I saw another comment on Racerxonline.com today suggesting manufacturers seed the sport with price-point machines, perhaps using 2010-ish technology to sell a $6,000 motocross bike, alongside a $9,000+ machine all-in on 2019 tech. We get this sort of comment all the time.
Cascading price points aren't new. Mountain bike brands usually offer sub $1,000 bikes and $7,000 models, with probably two dozen price/technology points in all. Same for street bikes. Specifically within the supersport market, Yamaha will offer you a R3 for five grand, an R6 for 12, an R1 for 16, and then a top-line R1M for $22,000. Add in Yamaha's other street bike lines to create something for every price point and experience level.
Dirt bikes only grab the poles. You've got TT-R type play bikes for cheap, and YZ-F motocrossers and WR/YZ-X off-road racers at the top. Where's the bike in between?
Well, that unveils both the good and bad of the motocross market. Motocross bikes are closed-course competition machines. They are marketed not for recreation but for racing. As such, no one brings the knife to the gun fight, even if the knife is $3,000 cheaper. By the way, Yamaha offers the TT-R230 for $4,399. It's half the price of a YZ250F. You think anyone is going motocross racing on that?
Other worlds don't work this way. The mountain bike market isn't based around people buying bikes for mountain bike racing. As such, riders find the performance and price point that work for them, instead of worrying that the rider on the starting line next to you has the better fork or carbon frame. Street bikes? Very few are marketed for track days and racing. Pick the style/price of bike that works for you, and buy it. It doesn't matter as much if someone has a faster bike, because you're not racing them.
By the way, that's what killed two-strokes. They might be more fun, lighter, and cheaper, but if you want to race in a class that allows 250 four-strokes, you simply can't do it on a 125 two-stroke. Results matter. Getting buried on every start matters. Because motocross bikes are for motocross racing.
Now here's the part where we explain that the vast majority of motocross bikes don't get used for racing. I'd say that's actually more true than ever now. Getting in a good day riding at open practice (or someone's private track) has an appeal way beyond sitting on the tailgate of your truck waiting (and waiting) for your next four-lap moto.
Perhaps it would help the motocross market to become a little less racing focused, and a little more recreation oriented, but I think our dye is cast. We're a racing sport. As I always say, I doubt anyone plunking down thousands on a new dirt bike can't name at least three supercross racers. Meanwhile, I bet the majority of mountain bike purchasers can't name three mountain bike racers. What percentage of the street bike market actively follows MotoAmerica or MotoGP? Does anyone actually believe in the win on Sunday sell on Monday part of car racing anymore? They shouldn't. Car racing is very much an engineering and technology testing ground for the manufacturers these days, not a way to convince people the Toyota Camry is fast.
In this sport, competition speaks, and I think that's why manufacturers don't believe they can introduce an inferior racing bike and sell it just because the price is lower. They never really have, not in the '80s, not in the '90s, not now. And even when they were kinda sorta tricked into it by having (cheaper) two-strokes and (more expensive) four-strokes in the lineup at the same time, guess which ones sold and which ones didn't? The ones that were faster.
Will we get to the point where this racing connection is broken? I'm not sure we want to. Manufacturers spend big dollars on race teams and R&D because the soul of the dirt bike market is on-track success. Without the apparent need to win races at the highest level, this entire racing economy might collapse. I know things don't look all rosy right now, but every racing economy is fragile. Could a less expensive motocross bike save the day? It should, but it probably wouldn't.