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Motorcycle Flops

In December of 2019, Honda produced their 400th million motorcycle, marking 70 years of production. They have been the largest motorcycle manufacturer since 1959. For Honda to have these successes, they have been doing a lot of things right for a long time. But I also know that they have had failures just like other motorcycle brands. I have often said that sometimes Honda makes motorcycles that they want to make, not what their customers want them to make. Here are some motorcycles by Honda and other brands that were flops in the US market.




2008-2010 DN-01


A scooter/cruiser cycle that looked like Judge Dredd’s motorcycle with its too futuristic styling. It had bad ergonomics, no wind protection, and was slow and expensive. A marketing experiment promoting a continuously variable transmission in a motorcycle that should’ve stayed a concept instead of going into production.


2016 and 2018 NM4


Instead of learning from the DN-01, Honda decided to double down on a scooter/cruiser cycle again. Now the styling was a takeoff of the anime Akira motorcycle. This time it was promoting the dual clutch transmission, which is now a success in other Hondas. But once again, when you’re trying to combine different motorcycle styles to fit many, you sell few. A “limited edition” moniker on this bike means they knew it wouldn’t sell but made it anyway.


2014 CTX1300


Instead of updating the proven ST1300, Honda went a totally different way and made it into a power-cruiser-bagger-sport bike that no one wanted. They changed everything that made the ST great to make this amalgamation that you would come to expect if you traveled to an alternate universe. There was only one year of production and some are still new in the dealerships.




1997 to 2004 R1200C (CL) & (CLC)


This was BMW’s attempt to tap into the cruiser market. One was featured in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies which helped initial sales. But eventually the retuned boxer motor for “more torque” resulted in less horsepower than found in the other R series boxer motorcycles. The styling was too much to convert HD riders to BMW, and BMW riders hated the weak engine. BMW quit making the motorcycle due to the unsuitable engine, and now they are trying to go after the cruiser market again with the R1800C in 2020. Does BMW have the right engine this time, or will history repeat itself?


2001 F650CS Scarver


The Scarver was meant to draw new riders with its sleek futuristic style and modular accessories. But its so-so power and expensive price tag didn’t work for it. Also, the ECU required a certain starting procedure or the bike would hesitate or stall.




2003 Multistrada 1000DS


A hideous front fairing that was split in the middle in which the top half rotated with the handlebars, and a seat that was basically a piece of flat wood covered in vinyl, made the “Uglystrada” unwanted. Luckily, Ducati changed the styling and now Multistrada’s are one of their most popular model lines.




1993 GTS 1000


This short-lived sport tourer featured the unique RADD front suspension (a forkless single sided swing arm), which worked great as promised. The bike also had ABS, fuel injection, an innovative chassis, and catalytic converter. The bike was expensive and the ends don't justify the means, so it was not a success and quickly cancelled. Is Yamaha going to make the same mistake 26 years later with the Yamaha Niken GT and its two-wheel front end? My guess is yes.


1974 to 1976 RE-5

Suzuki tried to bring the Wankel rotary engine to the motorcycle masses in better fashion than Norton. However, it was heavy, overcomplicated, expensive to make, and a little short on power. Then the “rotor” styling all over the bike went over the top. After the novelty wore off, only 6,000 were produced.


2007 to 2012 B-King

The B-King was a concept bike in 2001 that was a stripped down Hayabusa with a supercharger and a very large rear tire. Motorcyclists said, “Build it, we will buy it!” It didn’t come out until 2007, and alas the supercharger was missing in action and the rear tire was only slightly larger. Bait and switch, no wonder it sold poorly.


2009 Vision


Technically it was a great tour bike, but the styling was either you love it or you hate it. Some loved it, especially those who bought the Arlen Ness edition. But most people hated it. I think it looks like it is ready to battle the Romulans. Yup, too “USS Enterprise, Star Trekkie” for me.




1972-1976 750 Triple 1V and H2


These two-stroke monsters were screamers in a straight line when they had clean spark plugs in them. But terrible handling due to flexy frames, flexy forks, and barely there brakes made them killers if you came into a corner too fast.




1981 Sportster 1000


This sportster could only go in a straight line safely. Long forks, bad steering geometry, bad suspension and a high center of gravity meant this motorcycle couldn’t turn safely at slow or fast speeds.


1971 FX Super Glide


FX was for “Factory Experimental.” And it should have been left as an experiment at the factory because the “boattail” rear fender and the buckhorn handlebars were hideous and made this bike a sales failure.




Bad decisions by CEOs – whether in marketing, engineering, or design – are to blame for these flops. Some make you wonder if they listened to focus groups, did they even use focus groups, or did they just hurriedly push them out the factory door. It just goes to show that not even the big boy manufacturers can bat a thousand.










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