The BMW R 18 cruiser is now available, equipped with the largest ever air-cooled boxer.
This motorcycle got us thinking about other famous motorcycle flops, most notably the 1993 Yamaha GTS1000, a radical, hub-centre-steered sports-tourer that was supposed to be the future of motorcycling, but actually proved to be a complete failure in sales. It was quickly withdrawn.
It wasn’t the only one. Although manufacturers may not appreciate us reminding them, recent history is filled with “great white motorcycling hope”, which pioneered new styles and technologies (or both), but that ultimately ended up being unmitigated motorcycle disasters.
Aprilia Rivals RS 660 Vs IT (Almost).
They weren’t all trash. Many of them were either too expensive or ‘bikes before they time’, making them collectable today. We also don’t think about super ‘niche” machines like Aprilia’s Moto6.5 or Bimota’s Mantra.
We thought it was worth reiterating them, even though we aren’t casting any doubts on the R 18. Here are our Top 10 Motorcycling Flops Since the GTS1000. We hope it doesn’t get any worse!
Yamaha GTS 1000 (1993)
We thought of the GTS first, so we are starting with it. Yamaha’s pioneering, ambitious sport-tourer was launched in 1993 with huge expectations.
It was also very reliable, with excellent stability and braking, smooth performance, and luxurious comfort. It was easy to fault it: the engine was originally developed from the 140bhp FZR1000, but it was retuned down to 100bhp. The ‘Omega Chassis Concept,’ although clever, was heavy and cumbersome, especially at low speeds; fuel consumption was poor, tank range was small, and it was expensive to build and purchase.
Potential buyers were not willing to fork out for such radical tech when they could get the proven shaft-drive Honda ST1100 Pan European for a fraction of the price.
A GTS is now available for less than PS5K, and is considered a classic…
BMW R1200C (1997-2004)
The R 18 was mentioned so we also had to include R1200C, its spin-offs and the R18. The C was originally launched by BMW in 1997 to take advantage of the huge, Harley-dominated US cruiser market.
It chose to do it with a mild version of the R1150 boxer, and gave it half-baked styling that only its mother could appreciate. Both of these factors explain the enormous technological and styling effort which went into the R 18.
The result was only 61 bhp, despite being enlarged to 1170cc. BMW’s Telelever frontend was also included, along with lots of clever German tech like a catalytic converter or ABS brakes.
It looked terrible and it was not a Harley. It was not even made cool by James Bond in 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies”. Despite numerous spin-off models such as the Independent (brown), Avantgarde (retro), Montauk(fat-tyred), and CL (an even more disgusting full-dresser), it failed to gain popularity and was dropped from BMW’s lineup in 2004.
It’s not surprising that it took 15 years for the German marque to try a cruiser once again.
Suzuki TL1000SR (1997-2002)
It might be a bit harsh to label Suzuki’s new TL a “flop”. Despite the fact that the ‘Japanese Ducati” was initially more popular than the 916, the punchy V-twin engine of this Japanese Ducati outsold the TL and became the basis for the VStrom 1050 today. Both the S and R models are still considered classics.
All of this ignores the fact the the original S was so badly blighted by its revolutionary rotary damper rear suspension and ultra-sharp geometry at launch that it was considered a widow-maker’. Suzuki had to retrofit a steering damper.
The Suzuki TL1000R beam-framed, sport bike brother was also abandoned. Although it had been intended to be a WorldSBK contender for the title, it proved too heavy, unwieldy, and unreliable. Although both TLs are considered classics today, they were at one time a corporate embarrassment that was so large that they were abandoned by 2002.
Aprilia Futura RST1000 (2001-2003)
Another V-twin that was short-lived. Aprilia, an Italian “tiddler” manufacturer, grew so quickly through the 1980s and ’90s that it was almost inevitable that it would eventually take on Ducati with its own big V-twin.
Although the motor’s 60-degree punch was built by Rotax in fact, Aprilia had already been able to beat Ducati and perhaps Honda with the RSV1000 Mille in 1998. But it didn’t work out as planned.
Even though the RSV was a good machine, it didn’t achieve the WorldSBK success Aprilia desired, especially after Honda introduced its SP-1, a Ducati-alike, in 2000. Even worse, Aprilia was ambitious and followed the RSV up with a whole bunch of V-twins, which were overly-ambitious, expensive, and poorly designed. RST Futura, 2001 was the most famous.
The Futura was designed to compete with Honda’s VFR800 V4 sports-tourer. It used a 100bhp detuned Rotax V-twin engine to match Honda’s performance. It also had a single-sided swing arm, underseat exhaust and lavish dash. It was comparable on paper.
These looks caused divisions. Some thought it was too heavy, others felt it was too big, and the V-twin delivery, which is a lumpy engine, clashed with its high-tech looks. Production problems delayed deliveries, and it was costly. A majority of potential buyers preferred to buy a Honda than an Aprilia.
What did the result look like? The result? A disastrous sales campaign that led to the end of production after only two years. Guess what? The Futura is a timeless classic that’s affordable!
