There is still one area the huge Japanese factories can make substantial profits though - mass produced, low capacity bikes destined for 'emerging' markets and this is where the Inazuma 250 comes in.
Built in China, the Inazuma is a relatively basic parallel twin 250 sold in the Far East in various guises. Why is that of interest to UK buyers? Huge volumes in China mean Suzuki can keep its price tag low. For us that means you get a brand new Suzuki bike with two years warranty and one-year roadside assistance for £3,408. It may not be as sexy as a GSX-R1000, but cash-strapped commuters should look at the numbers.
A 30-mile commute in the London area could cost you the same, if not more, in train tickets. With a claimed 85mpg the Inazuma would cost a third of that in fuel. As well as getting up later and not having your nose in someone's armpit, you also have something to show for your investment other than used ticket stubs. Yes you need an A2 licence to ride the bike, but looking at those prices the Inazuma starts to make sense. But does the ride back up the numbers?
Let's be honest, the Inazuma is what it is - a budget commuter. This aside, Suzuki's little 250 is actually a cracking bike. Although physically quite small and with an extremely low seat height, the Inazuma isn't cramped. The seat is large enough to accommodate a sizable posterior (or dead squirrel)* and the bars are comfortably spaced and the pegs low. It's perfect for commuting, low weight and generous steering lock making low speed maneuvering a doddle. The digital clocks are a touch basic but clear enough while the mirrors show what is behind you. It may sound odd to congratulate a bike on this but you would be amazed how many modern machines fail on such basics...
While the little 248cc parallel twin engine is unlikely to make its way into any 'great motors of the 21st century' book, it is remarkably accomplished without that cheap buzz low cost motors often have. It feels solid with a lovely light clutch action and extremely slick gearbox. In a flat out (downhill) run I managed to see 86mph on the clock, which isn't bad, but realistically you are talking a happy 70mph cruising speed, which is more than enough for commuting. However it is the drive that impresses the most.
Accelerating with any haste from 50mph does require shifting down two gears and nailing the throttle to the stop, but this is hardly surprising. Should you just wish to gently build up speed the Inazuma responds with reasonable drive that means you don't need to continuously feed it gears to gain momentum. It's not fast by any stretch of the imagination, but it is competent and charming to ride, if a little wobbly.
On a bike such as this the suspension is always going to be a bit budget and the Inazuma is very softly sprung, which is great for dealing with potholes but not so good flat out. It's not a huge issue and soft is certainly better than hard for commuting if not other things in life. While I'm on negatives I did find the brakes a little lacking and personally I would have liked to see ABS as an option, especially considering newer riders will be drawn to the Inazuma. But there again that would boost the price by around £400, which would be a bad thing.
The Inazuma is a nice, honest, bike that does what it promises. It offers frugal motoring with no hassle but also adds a bit of character. With some cheaper Chinese machines you don't get the two-year warranty that you get with the Suzuki and overall the build quality seems decent. I did spot some slight furring of the brake, clutch and gear and foot brake lever, but that's all and the engine has a decent paint finish. As the Inazuma is an A2 licence bike it is up against the likes of the new Honda CB500, which offers 'big bike' feel but costs another £1,500-odd. Or half a new Inazuma!
This is a bike that will be dragged out, thrashed for a commute, probably dropped a few times and then returned to the street where it will live (if it's lucky) under a cheap plastic cover. It won't have the most glamorous of lives, but you can guarantee there will be Inazumas churning out the hard miles for years to come. Out of a packed commuter train or a year on an Inazuma I know what I'd choose, and it wouldn't involve waiting for the 8:13...
SUZUKI INAZUMA 250
Engine: 248cc 2-cyl
Torque: 17ft lb@7,000rpm
Top speed: 85mph (est)
Weight: 183kg (wet)
MPG: 85 (claimed)
*We did ask Jon about the squirrel and he told us "I was going to shoot a close-up but it didn't have any eyes and wasn't very photogenic." No, nor us.