Tired of being jammed into a packed train every morning? Sick of being stuck in the city every weekend? Bummed out because high parking fees rule out owning a car? If you answered yes to these questions, you might want to consider buying a motorcycle. They’re affordable, running costs are reasonable and — thanks to pork-barrel politics — the roads lacing Japan’s beautiful countryside are second to none.

Harley Davidson’s new liquid-cooled 1130-cc V-Rod

Bike makers will be publicly showcasing their 2002 models at the 35th Tokyo Motor Show at Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture from Saturday through Nov. 7. Here are just a few of the highlights.


Life used to be so simple. Channel surfing took five seconds, eating a burger wasn’t high-risk behavior and figuring out who was top dog in the motorcycle industry meant just checking which bike was fastest. But since top speeds are now limited to 300 kph to placate Big Brother, it’s no longer easy to figure out who’s king of the hill.

With the castration of the ultimate sports class — machines capable of hitting 315 kph — the struggle for supremacy has shifted to the supersports division.

Honda’s 750-cc concept commuter, the Elysium

Imagine having Ichiro’s agility and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strength and you’ll get the picture. In this class, the best power-to-weight ratio and sharpest handling dictates the winner. While these 750cc to 1,000cc rockets may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they serve as a showcase for cutting-edge technology that over time trickles down to the more mundane but practical machines that most of us own.

Having had its nose bloodied by the Suzuki GSX-R1000 last year, the Yamaha YZF R1 wheelies back into the fray in 2002 with a host of changes to make it easier to ride fast. A more rigid frame, beefier forks and lighter wheels improve its handling, while engine modifications make its throttle response more linear, enhancing predictability. In addition, the R1’s new high-testosterone bodywork gives it an even more muscular, aggressive look.

Honda’s Fireblade, the other perennial contender in this class, has also been heavily revised. To calm critics who loved the bike’s handling but wanted more power, Honda bumped the Blade’s engine from 929cc to 954cc, fattening the midrange and boosting peak horsepower to 154. Shedding a couple kilograms, the bike now weighs in at a class-leading 168 kg.

The Buell Firebolt takes motorcycle development to new heights.

Judged by its relatively wimpy 92 horsepower, the new Buell Firebolt doesn’t really belong in the supersports category. But its unabashed embrace of radical technology wins it a place of honor.

For starters, Buell’s engineers decided that the bike’s massive aluminum box frame should double as a gas tank. And they elected to store the dry sump engine’s oil in the swingarm. But there is a method to their madness. Company founder Erik Buell claims that eliminating the traditional gas tank lowers the bike’s center of gravity, improving handling. It also clears the way for a bigger airbox to increase the power output of the 996cc air-cooled, fuel-injected v-twin engine. Storing the oil in the swingarm allowed for a more compact wheelbase to quicken the bike’s steering.

Buell also did away with conventional front brake discs, instead opting for a giant 375-mm single rim-mounted rotor that he claims is lighter and more responsive than conventional brake systems.

Sports tourers

sports tourers don’t offer the blinding acceleration and razor-sharp handling of a supersports machine or the armchair amenities of a full-dressed tourer. But they’re quick enough to keep up with any sports bike ridden sanely on public roads, and comfy enough so when you reach your destination, you won’t spend a half hour trying to straighten out your limbs. Kawasaki and Honda are releasing the most eagerly awaited sports tourers of 2002.

Kawasaki’s long-awaited sports tourer, the ZZ-R1200

The ZZ-R1100 owned the top-speed title during most of the 1990s, but with the ZX-12R now handling ultimate sports duties, Kawasaki has positioned the ZZ-R1100’s successor, the ZZ-R1200, as its flagship sports tourer.

To give it friendlier ergonomics, Kawasaki moved its handlebars back and lowered its footpegs in comparison to its predecessor. But better comfort doesn’t mean the new ZZ-R is a slouch when it comes to performance. It outhandles the old bike thanks to frame changes and suspension improvements, and with a 1,164cc engine that churns out 145 horsepower, it can exceed 280 kph.

