Skip to main content

What’s going on in UK motorcycling: Spring 2024

Has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including most of the world’s biggest bike titles, as well as dabbling in car and technology journalism.

Posted:

07.06.2024

The Status of UK Motorcycling - Summer 2024

 

We’re barrelling into peak riding season and the prospect of long days and dry roads mean bikes are probably taking up more of your attention than at any other time of the year – whether it’s track days, touring or simply taking the long route back from work. And inevitably that means you’re probably more focussed than ever on the highs and lows of riding whether it’s the state of the roads, what you might be buying next, or the longer-term future of motorcycles as a whole.

So here’s our round-up of what’s happening in UK motorcycling right now and developments expected in the future following a general election that (at the time of writing) looks all but certain to return Labour to power for the first time since 2010.

 

New bike sales

Last year’s motorcycle sales took a dip as inflation and interest rates soared and the numbers from the first third of 2024 can tentatively be interpreted as stabilisation – with outright registrations by the end of April showing a 0.1% increase over the same period in the previous year. In actual numbers that’s just 42 extra new bikes sold, for a total of 37,912 according to official industry figures from the MCIA.

It's certainly not a ‘recovery’ after 2023’s sales dropped by 2.5% compared to 2022, but it indicates that the decline has been arrested.

During the early part of the year it looked like we might be seeing a substantial uptick in sales. January’s registrations were up by more than 5% on the previous year, February’s by over 6%. But that’s down partly to the fact that the early part of 2023 was particularly hard-hit by the financial chaos that followed Liz Truss’s ‘mini budget’ in September 2022.

March, however – usually a peak month for sales as the introduction of new models to the market coincides with introduction the new year’s registration plates – took a surprise dive, dropping enough to bring the overall sales for the year so far to be on a par with 2023. That may be because sales in March 2023 were unusually strong, particularly in the context of the overall drop in sales for the year and the fact it was the wettest March in 40 years. It might also reflect the fact that the most significant new bike of the year, BMW’s R1300GS, hit showrooms before the end of 2023, making buyers less inclined to wait for the new registration plates and keener to simply get their hands on a completely new version of the perennial best-seller.

This year’s March figures are more like those from 2022, which was a stronger year overall but didn’t have 2023’s high peaks and troughs, suggesting that – on the basis of the first third of the year alone – 2024 might be a return to something resembling normality.

Digging a bit deeper, the sheer power of BMW’s R-series GS models in shaping this country’s motorcycle landscape is illustrated in adventure bike sales that were up more than 11% year-on-year by the end of April. That comes after adventure bike segment growth that slowed from 19.6% in 2021 to 4.8% in 2022 and 1.9% in 2023. It’s probably not coincidental that 2021 saw the last set of updates to the R1250GS.

However, the outright sales success of the new R1300GS won’t be felt for another year, as the Adventure version of that bike has yet to be launched. The Adventure variant of the previous R1250GS often vied for the top sales spot, and despite being on the verge of replacement it regained that position in April 2024, outselling even the new R1300GS that month in the UK.

We already know there will be an R1300GS Adventure launched later this year, alongside semi-automatic versions of both the R1300GS and R1300GS Adventure – another factor that could cement the bikes’ positions at the top of the charts, since Honda’s experience with its semi-auto DCT box has been nothing but positive on the Africa Twin, accounting for around half of that bike’s sales.

The resurgence of adventure bikes means the class is now, once again, the most popular in the UK. It was beaten to that spot in 2023 by the naked bike category, but the latest numbers show that naked machines are currently down 11.1% year-on-year in the first third of 2024, giving adventure models the chance to sneak ahead again.

Other winners in 2024 so far include sports bikes, which are experiencing a resurgence after many years of decline. It’s a class that ended 2023 with a modest 3.9% increase in sales over 2022, but so far in 2024 it’s up by an impressive 16.7%. There are still more than two adventure bikes sold for ever every sports bike to find a buyer, but it’s a class that’s booming in comparison to the seemingly unstoppable decline it suffered for many years since the turn of the millennium. Indeed, so far this year sports bikes are the fastest-growing segment of the market – and that’s not something we’ve been able to say for a long time. 2024’s growth follows increases for the segment in 2022 and 2023, suggesting this is a sustained trend rather than a market blip.

The sports bikes driving that resurgence are a far cry from the eyeball-flattening litre superbikes that used to rule the category. This year’s month-by-month best-sellers in the category have been the Suzuki GSX-R125, the Suzuki GSX-8R, Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000SX and Honda’s CBR650R.

The next target for the sports bike class will be to overtake the ‘modern classics’ category, which is also growing but at a slower rate. By the end of April this year, 4104 modern classics had been sold, compared to 3437 sports bikes, making them the fourth and fifth most popular classes, behind adventure bikes, scooters and naked bikes. Again, the big sellers in the modern classics class aren’t the ones they might have been a few years ago – instead of large-capacity Bonnevilles and Thruxtons the best-selling Triumph in the class is the new Speed 400, which has been vying with Royal Enfield’s Meteor 350 for the top spot so far in 2024. Small, cheap, single-cylinder machines appear to be the order of the day.

