From the Suzuki B-King to the BMW R 1200 C... Top 10 Motorcycle Flops

Clever, innovative... unpopular. Motorcycling his rife with success stories but some motorcycles - no matter how good they are - just never caught on...

With the arrival of BMW’s R 18 cruiser equipped with its biggest ever air-cooled boxer, it’s natural to be reminded of the German marque’s previous, disastrous attempt at a cruiser, the 1997 R1200C.

That motorcycle in turn got us thinking of other infamous motorcycle ‘flops’, most memorably machines like the 1993 Yamaha GTS1000, the radical, hub-centre-steered sports-tourer that was supposedly the future of motorcycling yet actually proved a sales disaster… so much so that it was quietly withdrawn soon after.

But, of course, it wasn’t the only one. The manufacturers might not like us reminding them but recent history is littered with ‘great white motorcycling hopes’, that pioneered new styles or technologies (or both) yet which actually turned out to be unmitigated motorcycling disasters.

APRILIA RS 660 vs IT'S (ALMOST) RIVALS

They weren’t all rubbish. In fact many were simply overpriced or ‘bikes before their time’ so making them truly collectable today. Nor are we thinking about ultra ‘niche’ machines that were never going to be mass-market success stories such as Aprilia’s Moto 6.5 or Bimota’s Mantra. 

But, without in any way casting aspersions on the new R 18, we thought it worthwhile reminding ourselves of them. So here, in chronological order, are our Top 10 Motorcycling Flops since the GTS1000, along with the hope that it doesn’t become 11 any time soon!

1993 - Yamaha GTS 1000

Seeing as we thought first of the GTS, we’re starting with it here. Yamaha’s hugely ambitious, pioneering sport-tourer arrived in 1993 with massive expectations following a vast amount of expense and R&D. The headline hub-centre front end was designed in collaboration with California James Parker of RADD but the GTS also featured pioneering fuel-injection, ABS, a catalytic converter, six-piston front brake and more. 

It worked well, too, delivering impressive stability and braking, smooth performance and luxurious comfort. Trouble was it was easy to criticize: although the engine was developed from that of the 140bhp FZR1000 it was retuned to just 100bhp; the ‘Omega Chassis Concept’ albeit clever, was heavy and unwieldy especially at low speed; fuel consumption was poor and tank range small and, worst of all, it was both expensive to make and buy. 

As a result, potential buyers simply weren’t prepared to pay over the odds for radical tech when they could have the proven, shaft drive Honda ST1100 Pan European for less. 

Today, however, a GTS can be snapped up for under £5K and is considered something of a classic…

1997-2004 - BMW R1200C

We mentioned the R 18 so we had to include the R1200C and its spin-offs, too. Originally launched in 1997, the C was BMW’s attempt to tap into the vast, Harley-dominated, US cruiser market. 

Unfortunately it chose to do it with only a mild variation of its then R1150 boxer and gave it half-baked styling only its mother could love – both of which go to explain the huge technological and styling efforts which have gone into the new R 18.

Although enlarged to 1170cc and re-tuned for torque, the resulting lump produced just 61bhp. On top of that there was BMW’s then trademark Telelever front end and lots of other clever German tech including a catalytic converter and ABS brakes. 

Unfortunately, none of that really washed with the Harley brigade and, besides, although riding reasonably, it looked hideous. Even James Bond failed to make it look cool in 1997’s ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and, despite numerous spin off models including the Independent (brown), Avant-garde (retro), Montauk (fat-tyred) and CL (an even more hideous full-dresser), it never caught on, being dropped from BMW’s range in 2004. 

It’s no wonder it took the German marque 15 years to attempt a cruiser again…

1997-2002 - Suzuki TL1000S/R

Maybe it’s a little harsh to call Suzuki’s TL a ‘flop’. After all, initially, this ‘Japanese Ducati’ outsold the 916, its punchy engine was always considered one of the very best V-twins outliving the TL to form the basis of bikes up to today’s VStrom 1050, and both S and R models are, today, considered affordable classics. 

