Are you unhappy about the fact that the new Yamaha R7 and Kawasaki Z650RS are both twins? You’re not alone. The argument is that the ‘original’ R7 and Z650 were four-cylinder machines, so their modern namesakes ought to be, too. I understand the argument, and to some extent I agree. But I also understand why they are not four-cylinder machines. It’s because manufacturers love the one platform, ten models approach. Because it’s the most cost effective way to have a ‘varied’ line-up.
What do I mean by ‘one platform, ten models’? Take the aforementioned Yamaha R7, which has been built off the MT-07 platform, as has the Tracer 700 and the XSR700. Yamaha will have ploughed a substantial amount of resource into developing the MT-07 platform knowing that the development investment isn’t just for the benefit of one model. To maximise the return on the MT-07 platform, they need to maximise sales, and they maximise sales by adapting the platform to suit a range of different customers.
For a relatively small cost to the manufacturer, they can adapt one platform into sometimes ten models. They’ve got the engine, the electronics and the chassis, all they need to do is tweak the geometry a bit, throw some different bodywork on and give it a new name. Hey presto, a new model, and more sales.
That’s why, from the MT-07 comes the R7, the Tracer 700 and the XSR700. And that’s why from the Z650 comes the Z650RS, the Ninja 650 and the Versys 650. As well as all the different versions and special editions of each of those models.
Yamaha and Kawasaki could have developed a brand new, four-cylinder engine for their R7 and Z650RS, but the cost involved in doing that would have eaten away any profit made selling them. The manufacturers have got a good idea how much profit a model is going to make, and they’ll know there won’t be enough in either of these models to spend hundreds of thousands (if not millions) developing a new engine platform; just so it matches the original.
It’s something that all the manufacturers do, particularly when they don’t expect to sell massive volumes. They’ve always done it and they’ll continue to do it. And the exact same thing happens in the automotive industry, too.
Some people will (and do) argue that to call a bike an ‘R7’ when it’s got a completely different engine platform to the R7 of the late nineties is sacrilege. But I can’t agree with that. Must we give the R1 a different name, now it has a crossplane crank engine? Does Ducati need to drop the Panigale name now their flagship model uses a V4 motor? No, I don’t think so.
The R7 is so-called because it fit’s Yamaha’s tradition of naming sports bikes. And because it’s good marketing. Likewise the Z650RS.
People are always going to get upset about the changing tides of the motorcycle industry. But if you ask me, it’s in a pretty good place. I know bikes aren’t getting any cheaper, but thanks to the one platform, ten models approach we’ve never had so much variety, and almost everything on the market is fairly handy, in it’s own way. So next time you get upset about a Honda CBR having the wrong number of cylinders, or a Ducati Monster not having a trellis frame, try to remember that the manufacturers aren’t doing it to annoy you. And maybe, it’s actually for the greater good.