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Superbikes for those seeking adventure and a big rush of adrenaline

The Panigale V2 955cc superbike by Ducati was launched in August and comes at an ex-showroom price of Rs 16.99 lakh
Right, so motorcycles are back in action, with people opting for personal transport in the times of Covid-19. Seen as safe and convenient, they represent a pretty good alternative to a segment of the population that has become paranoid about shared mobility. What makes the bike particularly useful is that you can ride solo or in groups, anytime, anywhere. Within this universe, there is a subset called the superbike that appeals to the adventurous spirit of the rider. You could use it to zip around at great speed or simply take it on long, cross-country trips. With the unlocking of the lockdown, the superbike is making a comeback and the market is already buzzing with quite a few launches.  

Says a spokesperson from BMW: “From June onwards, demand has started picking up again. Young riders and adventure enthusiasts who are not hesitant to spend on things they are passionate about, are actively shaping demand for the luxury bike market.”

Bike makers were inundated with queries during lockdown. Says Bipul Chandra, MD, Ducati India: “The level of engagement that we have received from our customers during lockdown and after unlocking has been very motivating and gives us confidence about the positive scenario in the next couple of months. People have been taking interest in the type of bikes we will launch in calendar 2020.” In any case, the superbike customer is truly passionate and knowledgeable, and knows where he is coming from and what he wants. Chandra adds: "The level of awareness and information that our customers display even during their first visit to the showroom is exceptional. The kind of due diligence that generally goes into buying a superbike is at another level. After all, when you are spending a few million rupees on a superbike, you need to understand the features, where all you can use it, how bike will behave in different situations etc.”

With superbikes back in action, there is a serious shortage of accessories and biking gear, which are often out of stock, says Abhay Dange, Director, Press and Corporate Affairs at BMW, who is himself a biker. More than bike, says Dange, it is the premium helmets, jackets, helmet, riding gloves, riding shoes that are just not available. 

Bikes on the bloc

Time was when you only had Royal Enfield in the premium bike category. Gradually the market has an influx of global players such as Triumph, BMW, Ducati, Polaris and Harley Davidson. Today almost every bike maker has premium and superbikes in its portfolio.

Says Rajeev Singh, Partner and Leader, Automotive Deloitte India: “Superbikes are niche and have seen very rapid growth. With higher profitability margins of almost 25-30 per cent per bike, as compared to 10 percent in mass commute bikes, it is a lucrative segment for manufacturers. However, these margins have to be apportioned over a lower volume as well.”

The market is typically concentrated in the top ten cities. Bike manufacturers don’t need to “boil the ocean and be present in every Tier-1, 2 and 3 city”, says Singh, “It suffices to be in top ten cities even though they need to have their service centres everywhere.”

Average age of super bikers 

The sweet spot lies somewhere between 35-50 years. Superbike customers have a high net disposable income, generally own a different passenger vehicle for daily commute and retain the bike mainly for leisure.”

Popular wheels in the Indian market 

This year, many bike makers are coming up with the BS VI versions (Bharat Stage-6 which sets the best vehicle emission standards). For instance, Triumph Motorcycles (India) Pvt Ltd has always had classics such as Bonneville Speedmaster, Street Twin, T100, and T120, but this year they have launched the BS VI variant. Says Shoeb Farooq, Business Head, Triumph Motorcycles India: “Our classics contribute to the largest volume of sales, up to 55 per cent. Our latest launches this year include the Street Triple R, Tiger 900, Bonneville T100, and T120 black editions. Trident is in the pipeline.” These are priced between Rs seven lakh and Rs 12 lakh.  

Even BMW Motorrad India is set to launch the refreshed G310 R and G310 GS in new BS VI compliant variants. Says a BMW spokesperson: “We are taking pre-launch bookings starting September 1. The momentum for BMW Motorrad India is primarily driven by the hugely popular G310 R and the G310 GS motorcycles, which command a share of over 85 per cent in yearly sales. The R1250GS /GSA and the S1000 RR are also favourites among motorcycle enthusiasts. The first-ever BMW R18 will hit the roads soon this year--a true BMW cruiser full of character, surrounding the largest displacement boxer engine we have ever built and timeless design features.”

Harley Davidson launched a Low Rider S1868 cc costing Rs 14.69 lakh, earlier this year, while Kawasaki has plethora of options in a price band of Rs 7-14 lakh. Kawasaki’s bikes include Z650 BS6, NINJA 650 BS6, NINJA 1000 SX, Z900 BS6, VERSYS 650 BS6.