But all that ignores the fact that, at launch, the initial S was so blighted by its ‘revolutionary’ rotary damper rear suspension combined with ultra-sharp geometry that it became considered a ‘widow-maker’, forcing Suzuki to retrofit a steering damper. 

On top of that, the later, Suzuki TL1000R, beam-framed sport bike brother, although originally intended as a WorldSBK contender, proved so overweight, unwieldy and unreliable, it was quickly abandoned. Both TLs may be though of as classics today but at the time they were a corporate embarrassment so big both were killed off by 2002.

2001-2003 - Aprilia Futura RST1000

Another short-lived V-twin. Italian ‘tiddler’ manufacturer Aprilia’s growth through the late 1980s and ‘90s proved so rapid it was perhaps inevitable it’d ultimately take on Ducati with a big V-twin of its own. 

Although its punchy, 60-degree motor was actually built by Rotax, the first, the RSV1000 Mille in 1998, proved good enough to suggest Aprilia were set to take on, not just Ducati, but perhaps even Honda. However, it didn’t quite work out that way. 

The RSV, though good, never got the WorldSBK success Aprilia craved, especially after Honda introduced its own ‘Ducati-alike’ SP-1 in 2000. Worse, ambitious Aprilia followed up the RSV with a whole family of V-twins that were both pricey, overly-ambitious and flawed. The most infamous of these was the RST Futura in 2001. 

Conceived to rival Honda’s then peerless VFR800 V4 sports-tourer, the Futura used a detuned, 100bhp version of the Rotax V-twin to supposedly match the VFR’s performance, had a similar single-sided swing arm and underseat exhaust, an equally lavish dash, comfy ergonomics and fancy, angular bodywork. On paper, it was on par. 

Unfortunately, those looks were divisive, some thought it too bulky, the lumpy V-twin delivery clashed with its high tech looks, production problems delayed deliveries and it was expensive. Besides, most potential buyers were far more likely to visit a Honda dealer than try to find an Aprilia one. 

The result? A sales disaster leading to a cruel end to production after just two years. Today, though, guess what? The Futura’s an affordable classic!

2005-2010 - Ducati SportClassic

Speaking of ‘Classics’ – we couldn’t attempt any run-down of motorcycling flops without the inclusion of one of the most notorious of all, however revered the bikes concerned are today. We’re talking, of course, about Ducati’s infamous ‘retros-before-their-time’, SportClassic family. 

Launched as a duo, the Sport 1000 and Paul Smart LE (limited edition), in 2005 before being joined by the GT1000 in 2007, all were beautifully-styled, retro-inspired (by the 1970s Sport 750, Imola-winning 750 SuperSport and GT750 respectively), powered by the 1000DS 90bhp air-cooled V-twin and festooned with quality details and cycle parts (especially the LE which had Ohlins suspension and more). 

Today, we’d lap them up – in fact, we do: good, used examples now regularly fetch well into five figures. At the time, however, the first two were mere single-seaters, the Sport was cramped, the LE expensive and the twin-seater GT drab. 

Besides, retros, back then, hadn’t really taken off. Ducati tried to fix things with new bars, ‘Biposto’ and cheaper versions and more but it was too late and the range was killed off in 2010. 

All of which, considering today’s Scrambler offerings, is a huge shame and explains why good used examples now fetch such big money…

2007-2012 - Suzuki B-King

Proof, if ever any was needed, that manufacturers shouldn’t get too swept up in show excitement about concept bikes. 

The original B-King was an insanely wild concept bike unveiled at the Tokyo Show in 2001. Basically a stripped-down, roadster version of the Hayabusa hyper bike, it grabbed attention by also having a supercharger, a massive back tyre and styling straight out of Judge Dredd. 

“Build it,” everyone said. “We’ll buy it,” they promised. So Suzuki did. Unfortunately, however, by the time it was ready, practical concerns meant there was no supercharger, the styling had been toned down and, yet, it still cost almost twice as much as a conventional super naked. 

In its defence, the B-King was still a wild ride, was an early-adopter of riding modes and well built and equipped but it was also garish, ungainly, expensive and, crucially, without the main selling point – the supercharger – that had originally been promised.

