A couple months ago my column (From Domination To Near Extinction) bemoaned the future status of American talent at world-level motorcycle road racing. “Blame it on the Great Recession, DMG’s hostaging of American Superbike racing, Justin Bieber, the removal of artificial colors and flavors from breakfast cereals, I don’t know, blame it on something or nothing,” I said, and lay blame commenters did, blaming everything from declining youth ridership to our fascination with outlaw bikers to the ebbing of flat tracking. Most comments owned merit, and then there was this from throwedoff, “In 1985, an eighteen to twenty-two year old still living at home could possibly afford the payments on most any sport bike offered then…”

I can get behind throwedoff’s statement because I’ve been saying something similar for years, and I have a personal correlation to prove the statement’s validity. In 1991, I was pimping bikes at the local Honda shop earning minimum wage plus commision on the bikes I sold. I didn’t live at home, and California rent is expensive. So, that negates the extra moolah my commission checks were bringing in, but I still managed to afford a beautiful new Honda CBR600F2. At the time, it was the baddest 600 supersport in the land and had an MSRP of only $4,995.

Flash forward to 2015 and a CBR600RR at $11,490 costs 2.3 times as much as my F2. In fact, it’s a 130% increase where the U.S. Inflation Calculator says it should only be a 75% increase. Anomaly? Let’s check out some other 600s and see how competing OEMs stack up.

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1991 Honda CBR600F2 $4,998 $6492 129.9% $8757 $3759 75.2%
2015 Honda CBR600RR $11,490

 

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1993 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6 $6199 $6500 104.8% $10,237 $4038 65.1%
2015 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R $12,699

 

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1989 Yamaha FZR600 $5099 $5891 115.5% $9813 $4714 92.5%
2015 Yamaha YZF-R6 $10,990

Holy Moses! Talk about unsustainability. At this rate 600cc superports will be knocking on the door of $15k by 2020. But this proves throwedoff and I are right. Right? OEMs are pricing themselves out of the realm of affordability to young adults.

Before we castigate those who build our precious two-wheelers, let’s expand the scope of research. Yamaha’s 2015 YZF-R1 jumped in price over the 2014 model by $2200. You’d expect that’d be enough for easily padding the too expensive conspiracy, but that’s not exactly the case. Considering its arsenal of technological upgrades the base model is only 13.3% more than the inflation calculator says it should be (the 600s were an average of 39% more). When we go back one year to the 2014 model, the R1 at $14,290 is actually 10.5% below what the inflation calculator says.

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1991 Yamaha FZR1000 $8749 $7741 88.5% $15,349 $6600 75.2%
2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 $16,490
2014 Yamaha YZF-R1 $14,290 $5541 63.3% $15,207 $6458 73.8%

Looking at other literbike pricing reveals similar results of MSRPs coming in under the inflation calculator’s figures.

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1994 Honda CBR900RR $8999 $5000 55.6% $14,490 $5491 61.0%
2015 Honda CBR1000RR $13,999

 

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1994 Kawasaki ZX-9 $9299 $5000 53.8% $14,973 $5491 61.0%
2015 Kawasaki ZX-10R $14,299

Okay, the evidence is beginning to dispel the too expensive conspiracy, but we’ve only been looking at Japanese motorcycles. What about those expensive, exotic European brands? Another harbinger of unaffordability, right? Not even close. The exotic Ducati 851 of 1992 retailed for what was at the time a lofty $12,500. Even then, Ducati was $3751 more than the FZR1000 and more than double the price of a Japanese 600 supersport. So, yeah, it was expensive. Compared to the newly minted 2015 1299 Panigale, at $19,295 it’s only a 54.4% increase – a whopping 15.7% less than what the inflation calculator calculates.

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1992 Ducati 851 $12,500 $6795 54.4% $21,261 $8791 70.1%
2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale $19,295

The adjusted-for-inflation price of an 851 is $21,261 or an increase of 70.1%, making the 1299 Panigale with its bevy of performance and technological upgrades a better deal today than the 851 was 23 years ago. It should also be noted that the gap between the base model Panigale and base model R1 shrunk to $2805, nearly $1000 less than the margin between the FZR1000 and 851.

Let’s take a quick look at motorcycle models other than sportbikes.

Touring bike pricing seems to have climbed a steeper pricing incline than sportbikes have, especially the top-of-the-line Gold Wing, but then it’s the only motorcycle in the world with an included airbag plus a navigation system which the ‘99 Gold Wing didn’t have. And it almost seems a shame to compare the K1600 to a K1200, but both represent the pinnacle of touring choices from BMW according to the era.

