There's been a leak, the secret's out. Contrary to what you may believe, you can legally own and ride those JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) motorcycles never brought to the US by the factory. If you know about the likes of the two stroke Suzuki RGV250, Honda NSR250 or Yamaha TZR250, you probably have at least some desire to try one on for size, but of course, they're prohibited here, right? Well, not exactly. If the motorcycle is at least 25 years old, you can register and ride one as easily as any other bike. Would you want to? Should you?
A little while ago, I began to notice more and more of these vintage sport bikes showing up for sale here in the US. I knew they were nice bikes, but I didn't quite understand how they could do that, the factory didn't import them so how did they meet all of those government regulations? Well, it's not as difficult as you might think:
7. Importing a vehicle that is at least 25 years old.
A motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old can be lawfully imported into the U.S. without regard to whether it complies with all applicable FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards). Such a vehicle would be entered under Box 1 on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of importation. If you wish to see that form, you may download a copy from our website at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/import. You should note that the 25 year period runs from the date of the vehicle's manufacture. If the date of manufacture is not identified on a label permanently affixed to the vehicle by its original manufacturer, to establish the age of the vehicle, you should have documentation available such as an invoice showing the date the vehicle was first sold or a registration document showing that the vehicle was registered at least 25 years ago.
Well, that takes care of safety standards, but what about the EPA?
If the vehicle is at least 21 years old, there are no EPA compliance requirements upon importation.
So if you flip the calendar back to see what kind of bikes were available 25 years ago in Japan (or any other country for that matter), but not here, you can bring one over to the US and put it in your garage and register and license it for the street. Pretty neat!
So what's the big deal about these little 250 two strokes? Two things, far more power for a given displacement than a comparable 4 stroke engine and much less weight. These bikes weigh about 300 pounds and make cornering at high speeds not only possible, but so much fun it's almost mandatory, while the 4 stroke 600 your buddy is riding has to slow down, you just drive on by. Sure, he'll catch you on the straights, but if you're riding a twisty road, you have the advantage.
Yes, but ... paperwork. Who wants to get involved in filling out forms for customs and the EPA and the NHTSA and who knows who else? Besides, how do you find a nice motorcycle in Japan in the first place and how do you handle that transaction and prepare it for shipment? It shouldn't be a surprise several companies and individuals are out there to take care of all of that for you. They source a selection of nice bikes, ship them here, clear customs, do all of the paperwork and all you have to do is choose the one you like best.
Interestingly enough, as I was digging around for info on this topic, I see Cycle World just published a retro comparison of these JDM two strokes. One of the importers, an outfit called Moto2 Imports, supplied the bikes after which a group of very experienced riders spent some track time to see what they were like. The major downside is they're a little cramped for taller riders, but otherwise, after the various nits they picked, they all said they wanted one.
A lot of riders over here seem to focus on displacement, the bigger the better, but as we've said many times on The Kneeslider, accessible performance, the kind you can use on the street, is really nice and unless you're a professional racer on a track, your 1000cc race replica isn't going to get near its potential. So if you're in the market for another bike and you think handling is as much or more fun than straight line speed, maybe you should give the JDM selection more than a passing glance. There's a lot to like.