Top 10 surprise sellers

UK sales in 2013 reveal some unexpected success stories

IT’S no secret that bike sales in the UK have been in a pretty poor state for the last few years and it’s not hard to pull doom and gloom from 2013’s statistics either. But hidden in there are some machines that have clearly struck a chord with buyers and sold more than you might expect.

What classes as a ‘big’ sales figure isn’t easy to define, but to give an idea of where the market stands at the moment, where a decade or so ago we’d have expected each of the top 600cc supersports machines to have sold something like 2000 examples each, these days many of them are doing more like 200 sales in a year. Anything that sells 400 or 500 examples is doing spectacularly well in comparison, and even the best-selling bikes of all don’t do much more than 1500 sales in a year.

The bikes listed below have surprised us with their success… (All figures are from official DfT registration statistics. Some have been combined where the same model has been inexplicably registered under multiple names. Mis-registrations, where forms are filled out incorrectly and bikes are registered without the correct name, are also not uncommon, so the figures may not be identical to sales recorded by manufactures. But they’ll be close.)

10. Harley-Davidson Iron 883 – 514 registered in the UK in 2013

The Iron’s grey-sounding name is at odds with some of the candy-metalflake colours it is actually offered in, but it’s clearly no barrier to potential customers who want a Harley key ring in their pocket.  Its success is probably down to the fact it’s the firm’s entry-level model, with prices starting at under £7,000. Given the fact that, to much of the non-riding public, a Harley-Davidson is still the ultimate in motorcycling, that’s a pretty cheap way to get something that is probably going to impress the bar maid at the local more than a £20k Ducati would.

9. Ducati Diavel – 282 registered in the UK in 2013

We’d be the first to admit that the Diavel is a remarkable machine with performance and handling that’s completely alien to its cruiser-style looks, but would you have pegged it as selling better than most Japanese 600cc four-cylinder sports bikes? In fact, 2013’s sales are a big drop from the Diavel’s peak in 2011, when more than 500 were registered. But with an updated version on sale now, the numbers are probably going to be higher this year.

8. Honda CRF250L – 604 registered in the UK in 2013

When we started compiling this list we really weren’t expecting to put any Hondas on it. After all, you expect them to sell in big numbers. But the CRF250L seems to be punching well above its weight. It’s outsold machines like the CBR250R and CBR500R, the CB500F and the CB500X. In fact, the only Hondas to out-sell it are things like the learner-tastic CBF125.

7. Honda MSX125 – 456 registered in the UK in 2013

There’s no doubting that the MSX125 is a fun little machine, slightly shrunk in the wash but still big enough for a bit of short commuting. But even so, we didn’t expect to see it selling in such numbers. In a climate where many best sellers are sensible, staid transport rather than toys, it stands out even further.

6. BMW S1000RR HP4 – 209 registered in the UK in 2013

OK, so 209 bikes isn’t a big number in the grand scheme of things. But the HP4 starts at just under £17k and represents pretty much the pinnacle of current motorcycle performance and technology. Sure, more buyers still settle for the cheaper, and still nearly as crazy, base-model S1000RR, but the HP4 accounted for nearly a third of S1000RR sales last year. It outsold the F800GS Adventure in a market that’s supposedly anti-superbike and pro-adventure bike…

5. Piaggio Vespa GTS300 – 754 registered in the UK in 2013

Why is this a surprise? Because the GTS300 is very much a scooter, and yet its size means you need a ‘proper’ bike licence to ride one. That means people are taking their tests – with all the hassle and expense that involves – and still opting to buy something that looks much the same as a bike they could be riding with L-plates and a 125cc motor with just a CBT under their belt. It’s not like the 300 even offers a whopping power advantage (22bhp compared to the 15bhp you’re limited to on a 125.) Shows how strong the desire is among some riders for a classic Vespa shape.

4. Triumph Bonneville – 1175 registered in the UK in 2013

We’d expect the Bonnie to do well. After all, it’s a British classic, it has little competition in the ‘retro’ section of the market and can claim more credibility than most of the machines that do try to rival it. But even so, to see nearly 1200 of them (all variants combined) find buyers in 2013 alone still comes as a surprise. And 2013 was actually a pretty poor year for the Bonnie compared to earlier years’ sales. Compared to ‘modern’ bikes, which see huge sales spikes when they’re fresh and new but often quickly drop off as soon as there’s something even fresher on the market, the Bonnie just goes on, year after year, selling in numbers that shame almost every other bike that’s out there. You can see why Triumph loves it so much.

3. Yamaha XJ6 – 774 registered in the UK in 2013

There’s nothing wrong with the XJ6. It’s a really good little bike. But it’s also virtually invisible, rarely making it into the media or coming up in conversation. Now, while it’s still available, the naked version is pretty much superseded by much-talked-about MT-09 triple, while the streamlined Diversion is widely expected to be supplanted by a faired derivative of the MT-09 in the near future. And yet in 2013, the year that the MT-09 first appeared, it was doing roaring trade for Yamaha…

2. Kawasaki ZZR1400 – 528 registered in the UK in 2013

Another brilliant bike, the surprise in the ZZR’s sales is twofold. Firstly, it’s done impressively well in a market that most pundits suggest is increasingly turned off by huge power and speed claims (they don’t get much faster or more powerful than a ZZR…) And the second surprise is the distance it’s put between itself and its closest rival, the arguably even more iconic Suzuki Hayabusa. The Busa managed 191 registrations against the Kawasaki’s 528. Given the two bikes’ similarities when it comes to performance and ability, the difference must be largely down to something less tangible… Supply? Dealer service? Discounting? If you know, tell us below.

1. Suzuki GW250 Inazuma – 458 registered in the UK in 2013

The GW250 only made its debut in late 2012 and 2013 was the first full year it was on sale, and yet the cheap-and-cheerful Suzuki twin didn’t get a huge amount of press attention or much love when it did get tested. We said it was ‘sound’ – which is about right. But it sold more than the CBR250R or the Ninja 300, and even beat the Honda CB500F. Why? It’s decent, well made and cheap. Proof, perhaps, that sticking to the basics isn’t a bad idea after all.

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