In our last report on the state of UK motorcycling we noted that electric bikes – the machines that many expect to represent the future – were having a nightmare attracting customers, with a 37.8% drop in sales in 2023 compared to 2022. That’s been reversed to an extent in 2024 so far, with 10.4% growth for the electric bike market during the first third of the year. The January to April sales figures show 1188 electric bikes found owners in the UK during that time, but despite being better than 2023’s equivalent numbers, those figures are less than half the number of electric bikes (2489) sold in January-April 2022. A decline in government incentives is likely to be at least partly to blame, but the growth of the largely unregulated market for electrically-assisted bicycles is also likely to be stealing a substantial number of sales from the lower end of the electric motorcycle market.

 

Yamaha’s NMAX 125 was last year’s best-seller overall, while the R1250GS Adventure topped sales over 125cc

 

What are the most popular new bikes?

As usual there’s a lag between the headline sales figures released by the MCIA and the official government numbers on new registrations but the full details of every model registered by the DVLA during 2023 have now been released by the Department for Transport – showing a few key trends.

Yamaha’s NMAX 125 scooter continued to dominate overall sales for two-wheelers in 2023, with a final quarter that stretched its lead over the competition. With a grand total of 4013 sold in 2023, it’s more than 800 bikes clear of its nearest rival, Honda’s PCX125 scooter.

 

The full top-ten list of UK best-sellers for 2023 is:

Make

Model

2023 full year registrations

YAMAHA

NMAX 125 ABS

4013

HONDA

PCX 125

3209

HONDA

CBF 125

1771

BMW

R 1250 GS Adventure

1697

BMW

R 1250 GS

1153

HONDA

NSC 110

1103

HONDA

CB 750 Hornet

1017

ROYAL ENFIELD

HNTR 350

946

TRIUMPH

Street Triple RS

912

BENELLI

BN 125

881

Restricting our view to machines over 125cc, BMW’s R1250GS Adventure topped the charts for 2023 as a whole, with 1697 sales, and such is the GS’s domination that the base version of the R1250GS was the second-best seller on 1153 registrations. The margin would have been much closer but for the fact that the base R1250GS was replaced in the last quarter of 2023 by the all-new R1300GS, which managed nearly 360 sales of its own during that period.

Honda’s CB750 Hornet comes in next, with 1017 registrations during 2023, followed by Royal Enfield’s HNTR 350 on 946.

Royal Enfield and Triumph are joint winners when it comes to entries in the top ten, each with three models making the list, and remarkably there are just two Japanese machines in the ten best sellers – the Honda CB750 Hornet and Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000 SX.

 

The full top-10 of over-125cc bikes is:

Make

Model

2023 full year registrations

BMW

R 1250 GS Adventure

1697

BMW

R 1250 GS

1153

HONDA

CB 750 Hornet

1017

ROYAL ENFIELD

HNTR 350

946

TRIUMPH

Street Triple RS

912

KAWASAKI

Ninja 1000SX

873

ROYAL ENFIELD

Super Meteor 650

861

ROYAL ENFIELD

Classic 350

759

TRIUMPH

Trident

755

TRIUMPH

Tiger 660 Sport

672

Turning our attention to electric bikes, the market is still dominated by cheap, low-performance scooters and off-roaders, with the Sur-Ron Ultra Bee topping the charts by a substantial mark.

However, there’s a notable new entry at number 10, with the SEAT MÓ 125 – manufactured by Scutum but sold in SEAT car dealers and with SEAT branding – slotting into the charts. It suggests that electric bikes are genuinely making some headway when it comes to persuading car drivers to switch to two wheels, offering an unintimidating, easy-to-use route into motorcycling.

 

The full top-10 of electric bikes is:

Make

Model

2023 full year registrations

SUR-RON

Ultra Bee

349

VMOTO

CPA

274

SUR-RON

Light Bee

262

MAEVING

RM1

209

VMOTO

CUX

196

VMOTO

TCM

129

PIAGGIO

Piaggio One

96

YADEA

G5S

94

TALARIA

Sting

77

SCUTUM

SEAT MO  125

74

Sur-Ron’s Ultra Bee is the UK’s best-selling electric bike by a large margin

 

Buying a new bike?

Bank of England interest rates might still be high and while inflation’s dropping it’s still not insubstantial – but there are hints that if you’re prepared to shop around you’ll find appealing offers even on some popular new bikes at the moment.

Last time we looked into it, most manufacturers were offering PCP deals with interest rates between around 8% and 10%, and while that’s still the case there are a growing number of deals on specific models that give the chance to substantially undercut those numbers.

Over at BMW, for instance, the R1250GS Adventure – 2023’s best-selling bike over 125cc and still rivalling the R1300GS for sales in 2024 so far – is being blown out with a cheap-looking 2.9% ARP PCP deal. That’s sure to be because the new R1300GS Adventure is set to be unveiled within the next few months, with an inevitable knock-on effect on prices for the older 1250 variant. For buyers who would rather get a low price than the latest-and-greatest model, it’s an opportunity – deals on the old 1250 are likely to be increasingly attractive prior to the R1300GS Adventure’s launch, and if there are any left in dealers after the new model appears they’re likely to get cheaper still, although playing that waiting game could be a gamble as the R1250GS Adventure is still selling like the proverbial hot cakes at the moment, making surplus stocks less likely.

