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Lighten Up!

A look at the latest developments in sub 350 cc motorcycles

As the motorcycle industry continues to change, two things are abundantly clear:

  1. Dual sport/ADV motorcycles are here to stay, and
  2. Riders are demanding lighter-weight, lower-power alternatives to heftier 650 cc + machines.

So how have manufacturers responded? Well, for the last couple of years, really, they haven't outside the sportbke category.

Photo: BMW's 310GS

To be sure, sales of established models like the Yamaha WR250R and the more tractor-like Suzuki DRZ400 have been steady, but many consumers still find themselves in want of a hybrid motorcycle that does not yet exist.

Perhaps this is a mythical 400-500 cc, fuel injected, 350 lb. motorcycle that can carry you down the highway at 75 mph while being light enough to pick up when dropped on single track. Or maybe it’s one of the handful of new lightweight motorcycles that 2017 has in store.

Lighter but Better? - BMW 310 GS

Perhaps the most anticipated of all the new lightweight revelations is BMW’s 374 lb. (estimated) GS. Sporting a 19-inch front wheel, 34 HP single cylinder engine and 6 speed transmission, it’s easy to see why this new machine has so many people talking. With that said, it seems that BMW is pushing this more as a commuter, with occasional trips on dirt roads, as opposed to a more dirt worthy adventure tourer ala the DRZ 400. So, while the new 310GS will be unquestionably easier to handle for new riders, will it find a home in many experienced riders' garages?

Cross Trained - Kawasaki Versys-X 300

A motorcycle that holds a lot of promise, the new 300 Kawasaki Versys is a lightweight tourer with all terrain potential. Borrowing the Ninja 300’s, 296 cc V-twin engine, riders can look forward to smooth cruising speeds up to 70 miles per hour on the highway, while with the appropriate tires, tackling dirt rides that stop just short of the “gnarly stuff.” With a nice wind screen, upright seat position, great styling and whopping 4.5-gallon fuel tank, the new Versys is likely to have many takers.

Trail Runner - Honda CRF250L Rally

Though there is an abundance of small displacement dual sports on the market, Honda is the first to step up to the plate in an effort to make one a “stock” adventure tourer. Ok, so you’ll still need to do a little work on it to start roaming the country, but with an adjustable windscreen, 70+ mpg and fuel injection, it certainly represents a step in the right direction. Established off-road performance, additional “rally inspired” fairings for enhanced weather protection and it looks like Honda has itself a pretty good 320-pound motorcycle.

In Theory - Suzuki V-Strom 250

While Suzuki has not officially committed to adding a 250 cc version to the respected V-Strom lineup, they have gone so far as to showcase the concept at this year’s EICMA. Appearing to be something of a city commuter/grocery getter, with built-in luggage and 17 inch wheels, one wonders if this wouldn’t be more suited toward the European or Asian continents, where motorcycles often play a more practical daily role. Of course, if the price is right, who knows? Maybe they could find a home here in the U. S, … in theory.

As the smaller displacement segment continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see how consumers react to the influx of new models. Are manufacturers reading the trends correctly and producing the right types of motorcycles? In 2017 we’ll see what the consumers think.

Derek Roberts/December 2016


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