Top 10 bikes that deserved better

Machines that had it all on paper but still couldn’t tempt buyers

IT MUST be a nightmare to be a product-planner at any firm that makes consumer goods, particularly something like motorcycles that are so heavily influenced by fashions and external forces like legislation.

We’ve already pointed out a few of the bikes that sold in greater numbers than we might have expected last year, and now here’s a list of machines that, for one reason or another, have failed to manage the sort of sales that you might have expected of them.

Instead of looking at just one year’s sales, we’ve taken a spread of machines offered over the last decade that haven’t flown out of showrooms despite showing a lot of promise. Obviously the list is subjective, since it’s not defined by bare figures but also by the judgement as to whether the bikes deserved to do better. Certainly there are bikes that sold in even smaller numbers, but many were intentionally limited-edition machines or simply bad bikes that got all the success they merited.

If you’ve got your own suggestions to add to the list, feel free to add them in the comments below.

All figures come from the DfT’s official registration statistics up to the end of 2013.


10. Suzuki B-King

The Suzuki B-King seems to be one of those bikes that everyone remembers. It’s not surprising, really, since it had reams of press coverage over a spread of several years between its initial debut as a concept bike and its final appearance in showrooms. And it was good, too. But sales just never took off in the way that the hype promised. The problem might have been the long time between the concept’s first showing and the production machine’s appearance. It might have been the slightly awkward styling (and those exhausts). Maybe it just wasn’t quite as crazy as the concept promised. Overall registrations in the UK totalled 849 bikes between 2007 and 2012, peaking in 2008 at 231. But that’s positively triumphant compared to some of the others on the list…

9. Aprilia Tuono V4 R

The recipe is just so right. Big, brawny V4 engine, superbike chassis, wide bars, electronics galore… The Tuono V4 is a beast and loved by virtually everyone who rides it. Unfortunately, that’s not very many people. Between going on sale in 2011 and the end of 2013, only 443 (all versions) were registered. And it’s not like the Tuono has been short of press coverage; “Prepare to want a Tuono V4R” shouted MCN’s front page after its launch. Seems not many people did.

8. Buell 1125R

Buell’s 1125R might have had styling that only its mother could love, along with an engine that had more than a couple of flaws, but it was a decent first effort at a water-cooled superbike from a firm that hadn’t done anything like it before. It also indirectly spawned the current 1190RS sold by Erik Buell Racing, which is derived from the 1125R successor that was under development when Harley closed Buell down in 2009. Only have 290 found owners in the UK since 2008 (including, bizarrely, one that was registered in 2013, four years after production ended.) Still, it’s better than the total managed by the naked 1125CR version, which only found 175 buyers.

7. Derbi Mulhacen 659

Remember the Mulhacen? No? It was Derbi’s attempt to bust out of its normal, sub-125cc market into something a bit bigger, and in around 2005 it got a lot of press. First shown as a stylish street-tracker concept bike, the production version was pretty good-looking and featured Yamaha’s reliable old XT660 single. At just under £5k it was pretty cheap, too, so sales should have been no problem. But it didn’t work out like that. According to DfT figures, only 51 were registered, plus another 10 of the even scarcer ‘Café’ versions, with alloy wheels instead of wires. There are more than twice that many Desmosedici RRs in this country!

6. Ducati Streetfighter

Like the Tuono V4 R, the Ducati Streetfighter is a bike that’s had a huge amount of positive press coverage, slots into the ‘naked superbike’ market that virtually every manufacture seems keen to get a slice of and carries impeccable breeding that links it directly to sister models with huge racing success. And like the Tuono it spectacularly failed to catch on in the UK. Between its 2009 launch and the end of 2013, the combined registrations for the Streetfighter and Streetfighter S come to just 367 bikes, peaking at 173 in ’09. Last year, only 12 were newly UK registered. Given the huge success of other Ducatis over the same period, it seems unfair that the Streetfighter hasn’t done better.

5. Ducati GT 1000

Given that ‘retro’ has often been equated with success in recent years, Ducati’s Sport Classic range was expected to do pretty well. But as it turned out, none of the machines in the line made much impact in the UK and of them all, the understated GT 1000 was the slowest seller, despite arguably being the classiest of the bunch. Between going on sale in 2006 and the last new registrations in 2012, only 173 have appeared on the DfT’s statistics. Since old Ducatis often become classics, and rarity counts, perhaps we should be snapping them up now. If so, the ‘Touring’ version, with a screen, is the one to have, as it accounted for just 23 of the registrations. The sexier Sport 1000 was a pretty disappointing seller, too. For a bike that was unpopular, they all hold their value remarkably well now, so getting a cheap one is next to impossible. Before their time, perhaps?

4. MV Agusta F3

If column inches of press and stunning good looks were guarantees of success, the MV Agusta F3 would be a best-seller. But they aren’t. And it isn’t. Not surprising, perhaps, but you’d have thought that a bike with that much coverage, interesting technology, decent pricing and awesome styling would have sold more than 64 examples in the UK in its first year on sale (2012), six of which were the terrifyingly expensive ‘Oro’ version. Was it because only limited numbers were available that year? Maybe, but if that was the case, why were only 41 registered in 2013? And that includes the newer 800cc version (17 registered in 2013.) Surely the F3 deserves better than that!

3. MZ 1000S

Ok, so the MZ 1000S was never likely to be a big seller, but the mid-2000s parallel twin got a lot of coverage when it was new and was intended to be MZ’s great white hope. How many actually sold in the UK? Almost none, as it turns out. Even in the company of the other bikes on this list, its results are bad, with a total of 41 bikes registered over a six-year period from 2004-2009. And that’s being generous, since we’re including the naked ‘SF’ (13 sales) and the pannier-equipped ‘ST’ (7 registered) in that total. Ouch. And remember, this is a bike that got front pages of magazines over here, even if the resulting tests generally agreed it was sub-par as a VFR-rival. It cost more than the Honda, too; £7999 might sound cheap in 2014, but in 2004 it was too much. Unsurprisingly, that incarnation of MZ was closed down at the end of 2008… 

2. Aprilia RST Futura

If the MZ’s bad sales are fairly easy to understand, the dismal showroom performance of Aprilia’s RST Futura is somewhat harder to grasp. The combination of the stonking RSV Mille V-twin engine and a comfy sports-tourer with distinctive – if divisive – styling should have been a recipe for at least some sort of success. But it wasn’t to be. Not by a long shot. There are plenty of Aprilias that were candidates for this list, not least the new-for-2013 Caponord, which managed just 68 UK registrations in its debut year, but the Futura stands out, with just 92 registrations over the years and a best performance of 52 in 2003 (the year in which production stopped, although the leftovers were still being sold until 2005 and one was even newly registered in 2012). The thing is, it was a good bike, verging on being a great one, and appeared during a high point for Aprilia when the RSV was selling in big numbers (around 1000 in the UK in 2003 alone). So why did it fail?

1. Aprilia RSV4

Logic says that the RSV4 should be a classic. One of the most desirable bikes on the market. But it’s not. Let’s look at the facts: 1) it’s got a great, V4 engine, 2) it’s got incredible electronics, 3) it looks superb, 4) it’s got enough WSB titles (two rider’s championships and three manufacturer’s titles) to make it a legend.  That combination should, surely, add up to bikes flying out of showrooms. It’s not even terribly expensive compared to its rivals. But between 2009 and 2013 only 713 have been registered in the UK. BMW managed to sell more S1000RRs in 2013 alone (757 including HP4s). Last year, only 81 RSV4s found owners. That’s a sad result after so much effort and expense on Aprilia’s part. 

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