Sticking with BMW, the company is also offering a 0% APR deal on the F900R until 1st July 2024 – potentially a clue that there’s an updated version coming for the 2025 model year on the heels of the lightweight new F900GS that was launched in the 2024 model range. And even the company’s S1000 four-cylinder models are subject to an offer until 1st July, with the S1000RR and S1000R coming in at 3.9% APR.

As last time we did a market update, Suzuki is offering 4.9% APR deals on several models, which is below the BoE base rate. You can get that deal on the V-Strom 800, GSX-8R, GSX-8S and the GSX-S1000GX as well as older offerings like the Hayabusa, GSX-S1000 and V-Strom 1050.

Similarly, Triumph has an array of 4.9% APR finance deals on the go at the moment, including the Street Triple 765 R and RS and the Tiger Sport 660, while the Tiger 1200 range is available at 6.9%. It also has ‘personalisation contributions’ of between £500 and £2000 on a broad array of bikes, and free panniers with the Tiger 850 Sport.

Yamaha’s normal finance deal, which was 9.9% APR last time we investigated, has dipped to 8.9% on several models, plus a £750 deposit contribution or accessories worth up to £1000, with the MT-07, MT-10, Tenere 700, Tracer 9, Tracer 7, R7 and R3 all included in that offer. It expires at the end of June.

Kawasaki is also offering a deal with a £650 deposit contribution towards the Z650, Z650RS, Ninja 650, Vulcan S and Versys 650, and £500 towards toe the Ninja 125 and Z125. Higher up the range, there’s a £900 voucher for merchandise, accessories or riding gear with the Z900RS and Z900, or a £1000 voucher with the Versys 1000 or Ninja 1000SX. Stretch your budget to the supercharged Z H2 or Ninja H2 SX and you get a £3000 voucher. During June, the company is taking another £400 off the Z900RS and Ninja 1000SX, on top of that voucher deal.

Over at Ducati, there’s a 6.9% APR finance offer on the Multistrada V4, DesertX and the Diavel V4, and the company has introduced an unusual ‘Accelerate’ deal on the Monster, Scrambler, Streetfighter V2 and Streetfighter V4. This lets you pay 50% of the bike’s price up front and then ride it for two years without any payments. At the end of that period, like a PCP deal, you get the chance to either pay the remaining 50% or to simply hand the bike back. If you’ve got the funds to buy outright it makes sense – you can weigh up the used value after the two-year period to decide whether it’s worth paying the balance or not – or it means customers who might have been in the market to purchase a used bike outright could afford a new one instead.

 

Ducati’s new ‘Accelerate’ deal lets you pay 50% up front and 50% two years later – or simply hand the bike back

 

What else is happening in motorcycling in 2024?

While the general election and the likely formation of a new government that will result means that plans for legislative changes are currently up in the air pending the whims of whoever ends up in Downing Street, a lot of decisions are expected in the coming months that could change aspects of riding for years to come.

Back in May the Telegraph reported that unnamed ‘industry sources’ believed that the Government’s much-delayed plan the sale of non-zero emissions motorcycles was soon to be announced, stating that the cut-off date was set to be 2040. That hasn’t happened yet, and with the election being called and parliamentary business suspended, it looks unlikely to be on the agenda in the immediate future. The original research into the idea took place back in 2022, with a consultation that ran from July until September that year. Initially, the government had hoped to end the sale of combustion engine bikes under 125cc by 2030 (or sooner) and larger ones by 2035, but both those dates now seem ridiculously ambitious given the lack of progress in the electric motorcycle market since 2022. Feedback on the 2022 consultation was supposed to be released within months, but two years on from its announcement the official line is still “We are continuing to analyse the feedback we have received.”

Back in the real world there’s been a distinct step back from electrification plans from some manufacturers, particularly when it comes to larger, longer-range bikes. While several major manufactures including Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki have pledged to launch more electric motorcycles during 2024, as will newcomers to the market like Can-Am, we’ve yet to see any sign of a credible large, high-performance electric bike under development that might be able to create a ‘Tesla’ moment in the industry and skew opinions towards EVs. Quite the opposite, in fact, as brands are increasingly developing low-emissions alternatives, with the Japanese ‘Big Four’ partnering up on a project to create hydrogen-fuelled combustion engines for future bikes, while European brands like Ducati and Triumph – while dabbling in electric prototypes and, for Ducati, race bikes – aren’t seriously expecting to have showroom models in the near future.

Self-driving cars like this Wayve prototype will be more widely allowed on UK roads by 2026

 

 

A law change that has been passed through parliament is the Automated Vehicles Act, which was rubber-stamped in May and will allow fully autonomous vehicles to drive themselves on British roads alongside us soft meat-bags. The argument in favour of the legislation is a somewhat spurious one – that human error contributes to 88% of road collisions. Since humans are currently the only things legally driving vehicles on the road, their mistakes will inevitably contribute to accidents. In theory, each autonomous vehicle that’s granted permission to operate on the roads will have to prove that can ‘achieve a level of safety equivalent to, or high than, that of a careful and competent human drivers’ with the result that ‘road safety in Great Britian will be better.’

