Let’s talk for a moment about the other kind of customs – you know, those guys who root through your luggage when you come back from Cancun. As in, “Hey, I was wondering what happened to that bag of weed! Thanks officer!”
It turns out that in addition to ruining vacations, US Customs is also responsible for keeping illicit motorcycles out of the hands of unsuspecting American riders.
Bikes made for foreign markets don’t have to run US Department of Transportation approved safety equipment, and I think we can all imagine the kinds of tragedies that might result if these dangerous machines were permitted on American roads. Picture ripping up a canyon at 18,000 rpms on an illegal 4 cylinder CBR250rr when you look in your mirror and realize that it does not have:
Either a mirror of unit magnification with not less than 8065 mm2 of reflective surface, or a convex mirror with not less than 6450 mm2 of reflective surface and an average radius of curvature not less than 508 mm and not greater than 1524 mm, installed with a stable support, and mounted so that the horizontal center of the reflective surface is at least 279 mm outward of the longitudinal centerline of the motorcycle. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards Section 571.111
As you search in vain for the official United States Department of Transportation Seal of Approval, you fail to notice the enormous pothole in the middle of your lane and are ejected over the bars and into oncoming traffic. Game over.
For now, Americans remain safe from this Japanese scourge. But soon, the first wave of high performance “Japan Only” sportbikes will be available for import and registration as historic vehicles. The Magic Number here is 25 – vehicles more than 25 years old are not subject to DOT or EPA regulations, and can be brought into the country and registered without safety inspection.
That puts us in 1987 right now…
That’s the year when the first truly modern sportbikes were put on the road. That is to say, bikes with water cooled, high compression, dual overhead cam, 4 valve per cylinder engines, rigid, lightweight chassis, and big disc brakes.
Many 600-1000cc sportbikes were DOT approved and imported, but very few small displacement bikes made it across the Pacific. All we got were a few years of the VTR250, detuned and restricted for the US market (J-Spec bikes are over 40hp), and the much loved Ninja 250. Every now and then, a grey market GSXR400 or FZR400 will turn up, but they’re thin on the ground. Now we’re getting the CBR250, which seems to be selling briskly, but it’s a complete turd compared to the old 250RR.
By comparison, Japan is swimming in these quick little bikes. Cheap and plentiful. I for one intend to import them by the boatload as soon as I can raise the capital. Pre-orders anyone?
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Just as an aside, Japan is not the only place with some cool and exotic bikes that don’t get any love locally.
Post war BMWs like this r/25 will run you less than $2000 in Turkey, and there are lots of cool JAWA and CZ two strokes available for next to nothing. India (and from what I hear, Pakistan) are filled with funky British singles and old Harleys that would be worth some serious coin if they were brought back and restored. If I had any sense, I’d be in Peshawar stuffing BSA Goldstars into a shipping container right now instead of writing this article.
Sure, the US has been blessed with an incredibly large number of UJM bikes from the 70’s, and many of these are indeed sweet rides. But variety is the spice of life, and I’d love to see some of these rare and awesome bikes on our roads.