What Do We Want? Light Bikes! When Do We Want Them? Now!

There’s no doubt that small capacity bikes aimed at new riders is the biggest growth segment in the motorcycle industry at the moment. In fact in places like Europe and Australia where new riders are restricted to such bikes, it’s probably the biggest slice of the current pie. One great thing about these bikes is that they’re light and nimble. But what about small capacity bikes aimed at experienced riders – why can’t that be a thing too?

Of course, there’s nothing stopping mature riders buying a Yamaha R3 or a KTM RC390. The’re fun bikes and great to ride, but there’s little doubt they’re lacking the horsepower that most people desire from a motorcycle. What would be great however is something weighing less than what the RC390 weighs (say 140kg wet) but with around 100 hp – giving it a power to weight ratio similar to that of a current day Yamaha R6.

The inspiration for this article has long been brewing, but two recent news items put things into focus. One was the extremely underwhelming Honda RC-213VS and the other bike is probably one you haven’t heard – a project bike by TYGA Performance based on the Honda NSR250R. Both bikes couldn’t be further apart in their mentality, but I know which I’d honestly prefer (and could afford).

TYGA Performance NCR250R

A Honda NSR250R brought into the 21st century.

The Honda NSR250R was first released back in 1985 and featured a 249cc 90° V-Twin Liquid Cooled Two-Stroke. It only weighed 132 kg dry and made 45hp but the bike is a great one to use as a base. TYGA bored the engine out to 300cc and along with other tweaks, improved output to 70hp. Using more modern materials, they managed to reduce the bikes weight to an incredible 115kg (253 lb) with all liquids. That gives a power to weight ratio of 0.60 – not too shabby at all. Given how coveted the NSR250R now is due to its mixture of fantastic handling and performance, this would be icing on the cake.

But how sad is it that the Honda and all the other Japanese manufactures have forgotten their legacy with bikes like the NSR250R, Kawasaki KR-1 and Yamaha TZR250. Sure, bikes like the Yamaha R1 and Ninja H2 would  smoke TYGA Performance’s project bike at the track, but it would probably be by a lot less than the specifications indicate. No matter how much horsepower you have, you can only go so fast around corners.

The Kawasaki KR-1 made 55hp yet weighed only 123kg dry - released in 1989.

The Kawasaki KR-1 made 55hp yet weighed only 123kg dry – released in 1989.

There’s no doubt that it’s cheaper (and easier) for motorcycle manufactures to increase horsepower rather than decrease weight. That’s why we keep seeing motorcycles with more and more power, but usually with increasing mass as well. Engines from 10 or even 20 years ago put out plenty of power for most real world applications, but using lighter weight materials still doesn’t come cheap.

And yet, you could buy bikes with decent power back in the late 80’s and 90’s that didn’t weigh over 450 pounds. Light bikes are not only better suited to tight twisty corners of a racetrack or mountain road, but they’re far more practical when it comes to riding in heavy traffic as well.

So please, motorcycle manufacturers. Less focus on ridiculous horsepower figures that are likely to grab the attention of politicians and more focus on putting modern day motorcycles on a diet. You did it before, let’s do it again.

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