The first-ever BMW R18 will hit the roads soon this year. This BMW cruiser has the largest displacement boxer engine BMW has ever built, and design features that invoke heritage and history

Spotting the difference

How would you know a bike from a superbike? The key differentiators are power, speed, engine capacity. Broadly, bikes can be classified as mass regular commute, the mid end premium bike and the superbike. A regular bike is generally priced up to Rs 2.5 lakh, has a 250cc engine, an average speed of 130 km/hour and 30 bhp (brake horsepower). A mid-premium bike comes in a price band of Rs 3-9 lakh and has an enhanced engine capacity of 500-700 cc and speed of approx 190 km/hour. The superbike costs upwards of Rs 9 lakh and all the way up to Rs 20 lakh. Some may even go up to Rs 1 crore. The superbike comes with a large engine, usually between 800 and 1,200 cc while speed typically ranges from 200-300 km/hour. According to Abhishek Choudhary, a sales manager in a Mumbai-based Kawasaki dealership, “A mass production bike does not come with any electronics. It's just the engine, the bike and the ABS (anti-lock brake system) which is mandatory in all vehicles. In superbikes, you have electronics such as traction control, TFT (Thin Film Transistor) display, speed modes, six factor tyre view, bluetooth connectivity, electronic suspension-–a whole lot of things. There is an ownership value attached to a superbike, much like any luxury product.”

He cites the case of Kawasaki N1000 SX, (Rs 10.7 lakh) a superbike that has an engine as big as 1,050 cc which is equivalent to that of a car and power of 145 BHP, akin to Skoda and speed of 260 kmph. As against this, a Kawasaki N650 costing Rs 6.25 lakh has 70 BHP and can hit 190 kmph max.”

How to choose a bike

Get a fix on why exactly you want a bike. Says Ducati’s Bipul Chandra: “You must know your true calling. If you are a racing freak, go for track bikes, the likes of Panigale in Ducati. But if you love off-roading and outdoors, then opt for the Multistrada kind. If you are looking for a power cruiser, Diavels will work best. If you are more into the city kind of range, then look for Monster type of bikes. For heritage Scrambler works best. Thus, there is no one-size-fits-all kind of formula. Know where your passion lies.” He says customers buy not only based on their passion but also geographical location. In North India, where there is a good racing circuit in Greater Noida, track bikes sell more. While in the western and southern parts of the country, which has beautiful roads to ride and the Western Ghats, it’s the offroading bikes that tick.”

After figuring out your passion, you must know what is the power, the torque that bike can generate, the safety features, the kind of braking system and tyres that the bike has. So, people look for features like shock absorber not just in the front and rear but sometimes even in the seats. What matters also is the styling of headlight and tail light. After all, a sexy superbike is a big fashion statement. 

Superbikes are more about desire than functionality. Says Deloitte’s Singh: “Bikers like that thunder which is coming out of the icy engines--this is a cult of people looking for something that beats up your heart. This set is not conscious about the  cost of operations or fuel efficiency. They are most kicked about power and torque---how fast can I accelerate from 0 to 100 km per hour and in how many seconds. Is it 3 second or 3.25?”

Is there an e-bike coming in this segment? Experts say chances are few as conversations of environment friendliness or reduced driving cost do not appeal to this tribe. The things that appeal to super bikers are different. For instance bike makers lure the tribe with four trips a year to the Himalayas with breakfast and drinks on the way. Loyalty programmes are a huge draw. The market is much unlike the mass market which will be happy about saving 10 per cent on spare parts. Delving into the psyche of what a super biker really wants, Deloitte’s Singh says, “The customer is more excited about the prospect of becoming a part of a bigger club – undertake trips, get himself clicked and share his profile pictures on social media platforms. The idea is simply this: how do I make the world turn around and look at me.”

Safety features are an important attribute because the chances of accidents are fairly high. According to Gurugram-based 45-year-old Manjit Wadhwa, who goes for many full- or half-day trails to Sariska, Faridabad, “There are many chances of falling especially when we undertake some “serious offroading”. This is where the investment in your gear becomes as important as the bike.” Buying a bike is only one part of the story. The other important one is getting yourself some appropriate riding gear--the kind that ensures safety and comfort.”

What is the perfect riding gear for a motorcycle rider in India? Safety is paramount and gear that protects your most vulnerable body parts in case of an accident is required--a helmet for your head, skull and jaw; rider gloves for the wrist, biker boots for the ankle, riding jacket for the shoulder, back and chest and rider pants for knee protection.

Wadhwa says that in the pre-Covid times, he would typically do a full day of biking on the weekend and come back post lunch. Now that lunch is to be avoided elsewhere, he comes back by lunch and does only half a day biking.

Finally, it is the love of riding a bike and fresh air that people traverse these long distances. The destinations are not important, what matters is the journey.

TABLE: What a superbike would cost you 
Model  
Price (Ex-Showroom, Rs lakh) Launch 
BMW R18 1800cc 22.00 September
Ducati Panigale V2 955cc 16.99 August
Harley Davidson - Low Rider S 1868 cc 14.69 March
Ducati Multistrada 950cc
12.8-14.00 November
Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster 1200cc 11.33 August
Triumph Triple R 765cc 8.84 August
Triumph Street Twin 900cc 7.45 August
Kawasaki Versys 650cc 6.79 August
Kawasaki Z900
8.55 September 
Kawasaki N1000 10.7 July
Source: Market Research 


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