Fast Takes

Catch up on the latest news in the motorcycle industry, including updates about fuel cell bikes, the world's smallest motorcycle, the trend toward female bike owners, and the benefits of CAM:

Blue collar, no more: The past 10 years have seen the motorcycle industry move farther and farther away from its blue collar roots. Now, a growing number of Americans are riding bikes for recreation, rather than transportation. Additionally, they're purchasing pricier bikes--something they certainly can afford, according to data from the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC). It shows that 33.2% of motorcycle owners have a household income that exceeds $50,000, a significant increase from only 2.4% in 1980.

Harley-Davidson connects with women: More women are buying motorcycles--a fact that has not escaped Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. The leading motorcycle maker has announced the addition of a new section called "Women and Motorcycling" to its Web site.

According to Harley-Davidson, sales of its motorcycles to women have increased from 2% of sales in 1985 to 10% of sales in 2003, when women purchased 23,000 bikes. These numbers reflect an industry-wide trend. Data from the Motorcycle Industry Council shows that women were responsible for about 10% of all motorcycle sales in 2003, up from 8.2% in 2002. New models such as Harley-Davidson's low-seat Sportster bike, which is easier to handle, appeal to women, says the company's communications manager Paul James.

CAM software aids a motorcycle team's move to five-axis machining: The Proton KR motorcycle team, which is owned and managed by triple World Championship winner Kenny Roberts, credits Delcam's PowerMILL CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software for easing its transition into five-axis machining--a move that has provided substantial benefits and returned work in-house. As the only independent team participating in the current motorcycle Grand Prix season, Proton KR does not rely on major manufacturers for its supply of bikes. Instead, it creates its own one-of-a-kind racing designs at a manufacturing facility in England.

By utilizing CAM software, the team has been able to take advantage of five-axis machining. As a result, it can now machine most of the components of the bike's frame from solid instead of having to fabricate them. The benefits include improved structural integrity, lower weight, and markedly more consistent machined parts.

Yamaha test-drives fuel-cell bike: According to news reports from Tokyo, Yamaha Motor Co. has started road-testing a motorcycle that runs on a methanol fuel cell. A Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper story reports that Yamaha hopes to introduce the vehicle sometime this year.

This would mean that Yamaha will join Honda Motor Co. and Aprilia in Italy in pursuing dual fuel bikes as a response to the skyrocketing cost of gasoline and the growing scarcity of the world's oil reserves. Both Honda and Aprilia have been working on fuel-cell motorcycles, which generate electricity and heat while combining hydrogen and oxygen. Because this technology can dramatically reduce emissions, these companies are hoping to utilize it to develop bikes that are more environmentally friendly.

Currently, Yamaha is test-driving the FC06 model, which shares its body with the company's Passol electric scooter, according to the report. The motorcycle is equipped with fuel cells and a four-liter fuel tank. The company says it can travel over 60 miles without refueling and releases less carbon dioxide than petrol-powered models.

The creator of the world's biggest bike thinks small: Last year, the inventor of the world's biggest working motorcycle notched another world record--this time for constructing the world's tiniest motorbike. Swedish motorcycle builder, Tom Wiberg, built and test-drove the world smallest motorcycle, which weighs 2.4 pounds and is 2.5 inches high and 4.5 inches long. Running on a small, ethanol-powered combustion engine, it can travel as fast as 1.2 miles per hour. Wiberg says he rode the bike for 36 feet on one foot.

The bike, which he calls "Smalltoe" has been recognized as the world's smallest by the Guinness Book of World Records. It's in stark contrast to Wiberg's previous record-breaking motorcycle, which was named the world's biggest a few years ago. With a top speed of 62 miles per hour, his "Bigtoe" bike is 7.5 feet high and 15.5 feet long.


Yamaha Tests Fuel Cell Bike

Inside Bike News, September 24, 2004

Harley-Davidson: Women Buying More Motorbikes

The Business Journal of Milwaukee, December 13, 2004

CAM Software Helps Bike Team Move into Five-Axis

Manufacturing Talk, November 22, 2004

Coolest Winter Bikes

Josh Max

Forbes, November 5, 2004

World's Smallest Motorcycle Weighs 2.4 Pounds, November 4, 2003

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