ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 24

Take more notice of mobikes!

By Gamini Akmeemana

The Formula Plus motor show held at the BMICH during the first week of October was fun, but this writer, for one, thinks that a few salient facts shouldn't be buried under all the good feeling the event generated.

There were two exhibits - classic and vintage vehicles, plus new imports. The classic vehicles show drew very large crowds, as indeed it should. Surprisingly, there were even a few old motorcycles present.

Mobikes on show at a recent exibition. (Pic by Berty Mendis)

The motorcycle exhibit seemed to be something of an afterthought. Only a dozen or so machines could be seen in the small space allocated to them. One member who had entered his classic British car for the show told me that he couldn't enter his classic British bike due to lack of space.

While there was a huge variety of cars on exhibit, ranging from humble Skodas to E-type Jaguars and Rolls Royces, the motorcycles were mainly BSAs and Triumphs. There was neither variety nor depth to this motorcycle exhibit, which looked very much like an afterthought. The organizers may say in their defence that theirs is a classic car club. In that case, why have motorcycles at all? It's high time somebody formed a separate body for classic and vintage motorcycles, instead of watching them being treated with condescension.

There are other questions which need to be raised here. While most of the new imports on exhibit were cars or four-wheel drives with engines in excess of 2000cc, the motorcycle section - again looking very marginal - consisted mostly of small Indian makes, mostly 125cc or less. Nor was the same attention lavished on advertising them, as on the four-wheeled vehicles - you didn't see any models sitting on the bikes.

This speaks volumes for the state of motorcycling in this country. The motorcycle is utilitarian. It's the vehicle of those who can't afford better transport. There's some competition between importers of different makes (again mostly Indian, the rest being Chinese), but advertising usually emphasizes the same plus points - fuel economy, cheap-to-buy factor, leasing facilities. Some mention performance, but that obviously has its obvious limits when we talk of engines with an output of 11bhp or less.

When it comes to four-wheeled vehicles, advertising takes a different thrust. Leasing facilities happen to be just about the only thing in common between motorcycles and cars or SUVs when it comes to marketing. Nobody talks about fuel economy (except for the smallest cars). The logic may be that anybody paying over five or ten million rupees for a vehicle shouldn't worry about fuel consumption (the Americans, another SUV-mad people, have started thinking differently. Advertising now emphasises fuel economy figures. But clearly Sri Lanka is richer than America).

At the show, the models displayed got the treatment, with models (two-legged ones) standing next to them for effect. A 'cross-country simulation' was rigged up for one four-wheel displayed, which got me thinking - why not do something similar for trail bikes? Trail bikes made in Japan have become something of a luxury item, being priced out of the range of those commuters who buy Indian and Chinese bikes.

That being the case, there still are people in this country willing to pay two lakhs or more for reconditioned dirt bikes with fuel consumption figures often below 30 km per litre (preferring them over brand new Indian and Chinese roadsters costing half as much and giving twice the fuel economy are available).

Indeed, there is an untapped market, which the organizers of this motor show have completely missed. People who can afford brand new four wheel drives can obviously afford brand new off road motorcycles. Why not have a 'cross country simulation' for dirt bikes, the way it was done for that jeep? I know that many 4WD owners are temped by off-road motorcycles, the way owners of fast cars are tempted by sports bikes. But something's holding them back. Why not bring them out of their shell and encourage them by doing some bold promotional work? Again, Japanese off-road bikes were given marginal treatment at the show, and the models displayed quite dated and not likely to arouse much interest.

All this only goes to emphasize how lop-sided our motoring is. While there is no limit on the engine capacity of four-wheeled imports, motorcycles are limited to 350cc. Shows such as this only serve to highlight this discrimination without doing anything to bring about a change. The problem may be that hardly anybody in the SUV or BMW-buying bracket ride bikes (even though many of them would love to). Some owners of classic cars on display here have fancy bikes too, gathering dust and rust in their garages. They are the people with the financial muscle and political clout to bring some real change to our lop-sided motoring scene, but no one unfortunately seems to have given it any thought.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.