Other than having two wheels and an engine, the Honda Cub and the Harley-Davidson Super Glide wouldn't seem to have much in common. They were each designed for a different purpose and a very different clientèle. But in their own time, each of these were significant milestones that altered their respective categories forever. They were both game-changers of the highest order.
Every so often, a new motorcycle is introduced that changes the way we view all the rest. Not just motorcycles; in fact, this applies right across the spectrum of consumer products. It can be down to one single factor in which a new model excels so far beyond the competition that it re-sets the parameters or sometimes it s a combination of multiple elements. As is evident from the Honda Cub, this is not about exclusivity or sophisticated technology – it's all to do with thinking outside the box.
Coming up with revolutionary ideas or approaches doesn't guarantee that a product will change the world, though. Companies invest millions in trying to develop products that are ahead of the competition, although few of these will actually succeed in becoming true game-changers. And even if they do, not all of them result in commercial success. I've often said the Suzuki Katana as being the most significant design of the last half-century due to the extent of its influence. Before it, most motorcycle bodywork consisted of a fuel tank, seat and side panels that existed in isolation. But Suzuki's approached the Katana in its entirety, linking the bodywork components together, with the engine as the focal center. Body lines followed the inclination of the cylinders to emphasize the 'downforce' slant, shifting the visual weight forwards in the process. Compared with most designs of the day, which still emphasized the horizontal, it looked immediately fresh and dynamic. However, despite starting a trend that designers are still following over 30 years later, the Suzuki Katana was not in itself a big success. The Honda Cub, on the other hand, which set the formula for virtually every large-wheel step-through since it first appeared in 1958, has become the biggest selling motorcycle known to man. Success can go either way, so clearly more factors are at work than just novelty.
While producing a game-changer doesn't necessarily assure financial rewards, the task of actually creating one is also highly unpredictable. Ever year, new models are introduced that are clearly intended to set new trends or to become the latest 'hit', although the effort almost seems counter-productive. The more something is designed to be fashionable, the more it seems to be shunned by its target audience. The Gilera Ice, a wacky stunt-style scooter from a European manufacturer that should have sold like hot cakes to teenagers, is a perfect example. It won the 'Scooters & Commuters' category of the 2001 Motorcycle Design Awards hand down, but for some mystical reason it just didn't catch on with its target audience. It seems the more revolutionary a model is, the more the public tends to be wary of it. This, perhaps, explains the Suzuki Katana's low sales volumes and the market failure of even more extreme models such as the hub-center steered Yamaha GTS or BMW's scooter with a roof, the C1. We hope that BMW has more success with the BMW C600 and C650GT scooters.