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Go back anything over 15 years and what we might call a middleweight motorcycle today was actually large, and no one had heard of 2,000+cc monsters. Despite a mostly North American obsession with large displacement, most of the world still adores smaller displacement bikes. As motorcycle manufacturers ramp up their offerings in the middleweight range, we are left wondering what actually makes up the middleweight class of motorbike.
Step in to the boxing arena and there's a clear-cut definition: any fighter under 160 lbs (usually over 154 lbs) is a middleweight boxer. We look over at Mixed Martial Arts and things become a little more ambiguous; while headlining organization UFC defines middleweight as 171 - 184 lbs, some of the other organizations' definitions push that range from 155 - 205 lbs.
In to the world of motorcycles things get a lot more convoluted.
We not only consider physical weight here, but more importantly are looking at engine displacement. Oh, and also country, decade, and personal biases all factor in on the middleweight perspective. What a confusing place this is.
In the 1960's a Triumph 650 would have been a big motorcycle, today the company's 2,294cc beastly Rocket III is a BIG motorcycle. This inevitably forces us to call Triumph's Tiger 800, the supersports Daytona 675 and even the big cruiser-styled America 'middleweight'.
That's just a few examples from one company. There are a lot of bikes in this mighty broad middleweight range, and depending on who you ask, what constitutes 'middleweight' will also depend on class of bike (cruiser, sportbike, classic, tourer, etc.)
Where do you live?
The definition of a middleweight bike will inevitably depend on the motorcycle scene in your geographic area.
For example, a Honda CBR600RR would be a very big bike in most of Asia where middleweight means something in the 250 - 400cc range. In most Asian countries there are severe restrictions on engine displacement and power output which mean toys like the 1,300cc Suzuki Hayabusa are not even road legal.
In Australia for example, 250cc's represent the dividing line between novice riders and slightly experienced ones. Licensing requirements call for a minimum of one year of licensed riding experience before applying to ride bikes larger than 250. By that standard, we'd say that motorcycles 250 and under are small in the land down under.
With over a dozen 125cc bikes to choose from, Europeans are likely to air on the lower side of the middleweight scale because their scale starts lower. When there are great small displacement bikes like the Aprilia RS125 and Yamaha YZF-R125 available, there is less demand for fuel-thirsty big displacement.
Most North Americans however, with just a handful of 250cc options, consider bikes under 600cc small. Which leaves us to interpret that anything between 600 and 1,000cc middleweight.
It doesn't seem like there's a global standard for middleweight, does it? In the comments below, tell us where you live and what you consider middleweight in your region.
In the past
Wait, did we just identify 250 as small? Strange, because bikes like the 150cc Honda Dream were considered middleweight in the early sixties while machines like their Super Cub, ranging in size from 49 - 90cc were the standard for small displacement.
Anyone remember the Norton Commando? When it transitioned from a 750 to 850 model in 1973, the motorcycle world had mixed emotions about making an already extravagant large bike even larger. Today, the 850 Commando looks like a tiny simpleton; seems our perception of size has changed a great deal in a few short decades.
Who'd you ask?
American moto journo Peter Egan calls the early 70's Triumph Bonneville T120 the iconic middleweight motorcycle. He describes the 649cc, 395 lbs bike as one of his personal favourites and commends the look and feel of the middleweight.
During a 2008 comparison test, Popular Mechanics even included the 883cc Harley Davidson Sportster XL and 903cc Kawasaki Vulcan in the middleweight category.
During the recent Motorcycle Show in Toronto, I sat through a presentation from Honda where they introduced their new range of 500cc machines. ‟The CB500F, CB500X, and CBR500R are strong new entries in to the middleweight segment from Honda” said one of the company's representatives.
According to a math-savvy friend of mine, middleweight would need to be defined by a bike's weight vs. its power. So a 900 lbs, 1,300cc Harley could be a middleweight too.
So what really is middleweight?
The answer to that question inevitably comes down to one word ‟depends”.
Weight and displacement alone aren't differentiating factors for middleweight. The region of the world you're in, the time in history you're looking at, and who's opinion you're listening to at that moment can all weigh in on what 'middleweight' means.
For me, a middleweight bike is something that, regardless of class, weighs less than 450 lbs and ranges from 500 - 750cc.
Regardless of what a middleweight bike looks like exactly, there are some terrific new 2013 model year motorcycles between the 300 and 900cc range headed for showrooms the world over and I for one, can't wait to start checking them out.
Here's a few of EatSleepRIDE's middleweight favourites for 2013: