With the economy just beginning to climb its way out of the depression that has seriously affected the motorcycle industry, many more riders are still looking at keeping their older sportbikes rather than trade up to the latest and greatest machines. Yes, upgrading to a new bike certainly pays dividends in more ways than just the pride of showing off your shiny new steed; but most bike owners are a society of tinkerers who love working on and modifying their motorcycles, either for more performance or just individualism. With the purse strings tightened, we’re seeing more and more older machines out on the road, given new life instead of ending up collecting dust in the back corner of someone’s garage — or worse, in a salvage yard.
Unfortunately, that revival has also revealed a problem when it comes to modifying/upgrading those older machines: Unless you own a bike that was extremely popular in its time or one that hasn’t changed much in a decade, your chances of finding aftermarket parts is becoming about as slim as your wallet’s current thickness.
Even something as seemingly generic as an aftermarket exhaust can be a frustratingly futile search for many bikes that you’d think would still be in demand. Note that I’m not talking about classic sportbikes from the ‘70s or ‘80s — I’m talking about many bikes from as recent as 2000. And think about the main weakness of the earlier bikes…the suspension. If you’ve got a bike more than 15 years old, good luck finding an aftermarket shock unless you get lucky with online classifieds…and many aftermarket suspension specialists won’t modify the stock units because of their primitive construction, forcing you to pony up for a custom unit.
Granted, there’s a law of economics that dictates why those parts are no longer available. If there’s very little to no demand, then it doesn’t make much sense to spend the money to make or even stock those items. The motorcycle industry unfortunately doesn’t have the size or breadth of the automobile market, so the number of particular older models that have a substantial enough cult following for aftermarket manufacturers to continue producing parts for those bikes is rather small. The time, manpower, and money required to produce some parts in small quantities can be surprisingly enormous, making it financially foolish for a small aftermarket company to help satisfy a comparatively tiny enthusiast segment if it wants to stay in business in the current tough economy.
Part of the problem is also the quick turnaround/trade-in with bikes compared to automobiles. Unlike the average four-to-seven year new ownership life span of an automobile before it changes hands, motorcycles’ original ownership life spans are much shorter, as quick as two years. Add to that the difference in usage in this country — everyone feels they need and use an automobile for daily life, while a motorcycle is viewed as a recreational vehicle, so it often sits idle for long periods, especially after the first owner — and the demand for aftermarket parts drops precipitously after the bike’s year of introduction.
Even something as seemingly generic as an aftermarket exhaust can be a frustratingly futile search for many bikes that you’d think would still be in demand. "
Interestingly, unlike the lack of hard parts, the tire companies have recognized that there are plenty of older sportbikes still being ridden, and that they will need fresh rubber sooner or later. Honda’s first generation CBR900RR is a perfect example; back when I had my original 1993 model, finding a suitable good, sticky front tire in 16-inch diameter was somewhat difficult because the move to 17-inch front wheels had already begun, and the CBR was the only sportbike with that size wheel. Luckily, Dunlop made a limited production run of 16-inch tires using the stock tread pattern but with the Sportmax compound and construction, but if you didn’t know about these tires or unless you made the switch to a 17-inch front (which required aftermarket triple clamps because of the Honda’s lack of trail), you were stuck with the stock rubber.
Now nearly all major tire companies produce and stock 16-inch tires in the latest high-performance profiles and compounds for the CBR900RR. And it’s not just the CBR’s 16-inch front tire; with the rapid advancement of tire technology, many older bikes that used narrower rims — and even some classic bikes with 18-inch wheels — now have tires with superior compounds and construction to choose from than anything available back in the day.
Perhaps modifications on an older bike’s engine and suspension should be left to those with the time and money to accomplish the task, as upgrading either can lead to more required tweaking of other parts. It’s just too bad there wasn’t an easier alternative.