 There are already trials of self-driving cars in London and Oxford, with companies Wayve and Oxa both testing autonomous vehicles, and the Government estimates that the self-driving industry could be worth up to £42 billion and create 38,000 jobs by 2035.

Whether the technology can live up to those intentions remains far from clear at this stage, as even the moderate driver-assist systems fitted to modern cars appear to struggle when it comes to spotting bikes. In April the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in American (IIHS) revealed that the existing crash avoidance systems fitted to several small SUVs in the States are under-par when it comes to detecting motorcycles under a new element of its test regime. Conducting tests at 31mph, 37mph and 43mph, the IIHS uses motorcycle dummies that are stationary in the centre and offset positions in a lane to see whether the cars’ collision-avoidance tech is able to stop them in time to prevent a crash. Testing on 10 small SUVs found that many of the vehicles struggled, with only one – the Subaru Forrester – achieving a ‘Good’ rating, but even it couldn’t stop in time at the highest test speed. Two other cars were rated as ‘Acceptable’ and a further three were considered ‘Marginal’. Four cars were rated ‘Poor’ and weren’t able to consistently mitigate against crashes with bikes.

Here in Europe, the Euro NCAP crash test regime also introduced a motorcycle-specific test for driver-assist systems in 2023, and the first sets of results are now available. The European tests are more extensive than the American ones, testing automatic emergency braking systems to see how they respond not only when approaching a stationary bike in the same lane but also whether they can react to a moving bike that brakes in front of them and whether they can prevent a driver front turning across the path of a motorcycle that’s coming in the other direction. The European tests have an additional set of tests for the lane-assist systems on modern cars, seeing if they can prevent cars changing lanes into the path of an oncoming bike or into an overtaking motorcycle.

Each ability is rated as one of five levels – good, adequate, marginal, weak and poor. The cars tested so far have generally performed well in the majority of the tests, but only account for a relatively small proportion of the very latest models on the market. Interestingly, a lot of the cars from little-known Chinese brands appear to perform particularly well – perhaps as a result of being developed on roads with a higher population of bikes.

 

Here are the results for the latest generation of motorcycle-avoidance tests that EuroNCAP has carried out so far on 2024 models:

Year

Make

Model

Approaching stationary motorcyclist

Approaching braking motorcyclist

Turning across oncoming motorcyclist

Changing lane across oncoming motorcyclist

Changing lane across overtaking motorcyclist

2024

Honda

CR-V

good

good

good

good

poor

2024

Toyota

C-HR

good

good

good

good

good

2024

Ford

Tourneo Custom

good

good

adequate

good

poor

2024

Ford

Torneo Custom (safety pack)

good

good

good

good

adequate

2024

Maxus

Mifa 7

good

adequate

good

good

poor

2024

VW

Tiguan

good

good

good

good

adequate

2024

ZEEKR

001

good

good

good

good

adequate

2024

ZEEKR

X

good

good

good

good

adequate

2024

Honda

CR-V (safety pack)

good

good

good

good

poor

2024

NIO

EL6

good

good

adequate

poor

poor

New US and European collision avoidance tests for cars specifically include motorcycle dummies – with mixed results

 

Threat or opportunity for historic bikes?

Call us cynics but when the Government launches research with an eye to altering legislation around bikes the instinctive reaction is to be concerned that something is about to get more difficult than it used to be.

The latest one is an ‘open call for evidence’ on the subject of “Registering historic, classic, rebuilt vehicles and vehicles converted to electric.”

Closing on 4th July – the same date as the General Election – the government is, in its own words, “seeking evidence to help identify areas of potential change to how historic, classic, rebuilt and electrically converted vehicles are registered with DVLA.”

Anyone who’s had the dubious pleasure of trying to import a vintage bike, register a modified bike, or to reclaim the identity of a newly restored one that’s been off the road for decades will know that it can be something of a lottery. You might get lucky, be able to convince the DVLA of the bike’s heritage and originality and get an age-related plate and historic status – i.e. MOT and VED exemption for vehicles over 40 years old – or you might be lumbered with a ‘Q’ registration plate and the stigma of a bike that may or may not be what it appears.

The current rules, established back in the 80s, say that to retain its original plate, a modified or restored bike needs to have its original unaltered chassis and two other major components, for instance the engine and front or rear suspension. But of course it’s more complicated than that in real life. A brand-new frame, built to original specs, might qualify as ‘original and unaltered’ while a vintage one that’s been modified, even back when it was new, might not.

Quite what changes the government might have in mind aren’t clear from the call for evidence, but there’s clearly a growing trend for classic cars, and even bikes, to be converted to electric powertrains, and pressure for those vehicles to be able to retain their classic status, even if adding an electric motor and batteries requires modifications to the chassis that would, under the current rules, not be allowed.

What will the outcome be? It’s too early to know, but the call for evidence does mention that other countries often have a younger age limit for ‘historic’ vehicles – around 30 rather than 40 years of age – and implement specific safety checks and registration schemes. In some cases, there are also limitations on the use of historic vehicles, for instance restricting where and when they can be used.

