Tokyo Motor Show 2011 highlights

posted Dec 20, 2011, 2:01 AM by Loose Tube   [ updated Jan 10, 2012, 6:52 AM ]

Traditionally the Tokyo Motor Show presents a snapshot of the future both for those involved in the automotive industry as well as the general public. Manufacturers put on show their vision of what the future holds. For the motorcycle industry this long-term perspective separates this show, held every two years, from the annual Tokyo Motorcycle show, which is held at the end of March and marks the beginning of Spring. The Tokyo Motorcycle show provides makers with a chance to display their new range to dealers and prospects alike. For many customers who having spent the winter months studying motorcycle magazines, take the opportunity to attend the show in order to view all the market has to offer in the flesh and to finally decide what this years bike will be.    

From a motorcycle perspective there were two vehicles that caught our attention in 2011 and best represented the philosophy of the Tokyo Motor Show. Not because they were necessarily better than the others, but rather they focus our attention on the possible shape of things to come.


The iconic status of Honda's RC multi-cylinder bikes which dominated motorcycle racing in the 60s is rarely leveraged in marketing activities. Perhaps Honda believes this image is irrelevant to the mass of today's motorcyclists or maybe they have not designed anything since then that could be compared. So it was a delight to see the RC-E battery-electric motorcycle in a 250cc sized machine.

The batteries are mounted under a false fuel tank and where the radiator would normally sit. The motor is centrally positioned in the frame on the same axis as the swinging arm pivot. With suspension by Ohlins and radial Brembo front calipers, the bike signals serious intentions in high performance motorcycles.

The original RC series marked a leap into the future and left the opposition battered and bruised. Drawing parallels with the original RC models, so central to Honda's philosophy and future success must have involved serious discussions. By putting the RC legend on the line by association, the new electric RC is throwing down the gauntlet to all comers. 

One thing is certain, the RC-E will never sound like the original RC 6-cylinder range.

Meanwhile, over at Yamaha the issue of the future of motorcycles included the beautiful single cylinder Y125 Moegi, but also the rugged XTW250 Ryoku. The concept of a "work horse" utility vehicle is not new. The 50 cc Honda Motra was sold in Japan in 1982-1983 as a heavy-duty recreation mini bike with a large load capacity. The rugged and utilitarian appearance coupled with a specific transmission for steep terrain signalled a departure from conventional bikes available at the time. Honda revisited the concept in 2004, incorporating similar stylistic traits in the PS250 scooter.


Honda Motra 
  Honda PS250 

As popular displacements in developing markets creep upwards, we ask ourselves what type of bike would offer an alternative to the ubiquitous Super Cub underbone bikes so common the world over. The Super Cub is a supreme generalist, so by segmenting its target audience, competitors are able to focus on specific functions and design bikes that perform them better. If these segments sustain new models, successive iterations will lead to various new models. So Yamaha's XTW250 Ryoku is an attempt along these lines.

Indeed the choice of a 250cc engine reveals global aspirations. The seat is low, accommodating a variety of physiques, but the engine is high, suggesting the bike is comfortable on rough terrain and at least 30 cm of water. The large rear tyre and carrying racks implies the bike can generate sufficient traction to carry a heavy cargo, both for recreation and work when on un-paved roads or off-road. The enlarged fuel tank reduces stops on long adventure trips but also provides important added range on journeys into remote areas where petrol stations are rare. 


The Super Cub will remain the vehicle of choice in most of South East Asia, but the XTW250 Ryoku demonstrates that a different bike could perform better in an environment that crosses over between urban and rural life.