Editorial: Why must motorcycles continue to get bigger and bigger?

There were many reader responses on our editorial regarding the ever-expanding volume of the automobile in America, so why not extend the same questions to motorcycles? Way back in March we featured an article which highlighted the fact that technology is trickling down to motorcycles from cars. There has been a great deal of debate going on as to whether or not motorcycles are really a green form of transportation. This post will not hit each and every facet of either side of the argument, but it is interesting to note that it is possible for manufacturers of motorcycles to hit extremely high horsepower figures while still allowing for reasonable fuel economy.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), delivering on the promise of that fuel economy is in the hands of the rider, and when big power is available, riders are likely to twist that wrist ever tighter! So, it came as little surprise that Cycle World was able to wring 45 miles per gallon out of one tank with their Kawasaki Concours 14 testbike, while lowering that number all the way down to 24 miles per gallon from another tank-full. That is a huge disparity, and shows that high power and high fuel economy are possible from the same engine, but not at the same time. The engine in this particular bike happens to be one of the most powerful available in any production bike, maxing out at almost 140 horsepower at the rear wheel with 92 lb. ft. of torque. From a 1.4 liter engine, this is excellent! To make that kind of power, the engine has variable valve timing and electronic fuel injection. The engine also makes full use of its 10.7:1 compression ratio, which is quite high, and 4 valves per cylinder arrangement. This is an excellent engine, and would make an awesome starting point for a hybrid vehicle. But, there it sits installed in a motorcycle!

Continue reading after the jump.

Consider, for a moment, that motorcycles are getting ever larger. The Frankfurt Motor Show that we have been covering this week has shown that even in Germany, the land of high performance and no speed limits, cars are being forced into going green. BMW, Mercedes and Audi are powerhouse carmakers in Germany with a penchant for producing high horsepower cars, but they chose to feature hybrids and diesel engines for this show. The same cannot be said of motorcycles, however. Bikes like the Concours 14 and Triumph Rocket III show that buyers want bike engines in their bikes. Those big engines do come with big power, and that's fine. There is no problem with having a high performance vehicle. The problem with cars is that those cars are used for purposes where that power simply is not needed. On a much smaller scale, the same is true of bikes - I can't think of any scenario where a rider needs the power output of the Rocket III's 2.3 liter engine. That engine would be just fine in a small car, and is complete excess in a motorcycle.

So, getting back to whether or not motorcycles are a green form of transportation. The answer is that they can be. Of course they are not always used for commuting back and forth to work. But, for commuting purposes, they make a fine choice. Not only can money be saved when filling the tank, emissions can be saved as well. Studies have shown that riders of motorcycles spend less time with their engines idling and more time on the move, shortening the time that the engine is running in the first place. Less space is taken up with the bikes are parked and congestion would be much less of a problem with more cycles and less cars on the roadways. We would never suggest that all of our readers rush out and but a bike for commuting, but for those who can make it work, riding to their jobs offers many advantages. Perhaps you should shy away from the Concours 14 for your commuting chores, though!


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