Skoda or Opel motorcycles; not one. Similarly in the same vain there are no BMW vans or trucks. BMW has a lengthy diverse history that has always involved motorcycles alongside their cars swapping and developing technologies as they have grown together. Mercedes, as an example, does not have this and starting a production line to churn out motorcycles into an overcrowded, ageing demographic is an economic risk to put it mildly. Still imagine a Mercedes motorcycle; now that is exciting.
Exploring other European motorcycle brands the diversity begins to be lost. KTM, Husky, Triumph, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Aprillia, MV are all motorcycle companies and for better or worse that is all they make. Piaggio would be the only company that has a diverse reach but still does not come close the Japanese. These companies appear to diversify solely within motorcycling by following trends of their customer base. In marketing they speak more locally. Priding themselves on their corner of the market and how they make specific motorcycles for specific types of people. This flies in the face of the Japanese who seems to make motorcycles for the ‘every man or women’.
Now with Victory and Buell out of the game Harley Davidson and Indian are the only two manufactures I can think of based in America. I do not have much to say on these brands or that of American motorcycles as I have little interest. Not only do these brands only make motorcycles but they seemed to be locked into only making one type of motorcycle. Diversity pours through the other manufactures all around the world within and outside the world of motorcycling but for some reason America fell into a tar pit sixty years ago and became locked in a un-wavering state of motorcycle design. Heritage (resting on your laurels) is a large selling point for these brands. You are buying into a lifestyle and a history that no other motorcycle brand can boast. And they are right everyone else has moved on, taken risks and diversified.
By picking apart each of these manufactures and reading the history of each company you quickly notice why they make the machines that they make today. Companies ‘mission statements’ should be translated into the product and represent their ideals. So if what is important to you in a motorcycle is not important to the company you are buying from you will quickly feel that you are misaligned with the machine. Well at least I do. With KTM’s ‘Ready To Race’, Ducati’s ‘Lightness Is My Strength’, Kawasaki’s ‘Let the Good Times Roll and Honda’s ‘Power of Dreams’ you get a glimpse into the beliefs of the CEO, designers, engineers and people who make up the company who make your motorcycle. These companies begin to take on personality and traits that you may begin to associate or reject with yourself. When confirmed it supports buying in confidence and a sense of self-actualisation. When rejected manufactures and machines are easy to dismiss and forget.
Owning a machine that you fully prescribed to, that you are agreeing or inline with the companies ethos, can be a subtle but most rewarding and personal expressions of self. Very few people feel this way but you can spot them as they tend to nod at you as you pass them on their motorcycle.