ASK THE MXPERTS: WHAT IS A PRE-PRO MOTORCYCLE?
I always hear about pre-pro motorcycles. When a bike has a problem, the internet jockeys always claim that it was a pre-pro that broke, not the real bike. I remember reading about MXA claiming that the pre-pro Yamaha it tested was faster than the production bike that followed. What exactly is a pre-pro?
Designing, building and manufacturing a new motorcycle is a multistage process that can take as long as four years to complete. It starts with an idea, which is followed by a proof-of-concept prototype. Once a prototype is approved, the real work of building a production motorcycle starts in earnest. The final step, before putting the bike on the showroom floor, is to build a sampling of pre-pro units. Pre-pro stands for pre-production. If a bike is only getting a revision, the manufacturer doesn’t waste time building pre-pros; it simply bolts the new parts onto the old bike so it can test the new part in public without anyone being the wiser. But, when next year’s bike is a totally new design, it is necessary to build pre-pros so that a larger group of test riders, distributors and engineers can study the good, bad and ugly of the proposed machine.
The pre-production bike isn’t always an exact copy of the prototype. As the new model goes from initial drawings to a working prototype to a pre-pro, it is constantly changing. The factory engineers redesign many parts in order to stay within budget and within the release date. If prototype testing goes smoothly and all the parts work properly, this could fast track development time. Most pre-pros come from a special limited production run of bikes that are then tested for durability, suspension settings, mapping, gearing and, most important, major faux pas. The pre-pro bike is the precursor of all bikes to follow.
It has been rumored that the first batch of 2017 CRF450s in the the USA were pre-pros. That is an excuse that Honda used when the automatic compression release mechanism broke at the press intro.
The pre-pro is so important that most factories hang on to the pre-pros to test against the production bike to make sure that the showroom bike is the same as the final test bike. Additionally, the pre-pro stage is where, if the test department runs into trouble with the bike, the project can be halted and the model release date changed. This has happened many times over the decades. Need examples? Kawasaki wanted to introduce its first-ever KX450F four-stroke in 2005, but during pre-pro testing the frame broke in half. The production plans were halted until a new frame could be built and tested, thus Kawasaki did not introduce the KX450F until 2006.
The most famous bike to make it through prototype, test mule and pre-pro testing, only to fail after it made the showroom floor, was the 2008 Suzuki RM-Z450. It would have been the first-ever fuel-injected 450 motocross bike, but the engine cases on MXA’s test bike cracked on the first day. It had to be pulled from the showrooms.