Sports bikes have a tradition of outselling all other types of motorcycle in the UK, and the latest sales figures show they’re still our first choice.
But they also reveal something else. Though the No1 seller is still a sports bike – Honda’s CBR600 – overall sales of such machines have dropped, while registrations of other types of motorcycle have crept up.
More and more of us, it seems, are choosing to swop 160mph performance for machines often referred to as " real world " bikes – which means anything from a giant trailie to a naked roadster.
In April this year, sales of sports bikes were 20 per cent down on the same period in 2000. Meanwhile, sales of what the Motorcycle Industry Association refers to as " traditional " machines – medium to large-capacity bikes with an upright riding position and no fairing – were up by 27 per cent on last year. And sales of " adventure sport " bikes – big trailies like Honda’s Varadero – were up by a massive 42 per cent.
And in the first four months of this year, sales of sports bikes were 14 per cent down on the same period in 2000, while traditional machines were up 21 per cent and adventure sport bikes were up 29 per cent.
That’s good news for BMW, with its R1150R and the R1150GS, which fits into the adventure sport category. For decades, the firm has been edged out by the dominance of sports bikes in this country, but now it has many more customers than it had bargained for.
Its market share has grown by 23 per cent since January. It is expecting record sales by the end of the year and has already had to order extra bikes to meet the surge of demand in the UK.
But why is it happening?
Someone who claims to have witnessed the change first-hand is Richard Higgs, the manager of Woolaston BMW in Northampton. He says he’s seen a surge of riders trading in superbikes for the likes of the R1150GS.
Higgs thinks the ever-rising cost of insuring superbikes is one of the reasons behind the market trend. He said: " People just want something fun they can afford to run. "
One of those people is Peter Crewe, a 47-year-old company director from Hallaton, Leicestershire, who recently traded in his Honda Blackbird for an R1150R.
He said: " I traded in the Blackbird because I’m not happy on a superbike unless I’m really motoring. Speed cameras are always a worry. I just want to be able to enjoy a bike and I can ride closer to the BMW’s potential. I also saved £350 on insurance. "
Tim Parish, a 46-year-old IT project manager from Huntingdon, Cambs, did even more of a U-turn by trading in his Aprilia RSV Mille for an R1150GS.
He explained: " The RSV was a great bike. I loved it. But it was so full-on all the time and demanded so much concentration. I have just as much fun on the GS without going so fast, because I can ride closer to the bike’s limits.
" I also saved a packet on insurance. Cover on the GS was only a third of the price of a policy on the RSV. "
A couple of quotes from Norwich Union was all it took to confirm reports of massive insurance savings. According to the firm, a 32-year-old living in Northampton, with three years no claims, would pay £692 for fully comp cover on an R1150GS. The same person would have to shell out £1284 to insure a FireBlade. That’s because the FireBlade is in group 17 and the R1150R is in group 13.
Of course, it’s not just BMWs which will appeal. Other firms are witnessing the same trend. Kawasaki’s Geoff Selvidge said: " There is a trend towards what I refer to as ‘softer option’ machines. The sports bike market is still massive. Around 60 per cent of all our sales are of Ninja models. But a couple of years ago, that figure would have been higher.
" Our best seller is still the ZX-6R. But our second best seller is now the ER-5. At recent shows, we’ve also found that, aside from the ZX-12R, people are making more enquiries about the ZR-7 and ER-5 than the Ninja range. "
Selvidge agreed that insurance prices could be behind the trend. He said: " A similar thing happened in France. Insurance prices spiralled and the market moved towards naked bikes.
" The number of speed cameras also makes people think twice about owning a sports bike. "
Chris Waldron of the George White superbike Centre, which has branches in Swindon and Oxford, is another dealer who has witnessed the phenomenon.
He said: " We are finding there is a definite trend away from out-and-out sports bikes. The Suzuki Bandit is having a second lease of life, and Yamaha’s XJR1300 and FJR1300 are also doing exceptionally well. "
Scott Grimsdall, spokesman for Honda, said he’d also noticed the trend, but, like Selvidge, he stressed that sports bikes still very much dominate the market.
Instead, Grimsdall thought there might be a much simpler explanation – choice. He said: " People are looking for alternatives. It follows a trend which is prevalent in the rest of Europe and it’s not a bad thing. More people are choosing bikes to suit their everyday needs, rather than just their weekend needs. It’s nice to see. "