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.

  • JMDonald

    There has to be a lot of factors that go into motorcycle pricing these days. Ducati is on the right track with the Scrambler. It is still right at 10 grand with tax title and license. All things being equal if the desire is there 10 grand is not that much. If I remember correctly my CB350 was less than a grand back in the 70’s.

    • Kenneth

      “If I remember correctly my CB350 was less than a grand back in the 70’s.” — Yep, I remember getting a great February deal on a new ’71 CB350, for $749. (and it made me deliriously happy, after my ’65 CB160).

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Also, I think rent and home ownership is way way out of whack with prices from the 60s to 90s. Here in the Bay Area, housing prices are probably double wha tthey were 20 years ago, even after adjusting for inflation.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    I agree. It mostly comes to additional expenses we have nowadays and not earnings. Mobile phones that need to be changed every 2-3 years, ipads, internet – all those numerous things which didn’t exist before or we weren’t forced to have before by media. Also everything became way better, thus more expensive (and we ought to have the best and the latest of course).
    Actually it’s not that bad by itself. We pay more for an objectively better quality of life. It’s just bad for motorcycling.

  • fastfreddie

    The smart way to go is buy a used bike,maybe 5-6 years old,and either put some money on good upgrades like suspension and brakes.Don’t know about the US,but here in europe prices fall steep after 4 or five years.Would be surprised if it doesn’t do that in the US too.

  • Vrooom

    That was a good analysis. I wouldn’t have guessed most of those bikes are cheaper in todays dollars.

    • John A. Stockman

      Yes, I enjoyed the “math” and economics. Puts it into perspective, money-wise.

  • Jeremy McIntire

    Some good

  • DHZ

    You need to look at the percentage of sub 30 year old of the population. The Baby Boomers were the big surge. They propelled the motorcycle surge in the USA. Still today, the average cycle buyer in the USA is 52-55. We are the ZEV Electric motorcycle and scooter corp making bikes in WV USA ( http://www.zelectricvehicle.com ) We sell 80% of our bikes out of the country. When you look at the Vietnam, Brazil, India, China, and middle east market, that is where the young are located. And our sales follow those numbers in 24 country around the world.

    At the same time, ever since about 15 years after WWII, as the rest of the world started replacing their bombed out factory, our USA standard of living started to slip as countries starting making their own refrigerators, etc. and our manufacturing started to go away.

    About 2008, the USA bought roughly 1.8 million motorcycles. Last year it was sub .4 million. When the housing collapse and recession started, our sales fell 91% in 2 years in the USA. It has never recovered. Sales of UTV have soared, trike sales started going up for old guys, and these “wont fall over” vehicle picked up a lot of market to the .4 million unit level.

    This year was the first of the signs of a new market emerging as we got a lot of new sales in the bottom end of the electric bike market to first time riders. Although they are still all +35 and well off.

    The other growth area is electric bicycle in high power versions. These are the new bikes for the young. This market is growing at a 40% per year compounded rate and is our feeder market for our motorcycles and scooters. A Honda 50 that I bought in high school that wore out and needed a full overhaul in 4,000 miles is replaced by a 50 lb, electric bicycle with 1.5 hp. No license, no tags, no insurance needed, no garage, it can be carried up into your apartment. The electric bicycle runs the same speed as the Honda did. 500,000 units expected sales for 2016. I expect these riders will be the buyers of our motorcycles and scooters in 5 years.

    • roma258

      Demographics ain’t it. Millennials are a huge cohort in their own right and many of them are just hitting their thirties. Should be the ones driving the next generation of motorbike ownership. I just don’t know that they’ve been catered to the right way. When Ducati released the Scrambler and Honda released the Grom, those bike flew off the shelves. I wonder what the Duke 390 sales look like. But it feels like most manufacturers pretty much ignored younger buyers to squeeze every last penny out of the Baby Boomer golden goose (cough Harley cough).

      • DHZ

        You are missing the big picture. Yep, they “flew off the shelves”, but the total was still about 400,000 sold. So your case is it would have been worse but for those bikes.

        According to dealer industry mags, about 55% of the total USA dealerships closed or consolidated between 2008 and now. In Europe it was about 70%. But now Harley, BMW, and Ducati trumpet their roaring sales in India and China lifting their sales to offset USA declines.

        When Honda came out with the “You meet the nicest people on a Honda program” in the 60s, the motorcycle world was really the British singles and twins and Harley. The motorcycle dealers did not want to even handle Honda. So Honda went to lawnmower sales shops, chain saw shops, anyone with engines, and got them to carry them. There was then a huge shift in the riders from the rough riders to the first time owners of a completely different social group. This is what I think is going to happen again, but this time its the electric bicycle and light bikes creating the shift. That is why I started this electric motorcycle and scooter manufacturing business.

        Mahindra and ZEV Electric marketing thinks there is a market for a few hundred thousand of the base 3.5 hp electric bikes per year untapped being all first time riders. I expect the market for the 1 to 1.5 hp electric bicycle to jump 500,000 in the next 24 months. A 1.5 hp, 50 lb bicycle outruns the old Honda 50. There is a big push worldwide to go to three wheels instead of two for more stability/safety that has rewarded those who made that option available. So I believe the market is coming back, just not in the form that it was.

        200 people are coming Saturday for the open house for the high power electric bicycle test drive. No free food, no band, nothing but a test drive. But already 3 people decided they want to test drive the motorcycle also.

        In some country now, non electric cycle and scooter are banned from entering some city. Europe has had that legislation in front of it many times in the last 5 years.

      • Allison Sullivan

        Not only are younger people buying fewer motorcycles, they’re not even buying cars. Car companies have exactly the same problems. I know so many parents of teenagers who have no interest in learning to drive – whereas we oldies were breaking our necks to sit our licences as soon as we turned 16. And of the younger people I know who did buy starter bikes, nearly all of them turned them over and quit riding within 2 years. (It doesn’t help that I live somewhere where it snows 6 months of the year, so a bike is very much a luxury.)

        Millenials in general, or at least the ones I know, don’t have a bunch of disposable. They’re all carrying huge student loans, working their first poorly paying jobs, trying to keep crappy cars on the road and struggling to make the leap to home ownership and starting a family. There’s not much room for toys in there. So where is marketing money best spent? On Millenials, or on Boomers who are ready to retire and spend a bomb on a touring rig or a throwback café racer?

  • Jimmy Z

    Cost isn’t the issue, sanity is. I always say “The more complicate a machine is, the bigger the repair bills five years later”. How many of today’s “Wonderbikes” will be in a garage 7 years from now because the owner can’t afford to repair the anti-lock brake, variable valve timing system, integrated electric suspension, Adjustable riding mode, DCT computer interface and headlight which all suddenly quit when he ran through a puddle? It might be great for motojournalists to ride these things for a few weeks but normal people can’t hand them back to the manufacturer and get a new bike to “Test”. We actually have to live with them.

  • Gigs

    ” 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’
    This quote sticks out to me a lot. Its about priorities today. If you want to ride a motorcycle give up your smartphone and get a cheap little voice and text only phone, bum wifi from the coffee shop or school (you won’t miss the internet if you are out riding). There are lots of good cheap bikes out there right now. I have a Honda NC700X I bought new as a last year leftover and ride it like crazy. Its my commuter bike, 2.5years and 32,000miles.
    I think the excitement for motorcycling is leaving, we need to get young people excited about riding and how living vicariously over the internet is not nearly as much fun as living (on a bike).