Honda Motor Co., Ltd. and Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. manufacture and sell motorcycles around the world, and they have been good rivals, with both based in Japan. Two test riders, each involved in motorcycle development for their respective companies, exchanged their true feelings on what the test rider’s job is, what they see in the future of motorcycles, and what makes motorcycles so fun. Here are the stories told by the two test riders, each brimming with love for motorcycles.
Born on April 12, 1988, Sasazawa joined Honda in 2007. He worked on scooter models after being assigned to the Dynamic Performance Group, Block 2, Product Development Office 1. From 2013 to 2018, he was involved in dynamic performance testing for the CB and NC series as a member of the Dynamic Performance Group, Product Development. Since 2018, Sasazawa has served as acting development leader for the NC series, X-ADV and FORZA750, and is currently engaged in dynamic performance testing of the CB1000R series and is serving as the acting development leader for the CB350 series.
Born on November 13, 1982, Yamada joined Yamaha Motor in 2008. As a member of the Product Testing Department (now the Vehicle Testing Department), he was involved in the development of models for the Indian market. In 2011 and 2012 he supported testing as a trainee at Yamaha Motor Vietnam. He then joined the Strength and Vibration Group in the Vehicle Testing Department, and from 2015, he has worked on the development of the MT-09 and MT-10 series in the PJ Group, Vehicle Testing Department, and is currently in charge of the testing of the MT-09.
What are the roles played by test riders within a motorcycle manufacturer?
What I do is almost the same. We have test parts, and we verify whether they meet the goals of the project. It is not easy to match every aspect of every part, but it is our job to verify strictly so our customers can enjoy the bike.
Your feeling is an important indicator to perform your job, right?
It would be nice if we could quantify what we feel while riding the bike, but that is not possible, so I think the role of the testing (test riders) is to verbalize the goals to help engineers design the machine. Testing is the key to designing. I was taught that testing by test riders is one of the design methods, because what we gain through testing is fed back to the engineers. Another important role we play is to ensure quality. Although there is a separate department that evaluates quality, test riders are also responsible for determining the quality level required for the usage situations we preset.
There are many items to test, but we have to make sure that the product reaches the level that everyone in the development team is satisfied with, while adhering to the concept we set as our goal. Since development is a team effort, we cannot create a good bike if each member does whatever he/she wants to do. So, if there is something I don't agree with, I openly express it to the development leader. If we only follow the instructions given to us, we would not be able to create an attractive bike, and more importantly, our work would not be interesting. People often tell me that I’m not the typical “salaryman” type.
Many of us working on the motorcycle development at Yamaha are like that.
Most people have an image of “test rider” as a rider who checks the handling of the motorcycles, but you are saying that is not all test riders do, right?
Testing handling stability is not the only thing we do.
I guess that's what people think of test riders. Of course, handling stability is one of the key testing items, but we evaluate the various functions, machine strength, and at Yamaha, we have a dedicated team that evaluates heat characteristics. In addition, there is an independent evaluation department specializing in evaluating brakes and sounds.
Did both of you choose to become a test rider after you joined a motorcycle manufacturer?
I have known the joy of riding motorcycles since I was in high school, so after I joined Honda, I already knew I wanted to ride motorcycles for research purposes, rather than designing motorcycles. I wanted to see customers riding the bikes that I worked on.
Exactly the same for me. I wanted to ride motorcycles, too. So, from the beginning, the only department I requested to be assigned to was testing. I wanted to ride motorcycles, and the thought of being able to try out prototype components before anyone else made the job very appealing.
Do you also ride other OEM’s motorcycles for comparison?
We compare with various models. As we all expect, characteristics vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. It is fun to compare them.
Riding a motorcycle while feeling the wind is very exhilarating, isn’t it?
Riding a motorcycle is fun in itself. Of course, you can also feel the joy of driving in a car, but I think it has a different appeal. The behavior of a motorcycle is easier to understand, and you have to tilt the machine to turn. I think it is more intuitive than driving. I don't know how it works on human instinct, but I think people find it fun. Simply put, it is fun to control a motorcycle.
In the meantime, I think today's riders are attracted also to different aspects of motorcycles than what we enjoyed when we first started riding.
It seems to me that they do not simply enjoy riding motorcycles, but also enjoy them as a tool. Using a motorcycle as a tool for an easy and unrestrained mobility, they go to enjoy spectacular scenery and something delicious. Also, in this day of social networking, we can get connected with others through our motorcycles. In this sense, we are enjoying motorcycles as a medium to add more fun and joy to our daily lives.