With the right input, the Call for Evidence could result in improvements for classic bike owners – making it easier to register them and allowing more modifications so they’re usable as daily transport without losing their historic status, or lowering the bar in terms of age before a bike is considered ‘historic’. It’s worth bearing in mind that when the government first eliminated VED on older vehicles the cut-off point was 25 years old. That was frozen in 1997, though, and the rolling age VED exemption only restarted in 2014, applying to vehicles over 40 years old. If the original 25-year cut-off had remained, we’d be enjoying bikes like 1st-genertation R1s and Hayabusas VED-free by now…

To take part and give your own views, you can go to the call for evidence before the 4th July by clicking here.

 

The Status of UK Motorcycling - Spring 2024

As the days start to get longer and endless torrents of rain wash the remains of the winter salt from the roads we’re fast heading into the new biking season – with riding, racing and new bike purchases starting to come to the fronts of our minds. But what is the state of play for motorcycling in the UK right now? We’ve dug into the data to find out the key trends.

 

New bike sales decline

The final numbers for 2023 showed that when it comes to buying new bikes there was a decline compared to the previous year. That’s not a huge surprise. After all, barely a day has gone by since Liz Truss’s catastrophic ‘mini budget’ in September 2022 without headlines about high interest rates and rising bills, all in the face of a cost-of-living crisis that’s been ongoing since 2021. The chances are that you don’t feel better off now than you did a couple of years ago.

Whenever budgets start to get squeezed non-essential purchases get postponed and for a large proportion of British riders, erring on the ‘leisure’ side of motorcycling, that means a brand-new bike can wait. The totals for last year showed that the overall bike market in this country was down by a modest 2.5%, dropping from 116,534 sales in 2022 to 113,589 in 2023. But those numbers warrant some further dissection as there have been much more substantial shifts when it comes to particular classes and categories.

The biggest losers of the year were scooters and the retro-style machines that the MCIA defines as ‘Modern Classic’ bikes. Sales of the former dropped by 2322 to 24,577, amounting to an 8.6% decline. Various factors are likely to be behind that decrease, notably the financial squeeze that many buyers are feeling but also the encroachment of the fast-growing e-bicycle market. Those same e-bikes are also behind the almost complete annihilation of the 50cc moped market over the last few years – and in 2023 it dropped another 22.8% to just 5,553 new registrations. After all, why buy a bike that needs insurance and tax if you can get away with an electric-assisted pedal bike that does nearly the same job without any of those overheads?

Although there was a double-digit decline in the touring bike market, down 12.3%, it was already at a low level so the actual numbers only slipped from 2942 registrations in 2022 to 2580 in 2023. The unstoppable rise of the adventure bike, many of which are used purely as tourers, is the reason for that. But the slowdown in the ‘Modern Classic’ arena, with sales dropping by a substantial 1179 from 12,117 to 10,938, could be a sign that tastes are moving away from 1960s-inspired machines after several years of sustained growth in that segment.

Turning to the climbers in the charts, adventure bikes are still rising and 2023 saw further increases so they now account for nearly 19% of all new registrations. But the rate of growth is dropping – in 2021 the adventure bike market grew by 19.6%, in 2022 it grew 4.8%, and in 2023 the increase was 1.9%. Are we reaching saturation point? Possibly, as other segments saw bigger increases both in percentage terms and actual sales. Naked bikes, for instance, grew 5.5%, extending their lead over adventure models and, with a 22% market share, remaining the most popular category overall. So called ‘Competition’ bikes – meaning road-legal enduro, trials and trail models saw a 7.1% rise and, while still a small segment compared to adventure machines, that figure amounted to a growth of 409 sales (up from 5780 to 6189), while adventure bike sales rose by only 401 registrations.

Even sports bikes, in decline for many years since their days as the dominant lifeform in UK motorcycling, are having a resurgence, with 2023 marking the second consecutive year of growth, up 3.9%, following a 7% increase in 2022.

 

Superbike sales aren’t all bad news – BMW’s S1000RR has done a roaring trade

 

Which are the most popular new bikes?

The official DfT statistics for vehicle licensing lag a bit behind the MCIA’s sales figures but we can look to the numbers for the first three quarters of 2023 to get a clear picture of which models are hits and which are misses in the current climate.

It’s no surprise to see BMW’s R1250GS Adventure and R1250GS near the top, and when combined the total registrations come within a whisker of matching the best-selling model on the Government’s list, the Yamaha Nmax 125 scooter.

But below the BMW GS, the best-sellers list shows a remarkably mixed-up combination of makes, models and styles. If we only look at bikes over 125cc, during the first three quarters of last year, the next best-seller was Honda’s CB750 Hornet – showing that its combination of an attractive RRP and high levels of performance and equipment compared to rivals is just as successful as it appears on paper. But it’s followed by Royal Enfield’s HNTR 350, then Triumph’s Street Triple RS and Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000 SX. Each a very different bike, illustrating the diversity of the market at the moment.

Even if ‘Modern Classic’ bikes are on the decline, it doesn’t seem to be harming Royal Enfield. If we look only at bikes over 125cc, RE has three models in the top ten best-sellers, with the Meteor 650 and Classic 350 joining the HNTR 350, and the Interceptor 650 and Meteor 350 aren’t far away either. The BSA Gold Star, too, has shown itself to be a surprise hit, with 600 registered in the first three quarters of the year. That’s enough to pip some strong-selling machines including the Triumph Tiger 660 Sport (595 registrations), Honda CB500X (562) and even Yamaha’s MT-07 (529 sales during the first three quarters).

