China is well documented as the largest consumer of luxury goods on our fair Earth, but this trend doesn’t seem to proportionately extend to motorcycles. The Chinese classification of “large displacement” motorcycles is 150cc and above, but for the sake of everyone reading we’ll keep international standards of 600cc and above as the definition of a “big bike.”In your head name 10 bikes from international manufacturers which have over 600cc in the power plant. You can probably name 20 from just one of the big Japanese marques, right? Now try naming 10 Chinese bikes with the same engine capacity. It’s a struggle, if possible at all.
The hard truth is that domestic builders are more focused on aiming products at the customers who need bikes as a necessity rather than the guys and girls with want to have bike for leisure purposes. In 2008 the domestic market figure for 600cc and over “leisure” bike sales was just 2.3% of all motorcycle sales; in 2009 and 2010, the percentage increased to 3.4% and 5.3%, respectively; and those percentages have continued to rise but at a very slow pace of just 1% or 2% each year. Take into consideration that anything over 150cc is classified as large displacement there and it’s easy to see how little of the market the big engines account for.While a handful of Chinese brands have set out in pursuit of expanding into these leisure markets the majority remain invested in delivering standard size cubs, scooters and CG clones (which from now on we’re calling “Glones”). The reason for this, as I’ve experienced firsthand, is the prohibition of internal combustion engine motorcycles in tier 1 & 2 cities.The people wealthy enough to be able to afford to drop $20k – a price that includes a luxury tax of almost the full bike value – on a BMW GS whatever mostly live in the higher tier cities where they can’t even ride the bikes. That rules out a large group of potential buyers. Others in smaller cities might have more luck with the laws and regulations governing motorcycle engine size. It’s these people outside of the prohibition zones who are slowly pushing sales up, fraction by fraction, whether it’s an imported bike or a homegrown Jialing 600JH, Loncin LX650 or even a Benelli BJ600GS.I wouldn’t be fair to say those few pumping out the big bikes aren’t spending time and money on research and development because they are – they want to be comparable to the likes of any other international brand that shifts thousands of large engine units each year. Unfortunately where they miss out is the inability to market their wares to the right people.Often the marketing strategies used for these bikes are very much the same used for the millions Glone bikes that are sold to commuters and the elderly to be used as runarounds. There’s very little in the way of a support network; assistance in license procurement, advanced maintenance, riding courses and other things expected with the purchase of a leisure vehicle. Luckily there is a huge club network in China which does attempt to offer the proper support for big bike riders, but they’re often independent garage owners and enthusiasts rather than dealer supported outfits.I’ve been luckily enough to spend time on and off the road with the guys that support this club network across the length and breadth of China. I’ve seen the bikes they ride and ridden a few of them myself; they are passionate people who love motorcycling. At one club meet I attended there were a few guys on Harleys, a bunch of BMWs, couple of café racer inspired Suzuki imports and a selection of other big bikes. There was even pair Chinese Benellis present.This is a common set up all over China, a hardcore community of bikers who have connections with all of the other clubs up and down the country which they rely on for advice and information. It’s an amazing thing but it shouldn’t have to be this way. The factories and dealers should be doing more to promote leisure riding and getting people on to the motorcycles that are larger than the ever-so-common 125-150cc.It’s nice to see that the bigger Chinese manufacturers are making a slight effort to change their approach to big bikes in regards to the marketing and social aspect of ownership. They are starting to realize that the people buying these bikes are a whole different ball game to those who by small bikes to potter around town on.Hopefully this will lead to further improvements in model design and factory support for dealers which can then, in turn be passed on to the riders. What an exciting time it’ll be when club meets all around the world feature a Chinese big bike or two
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.