2008-2012 - Harley-Davidson XR1200

Another bold concept that made it into production but which, with hindsight, probably shouldn’t have. The XR1200 was a bold, Harley Europe-driven concept aiming to boost H-D sales on this side of the pond by essentially being a Ducati Monster style performance naked but with styling inspired by Harley’s heritage in US flat-tracking – specifically that of its hugely successful XR750 racer (hence the name). 

To be fair, it was a decent attempt. The reworked, Sportster V-twin produced an adequate 90bhp, the chassis was impressively nimble (for a Harley anyway) and it looked good, too. Trouble was it was also quite heavy and had no performance advantage over the completion either. 

The net result made the XR both a Harley that traditional Harley buyers didn’t want and a performance roadster that wasn’t as good as its rivals, all of which added up to Very Few Sales Indeed. 

Shame really. Harley did try, by launching a one-make race series then adding the XR1200X in 2011 with improved suspension but it wasn’t enough and the XR was killed off in 2012. Harley haven’t attempted a Euro-targeted bike since, so it’ll be interesting to see how the upcoming Pan America adventure bike fares…

2008-2010 - Honda DN-01

You’ve gotta love Honda. While ‘big red’ may have a reputation for being overly-conservative and uncool, it’s also undeniable that, from time to time, it also pushes the boat out with both technology and styling as if to prove to the world that ‘no-one quite does things like Honda’ – how else do you explain bikes as madcap as CBX1000, CX500Turbo and NR750?

One of the most recent – and bonkers – has to be the DN-01 of 2008. A sort of hi-tech custom cruiser, the DN-01 had a bit of everything… and combined it into a real dog’s dinner. 

The 680cc V-twin engine is from the uninspiring Deauville tourer and was blended with an early form of Honda’s semi-automatic gearbox – so it’s bland and characterless straight away. 

The feet-forward riding position and kicked out forks are cruiser so, though comfy, ground clearance is an issue. Its styling is so sharp its screen is useless for commuting and its lavish tech and dash made it expensive as well. 

So… it’s slow, unconventional, not sporty, no tourer and not even cheap. “I’ll have three,” said no-one. Ever.

2013-2018 - Triumph Trophy 1200

OK, we admit, this one might sound a little harsh and, to be fair, Triumph don’t get much wrong, but its Trophy 1200 (perhaps along with the Thunderbird 1600/1700 cruiser) hasn’t been the British firm’s finest hour. 

Again, like many of the machines featured here, the Trophy wasn’t a bad bike – far from it. It was launched in 2013, just after the 1200 Tiger Explorer, shared the same all-new 1215cc shaft-drive triple and was similarly explicitly targeted at a BMW rival. 

But where GS-rivalling Tiger has survived and evolved in the big-selling adventure bike category, the RT-rivalling Trophy has fallen by the wayside. 

That’s partly due to the Trophy never quite being as good as the RT (especially after BMW introduced its own, all-new, lighter version that same year) and partly due to the tourer class today being much smaller. On its own merits the 135bhp Trophy was fast, well-equipped, comfortable, a good handler and more. 

Its only failing was in not matching the standout bike in the category when it had promised, so loudly, that it would.

2014 - Honda CTX1300

And finally (for now) we couldn’t resist including another weird and wonderful Honda. The CTX1300 deserves to be in top spot here, not just for being the most recent flop, but for also being the shortest-lived of all – just one year. 

Whatever way you look at the CTX it makes little sense. Basically it’s a cruiser/bagger based on the old STX1300 tourer so, straight off, it’s hard to see Americans going for it (they didn’t). 

Second, instead of a straight replacement/update for the practical Pan European Honda gave us this low-screened, feet forward version, which isn’t, so that’s not going to get Continental types queuing around the block for it either (we didn’t). 

Third, it’s supposedly got style but is actually very bland and, fourth, it’s even oddly equipped (there are speakers but no stereo, for example) so is not even cheap, either. 

It’ll be no surprise at all, then, to hear that it bombed – which it did – but it might surprise that, actually, I quite like it. And I can’t even remotely explain why…
 

Join the conversation!

Let us know what you think, just sign up for a free account, leave a comment and get involved!
Register Now