When it comes to that resurgent sports bike market, there’s a distinct split between the high-end machines and the more affordable offerings. At the 200hp-plus end of the market, BMW is again a winner, with the S1000RR achieving 551 sales in the first three quarters of 2023 and another 70 customers snapping up the exotic M1000RR. That means BMW’s superbike is its second best-seller after the R1250GS and gives lie to the old adage of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ as the S1000RR/M1000RR’s WSBK record isn’t littered with victories.

The bike that dominated superbike racing in 2023 was Ducati’s Panigale V4, and its sales illustrate that there’s still a large segment of customers for whom the term ‘cost-of-living crisis’ is something that only applies to other people. In total, Ducati registered 230 Panigale V4s in the first three quarters of 2023, but remarkably nearly half of them – 97 – were the £38,995 Panigale V4 R. That homologation special outsold the V4 S (52), the V4 SP2 (39) and left the base Panigale V4 to bring up the rear on 38 registrations during that period. However, Panigale sales were dwarfed by those of the Multistrada V4, which accounted for 562 registrations (all variants) over the same nine months. So much for Ducati being a V-twin sports bike company (its best-selling twin was the Desert X on 199 registrations, while 160 people bought the Panigale V2, which sticks to the classic Ducati recipe).

Other litre superbikes lag behind those rivals in terms of sales, but Yamaha’s R1 appears to have come out on top from the Japanese crop in terms of registrations in what might be its final full year on the market here as the company isn’t planning to update it for the latest ‘Euro5+’ emissions rules.

However, it’s at the other end of the sports bike market that there’s substantial activity at the moment. We’ve just seen Suzuki launch the GSX-8R and Triumph introduce the Daytona 660, and there are rumblings that Honda has a CBR750 based on the CB750 Hornet waiting in the wings. Those launches indicate an appetite from customers for a breed of daily-useable sports all-rounders in the mould of the old Honda CBR600F of the 80s and 90s, and the sales figures back up that impression. Yamaha’s R7, for instance, despite not being in the first flush of youth, racked up 460 new registrations in the first nine months of 2023, with Honda’s age-old CBR650R coming in at 329 sales. Even Aprilia’s RS660 – a more expensive proposition than the Japanese machines – has been doing strong business, racking up 239 registrations in the same time period to easily become Aprilia’s best-selling motorcycle model in the UK.

It’s the brightest outlook for the sports bike market in years, suggesting a new generation of riders are discovering the joys of race-replicas and increasing the odds that more models will be launched into the same segment soon.

 

Top 10 best sellers (to the end of Q3, 2023)

Make

Model

Registrations

Yamaha

GPD125-A NMAX 125 ABS

2682

Honda

WW 125 A-P

2570

BMW

R 1250 GS Adventure TE

1486

Honda

CBF 125 M-M

1475

BMW

R 1250 GS TE

1145

Honda

CB 750 A-P

896

Royal Enfield

HNTR 350 E5

873

Triumph

Street Triple RS

798

Kawasaki

Ninja 1000SX

791

Royal Enfield

Super Meteor 650

783

  

Top 10 best sellers over 125cc (to the end of Q3, 2023)

Make

Model

Registrations

BMW

R 1250 GS Adventure TE

1486

BMW

R 1250 GS TE

1145

Honda

CB 750 A-P

896

Royal Enfield

HNTR 350 E5

873

Triumph

Street Triple RS

798

Kawasaki

Ninja 1000SX

791

Royal Enfield

Super Meteor 650

783

Royal Enfield

Classic 350 E5

674

Triumph

Trident

657

BSA

Gold Star

600

 

BSA Gold Star is a surprise top-10 best seller – bucking the trend for decreasing sales of retro bikes

 

Have electric bikes tripped a breaker?

There’s a huge push towards electric motorcycles at the moment, whether in the form of R&D investment or Government policy, but the sales figures show that customers have yet to be convinced in any substantial numbers.

The total UK market for electric bikes nosedived by 37.8% in 2023, dropping from 6526 new registrations in 2022 to just 4062 last year.  Of those, the vast majority were at the low end of the market, with 1762 falling into the sub 5hp moped category and 1956 in the 5hp-15hp 125cc-equivalent segment. Just 58 electric bikes over 47hp (35kW) were sold in 2023, exactly half the number of that category sold in 2022.

It all points to a lack of progress in a field that really should be seeing a breakneck pace of development and reconfirms that despite a lot of bold talk there’s still virtually nothing in the higher end EV motorcycle market from any of the established brands.

When it comes to specific model sales, again we need to look at the DfT’s statistics for the first nine months of 2023. They show that the best-selling electric bike, by some margin, was Sur-Ron’s Ultra Bee (238 registered), followed by the Light Bee from the same brand (211 sold). VMoto’s CPA and Maeving’s RM1 tie for third on 186 registrations each.

You have to trawl down the list some way before any of the more established brands make an appearance. Piaggio is the first legacy brand to appear, with the Piaggio One scooter (102 registrations in the first three quarters of 2023 when you include two versions of the bike), with BMW’s CE 04 in 11th place on 70 registrations. The top selling Japanese model is the Yamaha Neo’s (12th place, 54 registered by the end of Q3 2023).

