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The End of Biking Part 2 – where are all the 33hp bikes’?

Some weeks ago on the Survival Skills Facebook page (what do you mean, you don’t know where it is – it’s of course – pop over, say hi, and ‘Like’ us!) I published a link to a dyno chart comparing three of the latest 250s, the bikes designed to sit in the 33hp ‘restricted licence hole’ between the 15hp learner 125s and the full-power bikes available to riders with an unrestricted licence.

Sport Rider Magazine (a US publication) tested three bikes. The Honda CBR250R, Hyosung’s GT250R and Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R.

The CBR managed a peak of 22.3hp at 8500rpm and the GT250R a sniff more power at 22.6 at 10250rpm. The surprise of the bunch was the Ninja, which produced a rather disappointing 24.6hp at 10250 on the dyno.

Dynos do read differently so dyno figures from one dyno may not be directly comparable with figures from another, or with the manufacturers’ claimed outputs, but here we’ve three bikes tested on the same dyno so they are comparable with each other, and I have to say I was really taken aback when I saw how low the Kawasaki’s output actually was, given the manufacturer’s marketing claims for Ninja. Kawasaki claim 32.5hp for the Ninja, Honda 26.

So what’s the problem?

Well, first of all, the Ninja is apparently not a totally new model (as the advertising seemed to imply when I read it), but apparently shares 30% of its engine and drive train components with the previous model which dates from ’88, which was itself a development of the 1986 version!

Bore and stroke, for example, remain unchanged at 62.0 x 41.2mm and the plugs are the same, which is a fair indication there are serious bits of the motor simply wrapped in the emperor’s new and undeniably pretty new clothes. Unfortunately, like most aging emperors, the bike’s put on weight. It’s managed to gain 10kgs in dry weight over its predecessor.

Whilst the wrap-around fairings on both machines contribute to marginally higher top speeds than their ancestors, there’s really little real progress.

Let’s go back a bit further, 1983 to be precise. At this time, there was a Kawasaki GPz305. It was an over-bored version of a 250 twin, and produced around 30hp. It featured a two-valve air-cooled twin cylinder engine, weighed 164kg and had a top speed of around 100mph. Pretty similar performance from seriously old hat technology. Meanwhile Honda had their CB250RSA, a lovely little 4v SOHC air-cooled single. I actually own an 82 model. It produces a claimed 26hp which on my old despatching bikes back in the 80s was good for around 85mph flat out. Performance-wise, it’s on a par with the 2011 CBR250. Astonishingly given the weight of the RS’s wire wheels, it’s lighter by some way than the new CBR too (around 30kgs!). The fairing on the newer bike can’t account for all of that, so I suspect the frame and front/rear suspension is heavier.

So much for chassis and engine development in the class.

The weird thing is that we’ve got 1000cc bikes producing 180hp per litre, and four cylinder bikes weighing not much more than the Honda CBR250!

Even allowing for the fact you can’t quite chop a cylinder off an R1 and make a 45hp 250 single, it’s a matter for more than a raised eyebrow that not one manufacturer has yet managed to squeeze the full 33hp limit out of a bike.

There’s no need for it to be a 250 of course, as it was back in the days of the ‘Ls Angels’, 33hp from a 350cc single or twin would be easy to achieve!

Pricing of these machines is an issue, too. When an ‘entry level’ 250 is nudging £5000, there’s something seriously wrong with bike pricing!

The implication is that the manufacturers still don’t take the 33hp bike seriously.

But if the manufacturers don’t take the class seriously, neither do the government.

Whilst bigger machines struggle to match the newest cars for fuel consumption, here is a class of bike that is spectacularly parsimonious with fuel, offering average consumption the right side of 60mpg with no real effort on the part of the rider. Light (well, light-ish), nimble and cheap to run, congestion-busting and easy to park, they make decent commuting machines for all but the longest journeys on motorways.

So where are the incentives to use one? Do small bikes get cheap or free road tax? Nope, whilst the owner of a road-clogging Audi S3 or Volvo V50 pays just £20 a year road tax, your new 2011 250cc motorcycle that meets current emission standards actually costs an astonishing £35 to tax.

Is that right? I don’t think so.

So why aren’t the motorcycling bodies lobbying parliament about this? If they are, it’s passed me by!

Motorcycling is in a difficult period, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But it seems to me the industry isn’t helping itself.

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