Ducati SportClassic (2005-2010)
Talking about ‘Classics’, we can’t list any motorcycling failures without mentioning one of the most infamous of all, no matter how revered the bikes are. We’re talking, of course, about Ducati’s infamous ‘retros-before-their-time’, SportClassic family.
The Sport 1000 and Paul Smart LE were launched as a pair in 2005, before being joined in 2007 by the GT1000. All models were retro-inspired by the 1970s Sport 750, Imola winning 750 SuperSport, and GT750 respectively, and powered by the 1000DS 90bhp, air-cooled V–twin. They were also adorned with quality details (especially the LE, which featured Ohlins suspension).
We’d buy them today – in fact we do. Good, used examples often fetch well over five figures. The first two were single-seaters at the time. The Sport was small, the LE costly, and the GT twin-seater was drab.
Retros hadn’t taken off back then. Ducati attempted to correct the situation with new bars, ‘Biposto’ and cheaper versions but it was too late. The range was axed in 2010.
This is all a shame considering today’s Scrambler offerings. It also explains why used good examples fetch so much money…
Suzuki B-King (2007-2012)
If ever there was any, it was that manufacturers should not get too excited about concept bikes.
The original B-King was a wild concept bike that was unveiled at the Tokyo Show 2001. It was basically a roadster version the Hayabusa hyperbike. However, it caught attention with a supercharger and a huge back tire. The styling is straight out of Judge Dredd.
Everyone said, “Build it!” They promised, “We’ll purchase it.” So Suzuki did. However, Suzuki didn’t have a supercharger by the time the car was ready. The styling was also toned down, but it still cost nearly twice as much to buy as a super naked.
The B-King, while still a wild ride and an early-adopter in riding modes, was well-built and equipped. However, it was also ungainly, costly, and without the supercharger that was originally promised.
Harley-Davidson XR1200 (2008-2012)
Another bold idea that was put into production, but it probably should not have. The Harley Europe-driven concept XR1200 was bold and aimed to increase H-D sales. It was essentially a Ducati Monster-style performance naked, but it had styling that was inspired by Harley’s history in flat-tracking, specifically the XR750 racer.
It was, however, a decent effort. The Sportster V-twin was reworked to produce an adequate 90 bhp. The chassis was impressively agile for a Harley and looked great. It was also very heavy and did not offer any performance advantages over the completed.
The XR was a Harley that traditional Harley buyers did not want, and a performance roadster that wasn’t as good or as its competitors. This result led to Very Few Sales.
It’s a shame. Harley tried, by launching a race series and then adding the XR1200X to 2011 with better suspension. But it wasn’t enough. The XR was scrapped in 2012. Harley hasn’t tried a Euro-targeted bicycle since. It’ll be interesting seeing how the Pan America adventure bike does.
Honda DN-01 (2008-2010)
You’ve gotta love Honda. Although ‘big red’ has a reputation of being conservative and uncool, it is also evident that it occasionally pushes the envelope with technology and styling to show the world that “no one quite does things like Honda”. How else can you explain bikes such as the CBX1000Turbo, CX500Turbo, and NR750?
The DN-01, 2008 is one of the most innovative and bizarre. The DN-01 was a hi-tech custom cruiser that had a lot of everything, and made it into a dog’s meal.
The 680cc V-6 engine comes from the depressing Deauville tourer. It was combined with an early Honda semi-automatic gearbox, so it is bland and uncharacterful.
Its feet-forward riding position with kicked out forks is cruiser, so ground clearance can be a problem. The car’s design is so precise that it is not suitable for commuters. It also has a lot of tech and dash, making it very expensive.
It’s slow, unorthodox, not sporty and not cheap. No one said, “I’ll get three.” Ever.
Triumph Trophy 1200 (2013-2018)
Okay, we know this might sound harsh. But, while Triumph can’t be wrong and their Trophy 1200 (perhaps with the Thunderbird 1600/1700 Cruiser) haven’t been the British company’s best hour.
The Trophy was not a bad bike, as many of these machines are. It was launched just after the 1200 Tiger Explorer in 2013. It shared the same 1215cc shaft drive triple and was targeted similarly at a BMW competitor.
The RT-rivalling Trophy, however, has been unable to compete with Tiger in the GS-rivalling adventure bike category.
This is partly because the Trophy was never as good as its RT, especially after BMW introduced its new, lighter version in the same year, and partly because the tourer class today is smaller. The 135bhp Trophy was a great vehicle. It was well-built, fast, comfortable, and a good driver.
The only problem was that it didn’t match the top-of-the-line bike in the category, even though it had promised loudly it would.
Honda CTX1300 (2014)
Finally, we couldn’t resist adding another strange and wonderful Honda. We have to give the CTX1300 a top spot, not only because it is the latest flop but also because it was the shortest-lived – lasting just one year.
The CTX is a very simple vehicle, regardless of how you view it. It’s basically a cruiser/bagger that is based on the STX1300 tourer. Americans wouldn’t want it, but they did.
We also gave this version instead of the Pan European Honda’s direct replacement/update. It’s not going get Continental people queuing for it (we didn’t).
It is also a bit boring, despite its style.
So it won’t surprise me at all to hear it crashed – and it did. But it may surprise you that I actually like it. It’s hard to explain why…