The Government is imminently due to release its response to the 2022 consultation into ending sales of non-zero emissions motorcycles in the UK, which proposed an outright end on new combustion engine bike sales by 2035 and ending the sales of sub-125cc machines by 2030. The parlous state of the electric motorcycle market in the UK suggests those plans are in no position to go ahead without some significant changes.

Despite the downward trajectory in 2023 and the slow take-up form big manufacturers, in the longer term electric bikes are still likely to become increasingly important, particularly when the sketchy charging network in the UK is improved.

 

Top 10 best-selling electric bikes (to the end of Q3, 2023)

Make

Model

Registrations

Sur-Ron

Ultra Bee

238

Sur-Ron

Light Bee

211

Super Soco

CPx

186

Maeving

RM1

186

Super Soco

TC Max

114

Super Soco

Cux

109

Yadea

G5S

92

E-Max

VSA

86

Piaggio

Piaggio One

79

Talaria

Sting

72

 

Sur-Ron Ultra Bee tops a disappointing electric bike sales chart

 

Latest in the used bike market

While it’s relatively easy to analyse the market for new bikes in the UK, the world of second-hand sales is a murkier one without the same clear paper-trail to monitor it.

However, there are statistics that give some clues to what’s happening. The most up-to-date Government statistics relate to the full year of 2022, and while it’s impossible to break down precisely the makes, models and styles of bikes that are changing hands it’s clear that there’s a roaring trade in used bikes, far exceeding the sales of new machines.

In 2022, there were a total of 504,602 used bike sales, based on the number of changes of keeper recorded on registration documents. Of those, 325,061 bikes change hands once during the year, 62,421 went through two sets of owners, 12,450 were sold three times and 2990 had four different keepers during the 12-month period. Somehow, 1011 bikes managed to have more than four keepers – presumably those are absolute lemons that owners can’t wait to get shot of. Another 2,444,672 registered bikes didn’t change hands during the year.

While there’s no breakdown of the makes and models that constitute all those sales, they’ll logically be in proportion to the overall numbers of specific models the road at the moment. Those are figures we can get hold of, and as with the Government’s new registration numbers the most recent figures relate to the number of bikes that were taxed in third quarter of 2023 – essentially the peak of last year’s riding season.

Those show that the single most common bike on Britian’s roads is Yamaha’s NMax 125 scooter, accounting for 13,516 taxed, road-legal machines at that snapshot in time. Stepping up to larger bikes, the BMW GS unsurprisingly dominates, with the R1200GS just pipping the R1250GS Adventure, followed by the standard R1250GS. Yamaha’s MT-07 is the next most popular bike over 125cc, followed by Triumph’s Street Triple RS and, surprisingly, the Yamaha FSZ600 and XJR1300, showing that those machines are managing to remain on the road many years after they were discontinued.

Another set of figures shows the bikes with a valid SORN (statutory off-road notice), suggesting they’re slumbering and waiting for their owners to revive them. The SORN’d bikes list is dominated by sports bikes of yore, with Yamaha’s R1 and R6 and Honda’s VFR800, CBR900RR and Blackbird all featuring in the top 20. Surprisingly, there are no BMWs, Suzukis, Triumphs or Kawasakis in the SORN top 20 at all. Perhaps their riders prefer to keep them taxed and road-legal.

 

Top 10 most common bikes (taxed at the end of Q3 2023)

Make

Model

Number licenced

Yamaha

NMAX 125 ABS

13,516

Honda

PCX 125 A-M

6103

Yamaha

YBR 125

5860

BMW

R 1200 GS

5439

Honda

CBF 125 M-M

5243

BMW

R 1250 GS Adventure TE

5033

Honda

PSX 125-A

4969

BMW

R 1250 GS TE

4385

Yamaha

MT-07 ABS

4316

Triumph

Street Triple RS

4181

 

Top 10 most commonly SORNed bikes (at the end of Q3 2023)

Make

Model

Number SORNed

Yamaha

YBR 125

6019

Yamaha

YZF-R1

5989

Honda

CBR 600 F

4841

Yamaha

FZS 600 Fazer

4593

Peugeot

Speedfight

4376

Yamaha

R6

4105

Piaggio

ZIP

3954

Piaggio

Vespa PX 125

3710

Honda

C90

3695

Piaggio

Vespa ET4

3480

 

Despite its near £40k price, the Ducati Panigale V4 R has sold strongly

 

Buying a motorcycle in 2024

You probably don’t need us to tell you that the heady days of 0% finance and tiny PCP payments are a faint memory now – with the Bank of England base rate at its highest since before the 2008 financial crisis (5.25% at the time of writing) and little chance that it will be dipping back to the sub-1% levels that we’ve got used to over the last decade or so.

A quick scan of the offers from major manufacturers at the moment shows their own finance schemes are largely hovering around the 9.9% mark at the time of writing, but as ever the really important number is the monthly payment, and that can vary wildly from one model to another because the bike’s depreciation affects its guaranteed future value (GFV), the final ‘balloon’ payment of a PCP deal. If, like many riders, you plan to chop in for another new bike rather than pay that final lump sum, choosing a machine that depreciates less – even if the interest rate or RRP is higher than another model – can result in a lower monthly outlay.

