I’ve got a bone to pick with the motorcycle industry: I don’t buy into the “more horsepower is better” mentality that many riders subscribe to. I also don’t buy into more HP = more fun (why we ride motorcycles in the fist place) and believe that more horsepower can actually have a negative effect when it comes to rider development. What I do believe is that stereotypes, social pressure, ego and mass media have pressured riders into buying unnecessarily high horsepower machines. Rant continued below.
In the same way the flatscreen TV industry is telling you that your 1080P HDTV is desperately in need of a 4K replacement, motorcycle manufacturers put out higher horsepower machines every year and expect riders to have an increasing appetite to consume them. And often, we do, so let’s take a look at the psychology that’s at play here.
Motorcycles as a status symbol
A common question people ask motorcyclists when they first meet is “what size motor is in that?” Being a sport largely dominated by males, ego is inevitably one of the factors that play into motorcycle ownership. The bigger the motor, the better. The width of a bike’s rear tire is proportional to its performance. The louder a bike’s exhaust…and the list goes on. Although some of these stereotypes and perceptions may hold an element of truth, what’s lost in them is the fact that the riding experience is 100% dependant on the matching of rider and bike. A new rider on a large displacement machine may feel cool, parked at a local coffee shop but what about on the open road? The only status that should matter when choosing a motorcycle is what the result will be when that bike is mated to the rider’s skill and riding style. After all, riding motorcycles should be about fun, not ego.
The motorcycle learning curve
Even Valentino Rossi started on a small bike and spent considerable hours (and still does) on sub-500cc displacement motorcycles. Why is it then that the average street rider begins riding on 600cc supersports and that a 700cc Ducati Monster is considered “entry level”? Sure, you can always make the safety argument -statistically, you are most likely to crash as a new rider if you are on a 600cc supersport machine (North American statistic from insurance companies, as reported by a reputable local motorcycle dealer). The REAL argument to be made however is actually around learning to ride and the fact that a rider will progress much more quickly on a bike that’s well-suited to his/her level. In the end, the question is a very personal one: what are you into motorcycles for? If it’s ego, then yes, more HP is better. If it’s to become a better rider and to get more enjoyment out of the actual riding, think again.
Riding a fast bike slow vs Riding a slow bike fast
Many an experienced rider has been heard speaking these words and there is more truth to them today than ever before. Horsepower in today’s motorcycles has reached a point where the average bike has as much horsepower as a World Superbike Series machine had 10 years ago. In those 10 years, public road speed limits have not increased, neither has the average rider’s skill level. Statistically, less than 10% of motorcyclists take their bike to a race track (even less in Canada), so why are people buying 200HP machines (see above)? One of the best kept secrets of motorcycling is that the greatest feeling and emotions on a bike actually come from a good matching of rider ability and bike capability. For many riders, this equates to smaller displacement bikes where most of the available performance can be used. As it turns out, a near-complete utilization of a bike’s potential can actually be more fun than simply tickling the throttle of a fire breathing beast.
Here’s a challenge for the upcoming year of riding: Take your current bike’s displacement, divide it by 2 and test ride a bike with that displacement. Although I’m not saying you will go and trade your current ride outright, I guarantee it will open your eyes to a new world of excitement, which is exactly the reason every one of us got into motorcycling in the first place.