Biker Bites : BMW R1200R, $6801 COE and a new tee.

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 01

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:

roadster concept
The BMW Concept Roadster, 2014.

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.

bmw 03
The black version of the R1200R. You can see the blue version behind.

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.

bmw 02
Love that big phat “R” on the tank, only seen in the white and red version of the R1200R.

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

  1. 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.
  2. It’s getting harder to find bike parking lots in new buildings
  3. Cars are always trying to kill you on a daily basis.
  4. 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.

scrambler tee

12 Replies to “Biker Bites : BMW R1200R, $6801 COE and a new tee.”

  1. I have been following your blog for a while now since you started writing about motorcycles. I am an avid biker for 25 years and have always admired the work of creative writers.

    Your latest post had really struck a nerve because of the good looking bike (that feeds our guilty pleasures) and the sorry state of the COE, which ironically, feeds on our materialism too.

    I find the reference to the policy maker’s typical workers’ median income may need some clarity. Being a generic stat from MOM, it probably covers all industries; both blue & white collar; male and female; and likely includes those who only use public transport. This may not reflect the reality of those who uses small 2B motorcycles.

    From my simple understanding from shift workers in outskirt factories, F&B and sales people (all small motorcycle owners), they hardly take home more than $1,500/month. To earn more, they have to OT or moonlight as delivery riders and in doing so, rely even more on their bikes to bring them home late in the night.

    Another example closer to home is my dad. He washes dishes at a hawker centre in Alexandra. His work ends past 1am daily and he relies on his SYM scooter for transport to his home in Jurong West.

    The scooter is an ideal form of transport being economical to maintain and most importantly giving the flexibility to work at night as he has to send my cancer stricken aunt to NUH every 2-3 weeks in the day. Trains, night buses and Taxis are impractical for his needs.

    Knowing my dad, the scooter is his only other valued asset besides the HDB flat that he has proudly achieved with his humble means.

    $6,801 is about four months of my father’s income working 6 days a week. When his scooter’s COE expires in two years, his options are to scrap it even though it is perfectly running OR start an installment on a new bike ($6k + 10k COE?). Used bikes typically must be paid in cash (about $4-5k with some years of COE left).

    What kind of public system let their hardworking citizens fall into debt to keep their means of mobility??? Car owners had been stuck in this rut for years. It is preposterous to knowingly subject motorcyclists into this debt cycle.

    What can motorcyclists do at this time? Unfortunately, the typical worker/motorcyclists seem to be at the mercy of the system.

    From my observation, however, there is something that the hobby bikers can do. Those who can blow 30k on a super bike can take it easy and hold back their purchase until a change comes.

    It is easy to complain how policy makers are so well-paid that the system is made from ivory towers. But as PMEBs with a higher disposable income than the typical worker, we should likewise not be detached from those who have lesser means. As bikers who cherish freedom, we can try to emphathise how its like to be tied down by a motorcycle debt involuntarily, pay a housing loan and to support a family with $1,500.

    Buying a new bike now and paying for the COE is basically accepting it as norm. It is not.

    Buying a new bike now is indirectly making life very much harder for the typical worker/motorcyclist…

    Buying a new bike now is also supporting a failed system that makes so much revenue that any policy maker will be reluctant to overhaul…

    Buying a new bike now is forcing those who are painstaking keeping classic motorcycles on the road to eventually give up their passion and possession…

    This COE seems like a hopeless situation with no simple solution. I can only hope that LTA will get their act together for the public good before it hits the nerves of the 144k motorists.

    Ian, sorry for the long rant and a controversial one at that. Like I said, it really struck a nerve and it took me two days to let it out in this reply. Once again, thanks for giving voice to the community. I can only imagine the efforts you have put in to your writing. We need more objective voices like yours. Greatly appreciated.

