Smaller corporations can react quicker than larger ones and niche Italian brand Ducati is in the rider's seat to take advantage of the new Learner-Approved Motorcycle Scheme (Lams) which kicks off on October 1.
Under the Lams regime, learner motorcyclists will be able to ride bikes larger than the present limit of 250cc as long as they are less than 660cc and have a power-to-weight ratio of less than 150kW per tonne.
The new $17,490 Ducati Monster 659 Lams ABS might have a model name that does not exactly roll off the tongue but it has been developed especially for Tasman Sea markets to comply with the absolute limits of the Lams rules, which were first introduced in Australia in June last year and provide the template for the change in the New Zealand regulations.
The general manager for Australia and New Zealand Ducati distributor, NFI, Warren Lee, says the Monster 659 became an overnight success in Australia when it was introduced in 2011 to coincide with the roll-out of the new Lams regs.
''It is consistently the No 1 or No 2 best-selling 'naked' streetbike on the Australian market in terms of month-to-month sales, regardless of engine capacity or price.''
In the first 12 months on the Australian market (June 2011 to June 2012), the Monster 659 Lams ABS accounted for 60 per cent of total sales of the popular Monster streetbike range and 20 per cent of all Ducati sales.
Lee is expecting a similar response here come October.
''By introducing new regulations that give riders access to real world/rider-friendly bikes like the M659 ABS, it's only natural that learner riders will choose to ride these new bikes with all the latest technology and safety features.
''Lams offer learner riders a new range of motorcycles that make learning to ride with increasing confidence so much easier than just 250cc bikes. The M659 ABS offers rider-friendly L-twin smooth power delivery and torque, is light in weight for easy and confident manoeuvrability and handling, has a low seat to confidently get your feet on the ground and ABS braking for added safety; all ideal features for a learner rider.''
To create the downsized Monster exclusively for the Australian and New Zealand markets, Ducati shortened the piston strokes of the existing Monster 696 and altered cam timing and engine management to suit.
''The components were altered to generate the maximum allowable power output under the power-to-weight ratio permissible in the Lams rules.''
The maximum power output therefore drops from 60kW (80bhp) of M696 to 38kW (51bhp) in the 161kg Monster 659, the peak arriving 250rpm earlier in the rev range. Those who have sampled the learner-ready model say it performs just like the 696 until 6000rpm - trigger point for the stronger top-end kick of the slightly larger capacity Monster. As for the rolling chassis of the new M659, it is identical to that of the M696, as proven by the identical price-tag. The learner bike therefore shares the same artful sense of style, well-crafted build quality, slightly harsh suspension setup, incisive steering, and booming exhaust note of the full-blooded Monster. Back in a 2010 review of the Monster 696, I wrote that 'there is nothing entry-level about Ducati's cheapest model'.
Lee says the M659 has attracted buyers of all ages and genders in Australia, with the average age of buyers in the mid-30s. The New Zealand motorcycle industry will certainly be hoping that the Lams changes may reduce some of the "embarrassment factor" that is preventing younger people from aspiring to get a motorcycle licence. A full list of approved Lams models is available at nzta.govt.nz/licence/getting/ docs/lams-list.pdf. According to the New Zealand Transport Authority, it will be updated as new models such as the Monster 659 Lams ABS are launched.
The NZTA list does not yet include the Ducati that has been tailored to the coming new regulations, but it does list a lot of older models that are likely to be found on sites such as Trade Me at bargain prices.
The new Lams regs will specifically exclude 250cc two-stroke sportsbikes such as the Honda NSR250, Suzuki RG250, Aprilia RS250, Kawasaki KR250, and Yamaha TZR250, which are all 120kg bikes capable of making 45kW (60bhp). However, bikes such as the Honda VFR400R, with a rev-happy 400cc V4 engine stuffed into a similarly sporty alloy twin-spar frame to that of the NSR represent some of the sportiest choices from the list.
If you have penchant for classic bikes, original Triumph, Norton and BSA parallel twins can be ridden on a learner licence.
Have to have a two-stroke roadbike? An air-cooled Yamaha RD350 or RD400 twin is the only alternative, if you can find one.
However if you want the best Lams bike that money can buy, the nearest Ducati dealer should be your first port of call. Let's hope other brands take note of the Monster 659 and tweak some new models to comply with the new learner-bike rules.
- The Press