Writing about bikes for 20 years. Published in dozens of titles on five continents. Mildly obsessed with discovering how things work.
The Department for Transport has just released its comprehensive breakdown of registration figures for 2017 and with them an insight into the best – and worst – selling machines currently on the market.
Before diving into the details, let’s look at the headline numbers. We already know that bike sales were down by around 17.8% in 2017, although we’ve already explained why the numbers aren’t all doom and gloom. In short, there was a massive boost in 2016 registrations as manufacturers offloaded or pre-registered non-Euro4-compliant machines before the 1st January. That inevitably led to a slump in the months afterwards.
However, the car market was also down significantly. Overall, vehicle registrations across the board were down 6%, to a total of 3.1 million. Of those just 110,000 – or 3.7% - were motorcycles. However, given that bikes make up 3% of all vehicles on the road, the trend is towards growth; the number of two-wheelers in use has risen by 64% over the last 20 years.
While we were able to bring the basic details of which bikes had topped the charts during 2017 back in January, the full DfT figures list every single machine to be registered, giving a far clearer view of the way the market’s moving.
BMW’s R1200GS has been on top of the sales charts in the UK – and much of the rest of Europe – for years, and 2017 proved no exception.
While the overall top-selling two wheeler in 2017 was Honda’s PCX125 scooter, with 2795 registered, followed by its Vision 110 at 2378, those numbers don’t do the GS justice.
That’s because the R1200GS and the R1200GS Adventure are listed as separate models. They fill the 3rd and 4th spots on the list, at 2310 and 1931 registrations respectively. But combined, that adds up to 4241. And when you throw in the various grey import, old stock or simply misnamed R1200GSes that were also registered during the year, that number grows even further, to 4299.
Basically nothing else comes within sight of the R1200GS when it comes to popularity in this country.
The sheer dominance of the R1200GS is emphasised further when you look at the numbers actually in use. Simply looking at the R1200GSes (ignoring the earlier R1150GS, R1100GS, R100GS and R80G/S) there were nearly 21,000 of the things taxed and in use during the peak of 2017’s riding season.
To put that in perspective, the next most common single model was Yamaha’s YBR125 – thanks to training schools, no doubt – at around 10,000.
Another yardstick that the GS dwarfs is the Honda CBR600, which for years was the UK’s favourite bike and has the longevity to ensure that there are still plenty about. Add up every CBR600, from every generation, that’s still on the road in the UK, and the total is about 15,000.
Looking at the over-125 market, the Honda Africa Twin is doing well. In total some 2365 were registered in 2017. That’s still a long way from the BMW GS, but shows that Honda has managed to grab a fair slice of the adventure bike market. That’s something that none of the GS’s other rivals have achieved.
Other strong sellers include the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer at 1333 registered last year, and Kawasaki’s Z1000SX on 1359. It’s odd, given that there’s been such a focus on the super-naked market, that it’s the practical, faired versions of both machines that have easily out-sold both their naked siblings and all their rivals. British bike buyers are clearly a little more sensible than the manufacturers might believe.
There’s no doubting the fact that Triumph’s Bonneville Bobber is an interesting, attractive and able bike, but you might have thought that it’s more suited to Route 66 than the A66. Not so, it seems; the firm shifted an astounding 1234 of the things in 2017, making it easily Triumph’s best-selling model.
That’s more than twice as many as the number of Bonneville T120s that were registered (602). Meanwhile, other strong-selling Triumphs included the Street Triple RS (979 registered) and the Street Scrambler (609 registrations).
Superbikes still tend to make the magazine covers and hog the headlines at every bike show, so how are their sales holding up?
Not too bad, as it turns out, even if they’re far from the peaks of the early 2000s.
The Suzuki GSX-R1000, with 714 registrations, slotted into the middle of the pack, with Kawasaki’s ZX-10R (560 registrations seeming ill compensation for its WSB success) and Yamaha’s R1 (473 sold) trailing.
Of the Italian contingent, Ducati’s bigger Panigale V-twins managed 246 registrations, while the 959 version proved again that there’s appetite for a middleweight superbike, with 291 sales. Aprilia’s oft-overlooked RSV4 managed to snare 141 buyers.
Right at the top of the market, there were 41 people flush enough to splash out on a Ducati Superleggera in the UK last year. And surprisingly, seven Ducati Panigale V4s were registered – all ‘S’ models – before the end of 2017.
Hopes that the revamped, Euro4-legal Yamaha R6 might breathe new life into the dying 600cc supersport class were dashed. With some 274 registrations in 2017, the bike didn’t even top the category. Instead the age-old Honda CBR600RR was still king, albeit with a disappointing 350 sold.
The others in the class barely made a blip; 140 Kawasaki ZX-636Rs, 106 GSX-R600s and just 66 Triumph Daytona 675s were registered. Oh, and there were 10 buyers for the MV Agusta F3 675.
Stepping to the middleweight sports bike class, there were 72 MV F3 800s and 212 Suzuki GSX-R750s registered. However, Ducati’s new Supersport achieve a fairly impressive 414 registrations and Honda’s ancient VFR800 achieved 297, showing that bikes with a more practical edge still have appeal. And Honda’s CBR650F – another bike that the press tends to overlook in favour of its sexier siblings – had a storming year with 590 registered.
It seems that buyers in the 600-ish class are often one-bike owners, and as such want something that’s a bit more rounded in its capabilities than the out-and-out supersports machines that manufacturers have trumpeted for so long.