The next “big thing” may well come in a small package.
As you’ll read this issue in his story “After the Hype,” Bertrand Gahel finally rode the Kawasaki Ninja H2. The release of this new model had become reminiscent of previous drawn-out events we’ve seen in that, even without formal introductions, we have known of the H2 and its H2R rockstar sibling for a very long time (though not quite as long as the then-rumoured Rocket III release that spanned not months but years).
Like other Rock stars the machines had remained just out of reach, little more than pictures and words, but with a few long-awaited laps around the track in Fontana, California, the H2 was brought down to earth and into our reality—supercharger and all.
We can now check the H2 off the list and wait for the next, “next big thing” to come our way. That is the cruel way of the world—what have you done for me lately? A phenomenon caused by the rapidly shrinking attention spans of modern humans and likely why Kawasaki prolonged the rollout of the H2 and the reason Honda seems intent on doing the same with its new Africa Twin. Got to have something new. What was I saying? Oh, right … new.
There is that rideable Tron Light Cycle but unless they find a way to narrow its tires and engineer a riding position that doesn’t resemble a splayed rider racing an elephant I don’t think that it will be the one to take it to the next motorcycle level.
The other day I was walking through a Ford dealership where I looked down at a sweet, canary yellow Mustang. The engine was a four-cylinder job that automatically gave me the shivers. I have bad memories of anemic, four-cylinder Mustangs (with the possible exception of the SVO cars).
But a closer look revealed a 2.3-litre, turbo-charged motor producing 310 hp and equally prodigious amounts of torque. Those are V8 numbers from not long ago. Something the H2 and H2R can teach that will last longer than our initial awe of the machines is about the power potential of supercharging and turbo charging. Maybe that concept is the next big thing—again. It has been tried before but perhaps this time it will take.
However, the big picture concept that more power can be drawn from a substantially decreased engine size is overshadowed by the fact that Kawasaki chose a one-litre engine for the H2. We have come to expect big numbers from a litre-class bike, though not quite as large a number. The next big thing might be big figures from truly small motors. How about a 400cc bike that can produce 70 hp? But it has to come with some advantage and that advantage in a motorcycle isn’t going to be as simple as the advantage it brings to a car platform.
Harley-Davidson, as you will also read in this issue, challenged its retailers to put a little extra polish, a dose of excitement and “next level” into what the company hopes will be its next big thing for entry-level models—the Street 500 and 750. What the Street model needed was some visual pizzazz as occasionally it is difficult for the consumer to see beyond what is put in front of them.
North Americans unused to un-blinged Harley-Davidsons need a few examples of what can be to the basic Street and the Canadian dealers have done a great job of showing them. With limited budgets the dealers created bikes that looked in some instances radically different from stock while others were very subtly changed. Interestingly, many of the Ultimate Street Battle bikes were transformed into something with classic or retro looks, but the idea of the challenge was to illustrate readily achievable changes without breaking the bank.
For a while it seemed a forgone conclusion that the next big thing was going to be electric but now it looks like there is more than one direction from which that future wave might arrive.