The motorbike industry has transformed tremendously in the last decade, with two things being very clear in recent years: dual sport/ADV bikes will be with us for the longest haul, and buyers are preferring lighter-weight, reduced-power machines to heftier 650cc+ bikes.
But are manufacturers responding to these customer preferences as much as they should be doing? All indications are that, apart from the sportbike category, they're performing below expectations. To be sure, the uptake of renowned models such as the Yamaha WR250R and Suzuki DRZ400 has been quite steady, however, a large cross-section of consumers still prefer a hybrid that doesn't exist yet.
Maybe this bike is a mythical 350-pound, 400-500cc and fuel-injected, a machine that is capable of carrying you down the street at 75mph while simultaneously being light enough to pick up if dropped on a single track. Could such a bike be among the upcoming ones in 2017?
Lighter but More Powerful? -- BMW 310 GS
This is perhaps the most anticipated for next year. At 374 pounds with a 34HP single-cylinder engine and 6-speed transmission, the 310 GS promise to meet some of the unmet expectations. Seems like BMW is pushing this new machine more as a commuter bike than as a more dirt and offroad adventurer. So, only time will tell if it eventually becomes a darling of experienced riders.
Cross-Trained -- Kawasaki Versys-X 300
This lightweight tourer has all the potential for terrain adventure. It borrows the Ninja 300’s 296cc V-twin engine and will, therefore, be expected to hit similar smooth cruising speeds of up to 70mph. It's a ride for both the highways and the offroad. With its nice windscreen, an upright seat positioning, great styling and a 4.5-gallon fuel tank, the new Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is likely to turn many heads.
Trail Runner -- Honda CRF250L Rally
Despite the many small displacement dual-sport bikes already in existence, Japan's Honda steps up to the plate in a bid to appeal to “stock” adventure tourers. With its adjustable windscreen, a 70+ mpg and fuel injection, established off-road power, and extra rally-inspired fairings for improved weather protection, this 320-pound machine looks a good bet.
In Theory -- Suzuki V-Strom 250
Although Suzuki hasn’t officially announced any plans to add a 250cc version to its V-Strom lineup, such a concept was showcased at the 2016 EICMA. This is more of a commuter bike with built-in luggage and 17-inch wheels -- maybe most suited for Asia.
Even as the smaller displacement bike segment continues to grow and transform, it’ll be interesting to see how buyers will react to the influx of any new models. Maybe 2017 is the year to see if manufacturers are really reading the trends correctly.