Indeed. In this day and age, owning a motorcycle has more added value than just riding, and perhaps this is what is affecting the popularity of motorcycles among young people. What is clear to us is that today's young people are not riding motorcycles just for the joy of riding, but more as a tool for expanding their community, such as gathering with others who also enjoy motorcycles.
Perhaps that is why I feel that not only the number of young people but also the number of female riders has been increasing recently. As one such motorcycle enthusiast, I am very happy to see so many people are experiencing the attractiveness of motorcycles. And if more and more people get hooked on the fun of riding, that’s perfect.
There are a lot of people posting social media photos of their bikes on their trips. That may also appeal to young people.
Yes, that's right. In particular, Yamaha seems to be taking on quite bold challenges in terms of design. Some of them I think might be difficult to do at Honda. Personally, I admire Yamaha in that way. Stylish and edgy. I am envious of you.
For our part, we are amazed by Honda's technical capabilities. I often think that Honda’s motorcycles are being perfected in every small detail. I can feel this when I ride. Yamaha has a strong focus on offering the fun of riding, but Honda's products are more diverse, covering a wider range. In any case, the characteristics of our two companies are completely different. I think that is part of the appeal of motorcycles.
In recent years, the motorcycle industry has seen an increase in the number of competitors, especially in the field of electric motorcycles, with startup companies entering the market and new manufacturers emerging. What do you think are the strengths of your respective companies?
Both Yamaha and Honda have sales networks throughout the world. Even though some products may seem more expensive than products of emerging manufacturers, we offer excellent after-sales services, making it possible to enjoy our products for a longer period of time. Riding the same bike for a long time also creates a sense of attachment. These are our strengths.
I agree with Mr. Sasazawa, but it is true that we also have a sense of urgency. In fact, products which do not meet the standard for sales set by Japanese motorcycle makers, including Yamaha, are being offered at lower prices. And as with EVs, new players advance their products and respond to market demands quickly, some of which we can't do. Even in such competitive situations, we have to take on the challenge to continue creating attractive motorcycles while accommodating new changes and values. We must not be complacent because of the strength of our brands.
From the perspective of test riders who are on the cutting edge of the motorcycle industry, how do you think motorcycles will change in the future?
There is no doubt that the number of electric bikes will keep increasing.
In the face of this fact, I think the challenge motorcycle brands must take on is to ensure that our bikes continue to be fun to ride.
Electric motors have monotonous output characteristics. Unlike an engine that burns gasoline and produces torque as its rpm increases, an electric motor can produce maximum torque immediately. But the fun we gain from the unique ride quality of each motorcycle isn’t there. To create such ride quality, we need to develop and perfect unique output characteristics, and that is our job. I believe that many customers currently purchase our motorcycles because they enjoy the exhilarating feel of the engine revving and the pulse of the engine. We need to express such things even if we go electric. If all motorcycle makers decide to share electric motors and batteries in the future, all motorcycles feel the same, and the only difference will be the styling. This means that appealing to the sensitivity of people will become even more important.
I myself have ridden electric bikes made by my company and also by other companies. At first, I feel a fresh excitement, but that soon fades away, and I can't deny that I find them tasteless. In order to make our electric motorcycles something customers enjoy riding, we must offer the element of FUN (fun of riding). Personally, I think the transmission will be the key. I think it is important for a FUN bike to have some areas left that require rider input for controlling. On the other hand, I feel that a new way of riding motorcycles will emerge. Honda has a DCT*(Dual Clutch Transmission). This is a transmission that automatically shifts gears, and it is quite interesting. I’m sorry if “quite” sounds offensive.
No, no. I appreciate your compliment.
* DCT automates clutch and shift operations while maintaining the structure of a manual transmission, which has the advantage of direct acceleration.
When the clutch operation is completely eliminated, you can concentrate on steering the bike. I think this is a new value in riding. More of such new value will be created with electric motorcycles. So, even if they go all electric, I believe that future motorcycles should be fun to ride.
As you said, what is extremely important for motorcycle riders is not just having a means of transportation but the feeling of operating the machine in the process of going places. As long as motorcycle manufacturers do not lose sight of this, the appeal of motorcycles will remain the same, despite going electric. Especially with FUN models. On the other hand, I personally think that commuters should be simpler and easier for anyone to use.
I am a member of a team that evaluates dynamic performance, whose job starts with envisioning the customers who will buy our motorcycles, based on the concept of the machine we are developing. Then, we evaluate our machine from various perspectives, such as what kind of engine characteristics and acceleration performance will be preferred by our customers, and what maximum speed can be achieved, by actually riding it to see if it is optimal from the perspective of the riders. For various riding situations, we decide what the acceleration should be and how much rear-wheel power is enough to make the rider feel good. In this way, we match the characteristics of the machine to its intended concept.