    1. You know, I agree with what you say, I don’t think it’s controversial at all, and I’m sorry if I don’t appear to be sympathetic to the needs of the lower-income folks. Perhaps I’m the wrong guy to be writing about all this because people will point out the contradictions between wanting to be non-materialistic and yet owning an unnecessarily expensive motorcycle.

      That aside, what I did here was to present the COE value from the POV of the clueless policymakers who use numbers to shore up their broken policies and justify their own high salaries to their equally clueless bosses – they really do see motorcycles and COEs as “affordable” when compared to their ownership/familiarity with BMWs and Lexus cars.

      What do policymakers know anyway – most of them have spent their whole lives in the civil service earning taxpayer’s money. How will they know how difficult it is for low-income earners to earn every cent?

      I can also agree with the point of not buying any new bikes, but it’s not going to stop other bikers from doing so. And if nobody buys new bikes, the net result is that in the long run, bike COE quota drops even further (due to the broken formula), dealers all close shop, and bikers get diminished to a really small number. From a vendor’s POV, if SG becomes an non-viable market to sell products in, they will stop allocating stocks and marketing investments over time.

      The system is utterly broken. The people don’t have any real alternative. I can ask bikers to vote against the system, but they fear bigger issues. Honestly, I’m tired about hoping for this COE thingy to become logical and rational in its approach. The power really lies in the hands of drivers, as bikers may be brave (we face death daily and willingly) but are too few in numbers. But car drivers…we live in a country full of people who fear what happens when they are asked to fight for change, to fight to stop being frogs that are boiled alive.

  2. Why the sexist young girl comment about Class 3? You mean to say young boy who can for Cheery Q to Ferrari is any different? I am a woman who has a Class 2 and have completed Porsche’s Advanced Track Training certification in their driving centre in Australia. So I am definitely put off by your gender biased comment.

    1. Why get so worked up if you don’t get the non-sexist point of the sentence? Let me edit the text and add in “young man” then. I guess I should also be thankful I wrote “Maserati” instead of “Porsche”.

      1. Great reply! 🙂 long time lurker first time poster. Just wanted to say thanks for posting many articles on bikes.

        Im in the midst of obtaining my 2A license now and your articles have been a constant inspiration to me in doing so.


  3. I’m a fellow biker, student and silent reader of your blog.

    I have read yesterday’s paper in the Straits Times and I was furious when I saw the article about COE hitting the high of 6.8k.

    Thank you for putting my messy, unconsolidated and raging thoughts into a very nice post. Couldn’t have said it better myself. And the last part about the GRC, well, I know exactly what you mean.

  4. Ian, you are not alone here. Many of us bikers are extremely frustrated and disappointed at this policy failure. LTA needs to redress it asap. Will they or won’t they? That’s the soon to be $10000 question.

  5. Just when I thought that I will give up driving (about 28 years already and close to retirement) and buy a scooter for me to go around on short commutes and buy basic necessities, the COE shots up and do not make sense at all. I know this as a lot of my friends are also thinking along this line. And the next time we are thinking is to go up north, rent a small place to share accommodation, buy a small car and a motorcycle to go off the beaten track. Looks like we are being forced up north when our hearts have been here all along. Is this how the baby boomers are going to be treated, when we have done our share nation building.

  6. My fear has come true. My dad who owns a scooter asked me over the weekend if he should change to an e-bicycle! “No need COE or pay for parking. Very cheap & very fast too.” He said.

    Obviously, I tried my best to dissuade him.

    I just hope I don’t come home one day to discover a new e-bicycle parked outside the flat…

  7. There is some unfair for our motorcyclists. But to let government to understand and take action is hard.

    Some wording jumped out from my mind. Vitality and Bold. They are source of Creativity. American have those spirit so they have iPhone, Android, and Tesla. Creativity is most important for contemporary era. Motorcycle and motorcycle sports can foster vitality and bold spirit.

    So the high Motorcycle COE not only hurt our fellow budget motorcycle buyers but also depressed an source of spirit of creativity.

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