Recently, I read this article “How To Make The Next Great Motorcycle Blog” by ex-motorcycle journalist Wes Siler and he’s right, it’s really difficult to find or to create good motorcycle content. And no, I don’t intend to do so because it’s more fun to ride my Ducati than to write about bikes.
But I do discuss motorcycles with my friends frequently, and the motorcycle world is one filled with technological wonders and non-stop advancements. Since the first motorcycle was invented, man has been finding every way to create a two-wheeler that will go faster, look sexier, growl louder, lean lower or all of the above.
Many bikers don’t bother about their bikes – they just ride it to work daily and let it rot in the hot sun. Then there are those of us who care about our works of art and science. It’s not just about cleaning and polishing the bike, but learning about the new models and classic vintages on the road that make it such a great experience of being part of the community.
So once in a while, when the mood strikes, or when I’m tired of the daily grind, I shall write about motorcycles in this journal format. It’s not going to be terribly technical or hopelessly vapid, just sharing some two-wheeled goodness. So here goes another attempt at consistent content (and apologies in advance, I’m just not good at that after 10 years of blogging here):
BMW R1200R Roadster
BMW is the rare brand that makes both great high-end cars and motorcycles. According to LTA data, about 8000 new bikes were sold in Singapore in 2014 and BMW was the fourth largest seller of bikes with 466 units (after Yamaha, Honda and Sym respectively). That’s pretty impressive considering BMW doesn’t sell any low-capacity Class 2B or mid-capacity 2A models, but only large capacity Class 2 bikes.
Last weekend, BMW Motorrad Singapore launched the latest R1200R Roadster (they separate the Rs, calling it “R 1200 R”) at their Alexandra Road showroom and I popped by to take a look (Thanks Paul for the invite!). I’ve always been curious about this model because of the initial Roadster concept model which it was based on:
I thought the concept model was amazing! Just a pure naked bike with no rear passenger seat, one fat pipe and the sexy electric blue frame. I would have bought it in a heartbeat if it was produced like that.
Well, the final production model got toned down quite a bit for mainstream tastes but still looks pretty good. The frame became extended so as to support the rear passenger (BMW is big on two-up riding), the pipe became more conventionally straight but otherwise the Roadster remained quite true to the original concept.
The natural competitor to the R1200R is the Ducati Monster 1200 (which I own) but both have different approaches to styling. The German BMW goes for the neat and utilitarian look, while the Italian Monster is organic and messy like a bunch of entrails.
But both are actually around the same size and wheelbase though my initial impression was the BMW has the more comfortable seat (narrower between the legs) that allows better flat-footing.
I’m not going to go into all the tech specs of the bike, nor can I compare the performance (I’ve never ridden a BMW boxer) with the Ducati. But it definitely ranks with the best sporty nakeds above 1000cc today (KTM Duke 1290, Aprilia Tuono, and of course my own Monster 1200S)
The one unique thing about the BMW is the boxer engine that juts out proudly at the sides and it’s sexy in the way that only bikers will know. The R1200R is handsome from all angles, and a good fit for bikers of different heights (quite a few of us took pictures with the bike, ranging from small Chinese me to a beefy European guy)
The R1200R has a baseline machine price of $32,600 before you add in insurance, other registration fees, souped-up options, and the current COE of $6,801. Which brings me to the next topic.
The $6,801 Motorcycle Certificate of Entitlement
So, the COE has finally hit $6,801 for motorcycles, from just $2k in early 2014. This has happened despite all sorts of protests from bike dealers and associations.
The reason for this record high is very simple – LTA has been allowing more cars on the roads than motorcycles. I wrote about this last year and the situation has only gotten worse (at least for bikers). This article from The Straits Times sums it up pretty well and here’s an extract:
A shortage of certificates of entitlement (COEs) for motorcycles is the reason that prices hit a high of $6,801 in the latest bidding exercise on Wednesday, according to industry players.
