Part of haynes logo Haynes Manuals, Inc.

American vs Japanese Motorcycles

If you’ve ever seen how our rider-friends across the sea handle two-wheels, you’ll probably conclude that they’re riding very different bikes. Indeed, they are, because Japanese motorcycles are not American motorcycles, but why? First, as much as there is a vast ocean between the West Coast and Japan, there’s practically a 5,500-mile gap between the way that Americans and the Japanese think about motorcycles, not only what or when to ride, but also how to build them.

Cultural Differences

USJapan 1In the United States, there are very few people who view the motorcycle as a legitimate form of transportation. Instead, Americans buy motorcycles for recreation or for the image. There is no doubt, despite inherent dangers, that riding is more fun. Then, nothing cries “American” more than riding a Harley-Davidson, the best-selling motorcycle brand in the US. Of course, there are also other conditions that make motorcycle ownership less attractive here. For example, it’s far easier to just get a driver’s license and a car, and without legalizing lane-splitting, bikes don’t come with any traffic advantage. Even though bikes get better fuel economy, $2 gasoline doesn’t make cars that much more expensive to run. Don’t forget that the weather in many places in the country just isn’t conducive to riding, particularly anywhere it rains or snows with any regularity – no surprise than California is America’s motorcycle capital! Finally, America is huge, and the average driver covers 30 miles a day just getting to work. Riding just doesn’t make sense in many cases.

USJapan 3In Japan, like many other countries, developed and otherwise, motorcycles are indeed considered legitimate transportation, and that’s exactly how the Japanese view their bikes. Motorcycles are a mode of transportation, just like cars, trucks, trains, and buses. Like cars and trucks, they’re personal, but also far more affordable, as fuel is at least twice as expensive and bikes are taxed and feed far less than their four-wheeled cousins. We also can’t forget that Japan is a very small country and her population density is about ten times higher than here in the US. People just don’t need to go that far to get to work or school. Interestingly, though Japan has weather just as varied as ours, that hasn’t stopped people from buying and riding bikes, though they probably ditch the bikes and take public transportation when it gets too cold or wet. The Japanese just don’t that much stock in vehicle identity.

American vs Japanese Bikes

Then, of course, there are the motorcycles themselves, and American and Japanese motorcycles here show their differences. Harley-Davidson may be iconic and America’s best-selling bike brand, but that hasn’t stopped Japanese makers from making convincing look-alikes. As in other automotive industries, Japanese brands come out on top with lower pricing, cheaper maintenance, and better reliability. In fact, Honda routinely sells more than 15 million bikes around the world. Still, Japanese bikes only take up a few sales points in the US, and can you imagine if Toyota started making motorcycles, too?

Leave a Reply