Carrying on its tradition as a showcase for Honda’s latest technology, the 2002 VFR features the first application of Honda’s variable-valve-timing technology (VTEC) in a large-capacity motorcycle engine. Two-valve engines give good low-rpm performance while four-valve engines pull hard at higher rpm speeds. By opening only two valves per piston at lower engine speeds and four valves at over 7,000 rpm, the VFR’s V-4 VTEC engine offers the best of both worlds.

Optional hard pannier cases and antilock brakes make the VFR a better tourer than the current model, while a new under-seat exhaust system and a two-plus-two headlight system give it a modern look.

Sport enduros

With their upright riding position, decent wind protection, torquey twin-cylinder engines, plush suspension and nimble handling, sport enduros are equally ideal for commuting, cross-country touring and canyon carving.

In 2002, Suzuki enters the field with its new V-Strom. Powered by the same fuel-injected 1,000cc v-twin engine found in the awesome TL1000S sports bike, shod with road-bias rubber and weighing only 207 kg, in the right hands the V-Strom will put more than a few sport bikes to shame.

A founding father of the class, the Yamaha TDM gets a big boost in power, courtesy of a larger-bore 900cc fuel-injected parallel-twin engine. Factor in R1 brakes, a new aluminum frame and swingarm that help bring the bike’s weight down to a svelte 190 kg, and it’s clear the TDM900 will be a worthy competitor for the bigger V-Strom.

Power cruisers

Their laid-back American styling and traditional v-twin technology have long made cruisers a favorite of those who enjoy life in the slow lane. But times are changing. Now riders want cruisers that perform as well as they look.

Happy to oblige, bike makers have created the power cruiser class, wedding traditional cruiser looks with sport bike brakes, suspension and wheels, as well as a stiffer chassis and, most important of all, tire-shredding power.

After nearly 100 years of producing air-cooled pushrod motorcycles, Harley-Davidson joins the 21st century with the release of its first liquid-cooled power cruiser, the V-Rod. Produced in collaboration with Porsche, the new 1,130cc, double-overhead camshaft, fuel-injected, four-valve v-twin engine pumps out a whopping 115 horsepower, redlines at an astronomical — for a cruiser — 9,000 rpm and can hit 225 kph.

Thanks to its massive 49-mm front forks, thick steel-tube perimeter frame, lightweight anodized aluminum body panels and cast-aluminum swingarm, the V-Rod handles so well that one bowled-over journalist even called it Harley’s “first modern sport bike.”

With its cool looks and hot performance, the V-Rod will convert a lot of cruiser haters into Harley lovers. Heck, maybe even I’m developing a crush on it.

Monster scooters

They have plenty of power and wind protection for highway droning, are stunningly quick on crowded city streets, offer cavernous under-seat storage areas and boast easygoing automatic transmissions — it’s no wonder that big-bore scooter sales are soaring.

Suzuki’s new 650 Skywave boldly goes where no scooter has gone before. At 638cc, it’s the most monstrous monster scooter yet. But its real revolutionary feature is its transmission, which offers a choice between fully automatic twist ‘n’ shout mode or a semiautomatic mode via handlebar mounted F1-style thumb shifters. In addition to providing endless entertainment in stop-light drag races, being able to manually change gears means engine braking can be employed on steep downgrades.

Naked bikes

For many riders, less is more. They don’t care about aerodynamic fairings, gadgets or luggage capacity — they want the wind in their face and their power plant exposed for all to admire.

With the release of Honda’s long-anticipated CB900 Hornet, they’ll have one more great bike to choose from. Powered by the same 919cc engine used in the 1998 Fireblade, but now fuel-injected, retuned for more low- and mid-range stomp, and weighing a class-leading 194 kg, the new CB900 should float like a butterfly and sting like a . . . well, like a hornet.