Here's How Importing A Motorcycle From Japan Is Different Than Importing A Car

Illustration for article titled Here's How Importing A Motorcycle From Japan Is Different Than Importing A Car
Photo: Honda

I’m about a week or so out from embarking on a westward journey to pick up my freshly imported Honda Beat from Washington. Until then, I’m still answering your burning questions about vehicle importation.

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Many readers have asked about how motorcycle importation from Japan works.

Japan’s motorcycle export industry is very similar to its car export industry. Search the web for sites to buy motorcycles from Japan and you should be inundated with exporters, trading sites and even auctions. And if importing a motorcycle yourself doesn’t sound all that fun, some importers here in the States also handle motorcycles.

The other good news is that the basics of importing a motorcycle are the same as importing a car. Motorcycles still generally have to be at least 25 years old and buyers still have to deal with shipping plus a mountain of forms. But one thing can be very different: ocean shipping.

When I started my vehicle importation quest, I had more in mind than just pocket-sized kei cars. I also wanted a miniscule motorcycle that sounds like a Formula 1 car. That motorcycle is the Honda CBR250RR MC22.

Illustration for article titled Here's How Importing A Motorcycle From Japan Is Different Than Importing A Car
Photo: Ryuki8409 / Wikimedia Commons (Other)

The MC22 is a 250cc motorcycle firing on four teacups of pistons. Sometimes called the baby Fireblade by fans, the MC22 was such a solid motorcycle that it can reportedly still outrun the 250cc motorcycles of today.

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I know a 250cc motorcycle doesn’t sound all that great, but check out this Formula 1-esque soundtrack:

Back in January, the owner of an imported motorcycle told me that while their bike was cheap, they ultimately spent multiple times the motorcycle’s value in shipping alone. This confused me. Motorcycles are smaller than cars, so I’d think they’d be cheaper to ship.

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I decided to reach out to some importers before I closed the door on the idea of a tiny imported motorcycle.

Italjet Dragster
Italjet Dragster
Photo: Craigslist (Other)
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A reader recommended that I reach out to Moto2 Imports, a motorcycle importer out of Washington D.C., for more information. What I learned explained quite a lot.

While cars are often strapped down to a roll-on-roll-off ship, bikes get crated and placed into a container. Container shipping can get very expensive, but bikes can actually be cheaper to ship than a car.

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Suzuki RGV250
Suzuki RGV250
Photo: Cycle Trader (Other)

Moto2 Imports’ representative says that while a 40-foot shipping container can fit only a few cars, they can fit 20 or more motorcycles. Shipping is substantially cheaper, even cheaper than a car, when you have 20 or more motorcycles sharing the price. Motorcycles can also be mixed in other other goods being shipped inside of containers.

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I also talked to the importer that handled my Honda Beat’s importation, The Import Guys. Its representative explained to me that while they do import motorcycles, they only ship a container of motorcycles infrequently so it can be full.

Yamaha Gear
Yamaha Gear
Photo: Facebook Marketplace (Other)
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That’s the rub: Shipping a single motorcycle by itself in a container (or with very few other motorcycles) runs expensive, so you want to make sure that container is as filled as possible. Other than that, a motorcycle import is very similar to a car. Once it arrives in America, you’ll need to wade through the labyrinth of getting it legal, or have an importer or Customs broker do it for you.

Getting it through Customs and legal in America is the hard part, and you’ll read about it as soon as my start my part by filing my first Customs form.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik and learning pilot. Smart Fortwo (x4), Honda Beat, Suzuki Every, NovaBus RTS, VW Jetta TDI (x2), VW Touareg V10, Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Triumph Tiger, Genuine Stella...

DISCUSSION

rjjablo
Bob

Back in the 80's you would fly to Japan with two Large suitcases and buy which ever flavor of 125CC Race bike you liked. Disassemble it and put it into the suitcases and fly home. Cheaper to buy the bike in Japan including the round trip ticket.

Buddy has one of these and this is the one you want Honda NC30, just like an RC30 that went thru the wash