HERE in Britain, we have a history of favouring one type of bike over any other. More than any other riders in Europe, we choose to spend our money on sports bikes and superbikes.
But now the first of a new breed of motorcycle has arrived, which could change all that. Say hello to Yamaha’s Fazer 1000 (see road test on page 24). It’s cheaper than a
full-on superbike, but it still offers awesome power and acceleration. It offers more comfort than a superbike, but still handles well enough to be great fun on a track. And it’s cheaper to insure than a superbike, but has enough style to satisfy hooligans and RoSPA riders alike.
And there are more of the same on the way. Honda’s CB900F Hornet is due to arrive next year, and a naked Kawasaki ZX-9R-powered creation is expected to be unveiled later this year (see page five).
With these bikes offering such a seductive all-round package of performance, handling, practicality, style and value-for-money, the question now is whether superbikes will be able to hold on to their mantle as the machine many British riders aspire to own. Or will friendly, flexible, but still cool bikes such as the Fazer become the new top choice?
We spoke to dealers, insurers and road-testers to try and find the answer.
Chris Waldron, who looks after three branches of George White in Swindon and Oxford and has bikes from all four major Japanese firms passing thought his shops, reckons the market is shifting.
He said: " I think there’s definitely a move in the market toward this type of bike. The Fazer 1000 will sell well. There has already been loads of interest in it. "
Waldron thinks people may have expected the Fazer to come for less than its on-the-road price of £8149, which makes it just £1100 less than an R1 – and letters recently published in MCN bear him out. But he still thinks a combination of factors will ensure that it appeals to a large number of riders.
He said: " High insurance premiums and speed cameras have had a negative effect on the superbike market. Insurance for a musclebike is cheaper and the riding position makes you more aware of your speed because of the wind blast. "
According to insurance giant Norwich Union, the Fazer is in group 15, whereas the R1 falls into group 16. That means that a typical
40-year-old living in a town in Northamptonshire would have to pay £541 to insure the Fazer, compared to £615 for the R1, resulting in a saving of 12 per cent.
But dealers recognise that it’s not just riders’ pockets which are pulling them towards the Fazer and its ilk. What these bikes have to offer in terms of riding pleasure is a huge incentive as well.
Dave Evans, from Power Sports in Nottingham, says the Fazer’s versatility is unbeatable – so much so that he’s just traded in his own 2000 R1 for the first one to arrive in the showroom.
He said: " I bought it for everyday use. I like doing wheelies and burnouts, but I also like being able to take a pillion in comfort. The bike can be either a lunatic bike or it can be completely civilised.
" These bikes could easily end up outselling superbikes. There will always be some people who want the ultimate, best-performing machines, and they’ll always go for superbikes, but the new musclebikes will sell really, really well. I don’t think we’ll be able to get enough of them.
" The Suzuki Bandit 1200 has always been a very popular example, but now people just want a bit more. That’s what these bikes offer. They haven’t just taken a step forward, they’ve taken a huge leap. The Fazer is nothing short of awesome. "
Waldron thinks Yamaha has set a high standard which other bikes joining the class will struggle to match.
He said: " Honda will need to do something special with the Hornet because, at the end of the day, it’s based on a FireBlade. That was a great bike in its time, but the R1 moved things on a bit. The FireBlade can seem tame in comparison. "
Honda refuses to say exactly what it is working on, but it looks like it is going
all-out to not only equal the Fazer, but beat it. That may mean slotting in a full-power FireBlade engine, using radical new styling and, of course, selling the bike at a lower price than the Fazer.
Even industry experts think the new breed of musclebikes could outsell superbikes. Rob Hobson, Editor of the CAP Green Book, the industry’s used price bible, knows more than most people about trends in the bike market.
He said: " If you look back to the Bandit, that secured a good part of the market, but it didn’t have the cutting-edge performance now available. Now that Yamaha has put the R1 engine in a Fazer and more machines are set to follow, even more riders will be tempted.
" These bikes will now attract two types of riders – both people stepping up to bigger bikes and riders who’ve owned a superbike and want something less extreme.
" Superbikes will always sell to those riders who insist on having the ultimate machine, but the new musclebikes could nevertheless take quite a bit of their market away from them. "
Professional road testers agree with dealers that, quite apart from the money-saving advantages of the new breed of musclebikes, they’re a different type of bike in their own right which many riders will actually prefer.
MCN features editor Marc Potter has ridden pretty much every bike on the road today and reckons Yamaha may have hit on something big with the Fazer 1000.
He said: " Bikes like the Fazer will appeal to riders who are fed up with scaring themselves on superbikes, but still want something which offers high performance.
" You can’t ride most superbikes on the road properly, and many people can’t ride them to their full capacity on a track either. They’re just too fast.
" Bikes like the Fazer 1000, Hornet 900 and new ZX-9R musclebike will offer them a more useable alternative. And, vitally, these will be perceived as bikes to be seen on. Owners will gain credibility rather than lose face. "
Potter believes the launch of the Fazer has sparked a war between rival manufacturers. He believes the next wave of technical innovations for two-wheelers will find their way on to naked litre bikes rather than being restricted to top-end sports machines.
But he reckons it’s too early to say which manufacturer will emerge victorious.
He said: " The FireBlade does seem tamer than an R1, but there’s nothing between the lap times of the two bikes on the track, so only time will tell how the Hornet will compare to the Fazer as a package. You can be pretty sure Honda won’t go off
" The ZX-9R-based bike might have more of a struggle. One of the reasons the Fazer is a great bike is because it has so much torque. The ZX-9R isn’t as accomplished as the R1 in that department. But again, only time will tell. "
Whether any of these bikes will outsell superbikes is just as hard to predict. But what we know is that a new class of machine has been born with more comfort and practicality than a superbike as well as better performance than any musclebikes before.
And for many riders, that means a bike which is better suited to the way they ride.
n Do you plan to part-ex your sports bike for a Fazer 1000? Write to You Say (address on page eight) and tell us why you’ve made the decision.