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1999 Honda Gold Wing SE $17,999 $12,600 70.0% $25,781 $7782 43.2%
2015 Honda Gold Wing Air Bag $30.599

 

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1999 BMW K1200LT $18,900 $11,095 58.7% $27,072 $8172 43.2%
2015 BMW K1600GTL $29,995

Aprilia’s 2015 Tuono V4 Factory 1100 ABS at $16,299 is an astounding $1000 less than its 2003 V-Twin counterpart at $17,299! Meanwhile, Ducati’s current 821 Monster has risen in price marginally compared to its 1997 predecessor, the M900.

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1993 Aprilia Tuono R $17,299 -$1000 -5.8% $22,438 $5139 29.7%
2015 Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory 1100 ABS $16,299

 

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1997 Ducati M900 Monster $9745 $1850 19.0% $14,490 $4745 48.7%
2015 Ducati Monster 821 $11,595

In regard to the youth market – the keystone of affordable family motorcycling as well as a harbinger of motorcycling’s future – we find that in the short term the price of Yamaha’s PW50 has risen sharply compared to the price of the two closest youth Hondas over a longer time period. There’s a similar, minimal increase for the 2015 Kawasaki KX100 that’s 8% below the inflation-adjusted price of the 1996 KX100.

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
2008 Yamaha PW50 $1149 $291 25.0% $1273 $124 10.8%
2015 Yamaha PW50 $1440

 

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1998 Honda XR70R $1599 $500 31.2% $2341 $742 46.4%
2015 Honda CRF110F $2099

 

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1996 Kawasaki KX100 $3199 $1400 43.8% $1667 $1221 52.1%
2015 Kawasaki KX100 $4599

When we take a quick look at the domestic market, from the affordably priced Sportster to the top-of-the-line Ultra, we see that Harley is running below the figures of the inflationary calculator.

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1988 Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster $4322 $4077 94.3% $8718 $4396 101.7%
2015 Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster Iron $8399

 

Model MSRP $ Increase % Increase Inflation Calculator MSRP $ Inflation Calculator Increase % Inflation Calculator Increase
1990 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic $13,695 $10,604 77.4% $25,005 $11,310 82.6%
2015 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic $24,299

I’m no mathematician, and the variety of motorcycles selected above certainly isn’t conclusive evidence that motorcycle pricing hasn’t outpaced inflation. Still, there seems to be an obvious trend that motorcycles, for the most part, are just as affordable now as they were when I bought my CBR600F2. Honestly, it seems to me that considering the technology and performance with which modern bikes come equipped, we’re getting a pretty good deal for our money, and better than we did 24 years ago.

The 600cc sportbike pricing anomaly, I think, can be attributed to the model escalation where, from the early ’90s to the housing bubble pop, OEMs ramped-up development cycles and technology levels, MSRPs be damned! Yamaha confirms, though, that even at $10,990 the R6 remains one of its best selling models.

So, if we assume motorcycles are maintaining relative affordability, why does the feeling remain that owning a motorcycle is costlier now than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago?

Let’s look at the part of throwedoff’s earlier comment I discluded. “In 1985, an eighteen to twenty-two year old still living at home could possibly afford the payments on most any sport bike offered then as well as the insurance coverage.”

Prohibitive insurance premiums only apply to a select few, such as single twentysomething’s with sportbikes, and do not apply to kid’s dirtbikes or married middle-agers on their cruisers. Insurance, though, like everything in life, has gone up in price, which leads to the bigger picture consideration: Cost of living + income now vs cost of living + income then.

Thanks to a handy minimum wage adjusted for inflation calculator I can see that my minimum hourly rate in 1991 of $4.25 is the equivalent of $7.27 per hour in 2013 dollars, which gives extra insight to my ability at that time to afford the F2. For perspective, the current national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. I don’t recall what my insurance premiums were, but I do know that I skated by with the bare minimum liability coverage on my F2. Had I a $50 per month home internet plan, $100 per month cell phone plan, $4 per-gallon gas and a few other modern drains on my wallet, I can’t say for certain if that F2 would have been mine.

Going back further to an age of golden luster for motorcycling, we see that in 1969, when Honda introduced the CB750 Four, the minimum wage was but $1.60 an hour. According to the inflation calculator, however, that buck-sixty was equal to the purchasing power of $10.16 per hour in 2013 dollars, and in a time of even lesser demands on a person’s pocketbook.

Like mathematics, economics isn’t my strong point, and my research certainly doesn’t account for fluctuating exchange rates, unemployment levels, national GDPs, etc. But – and I hate getting all political in a motorcycle pub – it seems to me that motorcycle ownership is increasingly cost prohibitive to those who populate the lower and middle classes (which is most of us) for two reasons. First are all the modern demands on our disposable income: cell phones, data plans, tablets, etc. Secondly, our cost of living + income scenario is completely out of whack. If the cost of living + income scenario was more favorable to the lower and middle classes, such as it was in 1969, we’d be better equipped for affording our data plans as well as our motorcycles.