When it comes to particular deals at the moment, Honda has 9.9% APR representative PCP and various offers of free services, roadside assistance, tracker subscriptions, accessories contributions and deposit contributions on a selection of models across its range, and it’s a similar story at Yamaha. Suzuki and Kawasaki are both offering a lower rate of 4.9% on certain models (that’s below the BoE base rate) but also adopt the 9.9% level on others, and again have a wide array of money-off on accessories or deposit contributions.

The big European brands are in the same boat, with Ducati also offering 9.9% APR representative PCP on most of its models, along with bike-specific deals for money off accessories, while BMW has an 8.9% APR offer until April on a wide range of its bikes, along with deposit contributions on many of them, ranging as high as £1800. Triumph has ‘personalisation contributions’ – which can be used as deposits or spent on accessories or kit – on several of its remaining 2023 models, ranging as high as £2750 on the 2023-spec Tiger 1200.

However, don’t bank purely on the offers that manufacturers have on the table. Hunt for the specific bike you’re after and try a range of different dealers to see what each of them can come up with. There’s a good chance you’ll save hundreds, even thousands, compared to the RRPs on many bikes.

 

Motorcycling injuries haven’t been falling as fast under the current licence regime as they did before it was introduced. Brexit means there’s a chance to introduce a UK-specific system that works better.

 

What is in store for motorcycling in 2024?

With a General Election all but certain before the end of 2024 and polls pointing towards a change in government when it happens, time is running out for legislation changes that will impact motorcycling and a lot of big decisions are likely to be pushed back until after the vote.

However, there are several motorcycle-related things on the agenda at the moment that could have an impact on motorcycling as we know it.

The two biggest long-term changes that we can expect some clarification on relate to the future of motorcycle licences in this country, and the future of the internal combustion engine.

The Government’s consultation ‘L-category vehicles: ending sales of new non-zero emission models’ (‘L-category’ means motorcycles), closed in September 2022. In it, the Government proposed ending the sale of non-zero emissions bikes – essentially anything using a combustion engine – by 2035, with lower-performance bikes in the sub-125cc classes to be axed even sooner, in 2030. The consultation’s ‘what happens next’ section said that responses would be published within three months of the consultation closing, but that hasn’t happened and the official line is that the feedback is still being analysed.

The motorcycle industry has since met with Government representatives and is understood to be pushing for a more technology-agnostic approach, leaving doors open for ideas like hydrogen combustion engines and synthetic, carbon-neutral fuels for conventional petrol engines as well as pure electric bikes in the future.

A response from the Government is expected at some stage this year, but it seems increasingly unlikely that the cut-off dates mentioned in the original consultation (nearly two years ago now) can survive as manufacturers need to be given a reasonable lead-in time for such wholesale change in their technologies.

Where we might see beneficial legislative changes around motorcycling, and in a shorter-term future, is around the routes to motorcycle licences. The current, complicated and expensive system has been a bone of contention ever since it was introduced as part of the 3rd European Driving Licence Directive (3DLD) in 2013. It introduced hurdles and raised age limits for direct access, but far from resulting in a reduction in motorcycling deaths, the same time saw a consistent downward trend in fatalities come to an end. Between 2004 and 2012, the number of riders killed on the roads in this country annually dropped from 585 to 328, with a similar trend in injuries. But from 2013 to 2022 (the latest figures available), that decline has stopped. In 2013 there were 331 deaths, and in 2022 there were 350, with similar numbers in most years between. It’s a similar story for casualty rates per mile, which dropped from 186 riders killed per billion miles ridden in 2004 to 125 per billion miles in 2013 but have remained at that level ever since – the number for 2022 wad 123 per billion miles. One reason might be that riders are disincentivised from getting training and progressing up to the next licence stage, with many – particularly in today’s gig economy where scooters are a vital delivery tool – using CBT to get L-plates and then staying at that level rather than developing their skills to gain a full licence.

Brexit means the UK isn’t tied to the European Driving Licence Directive anymore. We’re free to implement our own system of training and testing, as well as different age limits if we want, and the motorcycle industry has been deep in discussion with the Government on how to do just that. In the EU the 4th European Driving Licence Directive is currently being finalised and isn’t expected to make it any easier to get on a bike, but the UK is in a position to adopt a more logical position that encourages riders to get more skills rather than simply adding more hoops to jump through.

We can look forward to more detailed proposals being laid out in the near future, but it will take legislation – and hence time – for real change to happen.

One Government consultation that has concluded this year relates to the MOT, which the DfT was considering changing to extend the gap before the first test from three years to four or even five. We dug into the details of that, and why it would be a bad idea, in 2023. With the conclusion of the consultation, the Government has decided not to change the MOT intervals, sticking with the age-old routine of three years before the first one, followed by annual tests, while vaguely suggesting that it will ‘explore’ modernising the MOT to better suit electric vehicles in the future.

The election hangs over all of this, of course. We’ve yet to hear what each party has planned for motorcycling, but be sure that once campaigning is underway, we’ll be pushing to get answers from each of them as to how they want to see it develop in the future.

 

If you’d like to chat about this article or anything else biking related, join us and thousands of other riders at the Bennetts BikeSocial Facebook page.