They pointed to the quota “draining out” over the years because, under the COE system, a percentage of deregistrations from each vehicle group has to be contributed to the open category.
While this proportion has been progressively slashed from 25 per cent in the 1990s to 10 per cent currently, the motorcycle segment has been hit hard. This is because open category COEs – in the range of $70,000 – are too pricey for motorcycle buyers, and end up in the hands of car buyers.
Singapore Motor Cycle Trade Association president Tony Yeo said yesterday: “When motorbikes are scrapped, we are contributing more to the car (population).” Mr Yeo said the result is that motorcycle numbers have been growing at a much slower pace compared with cars.
Last year, there were 616,609 cars on the roads, a 48 per cent jump from 10 years ago. Comparatively, the motorcycle population grew only 6 per cent over the same period, reaching 144,404.
In fact, this number has shrunk by close to 2 per cent from 147,282 in 2010.
I’m tired of writing about this but I shall just ask these questions out loud, for those who are not as weary to think about.
- COE and ERP were designed to manage road congestion. But what kind of system allows 48% more cars over a decade? And you wonder why the roads still get jammed so easily with $70K car COEs today.
- Does any minister, MP or transport policymaker ride a motorcycle? Do they know that there are actually people who do need an affordable form of personal transport for their work?
You know, to be brutally honest from a driver and biker’s point of view, $6,801 is not an unfamiliar sum when you live in the world’s most expensive city (where resale HDB flats can sell for a million bucks).
Policymakers will tell you that the median gross monthly income of a typical worker in Singapore was $3,770 in 2014 compared to $2,326 in 2004. So the COE is about two months’ worth of that typical income.
Car drivers have envied the low COE prices of bikes for years and many bikers do not know what it means to pay $70K (or 18 months of the median gross monthly income) for a car COE, or to have to pay 50% downpayment for a car.
So if my numbers are right, the ratio of COE to machine price now is roughly equal – the respective COE is double the price of an entry level car (eg. Toyota Vios) or motorcycle.
But it still doesn’t take away one key difference – you can’t really compare a low-income dispatch rider to a guy who wants to blow it all on a new car and actually has the capital to do it.
Bike ownership in the past meant you could get a new Class 2B bike for under $10K, but that’s not really possible anymore.
Sure, you can get a used bike but what happens after 5-10 years of a high motorcycle COE? The small and mid capacity bikes will gradually disappear from the market, leaving only the high-end bikes. But not everyone can deal with a raging, melt-your-legs-off superbike engine or heavy chassis weighing above 200kg. There is a reason why most riders ride lightweight and easy-to-maintain motorcycles in Singapore.
Most people have no idea that bikers here face all sorts of challenges
- It takes three tests and nearly four years to earn your Class 2 licence before you can ride a Ducati or BMW bike. We are among the most over-tested bikers on the planet, yet that young girl/man with a new Class 3 licence and zero road experience can go out and drive her/his father’s Maserati supercar.
- It’s getting harder to find bike parking lots in new buildings
- Cars are always trying to kill you on a daily basis.
- And now bikes are getting out of reach for students and low-income folks.
I have no doubt the COE can climb to $10K, but I no longer want to write letters to the press because I don’t see any indication that anyone at LTA really cares what bikers think or considers the very real side effect of a high motorcycle COE :
More people are going to switch to even more dangerous electric bicycles which are currently unregulated and don’t even require a Class 2B licence.
Who needs helmets, road tax or road rules if they have an e-bicycle?
And the 144K bike owners in Singapore? Well, coincidentally, they make up nearly the same numbers as the average GRC (Group Representation Constituency) here.
You know what I mean.
My new Ducati Scrambler… T-shirt
Enough depressing talk about COE.
Here’s a random photo of my new Ducati tee in my favorite combination of army green with a splash of red, just like the Urban Enduro version of the Ducati Scrambler. Available from Ducati Singapore for $38. I really like the new Scrambler bikes, but I’m sticking to the awesome Monster 1200S for a long time.