Suzuki showed a turbocharged motorcycle engine. Kawasaki a supercharged bike that’s definitely not the flagship H2R, and Yamaha a leaning three-wheeled trike. But, what’s it all mean? Let’s explore the bikes (and more) of the Tokyo Motor Show.
Suzuki’s Turbocharged Motor
Presumably, this is the engine that will power the production version of the Recursion concept. Rather than a balls-to-the-wall performance bike, this will instead be one of the practical, but still sporty mid-capacity twins. Sort of a replacement for the SV650, but with more oomph.
No details were released, but we can clearly see the engine is a liquid-cooled parallel twin with four valves per-cylinder and dual overhead cams. It also wears an intercooler as a hat.
The back story here is that, like car makers, the bike companies are facing massively increasing emissions regulations and one way to retain good performance while abiding by the law is forced induction. We haven’t seen a lot of that on bikes yet because those are typically simple, affordable machines and, well, forced induction typically doesn’t match either quality.
So that’s going to be Suzuki’s big challenge with this engine and likely the source of their pride in it. Integrating turbocharging on an affordable engine reliably, without lag or kick and with good fuel economy, is going to be the name of the game here.
If I was a betting man, I’d say it’ll end up feeling a lot like one of BMW’s twin-turbo sixes—a full torque curve starting low in the rev range, but not a ridiculous amount of power high up.
Super-fast sportbikes never really sold anywhere but America and Europe and don’t sell there now either, but mid-capacity, practical all-round bikes do, and work in other markets too. Expect to see this motor used across a variety of models after it premieres in whatever they’re going to call the production version of that Recursion concept. Heck, I wouldn’t rule out this replacing the V in the next-gen V-Strom 650.
Another Supercharged Kawasaki
It sounds like Kawasaki is going in the opposite direction with this sketch. A more luxurious sport touring-oriented version of the H2 sport tourer?
I say that because Kawasaki is talking performance and “softer, more luxurious materials,” as well as increased rideability. Another high-price bike might seem a bit unnecessary at this point, but Kawasaki’s really trying to separate its brand from the Big Four Japanese hodgepodge. You know, making it mean more in your head than good motors paired with cheap suspension and green paint.
That’s not to say the brand may not be working on smaller capacity forced-induction bikes like the above Suzuki, but doing so would mean a rethink of the brand’s traditionally race class-defined product range. Or maybe a re-think of race classes, since no one watches those anymore.
Motorcycle manufacturers are keenly aware that, while they make products that are vastly superior at combining both excitement and practicality than the car industry, you’re all a bunch of pussies who are too scared to venture outdoors without a roof over your head.
In Europe, where people are more open to arguments about fuel economy and traffic busting and less focussed on the ability to carry nine Big Gulps along on their wheeled texting adventures, leaning three-wheeled scooters have proved very successful at getting commuters out of their cars. All the lane splitting of a regular scoot, just with a front end you won’t lose while cornering or braking in inclement weather.
As an aside, products like Piaggio’s MP3 actually work very well. They really do feel like there’s two-wheels in-line, just with a front wheel(s) that doesn’t ever do anything wrong, even over tram tracks or wet cobblestones or whatever.
Yamaha’s been showing multi-wheeled concepts for the better part of a decade, some whacky and some more production-ready. This one skews towards the production end of the scale (sans wacky, expensive twin-tube forks) and is fitted with their awesome (if horrendously fueled) new 845cc triple.
But, it very much remains to be seen if the pragmatic appeal of a three-wheeled scooter can be translated to a more emotion-fueled practical sporty bike thingie. Yes, bikes like the FZ-09 do make practical all-round transportation, but the appeal of using one as your only vehicle is still pegged to enjoying riding and two front wheels does add weight and ultimately limit both lean angle and outright performance to a small degree.
I fear that western markets, where a fairly expensive, sporty three-wheel thing would be targeted, just don’t want such a bike.
All this is indicative of a motorcycle industry that’s currently adrift. They make their money selling small-capacity bikes in southeast Asia and South America, but want to get back into western markets where margins were historically higher.
Problems that need to be tackled are emissions and are convincing a new generation of people to take up riding. But while we see a good solution for one of those problems here, I don’t think a self-riding motobot or a leaning three-wheel sport bike are anything approaching a realistic solution for the other.
Just a lot of wasted development dollars that could have gone into putting a round freakin’ headlight on a bike like the R3.
Wes Siler is a reformed motorcycle journalist who now writes about going camping with his dog.