Skidmarks - Dollars Per Power

Gabe Ets-Hokin
by Gabe Ets-Hokin

“Figures often beguile me… particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”

—Mark Twain

This year’s MOBO awards were exhaustive in their scope and breadth; kudos to my full-time brothers for putting all that together. But there was one category they didn’t look at, probably because they thought it was a dumb idea. Lucky for me, I work alone in a small room that smells faintly of cat pee, so nobody tells me I have dumb ideas. So what if we awarded the motorcycle that offers the most horsepower per dollar? I know, it’s genius, right?

Now, without doing the hours of data analysis (that I didn’t do, either), what category do you think gets the most ponies out of your right wrist for the smallest amount? If you guessed open-class sportbikes and standards, you’d be right, generally. Ten years ago, even five years ago, getting horsepower was much like shopping at Costco: to get the best deal, you had to buy way more than you needed. BMW‘s S1000RR, more specifically the unicorn-like $15,695 base model (unless you wait at the end of the assembly line with a huge butterfly net, there’s no chance in hell you can get one) offers one horsepower for just $86, and the open-class competition is all within a few dollars of that. Expand your definition of “sportbike” to include GT type land yachts like the ZX-14R and you can save a few more bucks – that big green softy puts 184 horses in your pocket for $14,999: $82 each.

Author demonstrates his graphic-design skills and powers of statistical analysis with one fine-looking chart, mmm-hmm. He says it looks less blurry if you put on your reading glasses. Prices for 2005 motorcycles are for decent used examples.

If you think a cruiser will take the cake, well, you’re not totally (just mostly) wrong. Cruisers charge per horsepower like it’s Beluga caviar, though pound-feet of torque are competitive with other categories. The 1200 Sportster gets you a pound-foot for just $163, much less than the $201 per of the S1000RR. Indian‘s Scout 60 is a serious torque-per-dollar value as well, asking a mere $151 for each bit o’ twist. With that kind of cheap, accessible torque, combined with that je ne sais quois Harley-Davidson appeal, it’s no wonder the Sportster is a top-selling street model in the United States, and why Indian is so aggressively trying for a slice of that pie.

My personal favorite category is stuff priced under $7,000, probably because I lack the self-esteem necessary to want a bike that makes more than 70 horsepower. I thought the snappy lil’, MOBO-awarded FZ-07 would win this easily, but nope. If I actually bought a new (that’ll be the day!) motorcycle, I’d be paying $107 per horsepower! Do I have “sucker” scrawled on my forehead? Same goes for the MOBO-winning 390 Duke. It’s a fun ride, but not light or cheap enough to get open-class value: $126 per hp. Sad trombone sound.

Then it hit me: the Yamaha FZ-09, value priced, light, and fast. It had to be the king of this category. At $8,190 and cranking out 104.6 hp, that’s Taco Bell pricing at $78 each, and you don’t have to consume seven ounces of nacho cheese sauce per serving (unless you want to, Sean). Done and done.

Suzuki’s tuned-for-value GSX-S1000. At $9,999 for 144 rear-wheel horsies, it may be the best power-for-dollar value of all time. As a totally meaningless but still cool comparison, NASA’s Saturn V booster rocket, which cost $682 million dollars each in today’s money, produced 111 million horsepower, and yes, science nerds, I know that horsepower means nothing when it comes to rockets, but that’s $6.14 per horsepower, which is pretty good for the government.

But wait: Suzuki’s GSX-S1000 is first-year priced at a dolla’ under 10 gees. Surely Suzuki neutered that GSX-R1000 motor and tuned it for torque, getting the power-to-dollar ratio into supersport ( Kawasaki’s ZX-6R: $104 per) territory, like most Japanese big-bore standards? Nope, that one snuck past the Junior Chamber of Commerce, delivering 144 traction-controlled funsies to the back tire. Do the math (seriously, please do the math, as I flunked that, too) and that works out to $69, a 22% savings over an open-class sportbike. Burns says it’s comfy and fun to ride, to boot.

Of course, we all know the way to fling ourselves into orbit for the price of a fun weekend in Reno, Nevada. Your cousin Dave has a 20-year-old CBR900RR or YZF-R1, or maybe it’s a ZX-9R that just needs fairings, chain and sprockets, tires, a battery, owner’s manual, tune-up, ignition key and seat, but he’s only asking $1,500 and a ride to the bus station. That would be $12 per horse.

But you like riding motorcycles, not pushing them, don’t you? In that case, you’ll want to spend at least $5,000 on a used open-classer, in which case you’ll be looking at under $30 per pony. Beat that at Costco, or at least go there and eat one of those chicken bakes at the snackbar, as they are delicious. But if we’re talking new bikes, that not-so-talked-about GSX is king value, unless there’s something I overlooked.

The Sportster: with a dollar-per-pound-foot price less than most high-tech open-class sportbikes, it’s a better value than you’d think.

So why isn’t there more buzz about that blue meanie? Most motorcyclists I know are brown-bagging, holey-sock-wearing, ammo-reloading, coupon-clipping cheap bastards, so when I realized the Sportster — America’s best-selling street motorcycle — charges $179 per horsepower I was a little surprised. But maybe not too surprised. A motorcycle feels right not just because of the brute, cheap power, but because it’s balanced, easy to ride, looks good and invites involvement. Just offering cheap and plentiful power won’t get asses on seats. You have to want to ride it.

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Gabe Ets-Hokin
Gabe Ets-Hokin

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2 of 18 comments
  • Alexander Pityuk Alexander Pityuk on Sep 23, 2016

    Good job, Gabe. Now we know that an initially bad idea to choose or award bikes by their power-per-dollar ratio turned out to be an amazingly... bad idea.

  • David E David E on Sep 23, 2016

    1st gen FZ1 is pretty much off the charts in terms of power/price, or bang for your buck.

    My FZ1 was $3k. 125hp on a Dynojet dyno. $24/hp.

    I'd been thinking about selling it, and if I did, the new buyer would do a lot better than me, since the value is less now. I'd be lucky if they didn't get it for less than $20/hp.